What Is Real Leadership?

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What Is Real Leadership?

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In a hugely consequential election, American voters will soon choose the next U.S. president who, as “leader of the free world,” will wield more power and influence than any other person around the globe for the next four years.

However, many citizens of the nation—and the world as a whole—await the outcome not with eager anticipation, but with considerable trepidation.

Perhaps one of the most revealing news stories in the run-up to the election was a poll that asked how many voters would be embarrassed if either of the two leading candidates were elected president. The results showed that more than half would be embarrassed if one candidate were elected, and almost half would be embarrassed if the other won.

Many nations are struggling with leadership issues. The Bible says: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”

In a corollary, the same survey showed that barely a third of respondents said they would be proud if their candidate won, while less than a quarter of supporters of the other candidate said they’d be proud if that candidate won.

It’s a sad commentary on the state of leadership when the standard is which candidate is least embarrassing to the largest number of citizens! And sadly, that may well determine which candidate is chosen to the most powerful political position in the world.

Deeply flawed candidates vie for power

Given the ads that dominate the airwaves and our computer screens, one would think that this year’s presidential nominees were either savior or Satan, depending on one’s perspective.

The fact is, both candidates are deeply flawed when viewed from the expected standards of character and conduct found in the Bible—a fact that plays into the high percentage of voters who say they are embarrassed by these choices.

One candidate has a checkered history of questionable financial dealings, business bankruptcies and multiple marriages and affairs. The other has a long track record of scandals (including a husband who as U.S. president was impeached and disbarred for lying about an extramarital affair with a White House intern) and is one who left the White House “broke” but has since, with her husband, made $153 million for giving speeches—many to banking and financial interests—while positioning herself as a defender of the poor.

Millions of voters from both major parties have angrily declared that they won’t support these nominees, viewing them as deeply flawed and untrustworthy and either not conservative or not liberal enough.

Why are people fed up with leaders?

How did the nation get to this frustrated, angry state?

It’s not just a matter of flawed candidates. Americans’ trust in leadership is woefully lacking due to a government that grows ever larger and larger but accomplishes less and less. Huge national problems grow more difficult and challenging by the day.

With more than 90 million people out of the workforce, more than 45 million receiving food stamps, and companies shifting jobs overseas, Americans worry about their financial security. People are deeply concerned about their personal safety at a time when crime and random terror attacks dominate the headlines.

It doesn’t help that the current president appears to be in deep denial about the threat of Islamic terrorism when Islamic fundamentalists have murdered 91 people and injured 367 more in eight multi-fatality attacks on non-Muslims in the United States in the last eight years (not including the almost 3,000 killed in the 9/11 attacks 15 years ago).

Americans also realize that the government agencies tasked with defending the country have proved incapable of guarding the nation’s borders or deporting millions of illegal immigrants, including tens of thousands who have committed crimes on U.S. soil.

Meanwhile, the current administration has given preferential treatment to tens of thousands of foreign immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who share little or nothing in common with traditional American values, and once on U.S. soil are given housing, food, health care and education at taxpayer expense.

It’s no wonder Americans are so fed up and distrustful of their leaders!

Good and bad leadership

The United States certainly isn’t the only nation struggling with leadership issues. Nor is this a new problem. The biblical book of Proverbs, written almost 3,000 years ago, contains an observation as true now as it was then: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2 Proverbs 29:2When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked bears rule, the people mourn.
American King James Version×
).

Good leadership translates into happy, satisfied people. Bad leadership translates into suffering, sorrow and oppression.

The world’s leadership problem is a problem of the heart. As many striking examples in the Bible show, many leaders and politicians view themselves as virtual gods, answerable to no one.

As various Middle Eastern despots have died, been executed or were toppled from power in recent years, their people have been shocked at the staggering fortunes these men accumulated in secret bank accounts during their years in power—often while their people suffered in grinding poverty.

Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority until his 2004 death, skimmed or stole an estimated $1 to 3 billion while in office, giving his wife (living in luxury in Paris) a monthly spending allowance of $200,000—enough to cover basic living expenses for 5,000 of her countrymen!

Several of his successors in Hamas, the terror organization that rules Gaza, have been revealed as having a net worth in the millions to billions of dollars. Mahmoud Abbas, current leader of the Palestinian Authority, is estimated to have accumulated an embezzled fortune of more than $100 million during his 12-year rule.

Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya with an iron fist until he was captured and summarily executed after the collapse of his government in 2011, was thought to be the richest man on earth at the time, with an estimated $200 billion skimmed off the country’s oil sales.

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, hanged in 2006, was a relative pauper in comparison, having managed to accumulate only an estimated $2-40 billion during his rule (although he did have 50 presidential palaces scattered across the country).

