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SBC LIFE (ISSN 1081-8189), Volume 23, Number 2, © 2014 Southern Baptist Convention, Executive Committee


November 1998 Issue

Does Character Count?
A Biblical Treatment
by Adrian Rogers

"Vice is a monster of such awful mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen, but seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace."

Our nation is in crisis and as a minister of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, I feel I must address this matter!

We cannot, we dare not, we must not, and we shall not ignore what is happening in America today. Some terrible and shocking accusations have been made against the President of our beloved republic. It is our duty as Americans and as Christians to pray that truth will be revealed and justice administered.

In this article I want to address not so much the crisis at the highest levels of our government, but the bigger and even more disturbing crisis at the level of everyday American life where most of us live. Let me explain what I mean.

Whenever charges are brought against one in high office, as we are witnessing in our nation in these days, there are three basic categories of response on the part of the people.

The first category comprises those people who are absolutely and totally convinced that the charges are true, and that the President is guilty, even before all the facts are in.

All of us may have an opinion on the charges, but every man in America is due his day in court. The Bible says, "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is a folly and shame unto him" (Prov. 18:13).

A second category is made up of people who are absolutely and totally convinced that the charges are not true, and that the President is not guilty, even before all the facts are in.

These are the people who believe the charges in question are fabrications, nothing more than a horrible, partisan political conspiracy to smear the accused. When the person under charge declares his innocence, this second group is ready to believe him.

Then there is a third response to serious moral and ethical charges against a person in high office. This is the group I want to talk about, because it is here that America's shocking, degrading moral crisis rears its ugly head.

This third group of people are those who, instead of saying the accused is guilty or innocent, say, "SO WHAT? Who cares? Guilty, innocent - what difference does it really make so long as he is doing a good job?"

These people argue that there is no connection between a man's personal life and his political abilities. And according to all indications, this response to scandal and serious charges is the most common response among Americans!

A recent editorial in U.S. News & World Report said: "A majority seem to believe in the President's programs and politics even if they don't believe in him. They care far more about the good times. As one wag put it, 'People say they vote Dow Jones, not Paula Jones.'"

Another editorial writer argued that in the case of the President, "We elected him knowing his propensities. The economy is strong and he has a promising agenda. Tossing him out to keep up appearances would merely match the President's destructive self-indulgence with our own."

This man assumes the President has done wrong. But he's saying that the economy is good and the President's programs are so good. Why mess up a good thing?

In a newspaper article, a sociologist made this observation: "Character has been slowly bred out of many Americans, especially baby boomers and their children." He argued that decades of pampering and organized activities and "feel-good" approaches in which participants do not have to take personal responsibility have made character almost passé.

Is character passé in America? A Newsweek magazine poll said that voters tend to believe the President is lying about his adulterous affairs, yet he is enjoying his highest approval rating ever. These sentiments sum up the attitude of this third group and indicate that we are in deep trouble as a nation!

I want you to understand that no matter what has been revealed or what action has been taken by the time this is read, the crisis I want to address will not just go away. My concern is with the people whose response to a lack of character in our leaders is a roaring, "SO WHAT? LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL!"

As long as there are people in this country who believe that a leader's personal character makes no difference in any way, then I tell you that we are in the throes of crisis!

But make no mistake. It makes every difference what a person in leadership believes and does in his personal life. Character counts with God, and it must count with us if we want to stay the judgment of God on this great nation.

The Character God Requires

What does God say about the kind of leadership a nation needs? I want to give you four principles I have ferreted out from the Word of God. Let's think first of all about the character God requires. The Bible says in Proverbs 29:2, "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn."

One argument we are hearing these days is that national leaders are like airplane pilots. "We don't care about a pilot's morals," this line goes, "as long as he can fly the airplane. His character doesn't matter as long as he can get us from point A to point B. We want a safe take-off, a safe trip, and a safe landing. What the pilot does in his personal life behind closed doors is none of our concern."

This argument about a leader's character might hold water if we did not need the BLESSING OF GOD on this country. If we are going to say, "God, we don't need You to bless our leaders or our people," then this argument may be valid.

But let me use another analogy. Suppose you were going to have open-heart surgery. Would you want the surgeon to come from the restroom and into the operating room without even washing his hands? Would you want him to hold your heart in his hands if they were not sanitary? I want the hands of those who hold the heart of this nation to be clean. Clean hands and a pure heart are necessary for godly leadership and godly leadership is a prerequisite to blessing.

