New Testament Standards for Governors
The New Testament teaches that “governors are sent by God” with the particular goal of “punishing those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” I Peter 2:18. Obviously, right and wrong are to be defined by the standards of the One who is doing the sending—God—not by the transitory standards of a society nor the whims of the governor.
Some will complain that my approach is wrong since we are picking a president and not a preacher. I am doing no such thing. Choosing a preacher would require many additional and particular requirements different from and beyond those required of a political leader. But every leader should be subjected to a basic test of character. Since the Bible teaches that a governor is to properly administer godly standards of right and wrong, a person who flagrantly rejects those standards in their own life cannot possibly carry out their God-given task.
However, the bulk of the New Testament’s directions about Christians and civil leaders is directed to the Christian who is living in a nation in which the civil leaders are imposed by force upon the people of the land. Our duty to submit to such leaders is not guidance on how to vote. Rather, it tells us our general duty once the voting is over.
In the United States, we have the right to vote, which in turn imposes a stewardship responsibility to vote wisely. Accordingly, our first conclusion is that our voting must be aimed at the goal of electing a person who is capable of executing the God-given standards of punishing that which is wrong and praising that which is right. Right and wrong, rather than lesser evils, is our beginning point.
Deuteronomy’s Instructions on Choosing a King
Most Christians think that God never wanted Israel to have a king. Most Christians are wrong about this. First and foremost, the Messiah was to come from the line of the King of Israel. Jesus was not an afterthought or an adjustment in God’s plan. The Messiah was to come from royal blood. Moreover, this passage in Deuteronomy was written by Moses under instruction from God detailing how Israel was to pick a king. God would never give instructions on how to sin—so picking a king was not inherently sinful. We can readily conclude, therefore, that God intended Israel to have a king at some point.
Christians get confused about all of this because God indeed condemned the people for clamoring for a king. They wanted a worldly king and got Saul. Saul was the wrong king for the wrong reason at the wrong time.
Accordingly, we need to approach Deuteronomy 17:14-20 not as some sort of divine contingency plan but as an actual expression of the will of God.
There are eight specific criteria for choosing the king that “the Lord your God chooses.” (And Hosea 8:1-4 describes God’s punishment when Israel chooses wrongly—a warning we should also take to heart.)
- He must not be a foreigner.
- He must not acquire a great number of horses—especially not from Egypt.
- He must not take many wives.
- He must not accumulate large amounts of silver or gold.
- He must write a copy of God’s law for himself.
- He is to read it every day so that he will carefully follow God’s laws.
- He is not to consider himself better than his brothers.
- He is not to turn from God’s law to the right or to the left.
Our Constitution echoes the first standard, at least for the President—he must not be a foreigner. But what about the remaining items? How applicable are they?
As statements of general principle, I would argue that they are all good guideposts for determining if the civil leader can perform his New Testament tasks relating to good and evil.
The “horses” command relates to power—political power and military power. I interpret this command to say that a good leader will not be power hungry. Egypt is a symbol of “the world” in many Old Testament passages. Accordingly, the entire command can be understood to say that the leader should not be power hungry nor use worldly tactics to gain power.
The “many wives” passage urges us to have leaders that are faithful to their spouse.
The verse about silver and gold means that the person is not to use political power to attain silver and gold. It is not a command against the rich seeking office.
Blending the two commands about the law of God and taking them in the most non-religious manner possible, it would teach us that a political leader should have a good understanding of God’s moral standards of right and wrong. Good moral judgment is a quality that all of us would also want if we were hiring, let’s say, an accountant or stock broker who would handle our money. It is clearly an appropriate quality for someone who wants to be in charge of huge amounts of taxpayer money and to impact our fundamental liberties.
The verse condemning an arrogant spirit points to the need for what is commonly called a “servant leader.”
Finally, the command to remain true to the center of God’s law commands an uncompromising approach to issues of fundamental morality.
These standards could be understood to be almost unreachable if applied with an ungenerous stringency. But, if understood to set forth a series of characteristics that should generally be true of a leader, it is a reasonable and quite attainable guideline for choosing the kind of leader that would command both moral authority and the respect of the people.
Continue to read New Testament standards for church leaders…