Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
The election is over – or is it? Some states are still counting ballots as of this writing. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change our responsibility to those God’s Providence has placed into leadership over us. One needs to remember several things about government. First, God “changes the times and the periods; He removes kings and appoints kings….” (Daniel 2.21 NASB). As Nebuchadnezzar testified, “the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and He grants it to whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4.17 NASB). Second, God gave them the authority to punish the evildoer (Romans 13.1-7). Thus, they have a heavenly mandate. Third, we must give them what they are due: taxes (Matthew 22.15-22). Fourth, we must lift their names to the Heavenly Father (1 Timothy 2.1-3). Finally, we must give them honor (1 Peter 2.17).
In addition to these five principles, Solomon suggests ways to interact with those who would rule over us wisely. I will present them in their order of appearance in the book of Proverbs.
Never put a leader in a bad light; doing so would be detrimental to both of you. While we have a constitutional right to criticize because the First Amendment protects it, that doesn’t mean we have to or should.
“The king’s favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, but his anger is toward him who acts shamefully” (Proverbs 14.35 NASB).
This reminder holds more weight for someone who works directly for the leader, but it’s still a principle to which we should all adhere. A leader can make our lives difficult, whether his reasoning is justified or motivated by vanity. Of course, we can address such issues at the ballot box, but in the meantime, we must act prudently.
Don’t be a “yes-man.” When we addressed leaders last week, we included advice on “yes-men.” Indeed, a leader should not surround himself with such sycophants. But we should not try to appease our leaders by becoming the “yes-men” that the Bible condemns.
“Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and one who speaks right is loved” (Proverbs 16.13 NASB).
While taking care not to contradict the first point above, we should still righteously speak when asked. A leader who is worth his salt appreciates a truthful constituent.
Leaders prefer those who can articulate their morals. The idea is that a leader will discover in you a deserving individual to offer advice when he needs it.
“One who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend” (Proverbs 22.11 NASB).
Set yourself apart with your skills. In the years following the upheaval of the Civil War, African Americans continued to confront discrimination and repression, making progress toward their goals challenging. As a result, different perspectives on the way forward emerged. As a result of one such way of thinking, NAACP founder W.E.B. Dubois established an organization to promote the advancement of African Americans. Alternatively, Booker T. Washington opened the Tuskegee Institute to appeal to a competing viewpoint among members within the black community.
Washington believed that if blacks possessed a necessary skill that made them an indispensable part of the community, prejudiced whites in the South would accept them as peers, even if reluctantly. I’m not here to argue which of these men was correct, but I will say that Solomon would have likely supported the latter. Solomon saw one’s trade as a way to distinguish himself and attract the attention of kings.
“Do you see a person skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure people” (Proverbs 22.29 NASB).
The best way to get the attention of a captain of industry or the President of the United States is to develop a skill to make your presence necessary. It will prevent you from living an ordinary life.
Exercise restraint when in their presence. Sitting down to dine with a world leader would be exciting, especially if you eat at their expense. However, you may make a terrible impression if you are not self-disciplined. I understand that it is unlikely that any of us will be dining with the king, but we might get an invite from our boss. The principle is the same.
“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you, And put a knife to your throat if you are a person of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food” (Proverbs 23.1-3 NASB).
I read a legend (as Snopes refers to it) about an employer who conducted job interviews over dinner. This employer evaluated applicants on whether they added salt to food without tasting it to determine if it was necessary. The reasoning is that it shows impulsiveness and a failure to analyze data before deciding. Furthermore, it is impolite to your host because it implies that you do not trust his dining establishment preferences.
The bottom line is that whether a king or a boss, no one likes someone who will run up expense accounts and exercise no self-control.
Be humble. Solomon’s advice was undoubtedly the source of our Lord’s future warning in Luke 14.7-11 against seeking the chief seats. If your host wishes to seat someone else in your chair, you will be embarrassed. So instead, find a secluded spot and wait for the host to invite you to the guest of honor table.
“Do not boast in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the same place as great people; For it is better that it be said to you, ‘Come up here,’ Than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen” (Proverbs 25.6-7 NASB).
The reason that leaders like the humble are because they are typically better team players. The humble also learn from their mistakes. And best of all, the humble lead by example. As the Chinese say, “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.”
Be Persistent. Some commentators believe that Jesus was thinking of our last proverb when He gave the parable of the Unjust Judge in Luke 18.1-8. At least, brother Burton Coffman noted that in the 1901 American Standard Version, the translators felt they could substitute the word judge for the word ruler in Proverbs 25.15.
“Through patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a gentle tongue breaks bone” (NASB).
It would be impolite to refer to the woman about whom Jesus spoke as a nag, but she did so tire the unjust judge with her numerous inquiries that the judge eventually tipped the scales of justice in her favor. We think of using violence to persuade others, but the truth is that pleading with them can be just as effective. When we require our elected officials’ assistance, anger is not an appealing method of obtaining it. It is preferable to use a gentle tongue to break their bones through persistent questioning and insistence that they hear our plight.
I chose these Scriptures because they all dealt with subjects who had dealings with the king or ruler. However, I believe we can see how they apply to other relationships in which one person is of a lower station than the other. Remember what another wise man said to my grandfather Pollard years ago about our newly elected leaders: “Democrat or Republican, I still have to go to work.” Indeed, we all have a responsibility to those who exercise authority over us, and we can also treat them properly to endear ourselves to them.