A biblical lesson in bad leadership

None of this should be surprising to those who study the lessons of the Bible. God warned of these arrogant and corrupting human tendencies some 3,000 years ago when the people of ancient Israel demanded a king to rule over them like the other nations around them. Notice what God warned such human rulers would do:

“This is how a king will reign over you … [He] will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment.

“The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants.

“He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you” (1 Samuel 8:11-18 1 Samuel 8:11-18 11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. 13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. 14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive groves, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. 15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. 16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your best young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and you shall be his servants. 18 And you shall cry out in that day because of your king which you shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation 2015).

Of course, the Israelites didn’t listen. Rather than submitting to God’s direct rule, they chose human rule—and how we have begged for relief ever since!

The heart of the issue

The world’s leadership problem is actually a problem of the heart. As the striking examples above show, many leaders and politicians view themselves as virtual gods, answerable to no one.

In the case of the Roman emperors in the time of Jesus and the first-century Church, this was literally the case, as they thought they would become divine at death (if not before, in the most arrogant cases). The Roman Emperor Vespasian (A.D. 69-79) said on his deathbed to those gathered around him, “I feel myself becoming a god!”

This kind of attitude was typical in ancient cultures. Leaders and government officials then, as now, abused their positions for self-advancement and power. But a revealing incident from the Gospels shows what true leadership is all about.

Before their conversion, Jesus’ disciples exhibited the same kind of attitude they saw in worldly leaders around them. They naturally jockeyed and contended for the most important positions—who would wield the most power when Jesus became King of the Kingdom He often spoke about.

But they were in for a surprise. In response to two of them trying to manipulate their way into the top positions among Jesus’ followers, He gave them a powerful lesson—at the same time revealing to them the essence of true leadership:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (NLT 2015, emphasis added throughout).

True leadership begins with humility

As Jesus’ words to His followers show, God’s view of leadership is far different from ours. The human perspective on leadership is to view it as an opportunity for personal advancement and power. God’s perspective is the opposite —to use leadership as an opportunity to serve others .

God has a very different viewpoint on leadership, one that far transcends human vanity and folly. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 Isaiah 55:8-9 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, said the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
American King James Version×
).

“Before honor is humility,” wrote wise King Solomon (Proverbs 15:33 Proverbs 15:33The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.
American King James Version×
). God similarly said through the prophet Micah, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 Micah 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
American King James Version×
).

This is the starting point for real leadership. Real leadership isn’t about personal wants and desires. Real leadership is focused on sacrificing oneself in service to others. Its focus is more on helping others than serving one’s own self.

Jesus also emphasized this attitude of humility as the starting point for real leadership. When His disciples asked Him who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, He pointed them to a little child and said that unless they became humble and receptive like children, they would never be able to enter His Kingdom (Matthew 18:1-4 Matthew 18:1-4 1 At the same time came the disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child to him, and set him in the middle of them, 3 And said, Truly I say to you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus Christ’s example of humility and serving others

In contrast to many human leaders, Jesus Christ backed up His words with actions. His example of humility in leadership was the most profound in all of history.

Interestingly, the term that Jesus Himself and the apostles use most often to describe God’s chosen and faithful people is slave— one whose life is totally dedicated to serving others . ( For reasons of political correctness most Bible versions have translated the Greek word doulos as “servant” when referring to God’s people, but the literal meaning, as attested by countless ancient inscriptions and writings, is slave. )This is the attitude God wants in those who surrender their lives to Him.

Incredibly, even Jesus Christ Himself became a slave for our sakes. Notice what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8 Philippians 2:5-8 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
American King James Version×
(NLT 2015):

“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Jesus Christ served all mankind in the most astounding way possible—emptying Himself of the glory, splendor and omnipotence He had shared with God the Father to become a human being to die for our sins that we might ultimately receive God’s gift of eternal life (see John 1:1-5 John 1:1-5 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
American King James Version×
; John 1:14 John 1:14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelled among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
American King James Version×
; John 3:16-17 John 3:16-17 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
American King James Version×
; John 17:1-5 John 17:1-5 1 These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that your Son also may glorify you: 2 As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. 3 And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gave me to do. 5 And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with you before the world was.
American King James Version×
).

When will the world see real godly leadership?

What an astounding contrast between the kind of leadership taught by Jesus and that practiced in so much of today’s world!

Will the world ever see that kind of godly, wise, righteous leadership exemplified by Jesus Christ? Amazingly, it will—and soon!

