God gave his people a written record of his instruction before they entered the promised land. He said that any future king should make a copy of this instruction for himself and read from it every day:
When [a king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself in a book a copy of this instruction, approved by the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read in it all the days of his life. Then he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this instruction and these statutes, and doing them, and his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he and his children may continue long in his kingdom in Israel. (Deut. 17:18–20)
This lesson—the Bible’s first direct word about both reading and leading—teaches one thing a king should do. There are other first things the people are told concerning what a king should not be or do (he should not be a foreigner; should not amass wealth or wives; and ultimately, should not lead his or anyone’s heart away from God; see vv. 15–17). But a king should do God’s Word. And to do it, we’re told, he first must read from it every day.
This lesson is not about the king’s ability as an orator, administrator or strategist. The king’s greatest qualification as a leader is that he is a follower of God’s Word (compare this to the similar qualifications for church leaders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). God’s Word will go to work in the leader who believes it. Then he’ll know his place before God, the One who set his love on the people, rescued them from slavery, made them into a feared nation, and is awesome among them. He’ll know his place in the kingdom, among his brothers and sisters, as one among equals. He’ll know that God has granted in the Word everything needed for the task. And he’ll know this first lesson is also the final: a leader should pass on this legacy to the next generation so that they may “continue long in his kingdom.”
I have worked under men on the mission field who reflect this lesson in their leadership. I’ve traveled abroad with them and watched them speak God’s Word to others with confidence and love. And I’ve also seen them, on the same day, take up their copy of the Book and check their teaching against it. They don’t go back to lessons from leadership gurus, experience or research first. They say instead, like Paul, “bring… above all the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13).
I’ve disagreed with these men also. But we can and should work together. Why? Because they uphold God’s Word above all, not their hearts above their brothers. The basis of a working relationship in the kingdom is God’s Word, and speaking it’s truth in love. Without this we have no way to keep from turning aside, “either to the right hand or to the left.” May God keep these leaders in the Word and give them the reward of spiritual children that continue in it.
Are you preparing to serve in ministry? Seek out leaders who keep God’s Word first of all. And keep it with them. Are you leading? Keep your copy of the Book close, every day. And make this evident when you speak. Lead by following God’s Word so that your legacy may last long in the kingdom.