'Tis the season for voting guides… the season we greet one another with "Who are you voting for?" With the air wafting with political cheer and punditry and our churches buzzing with candidate conversations, let's not forget the weighty significance of our role as individuals and as a church in this matter. In November, the American people are called upon once again to elect one of the most powerful political leaders in the free world. The next President of the United States will help shape the economic, foreign, domestic, and military policy of our nation for the next four years. He will command the United States military as commander in chief, he will execute the laws passed by Congress, and he will appoint judges to maintain liberty and uphold justice. The decisions that he makes may have far reaching implications, not only for our nation, but also for the entire world. Thus, it is no small matter for us to think biblically in casting our vote. And our duty is to seek, first and foremost, to honor God with our act of voting.
As Christians, the most important question to ask during election season is: "Does God, in the Bible give His people direction for how to identify worthy civil leaders?" We know there are requirements for pastors but what about civil leaders? Are there commands? Are there examples? Are there principles that would guide us? The answer is, yes! God in His kindness, has not left us alone and without revealing His thoughts and giving us His principles for the selection of civil leaders. In fact, God explicitly declares in Scripture the kinds of civil leaders you ought to vote for.
As a Good Shepherd, God gives guidance to His people for what kinds of leaders to select. It is a great gift to His people that He would show us how to identify good leaders. While there are many places in the Bible to go for answers, there are four key texts which give us clarity on the subject: Exo. 18:21, Deut 1:9-17, Deut.17:14-20 and Rom. 13:1-10.
Just for a moment let's put aside our political affiliations and try to close our ears to the opinions of man and the political hysteria that surrounds us. Take a fresh look – unobstructed by emotion and party loyalty – at the clear checklist of requirements the Bible gives us to select leaders.
A brief survey of these Scriptures provide what, a civil leader must be:
Wise (Deuteronomy 1:13)
This qualification describes a man who is skillful in administration with the ability to handle significant and complex matters with discretion and sound judgment. We must recognize that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10)
Understanding (Deuteronomy 1:13)
Let's vote for men with a keen sense of understanding and insight. This kind of man is able to see into things so that realities are revealed. A man of understanding has the ability to see beyond the surface. We are to recognize when a candidate has understanding by the way he follows the precepts of the Lord. (Psalm 111:10)
Known (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:15; Deuteronomy 17:15)
Civil leaders should be selected from among their own people. People must know the candidate. This is why the Constitution of the United States requires the president must be naturally born in the U.S.
Tested in leadership capacity (Deuteronomy 1:15)
Not all men have been equally gifted in leadership capacities. Some are capable of commanding large realms while others are better fit for smaller realms. Success in smaller realms opens the door for greater: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10).
Righteous in his judgments (Deuteronomy 1:16-17)
This requires a civil leader to see things as they really, and make decisions through the lens of biblical righteousness. He judges righteously (according to the righteousness of God) without being swayed by appearances.
Impartial (Deuteronomy 1:17)
He treats the high and the low with the same love and truth. Since God is no respecter of persons, neither should a civil leader be a respecter of persons. A civil ruler must be equally concerned for the rich and the poor, the small and the great. He must execute justice without respect to race, gender, and national origin, or any other categorical distinction made in society.
Fearless of man (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 17:19)
Man pleasers are disasters as leaders. Leaders must fear God and do justly, not be governed by the fear of man. "The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe" (Prov. 29:25) "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body… Fear Him who…has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:4-5).
A male (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:13)
The Scriptures require that we "choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men." The word men used here is not the generic term for "mankind" but rather the word for "male." Everywhere the qualifications for civil leaders are mentioned in the Bible, males – not females – are identified.
Able (Exodus 18:21) The word translated able is much more frequently translated army, valor, or strength. This qualification focuses on whether he has strength. Those who are chosen for civil magistrate should be men of character that will not waver under extreme pressure or temptation.
Fearing the true God (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 17:19; Romans 13:4) Here we learn of the pivotal nature of his relationship with God. This man's first concern is faithfulness to the one true God – in everything. Most people are not aware of how important this requirement is. God issues this command to the civil leader, "Be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him" (Ps. 2:10-12). He is also told, "Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the Lord be upon you." (2 Chr. 19:6-7). After all, a civil leader is a "minister" or literally, a "deacon" of God for good. This is the kind of man who has a consciousness that he is the servant of a holy God. His concern is for the glory of God. "Blessed is the man who fears the LORD" (Ps. 112:1).
Truthful (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 16:19)
We are to elect men who keep their word. Most civil leaders in the United States take an oath of office with their hand placed on the Bible when they assume office. Our government is based upon promises from our leaders to keep the law and be truthful. Jesus Christ says, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Matt. 5:37).
Hating covetousness (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 17:17)
Power is corrupting. It is all too commonly expected that those who are selected for civil office, go to Washington and are quickly corrupted by the lure of popularity, power, and money. The temptations are great. Only a man who hates covetousness can be trusted to not to be easily diverted by flattery, bribes, and political favors.
Guided by the Word of God (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)
Civil leaders must be guided by the authority of Scripture. In Israel, civil leaders were commanded to write a personal copy of the Scripture for their own study. It was to be read "all the days of [their] life." Why? So "that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law" (Deut. 17:19).
Trusting in God alone (Deuteronomy 17:17)
This requirement concerns where a civil leader places his trust and confidence. Is his trust in armaments? Is his trust in the strength of other nations, or does he say, "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help" (Is. 31:1). If he does not trust God, he is unqualified.
Faithful in marriage (Deuteronomy 17:17)
The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman, since "the two shall become one flesh" (Mark 10:8). This definition excludes multiple wives. The reason is given, "lest his heart turn away."
Free from the love of money (Deuteronomy 17:17)
He should not have a driving hunger for riches. Leaders cannot be men led by greed and lust for riches.
Imagine for a moment what it would be like to be ruled by men like this. What a blessing it would be to be governed by men who are "understanding, known, tested in leadership capacity, righteous in his judgments, impartial, fearless of man, able, fearing the true God, truthful, hating covetousness, guided by the Word of God, trusting in God alone, faithful in marriage, and free from the love of money." When Christians cast their votes on the basis of these precepts they are making a statement that "righteousness exalts a nation" (Prov. 14:34). It is too easy to be driven by fear, the party, the media, your friends, and respected spiritual leaders.
Political elections provide Christians with the opportunity to vote as representatives of Christ, as those who uphold the truth, and as those who publicly trust in the Word of God. It is a special opportunity for the church to play her role as the "pillar and ground of the truth." (1Timothy 3:15)
What principles will be guiding you as you prepare to cast your vote this November? How will you make your decision? How will you evaluate the candidates?
So before you consult all the other voting guides, make sure you have rightly prioritized the words of Scripture above all the other voices for how you analyze the candidates. After all, the Bible is the best voting guide you will ever have.