THE CHARACTER QUALITIES THAT DEFINE A TRUE LEADER
A third element in the making of a leader—besides the right raw material and the right life experiences—is the right character. Character, of course, is absolutely
critical in leadership. America's current moral decline is directly linked to the fact that we have elected, appointed, and hired too many leaders who have no character. In recent years, some have tried to argue that character doesn't really matter in leadership;
what a man does in his private life supposedly should not be a factor in whether he is deemed fit for a public leadership role. That perspective is diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches. Character does matter in leadership. It matters a lot.
In fact, character is what makes leadership possible. People simply cannot respect or trust those who lack character. And if they do not respect a man, they will not follow him. Time
and truth go hand in hand. Leaders without character eventually disappoint their followers and lose their confidence. The only reason such people are often popular is that they make other people who have no character feel better about themselves. But they
aren't real leaders.
Lasting leadership is grounded in character. Character produces respect. Respect produces trust.
And trust motivates followers.
Even in the purely human realm, most people do recognize that true leadership is properly associated with character qualities
like integrity, trustworthiness, respectability, unselfishness, humility, self-discipline, self-control, and courage. Such virtues reflect the image of God in man. Although the divine image is severely tarnished in fallen humanity, it has not been entirely
erased. That's why even pagans recognize those qualities as desirable virtues, important requirements for true leadership.
Christ Himself is the epitome of what a true leader ought to be like. He is perfect in all the attributes that make up the character of a leader. He is the embodiment of all the truest, purest, highest, and noblest qualities
Obviously, in spiritual leadership, the great goal and objective is to bring people to Christlikeness. That is why
the leader himself must manifest Christlike character. That is why the standard for leadership in the church is set so high. The apostle Paul summarized the spirit of the true leader when he wrote, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1
Corinthians 11: 1).
Peter might just as well have written the same thing. His character was molded and shaped after the example he had
witnessed in Christ. He had the raw material for becoming a leader, and that was important. His life experiences helped hone and sharpen his natural leadership abilities, and that was also vital. But the real key to everything—the essential foundation
upon which true leadership always rises or falls—is character. It was the character qualities Peter developed through his intimate association with Christ that ultimately made him the great leader he became.
J. R. Miller wrote, "The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried is the character of a man. What a man is, survives him. Character; it can never be buried." That is a true sentiment, but there
is something more important than what people think of us after we are dead. What is far more important is the impact we have while we are here.
What are some of the character
qualities of a spiritual leader that were developed in the life of Peter? One is submission. At first glance that may seem an unusual quality to cultivate in a leader. After all, the leader is the person in charge, and he expects other people to submit to
him, right? But a true leader doesn't just demand submission; he is an example of submission by the way he submits to the Lord and to those in authority over him. Everything the true spiritual leader does ought to be marked by submission to every legitimate
authority—especially submission to God and to His Word.
Leaders tend to be confident and aggressive. They naturally dominate.
Peter had that tendency in him. He was quick to speak and quick to act. As we have seen, he was a man of initiative. That means he was always inclined to try to take control of every situation. In order to balance that side of him, the Lord taught him submission.
He did it in some rather remarkable ways. One classic example of this is found in Matthew 17. This account comes at a time when Jesus was returning with the Twelve to Capernaum, their home base, after a period of itinerant ministry. A tax collector was in
town making the rounds to collect the annual two-drachma (half-shekel) tax from each person twenty years old or older. This was not a tax paid to Rome, but a tax paid for the upkeep of the temple. It was prescribed in Exodus 30: 11-16 (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:
9). The tax was equal to two days' wages, so it was no small amount.
Matthew writes, "Those who received the temple tax came
to Peter and said, 'Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?'" (Matthew 17: 24). Peter assured him that Jesus did pay His taxes.
But this particular
tax apparently posed a bit of a problem in Peter's mind. Was Jesus morally obliged, as the incarnate Son of God, to pay for the upkeep of the temple like any mere man? The sons of earthly kings don't pay taxes in their fathers' kingdoms; why should Jesus?
Jesus knew what Peter was thinking, so "when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, 'What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?'" (v. 25).
Peter answered, "From strangers." Kings don't tax their own children. Jesus drew the logical conclusion for Peter: "Then the sons are free" (v. 26). In other words, Jesus had absolute heavenly authority,
if He desired, to opt out of the temple tax.
But if He did that, it would send the wrong message as far as earthly authority is
concerned. Better to submit, pay the tax, and avoid a situation most people would not understand. So although Jesus was not technically obligated to pay the temple tax, he said, "Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the
fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you" (v. 27).
coin in the mouth of the fish was a stater—a single coin worth a shekel, or four drachma. It was exactly enough to pay the temple tax for two. In other words, Jesus arranged for Peter's tax to be paid in full, too.
It's intriguing that the miracle Jesus worked demonstrated His absolute sovereignty, and yet at the same time, He was being an example of human submission. Christ supernaturally directed
a fish that had swallowed a coin to take the bait on Peter's hook. If Jesus was Lord over nature to such a degree, He certainly had authority to opt out of the temple tax. And yet he taught Peter by example how to submit willingly.
