Proverbs 14:34 contains a sound political maxim, the simplicity of which is often overlooked: personal righteousness in the population— both in citizens and leaders—is the single most important quality any country can possess! This virtue, states Solomon, is preeminent to everything else, because:
“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”
The writer of Proverbs, King Solomon, whom Scripture states was the wisest man to ever live, proclaims in this passage that personal righteousness is the most important ingredient—and should be the focus—in order to achieve the advancement of any given nation. Solomon does not say that the presence of natural resources exalts a nation, nor does he say it is attributable to the excellence of its education system, as important as those are. Rather, personal righteousness is what is the most important! All else hinges on the integrity and honesty of a nation’s leaders and its citizenry, especially as it pertains to a nation’s long-term economic viability. Note the democracies where a lack of righteousness exists—instead where corruption exists—and what it does to the nation. This is basic but, again, often overlooked.
I trust you’ll find the priority and insight of this study profoundly impactful upon your thinking.
Read on, my friend.
There are five specific traits of righteousness that must characterize a nation’s leaders in order for it to prosper, in this case, per the subject of this series, economically; accordingly, each of the five will be examined in detail. These then are the qualities that fulfill the promise Solomon is making in the above passage, what it is that specifically “exalts a nation.”
The Greek word for righteousness (dikaiosune) is used eighty-six times in the New Testament (NT). The simplest and easiest way to remember the definition of this word is “right-way-ness.” Careful observation of Proverbs 14:34 (quoted in the preamble) reveals a nationalistic summation of the cause and effect relationship between righteousness and exaltation. Great nations, great leaders, great employees, and great family members are always characterized by the following biblical characteristics of righteousness—that’s what makes them great! (I have visited many democratically governed nations where righteousness does not exist to the degree it should, and it is easy to see how the nation is hindered as a result.) It should also be noted at the outset that there are many who practice the following five characteristics of biblical righteousness, borrowing from the heavenly Author of such, but yet give no attribution to their source.
In an individual sense, when a leader lives in alignment with God’s character, he places himself in a position to be blessed by God, whereas unrighteous leaders are never in a place or position wherein God can extend them His divine favor in as gracious a proportion.
Per Proverbs 14:34, it follows that a nation’s proportion of blessing is directly related to, and tantamount to the sum total of, the righteousness quotient of its individual leaders. It is only when a nation is blessed with high-principled individuals that it places itself in a position to gain God’s bestowal of blessing and favor, of overall well-being. This specifically includes its economic well-being.
The long-term exaltation of a nation is intrinsically intertwined with the righteousness of its leaders.
Given this cut-to-the-chase analysis of a nation’s greatest need, the question quickly becomes one of how righteousness is best formed in the life of leaders. It follows as we will see, the critical, preeminent duty of all believers is to witness for Christ and lead others to Him; in essence, it is to win souls for Christ in the citizenry, and especially its political leaders! Conversion of the soul, Solomon will postulate, not moral foisting, is the only way to breed lasting, righteous individuals. When a person comes to Christ, he or she is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who empowers a person to live righteously. Therefore, in our composite nation (one composed of both church and state but institutionally separated), the state is dependent on believers to diligently evangelize and disciple the unregenerate citizenry. It follows that the degree to which believers are faithful evangelizers and disciplers is directly proportional in the long term to the health and well-being of the state. Proverbs 11:10–11; 28:12; and 29:2 serve to respectively underscore this critically important axiom. These are such powerful, informative passages:
“When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down.”
“When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked rise, men hide themselves.”
“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan.”
As previously evidenced in Proverbs 14:34 and the above passages, one can summarily conclude the following:
The book of Proverbs repeatedly screams about the relationship between the existence of righteous governmental leaders and the overall health of a city or nation!
Again and again, this simple but profoundly important connection is woefully underemphasized in our increasingly secular culture—as if character doesn’t matter to the course of a nation! Furthermore, the above passages are not about the heavenlies; they relate to the here and now! Given this clear and repeated cause-and-effect relationship between the existence of righteousness in leaders and the course a country takes, as a public servant, how are you doing in terms of your spiritual growth, your maturation in Christ, and your righteousness quotient?
II. THE PROGENITOR OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
The necessity of evangelism by the people of God, so as to birth and develop righteous individuals in order to achieve an ongoing healthy, exalted nation, is explicitly articulated in Proverbs 11:30:
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls.”
In beautifully imaging Solomonic prose, the picture of “a tree of life,” serves to illustrate the far-reaching effects of “the fruit of the righteous.” This fruit generally includes a person’s influence, productivity, instruction, example, and progeny. But notice specifically what is added to the definition of fruit in this particular passage: evangelism, or the winning of souls. Herein is yet another exclamatory underscoring of the integral relationship between the importance of evangelism, which again results in the indwelling Holy Spirit, whom elsewhere in Scripture is deemed The Helper (cf. John 14:26), in order to achieve the outward manifestations of righteousness in an individual and in culture.
