What makes a great leader? Is it dedication? How about genius? Maybe it is the ability to consistently rise to the occasion and not melt under pressure? Is it the ability to understand the situation, harness all available resources, and inspire the masses to move in the same direction in order to accomplish a common goal? What makes a great leader?
You can take a stroll through the pages of history and identify great leaders who have left their mark on their profession, community, or nation. No coach in the history of the National Football League stands taller than the late Vince Lombardi. Lombardi was a leader. America has had its share of great Presidents, but no president has ever overcome more adversity and left a greater mark on the nation than Abraham Lincoln. No military leader in the history of the world has ever accomplished so much at such an early point in his life than Alexander the Great who conquered the known world before he was thirty. No civil rights leader before or since has been able to stir a people’s hearts and cast before them such a clear vision of hope than the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the world of business, no single individual in our nation’s history has had such an impact on such a wide audience of consumers and business leaders as the software giant, Bill Gates. 94% of the computers in the world have Bill Gates “Windows” software running them.
In every arena of life, from athletics to business to medicine to government to education, there have been, and are, tremendous leaders who possess vision, dedication, determination, and the charisma necessary to sell their ideas and draw people together to accomplish a common goal. Leadership is a God given gift, but how one uses the gift of leadership is another question.
In our Scripture for today, the Apostle Paul takes a break from his deliberations, instruction, and correction of the Galatian Christians so that he might speak from the heart. Paul steps away from the chalkboard, he turns off the overhead projector, and he walks up to the crowd to pour out his heart. As Paul shares his heart we hear the voice of a truly great leader. Let me correct myself. Not a great leader…a godly leader.
There are many commonalities between great leaders and godly leaders, but there is a foundation that a godly leader works from that cannot be compromised regardless of the cost. In our study for today we are going to take a look at the heart of a truly godly leader.
The people of Galatia were vacillating between being good and being godly. When Paul sat down to write his letter they were leaning towards trying to be “good,” but Paul wanted them to know that he would not write them off. His desire is to call them back to faith in Christ alone. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Galatians 4:12-20.
12I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:12-20 NIV)
Paul’s highest aim, his greatest desire for the people that God led into his life was that Christ would be formed in each and every one of them. What a great desire, what a wonderful prayer for you and me to pray for our friends and for those that God has led into our realm of influence.
Before Paul gets to the bottom line of his heart’s desire for the people he retraces his relationship with the Galatians with urgency in his pen. Take a look with me at Galatians 4:12-14. Paul writes,
12I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (Galatians 4:12-14 NIV)
Paul is pleading with the folks in Galatia. The Greek word for “plead” means, “To beg,” or “to ask with urgency.” The exact same word is used in Luke 9 when Jesus comes down from the mountain and a man is waiting on Him. The man’s son was possessed by a demon that was torturing the boy and his father was at his wits end. When Jesus comes down from the mountain the father rushes towards Jesus and says, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. (Luke 9:38 NIV) Can’t you hear the urgency in the father’s strained and weary voice? The same word is used in other places in the New Testament and each time there is an urgency that emanates from each situation.
Paul is urgently pleading with the Galatians to stop and think about how they use to view the Gospel, how they use to value Paul’s teachings about grace, faith, and salvation through Christ alone, and how they once were willing to overlook Paul’s less than photogenic features because of their yearning for the truth of God.
Paul writes in verse 12, 12 “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.” We need to make something very clear so that there won’t be any misunderstanding about this verse. Let’s first talk about what Paul is not saying. Paul is not saying, “Become like me,” in the same way that the old Gatorade commercial invited all of us to “be like Mike.” Paul has no desire to start his own “cult of personality.” I remember that there was talk among the people of Corinth about who was the most powerful of all the preachers. When word got back to Paul he wrote them a letter and said,
11My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-12 NIV)
Paul had no desire to form a following around his name. He had no desire to stroll down the streets of Corinth and see the “First Church of St. Paul the Apostle.” His highest aim was to share the message of the cross with those who came across his path.
