A Message to Our Newly (Re)Elected Officials: You Won! Now What?
The election season is over. For some voters, going to the polls was merely a civic duty. For others, voting was a matter of stewardship and understanding that God gives us this American privilege, and we will be held accountable for every vote we cast.
But my real focus of this article is not on voters, but rather it’s a message to the newly elected (or reelected) officials.
God has given me the opportunity (and sobering responsibility) to meet and get to know dozens of politicians, from councilmen to several presidential candidates. While I’m no longer active in political endeavors, many of these friends or acquaintances were elected to office this last cycle. These offices range from school board members to U.S. senators and many offices in between.
So with this as a backdrop, the following verse jumped out at me this week from the book of Daniel:
“For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” —Daniel 4:17
The Instruction Manual
The book of Daniel is the instruction manual on how Christians in government should behave. Daniel also illustrates to believers how we should respond to government, particularly adversarial ones.
As we read this manual, for guidance both in civics and governance, it’s important to understand that the government officials we are introduced to in Daniel are both followers of the one true God as well as pagans (followers of someone or something other than the one true God). In addition to Daniel, there are many other books and passages in the Bible that offer insights into God’s view of government officials and their role in serving Him.
God Elevates Both Believers and Unbelievers to Government
This is the first principle that each recently elected government official should understand. Regardless of whether or not you believe in and follow God, it is God that has given you the victory you are celebrating. It’s not the voters. It’s Him. Sure, the voters all cast a vote, some for you and some against you.
But ascribing your victory to voters is akin to thanking a courier who hands you the keys to your new car that your rich uncle just bought for you. Your uncle deserves the acknowledgement and thanks, not the courier.
God’s providing kingdoms “to anyone he chooses — even to the lowliest of people” affirms this principle. So whether you were elected the county dog catcher or the president of the United States, God has lent you the office to test your stewardship. That’s not only an awesome opportunity but, more importantly, a sobering responsibility. You will be held accountable, not merely by the voters but, more importantly, by God Almighty.
God Is Testing Your Humility (or Pride)
In Daniel, we read about the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon and a powerful ruler of his day. But with that power we also see a man who grew very proud. We read in Daniel 4:30 these words:
“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’”
If ever there was a man who embodied the spirit of the “self-made” man, King Nebuchadnezzar was that man. Note how his power led to pride. (And we’ll find out in our next principle what the king’s pride led to.)
It’s a very difficult task to resist the temptation of pride. Power and pride seem to go hand in hand. So as someone is elevated to a position of power who was a “no one” or perhaps a “lesser one” before his election, it’s so easy to become prideful in that newfound position. A politician can easily look at himself as important. As special. As above others. As privileged. As deserving.
But all those attitudes are not only false, they are pride whispering lies to us. It’s incumbent on you as an elected official to resist such temptations and rebuke those attitudes. But if you fail this test, you will soon experience the warning from Proverbs 16:18, where we’re told:
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”
How many politicians do you know that seem to struggle with pride? If we’re all honest though, this is a sin many of us have succumbed to in our own lives. So Mr/Ms Politician, resist this huge temptation that comes to all of us, but particularly those with power. If you don’t, you may find yourself experiencing the next principle.
Pride Leads to Bad Stuff
I suppose I could have been more “sophisticated” in describing this principle, but “bad stuff” really is the result of pride in the life of an elected official. The prophet Daniel, who was also a high government official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, warned the king of what would occur if he took credit for “his” achievements versus ascribing any success to God. Note Daniel’s warning:
“You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses… King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” —Daniel 4:25, 27
Sadly though, this is what occurred when Nebuchadnezzar refused to heed God’s warning, spoken through Daniel:
“… A voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” —Daniel 4:31-32
What a great fall King Nebuchadnezzar experienced! From the height of world power to the lowliness of an animal — simply because he allowed the spirit of pride to rule in his life.
It’s uncanny, but should not be surprising, that 600 years later, Jesus, the Son of the Voice from heaven who spoke to Nebuchadnezzar, reminded us again of the repercussions of pride in our lives:
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” —Luke 14:11
So be sure of this, elected official. Pride will tempt you, but you can resist it in your live, and as you do, and take the less-traveled path of humility, God will exalt you, according to Jesus, God’s Son.
Nebuchadnezzar’s own life is a reflection of this reality, for when the king finally humbled himself and acknowledged the One who had exalted him to begin with, this is what the king had to say:
“After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” —Daniel 4:34, 36-37
We’ve all heard of the “servant leadership” principle. It’s a teaching that’s hip these days and often promoted in corporate entities. But long before motivational coaches latched onto this truth, Jesus had this to say about the role servant leadership should play in all of our lives, including elected officials:
“But Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” —Matthew 20:25-27
Having been around elected officials for many, many years now, I have seen a spirit that is often anything but “servant leadership.” The head tables, the honored seats, and the best of everything is always reserved for politicians. And yet the elite status most politicians enjoy is entirely at odds with their self-assigned title of “servants of the people.”
So if you were just elected and want to be different and break the political mold, what if you were to truly embrace the idea of “servant leadership” in your elected role? Perhaps one antidote against the pride that will lead to destruction and fall is to simply commit oneself to truly being a servant in practice versus simply in words.
There are at least two reasons to do so. The first is because Jesus modeled such leadership, and what better person to pattern our lives after than the Son of God? But there is another reason, and it has to do with future rewards:
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” —Matthew 20:16
God’s Elevating of an Individual Does NOT Suggest He Endorses That Individual
We often misunderstand God’s actions and choices, assuming that because He places certain individuals in positions of authority, God must then endorse such an individual. This fallacy has been a huge stumbling block for Christians, particularly over the last couple years. But this could not be further from the truth, as taught throughout Scripture.
God elevates individuals to positions of authority for several reasons, including 1) to achieve God’s greater plan, 2) to test that individual, 3) to punish, test, or refine those who are under the ruler’s authority, or some other purposes. We cannot always be certain of God’s reasons, but we can know this:
“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:9
We also know that at times God will even elevate evil or immoral rulers to achieve His greater plan. But when that plan is achieved, God will discard the ruler when he does not turn to God and acknowledge His sovereignty. The examples of the numerous kings of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament are an affirmation of this principle, as God used both good and evil kings to continue to advance His objectives. But as soon as God finished with an immoral ruler, God always discarded him.
So the lesson any elected official should learn from this truth is that God’s selection of you for the office you now hold is not necessarily an endorsement of you, your political solutions, your ambitions, or even your character. Rather, He has placed you there for His purposes. So it’s incumbent on every elected official to ask these questions:
Why did God elevate me?
What does He want to achieve through me?
How can I best serve God in this capacity?
Am I ready to give account to Him for my actions in my current position?
All these questions require one particular attitude that we referenced earlier: Humility.
In closing, I trust as you assume the new office or term, which you have been given for a brief moment, that you will ponder these truths from God’s Word. I trust you will acknowledge Whom it is that elevated you, that you will remain humble, that you will truly model servant leadership, and that you will never assume that God endorses all you do, simply because He has granted you this position of authority.
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when He, as the Son of God, stood before the government official who had been lent the power of life or death:
“Then Jesus said, "You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” —John 19:11
So if your authority is given to you by God Himself, then this should be your response:
“What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” —1 Corinthians 4:7
Blessings to you as you move into what has often been portrayed as “The Swamp.” But in reality, it may be your greatest opportunity and responsibility to:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” —Matthew 5:16
(If you know an elected official and agree with this message, would you forward this to him/her?)