Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone- Titus 3:1-2 NIV
Bad leadership is not a twenty-first century invention.
A broken world breeds autocratic, egocentric, prideful leaders in every sphere of life. God’s people have seldom been exempted from the curse of awful leadership.
The Hebrews were brutally enslaved by the Egyptians for centuries before God miraculously liberated them from bondage. David, prior to his ascension to the throne endured decades of harassment and abuse and more than one murder attempt at the hands of the authority in his life: Saul. Early Christians were routinely persecuted, abused, denied the ability to work and even murdered simply for refusing to worship human authority figures as God’s. Throughout church history sincere followers of Jesus have been victimized and oppressed. At times even by so-called “Christian leaders” who loved power more than they feared God. Over and over again, throughout history Christian people have grown stronger, wiser and more faithful to God in the middle of unspeakable suffering and persecution
How they did that matters.
Especially now. Leadership is not, as a whole is not getting better. Events of the last few years have exposed a creepy authoritarian element in many political leaders from countries once thought to be unswervingly democratic and safe from tyranny like Australia, Austria, New Zealand and Canada. Some public schools and health departments have become despotic in their approach in their approach to leadership. Even the church has had more than its fair share of greedy, narcissistic and exploitive leaders.
Christians throughout history have been able to live with and pray for corrupt, evil and despotic leaders. They were able to do so, because they understood deep at the core of who they were that every human being on earth is ultimately answerable to God.
They knew leadership is a stewardship. Human beings might think they are electing, appointing or hiring a leader—or an arrogant leader might imagine they have achieved their position due to their own cleverness, power or maneuvering but in reality, God—not human wisdom or control is what places people in positions of authority. This means that ultimately all human leaders whether they lead the church, the state or the family will someday answer to God for how they handle (or mishandle) the power and authority they have been asked to steward (Luke 12:47-48).
Early Christians understood that no one actually gets away with anything. Not really. Contemporary believers do everything they can to avoid thinking about or talking about the J-word. Judgment. Most Christians are super uncomfortable with anyone getting punished, even if they totally one-hundred-percent deserve to be punished for their horrible behavior. The writings of the Church Fathers indicate early Christians did not have any such issues (2nd Thessalonians 1:6, Romans 12:19, Jude 1:5-7, 2nd Peter 2:4-21). Early Christians understood in a very real way God is not just a God of love. He is also a God of judgment. Early Christians took solace in knowing that evil, prideful leaders who refused to do what was right would someday be punished for their sins. Early Christians had the faith to believe God would settle the score, if not in this life, then in the one to come (Revelation 21:11-15). This knowledge empowered them to endure the suffering that goes along with living under the thumb of unjust and evil leaders.
They also knew enough about history and the Bible to know that sometimes God does not wait until death to begin adjudicating things. Occasionally evil people get a preview of their eternal suffering. King Saul, the man who hunted David like an animal for years died by suicide and in disgrace. Queen Jezebel, arguably the most evil female leader in human history died from being thrown out a window. No one cared enough about her to retrieve her body. She was eventually eaten by wild dogs (yuck). King Herod (Matthew 2:1-22) the man who murdered a village full of baby boys in an attempt to eradicate any competition for his power died of a horrible death from “intense itching”, “severe intestinal discomfort”, “breathlessness” and: wait for it… “gangrene of the genitalia”—His man part literally rotted off (super yuck). A sure sign of divine retribution if there ever was one. Early Christians saw Nero, the royal nut-job who set Rome on fire and blamed Christians for it killed himself to avoid being murdered by his own staff.
Anytime a person refuses to repent they spend eternity in hell. Therefore, no one ought to revel in anyone else’s punishment. That being said, the beliefs of early Christians serve as a reminder for us in tough times that God is not unaware of anything. Nothing is hidden from His sight and everything will eventually be dealt with by Him (Hebrews 4:13).
This affected the early church in profound ways.
They were able to pray for and feel compassion for their tormenters. They were also thoughtful and cautious in the way they handled any authority they were given. They did not lord it over anyone. It did not matter if the authority they held was in the church, the family or the state. They understood true Christians wear any authority they are given with a measure of humility and with a fear of the Lord. They knew no one is exempt from God’s judgment.
We would do well to learn from them.