‘As for you,’ says Paul to his protégé, Timothy, ‘be strong in grace.’ (2 Timothy 2:1).
A common phrase in sport is, ‘play to your strengths’. If a rugby team doesn’t have an expansive back line that can make great creative attacking moves, then they should keep the ball with their forwards and grind out attacks through a war of attrition. If a tennis player has a great serve, then he should follow the ball into the net and attack with a volley rather than get into long baseline rallies.
This line of thinking has been applied to leadership development too. ‘Discover and build upon your strengths’, goes the mantra. I’m not necessarily saying this is bad advice – it can be helpful within a team to know who has particular strengths, and it is good to have enough self-awareness to know what our own weak areas are. But there is one area that should be a strength for all leaders: we are to be strong in grace!
Grace should be the distinguishing mark of all Christian leaders. We must listen to Paul’s imperative to us: other leaders may be judgemental critical, power-hungry, self-seeking, egotistical, proud or arrogant. But as for you, be strong in grace.
The only remedy
Recently I experienced two direct tests in this area. In the first, someone in our church had confessed to a serious matter of sin. As we discussed the matter as an eldership, we recognised the temptation to be judgemental. The second case was a series of emails that I received from someone that were full of anger and resentment toward me. In my own heart I felt anger at the invasive and personal nature of what was written, and faced the temptation to defend my reputation and respond in kind.
Grace is the only remedy for the temptation to be judgemental and defensive and must be our response when facing such tests. As I reflected on my response to both situations, I was reminded of some other words of Paul: ‘You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself… do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?’ (Romans 2:1,4).
A wake-up call
This is a wake-up call for everyone who faces the temptation to judge, criticise or condemn others. When we do so, we are passing judgement on ourselves. If only the Body of Christ around the world today would recognise the damage we do to the reputation of Christ when we fail to follow this command. Too often we are seen as intolerant, impatient and ungracious. Sometimes we think that extending grace is a sign of weakness; Paul makes it abundantly clear that it takes a strong Christian to show grace.
According to Paul, the hallmark of Christians should reflect to the world what we ourselves have received from God, namely ‘the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience’. Our motivation for this is the same motivation which God has in his grace for us: because if we embody these qualities, they will lead people to repentance. It is neither the threat of hell, nor the lure of prosperity that leads people to true repentance. It is by grace that we have been saved. And God led us to salvation by demonstrating his eternal kindness, tolerance and patience to us.
As we show grace, we not only prove that we ourselves are recipients of grace, we also unlock the potential for others to be restored into relationship with God and receive his undeserved forgiveness and love.
READ MORE: This article is based on a section from Tim’s brilliant new book, The Pace Setter: Paul, Timothy and the Art of Multiplying Leaders. Order your copy now, priced £7.49 at message.org.uk/shop.
STOP PRESS: You can meet Tim in person at a special launch party for the new book here at The Message on Friday 16 May. Find out more.