Chapter Five: The Leader's Destiny

The Leader's Destiny


            We have been studying one of the great leadership stories in the Bible. This story, found in Matthew 20:20-28, touches on many vital issues in leadership.  At this point I will present the entire passage and then focus in this chapter on verse 23.

  20  Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him.

  21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left."

  22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to Him, "We are able."

   23 He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father."

   24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers.

   25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.

   26 "It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,

   27 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave;

   28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

            The phrase "for whom it has been prepared by My Father" stirs our curiosity and gives us our topic for this chapter which is, "The Leader's Destiny." A leader's understanding of his place and role often includes a sense of destiny.  Writing about leaders in general, Tead said, "the greatest leaders have been sustained by a belief that that they were in some way instruments of destiny, that they tapped hidden reserves of power, that they truly lived as they tried to live in harmony with some greater, more universal purpose or intention in the world" (1935, 264).  

          Winston Churchill is an example of how great leaders have a sense of destiny. He became Prime Minister on May 10, 1940.  Concerning the world situation at the time, the times were difficult.  According to Robert Morrison, Churchill “often said he would not call those dark days, but stern days” ( Morrison then describes how stern the days were.

The German army, the Wehrmacht, had just overrun Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg and was driving deeply into France.  The small British Expeditionary Force was being cut off and reduced to a small pocket around Dunkirk, on the English Channel. The German air force, the Luftwaffe, was spreading terror among the citizens of bombed-out towns and villages and strafing panicked civilians as they clogged the roads -- making the roads impassable to French and British relief columns. . . .  With Britain's troops stranded on the French coast, Hitler might have parachuted 10,000 crack commandos into the heart of London and taken the country by shock and awe. (

            Next, Morrison cites what Churchill said about his election to the position of Prime Minister and his sense of destiny.  Churchill believed that he was prepared for the position and felt that it was his destiny to be the Prime Minister.  Morrison quotes Churchill as follows:

Thus, then, on the night of the 10th of May, at the outset of this mighty battle, I acquired the chief power in the State. ... At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene. I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial. . . . I thought I knew a good deal about it all, and I was sure I should not fail. Therefore, although impatient for the morning, I slept soundly and had no need for cheering dreams. Facts are better than dreams. (

            Very often Christian leaders, as well as secular, have a strong sense of destiny.  When we apply this to Christian leaders, several questions arise:  Does God have a plan for some leaders?  Does He have a plan for everyone?  Is everyone destined to fulfil God’s plan?  Does His plan permit freedom of the will?  Are there alternatives in the plan?  What responsibility do we have to fulfil the plan?  These are very significant and searching questions.

            Our answers will be influenced by our views on free will and determinism.   Therefore, we will discuss (1) controlled freedom, (2) controlled freedom applied to leadership positions, (3) controlled freedom applied to greatness, and (4) a suggested course of action. This lesson should be an encouragement to leaders as they fulfil their destiny.

Controlled Freedom

            When we discuss destiny, we must consider freedom and determinism or, to put it in a similar way, man's free will and God's sovereignty.  At this point, we will discuss the problems we encounter when considering free will and God’s control.  Then, we will focus our attention on the Biblical emphasis, a presentation of my view, and some brief comments about destiny. 

            First, both theology and philosophy grapple with the problems we encounter when we consider freedom and determinism. Many thinkers have supported the idea of freedom or free will. Herman Horne, as I elsewhere reported, held that the will is man's mind, or entire consciousness, in action and that the will is free because the mind is free. By directing its attention, the mind can select the strongest motive (1966).  Determinism, on the other hand, is the view that the universe operates by the laws of cause and effect and that all things are determined. When held in its extreme form, this view allows for no freedom. Similarly, when freedom is overemphasized, the role of determinism is not recognized.

            Both determinism and freedom views have their strengths and weaknesses. The advantage of determinism is that it readily account for heredity, environment, prophecy, foreknowledge, and the sovereignty of God.  However, determinism faces the problem of what to say about human freedom, responsibility, and personal initiative. The views that emphasize freedom have the advantage in treating free will, personal responsibility, and initiative. They confront problems with regard to heredity, environment, prophecy, foreknowledge, and God’s sovereignty.  Because of these strengths and weaknesses, some tension between the views always remains.

