Posts Tagged With: leadership

Joseph in God’s Leadership Training Program

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:18–21, ESV).

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Joseph’s story did not start well, as he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, via Wikimedia Commons.

The last fourteen chapters of Genesis focus mainly on the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob (also known as Israel). Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins by describing the origins of the human race, before focusing in on the birth of the nation of Israel. It also chronicles the faith journeys of several key patriarchs, particularly Abraham and Jacob. With Joseph, it describes his development as a man of God and as a leader.

Genesis depicts Joseph as the first Israelite to emerge as a world leader. As a youth, he dreamed that his brothers and parents would one day bow before him (Genesis 37:5–11). By the time that actually happened, he was a changed man, equipped by God to lead. He started with dreams and ambition. He developed through God’s leadership training program, and found himself in a place where he could serve others for God’s glory. This should be the pattern for all Christians who seek to become leaders, whether in the church or in secular institutions.

At the beginning of his story, Joseph did not look like he was destined for greatness. Since he was the eleventh of twelve sons, it would be assumed in his culture that he would rank near the bottom of the family’s social order. His status in the family took a downward spiral as sibling rivalry gave way to complete hatred. Joseph brought a “bad report” about four of his brothers to his father after they had pastured their flock together. Did he have to bring the bad report, or was he trying to score points with Dad to get special treatment? If Joseph was trying to win his father’s favor, he succeeded. Jacob gave him a robe of many colors (Genesis 37:3), which showed Joseph’s status as “dad’s favorite.” (A note to the fathers and grandfathers out there: It is one thing to treat your children differently because they are unique individuals; it is not OK to play favorites.) Before long, all of the brothers conspired to sell Joseph to slave traders (who eventually sold him to an officer of Egypt’s Pharaoh), telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was not off to a good start on the path to power and prestige. Playing off of favoritism to build yourself up by tearing others down tends to backfire. It may bring short-term benefits, but it usually backfires in the long term.

Now, let us fast-forward many years. Joseph began to show some genuine potential while in Egypt, but he cycled between opportunities and setbacks. His master promoted him to be head of all his household slaves. Then, he was falsely accused of sexual assault and imprisoned. He earned the respect of the jailer, who put him in charge of the other prisoners. He interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants, thereby showing that he had divinely inspired wisdom. Finally, after years of hardship and disappointment, Pharaoh needed someone to interpret dreams for him. Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered the gifted dream-interpreter and recommended him to Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams (a warning that a severe famine would come upon the land), but proposed a way to prepare for it so that the people would survive. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to administer his economic programs.

Joseph had endured a turbulent journey: from favorite son and despised bratty tattle-tale brother; to slave; to prisoner; to the top of an empire’s government. The man who was exalted by Pharaoh was not like the boy who had been rejected by his shepherd brothers. Pharaoh may have ordered people to bow before Joseph, but Joseph was more concerned about serving those God had placed under his care.

His brothers would bow before him several times, but that was not Joseph’s big concern. In Genesis 50, after Joseph had brought the family to Egypt so he could provide food for them, his father died. His brothers though he might seek revenge, now that he had power and nobody could not stop him. However, Joseph had learned God’s design for leadership. He did not need them to bow before him. His title did not matter. He did not see himself as the Egyptian ruler who could seek revenge: He was God’s servant, called to serve others.

Joseph’s focus was on God’s purposes: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph no longer thought about how he could gain power and how others would honor him. Instead, he wanted to know God’s will. What was God doing? How can God bring good out of this situation? What could he do to manifest God’s will? These are the questions every leader should ask when facing difficult circumstances.

Instead of seeking his brothers’ respect, Joseph was committed to providing for his brothers and their families. True leaders look for ways to build others up and make sure their needs are met.

Most importantly, Joseph forgave his brothers. Great leaders are not so obsessed with their feelings or what others have done to them that they forget their mission. God had entrusted Joseph with an important job, which would ensure that his family would fulfill the covenant God had made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). Christ calls His disciples to forgive others, and leaders—especially Christian leaders—must exercise patience and not allow insults or offenses to derail them from God’s plan:

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).

Joseph had grown beyond the pride and impulsiveness of youth to become the prototypical servant leader. He could remain focused on his mission, seek to provide for those below him, and forgive others so that negativity would not derail his mission. This is God’s call for all who seek to be leaders or make a positive impact on their world.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lion IS the Lamb

“And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’ And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:5-6, ESV).

This post concludes a three-part series, inspired by a Facebook discussion, about Isaiah 11:6, the verse many misquote as “The lion shall lie down with the lamb.” That passage actually says that wolf will dwell with the lamb, and I offered a few thoughts about that last week.

This week, I will conclude this series by answering a concern some people have about that difference in meaning. Some people object that they do not want the verse to talk about wolves and lambs. Besides the fact that Scripture often depicts wolves as evil (see, e.g., Matthew 7:15), there is the fact that Jesus is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. They fit so perfectly together: If the Bible said, “The lion shall lie down with the lamb,” then not only do we get a beautiful pastoral image of supernatural peace, we get a picture of Jesus Himself. (Incidentally, like wolves, the Bible often describes lions as symbols of evil; see 1 Peter 5:8.)

Take heart; the Bible brings the images of Jesus as both lion and lamb together. In fact, it does so much more emphatically than the misreading of Isaiah 11:6 does. Furthermore, it does this the only time that the Bible calls Jesus the Lion of Judah.

