Last time we looked at the pitfall of presumption. Let’s take a glimpse again at Saul’s life and see the third and final pitfall of spiritual leadership he displays.
3. The third danger or pitfall for leaders illustrated by King Saul is pride. Pride is the root cause of presumption and every other sin. Pride thinks more highly of self than it should. Pride refuses instruction. Pride feels threatened. Pride feels the freedom to act without God’s direction. Pride resents criticism. Saul’s pride came to the surface like so much dross in a kettle. Since it controlled his life, there was no way he could subdue the evidences of it.
Obviously every leader and every Christian battles the sin of pride. We all are prone to think too highly of ourselves and to react when people or circumstances threaten us. But it is one thing to battle pride and quite another to be controlled by it. Saul’s pride controlled him causing him to make unwise, even irrational decisions and destroyed his relationships with man and with God. His pride caused him to fail to see how his failures had disqualified him for leadership and that it was time to defer to another. His pride kept him from rejoicing in God-given victories because they were secured at the hand of his rival David. Pride caused him to attribute to David evil motives not seeing that his own failures had moved God against him and to choose David as his replacement. Arrogance moved Saul to believe he knew better what should be done with Agag and the Amalekites than God. Arrogance moved Saul to believe he could destroy the man God himself had chosen to replace him. Arrogance made him think he could consult a medium in secret and not suffer the consequences in public. Arrogance led Saul to believe that his will was more important than the good of the nation under his leadership and that he could subvert God’s will with his own. In the process, Saul destroyed his fellow man and, ultimately, his relationship with God. Saul’s early promise gave way to the destruction of a leader consumed with himself and his own agenda (see 1 Sam. 15 and the following chapters).
The wise leader will learn from Saul that leadership in not about preserving one’s position but serving those you lead. The wise leader will learn that it is not about what is best for me but what is best for those I lead. The wise leader may make commitments which bring results he does not like, but he will follow through anyway (Ps. 15:4a). The wise spiritual leader tethers himself to the anchor of God’s Word so that when people and circumstances change, and he is weakened by uncertainty and fear, he remains steadfast. The wise spiritual leader knows that while attempting to please everyone, if he does not please God, he has failed. The wise leader is not dependent on good looks, personality, or merely surface human qualities but upon the grace of God demonstrated by the reality and depth of his knowledge of God and his walk with Him. May God deliver us from the Sauls in leadership, and may he raise up those whose depth of Christian character make them worthy to face the challenges of our day.
President – Vision4Living Ministries
Last time we looked at the pitfall of attractiveness. Let’s take a glimpse again at Saul’s life and see the second pitfall of spiritual leadership.
2. The second danger or pitfall Saul illustrates is presumption. Wise spiritual leaders know their jurisdiction and do not tread beyond the area of their giftedness and responsibility. The wise leader knows his responsibilities and his limitations and refrains from stepping into areas that are not his.
Saul’s presumption is first seen when he offered an unlawful sacrifice in 1 Sam. 13. He had hardly gotten started as King before his true character shows, and he begins to unravel. His obvious physical qualities and apparently spiritual ones yielded to unwise decisions and wrong actions. He stepped into an area forbidden to him and reserved only for the Priest. He allowed the pressure of the moment to dictate his decision instead of doing what is right, no matter what (1 Sam. 13:7-10). Any good leader can make a bad decision, but no principled leader will deliberately forsake what is right because of the pressure of the moment. “The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them. The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way, But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness” (Prov. 11:3&5). This instance was no exception for Saul, who later, in his fear, consults a medium in direct disobedience to the Law of God (1 Sam. 27:3ff). Saul’s apparent discernment had melted into compromise and foolish decisions. As the pressures of leadership mounted, the reality of weak character was exposed. The unwise and unfit leader will often presume that, because he is in the position of authority, he can do things forbidden to others. He may presume that he can get away with decisions, the consequences of which are promised and certain. The favor of God may seem irrevocable, and the favor of people may be bought for a season or held temporarily with the power of position, but one presumes upon them to his peril.