The fact is that America desperately needs the blessing of God! We are ruined without it. But God says, "If you want My blessings, here are some things that are necessary." Let me give you six biblical characteristics that God requires of leaders before His blessing can rest on a nation.

A Leader Must Be a Man of Righteousness

Hide this verse away in your heart. The Bible says, "It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness" (Prov. 16:12).

This is God speaking. We don't have a king in this country, but God is talking about leadership whether it's a king or a president. You see, leadership is stewardship. The Bible calls the political leader "a minister of God" (Rom. 13:4). He is acting for God, and therefore he should be godly.

An unrighteous man is unfit for leadership, whether it be in the church, the home, in business, or in government. The worst kind of leadership is hypocritical leadership that carries a big black Bible but does not live a righteous and a holy life.

A government is established by righteousness, so the first qualification God requires of a leader is that he must be a man of righteousness.

Back in the '60s, young people were strumming their guitars and singing songs promoting God, country, patriotism, and other themes. They were not a part of a "right-wing conspiracy" but one line that they sang seems to be especially relevant. It says:

"You can't live crooked and think straight, whether you are a chauffeur or a Chief of State."

A Leader Must Be a Man of Wisdom

A leader must also be a man of wisdom. The Bible says, "I wisdom dwell with prudence. ... By me [wisdom] kings reign and, princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth" (Prov. 8:12, 15-16).

Here is an example of how little our nation understands true leadership. We say we want our leaders to be skilled. But God says, "I want My leaders to be wise." It is far better for a leader to be wise than to be intelligent or gifted.

That's the reason a nation cannot be governed by popularity polls. Beware of the polls! A person who takes a poll to find out what the people want, then pampers their wants and promises things whether he can deliver them or not, is an opportunistic politician, not a wise and godly leader.

Former President Harry Truman once made a wise observation about the difference between leadership and poll-taking. Truman said, "I wonder how far Moses would've gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt."

What would Jesus Christ have preached if He had taken a poll in Israel to find out what the people wanted to hear? Where would the Protestant Reformation have gone if Martin Luther had taken a poll?

It isn't the polls of momentary public opinion that count. What counts is wise leadership from men who know right from wrong and follow the right. God requires that His leaders be men of fortitude and honesty. It is leaders like this who shape epochs in the history of the world.

I read recently about a high school freshman who won first place in a science fair in Idaho. His project involved taking a poll and urging people to sign a petition demanding the elimination of a chemical known as di-hydrogen monoxide. This young man listed seven reasons that this chemical ought to be banned. I want to give them to you because they make a telling point:

1. It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting.
2. It is a major component in acid rain.
3. It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state.
4. Accidental inhalation can kill.
5. It contributes to erosion.
6. It inhibits the effectiveness of automobile brakes.
7. It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients.

This student gave his reasons to fifty people and asked them to join his call for a ban on di-hydrogen monoxide. Forty-three of the fifty people signed the petition to join in the ban. One person refused to sign because he knew the student was talking about water. Nothing but water! Do you see the danger of governing a nation by opinion? By slanting the questions in a particular way, this student was able to trick 86 percent of the people he polled into giving a foolish response. I say it again: beware of the polls!

God says, "I need men to lead who have wisdom. Wisdom is better than a strong economy." "In the light of the king's countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain. How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!" (Prov. 16:15-16).

This idea that the economy is all that really matters is just plain stupid! There is no other way to say it. God values wisdom and understanding more than gold or silver.

The president of a South American country was once asked by an economist, "What's the difference between North America and South America? Why has North America been so blessed, while South America has experienced such poverty?"

Both of these regions have great natural resources, fertile fields, and great land masses.

Why have they developed in such different ways? This South American president said in response, "It is because the people who came to your shores came seeking God. The people who came to our shores came seeking gold."

When will our people learn that wisdom is far more important than a record close on the Dow Jones? Our Pilgrim fathers did not come to these shores so that the stock market might blossom. We have become one nation under greed!

A Leader Must Be a Man of Absolute Honesty

Here is another aspect of the character God requires in a leader. He must be a man of absolute, impeccable honesty.

Proverbs 17:7 tells us, "Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince." According to Proverbs 20:28, "Mercy and truth preserve the king."

Liars and leaders are not the same. If a man is a liar, he has a character flaw that goes all the way to the core of his being. People are not liars because they tell lies. They tell lies because they are liars.

