Friday, November 2, 2018

Biblical Priorities for Election Day

As we approach Election Day, it is a good time to remember that nations are accountable to serve God in their political capacity. Christians in particular ought to set an example of obedience to God in the civil realm. And His word is not silent on the matter. So how does Scripture guide our choice of civil leaders?

1. Choose those who are of good character. Whether in church or state, when the Bible lists qualification for an office, it emphasizes character. When Israel chose its leaders, it was told to choose "men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe" (Ex. 18:21) and "wise" (Deut. 1:13). This responsibility does not seem unique to Israel, since it came from Jethro, a non-Israelite. Indeed, Proverbs states that "It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness" (16:12) and "Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a prince" (17:7). The fear of God results in good character that is governed by the law of God, both one's personal life and in his public calling. Israel's king, who was to be a model for the nations, was to write out and study God's word so that "he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them" (17:19). Those who do not submit to God's law in their positions and behavior will be prone to be untrustworthy and tyrannical, being driven by their whims or the fear of man, vulnerable to bribes and threats.

2. Choose those who are are skilled. Israel was also told to choose "able men" (Ex. 18:21), "wise, understanding, and experienced men" (Deut. 1:13). Good character is essential, but someone with good character might still be ill-equipped to deal with the responsibilities of the office. Civil leaders need practical wisdom, discernment, and communication skills, as well as the knowledge required to accomplish the task. It was a curse to Israel when their civil leaders were (at least figuratively) "infants" (Is. 3:4, 12; Eccl. 10:16). Being young in age is not an insurmountable obstacle (e.g. Solomon and Josiah were good but young leaders), but leaders who are lacking in the ability and discernment which often (though not always) comes with experience should be avoided, especially for the more important roles. And less experienced leaders would do well to take Solomon's approach: "O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in...Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:7, 9).

3. Choose those who have their priorities straight. Civil leaders bear authority delegated to them from God, and as such they are responsible to Him for its use. We ought to choose leaders who understand what their main tasks are. Fundamentally, the civil government is a ministry of justice (Rom. 13:1-4). It upholds justice by overseeing restitution to the victim and administering punishments for crime. Its first and most basic task was to execute the murderer: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Gen. 9:6). Innocent human life was to be vindicated by the power of the sword. Today, innocent human life is taken across our country by the practice of abortion. It should be a priority for civil leaders to criminalize this practice. Also, a primary priority of godly men and women in pagan governments that we find in the Bible (e.g. Joseph, Daniel, Esther) is the protection of God's people, the church. Those who bless God's people shall be blessed, and those who persecute or trouble God's people pick a fight with God (Gen. 12:3, Matt. 10:40-42, Is. 60:19-14).

4. Choose those who seek to maximize freedom for their people. Civil leaders with their priorities straight will not get carried away with taking on tasks beyond their calling. They will not seek to be an aggressive military power since the power of the sword they have is for justice and defense. They will not seek to take over education, health, and welfare, since these are responsibilities of family, neighbors, associations, communities, and churches. It might step in as a last resort, but this is regrettable and a sign of failure among the people. A wise and good leader will not burden his people with excessive taxation (Prov. 29:4, Amos 5:11, 1 Sam. 8:11-18, 1 Kings 12), which also requires limits on spending, since debt is also generally unwise and enslaving (Prov. 22:7). The goal for civil leaders should be freedom and peace for the people so that, as Paul says, "we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2).

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