When we seek to understand verse 12, we must remember who Paul was writing to in his letter. Paul was writing to Galatian Gentiles who were being enticed to walk into the prison of the law once again and subject themselves to the false teachers in Galatia. Paul was urging them to remember that he was a Jew who adhered to every “jot” and every “tittle” of the law before he came to Christ. Once he came to Christ, he was set free from the law to pursue Jesus with his whole heart. Paul writes, 12 “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.” Paul was set free from the law by the freedom that only Jesus brings. In the next chapter Paul will tell the Galatians,
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)
As we go back to our text we can hear Paul reminding the Galatians how he first came to them. It was an illness that first brought Paul to Galatia and led to his preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. John MacArthur writes in his commentary,
On his first missionary journey Paul apparently either became seriously ill while in Galatia or else went there to recuperate. Some suggest that he contracted malaria while traveling through the low, swampy regions of Pamphylia and decided to go up into the higher and healthier area of Galatia and minister there for a while until he was better (see Acts 13:13-14). Although malaria can be terribly painful and debilitating, those effects are not continuous. If Paul did have that disease, he would have still been able to do some preaching and teaching between attacks of fever and pain. This explanation is plausible. (John MacArthur, Galatians, p. 116)
While Paul was ill among the Galatians, he was still teaching and preaching about the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Galatians welcomed Paul like he was an angel sent from God, like he was Jesus Himself. They didn’t treat him with contempt or scorn. Why would they? That is a great question.
In the first century many believed that illness was a sign of God’s disapproval. If you will remember, there was a time when Jesus and His disciples were walking along and they saw a man who was born blind. In John 9:2 the disciples asked Jesus,
2…”Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3″Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:2-3 NIV)
The man wasn’t born blind because he had sinned or because his parents were “bad” people in the community. The purposes of God were going to be displayed through the man, precisely because he was born blind.
In another example, Paul came ashore on the island of Malta. He was gathering some wood when he was bitten by a viper. In Acts 28 you can read about what happened. Look there with me.
3Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead, but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (Acts 28:3-6 NIV)
Aren’t we an odd lot! When Paul was bitten by the snake the guys around the campfire concluded that he was a murderer, but when he didn’t die then they changed their opinion – “he is a god.” Really? They were closer with their first guess!
When Paul was in Galatia teaching the word of God he was ill. There are many ideas about what was wrong with Paul. John MacArthur believes that Paul suffered from malaria, others say that he had an eye disease. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s guess although there may be a clue to what Paul’s illness was in verse 15 where Paul writes,
… I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:15 NIV)
Regardless of Paul’s illness, the Galatians didn’t let it stop them from sitting patiently and drinking deeply of the truth of God that Paul shared with them when he first paid them a visit. Now something had changed. The Galatians were forgetting the faith once proclaimed to them. They had lost their joy. They had relinquished their freedom. They were being taken captive all over again. Their views of Paul had changed. He was no longer a man of God, a teacher of truth, but Paul asks, “Have I now become an enemy for telling you the truth?” Take a look with me at Galatians 4:16-18.
16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. (Galatians 4:16-18 NIV)
What a sad commentary. Can you hear the heartache of this man who has labored on the behalf of the Galatians so that they might hear the truth of God? Paul has become an enemy of the people. Why? Because he has taken advantage of them? Because he has scammed them? Was it because he somehow deceived and manipulated them? Not at all! Paul is public enemy number 1 among the Galatians because he told them the truth.
Could it be that because of Paul’s experience in Galatia that he was led to write to young Timothy and warn him about days to come in his own life? Look at 2 Timothy 4:3-5 with me for just a moment.
3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3-5 NIV)
Long before Paul ever experienced the intolerance of the people for the truths of God, the prophet Isaiah offered a very similar assessment of the people of his own day. Turn with me to Isaiah 30:9-11.
9 These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’S instruction. 10 They say to the seers, “See no more visions!” and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. 11 Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (Isaiah 30:9-11 NIV)
A contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet Jeremiah, also experienced the same intolerance in his day. Jeremiah also asks a pertinent question that all of us who are unwilling to submit to the Word of God still have to answer in our own day. Jeremiah writes,
30 “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:30-31 NIV)
The false teachers of Jeremiah and Isaiah’s day, the false teachers of Paul and Timothy’s day, and the false teachers of our day all have something in common – they are not concerned with the truth of God. These false teachers are looking for the approval of people. They want to fit in and make a name for themselves in society. They want to boost their bottom line and line their own pockets.
There is a definite difference between the Apostle Paul and the false teachers of every age. Paul writes, “It is fine to be zealous, if the purpose is good.” The only good purpose in being zealous for people is to desire that they come to know the grace, mercy, and purposes of God for their lives.
