Wisdom for Leaders – Prov 31:1-9

Being a king is a special leadership position that demands the best from a person. In such a position of authority and power, an individual must be vigilant and attentive to his duties. He has both the opportunity to abuse his position and hurt others and the privilege to make wise choices and to speak up for the oppressed and needy.

This call to responsibility is what we find in Proverbs 31:1-9, which contains the words of a mother to her son Lemuel who was king. These words of instruction are helpful not just for kings but for any person who is in a position of authority and leadership, not least in the home and in the church. Here are the challenges Lemuel’s mother gives to him:

1. Remember how blessed you are. (Proverbs 31:2 — “What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? And what, the son of my vows?”)

  • She reminds him that he is her son, the son she gave birth to, the son about which she made some kind of promise (vow) – possibly like Hannah with Samuel. She wants him to know that he is special, that she has made promises about him, and that he is very important to her.
  • All of us, no matter who we are or who are mothers are, are important to the Lord. None of us are accidents. Each of us are made in the image of God. And each of us have a special purpose. This knowledge should sober us and cause us to realise how tragic it would be for us to waste the precious life that God has given us.

2. Beware of lust and adulterous women. (Proverbs 31:3 — “Give not thy strength unto women, Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.”)

  • Many a king and many a leader has had their strength under-minded through lust and adultery. If we look at the lives of King David, King Solomon, and Samson, we see all of them making serious mistakes when it comes to women. None of them could control their lust, and it eventually eroded their strength.
  • The temptation for kings was even more challenging as it was deemed socially acceptable for them to have more than one wife. A similar temptation exists today, as media has made it easy for us to lust after and casually commit adultery of the heart with many different people. This is a huge lesson of the book of Proverbs – beware of the strange woman and wisely consider where it will lead you (Prov 2:16-19; 5:1-14; 7:1-27; 22:14).

3. Beware of drinking wine and intoxicating beverages. (Proverbs 31:4 — “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; Nor for princes strong drink:”)

  • Another common pitfall of those in leadership is in the area of drinking wine and intoxicating beverages. If we think of Noah (Gen 9:20-25), of Lot (Gen 19:31-36), of God’s warnings to the priests (Lev 10:8-11), of King Ahasuerus (Esther 1), of Isaiah’s warning in Isa 28:7-8, of King Belshazzar (Dan 5:2-4), of Hosea 4:11-12, of Habakkuk 2:5 and of God’s warnings to pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3), we will see that God continually warns us about the dangers of alcohol. This is also a repeated theme in Proverbs as well (Prov 20;1; 23:20-21, 29-35), so each of us would do well to consider what the Bible says about drinking wine and other intoxicating drinks. Many a person has erred through wine.
  • The reason Lemuel’s mother warns him about drinking is because, if the king is not sober, then he will forget what the law says and pervert judgment for those in need (Prov 31:5). Maybe those who are about die or those who are medically depressed need some type of stimulant (Prov 31:6-7), but the king and others who are in leadership should be sober-minded, clear-headed, and free from anything that could distort their decision-making.

4. Courageously fulfil your calling. (Proverbs 31:8–9 — “Open thy mouth for the dumb In the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy.”)

  • The main emphasis of King Lemuel’s mother’s instruction is for him to carry out his responsibilities, to be a righteous and a merciful king. She challenges him to speak up for those who have no one to speak for them (‘the dumb’), for those who are on their last leg (‘appointed for destruction’). She says, open your mouth, judge righteously, and please the cause of the poor and needy.
  • Those in leadership, especially civil society, have a responsibility to look out for those who are mistreated, those who are poor, and who can be taken advantage of. All of us, should live holy lives with God’s help and fulfil our purpose in life. Holy living is not an end in itself; it is a means to be a weapon in the hands of God. As Robert Murry M’Cheyne said, “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” 2 Timothy 2:21 puts it like this, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”  

As we consider these instructions to Lemuel, what can we learn?

  • Are we realising how blessed and privileged we are to serve God?
  • Do we treat life as a trust to be managed or as a pointless thing to be consumed?
  • Are we guarding our hearts and lives especially in the areas of sexual sin and alcohol?
  • Are we fulfilling our purpose?
  • Are we standing up with courage to live for God and to bless others?
  • All of us who have been saved should be pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14).

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