            Jesus recognized the influence on heredity, environment, and the will on our lives.  As evidence of this, I would cite Matthew 19:12 where Jesus declared:  "For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”   

            Jesus was interacting with the Pharisees about marriage and divorce.  According to Walter Bauer, the Greek word for eunuchs (eunouchoi) can refer to castrated men, to men who are not castrated but are incapable of marrying and begetting children, and to those who abstain from marriage without being impotent (1957, 323-324).   Although these subjects are not my topics here, I mention this passage because, as others have noted, it has implications for the forces that influence our lives. 

             The point I want to make is that in Matthew 19:12, Jesus recognizes the influence of heredity, environment, and the will:  (1)  We recognize the role of heredity when men “were born” eunuchs.  (2)  When men “were made” eunuchs by other men, we regard these other men as a part of the environment.  (3) Those men who “made themselves” eunuchs, do so by an act of their will. 

            Second, the Bible emphasizes both free will and the sovereignty of God. Sometimes, we can find both emphases side-by-side in the same verse of Scripture. For example, we read in Philippians 2:12-13, "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." We are to "work out" our salvation, but it is God who is "at work in you."

            The Bible teaches both these truths without attempting to fully reconcile them. While writing about divine sovereignty and human responsibility in evangelism, J. I. Packer posits that:

What the Bible does is to assert both truths side by side in the strongest and most unambiguous terms as two ultimate facts; this, therefore, is the position that we must take in our own thinking.  C. H. Spurgeon was once asked if he could reconcile these two truths to each other. “I wouldn't try,” he replied; “I never reconcile friends.”  Friends?--yes friends. This is the point we have to grasp." (1961, 35)

            Third, along with others, I do not believe that we can fully reconcile freedom and determinism. A part of the problem is that we approach the subject with a finite mind and from a human point of view. Free will and determinism are fully reconciled only in the mind of God. Freedom and determinism at best paradoxical to us, but they are completely "friendly" in God's mind.

            Even though we cannot fully reconcile freedom and determinism, we can observe and accept the Biblical data with regard to this issue. It helps me to put all this data under the general heading of a term that I have coined--"controlled freedom." I say "freedom" because the universe is alive, full of interaction, and includes freedom and moral responsibility. Then, I say "controlled" because God is in charge and has ultimate control over all things. This view, like others, does not fully reconcile free will and determinism, but it does give us some practical handles to cope with the two truths and apply them to our lives.

            The starting point of controlled freedom is that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (
Ephesians 1:11).  Given this, the next step is to determine "how" He works.  From our human perspective some things are undetermined, other things are progressively determined, and still others are predetermined. Among the things that God has predetermined one is to allow some things to be progressively determined and others to be undetermined. In all things God is at work!  I say "from our human perspective" because this is the only way we can see them.  We are not God and cannot see them completely as He sees them.

            The strength of controlled freedom is that it accepts the Biblical data at face value without attempting to reconcile every point. Critics would ask, How can some things be determined without all things being determined?  We must not overlook the fact that God does the miraculous. He can bypass time and preconditions to create what He wants. For example, He could create a tree with rings in it! Our finite minds cannot fully comprehend this. Even though the concept of controlled freedom does not fully escape all philosophical problems, it is a helpful way to include all the data of the Bible.

            Fourth, now, we can ask the question, "What is destiny?" By our own choices we shape much of our lives. The word "destiny," however, takes us beyond our own choices to those things which are being progressively determined and which have been predetermined.  When we have a sense of destiny, it brings in forces outside of us that influence our lives.  When we are destined, we are not totally masters of our own fate. The most important factor in all this is that we are living in harmony with the will of God. By living in accordance with His will, we relate to a purpose and plan far greater than ourselves.

Controlled Freedom Applied to Positions

          When we apply “controlled freedom” to positions of leadership, several points can be made.  We will discuss positions that are already allocated, positions that are unallocated, and the fact that God is in control. 

            First, some positions, both in heaven and on earth, are already allocated.  Because they may be allocated either by foreknowledge or predestination, the term allocated help us avoid, to some degree, the controversy over these topics.  God has made a decision as to who will occupy some places of leadership. Because the timing of the allocation may be during one's life, we may also include those allocations that are "progressively determined."  Several points are important. 

            One, the question arises as to who will sit on the right hand and the left hand of Jesus in His kingdom.  Jesus said, "but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father" (verse 23).  Lenski explains: "Who will occupy these seats Jesus does not intimate; perhaps this knowledge was withheld from Jesus during his state of humiliation. Hence we cannot be certain whether only two will occupy those seats; perhaps more will be seated there" (1943, 789).  Christ's statement seems to suggest that individuals are meant, but we might think also of categories of people, such as people who are faithful.

