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On Praying for Leaders (Proverbs 31:1-9)

November 8, 2020 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Proverbial Faith (Proverbs)

Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth, Prayer Passage: Proverbs 31:1–31:9

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I. For Those Being Led

Regardless of your age and place in life, regardless of your party affiliation, regardless of your position at work or income tax bracket, regardless of election results, followers of Jesus must understand what it means to lead, AND, what it means to be led. Our understanding, of course, comes from God's own word in Scripture. For example, the NT provides Christians with many passages concerning our relationship with leaders inside and outside the church:

Inside the church, the author of Hebrews encourages us in Hebrews 13:7 to, “Remember your leaders... and imitate their faith.” A few verses later, in 13:17, he reminds them to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

When it comes to leaders outside the church, most of us are familiar with how Jesus, in Matthew 22:21, instructed us to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s...”. In Romans 13:1 Paul called believers to “be subject [i.e., to submit] to the governing authorities”. Similarly, Peter reminded his readers in I Peter 2:17 to “Honor the emperor.”

But in I Timothy 2, the Apostle Paul provides us with yet another call to action in this area:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, [2] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. [3] This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, [4] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

As many of you know, and as many of you already practice, God calls us to pray for “all people”, including our leaders. Why? So that as they lead well in terms of the common good, “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life”. And this in turn creates a stable platform for the work of the church, since God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

 

II. The Passage: "For Kings" (31:1-9)

But wait a minute. Aren't we studying the book of Proverbs this month? Yes! So how is this topic related to our series? Well, did you know this book, the book of Proverbs, includes almost fifty verses that mention either a “king” or a “ruler”? And many of those verses provide us with important truths about leadership, important truths that should inform, that should shape, our prayers about the leaders in our lives.

The proverbs I have in mind this morning are those that reveal God's ideal, God's design, God's guidance for healthy and effective leadership. And so if we desire healthy and effective leadership in our lives, prayer is one powerful way to genuinely make a difference.

But before we dig in, let me offer some qualifications about these “king” and “ruler” passages in Proverbs. First of all, many of these passages provide guidance to those being led, rather than those who are leading. For example, Proverbs 25:6–7...

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, [7] for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

Now, a proverb like certainly could translate to a prayer like, “Lord God, we pray that our civic leaders will be wary of people who want to exalt themselves rather than serve our community.” But ultimately, while it mentions both a “king” and a “noble, this provide was written for a subject rather than a sovereign.

Here's a second qualification when it comes to these passage about kings and rulers. Listen to and consider Proverbs 20:28... Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld. While Daniel 2:21does tell us that God “removes kings and sets up kings”, Proverbs 20:28 sounds much more specific, doesn't it? Sweetly specific!

I think this is the case because the background of this verse is God's covenant with David. Remember, David's son, King Solomon wrote this proverb. And he wrote and collected these proverbs for his own son, who might also be king one day. So this is an example of a specific, covenant-informed position of leadership, therefore we need to be very careful about applying it to other examples of leadership.

Other than these, the majority of these “king” or “ruler” proverbs really do help us understand God's ideal for leadership, just as they were intended to promote and prescribe God's ideal for leadership for those who would be kings and rulers. The longest example of this kind of proverb is found in Proverbs 31:1–9. Turn there, if you would. Interestingly, this passage was not written by Solomon. As you can see from verse 1, these are the “words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him”. King Lemuel was not a Hebrew king. In fact, we don't know anythig about him, but here's what his mother taught her son. Verse 2...

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows? [3] Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings. [4] It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, [5] lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. [6] Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; [7] let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. [8] Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. [9] Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Now right away I want you to notice the two halves of this passage, and the common thread that unites them. In the first half of the passage, verses 2-5, Lemuel's mother provides prohibitions against the influence of unhealthy women and unhealthy amounts of alcohol. And in the second half of the passage, she provides exhortations to rule with both compassion and justice for the needy. Prohibitions and exhortations.

But think about what unites verses 2-9. Both parts of this passage are deeply concerned with kings doing the right thing: certain women can tempt a king to do the wrong thing instead of the right thing (Solomon himself learned that the hard way). Alcohol can also impair a ruler and keep him from doing the right thing.

