As many pray about our upcoming elections, I believe we need to rightly understand and discern the kind of people God qualifies to serve in various roles. Christians have differed on what qualifies a candidate to be elected to office, especially as we pray for righteous rulers. If we want to be biblical, there is a clear difference between the job description of a civil servant and a church leader.
The unique qualifications for church leaders (deacons, overseers, elders) are stated in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1:6-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-3. Some of the many character qualities required of these servants are being above reproach, temperate and self-controlled, teachable, good managers of their household, not lovers of money, respectable to outsiders, and upright in character. The expectations of holy and righteous conduct is clearly described throughout these passages.
It is evident that those whom the Lord calls to lead the Church are held to a high standard. They, and their families, must demonstrate godly character and a life of integrity that upholds biblical values. Their role is to bring the lost into the kingdom (Mat 18:16-20), disciple believers into holiness and godliness (1 Tm 4:6-11), and to mature the Bride of Christ (Eph 4:12-16). In all the descriptors, it is clear that God expects high moral character and purity of heart in those who lead His church.
However, the Bible refers to civil servants differently. Rather than a list of qualifications, the Lord details how He will use governmental leaders to accomplish His purposes. In Romans 13:1-6 and 1 Peter 2:13-14, the role of governing authorities within human institutions describes a different kind of leader. They are:
- God’s servant for the good of the people
- A terror to bad conduct, bearing the sword
- Avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer
- Ministers of God, attending to taxation of the people
- Sent by God to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good
These descriptions of how God will use civil leaders include no indications of personal morality or godliness being necessary. They are used by God, and in that sense are authorized by Him, yet their personal conduct and behavior is not mentioned. Their primary roles are to keep the people safe from harm, punish those who break the law, and reward those who do good. The authority granted to them is so strong that it should even bring “terror” (fear of the Lord) to those who break the laws of the land.
In Exodus 18:21-22 judges were appointed to govern the people. Their list of qualifications called for men who feared God, were trustworthy, and hated bribes. Again, their personal morality was not a factor, as much as their track record of being truthful, honest and God-fearing. King Cyrus (Isaiah 45) and the Pharaoh (Genesis 41) were both heathen rulers who recognized God at work and empowered the people of God to flourish and succeed. In both testaments, God’s purposes for governing rulers was to discern rightly, judge fairly, and follow the laws of the land so that all would thrive.
What does this mean in today’s political process? As believers, we can certainly pray that all our elected officials would fear the Lord and love God. At the same time, there will be those who do not follow Christ, yet have made the personal choice to honor those who do. Where their persona or public image seems less favorable to believers, we can look to the primary qualifications in Scripture to determine their ability to govern well. Unlike church leaders who must model Christ to the flock, civil government leaders are called to rule over those who are not yet saved and have no godly standard. This is what creates a society where believers can be free to exercise their faith and share the Gospel without hindrance.
Take President Trump, for example. Many would agree that he is not biblically qualified to lead a church. However, in assessing his accomplishments since taking office in 2017, he does qualify as a “governing authority.” Trump has consistently demonstrated his commitment to achieving the goals of a civil servant. In his promise to make the nation “great,” his economic policies and achievements have put many people back to work and revived many American-made industries bringing renewed hope and vigor to the workplace. He has taken initiative with hostile world leaders, not only making trade deals that were thought impossible, but demonstrating a God-given authority to those who seek to do us harm. His partnership with evangelical leaders and support for persecuted Christians around the world has displayed honor and appreciation for faith-driven initiatives and those who fear God. His track record, thus far, is showing a resolve to be an effective leader and powerful change agent in this nation for the good of the people.
Even as we continue to pray that our elected officials would have a life-changing encounter with Christ that influences their role, this is not a qualifying factor for them to lead effectively. Throughout history, God has consistently used leaders who may not have known Him, but still honored those who do (Gen 41, Neh 8, Is 45, Acts 26:30-32). We must pray for our current president and those who govern this land. Let’s not disqualify them simply because they may not pass the litmus test for church leaders. Their roles are different as are their job descriptions. We can still rest our faith in God’s ability and intent to use them for our good and for His glory.
- Pray that all elected officials and those running for office would have a life-changing encounter with Christ. (Pr 2:1-8)
- Pray for our civil government authorities to rule with impartiality, fairness, and integrity while honoring people of faith and biblical values. (Ps 2:10-11)
- Thank God for President Trump and his initiatives to support and embrace biblical Christian values (Phil 1:4-6).
- Pray for our church leaders to embrace their call with the fear of the Lord, demonstrating godly character and strong leadership for the sake of the Kingdom. (Ps 78:72)