04-051 GPBC, 10/17//04 Current Series: A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE ELECTION #1 “BIBLICAL GUIDELINES FOR CHOOSING A CANDIDATE” When election times comes, whether we’re talking about electing leaders to national government, or state government, or local government, we need to make sure that we’re using the right criteria in choosing the right candidate. For some voters, their criteria for selecting a candidate is strictly on the basis of the voter’s political party. You’ll hear them say, “I’ve always voted Republican,” or “I’ve always voted Democrat.” For some voters, their criteria for selecting a candidate is which one has the most personality appeal. For some voters, their criteria for selecting a candidate is the result of the latest poll. But when it comes to selecting our leaders in government, what is God’s criteria for choosing a leader? The Bible makes it clear that there are really only two things that matter when it comes to selecting a candidate: character and values. If a candidate lacks character or embraces the wrong moral values, then such a person does not deserve to serve in leadership, regardless of their political affiliation, their personality appeal, or the results of the latest poll. If you have your Bible, turn with me to Exodus 18 in the Old Testament Here we find Moses trying to bear the burden of leading the entire nation of Israel single-handedly. Here is a nation of some 2 ½ million people, and Moses is trying to lead the nation all by himself. He’s frustrated – the people are frustrated – and even though he’s doing the best that he can, his best simply isn’t enough. The job just isn’t getting done. About this time, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes for a visit and takes note of what’s happening. He approaches Moses and makes a simple suggestion that is the perfect solution to an escalating problem. He says to Moses, “…You and the people who come to you will soon be worn out. The job is too much for one person; you can't do it alone. You will need to appoint some competent leaders who respect God and are trustworthy and honest… This is the way God wants it done” [Ex 18:17-23, CEV]. In these simple words we discover what kind of person meets God’s criteria for serving in public office. This is the kind of man or woman that God would choose to serve in leadership. And his criteria for leadership hasn’t changed from then until now. It sets the standard for the kind of man or woman that you and I should choose today to serve in public office. WE NEED A LEADER WHO DEMONSTRATES COMPETENCE If there is one thing that is a sure recipe for disaster in a nation, it’s having someone in leadership who lacks the ability to lead. A good example of such a leader is a man by the name of Rehoboam, who ruled the nation of Israel in the 9th century BC. His father, Solomon, had proven to be a wise and capable leader who brought the nation of Israel to a position of prestige and power among the nations of that day. But his son, Rehoboam, clearly lacked his father’s leadership skills. When Rehoboam succeeded his father as king, the ten northern tribes of Israel petitioned him to reduce the heavy tax burden that Solomon had imposed on them. 2 It’s in that context we read, “Then King Rehoboam went to discuss the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. "What is your advice?" he asked. "How should I answer these people?" The older counselors replied, "If you are willing to serve the people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects." [1 Kings 12:6-7, NLT]. How does Rehoboam respond to the petition of the ten northern tribes? It says, “But Rehoboam spoke harshly to them, for he rejected the advice of the older counselors…He told the people, "My father was harsh on you, but I'll be even harsher! My father used whips on you, but I'll use scorpions!" So the king paid no attention to the people's demands.” [1 Kings 12:13-15, NLT]. The result? Civil war! And from that point on Israel was a divided nation with the kingdom of Judah in the south and the kingdom of Israel in the north. Incompetent leadership brought disaster on the nation. Coming back to the book of Exodus, God’s criteria for leadership includes competence to lead. It says very simply, “You will need to appoint some competent leaders…” [Ex 18:21, CEV]. In the original language of the Old Testament, the basic root meaning of the word here for “competent” has the idea of being firm or strong. By that I don’t mean that a leader should be overbearing or dictatorial and use his office as a club to beat people into submission. Obviously that’s exactly what Rehoboam was trying to do, and it backfired big-time. What the Bible means by a “competent” leader is someone who demonstrates strength of character and conviction, - someone who has the strength to make the hard decisions and to stand for what is right, even if it’s isn’t the popular position to take. A competent leader is someone whose convictions and decisions aren’t decided by the latest popularity poll or by what he thinks will advance his own agenda or political career. A competent leader may not always make the right decisions, but his decisions will always be based on what he thinks is right. Such a leader demonstrates strength of character and conviction – and that’s the kind of leadership we need in America today. How can you know if a leader is truly competent to lead? Look at his track record! Anyone can talk about what he intends to do – but the real test of a leader is what he’s already done. We hear a lot of political rhetoric at election time – but rhetoric isn’t always consistent with reality. Look at the candidate’s record! The strongest indication of the kind of leadership you can expect from someone in the future is to see what kind of leadership he’s exhibited in the past. Has he demonstrated that he is a competent leader? Has he demonstrated strength of character and conviction? That’s the kind of leader you want. WE NEED A LEADER WHO DEMONSTRATES RESPECT FOR GOD I know we would all agree that one of the values we cherish in America is freedom of religion. We don’t want government telling us how to worship, or who to worship, or whether we can even worship at all. But there’s a big difference between freedom OF religion, and freedom FROM religion. The Bible says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” [Psalm 33:12, NASB]. 