In verses 19-20 of Galatians we read the real heart of the Apostle for the people, not just of Galatia, but in every city and village where he traveled. Paul writes,
19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! (Galatians 4:19-20 NIV)
Paul’s greatest desire, and the chief desire of any godly leader, is that those under his influence would come to see Jesus formed within them. Through prayer and the teaching of God’s Word we can see the character, attributes, and actions birthed and matured within us. I mentioned earlier that Paul’s heart was set on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, not the good news of Paul. It reminds me of John the Baptist when he was preaching in the desert and he spoke of Jesus by saying, “He must increase and I must decrease.”
A father and his small son strolled down the street in Chicago past the place where a skyscraper was being constructed. Glancing up, they saw men at work on a high story of the building. “Father,” said the little boy, “What are those little boys doing up there?” “Those are not little boys, son. They’re grown men.” “But why do they look so small?” “Because they’re so high,” his father answered. After a pause the boy asked, “Then, Father, when they get to heaven there won’t be anything left of them, will there?”
That little boy had a point that we all need to recognize. The truly godly leader, whether it be in the church house, a home, an office building, an athletic team, or the halls of education, has as his or her chief aim to present Jesus in all of His glory and majesty. The more clearly focused on Jesus we become the less others will take notice of us.
God’s great desire for each of us is that His Son would take shape within our hearts and spill over into our minds so that the way we live is constantly and consistently impacted by His nature and character. John MacArthur wrote about Paul’s desire to see Christ formed within the Galatians.
But however abnormal and tragic their spiritual condition, Paul would not forsake them until Christ was formed in them. The verb (morphooô) carries the idea of essential form rather than outward shape, and therefore refers to Christ-like character. Christ-likeness is the goal of the believer’s life. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,” he exhorted the church at Colossae (Col. 2:6; cf. Rom. 13:14). God has predestined believers “to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). “We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The Father sent the Son to earth not only to die that men might be saved but also to live as the divine example for those who are saved. (John MacArthur, Galatians, p. 120)
God’s desire for you and me is that His Son would be so evident in each of our lives. If it is God’s desire for His Son to take shape within us, then doesn’t it make sense that God’s leaders should express the same desire and work towards that end? As a leader, you and I should seek to build others up, to draw them in to His Word, to encourage them to walk in His steps, and to yield to His will in their lives. These have nothing to do with you and I getting the credit or making a name for ourselves. It is His name and not ours that will last.
For all of us, God’s desire is that the world might see His Son through our lives, every aspect of our lives. Not just our life on Sunday morning between the hours of 11:00 am and Noon. He wants your business associates to see His Son in the way you conduct your business. He wants your fellow teachers to see His Son in the way you teach your students. He wants your neighbors to see His Son in the way you interact with those on your block. He wants the stock boy at the grocery store to see His Son in the way you treat him when he carries your groceries. He wants your teachers and fellow students to see His Son in the way you study for your tests and treat those who attend your school. In every aspect of life, the world is watching – are they seeing Jesus or are they seeing a cheap imitation, a counterfeit, an imposter?
Several centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great came out of Macedonia and Greece to conquer the Mediterranean world. On one of his campaigns, Alexander received a message that one of his soldiers had been continually, and seriously, misbehaving and thereby shedding a bad light on the character of all the Greek troops. And what made it even worse was that this soldier’s name was also Alexander. When the commander learned this, he sent word that he wanted to talk to the errant soldier in person. When the young man arrived at the tent of Alexander the Great, the commander asked him, “What is your name?” The reply came back, “Alexander, sir.” The commander looked him straight in the eye and said forcefully, “Soldier, either change your behavior or change your name.”
When we call ourselves Christians, we are announcing that we belong to Jesus. Is the world seeing the One we follow or are they seeing a cheap imitation, an imposter, a poser?
I want to urge you to allow the Lord to search your heart and mind this morning. If you are a leader, then who are they following? Are they being led to Jesus by your teaching of God’s Word, are they growing in their faith by His Spirit, or are they following you because you are a nice guy or because you have charisma and charm like few women they’ve ever known? Is your leadership building the Church or forming another “cult of personality?”
For all of us who call ourselves Christians, I want to urge you to allow the Lord to search your hearts. Have we really surrendered our lives to Jesus? Are we really seeking Him and clinging to His righteousness rather than our own?
Last of all, if you are not a Christian then I want to urge you, if you hear the voice of God calling you to renounce your own righteousness so that He might clothe you in His righteousness, come and invite the Savior into your heart. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.