This evening I spoke to our interns about leadership in the church. In the course of conversation, I made a statement that afterwards got my own wheels turning. The idea that I expressed is the popular adage, “Faithful leadership is defined by what we do when no one is watching.” Among many biblical texts, 2 Chronicles 7:14 helpfully elucidates this truth. The verse reads as follows:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
You see, clever politics will not secure a nation, for unseen sin can cripple it. Unless wickedness is exposed and shunned, calamity is near. However grand the founding documents, formidable the military, or skillful the statesmen, there is no substitute for needful repentance. When it occurs at the prompting of repentant leaders, wonderful things can befall a people.
When God spoke these words to Solomon, the king was off to a good start. He had asked God for wisdom instead of wealth, honor, vengeance, or longevity (1:11). With God’s blessing, he had built and dedicated the temple (2:1 – 7:11). Now the Lord appeared to Solomon in a vision and gave the condition for continued and increasing favor (v. 14).
He affirmed what the king understood: blessing from God came from covenant faithfulness. Divine benevolence depended upon humility and repentance before a Sovereign God. Yahweh’s forgiveness did not begin and end with individuals alone; He also forgives families, congregations, and nations when they collectively repent.
The role of the leader was unmistakable. God gave these words to Solomon, and not just to a randomly chosen shepherd or homemaker, as precious as they were in God’s sight. David’s throne and the welfare of Israel hung in the balance (v. 19), and community blessing or reprimand pivoted upon the fulcrum of the heart of the king.
Moses had prescribed the principles governing future kings in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Three imperatives emerged: (1) the king was not to gain too much wealth or power, (2) he should not intermarry with pagan foreign wives, (3) he must master the Word of God and lead the people to obey it through covenant renewal. With respect to these standards, for a moment in time, Solomon showed the promise of his father David.
Despite the good start detailed in 2 Chronicles 7, Solomon in time shockingly violated all three of the directives just cited, and the nation followed his lead. With his passing, the kingdom divided and began the long march toward judgment, exile, and near oblivion. God had given His prescription for national health, but it was ignored, tragically.
Blessed is the country whose leaders set the example of humility before God, but the Church must not wait upon them. Judgment begins with the house of God, where Christians are called first to repent and turn from their own sins in the context of national evil. (Nehemiah’s prayer in the first chapter of Nehemiah is a compelling example.) And though few are national leaders, pastors are leaders in their own right, and the mantle of spiritual example falls just as surely upon them as it did upon Solomon.
Many pastors begin well, keenly attentive to the obligations of their high calling. Some, with Solomon, do not end so well. They too lose sight of their standing duty to live conspicuously in joyful brokenness before a Holy God. But those who maintain this godly vision are agents of life, of the best God has for his people.