What do you make of this phrase? Nehemiah uses it to describe the person to put into leadership:
I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.
I can see why some people wouldn’t like this kind of talk. Something akin to “holier than many” sounds a lot like “holier than thou,” an attitude we typically don’t enjoy and particularly dislike in our culture today. Might it be presumptuous to sort people into faithful and not faithful, God-fearing and otherwise? It might be, but if there’s such a thing as a leader, then this category–“more faithful and God-fearing than many”–might instead be something we need to recognize and seek out.
I’ll put my cards on the table: I believe it is. Yes, we should be wary of a “holier than thou” attitude, but that doesn’t mean we should discount the notion of holiness. Nehemiah doesn’t say anything here about sorting people into categories; instead, he’s seeks to search the character of these two men, and I think that’s right.
As I often have to remind myself, just because something happens in the Bible doesn’t mean that it’s what should happen. The mere fact that Nehemiah considers his brother “a more faithful and God-fearing man than many” and puts him in charge doesn’t mean that we should follow the same pattern. However, this is part of a larger pattern in Scripture, the kind of pattern that does tell us what should happen in the Church: God rejects King Saul because he does not fear God (1 Samuel 15). Jesus’ key question to Peter is, “Do you love me?” and his command is “Tend my lambs” (John 21:15-19). Paul tells Timothy, “an overseer must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2).
We shouldn’t expect our leaders to be perfect, because no one is. We shouldn’t try to find the person who’s more faithful than everyone else, because the Church is big and needs lots of leaders and we’re not the only part that matters. We shouldn’t expect leaders to be finished products, to already be all that they are called to become. Yet, we should seek leaders who are more faithful and God-fearing than many; that’s just plain wise–we should seek leaders who are faithful and God-fearing so that they can lead us in becoming faithful and God-fearing. This, after all, is what we are aiming for together, what God Himself is carrying His people toward, through these people He is transforming by His Spirit.