Voting Based on God’s Standards for Rulers

In my previous article, I dealt with the subject of situational ethics as exhibited in the political realm and the implications of such philosophies for the Christian. I used the proposition of voting for Mitt Romney as a candidate in the general election to demonstrate situational ethics in action and frame the issue with a real-world scenario. Because my focus was on the Biblical sanction (or lack thereof) of Christians to use pragmatic reasoning, I left many questions unanswered regarding how (or even if) one should vote and the principles that should guide that decision.

Giving Answers While Still Growing

As I stated before, each election and each candidate presents a different set of circumstances, and determining the best course of action in every instance may be complex and require close examination of both the candidates involved and the outworking of the principles used to make the decision. Again, I am very aware that I do not have a definitive solution for many of these different scenarios. However, my end goal, and the goal of what I am attempting to present with these articles, is to ensure that the decision is based on Biblical principles derived from Spirit-led study of God’s Word, rather than on human reasoning or political expediency.

Fitting Passages into the Appropriate Context

Before we dive in and examine some Scripture passages that are relevant to this issue, it would be good to note that throughout Biblical history, we do not have examples given in context of the current form of American government. In the Old Testament period (after Moses) we find variations of governance based on a Theocracy (the laws are set by God Himself and are unchangeable). How the Theocracy was administered varied (Moses and Joshua carrying out God’s instruction, judges who were appointed, kings acting much like monarchs, or at times by direct intervention from God Himself).

In the New Testament, the focus of the administration of law is on church government rather than civil government. We are given examples and qualifications for church leaders, but not directly for civil leaders. The emphasis when addressing civil government is the proper response and duties to whatever leader(s) or government is in place. In the current age, the church does not govern the nation, but governs itself. The members of the church are to be subject, as much as is possible without compromise, to the civil government, no matter the form it may take. This is not to say that the church cannot (or should not) influence or affect the civil spectrum, but that it is not the church’s goal or mission to control it. Church and government are two separate institutions.

Therefore, when we examine passages in Scripture which speak of judges or kings, we should take those passages in context with the form of government in place and the power of the position which is being referenced. We don’t find the Israelites “going to the polls” (but on the positive side, we are left with very few recounts as well!). We also do not find an office identical to the presidency. What we do find are principles which define the character of every good leader, and the principles of morality and ethics that should guide every Christian in any activity (including voting). God’s Word is ever sufficient and complete for every good work (II Tim 3:16-17)!

Moses’ Qualifications for Judges

Let’s assess first what the Word has to say about the qualifications and character of leadership, both negatively and postively. In Exodus 18, Moses is overwhelmed by trying to judge every case from among the whole nation of Israel, and Jethro wisely advises Moses to appoint judges to help with this task. Exodus 18:21 shows us the type of qualities that were desirable for such an office: Ability, fear of God, honesty, and selflessness. When Moses recounts this event in Deut. 1:9-17, he recalled that they were to be full of wisdom, understanding, and experience – or as the KJV renders it; “known among your tribes” (Deut. 1:13). Note also that the people were responsible for choosing these men.  He had given the judges the charge of judging rightly, without partiality, and without the fear of man (Deut. 1:16-17).

Moses’ Qualifications for a King

Moses later preemptively gives some qualifications for the type of king the Israelites should choose (Deut. 17:14-20), even though their demand for an earthly king was unwise. First, the king must be one of God’s choosing. Secondly, the king must be a native Israelite and not a foreigner (Deut. 17:15). He also must not primarily seek his own military might (see II Sam. 24:1-3, Ps. 20:7, Zech 4:6), or lead the people in a direction forbidden by God (Deut. 17:16). The king must not be greedy or act in such a way that might lead to idolatry or self-sufficiency (Deut. 17:17). The king must know God’s Word well and keep it close so that He can govern by it (Deut. 17:18-19)! The standard of God’s Word is necessary to acquire the fear of God, to obey God’s law, to prevent a prideful spirit, to keep from backsliding, and to ensure God’s continued blessing (Deut 17:19-20)!

A King’s Qualifications for Judges

Later in II Chronicles 19, as a part of King Jehoshaphat’s reforms, he appoints judges for each city in Judah and gave them a charge. The judges were to be careful to judge according to God’s standards and not their own (II Chron. 19:6). In the same vein, they were to fear the Lord, and as a result of that fear, abstain from showing favoritism or taking bribes (II Chron 19:7).

