Should Leaders Be Held To A Higher Standard?


Recently channel four in Nashville asked some of its viewers to respond to the question, "Should political leaders, specifically presidents, be held to a higher standard than other people?"  That question encourages us to ask other questions.  What "other people" did the announcers have in mind? What do they mean by "a higher standard?"  Are leaders expected to raise the political, moral and spiritual atmosphere of the nation?  If our leaders are unscrupulous, greedy and sexually immoral, will their conduct have any influence on the young people and older people of our nation?  Does it matter how people-including our leaders-live? Please think seriously about these questions as I examine with you the question: "Should Leaders Be Held to a Higher Standard Than Other People?"


It is appropriate to ask in the very beginning of our lesson today: "What does it mean to be a leader?"  Does it simply mean that he will have the political authority and power to lead a community or state or nation?  Are there no moral requirements of leadership?  If there are no moral standards a leader ought to honor, what would prevent his being a liar, a perjurer, an adulterer, a thief and a deceiver?  All Americans must realize that personality and popularity do not translate into moral authority.  A leader should be a man of impeccable moral standing-a man whose word is his bond.  Otherwise, you never know when or whether to depend on what he is saying.  The American people deserve to know whether to believe their leaders.


I am fully aware that many leaders in our world could care less about the teaching of scripture on any topic, including what is says about leadership.  In fact, I heard one political leader from Memphis, Tennessee, say: "I placed my hand on the Bible to defend the Constitution.  I did not place my hand on the Constitution to defend the Bible."  How should we understand such thinking?  Is he arguing that the moral values of the Bible mean nothing to a politician?  Did he mean that he would do whatever it takes to win-both for himself and for his political party?  That attitude has brought us to a place in American life where anything goes-in politics, in business, and even in religion.  Dr. John's MacArthur's book, Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes Like the World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1993), shows how "pragmatism ultimately defines truth as that which is useful, meaningful, and helpful" (p. xii of the Preface).  If an idea does not appear workable to us, we reject it as being false--regardless of its truthfulness.


I have mentioned the Bible because I want to tell you some of what it says about leadership.  The author of the book of Hebrews includes two verses that deal with leadership.  Will you please listen carefully?  "Remember them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation (or manner of life)" (Heb. 13:7).  Leaders are to so conduct themselves that their constituents can imitate their conduct.  If leaders-whether political or otherwise are known liars, adulterers or drunks, they will have an adverse influence on their followers, especially on their young followers.  Should we not hold corrupt leaders responsible for the deterioration of America's moral values?


The author of Hebrews also writes: "Obey them who have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they who must give an account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable unto you" (Heb. 13:17).  Our political leaders are responsible for keeping our people safe from foreign intruders.  Is that their only responsibility?  Should they have any concern for the safety of families-not just their physical safety-but their moral safety as well?  Should they oppose obscenity on the Internet?  How can our leaders allow so-called "adult bookstores" in our communities?  Do they not know that salacious literature and movies just as surely harm our citizens-both old and young-as alcohol and other drugs do?  Or do they care about the moral atmosphere of our communities, so long as they stay in power?  Do our leaders realize that they will have to give an account to God almighty for the moral laws they have broken and have set the tone for others to break?


As most of you know, the nation of Israel was a theocracy.  The word "theocracy" comes from two Greek words: theos, meaning God, and kratein, meaning to rule.  Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theolology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984) edited by Walter Elwell of Wheaton College defines "theocracy" to mean: "The law of the king recognizes the ultimate control of the Lord God" (p. 1083).  That says that every leader in a theocracy is God-appointed and is expected to rule according to God's laws.  America is not a theocracy and by definition cannot be.  But we should be able to learn much from studying the leaders under the Old Testament theocracy.