Submission is an indispensible character quality for leaders to cultivate. If they would teach people to submit, they must be examples of submission themselves. And sometimes a leader must submit even when
there might seem to be very good arguments against submitting.
Peter learned the lesson well. Years later, in 1 Peter 2: 13-18, he would write,
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those
who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men; as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.
This was the
same lesson Peter learned from Christ: You are free in one sense, but don't use your freedom as a covering for evil. Rather, regard yourself as the Lord's bondslave. You are a citizen of heaven and merely a sojourner on earth, but submit to every ordinance
of man for the Lord's sake. You are first and foremost a subject of Christ's kingdom and a mere stranger and pilgrim on this earth. Nonetheless, to avoid offense, honor the earthly king. Honor all people. This is the will of God, and by submitting, you will
put to silence the ignorance of ungodly men.
Remember, the man who wrote that epistle was the same man who when he was young and
brash slashed off the ear of the high priest's servant. He is the same man who once struggled over the idea of Jesus' paying taxes. But he learned to submit—not an easy lesson for a natural leader. Peter especially was inclined to be dominant, forceful,
aggressive, and resistant to the idea of submission. But Jesus taught him to submit willingly, even when he thought he had a good argument for refusing to submit.
A second character quality
Peter learned was restraint.
Most people with natural leadership abilities do not naturally excel when it comes to exercising
restraint. Self-control, discipline, moderation, and reserve don't necessarily come naturally to someone who lives life at the head of the pack. That is why so many leaders have problems with anger and out-of-control passions. Perhaps you have noticed recently
that anger-management seminars have become the latest fad for CEOs and people in high positions of leadership in American business. It is clear that anger is a common and serious problem among people who rise to such a high level of leadership.
Peter had similar tendencies. Hotheadedness goes naturally with the sort of active, decisive, initiative-taking personality that made him a leader in the first place. Such
a man easily grows impatient with people who lack vision or underperform. He can be quickly irritated by those who throw up obstacles to success. Therefore he must learn restraint in order to be a good leader.
The Lord more or less put a bit in Peter's mouth and taught him restraint. That is one of the main reasons Peter bore the brunt of so many rebukes when he spoke too soon or acted too hastily. The
Lord was constantly teaching him restraint.
That scene in the garden where Peter tried to decapitate Malchus is a classic example of his natural
lack of restraint. Even surrounded by hundreds of Roman soldiers, all armed to the teeth, Peter unthinkingly pulled out his sword and was ready to wade into the crowd, swinging. It was fortunate for him that Malchus lost nothing more than an ear and that Jesus
immediately healed the damage. As we have already seen, Jesus rebuked Peter sternly.
That rebuke must have been especially difficult for Peter, coming as
it did in front of a horde of enemies. But he learned much from what he witnessed that night. Later in life, he would write, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 'Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found
in His mouth'; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2: 21—23).
How different that is from the young man who tried to grab a sword and whack his way through his opposers! Peter had learned the lesson of restraint.
He also had to learn humility. Leaders are often tempted by the sin of pride. In fact, the besetting sin of leadership may be the tendency to think more of oneself than one ought to think. When people are following your lead, constantly praising you, looking
up to you, and admiring you, it is too easy to be overcome with pride. We can observe in Peter a tremendous amount of self-confidence. It is obvious by the way he jumps in with answers to all the questions. It is obvious in most of his actions, such as when
he stepped out of the boat and began to walk on water. It became obvious in the worst and most disastrous way on that fateful occasion when Jesus foretold that His disciples would forsake Him.
Jesus said, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:' I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'" (Matthew 26: 31).
But Peter was cocksure: "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble" (v. 33, emphasis added). Then he added, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death" (Luke 22: 33).
Of course, as usual, Peter was wrong and Jesus was right. Peter did deny Christ not once, but multiple times, just as Jesus had warned. Peter's shame and disgrace at having dishonored Christ so flagrantly
were only magnified by the fact he had boasted so stubbornly about being impervious to such sins!
But the Lord used all of this to make Peter humble.
And when Peter wrote his first epistle, he said, "be clothed with humility, for 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5: 5-6). He specifically
told church leaders, "[ Don't act like] lords over those entrusted to you, but [be] examples to the flock" (v. 3). Humility became one of the virtues that characterized Peter's life, his message, and his leadership style.
Peter also learned love. All the disciples struggled with learning that true spiritual leadership means loving service to one another. The real leader is someone who serves, not someone who demands
to be waited upon.
This is a hard lesson for many natural leaders to learn. They tend to see people as a means to their end. Leaders are usually task
oriented rather than people-oriented. And so they often use people, or plow over people, in order to achieve their goals. Peter and the rest of the disciples needed to learn that leadership is rooted and grounded in loving service to others. The true leader
loves and serves those whom he leads.
Jesus said, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9: 35). The Lord Himself
constantly modeled that kind of loving servant-leadership for the disciples. But nowhere is it more plainly on display than in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal.