In Psalm 15, King David asks the Lord, “Who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” In order for a leader to abide in Christ, he must understand what it means to live a life worthy of being called a leader. Psalm 15 clearly delineates eleven qualities, that if upheld, according to verse 5 mean the leader “will never be shaken.”
If you are traveling somewhere, you have to know how to get there. I believe that King David was just like a lot of us. He wanted to be a great leader, but he needed some more clarification about how to get there.
Whenever my husband and I head out for a road trip, he always programs our Global Positioning System (GPS) with our destination as well as any stops we would like to make along the way. The GPS stays in touch with the satellites in the atmosphere to assure us that we are headed in the right direction. The device will tell us how far we have until we need to make a turn or if we need to be aware of heavy traffic ahead. Occasionally we are going somewhere familiar and decide to take a shortcut that is not directed by the GPS. Very quickly, the GPS will ask us to please find a safe place to turn around, “you have veered off the recommended course”.
Psalm 15 can be viewed as a roadmap to what it means to live a blameless life. The guidelines set out are not easy, but they are very detailed. They address many areas of life and cover a variety of character issues including integrity, money, honesty, and relationships with other people. It doesn’t matter what kind of leader you are, Psalm 15 is written for everyone that desires to become the person that God created them to be.
If you turn over to the New Testament, Ephesians 4-6 goes into more detail about exactly what the life of a leader looks like. Paul talks about unity in the body of Christ, describes the different roles that Christians are called to live, and challenges us to live as children of light. He goes on to talk about what it means to be imitators of Christ in our dealings with our spouse, our parents, our children, and those in authority over us. Ephesians 6 closes out the section with specific instructions on how to put on the full armor of God in order to protect ourselves in time of spiritual warfare.
In researching this letter to the church at Ephesus, it was interesting to look at the Greek to really see the heart of what Paul was trying to get across to them. The opening word in Ephesians chapter 4 is parakalo. Parakalein denotes an urgent request and encouragement, charge, or pep-talk. The NIV translates this word to mean “urge”. Paul adds emphasis to his urging by pointing out his imprisonment, which he is suffering only because he preached the Gospel. Someone who believes strongly enough in this material to be imprisoned for it certainly deserves our attention!
The first part of Ephesians 4 speaks very specifically to the idea of unity in the body of Christ. The passage doesn’t say that everyone will have the same gifts and abilities; in fact, verses 11-13 speak to the fact that there are many different roles to be filled. Each role is critical to the makeup of the body.
I had the privilege of playing on a number of basketball teams growing up. I was never great at the game, but always enjoyed playing with different groups of people. As I have gotten older and running and jumping isn’t what it used to be, I have now become a high school basketball coach. My job is to make sure that the five girls on the court know what their role is. I don’t need five guards and I don’t need five post players. It takes the right people playing the role they are most gifted in to make our team function as a team. If my shortest player is the only one crashing the boards, our team will not be very successful in the rebounding department. My job as their coach is to create unity on the team by convincing my players that they were created for a specific purpose. The only way our team will be successful is for them to all be the best at what they are best at.
Paul is talking about Christ being the head in Ephesians 4:16 when he says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” A leader has to decide if they are willing to be good at that one particular thing God has gifted them to do. In order to be successful as a leader, we have to put our agenda aside in favor of running hard after God’s perfect plan for our lives.
Ephesians 4 goes on to talk more about what it means to have a new attitude, how to deal with your anger, and what it means to speak truthfully to your neighbor. One of the most often quoted Scriptures from this passage comes from verse 29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
That is a great verse for leaders because it reminds us that what we say doesn’t just affect those we are speaking to, it also resonates in the minds of those that overhear what we say. Leaders are never “off the clock” or “off the record”. The life of a leader is always open to be observed by others. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 5 continues in the same vein as Psalm 15 giving some very practical examples of what it means to be an imitator of Christ. If you want to be a leader that honors God, you must take this chapter, put it into a checklist and evaluate your life on a regular basis. You should also invite other believers to assess your life to hold you accountable to these things.
Ephesians 5:16-17 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” The life of a leader is not an easy one, but God promises to reward those who are faithful to Him. In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson says, “Blessing is at the end of the road. And that which is at the end of the road influences everything that takes place along the road.”
The end of Ephesians 5 and the beginning of Ephesians 6 speak very clearly to relationships. The first relationship Paul covers is the one between husbands and wives. Every leader must be willing to submit to a higher authority. Humility is one of the most valued characteristics of leadership in the Bible. No Christian would ever argue Jesus’ position as the Son of God, but even he humbled himself in John to wash the disciple’s feet in the Upper Room and again on the cross to forgive us of our sins. Ephesians challenges husbands and wives to be great by lowering themselves to serve each other. The husband is commanded to love his wife just as Christ loved the church and for a wife to submit to her husband as unto the Lord.
After husbands and wives, Paul talks about children and parents and then slaves and masters. It is amazing how closely these relationships are compared to that of husbands and wives because his overriding point is submission to the authority of Christ. Paul makes it quite clear that if you serve your spouse, your parent, and your master the way that you would serve Christ, it will go well for you. He also commands those in authority to serve just as Christ served the church and gave himself for it.
The concept of humility is in direct contrast to the society that we live in that tells us to step on whomever we have to in order to make it to the top. Popular culture would tell us that humility is weakness and we should do whatever it takes to be liberated from whatever ties us down. Eugene Peterson said, “The Christian is a person who recognizes that our real problem is not in achieving freedom but in learning service under a better master.” When it all comes down to it, people enjoy being led by a good master. What better example could there be to follow than Jesus himself?
Paul ends his exhortation in chapter 6 by talking about the armor of God. Every good leader must have a plan for what to do in case of attack. It is not a matter of if the attack will come, but rather when it will come. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
There are six pieces of armor mentioned in this passage. They are the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Each piece is a vital part of the protection needed to combat the evil attacks from Satan. “Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God, who keeps all evil from getting inside us, who guards our life, who guards us when we leave and when we return, who guards us now, who guards us always.” (Peterson).
As Christian leaders, the Bible is full of instructions on how to serve the Lord and impact the world for Christ. Psalm 15 and Ephesians 4-6 can be used as a manual for learning how to be a leader. Ephesians 6 wraps up by telling us to put on the full armor of God and go make a difference in the world. Are you ready for this? Leadership is not for the faint of heart.