Friday, August 31, 2012

Leaders With Character

"When little men cast long shadows," said Walter Savage Landor, an English author of the turn of the nineteenth century, "it is a sign that the sun is setting." Mr. Landor was not speaking of short-statured men, although perhaps he had the diminutive Napoleon in mind. No, he was referring to ignoble men, those with unworthy ideals and ambitions. Such men are self-aggrandizing, interested only in their own promotion.

Considering our political landscape, such men seem to be the rule rather than the exception. The current resident of the White House, reputed to be brilliant and motivational, seems to have few ideas, and those he does have are inimical to the traditions and principles of the nation he is supposed to be leading. Despite the President's popularity with nearly half the country, his record of unkept promises, division, and soaring debt marks him as one of the "little men" that Mr. Landor had in mind. And he certainly casts a long shadow, as Americans will be paying for the failure of his ideas for generations to come.

A better-known quotation on leadership and character comes from America's sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." This quotation—from a man who was tested as perhaps no other American chief executive has—makes it clear that character in leadership matters. Holding a position of leadership by definition implies holding power, and only people of good character can handle power properly. One could go so far as to say that character in leadership is where character matters the most.

Today, however, moral character in leadership is not considered a first priority. The current political campaign reveals what the candidates' public relations experts deem to be important: centrist policies, good looks, felicity in public speaking, a lack of skeletons in the closet, an ability to attract contributions, a willingness to compromise, and a clean track record on the issues. Thanks to previous administrations, the public is now willing to forgive indiscretion and obfuscation in its leader as long as he gives them what they want.

God is the ultimate source for the true answer to whether character matters in leadership, and we can determine His answer by asking just a few questions. The answers should be obvious to those whom He has called out of this world.

First, we can ask, "What has He called us to become?" The answer is, of course, that He has called us to become His sons and daughters, to fill the offices of kings and priests in His government (Revelation 5:10). These are positions of leadership. Therefore, we can rightly say that His children have been called to be leaders, to hold positions of great authority in His Kingdom. From this, we could also extrapolate that, ultimately, the salvation process is about leadership.

Second, we need to ask, "How do we obtain these positions?" The Bible answers in II Peter 3:18, by "grow[ing] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In other places, Scripture says that we must "put on the new man" (Ephesians 4:24Colossians 3:10) or "be transformed into the image of Christ" (Romans 12:2II Corinthians 3:18). In other words, we prepare for these positions of leadership by taking on the very character of God Himself, who rules everything. He is the highest Power in the universe, the greatest Leader of all.

Thus, we should ask, "Will God allow anyone without His perfect character to rule in His Kingdom?" We realize that the answer to this is obviously, "No." This truth is often stated in the negative: "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" (I Corinthians 6:9), and then the apostle Paul lists a number of kinds of sinners he means by the term "the unrighteous." In Galatians 5, he writes of those who practice "the works of the flesh" (Galatians 5:19-21), which he lists, concluding with the statement "that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Even in the Book's final chapter, Jesus tells us plainly, speaking of New Jerusalem, "But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever practices a lie," (Revelation 22:15), clearly meaning that those with such low character will not be there at all!

Thus, we can conclude that every ruler in His Kingdom will have His personal stamp of approval on his or her character. Christ is the Judge of all. No one will be able to slip under His rod when He evaluates His sheep. No scoundrel will rule in the Kingdom of God. Not even someone of just moderate character will bear rule in His Kingdom. He will make sure that every citizen of New Jerusalem has perfect character!

Does character matter? Yes, indeed! Character means everything to us as His called-out ones, and it means everything to leadership, human or divine.

Does a person's personal life affect his public life? Of course, it does; they really cannot be separated or compartmentalized. Do we expect an individual who makes poor decisions in private matters to make good ones in public matters? If a "leader" has a record of doing wicked things in his private life, is it not logical to think that some of his immorality will bleed over into his public life? It must. As Jesus tells us in Mark 7:20-23:
What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.
A person carries what is inside of him wherever he goes, and those internal traits will affect whatever he does. If the characteristics that are within him are good and benevolent, he will behave with kindness and generosity in every situation. Yet, if his heart is black with hate and self-seeking, he will act meanly and selfishly toward everyone. He may be able to cloak his evil nature from others for a short time, but Jesus tells us that his secret sins will be shouted from the rooftops if he continues in them (see Luke 12:3).

With the close of the Republican National Convention, and the Democratic National Convention to take place next week, America is entering the homestretch of the political campaign season. Whether the media or the public realize it or not, this election is about character, the moral character of those who will lead this nation forward. The nation desperately needs leaders with sterling character. November's elections will reveal if the American people will choose moral leadership or "little men."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

RBV: Hebrews 3:6

". . . but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end." 
—Hebrews 3:6

This verse appears at the end of a paragraph in which we are asked to "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus" (Hebrews 3:1). In the intervening four verses, the author of Hebrews, probably ultimately the apostle Paul, makes a comparison between Christ and Moses in terms of their faithfulness. Jesus is, of course, superior to Moses in many ways, but in the area of faithfulness, He is far greater because He is no mere servant, as Moses was, but the Son and Heir of His own house, the house of God.

A second distinction that the author makes is that, while Moses functioned as a faithful servant or steward of the house, Christ built the house. In other words, while Moses dutifully followed orders concerning the running of the house during his time of service, Christ gets all the credit for planning, designing, building, and maintaining the house, as He is its Creator. The author makes this plain in verse 4: "He who built all things is God." 

So the author makes two major points: 1) Jesus Christ is the faithful Son of God and Heir of all things, and 2) He Himself is the Creator God, the One who made everything (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16). For these reasons, He is worthy of all glory and honor.

In verse 6, the object of our comments, the author brings Christians, the church, into the argument. We are the house of God that Jesus has been building and that Moses faithfully served. The Son of God has been faithfully working on us both individually and collectively since the beginning to fit us into His house—whether we wish to look at it as a building or a family—in the place that most suits us and where we will function the best for His purpose.

The emphasis here needs to be on the fact that He, appointed by the Father to this task, has executed His responsibilities faithfully in every respect. He never shirks a job, never does shoddy work, and never fails to finish what He starts. Jesus Christ always does perfect work.

So, as the verse implies, we should have perfect confidence and joy in our Creator in bringing us to salvation and eternal life. We have no reason to doubt! Our responsibility, then, is to "hold fast," to stand firm, to endure to the end, through whatever assails us in the meantime.

There is nothing that can stop Christ from finishing His work perfectly—except us. We can fail Him (see Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31); we can prove unfaithful, which is why the author's next section is an exhortation to be faithful and a warning not to follow the unfaithful, unbelieving example of the Israelites in the wilderness.

To this end, he repeats his encouraging remarks in Hebrews 3:14, "For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end." We have to keep hanging on, faithful and trusting that God, in His perfect work, has everything under control. So Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 24:13, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved."