Week of April 11

The True Measure of Godly Leadership

Read: 1 Samuel 8-10; 2 Corinthians 10
“And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’”
1 Samuel 8:7, ESV


The business of doing God’s business carries with it much moral authority. It includes relating properly to him and to the people one is called to lead in his behalf. Our generation gravitates toward leaders who are able to “get things done” or exert a certain type of “influence” over those they lead. I understand the importance of these things; however, there is something much deeper at work when one fills the role of “God’s leader.” Leadership includes a lifestyle. Character counts, in other words! Let’s learn how important is it to honor God with our leadership.

Let's See What the Bible Says

Our context in Samuel sets the stage for a tectonic shift in perspective. Samuel’s sons did not “walk” in the same way that their dad had done before them because their manner of life was not wholly dedicated to the Lord. These men did not follow the example of their father in their devotion to God (8:3). They violated a key component in their judicial authority—God’s justice. They used the role into which God had placed them to profit off of the very people that God had placed in their charge (Exodus 23:2, 6; Deuteronomy 16:19). God was a vital presence on both sides of the equation—their call and those to whom they were called to lead. What Israel overlooked is also what we too often disregard today when we choose leaders. I am referring to the future.

Furthermore, the second major section of 1 Samuel begins in chapter 8 with a significant transfer of leadership role in Israel’s history (8:1; “When Samuel became old”). The nation’s governance was about to change. Israel moved from a loose confederation of tribes beneath the leadership of judges and Levites to a more socially organized state under the authority of kings (8:1-14:51). This historical moment in history had been forecast earlier in Deuteronomy 16:18-17:20, so we have before us a significant statement. The decision to move to this type of leadership flowed from political, military, and spiritual currents that were at work among the people. I often teach, in the spirit of Ecclesiastes, that there is nothing new under the sun. People today are like people in Samuel’s day. They want leaders who are molded in their own political, military, and even spiritual likeness! There are consequences of such actions, so please read on.

Over the course of time the elders in Israel made their way to Ramah and paid Samuel a visit. They requested that he bypass his sons for leadership and appoint his successor who would become supreme commander over them. Do not miss the point because the situation involved more than temporal circumstances. They used the problem with Samuel’s sons to leap over the fence, so to speak, and exposed their own carnal thinking. They wanted someone different to “judge” over them. This was a bold request because it indicated that they were rejecting God’s leadership of Israel (8:7; see also 10:19). They had a hidden agenda in mind (8:20; cf. Deuteronomy 17:14-17).

“Judge” is an interesting Hebrew word. It carries legal meaning elsewhere where it is rendered “punish,” but it also means “chief.” They were wanting someone to be their leader because they couldn’t get their minds or hands wrapped around a “God, who is Spirit” approach to guidance. This people had been rejecting God’s mighty acts of personal and corporate redemption since they had left Egypt (cf. 8:8).

They wanted someone with flesh and blood to go out and lead as they fought their wars (8:5). The irony is that God ultimately sent his only Son to go out and lead his chosen people, and they crucified him (cf. Luke 19:14)! This whole idea was “evil to Samuel,” which it was (8:6). God responds by giving them entirely what they desired! He did not cave into their demands; instead, he used their hard hearts as a step toward his ultimate redemptive purpose.

This was not going to end well (cf. vv. 11-12, “appoint,” and “assign”), but God’s permissive will would never thwart his final redemptive purposes. Israel pressured Samuel to give them a king, rather than to depend upon the Lord to lead them (8:19-20). The people also looked for a leader that was physically impressive and Saul stood head and shoulders above the crowd (9:2). Saul’s name means “Asked (of God),” but the obvious truth was that the people chose him and not the Lord. There is a right way to look for a leader.

Let's Deepen Our Walk

Derrick Bell, the first African American tenured law professor at Harvard Law School once said, “We live in a system that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained.” A crisis will very often expose flaws in leadership. We have current political examples on both the West and East costs of our nation where governors are under fire for leading unjustly. Where should we turn for good leadership?

I sincerely believe that we should always keep in mind that our Savior, the King of the New Israel, cleansed the Temple and demonstrated his power and authority to lift up the broken and then break down the oppressor (Matthew 21:13). He is the true Leader and deliverer of God’s people, and his followers are called to lead and serve in the same way.

Here are some thoughts for our spiritual growth. I believe that submission to Jesus Christ is a critical lens through which we ought to look when we set out to find and follow a leader. Paul provides us with important criteria for being God’s leaders in 1 Corinthians 10. God’s leader strives to obey the Lord with every ounce of his or her being (2 Corinthians 10:1). God’s leaders are focused on building people up in Christ (10:8). They seek to protect God’s people from destruction and do so in the strength that the Lord provides (10:8, “not destroying you”). God’s leader provides an experience much like the Exodus because he or she will see the need (Exodus 2:25), hear the cry of oppression (Exodus 3:9), and would be used of God to deliver his people (lit. “save” or “rescue” them).

Let's Think and Discuss

1. If you are dissatisfied with current leaders, then begin to pray for them through the set of characteristics that are present in 1 Corinthians 10. If you are presently a leader, then examine your leadership through the same lens. Look carefully to see if your recent decisions reflect the type of leader that Paul describes. Make changes where they are needed.

2. For families: Do your children know your church staff, deacons, and other church leaders? It is a wonderful gift to surround your family with choice servants of God. Children learn to be good leaders by watching good leaders lead. Perhaps your family could host a barbecue or outdoor movie night for your church’s pastoral staff, or their Sunday School department teachers, or deacon body. Discuss with them the special roles these ministers, men and women, serve in your church, and how special each one is to God, to your church family, and to your personal family. Foster friendships between gifted leaders and your children so that they can learn to be good leaders too.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock