What does the Bible say on the topic?
This is the fourth of a 5-part devotional series called Stewardship: A Biblical Model For Leadership
I want to open this devotional with something of an admission: writing about the topic of political leadership intimidates me. Not only because of the scope and weight of the topic–which is hefty in and of itself–but also because of the political climate in which we find ourselves.
When we start considering the question of what the Bible has to say about political leadership, and what we should expect from a leader, the conversation can quickly devolve into a back and forth of bad faith assumptions, or justification of one’s preferred leader with the flexibility worthy of an Olympic gymnast.
The range of this devotional is limited to the first four verses of Romans 13, and the first three verses of 1 Timothy 2, and so what we will discuss is limited as well. At the end of this devotional I will quickly mention what we owe leaders, but first I want to look at what these passages say about political authorities.
In Romans 13 we learn that all governing authorities are set in place by God (13:1); they are to promote good behavior and punish bad (13:3); that they are servants of God (13:4) with authority to carry out earthly judgment (13:4).
In 1 Timothy 2:1-3 we read that leaders can expect Christians to pray for, intercede on behalf of, and give thanks to God for them (2:1-2); that good political leadership results in people living peaceful and quiet lives (2:2) that are also dignified and godly (2:2). Lastly, the promotion by political leaders of this sort of life is pleasing to God.
Each of these passages places implicit expectations on our political leaders. As governing leaders they are set in place by God. The good they are to promote is given by God, and the bad they are to punish is decided by God. Political government was first instituted by God, and as such its ends are ultimately for his glory.
One of the functions of Scripture is that it holds up a mirror in front of us, exposing the sin and shortcomings in our lives. Quite often when we are introduced to our sin we respond with anger, resentment, or even retribution. If Scripture does this to Christians individually, and the Church corporately, we should not be surprised if, when we come to the topic of political leadership, it does the same for those God has placed in authority over us.
When mapped onto the world we inhabit, we see the disparities between what God expects and the fallen reality that exists. It is often easy for us to quickly point out the places our political leaders fail.
But just as Scripture exposes our sins and shortcomings, so does it display the excellencies of Christ. Any and every lack in our lives is met and fulfilled by Christ himself. As it is with us, so it is with our political leaders. When we see areas where our leaders are coming up short we should pray that the Holy Spirit would enter into their lives, equipping them with wisdom for any and every good work. And when we witness arenas in which our leaders are excelling, we should give thanks to God that he has granted us the blessing to live quiet and peaceful lives.
With this in mind, we should pray for our leaders and the execution of the task they have been assigned by God. And we should be obedient to them unless they forbid something God commands or command something God forbids.
More important than the accountability of the voting booth is the reality that our political leaders will stand before God one day and give account for how they ruled over a city, state, or country of image bearers. This is a great and fearsome responsibility. We should pray for the leaders God has given us and seek the flourishing of the land in which we live.
Rev. Will Stockdale is Ministry to State's Director of D.C. ministry.