Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there. (2 Kings 12:2-3, NIV)
If you want to know what Christ-like leadership of God’s people looks like, a great place to turn to is 1 and 2 Kings in the Old Testament.
I say “Christ-like” because, like all of the Old Testament, these books are there to point us to the Christ, the Messiah God promised. Kings does this by showing us what God wants in a king of His people. Each king’s reign is introduced by a summary evaluation: “X did what was right in the eyes of the LORD”… “Y did what was evil.” We are then shown what it was about their reigns that brought about that verdict. It follows that the perfect King God will send must display the characteristics which God commends.
In short, a good king has a deep concern for his people’s spiritual welfare, and a determination to be faithful to the requirements of God’s covenant that extends not only to upholding its requirements, but protecting his people from false gods.
Roughly, there are three types of kings in Kings: the good, the bad and “the nice”.
An example of a really good king is Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20), who is commended for the way he purges the land of the worship of foreign gods and determines to be faithful to God’s law. In 2 Chronicles 29-32 we are also told how he made provision for renewed atonement at the Temple, and restored the annual Passover. It is no surprise, then, when we meet the One the New Testament calls the Messiah, that He warns His people of false teachers, and goes into the Temple and purges its worship. Nor is it a surprise when He makes provision for His people’s sins. This is what the King God sends will do!
An example of a really bad king is Hezekiah’s son Manasseh (2 Kings 21). During his long reign, he reintroduces pagan practice to the land, and entirely disregards the words of God’s law. He is very influential and popular: the whole nation is led astray.
Then there are the kings we could call “the nice”, such as Joash, in the verses quoted above, or his son Amaziah (2 Kings 14) or grandson Azariah (2 Kings 15). All three of these men did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, but they wouldn’t take steps to purge the land of the paganism which was constantly creeping into Judah from the surrounding nations. Because evil is natural to the human heart, all it needs to flourish is that good men do nothing. The consequence was that many people were led astray.
Since these kings point to what Christ-like leadership looks like, they should interest anyone tasked with being an under-shepherd, a Christian leader today. You could write a Kings-like history of many local churches over the decades, showing how, influenced by their leadership, they’ve headed towards (and away from) covenant faithfulness.
We are blessed worldwide with many godly church leaders. But a big temptation, whether leaders of local churches, or bishops or archbishops, will be to be like the “nice” kings, who are good men, but who won’t confront evil as our Lord and Master requires.