            Barnes raises the issue of whether or not Jesus is involved in bestowing rewards on the disciples.  His proposed translation of verse 23 is different from the NASB and many other versions.   He states his view as follows:

The translation of this place evidently does not express the sense of the original.  The translation expresses the idea that Jesus has nothing to do with bestowing rewards on his followers.  This is at variance with the uniform testimony of the Scriptures. Mat. xxv, 31-40; Jn v. 22-30.  The correct translation of the passage would be, “’To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, except to those for whom it is prepared by my Father.’  The passage thus declares that Christ would give rewards to his followers, but only to such as should be entitled to them according to the purpose of his Father”  (1832, 209) 

As Barnes maintains, Jesus is involved in bestowing rewards, including positions of honor, but the translation in the NASB does not preclude the role of Jesus.  Jesus says that the Father determines who will sit on His right and left hands, not who will bestow the honor.

            Even though the occupants of some positions are predetermined, we should not overlook the human aspect of their exaltation. Charles R. Erdman comments: "The rewards indeed may be given at last by Christ, but they will not be given independently of real desert; for time and eternity, the highest places in His Kingdom are prepared for those by whom they are deserved" (1920, 162).   Thus the concepts of rewards and destiny do not exclude human responsibility.

            Two, a study of Biblical leaders reveals much.  Some of them were either predetermined or progressively determined to take their roles in leadership. They were chosen of God for special roles in the kingdom of God.

            David became king over Israel when he was thirty years old and reigned for forty years. At one point in his reign, according to
2 Samuel 5:12, "David realized that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel." Here, David realizes that He is, indeed, living according to God's will. God has placed him in a place of leadership.

            We think also of Jeremiah. Here is the word of the Lord spoken to Jeremiah, the prophet:  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).   It could be argued that God's appointment was based on foreknowledge. This softens, to some degree, the idea of predestination. However, this would only change the way in which the determination was made. It was still known to God, in advance, that Jeremiah would be a prophet.

            Another example is John the Baptist. Zacharias and Elizabeth had no children, so Zacharias prayed for a child. The angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias and assured him that Elizabeth would bear a son. The angel instructed Zacharias to call the son John and said, "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb. And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God" (
Luke 1:15-16).

            The apostle Paul affords us another example.  He expressed this thought to the Galatians: "But when God, who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus” (Galatians 1:15-16). Throughout his ministry, Paul had this sense of destiny about his ministry. No doubt this sustained him through many difficult times.

            Second, other positions appear to be unallocated; that is, we fill them through very human processes such as elections. Of course, this does not exclude the activity of God in guiding us as we vote. It just moves the selection process in the direction of human activity.  As an example, let us observe the early church making a choice of someone to take the place of Judas. In
Acts 1:23-26 we read:

    23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
   24 And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen
   25 to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."
   26 And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

            As another example, because of problems in the church community, it was deemed advisable to select men to do some administrative tasks.  They are sometimes called the first “deacons.”  The story of this event is found in Acts 6:1-6.

   1 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.
   2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.
   3 "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.
   4 "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
   5 The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.
   6 And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

            Third, whatever process God uses, or allows, He is in control. The freedom that we have operates within the context of God's control. Speaking through Isaiah, the prophet, God said (Isaiah 46:9-10):

   9 "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me,
  10 Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'."

            Yes, God is in control. This principle applies to being put into positions of leadership, just as it does to the rest of life. We can learn much from
Psalm 75:4-7:

4 "I said to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up the horn;
5 Do not lift up your horn on high, do not speak with insolent pride.'”
6 For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation;
7 But God is the Judge; He puts down one, and exalts another.

Sometimes God reveals the destiny of leaders ahead of time, but very often He does not.  Because He does not, all leaders simply have to learn to trust Him.  He will lead them down the path He has in mind for them.

Controlled Freedom Applied to Greatness

          Jesus recognized that the disciples wanted to be great, so He showed them the way.  It would be a costly way and one that involved their own personal responsibility in a very striking manner.  So how does controlled freedom apply to greatness? 

