Lessons in Leadership – Part III: David Learns Submission

In my previous post, we learned how David experienced being underestimated. We observed that he started his journey to becoming King of Israel by first being underestimated by his own family. We also learned that when one is given seemingly insignificant tasks, one must infuse those tasks with as much effort, learning and development as possible if one is to absorb all that God has for him or her at that point in their life. One’s focus should be on what God has for you at that moment, not on the glamour of the task or lack thereof.

David’s next leadership lesson was focused on submission. David had to learn to submit to authority before he would be worthy of being King. Now, this is not to say that David was a rebellious person before he was anointed by Samuel as King. Instead, it is to say that David needed to learn *much* more about submitting to authority than what he had already learned.

Submission is a dirty word in American culture today. We are “rugged individuals” who “pull ourselves up” by our “own bootstraps” and have no need of anyone else to help us or to tell us what to do. We are living in a highly rebellious age. Rights have become licenses for selfishness. We have leaders who have little sense of submission to the law or to propriety. Our entertainment industry is filled with images and story lines of rebellion – even by the “good” guys.

Yet we will learn today that in order to be a leader from a Godly perspective, one must first learn how to submit to authority.

The Lesson of Submission: Playing Your Role on the Team

This passage introduces to us some difficult-to-accept teachings about how God operates. Let’s remember that it is not our place to sit in judgment of God or to hold onto our preconceived notions about God and how He should act. We are not His advisors nor do we have any standing to expect His collaboration with our views and notions.

Our text for this post is found in 1 Samuel 16.14-23:

14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”

17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”

18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”

19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.

21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”

23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

God is Sovereign. He can Use Evil for His own Purpose and Glory

By the time David is anointed King, God had already withdrawn His love and Spirit from Saul. And so, because it served God’s purposes, God sent an evil spirit to torment Saul.

God’s use of evil to accomplish His purposes is not uncommon in the Old Testament. Here, the writer isn’t concerned about God using evil agents to achieve His purposes and neither are other Old Testament writers:

  • Judges 9.23 – God “stirred up” animosity between Abimelek and the citizens of Shechem to avenge a crime that had been committed
  • 2 Sam 24.1 with 1 Chron 21.1 – God caused David to conduct a census and then held him responsible for his sin
  • Several references here in 1 Sam. about God sending an evil spirit to torment Saul

I understand this is a disturbing and unsettling part of the Scriptures – to see God using evil to accomplish His purposes. The reality is that He is completely sovereign over the affairs of heaven and earth. God can and does use both evil and good to accomplish what He wants and yet He is never to be charged with doing evil because He never commits evil actions or thoughts.

What we see in Saul is the danger of focusing on feeling good (14-23). Saul and his staff knew his problem was an evil spirit and that the spirit was coming directly from God. Yet, in their arrogance, they thought they could solve the problem without any submission or confession of sin to God. This illustrates a point most Evangelicals miss in their day-to-day interactions: nearly all problems have both a human and spiritual element and hence, nearly all problems require both human and spiritual solutions.

Leadership Lessons

It is a terrible thing to be surrounded by people you trust who offer bad advice. Godly leaders choose their advisors carefully, because bad advisors usually result in bad decisions. The characteristics of bad advisors can be seen in this story. Bad advisors A) see things how they wish they were, rather than how they are, B) do not speak the entire truth and C) are often under-developed or untested to meet the demands of reality. Bad advisors will often lead you to a place where the core problem is never directly dealt with.

Playing Your Role on the Team

When David plays his music, the evil spirit leaves Saul and Saul feels better. David performs his ministry faithfully, yet we observe that his ministry didn’t solve the core problem. Band-Aid ministries are not something most of us like to engage in – generally speaking – we like to solve problems. Was he wasting his time? I don’t think so. God had more for David than just playing music in Saul’s presence.

But this does point to an important point that is implicit in this story: the worship of God drives out evil spirits. Praise music is a form of spiritual warfare. Music, by itself can’t lead to maturity or ministry readiness, yet it is a strong component to worship and adoration of God. Saul experienced relief because of the music, but he lacked any semblance of balance, such as prayer, faith, study of the Word, fellowship, accountability, worship and so forth. Music is never enough to grow a Christian to maturity, yet worship without music is stale and dry.

Note that Saul came to David. David did not advertise his talents. Yet he was the right person at the right time in the right place, plopped there by God Himself. David was acting under the Spirit’s power, which leads us to learn that without the power of the Holy Spirit, your talents/gifts cannot do spiritual battle (see John 15 as a reference). If you remain in the Spirit, over time, you’ll be summoned to service unlike anything you ever hoped or planned.

David used his gift within his role. But not all of his gifts were used in this role. Mature Christians use their gifts as God intended in their present role and yet they understand that not all of their gifts will be utilized in every role.

Playing your Role on the Team means exercising your gifts in the power of the Spirit in the role God has given you at the present time. There are ways to fail in this, however, and the primary way is to insert your other gifts into your present role when they are not needed.

But one can also fail by rebelling and disrespecting ungodly authority. On this point, Evangelicals have much to sin to confess. We tend to be just as prickly in the political arena as those who don’t know the Lord. We can be very disrespectful toward authority we don’t agree with. Brothers, this should not be. We should be known for our unconditional love first and foremost. All of what we know today is passing away. All of it. As Christian Business Owners, we understand that our business is temporary and serves, frankly, temporary purposes. Let’s not get caught up in the harsh politics of our day. Let’s love and respect those on both sides of the aisle, calling them to commit to a life of submission to God. And then pray – which is a more powerful weapon than anything else.


In short, David learned to use his gifts for God with an ungodly boss. And he did so without complaining or rebelling. He submitted to the authority that God had instituted and he performed his role using his gifting toward purposes which, I believe, David knew were futile. As a Christian Business Owner, let’s understand our role on the team – we too are people under authority. Let’s remember that before we can be real leaders, we first must learn to submit and follow proper authority which God has instituted and we must learn to work within structures that are less than ideal with a good attitude and a commitment to get results – even if the results are less than what we know could be.

Bill English, CEO