The Heart of a Godly Leader
As we begin our time in the Word today, I have a question for you. What qualities do you think are necessary for a person to exercise godly leadership? A few of the things I think of are integrity, fairness, humility, and the ability to listen well. I’m sure you could add to that list.
I believe people today are looking for leaders who are authentic; leaders who admit their own imperfections, weaknesses, and failures. They want leaders who can identify with them in their struggles, not someone who portrays themselves as some superhero who “has it all together.” I think this is especially true with leadership in the Church.
And since we’re studying God’s Word together, and it gives us practical instruction for Christian living, we will focus this time on “The Heart of a Godly Leader.” Maybe your first reaction to that title is, “well, I’m not a leader so this doesn’t apply to me.” Not so fast! The qualities we’ll be looking at are important for all Christ-followers, not just those with official titles or positions in the Church. So, I urge you to listen and make an application to your own life.
Our text today is Second Corinthians 1:23 through 2:11. As we begin, here’s just a reminder of the setting. One reason Paul wrote this letter was to defend his apostolic authority to a rebellious minority in the Corinthian church. Another reason was to strengthen the faithful Believers there. For these reasons, Paul’s letter becomes deeply personal as he shares experiences and information that verify his apostolic authority.
So, listen now as I read the text, Second Corinthians 1:23 through 2:11.
In this text, Paul demonstrates the QUALITIES that show us “The Heart of a Godly Leader.” As Christ-followers, you and I are challenged to develop these qualities regardless of our position.
The First QUALITY (that shows the heart of a godly leader) is,
He Thinks Carefully
Paul is dealing with some significant issues in his position as an elder or overseer of the church at Corinth. He planted this church but he’s no longer active in the daily leadership. From his first letter, we know the church was divided into groups based on the leaders they followed. Some chose Paul, some Apollos, some Peter, and others.
Paul could have gone to Corinth in person and used his apostolic authority to correct the situation. But he didn’t. Why not? Because he took time to think carefully about the impact of his choices. He wanted the best way to handle the situation. Often, I find that my initial responses to a situation aren’t the best way to handle it. A wise, godly leader looks for the optimum timing and method in dealing with difficult issues.
This is especially true with false accusations. When we’re falsely accused, we want to vindicate ourselves, to set the record straight. I know this from personal experience. I’ve written letters and emails that I’ve never sent. Why? Because after I “vented my spleen,” as we say, I realized that I was more concerned about my reputation than the well-being of the accuser. And in some cases, the accusation is so absurd it doesn’t merit a reply. A godly leader knows the value of a thoughtful response instead of a knee-jerk reaction.
Paul responds to his critics by telling them exactly why he chose not to visit them. Note the use of the judicial oath as he calls God as a witness to his integrity. After thinking it over carefully, he chose not to visit them because he understood the power of his personal presence. There is implied power behind Paul’s restraint. He had apostolic authority given to him by Jesus and could have used it rather forcefully to correct this group with their divided loyalties.
Paul reminds the Corinthians that he’s not interested in domineering control over their faith. Instead, he emphasizes their standing in Christ and the joy being produced in their lives. This theme of joy is woven throughout this text. Even with all their problems, the Corinthians were still Believers who were being kept by the power of God through faith. And Paul was appealing to them on this basis.
Paul tells his readers that after careful thought, he determined the best course of action was writing a letter rather than visiting in person. He said he made that decision for the good of everyone involved. He knew that a personal visit would bring sorrow to the church because of the “hard things” (sin) he would need to deal with among them.
He asks in verse 2, “if, by my coming, I make you sorry, who then will be left to make me glad? It will only be those whom I have made sorry.” The implied question is, “how is that going to work?” Here, the ‘I’ is emphatic. There were lots of others at Corinth causing trouble. Paul doesn’t want to be counted among them. If this congregation needed discipline and rebuke, how could they be a source of joy to him? Here, Paul takes time to think carefully about the impact of his words.
He didn’t want to be the source of sorrow for those who were the potential source of his joy. His letter seems to be an attempt to deal with the issues from a distance so that when he finally does visit them, the issues will be resolved, and their mutual joy can flourish. Generally, when discipline is needed, personal contact is the best way to deal with it. But not always. Paul’s willingness to think carefully about the situation and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading assured him of the best possible outcome.
The gist of these opening verses (1:24-2:3) is that Paul’s own joy is bound up in the spiritual prosperity of the Church at Corinth. He would receive joy through their faith and obedience. His careful thinking about how to address the situation shows us one quality of the heart of a godly leader.
All of us are engaged daily in relationships with other people. Thinking carefully before we respond to tensions and differences is a mark of wisdom and godliness.
Another QUALITY (that shows the heart of a godly leader) is,
He Loves Deeply
As I mentioned earlier, this second letter to the Corinthians is deeply personal. In verse 4, Paul shares his struggle in finding the best way to relate to them. The language he uses describes intense emotions. His first letter was written with many tears and with many anxious moments about how it would be received. Paul’s word choice describing his anguish of heart suggests the idea of choking or squeezing; something like a panic attack.
But Paul didn’t want these intense emotions to grieve his readers. He wanted them to see his emotions as proof of his deep and abiding love for them. In his first letter, he had admonished them on what do to in the case of the man who was involved in an incestuous relationship. He may be revisiting that situation in verse five, but his language is very delicate. It’s also possible that he’s referring to the ringleader of the anti-Paul party in Corinth. In either case, he doesn’t name the offender or the offense.
