Lessons for Leaders

Today leaders have a credibility and integrity problem partially exacerbated by the news cycle and partly by the continued unethical behavior of these same leaders. If one were to take a poll in your church, how would the political leaders of today rate on the ethical scale of lying, adultery, and giving false testimony?

The ease of dismissing the Ten Commandments is not due to a lack of knowledge of those commands, but to a sense of privilege than enables these unethical leaders to dismiss even the most basic and universal ethical behavior in themselves. Unethical behavior by leaders is as old as time. Historical records, written and oral, throughout the world document that people of note have been either extremely corrupt or extremely good. Sadly, corrupt leaders like Hitler, Genghis Khan, Nero, and Mao Zedon seem to garnish more press even in ancient times and still do.

In biblical history, most leaders did not have a good reputation. Abraham lied to authorities about his wife, twice. Jacob deceived his own father and tricked his brother out of his inheritance. Joseph had his brother incarcerated. Moses murdered a man in cold blood. Even though the first king of Israel reigned 42 years (I Samuel 13:1), God rejected him after the first year of his reign (I Samuel 15:26, 35). Saul was chosen by his people because he was “as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel and he was a head taller than anyone else” (1 Samuel 9:2). God’s requirement for a good leader was obedience.

The popular biblical saying, “to obey is better than sacrifice” was first stated by God to Saul (I Samuel 15:22). God’s advice was repeated by many well-known leaders (Psalm 40:6-8; 51:16; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-15; Jeremiah 7:22; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:25; Micah 6:6-8). A teacher of the law added this condition to Jesus’ answer to which Jesus agreed (Mark 12:28-34). Only one person who came from the line of David fulfilled the requirement for obedience and sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10; I Peter 2:24).

David became well known for lying, coveting his neighbor’s wife, committing adultery, giving false testimony, and having the husband of his pregnant mistress murdered. Obedience was not in his character nor is it in ours.

David started well. The first king failed miserably, so God had Samuel anoint David, a young shepherd boy (I Samuel 16:11-14) who later served King Saul incognito (I Samuel 16:15-22) until Goliath threatened the entire country. Though King Saul offered great wealth, his daughter in marriage, and exemption from taxes, no one dared confront Goliath (I Samuel 17:25). David did not care about these things. David only cared about the reputation of Almighty God. After killing Goliath, the young David became so famous that women composed songs in his honor (I Samuel 18:7; 21:11; 29:5; 2 Samuel 18:3). King Saul became so jealous of David, he wanted him dead. God had other plans.

God told David he would make his name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth (2 Samuel 7:9) and that the Messiah would come from his line (2 Samuel 7:12-16). In fact, the bond between the Messiah and God would be like father and son (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7; 89:26; Jeremiah 3:19; Matthew 3:17; John 1:49; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Hebrews 1:5). God promised David, “My love will never be taken away from him as I took it away from Saul whom I removed before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:15-16). Jesus came from the lineage of David, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Proof that God made David’s name great again.

Did God know that David would commit a grievous sin? Yes. Did God know David’s heart? Yes. God knows each of us intimately from the time we were conceived. God knew David and David knew God knew him.

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain (Psalm 139:1-6)

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16).

David’s sin is well-known today. David committed adultery with a married woman then had her husband murdered when he discovered she was with child. Not only did David commit a grievous sin, he recognized his sin and begged God for mercy in Psalm 51.

First, David asks for God’s mercy on the basis of God’s character not his own.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

Second, David acknowledge his sin was a sin against God.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;

Third, David recognized God’s right to judge him for he was without excuse.

so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Fourth, David believed God would wipe his slate clean.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Fifth, David asked God to fortify him to withstand future temptations

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Sixth, in return, David promised to teach others the ways of God

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Seventh, David promised to praise God in his brokenness.

Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

Herein lies the difference. David’s repentant attitude is unlike leaders who have a smirk on their face when confronted by reporters after being convicted of severe crimes. Sin separates us from God, but some do not care. Their hearts are hardened.

