Character is of vital importance in Christian leadership. For example, in the qualifications for eldership the overwhelming focus is on the character of the leader (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). The Lord is not concerned about star personalities or business acumen but faithfulness, self-control, gentleness, and humility.
In particular, Edwards in his works focuses on humility and gentleness. So, in this blog we are going to look at the difference our understanding of the glory of God has on these two character traits.
Glory Shapes Character
The glory of God shapes and fashions a leaders’ character. In particular, it creates a humble heart. Edwards writes: “The ministers of Christ should be persons of the same spirit that their Lord was of: the same spirit of humility and lowliness of heart; for the servant is not greater than his Lord.” The Son of God humbled himself threefold: He left the riches of heaven for the poverty of this planet, He did not come as a king but as a servant, and then He died a criminal’s death on the cross.
If leaders are to have a Christ-like character then they too will need to “discard (their) own glory” and take up their crosses. As Spurgeon once said to his students, “Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are.”
The battle leaders have with this nothingness is that their hearts swim in a sea of pride and “…at the heart of pride is a desire for self-glory.” In this generation, this has been exacerbated by the bent in Western culture towards narcissistic behavior. What is narcissism? A narcissist has an “…excessively high and unrealistic opinion about oneself and an obsession with one’s public image.”
The biblical term for this is “vainglory.” It’s easy for leaders to have delusions of grandeur and to want people to recognize their gifts and talents in order to build a profile for themselves. This narcissistic streak suffocates humility and diminishes the glory of God. It moves leaders away from humbly wanting to bring glory to God, to seek glory for themselves.
This is why it is important for leaders to have an exalted view of the glory of God. For it is only when someone has an exalted view of the glory of God that they are able to see themselves accurately. The saints in the Bible only gained a clear understanding of themselves, and their depravity, when they stood in the awesome presence of a holy God (e.g. Isa. 6). John Calvin famously puts it this way: “…it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” When a person keeps their eyes to the ground they “ flatter (themselves) most sweetly, and fancy (themselves) all but demigods.”
However, when they look at the face of God, they are persuaded of their own wretchedness, and are forced to cry out to God, “Have mercy on me for I am a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In other words, the allure of their own self-importance is stamped out of them. They understand their sinfulness before a Holy and Glorious God and are humbled. They fear the Lord and want to honour Him above all else. Further, the leader who fears the Lord exhibit “the ability to see or evaluate (themselves) accurately and without defensiveness.” As a mature Jonathan Edwards was able to write, after reflecting on God’s glory for many years, “I am greatly afflicted with a proud and self-righteous spirit; much more sensibly, than I used to be formerly. I see that serpent rising and putting forth its head, continually, everywhere, all around me.”
Humility and Gentleness
This humility, in turn, leads to a soft and tender heart. Edwards writes, “Gracious affections…flow out of a contrite heart…” Edwards likens this tenderness of heart to that of a child’s. They are easily moved by the plight of others, they are suspicious of those that would hurt them, and they stick close to their parents. Leaders must exhibit this same sort of tenderness in their leadership. They must show pity to the hurting, guard against their own sinful hearts, and stick doggedly to Christ.
The character trait of gentleness is particularly important for leaders. Edwards writes that “a lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper…is the true and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians.” Leaders must humbly and gently lead their flock with calmness, long-suffering, patience and kindness. They are not to be arrogant and over-bearing (Titus 1:7), because they are caring for weak and vulnerable sheep.
These twin character traits of humility and gentleness are so vital working in areas of poverty. If a leader is full of pride then he/she will automatically think they are better than the people they have come to serve. Their attitude will be one of superiority rather than loving service. And this will mean the leader tramples over the needs of those in front of them in order to bring glory to themselves. This bull in a china shop approach in turn will cause great damage to already damaged sheep. Many of our people are battling with histories of abuse, trauma, addiction, mental health, and despair. Therefore, they need humble, gracious and gentle leaders who are leaning on the gracious hand of God to lead them.
This at the end of the day is the spirit of Jesus Christ. It was His meat and drink to submit his life to God (John 4:34) and to minister to those around Him. It was the joy that was set before Him that led Him to the cross (Hebrews 12:2). He denied himself, loved others above himself, and laboured till the end, with godly, fearful, humble joy. This is the example leaders must follow. As Edwards writes, “They should also be of the same spirit of zeal, diligence, and self-denial for the glory of God, and advancement for his kingdom, and for the good of mankind…”
Therefore, leaders must constantly behold the glory of the Lord in all His majesty and goodness. This beholding will shape their character so that they can humbly, gently, and joyfully minister to those around them.