When we read Genesis 16-28, it becomes clear that even God’s respected servants are far from perfect. Abram conspires with his wife Sarai to treat their Egyptian maid, Hagar, harshly; they later drive her out of their home. Abram’s nephew, Lot, offers his two innocent daughters as a shield to protect his guests from a gang of wicked men. On two different occasions Abraham lies about his wife Sarah, claiming her to be his sister to save his own skin at the peril of her own safety. Perhaps learning from his father’s example, Isaac does the same thing with his wife, Rebekah. Isaac and Rebekah play favorites between their two sons who eventually struggle for prominence. With Rebekah’s encouragement, Jacob steals his brother’s blessing.
For each of these stories we might attempt to come up with a defense of the leader’s actions based on circumstances. Yet does not the cumulative effect of three generations of patriarchs remind us that even the great founders and early leaders of God’s people were far from perfect? We learn from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the key to a leader’s success is not absolute perfection, but a willingness to learn and to grow from one’s mistakes. The people in the Bible who become instruments of God to lead others are those who walk humbly, trusting God, and being open to correction. Abraham, for example, was considered righteous by God because he was willing to obey God—even to the point of sacrificing his own son. Isaac, the sacrificial gift, was spared, and became a prototype of the sacrifice God our Father would offer us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Despite his mistakes, Abraham is recognized by Jews and Christians alike as the father of our faith (Romans 4:16). So it was with Isaac, who did not accomplish any spectacular feats yet received the promises first given to Abraham. Jacob was less than stellar in his life’s journey; nevertheless, God renamed him Israel, which means “an overcomer with God” or “a prince with God” (Genesis 32:28). This tendency in the Bible to show people as they are, warts and all, is a subtle yet powerful evidence that the Bible is inspired by God. When we humans write our own stories, we tend to make ourselves look great and gloss over our mistakes.
Let us remember that to some extent we are all leaders. Leadership may be defined simply as influence; we each influence others for good or for bad. Let us then humble ourselves and be willing to receive correction. In this way we can pursue excellence but not demand the impossible of ourselves: ongoing and absolute perfection. And then maybe, just maybe, we can remind the world around us that God is in the habit of giving us imperfect leaders.
1. What insights can you draw from 1 Timothy 2:1-6 about our responsibility to pray for those who influence our lives as leaders?
2. What is likely to occur if an entire society becomes so negative about leaders that they refuse to respect them altogether?
3. Prayerfully consider any changes you will make in your own way of thinking, talking, and acting toward leaders. Write down specific commitments you will make in this regard.