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Day 260

The Best Way to Lead

Wisdom Proverbs 22:28–23:9
New Testament Galatians 3:10–25
Old Testament Isaiah 41:1–42:25

Introduction

Who is the servant of the Lord?’ This was the question that the Chief Financial Officer of Ethiopia asked the evangelist Philip: ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ (Acts 8:34).

The title ‘servant of the Lord’ is one of great dignity, reserved for leaders such as Abraham, Moses and David. But in the four ‘servant songs’ (Isaiah 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12) a distinct concept of ‘servanthood’ comes into sharper focus.

The role of this ‘servant’ can be illustrated with the St Andrew’s cross. (St Andrew, brother of Peter, is believed to have died on a diagonally traversed cross, which the Romans sometimes used for execution. It therefore came to be called the St Andrew’s cross, and is the flag of Scotland.)

Originally, God intended that all humankind should be his servant. Then, after the fall, God chose the whole nation of Israel to serve him. But even his chosen race was not faithful to him. So the focus, continuing to narrow, became a mere ‘faithful remnant’. Ultimately, only one individual was completely faithful (shown by the central intersection of the cross). This was Jesus.

Jesus revealed what Israel (and indeed humankind) should have been. He was an Israelite sent to Israel, totally identifying with his nation and yet remaining distinct from it. No earthly king or prophet meets the description used in all the servant passages in Isaiah. Yet, Jesus does – perfectly.

Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded. Furthermore, it is God’s plan that the church, through the victory of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, can and will succeed. So, the St Andrew’s cross broadens out again as the members of the church of Jesus Christ become the servants of God with a mission to call all humanity back to their original creation purpose.

Wisdom

Proverbs 22:28–23:9

Saying 5

28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
    set up by your ancestors.

Saying 6

29 Do you see someone skilled in their work?
    They will serve before kings;
    they will not serve before officials of low rank.

Saying 7

23When you sit to dine with a ruler,
    note well what is before you,
2 and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to gluttony.
3 Do not crave his delicacies,
    for that food is deceptive.

Saying 8

4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
    do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
    for they will surely sprout wings
    and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

Saying 9

6 Do not eat the food of a begrudging host,
    do not crave his delicacies;
7 for he is the kind of person
    who is always thinking about the cost.
“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
8 You will vomit up the little you have eaten
    and will have wasted your compliments.

Saying 10

9 Do not speak to fools,
    for they will scorn your prudent words.

Commentary

Use all your leadership skills to serve others

The writer of the book of Proverbs warns against us spending our lives serving false gods such as food (23:1–3) or riches: ‘Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle’ (vv.4–5). The eagle on every USA Dollar is a reminder of this truth.

Rather, we are encouraged to get on with doing what we do well: ‘Do you see those who are skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before obscure people’ (22:29). I have watched over the years those who have quietly got on with serving in humble and obscure ways, but done so with great skill in their work and God has raised them up to positions of influence.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the example of those who have pressed on – serving you with great skill and without seeking any glory for themselves. Thank you that you have raised such people up as examples for us all.

New Testament

Galatians 3:10–25

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

The Law and the Promise

15 Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. 16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

19 Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. 20 A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Children of God

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Commentary

Thank God for Jesus’ ultimate act of servant leadership

Jesus said that those of us who follow him should lead in a different way to those around us. We should not throw our weight around. We should not let power go to our heads (see Mark 10:42–45, MSG). Rather we should follow his model of servant leadership. Jesus said he ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (v.45).

In this passage, Paul explains how Jesus did exactly that. The cross is the ultimate expression of his service.

We have all failed to keep the law of God. According to the law of Moses, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ (Galatians 3:10b; see Deuteronomy 27:26). In order to be justified by the law, a person would have to keep the entire law (Galatians 3:12). No one has ever done this. Therefore, we were all under a curse.

On the cross, Jesus took this curse on himself. He ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us’ (v.13a). Paul points out that the book of Deuteronomy says, ‘cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’ (v.13b, RSV; see Deuteronomy 21:23). It was the depth of disgrace to be crucified. ‘He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse’ (v.13, MSG). He deliberately put himself in harm’s way for you and me.

You are justified through what Jesus, the servant of the Lord, did on the cross for you by becoming a curse for you. ‘He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit’ (v.14).

God’s promise was originally given to Abraham and his seed (v.16a). Paul explains that Jesus is God’s promise, since ‘the Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ’ (v.16b).

‘What, then, was the purpose of the law?’ (v.19). The law had at least two main purposes. First, it pointed us to our sin (v.19). It exposed the problem. It defined sin. It was intended to put a brake on sin.

Second, the law points us to Jesus. It is intended to lead us to Christ (vv.21–25). ‘The law was like those Greek tutors… who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for’ (v.24, MSG). It leads us to Christ through whom we are justified by faith (v.24).

Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant of the Lord, through becoming a curse for us, has removed the curse of the law. By his death he justified many. You are set free from the law to become a servant of the Lord.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that, in this ultimate act of service, you took upon yourself the curse that should have fallen on me. Thank you that as a result I am justified by faith in you. Thank you for setting me free to serve.

Old Testament

Isaiah 41:1–42:25

The Helper of Israel

41“Be silent before me, you islands!
    Let the nations renew their strength!
Let them come forward and speak;
    let us meet together at the place of judgment.

