2 Samuel 3:1-12 – Which One Would You Follow?

The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.

Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream the son of David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron.

During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

Abner was incredibly angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So, he answered, “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oathand transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.

Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, “Whose land, is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.” (New International Version)

“Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”

World War II British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976)

Our inner character is a combination of what we do, why we do it, and how we go about it. Personal character is seen in the reactions and responses of life events and situations. And Holy Scripture is concerned and attentive to all our attitudes and actions in the world.

Stories in the Old Testament are largely designed to help us, as readers and listeners, to compare and contrast the mindsets, motivations, and morals of the principal actors in those narratives. We are meant to understand the difference between godly and ungodly people through how the story shakes out.

Three leaders are paraded before us in today’s Old Testament lesson. The story is arranged so that we will take a look at their manner of life. The lesson begs us to implicitly ask: Which of the three characters would you follow?

David

King David was a true leader, having G-d’s calling, inquiring to G-d continually, and using his ruling authority to extend kindness, like G-d does. Because of David’s character, his reign became stronger and stronger. David neither planned to annihilate all of Saul’s heirs as rivals to this throne, nor did he set out to make their lives miserable – despite the fact that most people of the time would actually expect him to do that.

Ish-Bosheth

Whereas David was initially ruling only Judah, Ish-Bosheth was a son of Saul and king of Israel. He was a mere figurehead. Abner, the army’s general, was really calling the political shots in Israel. Ish-Bosheth was too fearful to challenge Abner, and so, never exerted a significant influence. Instructive for us as readers is the absence of this king’s prayers or efforts to do anything helpful or constructive for his people.

Ish-Bosheth’s name essentially means “Master,” a dignified word which is meant to communicate respect. The incongruence between Ish-Bosheth’s ascribed name, and his actual attitudes and lack of action, betrays a double-minded person, divided in decision-making, not knowing quite what to do, so doing nothing of substance which helps anyone.

Contrasting Ish-Bosheth with David, we clearly see that David is no figurehead but the leader of his people. Unlike Ish-Bosheth, David is no washrag and is no one’s puppet but takes charge of situations by inquiring of G-d, then acting.

Confidence comes from knowing the Lord and stepping out in faith, which is precisely what David’s pattern of kingship was like.

“God grant that men of principle shall be our principal men.”

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America (1743-1826)

Abner

Israel’s general, Abner, was neither like David nor Ish-Bosheth. Although Abner had the qualities of confidence and taking charge, unlike David, he was a self-serving leader.

Abner used his position to gain for himself power and prestige. He was willing to quickly switch his loyalties when it was no longer helpful for him, personally. Although Abner did right by working toward uniting the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (a good thing) he did it for all the wrong reasons (a bad thing).

Compared to David, Abner has only self-interest, not the common interest of all citizens. He acts for what he can personally get out of it – which is just the opposite of David, who has an eye which scans the horizon to do what is best for the common good of all the kingdom’s subjects.

Conclusion

When we read today’s story, the guided narrative wants us to arrive at the conclusion of saying, “I don’t want to become or follow somebody like Ish-Bosheth or Abner. I want to become and follow someone like King David.”

David listened to G-d, prayed to G-d, and acted with justice and kindness because of G-d. There’s likely no better approach to the spiritual life than that.

Grant us, Lord G-d, a vision of our world as your love would make it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the benefits of abundant life are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in tolerance and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above statue of King David by French artist Nicolas Cordier, c.1610

2 Samuel 2:1-11 – A Devout Leader

In the course of time, David inquired of the Lord. “Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?” he asked.

The Lord said, “Go up.”

David asked, “Where shall I go?”

“To Hebron,” the Lord answered.

So, David went up there with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail, the widow of Nabal of Carmel. David also took the men who were with him, each with his family, and they settled in Hebron and its towns. Then the men of Judah came to Hebron, and there they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.

When David was told that it was the men from Jabesh Gilead who had buried Saul, he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The Lord bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the Lord now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the people of Judah have anointed me king over them.”

Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.

