The Marks of Valorous Leadership

2 Samuel 23:13-17 – And three of the thirty chief went down, and came to David in the harvest time unto the cave of Adullam: and the troop of the Philistines pitched in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in an hold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate! And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the LORD.

David was a soldier.  He played many roles over his life, including shepherd and psalmist, yet many years of his life were spent as a soldier.  In his early enlisted days he faced Goliath.  He led a battalion-sized group in his wilderness exiles.  Eventually he become the “Commander in Chief” as the King of Israel, who both developed war-time strategies and led soldiers into combat.

Parts of 2 Samuel 23 read like modern military award citations. They explain the commendable deeds of soldiers and tell of their valor.  If you read again the text above with that perspective, you can almost picture the three soldiers standing in front of their commander at a dignified ceremony.  Their heroism would be recognized, setting an example for others.  The Israeli Army was facing combat with the Philistines, positioned in the valley of Raphaim. David, their leader, desired a drink of water.  Three courageous soldiers broke the ranks of the Philistines, secured the water, and returned with it to refresh David.  However, David knew that these men risked their lives, and he was not willing to set a poor precedent.  The situation gives us insight into David’s response, and it establishes important principles for leaders of any kind.

Lives were not to be risked for unnecessary causes.  David’s desire was misunderstood as an order.  As such, three followers embarked on an unnecessary mission that could have cost them their lives. Unnecessary missions could be costly, in serious ways.  Fortunately, no one died, but the risk was real.  Leaders must fight and work for a just cause.  Leaders should uphold the dignity and value of life and health by taking precautions and by accepting only as much risk as is absolutely necessary.  Develop and provide ways to achieve the mission without compromising people’s lives.

Leaders should not exclusively benefit from the work of their subordinates.  A just cause is one in which the greatest good is effected upon the most people.  David’s request does not meet that criteria.  To borrow a phrase from the modern Creed of the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps of the US Army, leaders should not use their position for “pleasure, profit, or personal safety.”  David’s request would be been exclusively for his benefit.  Moreover, if the objective of the order can be accomplished in a safer, more prudent way then that is the course of action that should be selected and executed.  David could have quenched his thirst in ways that upheld safety.  There are many leaders today who are taking unnecessary risks when safer ways exist to accomplish our objectives. Therefore, leaders must:

  1. Guard your words: desires can be misunderstood as orders
  2. Emphasize the goals of the team

Leaders, if your directives or desires merely result in achieving your personal pleasure, profit, or personal safety then your focus is completely wrong.

Leaders emphasize the matters of greatest importance. David poured out the water to emphasize the importance of the men’s lives; David’s actions were not a rebuke against the men, but a recognition of his mistake. David memorialized the water as a tribute to the Lord.  War is chaos.  Leaders today may not find themselves in physical war, but there is an unseen spiritual battle that rages every day.  Soldiers suffer hardship just as Jesus often experienced discomfort and pain.  As we endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we, too, must emphasize the matters of greatest importance (2 Timothy 2:3).  The problem is that many leaders do not understand what matters the most.  The physical and spiritual lives of your flock are of utmost importance.  Your decisions as a leader will effect those critical components of people’s lives.  Learn to make hard decisions to protect the lives of those facing the physical and spiritual realties of the wars of this world.

Leaders recognize that comfort is the enemy of progress.  In order to stay focused on the right mission, we must sometimes make decisions that result in our discomfort.  David could have accepted the water and enjoyed its refreshment.  But he chose discomfort.  He chose to embrace the difficulty.  If you are a leader who experiences comfort you likely are not experiencing much progress.  Stress exposes and strengthens character. Good character during times of hardship inspires confidence in your leadership.   Reject entitlement.  Your position gives you no luxuries.  Comfort and selfishness can lead to your downfall, just as it did David.  When David should have embraced the difficulty of leading in combat, he chose comfort instead.

“…at the time when kings go forth to battle…David tarried still at Jerusalem.”

– 2 Samuel 11:1

David’s desire for comfort and his sense of entitlement led him to 1) neglect his duty to his Soldiers and to 2) disrespect Bathsheba and Uriah (one of his Soldiers) in the worst way possible.  You could say that David demonstrated selfish service for himself, not selfless service to his country.

As an officer in the military, I am called upon to make discretionary judgment and to accept prudent risk in order to accomplish the mission.  This is my moral responsibility to my Soldiers and fellow leaders.  As an officer in the church, I am called upon to do exactly the same thing, which is my biblical responsibility as a pastor (1 Timothy 3:1-8).

If you are a leader then you must be aware that:

  1. Leaders do not use their position to gain comfort
    • Demonstrate character, competence, and commitment by resisting entitlement
    • Inspire trust by emphasizing the good of the group
  2. Leaders expect and embrace discomfort
    • Inspire others by willingly accepting difficultly
  3. Leaders emphasize what matters the most
    • What do you think matters?
    • Use discretionary judgment
    • Accept PRUDENT (not unnecessary) risk
    • Strive to achieve the best possible outcome for the group

Leaders, you are called upon to take responsibility for the lives of others who are engaged in real spiritual warfare for their lives and livelihoods.  Such a sobering thought should motivate you to dutifully discharge your moral, ethical, and biblical responsibilities in such a way that your leadership will be marked as valorous.


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