Some Essential Characteristics of Spiritual Leadership - #2

Dr. Brian Allison

In recent days, because of political scandal, we have been forced to consider afresh and revisit the matter of leadership. As we think of recent events, both in Canadian and American politics, we are again confronted with the question: What constitutes good leadership? Our Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, as well as President Clinton, is on the hot seat. However, both Chretien and Clinton are doing a good job in promoting economic stability and growth. Their performance rating is high. Many may consider their admirable political performance, due to their savvy skills, and draw the conclusion that they are good leaders. Is good leadership measured merely in terms of skills and performance? The Scriptures present a different measuring stick. According to the Scriptures, good leadership is not so much measured in terms of skill and performance as in terms of moral conduct and ethical behaviour. Regardless of job performance and savvy skills, if a leader lacks moral integrity and ethical propriety, he or she forfeits the right to lead. They are not good leaders.

There are specific characteristics which make for good leadership. 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 reads, "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." In the previous verse to this passage, the theme is love. We read, "Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear [i.e., beloved] to us" (2:8). A loving attitude results in affectionate feelings, which results in sacrificial action or service. Now, with verse 9, the apostle simply develops and provides an example of this truth of the motivation of love in ministry.

Sacrificial living

Paul presents to us what love, in a particular way, looks like – "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you." Spiritual leaders should behave sacrificially for the sake of the Gospel. Notice that Paul (as has been his fashion in this chapter) makes an appeal to the personal knowledge of these believers as support and evidence for the contentions and claims that he herein sets forth. He invites them to recall the events. Notice also verse 2, "But after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know...;" again, verse 5, "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know..."

Keep in mind that Paul is responding to the charge of having false motives and of behaving in an inappropriate way – of being a charlatan, a huckster. Paul was forced to defend himself and his ministry because certain detractors had come in among God's people and were leveling false charges against him, and he makes appeal to these believers's personal knowledge of the facts. In effect, he says, "You know how we lived among you, you know how we acted toward you, you know how we behaved in your midst, you know it regardless of these charges." In particular, he says, "You know that we have sacrificed personal comfort. You know that we have relinquished apostolic rights. You know that we refused to be an imposition to you" – "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you."

The term "labor" means rigorous toil, working up a sweat in order to accomplish a particular goal. It is activity that involves and results in exhaustion. The term "hardship" suggests great difficulty, that which is strenuous and extremely challenging. Paul 'toiled and moiled' to eke out a living in order to survive. But he had every right to demand and expect financial support from these believers. 1 Corinthians 9:14 reads, "So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel." The apostle Paul proclaimed the Gospel. He had been called, commissioned, and equipped by God to minister the Gospel. He had every right to demand from God's people financial support in order that he would be freed up to preach that Gospel. Yet, Paul refused to exercise such a right. 1 Corinthians 9:15 reads, "But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it may be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one."

The apostle Paul made a deliberate sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. Think about this matter of sacrifice for a moment. The notion of sacrifice, in any form, has fallen into much disrepute. In our day and age, it seems that this term sacrifice has become an obsolete category; we have become used to comfort and ease. We have become reluctant to give up things for the sake of the Gospel, especially if it involves relinquishing our comfort and ease. You hear the language, "Well, I worked hard for this;" "I put in overtime for this;" "I deserve this." We have imbibed and have become intoxicated with the air of the American/Canadian dream. We have nice homes, fine cars, and cozy cottages. Am I begrudging one the enjoyment of the things of this life? Absolutely not. God has freely given us all things to enjoy; but my concern is this: Where is your heart? Who are you working for? What motivates you? What are you giving priority to and putting in time for? Why are you setting aside the funds? Is it for the glory of God, for the kingdom of God? God is not opposed to wealth; He does not frown on the rich. But those who are wealthy and rich have an added responsibility and obligation toward the Church of Christ – "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share" (1 Tm. 6:17,18). What is motivating you?

Self-excuse and self-justification

We live in an age where the predominant philosophy is that of selfishness – "My time is my own...my family comes first...my comfort and my rest have a priority." Is that what you say? Do you say, "I worked hard all day; I deserve to relax and laze around in the evening. I deserve to cater to myself"? Is that how you think? That is not the Gospel! Matthew 10:34-39 reads, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; AND A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me [let's not water down the language]. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it." That is the Gospel! Are you living the Gospel?

I remember a student who came to seminary a few years ago, at about 40 years of age, with his wife and many children. He is now pastoring in Rhode Island. He had been a police officer who was making a substantial income. He had the "good life." Then he heard the call of God to discipleship; and he gave it all up. That is sacrifice. That is an example of the Gospel, and that is what Christ calls us to. We are typically creatures of self-justification and self-excuse. Indeed, the Lord has freely given us all things to enjoy, but often we deceive ourselves and go beyond what Christ has determined and ordained; and our self-deception will damn us, our self-justification and self-excuse will damn us. Let's not water down the Gospel. What took up your time this past week? How many hours did you spend watching T.V., relaxing in the evening, because you deserve it? Be honest now. How much time did you give to Christ and His kingdom? "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt. 6:21). God is not mocked. By our actions and behaviour we demonstrate what is important to us, and what things we love the most. Jesus says that if you love any other thing, or any other person, more than Him, you are not worthy of Him. Do you believe that? If you do not believe it now, my friend, you will believe it at His return; and then it will be too late for many.