At some point you’ve probably read or recited that part of the Lord’s Prayer that asks, “Your kingdom come” and “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 Matthew 6:10Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
American King James Version×
). Perhaps without realizing it, you were asking for Jesus Christ to return and establish His Kingdom—the Kingdom of God—here on earth, for that is exactly what this prayer means!

That Kingdom—the initial phase of which will last 1,000 years, commonly called the Millennium—is when God’s will is to be fully carried out on earth (see Revelation 20:4 Revelation 20:4And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×
). Let’s notice some of the incredible prophecies of that time. One, immortalized in Handel’s Messiah, is found in Isaiah 9:6-7 Isaiah 9:6-7 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given: and the government shall be on his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from now on even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
American King James Version×
:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (New International Version 1984).

This tells us that Jesus Christ will establish on earth a government of peace, justice and righteousness. And since God’s commandments define righteousness (Psalms 119:172 Psalms 119:172My tongue shall speak of your word: for all your commandments are righteousness.
American King James Version×
), that will be the basis of His leadership and government. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promises regarding that time, “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
American King James Version×
).

Isaiah further describes Christ’s coming leadership over the world in these terms: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears [that is, merely by what is physically apparent (compare 1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
American King James Version×
)]; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them . . . They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:2-9 Isaiah 11:2-9 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: 4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. 6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatted calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. 9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
American King James Version×
, NIV 1984).

This is the wonderful world God promises for humanity under right and godly leadership!  

What does this all mean for you?

This all sounds great—but exactly what does it mean for you?

In stark contrast to the true leadership principles found in the Bible is the corrupt leadership found throughout much of the world. And we can see this in the current political campaign cycle with its vain promises, deceitful attacks and distortions of reality—in all too many cases motivated by nothing more than desire for personal advancement and lust for power.

But while we can’t change this system, we certainly must change one thing —ourselves!

The prophecies of the new world Jesus Christ will establish are hopeful and encouraging. But Bible prophecy also warns where the leadership of this world is ultimately taking the human race before that time. It presents a frightening and horrifying picture of power-crazed madmen who will bring humankind to the brink of extinction. (You can read about this in our free study guide Are We Living in the Time of the End? )

Jesus Christ will return to establish His Kingdom on earth, but He must also return to save us from ourselves!

Notice how He describes that time immediately before His second coming: “For that will be a time of greater horror than anything the world has ever seen or will ever see again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened [or cut short from running its course], the entire human race will be destroyed …” (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
, NLT 1996).

His warning is deeply sobering! Conditions will be so perilous that mankind faces annihilation. In a time of hopelessness, He holds out hope for humanity through a relative handful of people: “… But [that time of calamity] will be shortened for the sake of God’s chosen ones” (Matthew 24:22 Matthew 24:22And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×
, NLT 1996).

Consider these words thoughtfully and prayerfully. Let them sink in. The fate of the human race depends on a relative handful of people— those whom Jesus calls “God’s chosen ones” or, in other translations, “the elect.” They are the ones described earlier—those who completely surrender their lives to God now and begin to humbly develop the character traits of Jesus Christ in every aspect of their lives.

Other prophecies describe how literally billions of people will perish as this age of man’s misrule draws to its devastating close. However, you don’t need to be among those caught in that terrible time of judgment surrounding Christ’s return. While the world goes through repeated cycles of electing leaders with corrupt hearts who are incapable of properly dealing with the world’s problems, God is in the process of selecting and preparing people for greater opportunities for serving others in the world to come —those who, with renewed hearts and minds, will bring the change the world needs.

God has extended this invitation to you —an invitation to be a part of the very different kind of leadership He promises in that coming age. He offers you nothing less than the opportunity to reign alongside Jesus Christ in this new and transformed world! (Revelation 3:21 Revelation 3:21To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×
).

But it requires something on your part now. It requires that you surrender all to follow Christ now (Luke 14:27 Luke 14:27And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×
; Luke 14:33 Luke 14:33So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×
). It requires that you learn fully what it means to serve others as He did (Matthew 20:25-28 Matthew 20:25-28 25 But Jesus called them to him, and said, You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority on them. 26 But it shall not be so among you: but whoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; 27 And whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: 28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
American King James Version×
).

If you are willing to do so, at His return you can take part in the most astounding opportunity of all time to serve and show true godly leadership in helping lead the entire world to understand and know the true God and His ways (Jeremiah 31:31-34 Jeremiah 31:31-34 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, said the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
American King James Version×
; Hebrews 8:8-12 Hebrews 8:8-12 8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, said the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.
American King James Version×
).

So, are you willing to accept God’s invitation? Are you ready to start learning real leadership now? If you are, God offers you His help in a plan and purpose to which nothing can compare!