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The Character of the King

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

The small group I’m in recently finished reading 1 and 2 Kings. The text repeatedly evaluates kings for whether they do “right” or “evil in the eyes of the Lord.” In Israel, bad kings are “following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit” (1 Kings 15:34 NIV), while in Judah, a king either does or doesn’t follow God “as his father David had done” (1 Kings 15:11 NIV). Eventually, bad kings led both nations into such egregious sin that God allowed them to be conquered.

The Bible doesn’t shy away from telling us the mistakes good kings made—David is equally famous for being a man after God’s own heart and infamous for his flagrant sins, which God hardly wants us to copy. Yet the kings who followed God brought blessing to their people. Reading all that history leads to an overwhelming impression: the character of the king matters.

The difficulty is, that truth doesn’t apply in the same way to us today. Israel was a theocracy, while the US is not. God promised the nation of Israel specific rewards and punishments, but the terms of our relationship with him changed after the new covenant of Jesus.

Americans have a say in who our leaders are, so we also have the responsibility to choose wisely. Fortunately, God promises to give wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5), and James tells us what it looks like:

[T]he wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (3:16-17 NIV)

One practical step that I am trying to embrace is from the first chapter of Eugene Cho’s Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: “Thou shalt not go to bed with political parties.” Our current system encourages tribalism—once you pick a side, it pressures you to accept all of its ideas, even though we know that no party ever has a corner on God’s truth.

Tim Keller wisely writes, “thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum.” That feeling of “political homelessness” (another great opinion piece) unnerves me, but it fits right in with people whose citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20).

We all come to our own conclusions about what policies are wise and which candidates we think will best implement them. Yet more important is how we engage with one another. Christians need to be wary of valuing civility over truth (“more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” as MLK says in Letter from Birmingham Jail), but our behavior should be noticeably different from the world.

Keeping in mind James’s description of heavenly wisdom… When we talk with people (or interact on social media), are we considerate, submissive, and humble? quick to listen and slow to speak? When we read voter pamphlets and ads, are we impartial and peace-loving? When we consider which policies to support, are we sincere and full of mercy? Other translations describe being “without hypocrisy” (NKJV), “open to reason” (ESV), or “willing to yield” (NLT). Above all, do we seek God’s wisdom and listen for his answer?

To achieve such wisdom, Christians must rely on the character of the King—Jesus.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2 NIV)

I don’t believe that being “of one mind” means we all have to agree on policy, but it does mean we must all be honestly striving for the same goal: serving God. In his power, because of his love, we Christians can be one in spirit, which will speak volumes to the people around us.

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