Dealing with people well is a skill that, if mastered, enables us to do much good in the world. The best leaders have always known this. They do not manage everyone the same way; rather, they take into account the personalities and temperaments of those who serve them, discerning the best ways to motivate each person who works under them. Some are moved to action by a stern rebuke. Others respond better to gentle encouragement. The wise leader knows which to use to get the best results out of his team.
Yet, understanding how to deal well with others also benefits those who are not in high positions of leadership. Serving a boss or overseer well and continuing to hold influence demands a certain skill. We learn not to abandon our post at the slightest provocation but rather remain calm and collected. That is the point of Ecclesiastes 10:4.
What seems to be in view is the royal court, where officials and advisers might be subject to the king’s anger. Should you serve in this court, it is not wise to leave your place if you must endure “the anger of the ruler” (Eccl. 10:4). In other words, the servant should not just quit the moment the leader gets angry. Rushing off in a huff and resigning a position will render one unable to influence the direction of the court for good any longer. Moreover, it is unwise from the perspective of one’s own personal growth and development. Resign in a flurry when someone gets upset with you, and you probably will not be known as the easiest person to work with.
When the ruler shows his anger, it is far wiser to respond calmly and not resign in a prideful huff. A calm response “will lay great offenses to rest” (v. 4). The ruler may be placated, and his anger may subside. Moreover, a calm response will help the servant think things through and not act rashly. Leaving a place of influence, no matter how tempting it might seem, may not be the best course of action. This is particularly true when Christians have the opportunity to shape things for the good. If we swallow our pride and turn the other cheek, we may get a hearing in the future. We dare not compromise biblical principles, but we must also not confuse biblical principles with hurt feelings or an overinflated sense of our own importance. In this, Jesus is our model. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return but continued to entrust Himself to the Lord (1 Peter 2:23). May we do the same when we find others hard to handle.
Our responses to others, especially those in authority, must always be governed by divine wisdom. We must pray that the Lord would help us discern the difference between abuse and rightly administered discipline, between the response of a ruler that is wholly unjustified and evil, and a response that is firm and appropriate. Let us trust Christ to help us respond appropriately to all people.
“Appearance is everything,” or so the saying goes. In an image-driven culture, this statement reflects a belief that holds sway among the shapers of culture. Style, so often, is more important than substance. As long as the appearance is convincing, what is actually underneath is less significant. We see this all the time in politics, where gifted communication teams carefully craft a message about a candidate and his history that may or may not be true to his background and beliefs. The same is true with non-political celebrities, who often pay millions of dollars for help in crafting a public persona or for assistance in getting back into people’s good graces after a scandal.
Certainly, appearance is an important consideration. How we present ourselves often says something about who we are on the inside. Yet in God’s kingdom, appearance is not everything, and first impressions are often deceiving. As our Creator told the prophet, Samuel, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). To the best of our abilities, knowing that we cannot see the heart of a person, we are to examine the characters of others as revealed in their outward actions.
As we do that, we may find ourselves perplexed by what we see, as the Preacher who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes often was when he observed the world. Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 reflects his study of the people around him and his recognition that things tend in many cases to be upside down. “Folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place” (Eccl. 10:6). In other words, we often see the most foolish of individuals achieve high office, while those whose wisdom and skill would seem to make them the most fit for office do not reach such heights. Similarly, the Preacher observed “slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (v. 7). In the ancient world, horses were associated with royalty (1 Kings 4:26), so the meaning of the Preacher’s image is that some who do not really have what it takes to be king are in that place while others who have the knowledge and discernment to reign end up as mere slaves.
Obviously, the Preacher’s statements are not absolute. Many fine men and women reach positions of authority because of their wisdom, skill, and ability to treat people well. But when this does not happen, we recognize that things are not right side up. For God’s original design for creation was for godly, wise people to rule (Prov. 8:12–16).
In God’s sovereign providence, our Creator has at times seen fit to allow fools to attain places of power. We know that this is ultimately for our greater good and His glory. Still, we rightly sense that something is wrong when we see fools in power. For this situation has been caused by the fall. One day it will be overturned, and the world will be right side up again. Knowing that truth encourages us to serve the Lord.