When I first taught this study at the U.S. Senate, one senator quickly brought up the fact that political leaders are in an industry where millions of dollars are spent on opposition research with the intent of destroying their reputations — and that at this very moment people are in a basement somewhere trying to come up with ways to attack their credibility!
That is a sobering thought, and unfortunately in American politics today, it is a verifiable reality.
How then does a political leader live above reproach when serving in public office? What does the Word of God teach us about this subject? Should an elected official live every day in anxiety, worrying about people in basements plotting to spin information to damage their opponents?
Let’s search the Scriptures on this matter and see what God has for us.
The Apostle Paul lists 14 characteristics that must be considered when men are appointed to church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Paul provides this information to his protégé Timothy after he installs him as the senior pastor at the church in Ephesus.
First on Paul’s list is someone who is above reproach. In verse 7, Paul concludes with the same directive. Note these two respective passages:
“An overseer, then, must be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2).
“And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church” (1 Timothy 3:7).
To clarify Paul’s word choice, he is not saying a person must be perfect in order to lead in the church; he does not say, “An overseer, then, must be perfect.” For all have sinned, states Romans 3:23 (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:20). We all — even pastors — have our struggles with our sin-laden, fallen, old fleshly nature, even post-salvation.
What Paul is saying is that the line of demarcation for those qualified to lead versus those who are not is determined by this: Does personal sin rise to the level of a public scandal?
All are to check their sin at the door, so to speak, and never give in to it, especially to the point where it becomes a public scandal. And if we fail in that regard, Scripture tells us we are not fit to lead. A church leader cannot be guilty of a public scandal and have any sense of moral authority.
While the 14 characteristics Paul lists are mandated for church leaders, the book of Proverbs teaches that the same qualities should be used to determine those who lead in government.
The New Testament books of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are known as the pastoral epistles. They were written in part to ascertain if someone is qualified to lead in God’s institution of the church. In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, Solomon is instructing his son Rehoboam in principles for effective state leadership.
Notice the following parallel passages to 1 Timothy 3:2 and 7, pertaining to the necessity of a good reputation to lead in the state as well:
“So you will find favor and a good repute in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4).
“A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
Being above reproach is an indispensable quality — it is mandatory — in order to be effective in leadership in a fallen world that is too often characterized and overwhelmed by its predilection for sin and evil.
This Bible study also extensively quotes the Scriptures to show how to be above reproach and maintain that standard, including:
“In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Timothy 4:6).
The Word of God — if studied in a disciplined manner as a habit of one’s life, i.e., if you are “constantly nourished on the words of the faith” — will empower your life. Why and how is that? Hebrews 4:12 states more specifically in this regard:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Proverbs 3:1-4 is an apt summary of how to live a life above reproach. Notice that having a good reputation is a result of obeying the first verses:
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.”
So you will find favor and good repute do not come from seeking a good reputation. It is a result of walking closely with God and complying with his commandments. Coach John Wooden used to always say, “Work on your character, not your reputation.” I think he got that advice from Proverbs!
Focus on your relationship with Christ; habitually study, memorize, meditate on and apply his Word in and to your life. Then he will take care of your good reputation. In addition, be committed to weekly Bible study with colleagues to be strengthened by one another and have a sense of accountability.
Much more is covered in the full study. Click here to read it.
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