Reflect the King
Proverbs is one of those books that everyone loves to quote. It's the go-to resource for posting verses on Facebook, pictures on Instagram, or sending to your friend via text because you want to seem super spiritual. So when I heard the church was going through Proverbs in the month of March, I was excited but also thought Oh, so typical. But as I got to Proverbs 25-29, I did a little research and dove a little deeper. This section was written by Solomon, but not collected and arranged until the time of Hezekiah, some 250 years after Solomon's life. Hezekiah and his men arranged these proverbs into the form we see today which happens to focus on leadership. Today I will focus specifically on Chapters 28 and 29 where they provide guidance to people in places of leadership.
Now, PAUSE. I know not all of us see ourselves as leaders. Some don't even strive for that label because trying hard isn't cool. Whether you see yourself as a leader or not, please keep reading. I have a revelation for you: we are all leaders. There is a biblical basis for that but I won't break it down yet, because that'd be giving away my conclusion. So please stick with me!
Below are three attributes of a leader taken from Proverbs 28-29, as well an explanation of how this applies to us all.
A leader defends others and displays compassion
Our sin nature means we look out for ourselves first and show deference to others only when it is in our best interest. Toddlers throw fits and fight. School age kids bully each other and rebel against their parents. Adults, well, we are probably the worst. Through the years, we amass and gain experience deploying all the selfish tools in our tool belt. It's through that lens that I look at Proverbs 28:15:
Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked ruler over a helpless people. - Proverbs 28:15
While we might not identify ourselves as a wicked ruler, it's very clear our sin nature means we sometimes act in this way. Our natural instinct is to focus internally on our preservation and satisfaction.
A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. - Proverbs 28:3
In Oklahoma, we're very familiar with these types of rains. The rains that wash all the fertilizer off your lawn. The storms that instantly wash out plants and sediment, leaving muddy evidence behind in their wake. The bad leader and tyrannical leader in our society also leaves behind a wake of destruction.
It's very clear that it's against our nature to defend and show compassion to others. If it were our nature, Jesus would not have felt so compelled to call us to another model. He revealed how off our thinking was in the Beatitudes: the poor in spirit are given the kingdom as the rich have it all taken away, falling into poverty.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:3
The stingy are eager to get rich
and are unaware that poverty awaits them. - Proverbs 28:22
It's unnatural for us to defend others, but the poor of all kinds need defenders who show them love and compassion. If compassion and defense of the poor were our default state, it wouldn't be necessary for Jesus to call us to compassion for and defense of the poor. As Christians, we should model this other way, and in doing so, we're promised that we'll lack nothing.
Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor
amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor. - Proverbs 28:8
Those who give to the poor will lack nothing,
but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses. - Proverbs 28:27
As Christ followers, our reactions to the needs around us show the desires of our heart. These actions reflect our true heart condition. In culture, leadership is shown to be equivalent to brute strength, but true leadership is defending the weak and poor. A bully finds a weakness and exploits it, while a leader finds a weakness and protects it.
A leader leads his self first
Our natural reaction, when confronted with a lack of knowledge, is to go into defensive mode and start putting up walls. When someone presses us further, we're more likely to fudge on the details than just say I don't know. This shows a discomfort with admitting where we lack knowledge and wisdom.
But this mentality and attitude will lead us down a path of destruction and reveals us as fools to the masses. So as we're worrying if our lack of knowledge will expose us, it is our inability or unwillingness to learnthat leads our demise.
Those who trust in themselves are fools,
but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. - Proverbs 28:26
Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes
will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. - Proverbs 29:1
Wisdom is a word that is thrown around so much that I'm not sure many of us really understand it. Wisdom is something that is gained over time and is demonstrated in the knowledge we have and judgments we make. And that is really key: not just knowledge, but the correct application of that knowledge. Wisdom is something that takes years and years to cultivate and is only done so by being weird. It's achieved by doing things others aren't willing or able to do.
A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, - Proverbs 29:3a
Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. - Proverbs 29:18
In positions of leadership, you are only a leader if people are actually following you. And to be a leader, you have to display attributes that others aren't displaying. The only way to cultivate these attributes is through self-awareness and self-development. I don't mean reading self-help books or the newest thing on the Wall Street Journal best-seller list. Leading yourself can look a lot of different ways, so I won't go into a long list. But I'm sure a few things will be on the list: prayer and reflection, reading the Bible, and study and mentorship with other Christians.
If wisdom isn't displayed in our own life, the opportunities to lead won't be presented. And if we already hold leadership positions, the lack of wisdom will spawn seed after seed of distrust from those around you.
A leader trusts and seeks out the Lord
This is the home run. The duh moment. The thing we all know. Trust in Him. Pray to Him. Seek fully after Him.
We cannot do life on our own. In all things, we need to seek out the Lord's council and guidance through prayer and reading the Bible. I've been involved in many different areas at church... the worship ministry, youth ministry, committees, Bible studies. A commonality among them all is prayer by the leaders either before and/or after an activity. It is very easy to shrug this off and not assign the importance to this that it truly deserves. I've even joked among family and friends that I don't like ritualistic prayers. I've debated their merit and probably made many people uncomfortable. But the reality is, those prayers have power. By praying in these settings, and hopefully in many others, we're taking a moment to be deferential to our Lord. By deferring, we're surrendering our actions and desires over to Him. By seeking and trusting Him, we have a much better chance of making the right decision.
Evildoers do not understand what is right,
but those who seek the Lord understand it fully. - Proverbs 28:5
And through trusting and seeking Him, we will find safety and justice.
Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
Many seek an audience with a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that one gets justice. - Proverbs 29:25-26
Now that's a promise!
When talking about leadership, it's very easy to think this call doesn't apply to us. Maybe you don't believe you're really a leader. We always think the next level above us are the leaders. I understand, I have had a hard time convincing myself I can truly lead. But even if you don't think you're leader, I think we can all agree that as Christians we are called to be an example.
In Titus 2:7, we're told to set an example by doing what is good. In 1 Timothy 4:12, we're told to set an example in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. In 1 Peter 5:3, the elders of the church are told to be examples to the flock.
If you pull out your dictionary and look up the word example, a synonym is to lead. One of a leader’s main purpose is the be the example for others to model themselves after. That means as Christians, we're called to lead those around us through our reflection of Jesus. So I challenge you to reflect Jesus well and be the leader he has called you to be.