Lead to Freedom
I often remind our leaders of two truths:
- Leadership does NOT make you more important.
- Leadership DOES mean you bear more responsibility.
When leaders do their job well, everyone else benefits. When leaders fail, the efforts of others can be crippled. Leaders bear much responsibility.
When Israel was returning home after seventy years of captivity, they desperately needed great leadership. Their walls were in ruins, leaving the city vulnerable and weak. Worse yet, the broken people returning home had forgotten so much. It’s one thing to be given freedom. It’s quite another to live wisely with that freedom.
Without leadership, Israel would surely crumble again. But Ezra and Nehemiah emerged as two of the greatest leaders in Scripture. Although they were different in many ways, they were both men of great courage and Godliness. While there are dozens of leadership principles we could find, here are four that good leaders can’t live without:
1. Lead by studying.
“For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10)
Ezra did not give Scripture a meandering glimpse. He studied.
The word study indicates vigorous activity. Think of the scientist on the brink of a new invention. He hasn’t slept in nights. His lab is full of flasks, strange metals and hot liquids. He’s so close, but he realizes he’s only missing one piece of knowledge. He races to his floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, stands on a chair and snatches the one book he needs. He rushes back to his workbench, grabs a pencil and notepad, opens the book, reads, sketches out a diagram, reads more and then races to his experiment. The scientist has studied.
This is the passion we ought to find when we study Scripture. For only it can save us. Let to ourselves, we’ll end up in slavery again.
Nehemiah also led by studying. He studied the place and the people. When he first arrived in Jerusalem, he conducted a secret mission, exploring the city and the walls to see what needed to be done. Later, when problems arose, he always knew what to say and how to say it. He knew how people thought.
But more importantly than anything else, Nehemiah studied Scripture. He knew the Law. To look further into this, compare the following passages:
Neh. 1:8 – Dt. 28:64
Neh. 1:9 – Dt. 30:1-4; 12:5
Neh. 1:10 – Dt. 9:29
You’ve been given a precious gift. Study it. Lead by studying.
2. Lead by sharing.
Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. If you’ve been hungry your whole life and then find food, you must tell others. Share the good news. Let them know. Find those who need food.
“And you, Ezra, in accordance with the wisdom of your God, which you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to administer justice to all the people of Trans-Euphrates-all who know the laws of your God. And you are to teach any who do not know them.” (Ezra 7:25)
Once you’ve studied, you’re both ready and obligated to share. When people live without God’s wisdom, destruction ensues. Save them from that destruction, and lead them to life. Ultimately, freedom rests under the umbrella of obedience.
3. Lead by doing what is right.
Some of the nobles created an unjust system in which the poor could not escape (Nehemiah 5). The poor were losing their fields, homes and children. Nehemiah heard their cries. And acted.
He called these nobles together and scolded them. He probably used their middle names.
And do you know what? They listened and obeyed. Sometimes a good scolding is exactly what people need.
Nehemiah could’ve lived high on the hog, but he refused to live above his people. He defeated the temptation to seek power and comfort, and the people loved him for it.
Tim Keller writes, “If you’re unwilling to risk your place in the palace for your neighbors, the palace owns you.” The palace never owned Nehemiah; God did. And if you’ll submit to God, you’ll be free to do what is right, even when it might cost you.
4. Lead by dealing hope.
Napolean said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” I picture a good leader, making his way through his warehouse, dealing hope to the discouraged machinist, dealing hope to the tired, new father, and dealing hope to the overwhelmed manager.
When the Israelites were frightened by the threats of their enemies, Nehemiah dealt hope. Perhaps the words God spoke to Joshua years before were echoing in his heart: “Be strong and courageous.”
“Do not be afraid. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Nehemiah 4:14).
Deal hope, my friends. When a family is in crisis, deal hope – not blind optimism or empty promises, but hope. When a friend is discouraged, deal hope. You may not even need a word. Hope can be dealt through a hug.
Church leaders. Ministry leaders. Teachers. Moms. Dads. Kids. Siblings. Neighbors. Deal Hope!
Lead like Jesus
The leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah points us to the greatest leader of all time. Jesus studied. When the Devil tempted him, he quoted Scripture. When he hung on a cross, he quoted Scripture. He studied Scripture and it flowed out of his life.
Jesus shared God’s Word everywhere he went. He used stories, parables and object lessons to teach. He taught the rich and poor, young and old, arrogant and humble. His life served as one big invitation.
Jesus did the right thing. Every. Single. Time. It cost him safety, friends and even his life.
Jesus dealt eternal hope. When his disciples were shaken, unsteady, wavering: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
While God wants you to lead, the first thing you must do is to submit yourself to be led by the Great Leader. When we give Jesus our hearts, and follow His example, we’ll lead people to the freedom God offers.