            First, when we speak of greatness, we have the sense that this attribute is open to all. When Jesus responded to Salome and the disciples concerning their desires, He spoke in indeterminate terms. His remarks were addressed to "whoever wishes to become great among you." The word "whoever" opens the door to anyone. We can conclude that everyone, who would meet Christ's criterion, can be great.

            Second, Jesus made service the essential criterion of greatness. This means that servant is itself a position. We have the position of servant when we serve! Sometimes the position of servant is not crowded with applicants. The "position open" sign is in heaven's window beckoning us to apply. Even though the position is open, we can still have a sense of destiny in filling it. We are sons of God and are chosen to be His servants.

Third, paradoxically, service often leads to positions of leadership. Many writers hold that leaders are chosen by a group when they fill at least two important functions:   (1) they contribute to the group's achieving of certain goals, and (2) they contribute to the satisfaction of the group's emotional needs. Sometimes group goals dominate, but at other times the emotional needs are more important.  In any case serving the needs of the people clearly has an impact on being chosen for leadership.

A Course of Action

            Given the impact of both the human and the divine upon us as leaders, what should we do? What should be our course of action?  When we consider what we must do, the presupposition is that we are free to do it.

            First, we should build on the basis that God has chosen us for our place in the Kingdom. Jesus said, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give it to you" (John 15:16).  As chosen vessels of God, we will bear the fruit of righteousness, and also we will be fruitful in our witness. Many will come to know Christ through our witness. With the knowledge that God has chosen us, we can serve wherever He puts us.

            Second, let us give the highest attention to service. Service, in the kingdom of God has priority. It is the element without which we cannot be great! Through service we will help the group to get the job done and we will contribute to their emotional well- being and health. When we do this, our service will be well-received.

            Third, as we serve, we will be able to watch our destiny unfold. My favorite verse of Scripture is
Proverbs 16:9 which says, "The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord  directs his steps."  Sometimes we fret as we plan. We grow impatient to see what our destiny will be. Some people, even in middle age, will ask, "What am I going to be when I grow up?" With God's help we can relax in Him and watch our destiny unfold before our eyes. God is painting our lives on the canvas even as we watch.

            Fourth, as growing leaders, we always will sense some tension between the role we now have and the role we may expect, or hope, to have. Within the bounds of this tension, we can come to an acceptance of our role which will allow us to be filled with joy and enthusiasm in our work. We need not answer every question about the future in order to perform well what God has given us to do today.


            When we think of destiny, we often think of the good things God works through us as leaders.  We are grateful for these good things, but we must realize that destiny can includes tests and trials as well.  Once again Jesus is our highest example.           

            Because Jesus would fulfil His redemptive mission in saving all who believe in Him, He had to suffer and die.  His leadership exacted an enormous price.  Although He suffered much, we know that He did it “for the joy set before Him” in redeeming mankind (Hebrews 12:2).   

            According to most versions, Jesus exclaimed on the cross, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mt. 27:46)  Whether or not Jesus was actually forsaken by the Father is debated by theologians.  Many believe that He was forsaken because sin separated God the Father from Jesus when Jesus became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) and was made (Galatians 3:13) a curse for us (1943, 1121).  Others, such as Clovis G. Chappell, hold that Jesus was not actually forsaken but felt that He was (1952, 41-43).  Using the above translation, it is clear that Jesus at least felt forsaken.   An amazing point is that Jesus asked why he was forsaken.  He certainly knew that He would die in Jerusalem and predicted that several times, but apparently He did not anticipate feeling forsaken.  This aspect of the cross was hidden from Him. 

            Without detracting from the customary translation, I would call attention to Lamsa’s version of Matthew 27:46.  His translation, which is based on Aramaic, is:  "My God, my God, for this I was spared!"  In addition, in the margin he has “My God, my God, This was my destiny!"  These translations, too, capture a great truth. Jesus was destined to die upon the cross to atone for our sins. Because He did, He led us as no one else can!  Also, we might say that He was destined to feel that He had been forsaken by God. 

When difficult times come, we may feel that God has forsaken us.  At such times, however, we must renew our commitment to fully trust in Him.  The author of Hebrews says, “He Himself [Jesus] has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’”  Through good times and bad Jesus is with us.  Our responsibility and privilege is to fully trust in Him.  When we trust in Him,  we can endure all things, look forward to the future with great joy, and expect that God will be faithful to reward us in due season according to His riches. We are in His hands and His hands are good! Let us, therefore, fulfil our destiny! When God wants us to lead, let us lead!