For weeks now we have been bombarded in the media and on the internet with campaigning by the political candidates for the upcoming presidential elections. It seems that we are at an extremely crucial point in the history of our nation. Our citizens are becoming more and more polarized, and it isn’t so much over the issues of immigration or the economy or how to fight terrorism, but it is over spiritual and moral values. There is quite obviously a fierce spiritual battle being fought over control of this nation, which has long been a lighthouse of hope to other nations and people in the world.
Today people will gather—weather permitting (blizzards are expected)—in the state of Iowa in political caucuses to show their support for their favorite candidates. What they are looking for in a presidential candidate will be revealed by how they vote. Just what is it that we should look for in a person that qualifies them to lead our nation, or for that matter, our state, our county or our city, or our church? What makes a good leader? Is it just someone who agrees with our political bias and our world view? Or is there more?
Although God had intended for the Israelites to have a “theocracy” where they were solely dependent upon and submissive to God as their leader, they insisted that they have a king like the other nations. They came to Samuel, the circuit-riding judge and religious leader, and said, “Behold you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations” (I Sam. 8:4.5). Samuel was upset with their request and talked to the LORD about it (vv. 4-6). The LORD said to Samuel: “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (v. 7). The LORD told Samuel to warn the people of what would happen if they chose to have an earthly king like other nations (vv. 10-18). In spite of Samuel’s warning, “Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, ‘No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…” (vv. 19,20). The LORD told Samuel to go ahead and appoint them a king of the people’s choosing (v. 22).
So, whom did the people choose and why did they pick whom they did? Well, the narrative in I Samuel goes on to say, “Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish…and he had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people” (9:1,2). Saul became the people’s choice, after all he was the tallest, best looking young man in all Israel. Surely he will make a great king! And the Spirit of God even enabled him to be a good leader (10:6,9). But soon Saul became disobedient to God and was disqualified from his position of leadership and Samuel said to him: “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God…your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (I Sam. 13:13,14). Notice that God’s choice was of “a man after His own heart.” Then God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint the new king (I Sam. 16:1). Jesse brought seven of his eight sons to Samuel, but the LORD indicated it was none of them. He said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (16:7). So, Jesse sent for his youngest who was out tending the sheep. David was brought before Samuel, who anointed him as the future king of Israel. He even made a covenant with David, establishing his throne forever (I Chr. 17:11-14).
Obviously to God, character matters. Was David perfect? Goodness no! He made some grave mistakes and it cost him dearly, but he repented and returned to walking with God because he was “a man after God’s own heart.” All future kings of Judah/Israel were compared to David. If they were godly, it is said of them, that they walked in the ways of David. For example, we read in II Chr. 17:3,4): “And the LORD was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the example of his father David’s earlier days and did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father and followed his commandments…” We also read about Josiah (who became king at age eight!): “And he did right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left”” (II Chr. 34:1,2).
Unfortunately, we are most often a lot like the Israelites who demanded a king and based their choice on appearance, not character. It is obvious, from not only a biblical standpoint, but from an historical one, that character really does matter when it comes to picking leaders. The Bible gives us some very explicit instructions, for example, when selecting church leaders, we are to look for men with these characteristics: “above reproach, the husband of one wife (i.e., a one-woman-man), temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money, one who manages his own household well…and he must have a good reputation with those outside the church” (I Tim. 3:1-7). We have a similar list in Titus 1:6-9).
So, as you listen to the candidates who are running for office, be sure to consider, not just their promises to jumpstart the economy or to protect our country, but consider their character— their integrity and moral and spiritual values. Because character really counts. It counts to God, so it should count to us as well. When God measures the man, he puts the tape around the heart, not the head. The true measure of a man is the height of his ideal, the breadth of his sympathy, the depth of his convictions and the length of his patience. What you are beats what you have any day. A person’s character reveals what he or she really believes about life. “Outwardly, character reflects an inner life committed to honor and uncompromising integrity” (Tony Dungy). Our character should be a reflection of God’s character. Our character is determined not only by what we do, but how we respond to what is done to us. Our response provides the most powerful testimony to the kind of person we are.