Basically, there were four types of leaders under the Mosaic law-kings, prophets, priests and military leaders.  These men were supposed to govern the Jews and keep them from harm.  Since they were God-ordained leaders, they were not free to rule according to their own consciences but according to the law of God.  When they failed either in their personal behavior or in their professional duties-they had to give an account to God almighty.  Do I need to remind you of David's stupid behavior with Bathsheba?  His adultery was not excused on the basis of his being the king or being such a handsome and desirable man.  Through the prophet Nathan, God strongly condemned king David, the man after God's own heart.  No excuse can be offered-no excuse for David's adultery or for any other man's adultery.  And it is unthinkable that Nathan would have said to David, "If we place too much emphasis on sexual fidelity, we may be guilty of idolatry."


Jeremiah 23 constitutes one of the strongest indictments of leaders to be found in sacred or in secular literature.  Is it significant that the emphasis is not about the economic status of Israel?  The Lord's major concern is about the moral environment of the nation-not about the physical environment.  The emphasis in this scorching chapter is on the moral values and conduct of the leaders.  Time will not permit me to read the entire chapter, although I urge you to read it carefully.  Read it with our own nation and its leaders in mind.  Please listen to a few excerpts from Jeremiah 23.  "Woe unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.  Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed my people: You have driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the Lord" (Jer. 23: 1-2).  Have our national leaders provided us with examples of good moral conduct or have they led us farther away from the moral values that made this nation great? We may be a richer people than was true a few years ago, but are we a better people?


The prophet Jeremiah again speaks to the Israelites: "My heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunk man, and like a man whom wine has overcome, because of the Lord, and because of the words of his holiness.  For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourns: the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their might is not right.  For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness" (Jer. 23: 9-11).  If God were concerned about the corruption among the leaders in the ancient nation of Israel, does he not care about the lying and adultery of America's political leaders?  If a political leader would not know the truth if he met it in the street, should Americans continue to trust him?  Is he the kind of example we want our political leaders to set for our children and young people?


Jeremiah continued his denunciation of the Israelite leaders.  "I have seen also in the prophets a horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none returns from his wickedness; they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.  Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets; Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall: for from the prophets is pollution gone forth into all the land" (Jer. 23:14-15).  These inspired words from Jeremiah ought to convince all honest and concerned citizens of the tragedy of corrupt leadership.  I know there is a difference between the government of ancient Israel and the government of the United States, but should we not learn from these Old Testament teachings?  Paul urged the Romans to think seriously about the events recorded in the Old Testament.  "Whatsoever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4).


Many of the leaders in Israel were more interested in their own welfare than in the welfare of the people of God.  The prophet Ezekiel, a younger contemporary of Jeremiah' could not have been more blunt in criticizing the shepherds in Israel for their greed than what he wrote in Ezekiel 34.  "Thus says the Lord God against the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves!  Should not the shepherds feed the flock?  You eat the fat, and you clothe yourselves with the wool, you kill them that are fed: but you feed not the flock....Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; as I live, says the Lord God, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock.; therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the Lord; thus says the Lord God; behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease feeding my flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them" (Ezek. 34:2-3, 7-10).


The sad truth is: Many of our public servants are more interested in getting as much from their offices as they possibly can get.  They may enter public office with high moral values and with the desire to aid their constituents, but when they see other people's hands in the till, they are tempted to dip into the public treasury also.  The tragedy is that we let them get by with stealing from the public.  Some who have gotten caught are serving time in prison, but the majority of them never get caught or they are never prosecuted.  Why cannot our public servants learn from the scriptures I have read to you from the Old Testament?  I suspect most of them know what they are doing is wrong, but they are not going to allow their consciences to prevent their feathering their own nests.  Should not voters be more discriminating and more concerned about the candidate's character than about party loyalty?  Or is that a pipe dream?


The number of righteous and dedicated kings among the Israelite people can be numbered on the fingers of one hand.  Maybe that is an exaggeration, but not much.  One of the most discouraging studies of leadership you can make is to read the lives of the kings of both Judah and Israel.  Just recently I preached at West Fayetteville on the foolish mistakes of Rehoboam.  Studying his life ought to provide valuable information for leaders-whether political, educational, business or religious.  Rehoboam relied on the advice of his young counselors.  Because of his behavior, he lost ten tribes in the north to one of Israel's most obnoxious kings-Jereboam I.  All leaders ought to have the good sense to seek counsel from the very wisest men and women they can find.  How very foolish to consult people who have not had time and opportunity to learn what is really important!