In contrast, all of the songs written by David are steeped in humility before an Almighty God. David begs God for mercy rarely for his people or his enemies but for himself (Psalm 4:1; 6:2, 9; 9:13; 25:6; 26:11; 27:7; 28:2, 6; 30:8, 10; 31:22; 40:11; 41:4; 66:1; 57:1; 59:5; 60:16; 77:9; 86:3, 6, 16; 116:1; 119:132; 130:2; 140:6; 142:1; 143:1).

The Hebrew word for mercy is hanan means to be gracious, kind, and compassionate. The One who is merciful and just requires his children to be merciful and just (Micah 6:8; Hosea 6:6; Zechariah 7:9-10; Matthew 9:13; 23:23; Mark 12:33 Luke 11:42). According to these texts, an authentic relationship with God rests on the integrity of our character not on offerings. The latter must be grounded in the former.

Forgiveness comes with a price. In order to forgive, we must lay down our desire for justice which is not easy. Retribution and revenge lie deep within us. In order for one to offer mercy to one who has done us harm, we must take up our cross, lay down our pride, and give up our right to justice. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

Jesus did not mean that there were some who were righteous for “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Instead, Jesus is referring to those who think they are better than others. the ones who think they are righteous or those who think they are good. Yet, compared to God, no one is righteous. Atheists love saying they are good without God to which I reply, “Are you good enough?” In their eyes, they think they are good enough. This is pride. In God’s eyes, they are not. In Romans 3:9-18, Paul quotes the well-known leaders in the Hebrew Scriptures to prove his point.

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one” (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20).
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit” (Psalm 5:9).
“The poison of vipers is on their lips” (Psalm 140:3)
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness” (Psalm 10:7)
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know” (Isaiah 59:7-8).
“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Psalm 36:1)

The bad news is that everyone is under the power of sin (Romans 3:9), but the good news is that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

None of us deserve God’s mercy. All of us deserve God’s wrath. Only by agreeing to submit to the authority of God in our lives, can we truly understand what it means to be truly forgiven and redeemed by the blood of the Holy Lamb of God. We were bought with a price paid for by Almighty God (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 6:20; 7:23).

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:3-9).

There was nothing King David could do to pay God for what he had done. He lied, coveted his neighbor’s wife, committed adultery, gave false testimony, and was responsible for the murder of Uriah. Obedience was not in his character. Yet he mustered up the courage to ask God to forgive him. He accepted his pitiful state not as a victim but as a broken vessel.

Therein lies the first step for all leaders: confess your sin and ask God to forgive you. Strangely, those of us who have done this do not always feel forgiven at that moment. We may have to humble ourselves before God quite a few times.Confession is not easy to do and the realization that we have been forgiven is not easy to accept. We may believe God has forgiven us in our mind, but not in our being. Jesus told a parable of the man who was forgiven of a large debt but could not forgive a debtor of a smallest of debts. For that he was condemned. Why? Because he did not truly believe in the forgiveness of God. Our ability to forgive others is directly related to our belief that we have been forgiven.

This second step for all leaders is: believe God has forgiven you but never forget God has forgiven you. None of David’s fame, money, or deeds could make up for what he had done. David was a hero. Women sang songs about his heroism. He was adored. He was believed. He was protected by insiders who knew the truth, yet in his deepest part David knew his spirit was not right with God. David believed God had forgiven him and yet never forgot that God had forgiven him. The juxtaposition of this paradox is predicated on living a life knowing that even if we have great power, we are not God. We cannot know all things. We cannot be all places. We cannot exhibit all power. But we can be merciful.

Therefore, the third step for all leaders is: extend mercy to others as God has extended mercy to you. Often the very ones who resist admitting their crimes, are quick to judge others for an unintended infraction. Unjustified harshness is a result of unconfessed sin. Guilt lies hidden deep in the heart of the unrepentant. Sadly, the ones who rarely recognize their own guilt, are quick to recognize guilt in others. This is why Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). As God bearers, we are to showcase God’s attributes, especially the attribute of forgiveness. Those who think they cannot be forgiven, have no hope.

I pray that those in places of leadership who have a credibility and integrity problem will fall on their knees before Almighty God, repent, and turn from their wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14). So should we all.


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