Ish-Bosheth son of Saul was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he reigned two years. The tribe of Judah, however, remained loyal to David. The length of time David was king in Hebron over Judah was seven years and six months. (New International Version)

Leadership today seems more complicated and compromised than ever. Narcissistic leaders appear to be everywhere. Leaders with competence and integrity struggle to maintain self-care and self-confidence in a sea of belligerent and polarized people.

And yet, there has never been a time with more resources for leaders in the form of podcasts, websites, seminars, books, education, etc. There seems to be an inconsistency, a disconnect between the availability of knowledge and the actual lived experience of leaders.

King David was a great and famous leader. We still talk about him three-thousand-years later! Three essentials made David, and can make us, godly and effective leaders.

A Devout Leader Has a Calling from G-d

David was the youngest sibling in his family. No one saw an aspiring leader, let alone one of the most famous kings in history, in David. While David was tediously tending sheep out in the backwaters of Judah, nobody was aware of his potential greatness. But G-d saw. And the Lord sent the prophet Samuel to anoint him as king.

Through a long series of events, the people of Judah recognized David’s gifts, abilities, and potential. And they affirmed those abilities and chose to place David in authority over the entire nation as king – confirming his anointing from years earlier.

Not everyone is called to a high position. Yet, we are all called to exercise leadership in our respective places and positions. Whether a parent, teacher, church deacon, factory worker – or any other role or vocation – we are in those positions through a divine call. So, we are to be daily mindful of that personal calling.

A Devout Leader Inquires of G-d

King David took his leadership cues from the Lord, and not just on what he believed was the best thing to do. David was both principled and pragmatic – rarely losing sight of principles just to get things done, nor short-sighted on the practical effects of decision-making.

David was able to hold both his biblical principles and keen pragmatism through inquiring of G-d. He was a person of prayer, constantly and consistently asking the Lord about everything. The times David failed to act on principled conviction and pragmatic practice are the events in which he simply did not look to G-d, but instead, rested on his laurels or relied on his position.

A Devout Leader Is a Servant to G-d

Perhaps one reason our world has a lack of good solid leaders is that we aren’t looking for followers who exhibit humility to the Lord through serving the common good of all persons.

David learned leadership through being a servant and a follower of G-d. Once becoming king, David used his authority and position to show steadfast love to the people in his kingdom – rather than focusing on consolidation of power or ensuring the people were serving the king.

A devout leader uses their influence to extend mercy and kindness – making the world a better place through attention to justice and systematically providing for the needs of others.

“True leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

J. Oswald Sanders

Conclusion

A true leader of G-d is called by G-d, inquires of G-d, and seeks to extend grace to others with the same grace extended from G-d to them.

In other words, character is the essential element for leaders. And that principled leadership is expressed through the competence of loving G-d and neighbor.

Leadership devoid of spiritual awareness will inevitably result in short-sighted and self-serving leaders. Conversely, devout leadership which evidences an integration of mind, emotions, and spirit will surely bring life and happiness to many.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.

O Lord our Divine Leader, bless human leaders throughout our world, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to one another. Lord, keep the nations under your care. Give grace to your servant leaders, O Lord, and grant them wisdom and mercy in the exercise of their duties. Give courage and foresight to provide for the needs of all people. Help leaders to fulfill their obligations.

And finally, teach people everywhere to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name. For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

*Above painting: King David Playing the Harp by Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

**Above statue of King David by Italian sculptor Adamo Tadolini, 1856

Titus 1:1-9 – Effective Spiritual Leaders

From Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I’m sent to bring about the faith of God’s chosen people and a knowledge of the truth that agrees with godliness.

Their faith and this knowledge are based on the hope of eternal life that God, who doesn’t lie, promised before time began. God revealed his message at the appropriate time through preaching, and I was trusted with preaching this message by the command of God our savior.

To Titus, my true child in a common faith.

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our savior.