2 “Who has stirred up one from the east,
    calling him in righteousness to his service?
He hands nations over to him
    and subdues kings before him.
He turns them to dust with his sword,
    to windblown chaff with his bow.
3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed,
    by a path his feet have not traveled before.
4 Who has done this and carried it through,
    calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord—with the first of them
    and with the last —I am he. ”

5 The islands have seen it and fear;
    the ends of the earth tremble.
They approach and come forward;
    6 they help each other
    and say to their companions, “Be strong! ”
7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith,
    and the one who smooths with the hammer
    spurs on the one who strikes the anvil.
One says of the welding, “It is good.”
    The other nails down the idol so it will not topple.

8 “But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
    from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
    I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 “All who rage against you
    will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
    will be as nothing and perish.
12 Though you search for your enemies,
    you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
    will be as nothing at all.
13 For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.
14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
    little Israel, do not fear,
for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
15 “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge,
    new and sharp, with many teeth.
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and reduce the hills to chaff.
16 You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,
    and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the Lord
    and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

17 “The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
    the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
    may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

21 “Present your case, ” says the Lord.
    “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.
22 “Tell us, you idols,
    what is going to happen.
Tell us what the former things were,
    so that we may consider them
    and know their final outcome.
Or declare to us the things to come,
23 tell us what the future holds,
    so we may know that you are gods.
Do something, whether good or bad,
    so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.
24 But you are less than nothing
    and your works are utterly worthless;
    whoever chooses you is detestable.

25 “I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—
    one from the rising sun who calls on my name.
He treads on rulers as if they were mortar,
    as if he were a potter treading the clay.
26 Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know,
    or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’?
No one told of this,
    no one foretold it,
    no one heard any words from you.
27 I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’
    I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news.
28 I look but there is no one —
    no one among the gods to give counsel,
    no one to give answer when I ask them.
29 See, they are all false!
    Their deeds amount to nothing;
    their images are but wind and confusion.

The Servant of the Lord

42“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
    4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

5 This is what God the Lord says—
    the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

8 “I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”

Song of Praise to the Lord

10 Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
    you islands, and all who live in them.
11 Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices;
    let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice.
Let the people of Sela sing for joy;
    let them shout from the mountaintops.
12 Let them give glory to the Lord
    and proclaim his praise in the islands.
13 The Lord will march out like a champion,
    like a warrior he will stir up his zeal;
with a shout he will raise the battle cry
    and will triumph over his enemies.

14 “For a long time I have kept silent,
    I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
    I cry out, I gasp and pant.
15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills
    and dry up all their vegetation;
I will turn rivers into islands
    and dry up the pools.
16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them.
17 But those who trust in idols,
    who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’
    will be turned back in utter shame.

Israel Blind and Deaf

18 “Hear, you deaf;
    look, you blind, and see!
19 Who is blind but my servant,
    and deaf like the messenger I send?
Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,
    blind like the servant of the Lord?
20 You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;
    your ears are open, but you do not listen.”
21 It pleased the Lord
    for the sake of his righteousness
    to make his law great and glorious.
22 But this is a people plundered and looted,
    all of them trapped in pits
    or hidden away in prisons.
They have become plunder,
    with no one to rescue them;
they have been made loot,
    with no one to say, “Send them back.”

23 Which of you will listen to this
    or pay close attention in time to come?
24 Who handed Jacob over to become loot,
    and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord,
    against whom we have sinned?
For they would not follow his ways;
    they did not obey his law.
25 So he poured out on them his burning anger,
    the violence of war.
It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand;
    it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.

Commentary

Follow the model of Jesus: serve to lead

The Sandhurst motto on every cap, badge and belt is, ‘Serve to lead’. This was the model of Jesus. As J. Oswald Sanders wrote, ‘True leadership is achieved not by reducing people to one’s service but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.’

As we have seen, God originally chose Israel to be his servant, serving by his side. He promised to give them strength and help them (41:8–9).

However, the people of Israel failed and became part of the problem. It is possible to have perfect 20/20 physical vision and yet be spiritually blind: ‘You’re my servant, and you’re not looking!
You’re my messenger, and you’re not listening!
The very people I depended upon, servants of God,
blind as a bat – wilfully blind!’ (42:19, MSG).

Isaiah foresaw another servant of the Lord:

‘Take a good look at my servant.
    I’m backing him to the hilt.
He’s the one I chose,
    and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
I’ve bathed him with my Spirit, my life.
    He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
    with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
    and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
    but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
    until he’s finished his work – to set things right on earth’ (vv.1–4a, MSG).

Matthew points out that Jesus fulfilled these words, which were spoken through the prophet Isaiah. He directly quotes Isaiah 42:1–4 (Matthew 12:17–21).

In Jesus, this prophecy was perfectly fulfilled, just as all of the other servant passages in Isaiah were perfectly fulfilled in him (Isaiah 49:1–7; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12). Jesus would be ‘a lighthouse to the nations... opening blind eyes, releasing prisoners from dungeons, emptying the dark prisons’ (42:6–7, MSG).

As a result of what Jesus has done for you, these wonderful promises now apply to you:

‘So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’ (41:10).

He will guide you along unfamiliar paths, turn darkness into light before you and make the rough places smooth (42:16).

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you that you alone fulfilled this prophecy perfectly and that you will not give your glory to another (v.8). Thank you for your model of humility and gentleness. Thank you that you call us, too, to be servants of the Lord. Help me to follow your example.

Pippa adds

Isaiah 41:9–10

    ‘I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’

These are such wonderful words of comfort, particularly if you are having a hard time.

Verse of the Day

Isaiah 41:13

For I am the Lord your God |who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear.
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers used by permission

J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, (Moody Publishers, 2007) p.13.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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