The whole church was grieved and injured by this man’s sin. But Paul wants to avoid undue pain to the church members or the offender by using language that’s too severe. He acknowledges the offender’s guilt, but he doesn’t want to add to their sorrow. I confess, that sometimes in situations like this, I take an ungodly delight in the public shame of those caught in their sins. That’s what the Pharisees did when they brought the adulterous woman to Jesus. But Paul wasn’t like that. Even in the process of correction, he loves the Corinthians deeply. I need God’s grace to love my brothers and sisters like that, especially the erring ones.
This erring brother, regardless of his identity, was disciplined by the majority of members of the congregation. And as I understand Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 18, that’s the way it is supposed to be done. The responsibility for discipline rests primarily on the congregation. Church leaders may guide the process, but they don’t make the final decision. Paul says the sentence was sufficient and that it achieved the desired effect. In other words, it brought the offender to repentance. How do we know that’s true?
Well, if this wasn’t the case, Paul’s next counsel would’ve been different. Evidently, there were some in the group who struggled to forgive this brother. Paul encourages them not to cause more pain by “holding him at arm’s length.” Instead, he tells them to forgive him, comfort him, and encourage him. Yes, he was set aside for a time (perhaps excommunicated), but now he needs to be restored lest he is so discouraged that he gives up. Paul doesn’t want this brother to drown in his sorrows. He implores the Believers to restore this man to full fellowship as a confirmation of their love for him and proof of their obedience to his spiritual authority.
As I studied this quality of loving deeply, I was made aware of how much room I have to grow, especially in the context of correction and discipline in the church. Paul’s deep love for the Corinthians shows us another quality of the heart of a godly leader. It is a quality that all of us should strive to develop. So, a godly leader thinks carefully and loves deeply.
The Final QUALITY (that shows the heart of a godly leader) is,
He Forgives Graciously
As we move to verse ten, the original text begins with a common conjunction that isn’t in our English translations. It seems Paul is contrasting his test of their obedience, in verse 9, with his willingness to recognize their decision regarding the offending brother.
Paul recognizes the authority of the gathered body to carry out discipline, even though they may not have followed his instructions exactly. A wise and godly leader doesn’t demand that everything be done exactly as he says it should be. He is willing to compromise on the details of the process in order to reach the right outcome. His main concern is that the repentant person is welcomed and fully restored to the community of Believers.
Paul reminds them that “what I also have pardoned, if I have pardoned anything (I have pardoned it) for your sakes.” There seems to be an intentional vagueness to this verse. This may be his attempt to avoid wounded feelings. Cases of church discipline can be notoriously difficult to navigate. So, Paul just says “I have accepted your decision for your sakes.” He forgave the offending brother for their sake, and he forgave them for not explicitly following his instructions in the process.
Again, we see the heart of a godly leader wanting the very best for his people. The gathered Body represents the “presence of Christ,” according to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter eighteen. And even though Paul wasn’t present with them in body, he was present with them in the Spirit, looking on at what they were doing.
Paul then closes with a warning to the Corinthian Believers that you and I should take seriously. To withhold forgiveness in the face of genuine repentance is to give Satan, our adversary, an opportunity to bring division and destruction into the Body of Christ.
Part of forgiving graciously is to find the balance between justice and mercy. Paul implies that if the sentence against the offender is too severe, it could result in permanent loss to the body. He warns us to beware of Satan’s schemes. One of Satan’s chief schemes is “divide and conquer.” Sadly, he is able to do this in a variety of ways. One way he uses is people’s ignorance of their spiritual gifting.
Someone with the gift of mercy and someone with the gift of prophecy may want to reach the same goal, but they’re going to approach that goal from almost opposite directions. Without an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their gifts, they will see each other as being on opposing teams rather than on the same team. Satan will do all he can to foster those misunderstandings. We must resist him with all of the strength we have in Christ!
I have observed many church struggles from a distance and a few from personal involvement. Many times, leadership, by not demonstrating these qualities we’ve looked at, has compounded the problem. That’s unfortunate. Knee-jerk reactions, more concern for appearance rather than substance, and an unwillingness to forgive never lead to a godly result.
But it doesn’t mean the issue can’t be resolved. It does mean that leaders need to humbly admit their failures. And it also means that those who aren’t in leadership need to develop and embrace these qualities, especially in relation to their leaders. I know that can be hard, but if we refuse to do that, Satan surely will get an advantage over us.
I urge you to take some time for a personal evaluation of these qualities in your life regardless of your position, especially if you’re a leader.
Do you take time to think carefully about the situation at hand? Do you weigh the impact of your words carefully? Someone recently counseled me to be more thoughtful about how my comments affect those around me.
Do you love others deeply? Or are you more concerned about yourself and what people think of you? Do people know that, in spite of some failures, you really have their best interests in your heart? Do you weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice?
And finally, do you forgive graciously? Jesus told us that offenses are inevitable, they will happen. But how do you respond? Are you able to fully forgive those who offend you? Are you willing to compromise the process in order to maintain principle? Are you willing to accept the decision of the congregation as valid, even though your plans weren’t followed to the letter?
Can you see how important these qualities are in the heart of a godly leader? Most of us have no problem seeing that. Our challenge is to see how important these qualities are in our lives, and then to act accordingly. May God grant us the desire and power to think carefully, love deeply, and forgive graciously.