The reason I left you behind in Crete was to organize whatever needs to be done and to appoint elders in each city, as I told you. Elders should be without fault. They should be faithful to their spouse and have faithful children who can’t be accused of self-indulgence or rebelliousness. This is because supervisors should be without fault as God’s managers: they shouldn’t be stubborn, irritable, addicted to alcohol, a bully, or greedy. Instead, they should show hospitality, love what is good, and be reasonable, ethical, godly, and self-controlled. They must pay attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so that they can encourage people with healthy instruction and refute those who speak against it. (Common English Bible)

Paul wrote his letter to Titus so that spiritually solid competent virtuous leaders might be appointed to guide the church on the island of Crete (located in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Greece). 

There was no ambiguity with Paul about the importance of leadership. The Apostle clearly laid out his expectations that church officials must have a good reputation – not bossy, quick-tempered, heavy drinkers, bullies, or dishonest in business. Instead, they must be friendly to strangers and enjoy doing good things. They must also be sensible, fair, pure, and self-controlled.  They must stick to the true message they were taught, so that their good teaching can help others and correct everyone who opposes it.

I find it interesting that very few biblical scholars view this teaching as an ideal to aspire – while many churches and believers think this is the case. There is neither any indication nor reason within the biblical text to think that Paul presented his expectations for the ideal leader, as if no one could really be this way. 

Furthermore, Paul did not provide his instruction as a strategy for getting apathetic people off their butts and into some form of service. No, it’s best to understand that Paul meant what he said. He knew that compromising on the character of leadership would erode and destroy the church.

“True leadership is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you.”

J. Oswald Sanders

The selection of church leaders is important because just one bad belly-aching non-virtuous apple can upset the entire apple cart. Good people provide good teaching and good wisdom. Selfish people with a self-centered agenda find ways to subvert or manipulate sound instruction to get what they want. 

Everyone in the Body of Christ is to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of God. They are to be wise to all the shenanigans of myopic persons through understanding the commands and instruction of Holy Scripture. This is yet another reason to immerse ourselves in the Bible so that we will lead with confidence.

If a church or faith community feels the need to overlook character defects to fill empty leadership seats, then Houston, we have a problem. Any short order cook worth his salt would never crack open a rotten egg and mix it in with the rest to make an omelet. And any group of people who throw a bad egg into their leadership team had better be ready to get sick and vomit when meetings are called to order.

It is imperative that spiritual leaders possess the following:

  • A good reputation
  • Faithfulness and fidelity to their families.
  • A clear-mind and consistent good behavior.
  • Self-control
  • The moral courage to speak truth with grace.
  • A spirit and practice of hospitality.
  • An ability to communicate well so that people are built up in their faith.
  • Sobriety
  • Humility
  • Respectability
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Generosity
  • Compassion
  • Maturity
  • Sincerity
  • Honesty
  • Empathy
  • Purity

All these traits are needed for effective and godly spiritual leadership. Compromising on virtue will never end well. Upholding moral character brings blessing.

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” 

John R.W. Stott

God calls and sets apart individuals for service. The Lord desires to reveal and manifest the divine presence among people through leaders who reflect God’s good attributes. Jesus Christ wants his church to be built up through faithful service. The Spirit seeks to sanctify and empower for effective ministry.

Nowhere do we find in Scripture that a leader’s main job is listening to complaints. That’s because God has a zero tolerance policy toward murmuring, grumbling, and ingratitude. In fact, the New Testament clearly says to do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)

Neither will you find the church is supposed to operate just like an American form of democracy. Spiritual leaders are not representatives of the people to do their will. Instead, they are representatives of God to the people so that God’s will is done in all things. 

That all means prayer to God and outreach to the world is the major work for spiritual leaders. And it takes virtuous and ethical persons leading to realize love to all kinds of people. So, feel free to exercise leadership. Just make sure that leadership is grounded in the God of integrity and the Word of grace and truth.

Almighty God, the One who gives good gifts to people, may every grace of ministry rest on divinely appointed leaders. Keep them strong and faithful so that your church may prosper in peace. Grant leaders wisdom, courage, discretion, and benevolence so that they may fulfill their charge to the glory of Jesus Christ and in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Mark 10:42-45 – True Leadership

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as 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 slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (New International Version)

Leadership as Service

I remember a time when all politicians, government officials, and police were known as “public servants.” It was routinely assumed that such persons served the common good of all persons, regardless of who they are. I am also not delusional about the fact that, back in the day, just as today, there are those who served themselves first. However, at least, the ideal and vision of service was continually before the people.

