Leadership principles from 1 Samuel

by Bill Newton

Posted on Saturday, September 6, 2014, at 11:13 am

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. Nothing brings this into sharper focus than reading the Bible.

I’m in a group of men studying 1 Samuel, anticipating the life lessons we’d learn from David. Yet we’ve been struck most vividly by the example set by Jonathan, Saul’s son and heir to the throne.

Before David arrived in the narrative, Jonathan proved himself a leader and war hero. With vastly inferior numbers, he initiated a commando raid on the Philistines at Micmash that some might describe as youthful rash bravado. But at every turn, Jonathan left his next move in the Lord’s hands, motivated by a deep-seated faith, believing, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving.”

The Lord led, Jonathan followed, and the rout was on. Jonathan’s men recognized his leadership and saved his life when Saul made a rash vow. Here’s how they argued, “As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.”

Yet after David slew Goliath, Jonathan made a covenant with David, offering his love and loyalty. But that is not the best part: Jonathan realized David was God’s next anointed king and gave him his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt—symbolically acknowledging he’d ceded his succession to the kingdom as well. No one but God could’ve motivated such an unnatural act.

Eventually, Saul put a bounty on David’s head and saw his son as a fool for siding with his challenger. Saul ranted, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established.” Yet that intimidating rant and the spear that accompanied it could not sway Jonathan’s loyalty from God’s anointed.

So what can we learn about leadership from Jonathan?

  • Leadership like that arises from faith—a genuine faith in who God is and what He can do.
  • Leadership does not dictate to God. Instead it says, “If God wills” we will do this, not “We will do this because our faith is so big.”
  • Leadership roles are not ours to seize, but God’s to give. Our role is to serve as asked and be satisfied with that.
  • Leadership is tragic when we accomplish what we consider important and miss out on what God has required of us.
  • Leadership conducted faithfully to Christ is not a failure, even if it never achieves what we perceive as our full potential.
  • Leadership is not about us and our kingdoms, but about reflecting God’s covenant love and faithfulness in how we lead.
  • Leadership is not about what we can get but what God has given.
  • Leadership is not about achieving our stated goals, but in fulfilling our covenant promises.

These lessons may cause problems in the corridors of certain companies, as pastor Dale Ralph Davis warns in his commentary on 1 Samuel, “Handle with care.” But on the golden streets of heaven they will be celebrated and liberating.

Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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