…leadership cocktail: wine and bismuth

“It is better to have a lion at the head of an army of sheep, than a sheep at the head of an army of lions.”

– Daniel Defoe

Paul’s infamous, parenthetical prescription of alcohol to his protegé’ Timothy is an interesting text on many levels, but one thing struck me this morning that I have never thought of, and some of what Paul was saying implicitly became clearer to me.

(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)
1 Timothy 5:23 ESV

If we can put aside the moral arguments against alcohol, which don’t stand up to the test of Scripture, as well as the hyper-liberal arguments for drinking whenever/wherever, which also don’t hold up to the test of Scripture – when we put those things aside we are left with a reality that is much less sexy than the en vogue argument of the place of beer in church (which is a stupid argument to be quite honest).

Near the end of chapter 4 Paul says something that shouldn’t be overlooked:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:16

Among other instructions in this letter to the young minister, this one in particular is weighty. Paul links Timothy’s leadership and behavior with the eternal destinies of his people, his church, his followers, and dare I say some of his friends. How many people are we willing to link our eschatology with? How many people in your church would you take on to your conscience and tie up your obedience to God’s Word with their salvation? This is exactly what Paul says to Timothy: “what you do may dictate whether they spend life in heaven or hell…so keep an eye on your life”. When we begin to look at Paul’s loving but intense expectations of his son in the faith it begins to become clear, to me anyway, as to why Timothy just might be reaching for the Tums and Pepto-Bismal in the watches of the night. It should be obvious from both the Scriptures and from history that it is not uncommon to be overwhelmed as a leader of anything.

Leadership is hard. Not just because it requires study and preparation and commitment and work, but because at the end of the day, as a leader, you can never turn around and say, “finally I’m by myself, no more pressure, no more little eyes watching, I can let it all hang out”. Jesus even tried to get away from the crowds and with bloodhound efficiency they tracked Him down and continued to inspect and expect the direction and power of His life poured into them. Whether you lead thousands or a couple of snotty kids the responsibility level is the same; one soul = ten thousand souls in God’s economy.

I guess on some level I write this today to encourage those who lose sleep, leak tears, and cherish every laugh that escapes their tired lips. Maturing in leadership, it seems, it not just learning how to steer people better, like the captain of a ship, but, according to Paul, by seeing yourself as a part of the ship. It makes sense that Pauline theology would never give anyone other than Jesus the honor of holding the steering wheel. We, as leaders, become a part of the hull, the shield that people come to count on holding up in times of storm, the buffer between them and angry waters. We might not like that, we might even be offended by that, and in our hyper-individualistic Western culture some will feel like I’m taking the emphasis off of the personal nature of salvation. But, Paul never allows Christianity at any level to become an individual pursuit. He is convinced that we are saved to be together, sanctified through life together, and then glorified as one radiant body praising and honoring the King of the Ages.

Is it a hard word? Sure. But the Bible is full of hard words. The thing that makes the Bible different is the fact that hard words are always accompanied by the promise of grace.

Grace be with you.
1 Timothy 6:21

May we not fear the reality that at some point we will all need a little wine and a little Bismuth, but the reason we will need them is that we have been entrusted by God with responsibilities that we are neither qualified for nor ready for in ourselves. But, because of those truths we have the overwhelming confidence that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in us to make sure that we save “both ourselves and our hearers”.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

– Max Depree

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