Power is to be wielded for the benefit of the powerless. Authority is to be used to help those who cannot help themselves. Contemporary understandings of authority for many people today often do not have the common good as their guiding principles of leadership.

Misuse of Leadership

Rather, authority becomes the means of convincing others of the leader’s opinion or position. Power is used to influence, even arm-twist people toward the leader’s ideas. What’s more, those who enabled the leader to come to power expect that leader to use authority to benefit a particular agenda and only one slice of the human population. Lost is the vision of meeting needs for everyone, not just a certain constituency.

The ultimate use of power is to share it, even lay it down. Jesus did it in his incarnation, life, and death. He only took it up again after his mission was finished. We are to follow his cues on power and authority. We have opportunities galore to follow Christ in his leadership practice. For example, I once lived in a community with a large single parent family population. After talking with the elders of my church about this situation, they became excited about the prospects of reaching moms and children struggling to make it day to day.

The discussion did a hard turn of direction when I suggested we have some of those moms come in, sit around the table with us, and dictate what would constitute effective ministry which meets their needs. I was intentionally proposing that we, as church authority figures, share our power with the moms. The elders weren’t having it. One of them said outright, “Well, we can’t do that! We know better!” (than the moms do)

Whenever those in power and authority believe it is their mandate to make decisions without even having conversations with those whom those decisions effect, then they have become masters of small worlds, lords of folly, and ideational bullies. It is not the way of Jesus.

Appropriate Use of Leadership

Proper use of authority doesn’t mean we boss people around. It means we do what we need to do to help everyone in our scope of power. Taking charge must always begin with self. The self-control and self-discipline of the leader is the basis of leadership.

The heart of Christianity is loving service to one another as Christians, and humble service to a world which doesn’t believe, or act like us. Christian leaders are to focus on others’ well-being, success, and growth. They are to value character over career.

Christian disciples follow Jesus in the use of power and authority through:

  • Taking a humble posture of consulting and collaborating with others. And when decisions are made, they maintain relational connections.
  • Including others, and never vilifying or casting blame when stating a case for something.
  • Dealing with trouble and working to clear a toxic environment of noxious attitudes.
  • Directly confronting those they have an issue with, without creating destructive triangles to diffuse responsibility.
  • Encouraging a healthy dynamic of love and service which seeks listening before acting.

Leadership is more about being than about doing. Responsible use of authority comes from the person who understands themselves, is curious about others, and seeks to wisely apply Christ’s compassion to meet human need.

The Leadership of Jesus

Jesus healed people and delivered them from evil, sometimes at great risk to himself. He continually eschewed the perks of power to single-mindedly pursue the Father’s will. Even in his selection of disciples, Jesus purposely overlooked others to choose a rather motley band of men made up of uneducated country bumpkins, the poor, and the overzealous.

The Lord Jesus proclaimed a kingdom that belongs to children, using power to drive out demons and forgive sins. Christ delegated his authority to the disciples to do this same sort of work.

Jesus isn’t offering leadership theories; he is offering himself. Christ is our model of the appropriate use of power. Therefore, humbling ourselves must become our ambition! Our Lord, the ultimate authority above all authorities, humbled himself. Though being powerfully divine, he took the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even the particularly shameful death on a cross—the ultimate humiliation. Yet God exalted Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe. (Phil 2:5-11)

Will you divest yourself of the pride in believing you know what is best for everyone around you? Will you cease speaking and start listening? Will you follow Jesus to the risky place of sharing power and authority with the powerless?

God, I am far too often influenced by what others think of me. I am always pretending to be either richer or smarter or nicer than I really am. Please prevent me from trying to attract attention. Don’t let me gloat over praise on one hand or be discouraged by criticism on the other. Nor let me waste time weaving imaginary situations in which the most heroic, charming, witty person present is myself. Show me how to be humble of heart, like you. Amen.