"A day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside." (Psalms 84:10 NASB)
This Psalm was written by “the sons of Korah.” As I mentioned in my last blog, Korah was not a man worth imitating. In the New Testament, we are commanded to avoid his lifestyle (Jude 1:11). Korah was utterly destroyed from the face of the earth because of his wickedness, but what we see from later portions of the Bible is that some of his sons must have delivered themselves from their father’s fate by standing against him in his day of judgment (as they lived on to write some wonderful Psalms!). As we see from the Psalm above, they loved to live in God's presence more than anywhere else. And this must be one reason they avoided their wicked father's fate, because standing with him would have put them outside of the Lord’s courts. They treasured the fullness of God's presence so much that even when it meant rejecting their father, they gladly submitted to Moses, the spiritual leader that God had appointed over the people.
The sentiment expressed in this Psalm is reminiscent of something Moses said to God in the wilderness, in Exodus 33:15: “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.” What Moses was saying is, “I would rather be wandering in the wilderness with You, God, than enter the Promised Land without You.” Essentially, he said (paraphrasing the Psalm to his context), “A day with God in the wilderness is better than a thousand in even the sweetest paradise, if God is not there.” This statement shows where the sons of Korah must have learned their love for God: from Moses, the godly spiritual leader whom they chose to stand with. Standing with Moses against their wicked father protected them from calamity and helped them grow in maturity to the point where they could write beautiful Psalms of praise!
Not all of us have wicked fathers like the sons of Korah did. But all of us have been called to leave our earthly heritage (Genesis 12:1, Psalms 45:10, Matthew 12:47-50, Luke 14:26, Matthew 8:21-22) and seek godly spiritual leaders to whom we can submit our lives. When we submit to godly leaders, we receive protection, too. In the new covenant age, this kind of submission is specifically commanded in the context of the church, where godly leaders keep watch over our souls (Hebrews 13:17). As we submit to godly spiritual leaders and imitate their faith (1 Corinthians 4:16 & 11:1, Philippians 3:17 & 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:9, Hebrews 13:7), we will be saved from destruction and brought into abundant life in Christ Jesus. (Please look at these verses!)
What kind of leader should I look for?
There are many godly spiritual leaders in the Bible who we can learn from. The Apostle Paul distinguished himself for having apostolic responsibility over many churches in the new covenant age, so he is a wonderful model from whom we can learn. I want to highlight 3 things that stand out to me from his life as qualities of a godly spiritual leader.
He is available to you
In Acts 20, when making his farewell to the Ephesians, Paul makes it abundantly clear that his whole life was on display for them: how he worked in his vocation, how he served the members of the church, how he conducted his own private life. He not only spoke to them publicly, but also went "house to house" to encourage the brethren. This is how a true spiritual father conducts himself. He should be able to say, as Jesus did, "Come and you will see (John 1:39)" how I am living, and I'll welcome you to see how I live. A godly spiritual leader is not unavailable, but one whose life is open to those whom he oversees.
He proclaims the full counsel of God, even the painful truths
The other thing we see in Paul's farewell in Acts 20 is that a godly spiritual leader doesn't just proclaim convenient truths, or truths that people like to hear, but is also diligent to proclaim all of God's will. Twice Paul reminds them that he didn't shrink from declaring truths that may have been neglected by others (v20, 26-27). And that is what a godly spiritual leader will do. He will not give you a false sense of comfort when you need a difficult truth declared in your life. Paul went so far as to be willing to drive people out of the church (1 Corinthians 5:2, 11, 13) and even "deliver them over to Satan (v5)," whatever was necessary for the spiritual growth and salvation of his spiritual children (v5). This stands in stark contrast with the teachers who simply "tickle your ears" (2 Timothy 4:3) by telling you things you want to hear, and by sparing you the painful truths of God's Word and will.
He attaches you to Jesus, not himself
In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes a bold claim: "I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin." A godly spiritual leader will always betroth a believer to Christ, and never to himself. Many teachers will draw believers to themselves, but a godly leader seeks to give you away to Jesus. Paul never married the believers to himself. A godly spiritual leader is passionate about creating a living relationship much more important: a believer's marriage to the Lamb of God! One important criterion to evaluate your spiritual leaders: are they increasing your dependence upon and loving relationship with the Lord Jesus, or themselves? Paul, as we saw above, was willing to do whatever it took to present the church as a pure virgin, even when it meant declaring difficult truths, because he wanted those under his care to stay close to Jesus. He wasn’t worried about what they thought of him; only that his labor might stir them to greater devotion to Christ.
May we all seek to find such godly spiritual leaders, who will stand ready to attach us to Jesus, to proclaim radical obedience to all of God’s word, and who gladly make themselves available to us personally. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”