Other Supporting Passages

In many other places, we find similar appointments or admonitions, with very similar characteristics. In I Sam 8:1-3, we are given a negative example of Eli appointing his sons as judges who were lacking in character. In particular, they were covetous, and accepted bribes in exchange for the desired judgement. In Ezra 7:24-25, King Artaxerxes instructs Ezra to appoint judges who will teach God’s law to the people, and speedily punish any who will not heed His Word! In Nehemiah 7:2, we find Nehemiah giving Hananiah charge over Jerusalem because he was faithful and feared God. Solomon informs us in Ecclesiastes 4:13, that a king must be willing to be corrected when he is wrong. He must be humble. Later in Ecclesiastes 10:16-17, we are warned about the folly of an immature and indulgent ruler. Prov. 20:26 tells us that a king should severely punish those who act wickedly, and Prov. 20:28 stress the importance of mercy and truth from a king. Proverbs 31 reminds us that kings should not be lustful (Prov. 31:3), but should keep a sober mind at all times (Prov. 31:4-5). Again we’re reminded that he is to judge without partiality – even for those who can offer nothing in return (Prov. 31:8-9). He should not be influenced by the power and influence of lobbyists who seek their own personal benefit.

Even New Testament passages that deal with the governing and qualification of church officers reflect many of the same principles. In Acts 6:3, the congregation is to look for leaders with good character, who walk with God, and demonstrate Biblical wisdom. In the qualification for elders in I Timothy 3, note the qualities of being “above reproach” (blameless in character), “temparate” (or self-controlled), “not addicted to wine” (keen faculties), “free from the love of money” (not covetous or disposed to taking bribes), and “one who manages his household well” (has a proven track record of competent leadership). More similarities to the OT passages can be drawn for the qualifications for deacons that follows and the other list for pastors in Titus 1 (Please note that I am not equating an elected government official to a church pastor or deacon, nor am I saying that the list of qualifications applies directly to them. I am simply pointing out that some qualities required of leaders are uniform throughout Scripture).

Pillars of Biblical Leadership

From all of these passages and others too numerous to deal with here, we get an overall sense of several main characteristics that should embody anyone in a leadership position (whether civil or church).

Fear of the Lord

First and foremost perhaps of all is the fear of God. This is huge, because without it, all other qualities are on thin ice. Time and time again we find that this is a requirement! The fear of God (I need to obey, because an Almighty God is holding me accountable) makes God’s Word and the principles therein the standard (thereby establishing a fixed standard!), and keeps a ruler from straying into wickedness and relativistic thinking. A person who fears the Lord will exhibit a clear pattern of making decisions based upon Biblical principles. Obviously the opposite (fear of man) would be a huge problem (remember Deut. 1:17?).

Honesty

A second fundamental requirement of a Biblically qualified leader is that they are honest. I will include being impartial, regarding the poor, being a hater of covetousness, and refusing bribes as all a part of being honest, as the idea is pretty consistent through a number of passages. When “showing partiality” is mentioned in the context of rulers, the normal sense is that the partial person is so because of their desire for dishonest gain (i.e., bribes). This perverts judgement, particularly upon the poor and needy, because they have nothing from which to offer a bribe. The honest person is generally also selfless, being more devoted to duty than personal gain.

Self-Control

A third very common theme is that a ruler must be sober. This encompasses the areas of mental impairment (via alcohol or other drugs) and immaturity (in age, experience, or character). A Biblically-qualified leader can control himself with honor, dignity, and respect. He is not given to vices such as drunkenness, gluttony, anger, and the like. He is experienced enough to know how to make decisions effectively and wisely. This is a stable, reliable person with strong convictions. The sober individual is typically also willing to listen to sound advice and accept correction.

Rubber, Meet Road

With these passages and principles in mind, how do we apply them to voting? The most apparent application is to seek out and vote for the candidate which most fully exhibits the Biblical guidelines. However it isn’t always that simple.

Does a candidate have to be saved to be qualified?