What is the right thing? Verse 5: upholding what has been “decreed”, that is, the law. Verse 5: maintaining the rights of the afflicted. Verse 6: Lightening the load of those suffering. Verse 8: bring a voice for the voiceless, for the needy. Verse 9: justice for those suffering unjustly.D

So this common thread helps us in Proverbs 31:2-9 helps inform the first of seven prayers for our leaders. Prayer #1: “God, please lead our leaders in both doing what is right and desiring what is right”. In Proverbs 16:12 Solomon reminds his son that “the throne is established by righteousness” Similarly, we read in Proverbs 29:4 that “by justice a king builds up the land”. Chapter 24, verses 23-25 spells this out...d

Partiality in judging is not good. [24] Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, [25] but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.D

According to Proverbs, this discernment for the right should spring from a desire for the right, so much so, that “righteous lips are the delight of the king” (16:13), and “He who loves purity if heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.”d

But if we think again about our main passage in 31:2-9, we just might recognize a couple more, related prayer requests. In light King Lemuel's mother's warnings about women and wine, I think we can offer this petition (Prayer #2): “Lord God, guard our leaders against that which distracts and that which distorts in terms of doing what is right.” In addition to women and wine, Solomon's father David warned his son about warriors and weapons as well: Psalm 33:16... The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. We know distractions and distortions abound in our world as well. Let's pray our leaders, by God's grace, can navigate that kind of minefield.D

The themes we find in the latter half our main passage bring us to Prayer #3: “Father, fill our leaders with both compassion and commitment when it comes to those most in need of their position.” The most vulnerable in our society need a leader's protection. Those without influence need those with influence. The powerless need the help of those in positions of power. Proverbs 29:14 picks up one of those themes chapter 31 themes: If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.

This emphasis reminds us that a proverb doesn't need to mention a king or ruler to be important for a king or ruler. Proverbs, for example, is filled with verses about concern for the poor, a concern that all people, including kings, should share. As Proverbs 21:13 puts it... Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.D

That idea that the entire book, the entire collection of these proverbs, is important for leaders, is confirmed by a fact I mentioned earlier: Proverbs was composed and collected by Solomon for his son, a son who one day might also sit on the throne of David. The point I'm making leads us to Prayer #4: “Gracious God, since life can be hard, people messy, and situations complex, would you grant our leaders wisdom in doing what is right at all times.”

A leader's need for wisdom is explicit in 8:15-16... By me [i.e., wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; [16] by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. Similarly, Proverbs 28:2 speaks about a healthy leader when it reveals that a community or nation ...with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.

Speaking of wisdom, listen what Proverbs 20:18 teaches us about obtaining it:

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. Now, that verse doesn't mention a king or ruler, but it certainly fits a royal setting and royal powers. Proverbs 15:22 makes the same point, even more generically... Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. That leads to Prayer #5: “Almighty God, fill our leaders ears with wise counsel, as you surround them with people who put principle before position or power.” This same theme is expressed in negative terms as well. Proverbs 25:4, 5...d

Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel; [5] take away the wicked from the presence of the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness.

As we know, wickedness doesn't simply taint leaders because of those who speak on the outside. It also tempts them as it speaks, as it entices, from the inside. Proverbs 28:16—A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. In light of this, consider Prayer #6: “Father, guard the hearts of our leaders from seeing their position as a means of getting, rather than means of giving.” This is what the Apostle Peter describes in I Peter 5:2 as a leader's temptation toward “shameful gain”.d

Finally, everything we've talked about speaks to the ideal of God's design for leaders. Listen to how Proverbs 16:15 describes that ideal... In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain. We know from history, often from our own personal history, that this is not always the case. And so, Prayer #7: “O God, let the leadership of our leaders always be life-giving in terms of our life together.” Let's pray for both the continuation of this, as well as the correction of this in places where it's lacking.

dd

III. These Leaders in Light of the Leader

Seven prayers drawn from what the book of Proverbs reveals regarding sound, leadership principles; seven prayers that can help us fulfill the call God gave us through Paul in I Timothy 2: I urge that... prayers... be made... for kings and all who are in high positions. But let me share two more “king/ruler” verses from Proverbs. Both of these verses are far more important than anything else we've looked at because both of the verses direct the eyes of our heart far higher than any earthly position of leadership.d

Lest we fear when human leaders seem out of control, God reassures in Proverbs 21:1... The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Even the earth's most powerful leaders cannot overpower “the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).d

And lest we forget when human leaders seem to be the savior we need most, Proverbs 29:26... Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice. God can and certainly does use leaders to for the common good, but that should never turn hearts from the fact that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights...” (James 1:17).d

Thanks be to God, brother and sisters, thanks be to God that temptations to both fear and forget when it comes to human leaders can be overcome by the promises of the gospel. It is through Jesus, and only Jesus, that we can rest assured that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28); only the leadership of Jesus Christ can rescue both us and our leaders from the counterfeit rule of sin, of self, of Satan, and of the system of this world. My prayer for you is that you would know and continue to grow (and pray) in light of his leadership!

 

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