“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:7-8. The first characteristic of leaders is that they live faithful lives worthy of our imitation. The second characteristic of leaders is that they speak the word of God, and in doing so they bring people to Christ.
This is more than merely quoting Scripture. It is rightly dividing God’s Word, applying it at times like a healing balm and at other times like a rod. For one person it needs to be instructive, but for another it must be a rebuke. True leaders are not legislating God’s Word, but administrating its applications; they are not inventing new rules, but applying the Word that is already revealed.
When I preach, it is my hope that many years from now the listeners will still be applying the Word to their lives, even after they have forgotten my name. There are countless men and women who entered the ministry because a traveling evangelist or guest missionary planted a seed of the Word in their hearts and they knew what God was calling them to do. Quite often they remember the Word, but they cannot recall the name of the missionary or the preacher. It is the job of every leader to bring the Word, Jesus, to the people. It is their heart and soul and greatest joy, and if the task is done correctly, then the brighter the light of Jesus, the dimmer the memory of the vessel. When we turn on the light in a dark room, we notice the room, not the bulb. True leaders are like light bulbs; they illuminate Christ, but never endeavor to draw attention to themselves (see John 3:30).
Next, a leader lives a life of faith that brings people to Jesus.
Leaders know that their lives will speak a thousand times louder than any words they will ever preach. That does not mean that leaders need to be perfect, but that they show themselves to be perfectible. Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a woman who took some yeast and worked it into some flour (see Matthew 13:33), resulting in dough that would rise and bubble. The kingdom in our lives will causes changes and upheavals. But did you notice that Jesus never told a parable about a finished loaf? Leaders must allow their lives to be seen, the risings and the settlings, the changes and the growth. If new converts got the idea that they are to be perfect the day after their conversion, they would most likely be too discouraged to continue in their pursuit of Christ. But, if we allow them to see that we, too, are growing in the Lord, then we bring Christ to them in honesty and integrity, showing them the faith we have in a Savior who takes us as we are, and throughout our lives molds us into a Bride prepared for her groom.
The fourth item we notice about real leaders is that they die loyal to their Lord.
The love of Jesus for His followers continued right up to His last breath, and His true followers remain faithful to Him right up to their final moment on earth. Ebenezer Erskine, a devoted Scottish preacher who died in 1754, was visited on his deathbed by a friend, who asked him, “What are you doing now with your soul, Mr. Erskine?” To which the dying man replied, “I am doing with it what I did 40 years ago, resting it on the Word of the Lord.”
The loyalty of leaders to their Savior never stops half way. For one who spent forty years resting in God’s promises, it was no new thing for Ebenezer Erskine to go to an eternal rest still secure in God’s love. It is said that the apostle Peter was forced to watch as his wife was crucified before him. All he could say to her was, “Remember the Lord.” He then requested that he be crucified upside down, not feeling worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord. In this way his loyalty to Jesus showed right up to his last breath. We are told that Philip, faithful to the end, was stripped, pierced in the ankles and thighs, and hung upside down to die. His final request was to be wrapped in papyrus, believing he was unworthy to be wrapped in linen like his Savior. John reportedly ended up in Ephesus and lived for almost 100 years before he died in peace. His brother James died early by the sword, but both drank the cup of Christ (see Matthew 20:22-23). An ancient Roman coin depicts an ox facing a plough and an altar, and its inscription reads, “ready for either.” There are Christians who will die sudden and dramatic deaths, and others who will serve the Lord for many wonderful years, but all of us must be “ready for either.” And when we are, we will find that our faith in Christ and our loyalty to Him will remain strong right up to the end.
Finally, true leaders not only live their lives, but also leave their lives as examples and inspirations for others to follow.
These leaders spoken of by the author of Hebrews left complete examples of how to live, behave, and die. Their whole lives were open for review, and they were of such fine character that the author says we can “imitate their faith.”
Despite the many ways that the faithful pass on to be with God, they all have one thing in common–they all die and are buried. But Jesus lives on, and is “the same yesterday and today and forever.” Yesterday, Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). Today, Jesus represents His people at God’s throne as our High Priest, able to “sympathize with our weaknesses . . . who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). And forever, Jesus “lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
Every one of us will serve our generation in one way or another and then pass on.
But Jesus, in His grace, help, intercession, wisdom, guidance, and power, lives forever and is always available to us. Where, then, is there room in our lives for us to lose heart or quit?
Since Jesus is the same forever, then Christ’s work through His Body of believers remains the same. So our goals, morals, conduct, and relationship with the world and with God must remain consistent. Both God and His word remain unchangeable, and despite the ever-changing tolerance of the world toward sin, the Church of the living Christ has no changing of standards. Since Christ will never be superseded or outdated, His Word, example, and expectations remain the same forever. With this in mind, may we all live lives that are worthy of others to watch, record, and, as we keep our eyes firmly fixed on our “Forever Jesus,” ultimately living so that people can safely imitate our faith.