A man is never more like the devil than when he lies, for Jesus said in John 8:44 that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. A man is never more like the Lord Jesus than when he tells the truth, because Jesus Himself is the Truth (John 14:6).

A Leader Must Be a Man Who Chooses Wise Leaders

Next, a leader must be wise in his own choice of leaders to serve alongside him.

The Scripture says, "Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the refiner" (Prov. 25:4). Dross is the scum, the filth that is in the ore. It must be purged before a person is fit for leadership.

Then the writer goes on to say, "Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness" (verse 5). In other words, don't let wicked people influence the ruler.

A leader is known by the helpers he chooses. Any leader who chooses consultants and political operatives with the morals of an alley cat is not fit to lead. When sexual perverts come out of the closet and head into the Cabinet room, something is wrong. Proverbs 29:12 says, "If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked." So a leader must be a man who chooses wise consultants and helpers.

Now if you think I'm being political, you have a big problem. I am teaching the Word of God. I'm not talking about Democrat, Republican, Independent, or anybody else. I'm talking about what God Almighty says He requires of leadership.

A Leader Must Be a Man of Sexual Morality

A leader must be a man of high sexual morality. "The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him. What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows? Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings" (Prov. 31:1-3).

Here was the mother of a king warning him not to fall into the destructive web of immorality. It will destroy even a king. If a leader has no personal moral standards, how can he set a moral standard for a nation?

How can he be the man about whom parents tell their children, "You can look up to him, he's our leader. Be like him. Maybe one day you can be the President of the United States of America." That sounds hollow when we have so lowered the presidency that he's a glorified CEO rather than a moral leader setting a tone for a nation.

We've come to a sad day when parents have to turn off the news when children come into the room because the news is X-rated. The stand-up comics love it! However, if we as a nation laugh off the sexual sins of our leaders, should we be surprised if our children treat immorality lightly?

A leader's moral character is so important because if a man cannot control his own desires, what might he do in a time of national crisis? If a leader cannot keep his most sacred promise of all, the promise he made to his wife before Almighty God, how can he be trusted to keep any other promise? A leader must be, therefore, a man of sexual morality.

A Leader Must Be a Man Who Protects the Weak

Here's a final trait of leadership that God requires. A leader must protect the weak and the helpless.

In Proverbs 31:8-9, God says to King Lemuel, "Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy."

A president, or any leader, must speak up for those who can't speak up for themselves, those who are about to be destroyed. When a president is inaugurated, he takes a pledge to defend the nation. There are many defenseless people in America today, and they're depending on the government to defend them. The President should be standing up for the unborn, the most defenseless of all those who cannot speak for themselves.

I once testified in Washington before a Senate committee dealing with abortion. After I left the room there at the Capitol, a female lawyer met me in the hall. "You don't understand," she said. "You're a man, so you don't understand what a trauma it is to have an unwanted pregnancy."

I said to her, "Do I understand you to say that if somebody traumatizes you, you can eliminate them? Because you're traumatizing me right now. What if I were to put both my thumbs on your windpipe and strangle you right now? At least you could scream or run. But a baby in its mother's womb can't do either."

She just turned and walked off. I'm sure she told someone, "That Baptist preacher said he was going to strangle me!" But I only said, "What if?"

It's the job of a ruler to speak up for the unborn! "Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction," God commands the one in authority. Someone may say, "But Pastor Rogers, abortion is legal." Then hear these verses: "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law? They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood" (Ps. 94:20-21).

If a throne of iniquity is one that uses the law to commit evil, then what we have in America today is a throne of iniquity! Laws are passed to shed innocent blood. But NOTHING IS POLITICALLY RIGHT THAT IS MORALLY WRONG.

Jeremiah said concerning evil King Jehoiakim, "Thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it" (22:17). The prophet Habakkuk warned, "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!" (2:12).

The king, the prince, the president, must be the protector of the helpless. This is the character that God requires.

The Choice God Respects

Even though God requires character of leaders, He respects a people's choice of a leader who doesn't have character. Not that God approves of the choice, but He respects human will. He allows us to choose our leaders.

In Hosea 8:4, God says, "They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not."

The people did not seek God in their choice of leaders, so they didn't have God's will to guide them. He was not part of the process. WICKED RULERS ARE GOD'S REWARD FOR WICKED PEOPLE.

