Tag: Humility

The humble leader

by on Jul.04, 2008, under Bible Study, Reflection, Sermon

What essential qualities make a leader? Courage? Wisdom? Insight? Integrity? Yes, all of these things are necessary. But what about humility? In today’s culture, it seems, leadership and humility are mutually exclusive – you can have one or the other, but not both.

This is not the way the Bible portrays leadership, however.

Moses would have to take the prize for one of the greatest leaders of the Old Testament. Through his leadership, an entire nation (600,000 men1 plus who knows how many women and children!) were released from slavery; he was the one to whom God first revealed his name; he met with God face to face; Moses received stone tablets detailing God’s commandments on the mountain at Sinai; and, if that weren’t enough, he wrote the first 5 books of the Bible! Quite a resumé, hey?

For all these remarkable achievements, however, the Bible describes him as, ‘very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth’ !2

But it was not always this way. Consider the story told of him in Exodus 2. Moses was an Israelite brought up as a prince of the land of Egypt, in Pharaoh’s own house. He ‘was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action’.3 One day, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites. He came across ‘an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Glancing this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.’4 Stephen, retelling the story in Acts 7, says that ‘Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not.’5 Humility doesn’t even get a look in here! Look, then at the results of his ‘ministry': he has no credibility with his fellow Israelites, who reject him; Pharaoh attempts to kill Moses; and Moses is forced to flee Egypt for his life!6

Let’s face it: nobody wants to follow someone who believes that they are God’s gift to humanity; some will follow in hopes of securing their own ambitions and power by clinging to the egotist’s coat-tails, but nobody wants to follow such a person. Moses surely fit into this category based on the evidence we have seen. So what was it that transformed him into the leader of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people?

I believe that the answer may be found in the next chapter of Exodus. Whilst minding his father-in-law’s sheep, God appears to him in the form of a burning bush and instructs Moses to lead his people out of Egypt.

Moses asks God two very important questions in this passage: ‘Who am I?’ (v. 11); and ‘Who are you?’ (v. 13). In the answers to these two questions, Moses learned what was required to be a good leader. When he asks ‘Who am I?’, God’s response is not, ‘you are a learned man,’ nor is it, ‘you are a man strong in word and deed’. God says, ‘I will be with you.’ Moses asks, ‘Who are you?’ and is told ‘I am who I am’ (v. 14), and ‘the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’.

Humility comes in recognising that it is through God that we are who we are; trying to lead outside of this truth will result in failure, but humbling ourselves and acknowledging him as the one to whom all glory and honour is due frees us to be the leaders God calls us to be.

Perhaps some of you are wondering, ‘Does being humble mean denying our own God-given gifts, talents and abilities?’ Others might be thinking ‘Isn’t humility just another word for doormat?’ The answer is no, of course not. Evangelist Billy Graham puts it like this, “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.’… Nowhere in Scripture does this word carry with it the idea of being spiritless and timid. It carries the idea of being tamed, like a wild horse that has been brought under control.”7 The picture is of a powerful creature who uses his strength according to his master’s will.

How does this look in practice? I can only apply these teachings to my own life. To do so and then talk about it I run the risk of being understood to say, ‘See, I have it all figured out’… which is both untrue and undermines the very message I am trying to get across. The story is told of the preacher whose congregation gave him a medal for being the most humble preacher ever… then took it away from him the next week when he wore it!8 Nevertheless I must take that risk, hoping that God might use my example to speak to you. I want to give you a few specific examples of how I apply this message of humility in the area of preaching.

I ask God the same two questions that Moses asked: who am I? and who are you? When I preach, I recognise that I am unable to change a life by my words, but that God is gracious and merciful, desiring that people should know him and love him – and his words are ‘power… for the salvation of everyone who believes’9. When I have that sorted out, I can preach confidently, knowing that it is God’s word that changes lives.

Before I preach, however, I must first apply God’s word in my own life. Tonight I am sharing a part of that process with you, but this is not always the case. Nevertheless it is important that I do it, otherwise I am saying this truth is good enough for others, but not good enough for me. The arrogant leader tells others to do what he himself is unwilling to do; we call this hypocrisy.

Another area where I must be humble is to listen to the instruction of others; I call this being teachable. I recognise that I am far from being a perfect preacher (or musician, or husband… or anything else, for that matter). For that reason I listen to those who have experience in these things – and I try and learn from whatever lessons they are willing and able to teach me.

Finally, I submit to those who have authority over me. I may not agree entirely with their decisions, and I may respectfully argue my case; but once a decision is made I ‘submit to their authority’ and ‘obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden’ since ultimately ‘they keep watch over [me] as men who must give an account’.

There are many other things I could say here, but I believe that it is more important that you take some time to consider what role humility will play in your life. To help you do this, I have listed some Bible passages and associated questions to act as a starting point.

Questions

Moses

Read Exodus 3 for yourself.

  • What questions does Moses ask God? How and why are these significant?
  • What are God’s replies?
  • What changes do you see in Moses?

You may wish to consider the contrast between: Exodus 2 (Moses kills the Egyptian and flees Egypt); Acts 7:20-37 (Stephen’s retelling of Exodus 2-3); and Numbers 12:1-8 (Aaron & Miriam challenge Moses’ leadership).

John the Baptist

John the Baptist is a good example of humility in the New Testament. John baptised many people before Jesus showed up, and ministered to many hundreds if not thousands. Jesus said of him ‘Among those born of women, there hs not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11:11; also Luke 7:28). Yet when his younger cousin (i.e. Jesus) shows up, the crowds flock to Jesus instead.

  • How would this make you feel? How would you respond?

Read John 3:22-36 (John says of Jesus, ‘He must become greater; I must become less.’) for John’s response.

  • What do you think made John so gracious? How would he have answered the questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who is Jesus?’
  • In what ways are you like John? In what ways different? What are you going to do about it?

Jesus

As always when looking for a positive role model in the Bible, we find our best example in Jesus. If anyone had reason to think they were something, surely it would be Jesus! The Bible describes him as the Son of God, in whom God is well pleased (Matthew 3:17; see also Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22).

Read Philippians 2:5-11.

  • What is Jesus’ attitude? How does he demonstrate humility?
  • How is your attitude the same? How is it different? What are you going to do about it?

Take some time to pray through any insights and applications that God has brought to mind; ask that God will help you to have the attitude of Christ Jesus.


Endnotes

  1. Exodus 12:36
  2. Numbers 12:3
  3. Acts 7:22
  4. Exodus 2:11-12
  5. Acts 7:25
  6. Exodus 2:13-15
  7. Quoted in Myra & Shelley 2005, The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 197.
  8. Swindoll, C. R. 1998, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 278.
  9. Romans 1:16
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