So, Paul says, "You know that I toiled, I laboured, I worked hard (and I am not bragging, I am just setting forth the facts) during the night and during the day, and besides all that, I preached the Gospel." We tend to complain and say, "Well, life is just too busy." Life will always be busy. We say that we do not have enough time to serve and minister. Paul says, in effect, "I worked like a dog, during the day and during the night, because I did not want to be an imposition to you. We worked so that no one could point the finger, saying that I or my companions were taking advantage of the situation. You know how we worked to survive;" and then he says, "And in that context of sheer busyness, we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God." Preaching was not Paul's full time employment, but it was his full time passion. Now, as a preacher of the Gospel, I find that tremendously humbling; and, of course, God needs to give one grace in order to be able to make that kind of commitment. But the point I want to make is this: Busyness is not an acceptable excuse for failure to serve in ministry. Sure, we need rest. Even Jesus said to His disciples, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while" (Mk. 6:31). But the problem with many of us is that we use busyness as an excuse to 'cop out' of service, rather than to be refreshed in order to continue on in service. It really is a matter of priorities, isn't it?

In reality, we give lame-brain excuses and groundless complaints of being too busy because we lack love. The real problem is a cold heart, not a 'full plate'. Do you love the Gospel? Do you love people? Does it matter to you that people are perishing? Do you desire their salvation? If you don't love the Gospel, and if you don't love the souls of people, and if you don't desire their salvation, then the lazy-boy chair is inviting. But both you and I will have to give an account of wasted years and wrong priorities. Busyness is not always an acceptable excuse. God knows that, you know that, I know that.

But further, notice that Paul laboured and endured hardship in order to survive because he did not want there to be any occasion for offence. He sacrificed so that no one could accuse or blame him for inappropriate action. He did not want any criticism to be leveled against the ministry. He did not want to be charged with taking advantage of these believers. That is a good attitude. Accordingly, 2 Corinthians 6:3 reads, "Giving no cause for offence in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited;" again, 1 Corinthians 9:12 reads, "If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ." Paul says, "We were careful how we lived, how we behaved, how we acted, because we did not want the possibility, nor the occasion, for someone to be able to point the finger at us and say that we acted inappropriately, that we exploited the situation, that we gave offence; and thus bring disrepute on the Gospel ministry." Paul took pains to guard the integrity of the ministry in order that the Gospel might receive a warm reception, and that people might be saved. Paul loved the Gospel and what the Gospel could do – transform depraved, corrupt hearts and fashion them in the very image of Christ. I asked you earlier whether you love the Gospel; maybe I ought to ask you as well: Do you believe the Gospel? Do you really believe that the Gospel can transport a hell-bound, wrath-deserving sinner into the kingdom of God and into eternal life? Do you believe the Gospel? Paul did.

Morally honourable lifestyle

Second, spiritual leaders should behave morally honourable – "You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers" (2:10). Again, Paul appeals to the believers' personal knowledge of the situation, their personal knowledge of his conduct and behaviour. Paul is not bragging. Again, he is concerned about the honour of the Gospel; and that is why he defends himself. He knows that if he is discredited in the eyes of his spiritual children, then the Gospel would be hampered, it would be hindered; and so he defends himself for the sake of the Gospel. Not only does Paul appeal to their personal knowledge, but he also appeals to God's personal knowledge. That is holy boldness.

So, Paul claims that he lived devoutly, uprightly, and blamelessly toward these believers. Can any one of us say that? Would you be ashamed, would I be ashamed, to have anyone witness the exchange that took place in our homes this past week, as we talked to our wives, or as we talked to our husbands; or that took place in our places of employment, as we talked to our co-workers or our employers. What about the T.V. programs we watched this past week, or the magazines we perused, or the music we listened to? Would we be ashamed if the truth were known and the search light had been on us this past week? Paul says that God was witness that he had lived in a morally honourable way.

Paul lived 'devoutly' that is, piously, holily. Paul is really talking about his relationship with God. He says, "I lived in such a way as to be an open book in the presence of God. I lived in such a way that my life was clean, my mind was clean; I lived as a holy man." Not only that, Paul lived 'uprightly'. Here the emphasis is on his relationship to people. He says, "I played 'according to the rules'; I did what was right; I lived a righteous life. I walked in love." And, in somewhat summary fashion, he states that he lived 'blamelessly'; that is, irreproachably. No one could stand back and point the finger and say, "You are the man!" Quite a testimony isn't it? And this was a man with passions similar to ours.