3 We need leaders who believe that’s true, and who don’t just talk about it, but who demonstrate it in their lives. That doesn’t mean that our leaders need to hold to all the same doctrinal beliefs that we do, or that they have to dot all their theological “i’s” and cross all their theological “t’s” just the way we do. But they need to show by the way they live and by the way they lead that they have a genuine respect for God. That’s what the Bible says! Coming back again to the book of Exodus, we find that God’s criteria for leadership also includes a genuine respect for him. It says, “You will need to appoint some competent leaders who respect God…” [Exodus 18:21, CEV]. Literally in the original language of the Old Testament it says, “…who FEAR God…” When the Bible talks about the “fear of God,” its not talking about a cowering sort of fear like a puppy with his tail between his legs. It’s talking about a respect for God that honors him for who he is. It’s recognizing that he’s God and we’re not. It’s honoring him as the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. It’s recognizing that we are dependent on him for all that is good, and that we are accountable to him for all that we do. The Bible says in the book of Proverbs, “Wisdom begins with respect for the LORD, and understanding begins with knowing the Holy One” [Prov 9:10, NCV]. If we want wise leadership, then we need to look for those who demonstrate a genuine respect for God in all that they do. Again, when it comes to respect for God, talk is cheap. We hear a lot of empty rhetoric at election time. Politicians know that its politically expedient to talk about faith, and that in certain circles faith-talk brings in the vote. But the Bible says, “Anyone who doesn't breathe is dead, and faith that doesn't do anything is just as dead!” [James 2:26, CEV]. If you want to know what place God has in a politician’s life, don’t listen to his words – look at his life! That’s true for anyone! Have they suddenly “got religion” because it’s election time? Or has their life demonstrated a consistency in showing a genuine respect for God? Don’t listen to their words – look at their track record! If they haven’t consistently demonstrated a genuine respect for God, you can be certain they will make decisions that will take our nation down a very wrong path. And the result can be disastrous. WE NEED A LEADER WHO DEMONSTRATES INTEGRITY The Bible says, “People with integrity have firm footing, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall” [Proverbs 10:9, NLT]. That’s true for all of us, and it’s certainly true for those in leadership. Integrity simply means that you are who you say you are, mean what you say you mean, and do what you say you’ll do. It means you act without hidden motives and you speak without hidden agendas. It means there is no contradiction between what you appear to be on the outside and what you really are on the inside. By that definition of integrity, few politicians would probably measure up. Too many politicians tell us what we want to hear and then end up doing what they want to do. 4 Let’s come back again and look at what Exodus 18 has to say. We’re told, “You will need to appoint some competent leaders who respect God and are trustworthy and honest… This is the way God wants it done” [Ex 18:17-23, CEV]. That’s integrity! In the original language of the Old Testament, the word “trustworthy” describes someone who is faithful and true. It describes someone who says what he means and means what he says. He doesn’t play with his words to gain popularity and win votes. He doesn’t have a hidden agenda so that he says one thing and means another. He’s someone you know you can count on because he speaks the truth and lives the truth. The Bible says, “Putting confidence in an unreliable person is like chewing with a toothache or walking on a broken foot” [Proverbs 25:19, NLT]. That’s certainly not the kind of person you want in a position of leadership. In the original language of the Old Testament, when it talks about a man who is “honest,” it’s actually talking about someone who doesn’t take advantage of others for personal gain. We’re not just talking here about the dishonest politician who takes bribes and kickbacks. We’re talking about the politician who doesn’t use his position to serve others, but to serve himself. We’re talking about the person who uses his political office to pursue his own agenda and to advance his own political career at the expense of the people he’s supposed to serve. Such a person doesn’t measure up to God’s standard for a good leader. And that’s not the kind of person we want in office. When it comes time to vote on election day, who will you vote for? God says the most important thing to look for in a candidate is not party affiliation, or personality appeal, or popularity in the polls but character. Does he have a track record that demonstrates the strength of character and conviction that make for a competent leader? Does he have the kind of track record that demonstrates a respect for God in the way he lives his life and conducts himself in office? Does he have the kind of track record that demonstrates integrity, where he is who he says he is, means what he says he means, and does what he says he’ll do? That’s the kind of person to vote for if you want someone in office who meets God’s standard for leadership. One more thing! If you don’t vote at all, you’re letting someone else make the choice that God expects you to make. As a Christian, and as a good citizen, you have an obligation to vote. No candidate will measure up perfectly. Just choose the one who comes closest to demonstrating the kind of character that makes for a good leader. That’s all you can do!