Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Real Leaders Don't Take Themselves Seriously

We should be wary of any would-be leaders who take themselves and their “dignity” seriously. That's part of what God is teaching me today.

Today, during my quiet time, I read the account in 2 Samuel of King David bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. The ark was the place where God dwelt on the earth. In later centuries, it would be housed in the temple, behind a curtain that shrouded “the holy of holies.” (Later still, at the moment Christ died on the cross, the perfect sacrifice for our sins, the curtain tore, meaning that God’s holiness and power were no longer confined to a particular place, but can go out to all who turn from sin and trust in Christ as their Savior and God. And, as Jesus said would happen, this God we know in Christ can be worshiped and known anywhere by anyone. [John 4:21-25])

When the ark arrived in Jerusalem, David took off his royal robes--though he was still clothed in the common garb men wore in those days--and put on the ephod. The ephod was a sacred vestment worn by priests (and a few kings) while worshiping or offering sacrifices to God. Wearing a commoner’s attire and the ephod, David danced through the streets of Jerusalem, honoring, praising, and worshiping God.

But 2 Samuel 6:16 says that one of David’s wives, Michal, the son of his predecessor, Saul, was unimpressed by David’s behavior: “As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”

Why did Michal despise David? A few verses later we learn why: “When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, ‘How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!’” (2 Samuel 6:20)

Michal’s words are sarcastic and untruthful. She thought it unseemly, as her father before her would have, for a king to be one of the people, to divest himself of royal robes, even to honor and worship God.

The hubris that Michal commends to David is precisely what led her father Saul to have such a disastrous kingship. Leaders who are more concerned with their own dignity, power, and position than with honoring God or identifying with their people are worthless.

Michal didn’t know the difference between humility and humiliation.

David’s response to Michal is telling: “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22) [Italics mine.]

Those who are jealous for their own “dignity” think nothing of elevating themselves above others, ignoring the will of God, refusing to repent or take responsibility when they make mistakes, even denying that they make mistakes. Even if, rarely, they do express regret for wrongs, it has more to do with regret for getting caught than it is for doing wrong in the first place. (In the Bible, Saul and Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, have this latter trait in common, by the way.) They bully and are afraid of being bullied. They’re coarse and condemnatory, animated always to prove themselves to be the best. It was for all of these behaviors that God, with sorrow and regret, rejected Saul as Israel’s king (1 Samuel 15:10). 

You cannot be an effective, useful, or godly leader if all you can think about is yourself and your “dignity.” This is what cost Saul the favor of God. In fact, the Spirit of God totally left for Saul because of his self-obsession (1 Samuel 16:14.)

But leaders who are jealous for the Lord are unafraid of appearing “undignified” in the eyes of the world. They know too, like David, that those who humbly seek to follow the Lord themselves won’t regard a humble servant leader with contempt, but with respect.

David understood that he owed everything--his salvation, his calling, his life--to God. Like John the Baptist referring to Jesus, God-enfleshed, David’s humble worship of God said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

David understood what Jesus later taught: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28) (David, of course, wasn’t always a faithful servant leader. But he knew how to repent.)

If even the Creator of the universe is a servant-leader, then how could I presume to “lord it over people” as though I’m “all that”? Jesus says that the first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16).

My dignity doesn’t come from whether people bow and scrape to me, or whether I have loads of money, or whether I impose my will on others. My dignity comes from being a human being created in the image of God and, by God’s grace, from being made a part of His new and everlasting creation through Jesus Christ.

King or president, powerful or powerless, if I trust in and follow Christ, nothing can separate me from the love of God or from the dignity that comes from being, through Christ, a child of God.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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