In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul recounted the story of the Israelites, God’s anointed and chosen people, who died in the desert after their deliverance from Egypt. Paul made application of this story by stating, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (10:6, NIV).
Learning from the mistakes of others should lead to our making appropriate adjustments in our lives. Paul himself stated that he exercised constant vigilance in his life. He understood the possibility of his own failure as he examined the experience of others, and he was determined not to fall into sin and be “disqualified for the prize” (9:24-27, NIV).
Paul’s writings to the Corinthians make it easier to understand why the Bible includes detailed accounts of the failures of spiritual leaders. God doesn’t hide anything at all. In fact, He is brutally honest about the dark side of leadership. This honest acknowledgement of the culpability of anointed leaders is a gift to us—the gift of being able to learn from others’ mistakes. Those accounts remind us that, at an unguarded moment or season in our own lives and ministries, we could drift off course.
King David, the man after God’s own heart and the author of numerous psalms of worship, was not immune to failure. Second Samuel tells the story of David’s sin. It all began when he sent his men off to battle—but he, the mighty warrior-king, stayed in Jerusalem.
One evening, David observed the beautiful Bathsheba as she engaged in a ritual purification bath. His first inquiry into her identity yielded the information that she was married—but it didn’t matter. He ignored every barrier put in his way, even the counsel of a most trusted advisor.
Then, after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, he tried to cover it up by having her husband killed: “In it [the letter to Joab, the commander of the army] he wrote, ‘Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die’ ” (2 Sam. 11:15). Only when the prophet Nathan confronted David with his sin, did he confess and repent.
Incredible, isn’t it? A man whom God had anointed and placed on the throne, a man who wrote such amazing songs of worship, became so caught up in sin that he was willing to do anything to cover up his failure-even have another person killed. It is not surprising that this type of abuse of power often accompanies a leader’s sin.
In his book The Empowered Leader, Calvin Miller, a well-known pastor, author and professor, cites five common abuses of power:
- Drifting away from those disciplines we still demand of our people.
- Believing that others owe us whatever use we can make of them.
- Attempting to fix things up rather than make things right.
- Refusing to accept that we could be blindly out of God’s will.
- Believing that people in our way are expendable.
Leadership is not something to be feared, but it must be accompanied by a system of checks and balances. Having leadership and authority without accountability can be disastrous—the biblical accounts of failure make that clear. To whom do you make yourself accountable? Are you living transparently and humbly before God and man?
The story of David is truly remarkable and lets us know that abysmal failure does not have to be the end. Psalm 51, which David wrote after his encounter with the prophet Nathan, reminds us that God will renew and restore us when we repent. If we let this psalm serve as a regular reminder of our human frailty and God’s grace and power, we can walk before God with a renewed resolve to remain faithful to Him. Join me in surrendering afresh to the Lord and praying David’s prayer:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to you.” (Psalm 51:10-13, NKJV)
By: Glenn Burris Jr., interim president of The Foursquare Church