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The heart of a leader

If you read this blog, y’all will know that I admire St. Paul greatly. You will find much evidence of this as I use a lot of quotes from letters written by this great man of God. Paul was a leader and this is probably most evident in the letter that he wrote to the Philippians. Just as I was moving into this letter as part of my daily reading, it seems that my pastor started a series on this very same letter at church, and asked us to read this letter fully. The train ride to work provides a regular opportunity to get this done, so I was able to read the whole letter during one of my morning rides. Philippians is a relatively short letter, easily read, but full of nuggets worth knowing and understanding. This blog entry expounds on a number of such nuggets, all from just Chapter 1 – a set of verses that helped me understand the heart of a leader.

First of all, Paul starts this letter with the following introduction: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus…” So let us get this straight first of all: A leader is first and foremost a servant. Paul echoes this often in his letters – Romans and Titus for example. Paul is not alone in this teaching, nor is this a new idea. Remember that Jesus himself expressed this sentiment: Addressing the question of who was to be the leader among his apostles, in Matt 20:26-28 Jesus said “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We even have a term for this: “Servant Leader”!!

The second one is this: That a leader constantly prays for those he (or she!) leads and serves. A leader has to be concerned for his group. Paul establishes this right away when he says (Phil 1:3-5) “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,…” This leader prays with joy and thankfulness; he keeps them close to his heart (v 1:7 and 1:8), fondly remembers them often, and uses every remembrance to pray for them. I found another nugget in this: You will find great satisfaction from praying for someone who is brought to your remembrance right away. Rather than wait for “prayer time” to pray for this person or persons, why not keep them in prayer whenever you remember them!? Rather than fill your mind with concern and worry for a loved one, why not use that time to thank God for that loved one, and pray for that person? Exercise is a great time to pray – see this earlier post for my thoughts on the act of praying.

This leader’s prayer for his recipients is that “… your (their) love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you (they) may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God…”. While it is good to pray for the recipient to be blessed, it is also important to pray that the recipient comes to be filled with Christ and His Love. The theme of Love abounds in Paul’s letters – Chapter 13 from I Corinthians is full of this theme. Love binds everything and should direct our actions. Love triumphs over everything; it covers all faults and forgives when it is impossible to do so otherwise. God’s love broke through our chains with His Love – shouldn’t we break the chains of others with the same kind of love? This was the kind of love that this leader was seeking for his flock…

Thirdly, a leader is sacrificial. When Paul wrote this letter, he was in chains, in prison. Old and fragile, hurting from the various beatings, Paul longed to be gone from this world to be with God. But in Phil 1:21-26 he states “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.” Paul was willing to endure suffering for his followers’ sake. Jesus exemplified this sacrificial aspect when He took on the cross for you and me….

Fourth: A leader envisions the big picture, breaks it down for his flock, brings them on board and inspires them to follow. In Phil 1:12-14 he says “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” The Philippians were probably looking at Paul’s imprisonment and his physical suffering, but Paul rose above the issue to look at the “big picture” and how his suffering and his circumstances actually served to inspire others and serve the larger purpose of God. A leader should find this larger picture and make it available and understandable for his flock.

Jesus also gave his disciples the big picture in the form of the Great Commission (Mk 16:15-20) and that He did not come into this world to conquer physically, but spiritually. It is clear that this statement worked for in V 20 we see that “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”

Fifth: A leader takes negative criticism and opposition gracefully and does not allow this to affect or deter him. Many others were also preaching at that time – some “preached Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.” (V15). Paul, however, was gracious and just shrugs this off stating “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (V18). Paul took the “big picture” that he aptly described before, and applied it to this part of the situation as well. A leader will always face negativity and negative criticism – he (or she!) will have to take that in stride, objectively determine if there is any truth in the criticism and allow that to change him/her if true but not let that deter or discourage in any way.

There are many more nuggets in this chapter, but in order to keep this already long post as short as possible, let me state just one more: A leader never works alone. Throughout this chapter, starting in V1, where Paul co-opts Timothy as his co-servant, and right through to V27 (“…whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit [with me], contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…”). Paul encourages them to stand together with him in this work, always working with and through others, inspiring, leading and showing by example.

All of us are leaders, whether we have a title or not. If you are a parent, you have a responsibility to lead your child(ren). As a worker bee, you are to reflect God wherever you are, leading others towards this light and away from the darkness. As a student, you are a future leader in training. All of us need to be equipped for leadership in any of the circumstances we are in. I hope that God’s word as spoken through Paul in these verses informs and equips us for leadership as we lead others!

In Him,

John Kanagaraj


August 1, 2008 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

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