Great leadership starts at home. The world is full of famous leaders who learned wisdom from their mothers. In our nation, both George Washington and Booker T. Washington thanked their mothers for teaching them to lead with truth and beauty. The great African Bishop and theologian, St. Augustine, was famously prayed for and exhorted by his mother, Monica. My own mother has taught me much wisdom about leadership.  Sometimes I tease her that her most common proverb is, “Make sure you drink plenty of water.” But I’m truly thankful that—like Timothy in the Bible— I have a sincere faith in Jesus that my mother shared with me (2 Timothy 1:5). King Lemuel shares the leadership advice his mother taught him in Proverbs 31:1-9. She reminds him first to listen to his mother! This is a repeated refrain throughout Proverbs. We first learn wisdom from our parents. Don’t neglect the leadership lessons they pass on.  After reminding him to listen, Lemuel’s mother gives three key pieces of advice. First, don’t let lust and sexual immorality sap your strength as a leader. Second, don’t numb yourself to the pain of life. Third, speak up for those who cannot.

First of all, Lemuel’s mother echoes Proverbs 5 and 6. “Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings” (Proverbs 31:3). Sexual immorality is a common problem that strips leaders of their power and influence. Famous English Pastor John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Sacrificial love is the Biblical opposite of this lust. 1 Corinthians 7 clarifies that sacrificial love is blessed in the form of life-long heterosexual marriage as well as the glory of God-honored celibacy in singleness. These are the two models for wise leadership. Both models are typified in Jesus. “Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). How can you choose service instead of lust as you help others in your circles of influence?

Secondly, Lemuel’s mother says that great leaders refuse to numb themselves with strong drink (Proverbs 31:4-7). Maintain sobriety and alertness! Christians debate if the wisest route is to avoid strong drink altogether, or merely to avoid drunkenness. Leaders will be tempted to numb the pain of life with many things: alcohol, drugs, entertainment, and most tempting in our country, food. But a leader must stay alert and not avoid all pain. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to follow the pain-enduring model of Jesus, “look to Jesus, the pioneer and completer of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Because Jesus endured the cross, we can maintain sobriety to lead others well. Are there bad habits of “checking out” that you need to throw aside?

Thirdly, the king’s mom challenges him to always speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9). This final leadership lesson is that leaders must not give into the temptation to be passive and silent like the first human leader, Adam. Genesis 3 implies that Adam stood by in silence while an evil dragon tempted Eve. We are called to speak up and advocate for others. The Apostle John says that this sort of advocating is exactly what Christ does for us: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). King Jesus does not sit back in silence; he opens his mouth for us in our poor and needy estate. Are you seeing the needs of others and taking steps to address them?

The leadership lessons of Proverbs 31 and the examples of Jesus Christ give us a matching picture of wise leadership. But often we still fail. The good news is that Jesus gives us even more than an example to follow. King Jesus gives us actual forgiveness and resurrection life. 1 John 2:1-2 says it this way, “I’m writing so you won’t sin, but if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the happy sacrifice for our sins.” Our leadership influence is more than just knowing how to lead. We have power to serve by God’s grace. By faith in the work of Jesus, his Spirit graciously transforms our influence.

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Dave McMurry

Author Dave McMurry

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