As Christians, we are called to pray for our leaders and honor those God has placed in positions of authority over us. But what guidance does the Bible offer on what makes a good leader? Here we will explore key principles found in Scripture on leadership, politics, and government.
Throughout history, God has used both good and evil kings and rulers to accomplish His purposes. As Psalm 75:7 (NKJV) says, “But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another.” So while we are called to honor our earthly authorities, our ultimate allegiance belongs to God alone.
No human government or ruler can substitute for God’s authority. Yet God does ordain the rise and fall of nations and establishes governing rulers. As Romans 13:1 (NKJV) states, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
So what should we look for in a leader? What qualities make for a just and effective authority according to biblical standards? What type of character and conduct does God expect from those He places in power?
Below are key principles on leadership found in Scripture:
Key Takeaways on Leadership from the Bible:
- Leaders must be people of integrity who rule justly, not corruptly (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).
- Rulers should create laws that are fair and protect the rights of the poor and needy (Psalm 72:12-14).
- Authorities are called to serve the people under their charge, not exploit them for personal gain (Ezekiel 34:1-10).
- Leaders must administer justice without partiality or bribes (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).
- Governing rulers should create conditions for their people to live peaceful, quiet lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
- Followers are called to prayerfully honor and obey their leaders (Romans 13:1-7).
- Ultimately all earthly authorities will answer to God for how they led (Romans 14:11-12).
The rest of this post will expand on these key biblical principles for leadership at greater length. Read on for what the Word of God teaches concerning governance and the duties of those in power.
The Calling of Leaders
The Bible teaches that positions of authority are a calling from God, not merely human appointments. Romans 13:1 declares that “there is no authority except that which God has established” (NIV). Likewise, Proverbs 8:15-16 states, “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles – all who govern justly.”
Therefore, the role of a leader carries spiritual responsibilities. Authorities are called to serve as God’s ministers on earth, acting as His representatives. Their authority originates in and is delegated by God. As such, they will answer to Him for the use of their power.
This divine calling requires leaders to rule justly, not for selfish gain. They must seek the good of those they govern, not exploiting the people for personal profit. As Jesus explained, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26 ESV).
Like all believers, those in authority must recognize their position comes from God and exercise leadership accordingly. This requires humility, integrity and a servant mindset.
Judges Must Rule Justly
One of the most important duties God assigns human authorities is to maintain justice. This means establishing and enforcing laws that are fair, moral and right. As Moses charged the judges of Israel:
“Now listen to me! Teach and administer justice so that both you and those who come after you may prosper. Do not show partiality when rendering judgment; listen to small and great alike. Do not be intimidated by anyone, for judgment belongs to God” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17 CSB).
Likewise, King David exhorted his son Solomon when he ascended the throne, saying:
“Serve the Lord your God…observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him…and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to…keep the law of the Lord your God. Be strong and do the work” (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NIV).
Thus, a primary marker of an upright ruler is his commitment to govern justly, not self-servingly. This includes creating laws that are fair and equitable, without oppressing the poor and marginalized. Leviticus 19:15 declares, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”
Conversely, the Bible strongly condemns authorities who establish unjust laws or who “issue oppressive decrees” (Isaiah 10:1). God judges corrupt leaders who accept bribes and twist the legal system for personal gain (Ezekiel 22:12, 27). Oppressing the poor and needy through unfair laws and policies is a recurring cause for divine judgment throughout Scripture.
Leaders Must Protect the Vulnerable
A biblical test for any society is how the most vulnerable are treated. Thus, leaders who want to rule justly must use their power to defend the fatherless, the widow and the oppressed. The common thread in the law, prophets and wisdom books is God’s special concern for the downtrodden.
Psalm 72 offers a vision of the righteous king, under whom even “the poor will see justice” (v. 2). He “will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy” (v. 4). He will “rescue the weak and needy” (v. 12) and “have pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death” (v. 13). Rather than exploiting the vulnerable, he will redeem them.
Likewise, God condemned Israel’s rulers for neglecting this duty: “Your rulers are rebels, partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).
Jesus likewise defined his own messianic mission quoting Isaiah 61 – “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).
A society is not truly just unless the weak and marginalized have their rights protected and needs cared for. Biblical justice is never neutral – it always sides with the vulnerable.
Leaders Should Promote Peace and Welfare
The Bible recognizes that a society where people can live peaceful, quiet lives with freedom from fear is a blessing from God. It should be a goal and role of governments to promote such an environment. As the apostle Paul urged believers:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Note that Paul links the prayer for governmental authorities to its purpose – so that believers might live peaceful, quiet lives. Governments have a role, under God, in restraining evil and calming chaos. Likewise, Peter calls believers to:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14).