Manasseh, the son of good king Hezekiah, ranks high on the scale of abominable creatures.  His fifty-two year reign brought depravity to the nation.  A few brief excerpts from 2 Kings will provide some insight into the evil Manasseh brought on God's people.  As I read these statements, please apply what I am reading to our current situation.  Manasseh "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel" (2 Kings 2 1: 1-2).  Do you remember what great evil Manasseh did that angered the Lord so much?  "He made his sons pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger" (2 Kings 21:6).  When a king or other leader commits such grievous crimes and sins, the people he should be leading have to suffer also.  Please listen to the Lord.  "Because Manasseh king of Judah had done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols: therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such calamity upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle....I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies" (2 Kings 21:11-12, 14).


Few kings in the history of the world have been more thoroughly evil than Ahab.  One statement from the Old Testament defines the kind of man Ahab was.  "And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him" (1 Kings 16:30).  I shall briefly outline some of his wicked deeds, but before I do, I want you to listen carefully to inspiration's attitude toward Ahab.  "It came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jereboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him" (1 Kings 16:31).  What the inspired writer is saying must not be overlooked.  Ahab was crooked, debauched, greedy and foolish, and in addition to all those bad qualities, he married Jezebel.  His marriage to Jezebel made Ahab immeasurably worse.


Ahab, aided and inspired by the first lady in Israel, stole the vineyard of Naboth and had Naboth murdered.  I am not speaking of an ordinary "Joe" in the nation of Israel.  I am talking to you about the king of God's people and about his queen.  The two of them had absolutely no respect for man or God.  They were determined to have their way regardless of the cost.  The cost in this case was the death of a good man.  But that could not happen in the United States of America, could it?  It occurs in many nations of our world, including our country.  As this transcript is being prepared, a man is being tried here in Tennessee for killing a state representative whose position the alleged killer wanted.


            To make matters worse, Ahab and Jezebel despised the great prophet Elijah, just as many modern leaders despise those who challenge the evil they do.  God charged Elijah to find Ahab and speak to him as follows: "Have you killed and also taken possession? And you shall speak unto him, saying, Thus says the Lord, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your blood, even yours."  You can imagine how that language angered Ahab.  "And Ahab said to Elijah, Have you found me, O my enemy" (1 Kings 21:19-20)?  What an inexcusable example of hard-heartedness!  Ahab was the king over God's people.  Elijah was God's spokesman.  But Ahab in his rebellion against God refused to hear the messages God sent Elijah to deliver to him.  There is more I would like to say about Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel, but time will not permit it today.


The question with which I began this lesson today is: "Should leaders be held to a higher standard?"  If you have listened carefully, you should have no difficulty answering that question.  Of course, leaders should be held to a higher standard or why call them "leaders?"  Does that mean they should be perfect men?  If it means that, there will never be any leaders in the nation, in the home, in business or in the church.  There are no perfect people, but that is a far cry from what we witness on the part of leaders in our nation.  Even some religious leaders are in prison because they were greedy and violated the law by stealing money from their followers.  What an absolute tragedy when those who are supposed to help us actually hinder us!


But we must not forget that much of the blame for corrupt leadership rests with us-the followers.  When we vote crooks into office, we should not be surprised when they continue to be crooks.  As Americans, we must be concerned about the future of our nation.  We must use every means at our disposal to put the very best men and women in office.  Then we must hold them accountable for being honest.  We must not excuse their behavior because they belong to the party of which we are members.  If we do not take an interest in what is occurring in our nation, we have no basis for complaining when the nation becomes more ungodly.  We should also remember to pray for our leaders.  God demands that we do it (1 Tim. 2:1-2).


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334