Justice And Character in Politics

By Phillip G. Kayser · 9/3/2015

I was asked to write a short post on what the Bible said about the minimal qualifications for political office. The shortest statement in the Bible is given in 2 Samuel 23:3, which says, “He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3). Notice the “must.” There can be no lower standard than a commitment to God’s law (the standard for justice) and a genuine reverence for God (the foundation for personal character).

That God’s law is the continuing standard for justice can be seen from numerous passages. Romans 13:1 says, “There is no authority if not from God” (literal Greek). Authority comes in a chain of command, and if civil officers ignore God’s law, they have automatically stepped out of the chain of command, and thus lose authority for what they are doing. Deuteronomy 33:21 says that “a lawgiver’s portion” is to have “administered the justice of the LORD.” If there is no law above the state by which its laws can be judged, then it is meaningless for Scripture to condemn a “throne of iniquity which devises evil by statute” (Ps. 94:20).

Nazi war criminals argued that they were obeying the highest law of the land, so by definition their actions could not be crimes. But the Nuremberg War Crimes court knew better. They knew that there is a law that stands above all human statutes and that judges all human statutes as either good or evil. Isaiah 42:4 prophesies of Messiah that “He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.” Throughout the Scripture justice is defined by God’s law.

But 2 Samuel 23:3 says that being “just” is not enough – one must also rule in the fear of God. Since the Bible insists that “by the fear of the LORD one departs from evil” (Prov. 16:6), the fear of the LORD is the foundation for one’s character. Having a good law-standard for the nation is not enough – one must also administer it with exemplary character. As Paul worded it, “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8). A politician is a hypocrite if he seeks to impose God’s law on society but does not have that law written on his own heart (Deut. 6:6; 17:20; 32:46-47; 1 Kings 8:61; Ezra 7:10; Deut. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; 10:16). Both justice and character matter.

Consider the following character qualifications required of rulers in the Bible. During dark times they are required to be models[1] of what statesmen should look like. Biblically, our public officials must display exemplary qualities of honesty,[2] integrity,[3] reliability,[4] moral uprightness,[5] fidelity,[6] prudence,[7] temperance,[8] justice,[9] fortitude,[10] self-restraint,[11] humility before God,[12] and courage.[13] If they cannot be trusted in private life, neither can they be trusted in public life.[14] Character matters.

When examining candidates for office, keep God’s two minimal qualifications in mind: “He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3).

  1. 1Sam. 22:14; 2Sam. 23:4; 1Kings 9:4; 11:6; 15:3,11; 2Kings 14:3; 16:2; 18:3; 22:2; Prov. 29:12; Heb. 11:2

  2. Ex 18:21; Pr 16:10; 17:7; 29:10,12,14

  3. 1Kings 3:6; 9:4; Job 1:1,8; 2:3; Ps. 9:8; 58:1; Prov. 29:10

  4. 1Chron. 28:7; 2Chron. 16:7; 19:9; Pr 20:28; Is 16:5

  5. 1Kings 9:4; 2 Ch 9:8; Ps. 58:1; Ps 45:7; Pr 16:12; 17:15; 25:5; 28:4; 29:2, 27; Is 11:4f; 16:5; 32:1; 51:4; 56:1; Jer 21:12; 22:2–5; Ezek 18:11–13, 15–17

  6. 1Sam. 22:14; Is. 1:26; Prov. 31:3

  7. 1Sam. 16:18; 2Chron. 2:12; Prov. 22:3

  8. Ex 18:21; Pr 28:16; 31:4-7

  9. Deut. 16:18; 33:21; 2Sam. 8:15; 23:3; 1Kings 10:9; Prov. 8:15; 29:4; Is. 32:1; Mic. 3:9

  10. 1Sam. 2:10; 1Chron. 22:13; 2Chron. 19:11

  11. Prov. 25:28; Acts 24:25

  12. Ex. 18:21; 2Sam. 23:3; 2Chron. 12:6; 19:7,9; Ecc. 12:14; Zech. 9:9

  13. Deut. 1:17; Josh. 8:1; 1Chron. 22:13; 2Chron. 19:11

  14. 1Sam. 13:8-15; 15:10-26; 1Kings 9:4; 11:37-38