When leaders fulfill their purpose as a check on evil, they allow space for human flourishing. So we should desire authorities who promote just order and provide conditions for people to live wisely at peace with one another.
Corruption Must Be Confronted
While believers should honor their leaders, the Bible does not expect blind allegiance to governing authorities. Followers of God have a higher loyalty to Him and His standards for justice. Throughout Scripture, godly people resisted corrupt, exploitative and idolatrous governments in obedience to the Lord.
Moses defied Pharaoh in leading the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male Hebrew infants (Exodus 1:15-17). Daniel and his companions refused to bow to King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol, risking death in Babylon (Daniel 3:1-18). The apostles obeyed God rather than men in continuing to preach Christ despite authorities who ordered them to stop (Acts 5:17-42).
Therefore, there are justified occasions for defying governing powers: when obedience to God requires it and when those authorities directly contravene God’s moral law. As Peter declared before the Jewish rulers:
“We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead…We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:29-32).
Likewise, Jesus confronted the corrupt religious leaders of his day with righteous indignation, calling them hypocrites, blind guides and whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23). He obeyed the Father in exposing evil with truth and light, not turning a blind eye.
So while believers should generally honor their leaders and not resist government lightly, conscience may at times require resistance when authorities promote immorality or gross injustice. In such cases, followers of God must obey Him over earthly powers.
God Judges the Nations and Their Rulers
While governments have a divinely appointed role on earth, the Bible is clear that God alone is Sovereign over the nations. All earthly powers will ultimately answer to Him and face His judgment for how they used the authority entrusted to them.
The books of prophets contain piercing oracles against different nations and rulers whom God called to account for their wickedness. Isaiah 23 foretells the destruction coming against Tyre for its pride. Amos 1-2 pronounces God’s judgment on Damascus, Gaza, Edom and others for their injustices and brutality. Ezekiel 25-32 contains scathing rebukes of pagan powers like Egypt who will face God’s wrath.
Likewise, in Daniel 4 King Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind and kingdom for a period after boasting arrogantly of “my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty” (v. 30). Only after repenting and exalting God’s rule was his sanity and throne restored. His painful chastening served as a lesson that “the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (v. 32).
So too every authority that rejects God and exploits those it rules will ultimately reap judgment. Psalm 9:17 warns that “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” And Psalm 2 pictures the risen Messiah as the Son whom God sets over the nations to dash them in pieces like pottery if they continue in rebellion against Him (v. 9).
Therefore, all earthly rulers would be wise to heed God’s warning and servant example in governing justly. As Jesus told Pilate shortly before the crucifixion: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). All authority derives from God – and His standards for justice apply to every leader.
Guidelines for Followers of Leaders
As Christian citizens, how then should we relate to governing authorities over us, whether good or bad? Below are some key principles for followers of leaders gleaned from Scripture:
- Pray for your leaders, that they might govern wisely and justly (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
- Obey your authorities, unless their orders contradict God’s commands (Romans 13:1-7).
- Honor your leaders and be slow to anger or rebellion against them (Ecclesiastes 10:20).
- Speak truth to power with wisdom, dignity, and even prophetic boldness when needed (Acts 24:10).
- Practice humility and remember that all authority ultimately belongs to God (Daniel 4:17).
- Combat evil and injustice through spiritual and peaceful means (Ephesians 6:12).
- Be willing to suffer injustice patiently as Christ did, keeping your conscience clear (1 Peter 2:19-23).
- Remember your citizenship is in Heaven – your identity is in Christ, not any earthly nation (Philippians 3:20).
As believers, we live in the world but serve a greater King. Through prayer and gospel witness, we are called to be salt and light amid the darkness. So we submit to authorities where conscience permits, while using peaceful means to stand for truth and oppose injustice.
The Bible offers much wisdom relevant for evaluating leaders today. God cares deeply about justice, integrity, care for the vulnerable and governing with wisdom and humility. These values should be reflected in any society that honors Him. Where present in a nation, they lead to human flourishing. Where absent, they lead ultimately to divine judgment.
As Christians, our duty is to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – including through those He appoints as leaders over us. While flawed, used by God, leaders can help restrain evil and promote good. So we must pray for discernment to elect leaders of character who will pursue just policies. And we must model Christlike, servant leadership in whatever sphere of influence we have.
May God grant us wisdom in an age of political turmoil and confusion. Christ alone is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. All earthly powers will answer to Him in the end. So we follow Him – in life, word and action – as citizens of heaven shining light into the darkness.