In Revelation 5, an angel asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Only one person in the universe is eligible: The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David. But then, it turns out that this Lion is “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”

Why is Jesus a lion? Why is He a lamb? And, how can He be both at the same time? They are very different animals. I’ve fed lambs at petting zoos; they are harmless creatures. However, I will keep my hand away from lions’ mouths. If they bite, it hurts.

While Revelation 5:5 is the only time that Jesus is called “the Lion of {the tribe of} Judah,” it is not the first time Scripture associates Jesus’ ancestral tribe with the king of the beasts. When Jacob blessed his sons, shortly before dying, he said:

“Judah is a lion’s cub;
from the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He stooped down; he crouched as a lion
and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:9-10).

Jacob compared his son to a lion. Jacob had a lion-like spirit that would make his lineage ideal to rule. On several occasions, Judah showed a natural gift for leadership. Eventually, that gift developed a spiritual, godly dimension that points to the ministry of Jesus.

The first time Judah displayed leadership is described in Genesis 37. When Joseph’s older brothers decided, in a fit of jealousy, to throw him in a well and leave him to die, Jacob thought of a shrewd way to avoid the guilt of murder while making some extra money: “Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him” (Genesis 37:26-27). Thanks to Judah’s planning and influence, Joseph lived (although he was sold into slavery) and the brothers made a few extra shekels. This was not Judah’s finest hour, but it showed that he knew how to influence people and effect change. He was a leader.

Let us fast-forward a few decades. Joseph had been a slave in Egypt for a while and, by the grace of God, emerged as a leader in the Egyptian government. His spiritual discernment and wisdom elevated him so, in response to a prophecy of severe famine, Pharaoh appointed him to manage food collection and distribution. When famine struck, Egypt had food to spare. Jacob’s ten oldest sons, including Judah, came to buy food from Joseph. Jacob kept his youngest son, Benjamin, home. Joseph warned them not to return unless Benjamin was present. Eventually, Judah persuaded his father to send all of the sons, by agreeing to take full responsibility for his youngest brother’s safety. In the end, he showed that he was willing to accept a role of slavery in place of his youngest brother. (See Genesis 43 and 44 to read this very detailed story.)

At first, Judah could influence people to act out of greed. In the end, he would influence people by acting in the interest of others. He would place his own life and freedom on the line to save his brothers. The Lion had learned to lead through sacrifice.

About 1800 years later, Judah’s descendant would prove Himself to be the Lion of the tribe of Judah by offering Himself as the Lamb of God. As the lion is the king of the beasts, Jesus is the King of Kings. He does not rule by acting selfishly. Nor does He rule by throwing His weight around violently. He rules through self-sacrifice. He showed His most lion-esque leadership not by devouring or conquering, but by offering Himself for our sins. The Lion of Judah was most lion-like when He displayed His lamb-like gentleness as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , ,

At Jesus’ Right Hand

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:20–28

One might expect that Jesus’ closest friends would be seated at His right and left hands in His kingdom. After all, that is how kingdoms operated in Jesus’ day. The king decided who held the places of honor and influence in His kingdom. He could appoint his best friends to those posts if he so decided. Historians have claimed that the first-century emperor Caligula, who reigned a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, even appointed his horse to a high-ranking office.

Jesus, however, never endorsed the world’s leadership style. He would not award special status for the same reasons many rulers would. His approach opposes the world’s system, mainly because the world itself has been in rebellion against His kingdom since the first humans bit into the forbidden fruit.

Who can claim the place of honor in Jesus’ kingdom? James and John seem like legitimate candidates, from the world’s view. They were among Jesus’ earliest and most loyal followers. Were they able to drink the cup of suffering Jesus would soon face? Perhaps; they believed they could, and James would become the first apostle to be executed for his faith.

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At the Last Supper, John was seated by Jesus’ side (John 13:23). Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper depicts John at Jesus’ right hand, with James at His left.

However, it was not a matter of accomplishments or desire. It would be God’s decision who would sit at Jesus’ right hand in the Kingdom. Scripture tells us that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, which means the Father sits at the Son’s left hand. What can we know about the person who may sit at Jesus’ right hand? Who can it be?

Can it be St. Stephen, the first martyr who saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God? (Acts 7:55–56; maybe Jesus was rising to welcome him home.)

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Icon showing Christ (center) bringing Dismas (left) into Paradise. At the right are the Gates of Paradise, guarded by a seraph (Solovetsky Monastery, 17th century).

Can it be the penitent thief (Luke 23:40–43) who recognized that he deserved his condemnation and that Jesus would soon enter His kingdom? St. Dismas (the name ascribed to the “good thief” according to ancient church tradition) was one of the two thieves hung next to Jesus at the crucifixion. Jesus promised him that he would soon join our Lord in paradise. Thus, St. Dismas can possibly be the first person to enter heaven by grace through faith in Christ. Could his faith, willingness to confess his sinfulness, and ability to see that Jesus was still the King, have earned him that seat of honor? After all, St. Dismas is the last person known to be next to Jesus before His death.

Christians can debate this question until the end of time. Perhaps there are only two people enthroned in the kingdom—God the Father on the left, and Jesus on the right. (This may be the most likely scenario, since if Jesus was in the middle, He would have greater prominence than the Father. This seems unlikely.)

Perhaps the greatest question is not who receives the sat of honor. Jesus does not answer that question. The real question is, “What kind of person receives honor in the Kingdom of God?” In the Church and the Kingdom, honor does not belong to those who boast of their achievements and accomplishments, to those who seek to elevate their power and prestige.  It certainly does not belong to those who try force their own will upon others. Rather, it is the person who claims the role of a servant. The person who is willing to lay down his life for Jesus, take up his cross and follow him, seeking to serve rather than be served. This is the person God honors.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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