Saul’s presumption is further illustrated by an unwise oath. (1 Sam. 14:24ff). Leaders can sometimes believe that if they say it, then it is automatically true and right. Saul’s oath was the foolish attempt of an unspiritual man to act spiritually (or at least to appear to act spiritually) and to secure success and safety by any means. When a spiritual leader is motivated by fear instead of faith, he may work to secure God’s favor; however, God’s favor comes by grace, and cannot be earned. But Saul did not understand faith or grace and thus foolishly made an oath that put those under his authority in harm’s way. It also put him in a position of having to defend his oath against his own son, whose loyalty, commitment, and courage were unquestionable.
The wise leader will heed the words of Christ to “let your yes be yes and your no be no” and will avoid words, commitments, and promises that may come back to haunt him later. Presumptuous actions and presumptuous words can destroy his credibility and effectiveness and ultimately lead to his demise.
President – Vision4Living Ministries
For the last few months, we have been exploring insights on leadership in the lives of biblical leaders. The next person we are going to look at is Saul entitled ‘The Pitfalls of Spiritual Leadership’. We will divide it up into a three part series and Lord willing discover how to avoid, by the grace of God, those pitfalls that can and will destroy us as spiritual leaders. Hope you enjoy.
‘The Pitfalls of Spiritual Leadership’: Part 1
It is very easy to see the glory and benefits of leadership without seeing the struggles and problems that accompany it: especially if you are only a spectator. The pressures of expectations, the vulnerability to misunderstanding, and the struggle to stay focused and sharp are all realities leaders must address.
But there are dangers and pitfalls in leadership that, while a reality for any Christian, are enhanced for the leader. Perhaps few men, if any, in biblical history, illustrate these pitfalls more clearly and more tragically than Israel’s first King. Saul was ostensibly a man of promise and potential for God’s glory, but it all crumbled because he failed to avoid the pitfalls of spiritual leadership. What were these pitfalls, and how can we avoid them?
1. The first danger illustrated by Saul is attractiveness. It should not be difficult for the modern Christian and leaders to identify with this danger. Our media-soaked culture seems to promote people based almost solely on their physical beauty or charisma. What chance would an Abraham Lincoln have in such a setting, and how often have you heard names brought up in conversation as possible candidates for public office only to have someone say, “He’ll never make it. He’s not good looking enough. He’s not charismatic enough.” Saul illustrates the danger these qualities can present. But attractiveness does not have to come by way of physical appearance or charisma. It can come in what seem to be inward qualities.
Saul possessed some obvious physical qualities. He stood out in a crowd because of his height and handsomeness (1 Sam. 9:2). In modern terms, he was “tall, dark, and handsome.” To many in that day, and in ours, he would have seemed a natural choice for leadership. Even the Prophet Samuel seemed taken with Saul’s stature saying; “there is no one like him… (1 Sam. 10:23, 24).
Along with Saul’s obvious physical qualities, he also possessed some apparent spiritual qualities. Saul’s initial response to being chosen as King of Israel is interesting and will be recalled later by Samuel (1 Sam. 15:16-18). If it is true, as some say, that leadership should seek the person and not the other way around, then Saul exemplified that philosophy. He was reluctant, if not resistant to accept the call to leadership (1 Sam. 10:21, 22) and seemingly incredulous that someone of his background would be considered for such an honor (10:20, 21). At least at this stage of his life, Saul appeared to be a humble man.
Saul also seemed wise in his response to both success and adverse circumstances. After the announcement that he would rule, some rebels showed disrespect and an unwillingness to follow his leadership. Later, Saul led Israel to its first military victory under his new leadership and “proved his mettle” so to speak. The people wanted to execute those who had earlier rejected Saul. But Saul graciously and wisely downplayed such ideas and encouraged the people to rejoice together in the goodness of God’s blessing in battle.
The obvious question is; what is wrong with such qualities? Is it wrong to be outwardly attractive? And certainly no one could argue against Saul’s apparent character displayed in the above instances. The truth is that outward attractiveness is not in itself a disqualification for leadership, and good character is certainly not to be discouraged. The problem for the leader, and for any of us, comes when these become a mask covering serious character deficiencies. Often leaders are chosen on the basis of these alone. Outward impressiveness and surface character qualities are no substitute for genuine integrity; a truth which Saul will illustrate for us later.