Above I stated that the most important characteristic of a Biblically qualified leader was the fear of God. So can an unsaved person truly possess this quality? Certainly the fullness of the idea of fearing God would require saving faith in God. However, I believe there is some evidence for a certain fear of God which can exist without saving faith (Ps. 9:19-20; Dan. 3:29). We can point to history and name some leaders who, although they were unsaved, yet made decisions which were generally in accordance with Biblical principles, because they respected God’s Word. At this point, I cannot say with certainty that salvation (according to our best judgement) is a requirement, although it would obviously be preferred. However, if someone were to hold salvation as a requirement, I could not take serious issue with it.

What if the qualified candidate has no chance of winning?

This I believe I pretty much covered in principle in the previous article. The whole objection to voting for someone who doesn’t have a chance to win is because you want your vote to “count” and to assist in the desired result. Rest assured, an act on principle and conviction in the face of adverse circumstances will “count” with God! And if you’re primary concern is only with achieving a particular result, then it might be fitting to ask yourself why you’re taking it upon yourself to stand in the place of God.

One of the basic principles about political rulers, is that they are ultimately appointed and chosen by God (not by you!). We see this in Judges 2:16-18, 3:9-10; I Sam 9:15-16, 16:1; I Chron. 28:4-5; Jer. 27:6-7; Dan. 2:21, 4:32; Jn. 19:10-11, Rom. 9:17,  13:1, etc., etc! We should also be mindful that a leader without the qualities prescribed by God will not truly be a blessing at all (Prov. 24:23-24, 29:2,4; Eccl. 10:16). Of course, God uses men to accomplish His sovereign will, so it is our duty to obey Him in all areas including voting… but that’s just the point – it is our duty to obey Him. When we think we have to act in a certain way so that we will achieve a desired result, are we walking by faith or by sight? Can we really do anything of ourselves, or is it all of God? Is God really so helpless that He needs you to bend the principles of His Word so that evil will be contained?

What if there is no qualified candidate?

This happens. Sometimes you might be able to write in a candidate from a primary – or another person you know of who would be qualified to fill the office. It’s worth noting that in most cases, however, a write-in candidate has to have filed papers with the appropriate offices for the vote to be counted. At this point, you might refer back to the point above for your answer, but the fact that the candidate may not even desire the office at this point might also factor in to your decision (although Gideon, for instance, wasn’t very happy about his “election”). Besides all this, in a number of states, write-in candidates are not allowed.

So then the question becomes, “Is it better to vote for the candidate that comes the closest to being qualified, or to not vote at all?” Many responsible citizens would take serious issue with the idea of intentionally not casting a vote. This I believe speaks to a very strong sense of patriotism and national pride, particularly among political conservatives. I don’t have any problem with this sentiment; in fact I agree with it. America was colonized largely for the purpose of religious freedom (to worship the Lord God according to one’s conscience), was founded with Biblical principles in mind, does have a strong Spiritual heritage, and has been greatly blessed of God. The desire to uphold and strengthen our freedoms and heritage is a noble one.

One of the freedoms we hold very dear is our right to vote. The democratic system (we’re actually a representative Republic, or at least we’re supposed to be, but that’s beside point) at work means that the voice of the poor, the rich, the famous, the obscure, the young and the old can all be heard and every voice counts equally. This is overall a good thing, and reasonably fits with principles of Scripture.

However, I believe that patriotism (our right and duty to vote, in this case) can become such a sacred cow, that it can supercede even our allegiance to God and His Word. When all the chips are down (wow that’s a false religion and gambling reference all in one paragraph – ouch!), and the choice is God or country, we’d better be able to make the right choice, and make it without hesitating! We must be able to correctly render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21).

This is a tough call, but I believe if there is no candidate that meets even the fundamental principles of Biblical leadership, and we have no other choice but to refuse to vote, we must do so. Such a scenario certainly speaks to the judgement of God upon our nation

Principled and Petitioning

If and when such a choice needs to be made, it should drive us to our knees and make us cry out to God for righteous candidates whom we can support with a clear conscience. We should claim the promise of verses like Judges 3:9, where the Israelites entreated God for mercy and repented, and the Lord responded by giving them a leader to deliver them from their trouble. Yet while we pray and wait for God’s deliverance, we must strive to be holy and true-hearted so that our prayers will be effective (Deut. 23:14, Ps. 66:18).

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