The right use of authority or power can make people glad. In our age, however, power is often immediately viewed with skepticism or outright disdain.
Of course, some level of skepticism isn’t completely unwarranted given the abuses of power in the world. These abuses have their roots all the way back in the garden, where we find that first misuse of power. In Genesis, God made Adam and Eve vice-regents over creation, but they failed to use their power in God-honoring ways. Instead, they took (an exercise of their power) what they never should have taken. The world has been suffering for their abuses ever since (Romans 8:20).
Today, when we scroll through headlines, we read plenty of stories of executives, politicians, and even pastors who have leveraged their positions in selfish and unethical ways. As a result, many people tend to view anyone who has power or authority with suspicion.
It’s absolutely necessary to identify, challenge, and rebuke sinful leadership. It ensures that people are cared for and God is honored. While many have rightly lamented abuses of power and authority, though, I do not see a corresponding celebration of godly displays of power and authority. If we want to cultivate healthy families, churches, and communities, we need more than negative reactions to bad leadership; we need a positive vision and good examples.
‘Happy Are Your Men’
In 1 Kings 10, the queen of Sheba, having “heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord” (1 Kings 10:1), wanted to see for herself whether these reports about Solomon were true. The queen poses hard questions to Solomon, and his answers take her breath away. She says,
The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard. (1 Kings 10:6–7)
Now hear what she says next: “Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom” (1 Kings 10:8). The queen not only observes the shrewd leadership of Solomon, but also and extols the happiness of his people. The result of living under the wise rule of Solomon is gladness.
This kind of flourishing wasn’t limited to Solomon’s kingdom, but happens wherever godly leaders lead well: “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:3–4).
Power That Makes You Glad
Have we been so busy lamenting the abuse of leadership that we’ve forgotten the value of leadership? Authority and power in and of themselves are good. Indeed, power rightly wielded is a pathway to joy. It might be helpful, then, to paint a positive picture of wise and good uses of authority. By casting some specific dimensions of such leadership, I want to help leaders lead in joy-producing ways and thus provide examples that are worthy of commending and imitating.
Leaders who make people glad do not think too highly or too often of themselves (Philippians 2:2–3). That is, they are lowly people who live among the people instead of hiding behind their privileges. Good leaders realize that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). This does not mean leaders are timid or unsure of themselves. Instead, it means that they are aware of their weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9), depend on Jesus (John 15:5), and consistently lean toward others.
One other note to strike: humble leaders link arms with those around them. That is, good leaders know they are part of team; they know how to listen, integrate others’ wisdom, and check for blind spots as they attempt to wisely navigate complex situations. Rather than going off by themselves to make decisions, humble leaders know how to work with others to pursue collective wisdom as they move forward. They are not the type of people who act as lone rangers from a foolish sense of self-sufficiency.
The greatest leader to ever walk the earth came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). In the Gospels, Jesus serves his people at every turn. He provides wine when it runs out at a wedding, he multiplies bread and fish when there isn’t enough to go around, and brings healing to the sick and broken. Most importantly, Jesus serves his people by going to the cross “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The King of the kingdom is a servant-king. In fact, Jesus tells us, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43–44). This kind of service does not abdicate its call to lead to appease unholy grumbling, but it does employ authority for the genuine good of others. And when that kind of holy servanthood begins with the leaders, it comes to mark the entire community of God’s people as we “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Good leaders are courageous. When God calls Joshua to lead his people into the promised land, he tells him three times in four verses to “be strong and courageous” (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9). The idea of courage does not mean a total lack of fear. Instead, the courageous leader may have bouts with fear, but he does what needs to be done despite the fear. I remember standing between my sons and a fierce dog once. I felt some level of fear, but because I loved my boys, I overcame that fear and stood my ground.
At times, courageous leaders will have to make hard and unpopular decisions. When faced with difficult decisions, though fear may rear its head, the courageous leader presses on and fulfills his God-given calling.
Joe Rigney has described sober-mindedness as clarity of mind, steadiness of soul, and readiness to act. This description of sober-mindedness intersects some with the last point. Courageous leaders are ready to lead. Sober-mindedness adds the components of clarity of mind and steadiness of soul. When people are led by someone who sees the issues clearly and endures opposition with resilience, they themselves are better prepared to face the challenges of the day. Sober-mindedness is a picture of a man seated comfortably in his chair, facing an onslaught of criticism for his decisions or challenges to his ideas, and instead of thrusting himself forward, he remains calm and self-controlled. He knows who — and whose — he is. And he’s ready to act. After all, God calls leaders to lead.
If you ever have the chance to live through an active combat situation (I have), you’ll be glad for leaders who think clearly, remain steady, and courageously act in the moment.
One of the greatest needs in our world today are leaders who are simply faithful. They are not trying to make themselves famous or lead the next revolution. Instead, they simply want to come to the end and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23).
Someone once described a faithful friend at my church as having a “high say/do ratio.” In other words, if he says he’ll do something, you can be sure he’ll follow through. People will be happier when leaders consistently do what they say they’ll do.
Lastly, truly good leadership is marked by joy. I do not mean these leaders are chipper or superficially happy. They know how to weep when people weep, make tough decisions when they need to make tough decisions, and yet also laugh and smile when the world seems to be falling apart, because they know who has the whole world in his hands. Perhaps we could say these are seriously joyful leaders.
Good leaders know the world is broken, but they have a joy in Jesus that is deep and immovable. No matter what comes their way, they know that their greatest problem has been solved by Christ and that their future with Jesus is a fixed reality. And the joy of a leader very often gives rise to joy in his people.
This is what the world needs: leaders who are humble, courageous servants, are able to graciously receive criticism, maintain a sober mind, and are faithful and joyful to the end. If you are privileged to benefit from this type of leader, one who wields power in a way that makes people glad, then celebrate that reality as a gift from God. And pray that God would multiply such leaders in the days ahead.