I want to show you one of the most chilling verses in the Bible. This warning should make us all stop and think. Here is what God says: "Ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day" (1 Samue18:18). In other words, your evil king was your choice. Don't expect God to come to your aid when that king leads you into disaster!

We have come to a place as a nation where we have said, "Let the good times roll! The stock market is setting records and things are fine, so don't get shook up over a few moral lapses." However, when war breaks out in the Middle East and fearsome biological weapons are let loose on the world, or some other scenario of judgment unfolds, no one will care about the economy. America will cry out to God, and God will not hear! God have mercy on America! Do you see what we are doing when we say that character makes no difference? It's a way of saying that God makes no difference!

You may say, "But Pastor, God must be blessing America. Look how prosperous we are. The Dow Jones is up, and unemployment is down."

If there had been a Dow Jones average in Sodom, it would have been up too. Sodom had the bloom of prosperity on it just before the fire of God fell. Consider this description of Sodom: "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good" (Ezek. 16:49-50).

Sodom was marked by pride, prosperity, and perversion. Had you asked a Sodomite, "How are you doing?", he would have said, "Great! Look at the economy. We've got so much to eat we don't even have to work." Mark these words: we are either going to rejoice or weep over the leadership choices we have made. God left Sodom with its smoking ruins as a warning for this generation.

We are free to choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our choice. First we choose and then the choice chooses for us.

The Control God Reserves

Here's another reality I want you to understand about this issue of leadership and character. God may allow us to make an ungodly choice, but He never relinquishes control. Do you think God has lost control just because He allows a nation to choose against His will? A thousand times no! God still rules in the heavens.

It is God who "bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity" (Isa. 40:23). God is still the King of kings. "He ruleth by his power for ever" (Ps.66:7). You didn't vote Him in, and you won't vote Him out. He is God, and where He does not rule He overrules.

You may ask, "Then how can God let the wicked get away with their wickedness?" They don't get away with anything. Put down this incredible verse: "The scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth" (Rom. 9:17)

Pharaoh was the great and mighty king of ancient Egypt, living high, wide, and handsome. Pharaoh kept getting bigger and bigger and greater and greater, and his approval rating in the Egyptian polls kept going up and up.

In essence God said, "I am the one who raised you up, and I am the One who is going to bring you down." Romans 9 is talking about what happened to Pharaoh and his armies when they drowned in the Red Sea. Pharaoh was great, but God was infinitely greater. He will always reserve control for Himself.

The Coronation God Resolves

We come now to our final point. Any earthly king or president is here only for a little while.

One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 2, which speaks of how the people of the world want to throw off the restraints of Almighty God. The kings of the earth say, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us!" (v. 3).

But I love Psalm 2:6. In spite of their ranting, in spite of their arrogance, in spite of their pride, Almighty God says, "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion."

There is a coronation coming! The King of kings, the Lord Jesus, is going to rule and reign. Are you discouraged by the course of current events, dear friend? Take heart from God's Word: "Keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:14-16).

What Shall We Do?

Does character count? It does if there is a God in glory - a God who helped our founders establish this nation, and who has sustained this nation and brought us thus far.

But if our people are willing to say, "God, we don't need You anymore. We don't want Your rule anymore. We know what we are doing. Our skill and ingenuity will see us through," then I say God help America! Because God will say, "You don't need Me? That's fine. But then don't call on Me when judgment falls."

Do you remember what happened when Peter preached his great sermon on the Day of Pentecost? The people of Israel "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).

This is the question God's people need to ask today. Let me suggest three answers to that cry.

First, we need to pray for revival. When God sends revival, He is not going to send it through Washington! The White House cannot bring revival, and the White House cannot stop revival. We had better stop looking to the White House to save us, and start looking to God's house to save us!

Second, we need to prepare for survival. I don't know what's going to happen to America in the days ahead. But you need to be insulating your children against the hard times that may come. You and I need to be building into the hearts of our young people some bedrock biblical truths that will sustain them and keep them true to God in any situation, because rebellion and immorality are in the air around us like a fungus!

Third, we need to get ready for arrival. Jesus is coming! God's eternal plan goes beyond the shores of America. Jesus is coming back to this earth, and on that day He will show Who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The most patriotic thing any of us can do is to get right with God, and to help others to get right with God, as we prepare for His coming coronation!

Reprinted by permission from Love Worth Finding Ministries, copyright 1998.

Adrian Rogers, former three-term president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, where he preached this sermon February 8, 1998.

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