Today’s newspapers in Canada are sadly headlined with the proposed dismissal of a Canadian politician and pastor in another highly publicized failure. Although separated by over 3000 years, this failure is similar to a prominent leader who served when there was no Internet, nightly newscasts or daily newspapers. King David was confronted by God for committing adultery and compounding it with murder, “made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt.” (2 Samuel 12:14)
As Dr. Luke writes his Spirit-inspired account of the early church, he provides details of the wickedness of Judas, one of the Twelve, who had betrayed his Master for a handful of silver coins. Luke notes the following details from which I am seeking application. You can live at the time of David or Judas or in today’s world and still witness tragic leadership failure.
So what may we learn?
#1. Sin has its own rewards. Like a ‘frequent flyer’ program or ‘points’ credit card, sin tallies up our offenses and offers us a catalogue of rewards. Ultimately, the wages of sin is death–some reward, don’t you agree? Luke notes “…With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field…” After his ‘regret-filled’ act of betrayal, this leader-follower returned the coins to those who had hired him expressing his remorse. His guilt drove him to suicidal despair, a tragic end to one who had progressively tolerated evil in increasing measure. They took the money and purchased property which they renamed ‘A Field of Blood.’
#2. Sin provokes a crazed curiosity. Media outlets clamor over each other today to provide the salacious details which their audiences demand. Luke reminds us that “Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this…” Judas was the ‘talk of the town,’ but for all the wrong reasons. What ground did Satan seek to gain through this downfall? What slurs to the name of Christ came from this misconduct?
It’s interesting that Peter led the challenge to address the issue. In Matthew 16, the devil had gained control of Peter’s tongue in his attempt to defy Christ’s cross-directed mission. Remember Jesus saying, “Get behind me Satan!” when Peter protested the clear gospel statement of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection?
So what strategy is followed?
- The decision to be made was referenced in Scripture. With a short citation of Psalm 69:25 and Psalm 109:8, Peter begins his proposed plan of leadership replacement. “It is written…” is a familiar New Testament formula for introducing direct Old Testament quotes. In this short meditation Peter quotes two verses then draws an appropriate conclusion.
- The standards for the leadership position were cited. In this case apostolic leadership must be filled by those qualified to serve as eyewitnesses of the resurrection. From among the disciples who had been physically present from John’s Baptism until the Ascension of Jesus, a replacement must be selected.
- The specific steps involved are depicted – i) a proposal of two candidates; ii) a prayer for clear guidance; iii) a corporate decision taken by the group. Who was involved? I think the context supports congregational governance. All 120 believers had been praying. All had been and would be led by apostolic authority as part of the foundation Christ was laying for His new building (Ephesians 2:20) The word ‘they’ surely is not limited to just the 11 remaining leaders.
- The results of the decision were communicated. After casting lots, which appears here for the final time just prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit, Matthias is selected. He joins the apostolic band and the work continues.
Was Matthias the right choice? His role certainly was not prominent, in fact no further mention is given to him in the pages of the New Testament. Saul, who is converted to Paul, is added ‘abnormally’ in a later ‘out-of-season’ addition. Should the group have waited for this to occur? I’ll leave that with the speculative writing of commentators.
I do want to press home the principles for good leadership decisions. Reference Scripture carefully in whatever decision is to be made. Cite the standards required, to the degree that the New Testament outlines them (e.g. I Timothy 3, Titus 1, Acts 20, I Peter 5 are all passages related to elders or deacons). Outline clearly the steps to be taken with a proposal of possible candidates, lots of prayer and then a decision-making process. Communicate the results and thank God for His guidance.
Leadership failures are tragic, but even in the midst of them, God is at work, refining and purifying His people to pursue holiness, without which, according to Hebrews 12:14 “…no one will see the Lord.” In my own life, I am building a list of leaders I know or knew whose failure has destroyed their testimony. What have I learned from the ever growing list? “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.” “Watch your LIFE and DOCTRINE closely….”