Proverbs 14:28 ESV
In a multitude of people is the glory of a king, but without people a prince is ruined.
For humans, the glory of being a leader is bound up in those led. In paintings and in popular memory, perhaps, the shiny medals and the impressive title and the energetic speeches predominate. In the eyes of many leaders, too, the accoutrements of the position, the power to order people around, and the cushy office everybody else wants loom large. Who doesn’t enjoy having people look up to them? The pressure can be tiring, of course, but the acclaim is pleasant indeed. For many, the trappings and power and popularity of leadership are what lend it its luster and glory. For the Christian, though, the glory of the human leader is the excellence his leadership produces, the fruit of his labor.
“The tree is known by its fruit,” Matthew 12:33 declares, and this is a truth we must continually apply to our lives, both in introspection and in understanding the world. The true nature of a thing is understood by that which it produces. All men and all institutions can be so judged: that which produces good signifies itself good, that which produces evil, evil. Leaders are no different: if the fruit they produce is rotten, the leader is condemned. If the fruit is good, though, then the leader has glory.
What fruit is the leader to produce? We have a thousand different types of leaders, after all- politicians, executives, elders, fathers, grandfathers, coaches, bishops (a.k.a. fancy elders), and more. What is the common fruit by which we may judge these leaders as leaders? What is the common denominator between them? The common denominator is that all these men lead people. Therefore, the fruit they bear, as leaders, is of those they lead. This has two halves to it: the righteousness of the people and their efficacy in reaching the desired goal.
The second goal is the easier of the two to achieve. Napoleon, Alexander, and Zhukov were all men very skilled in this, in leading men to reach what they, as the leader, desired. Some men, even, are skilled in leading their followers to reach what the followers desire, irrespective of the leader’s wishes. They bear great fruit, in a way, but divorced from the first fruit, righteousness, it is a fruit rotted by wickedness. The conquests of the generals of old were great indeed, but the suffering and bloodshed and evil which accompanied them was, in the eternal scale, greater still. Of the great deeds of the world, the Bible counts little; they are but tribute to the Lord (Is. 18:7; Rev. 21:24). Of the deaths of His saints, though, the Lord has spoken, saying, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). Clearly, efficacy is not enough; the leader must desire a greater fruit from those he leads than even his greatest goal.
The first goal is, in truth, not in the compass of man’s power. What can man do against the sin of others, when he cannot leash even his own sin (Rom. 7:24)? In his own power, for man to reach for this goal is the bling leading the blind; the pit for both is deep indeed (Matt. 15:14). The power of God, then, is necessary to this endeavor. By God’s grace, the leader may not only reach in himself for virtue- and leading oneself is a task no man on this earth has fully mastered, save Christ alone- but in others. By God’s grace, this search even may succeed. In its most intense form, this quest is the quest of evangelism, calling the sinner to repent and be saved (Acts 2:38). Here too we see the necessity of God: “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (I Cor. 3:6).
Three areas of leadership are particularly addressed in the Bible: state, church, and family (in descending order of population).
For the state, God entrusts the civil government with an implicit task, saying to us of the magistrate, “Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:3-4). Contrary to some assertions, this passage does not condone all rulers or leaders; rather, it established the basis for governmental authority- God’s authority- and the criteria which a government must fulfil in order to possess that authority (and not merely the biggest gun in the neighborhood). This criteria is simple: the one who leads in civil government is to exert his power to be an encouragement and benefit to the virtuous and a terror to wrong-doers. In other words, the primary purpose of civil government is not, as some have asserted, military protection or material prosperity. The primary purpose of the civil government is the flourishing of virtue, albeit through means circumscribed by other passages. The government leader, therefore, has a responsibility not merely to protect his people from physical threat foreign and domestic- an important duty of the second type, of efficacy- but to foster justice and righteousness in the land (Is. 59:8-9).
For the church, God has given instructions as to the qualifications of their leaders. Titus 1 contains one of the most directly pertinent passages, and in verse 9, Paul instructs Titus, “[The elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” The apostle here not only establishes a necessary qualification for the elder- that he holds true to sound doctrine- but explains the purpose of that qualification. The leaders of the church, Paul says in effect, are not merely to seek to build their buildings larger, their coffers deeper, and their pews more heavy-laden. They are to seek to teach good doctrine to those they lead. This instruction naturally dovetails with the instruction given to those in informal leadership within the church, in this case the older women: “They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…” (Tit. 2:3-4). The duty of the church is that of bringing spiritual blessing to its members, not merely seeking efficacy in worldly pursuits.
For the family, the instructions are without possibility of misunderstanding except by obdurate self-interest or deliberate deception. The father, as the leader of the household, is given an explicit instruction to attend to the righteousness of his children (Deut. 6:7), and the mother too. It is this command which is incorporated into Paul’s teaching on the qualifications of elders referenced above (Tit. 1:5-9); it is this command which, if fulfilled, brings to fruition the blessing of Psalm 127:4-5. God gives the father a duty to lead his sons towards righteousness, and it is the glory of the father to succeed in this, his deep shame to fail (Prov. 10:5; see also 12:4).
In all this, I have not really addressed the original Leader, the one who leads all of creation, God. He it is who leads us and all creation towards a great and glorious consummation, wherein all the glory of His triumph shall be seen rightly His, as it was in origin and shall be for eternity. Regardless of your eschatology, the dictate of the Bible is clear: Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23). Christ is the conqueror of creation, who rules and leads all He has conquered, all the Father has given Him (Col. 1:15-20). Is not this a great reason to seek righteousness, that His glory might be increased! To God be the glory, forever and ever.
Written by Colson Potter.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.