Notice that Paul behaved this way in special reference to believers – "we behaved toward you believers." Paul is not saying that he did not behave this way toward unbelievers. Of course he did; but it is a matter of emphasis. He says, "We behaved in such a way with you believers in mind. We were concerned that you receive a right view and understanding of the Gospel, and what it means to live by the Gospel. We were concerned about your spiritual state and condition so much that we lived in such a way knowing that our behaviour and conduct could have a great impact on you to whom we preached the Gospel, realizing that you would look at us to be examples of that Gospel. We were self-conscious about how we behaved around you. We did not succumb to carnal behaviour. We did not give in to fleshly behaviour. We were concerned about our demeanour and deportment because we did not want anything to hinder your hearing, understanding, and receiving of the Gospel." That is commitment, and that is a word of exhortation for us who have been in Christ for a while. When we relate to those who are young in the faith, let us remember that they are watching us. We are to so live our lives in their sight and in their presence that they are encouraged in the faith, and that they do not raise questions, such as, "I thought this person was a leader in the Church, and yet he (or she) is behaving that way. Are Christians free to live that way?" As a result of your behaviour and conduct, they may lose faith in the Gospel. The young believers may say, "If he (or she) is not going to live in a commendable way, why should I?" The young are looking, and they are taking note; and we need to be sensitive to that fact and live accordingly. So, we need to live morally honourable lives, and we need to do so particularly towards believers because our behaviour and conduct impacts them.

Loving concern

Paul expected and challenged these believers, his spiritual children, to live as he did, to imitate him. Third, spiritual leaders should be seriously concerned about the depth of spirituality in other believers – "Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory" (2:11,12). Paul was deeply concerned about the spiritual condition and direction of these believers, and as a result he employed appropriate spiritual means to promote growth and maturity in Christ. He says, "We exhorted you. We did not lord it over you; but we exhorted you because we knew that you needed that push, that prodding, that challenge, that confrontation. We were willing to be misunderstood in order to challenge you to live a holy life. Love is bold; it does not matter what you think of us, but what Christ thinks of you; and knowing that, we exhorted you to live a life pleasing to God. Not only that, we did not always come down hard on you, knowing that the human spirit can only take so much of that, but we also encouraged you, saying, 'Come on, brother, you can do it. Come on, brother, pray with me. Come on, press on, you can make it, things are going to be fine.'"

The term 'encourage' also means to console; it presupposes that someone is hurting. Paul was sensitive to the needs of the brethren. He says, "We not only consoled you, comforted you; but we also implored you; we appealed to you, saying, 'Please, seek the Lord; please pray; please pursue Him for revival and renewal.'" To implore means to urge. These are the means that Paul says that he employed to promote spiritual growth and maturity, not as a task master, but as a lover of their souls. Remember that Paul is fleshing out the fact that he loves them. Again, he appeals to their own knowledge. They knew his manner and methods.

Paul ministered to these believers as a father. You who are fathers can appreciate this point. Fathers feel a deep need to protect, to guide, and to help their children. Paul was primarily concerned about instruction. But why was Paul preoccupied with ministering? Why was he concerned about the depth of their spirituality? Why did he lose sleep? Why did he work himself to the bone? Why did he engage in this rigorous activity of instructing, with its various forms? He tells us, "So that you may walk in a manner worthy of God" (2:12a). Let those words sink down deep into our minds. Paul was concerned that these believers lived in a way that was pleasing and acceptable to God. He was clearly committed to their spiritual development; he was clearly committed to their spiritual perfection; and again, that was simply an expression of love. Notice that it is possible to live in a manner worthy of God. I find that fact tremendously encouraging – that we can live in such a way that we honour God's name, faithfully reflecting His character, so that we receive His approval or His smile. It is absolutely wonderful to know that we can live under the smile of God. If you are a true child of God, there is absolutely nothing that you should desire more than this – that His smile is upon you, that He delights in you. God is not some ogre, waiting to bash us. Some bemoan the fact that they can never please God or satisfy His requirements; but God delights in godly lives. You and I can walk in a manner that is worthy of God, in a manner that evokes His smile; and this ought to be the chief concern of spiritual leaders – to have God's people walk worthy of Him "who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." Do you see the implications? If we do not walk worthy of God, we will not enter His kingdom and His glory.

If you are reading this message and you do not know Christ as your Saviour and Lord, I want to tell you, my friend, that it is possible for you also to walk worthy of God, who is now calling you into His kingdom and glory. Won't you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins? Won't you believe that Jesus Christ was buried and rose again on the third day for your justification? Come in simple faith saying, "Lord, I am a sinner. I have rebelled against You, and lived my own life, and gone my own way. But Christ died for sinners, and I believe that He died for me; that when He died, He took the punishment that I rightly deserve as a sinner. God, I accept Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord." If you do that, my friend, God will give you access into His kingdom and glory, into the wonder and joy of eternal life. Won't you believe today?