May we “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others. To do so is to create an evergreen tree of life in any given nation! States Charles Bridges in regard to the absence of soul winning:
“The Christian who neglects his brother’s salvation, fearfully hazards [weakens] his own. He is gone back to his native selfishness, if he does not exhibit that ‘love and kindness of God that has appeared unto men’ … How poor is the mitre (head dressing) or the crown; how debasing the wisdom of the philosopher, the scholar, or the statesman, compared with this wisdom!”
The most important, the wisest use of one’s time and resources in the capital is that of winning the lost: creating by the imputation of the Holy Spirit men and women who will hunger and thirst for righteousness their whole lives! (cf. Matthew. 5:6). Summarily:
It is the winning of souls that fosters righteousness in a nation.
How misguided and biblically uninformed is the thinking of those who do not prioritize evangelism and discipleship, God’s means of creating righteous individuals! Rarely is that formula postulated as the solution to America’s downward trajectory, her economic woes. Have we not come to grips with the profundity of these passages? Do we just not believe them? Perhaps this is attributable to the famine of biblical literacy in the capital and the nation? If indeed it is “righteousness that exalts a nation,” is not the priority of evangelism the key to a great country more so than any other thing you might spend your time trying to accomplish? What could be a more important use of your time than soul-winning?
Stemming from the conversion of the soul and regeneration in Christ, Solomon states that the five following characteristics of righteous leadership can take root and have long-lasting effects. Said another way, when you unpack the book of Proverbs relative to this subject, Solomon is saying that it is these definitive aspects of righteousness that serve to exalt a nation:
III. FIVE DEFINING CHARACTERISTICS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
How do you specifically define what righteousness looks like—what are characteristic manifestations of its presence in a statesman? What follows are the passages from Proverbs that have to do with righteousness and define what righteous leadership should look like. In order to exalt a nation, a leader must be the following.
A. TO BE RIGHTEOUS MEANS YOU MUST KNOW YOU ARE CALLED TO SERVE, NOT BENEFIT.
In Proverbs 16:12, Solomon provides insights to his son, Rehoboam, the next leader of Israel, as to what it is that will establish and secure his reign, his position of leadership:
“It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness.”
In the heart of a public servant, there must be regard for others whom you serve as being more important than yourself (cf. Philippians 2:3ff.). God requires that leaders whom He appoints to govern a country, His ordained institution of the state (cf. Romans 13:1), be a blessing to the people they serve. Ecclesiastes 8:9 specifically speaks to the degree of selflessness a leader must possess in his job: “A man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt.” This is a powerful way of putting it: a leader is to be so selfless that it hurts his own interests! It is only from this biblical theology, the ensuing knowledge of this biblical theology, his understanding of this biblical theology, and his submission to this biblical theology that one can possibly possess the realization that God has called him to office to serve in this way, to this degree; it must cost him something; it must mean personal sacrifice! Only then can selfish motives possibly be eradicated and replaced by the righteous motives of selfless service commanded of in Scripture!
If a leader is secure and settled in the fact that it is God who called him to office, i.e., “He puts down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:7), then and only then is there no temptation to engineer your destiny; then and only then is there no temptation to perform the wicked acts often associated with self-preservation. Here exists the theological construct in the inner heart of the leader who fights off corruption. Be sure of this:
Abominable, wicked acts— corruption—grows in the soil of self-preservation, whereas the soil of “God placed me here to serve” nurtures a totally different variety of leader.
The DNA of the latter variety is this: “It is God who put me here for the betterment of others. I understand my calling, and I am secure in it.” In essence then, believing that “it is God who placed me here” is the belief that leads to “a throne established on righteousness”! If you want to establish yourself in office, then live securely according to a proper, theologically based understanding of your calling. It follows that an officeholder who is self-centered will become less established due to his ensuing and inevitable unrighteousness. A recent illustration of this is a past American president who promised the nation’s citizens that they could keep their own doctor and coverage under his new nationwide insurance plan. As it turned out, that was not the case, and he knew it.1 As a result of his unrighteous behavior, his approval ratings dropped, meaning he became less established in office. The connection is easy to see.
The relationship between righteousness and being established parallels the previously seen relationship between righteousness and exaltation: righteous character and behavior lead to being established and being exalted, both individually and in a national sense. In summary, righteous behavior stems from one’s calling in Christ, knowing He appointed you to office; it is up to Him to preserve you in office. Whereas behaving wickedly will stem from thinking one is self-appointed and therefore must be self-preserving.
B. TO BE RIGHTEOUS MEANS YOU MUST BE JUST
A major responsibility of civil government is “the punishment of evildoers” (1 Peter 2:13–14). Within that realm of responsibility is the dispatch of just treatment through due process. A major responsibility of every elected official then is to make sure the city, county, state, or nation has an excellent judicial system, especially God-fearing righteous judges. States Proverbs 20:8 in this regard:
“A king who sits on the throne of justice disperses all evil with his eyes.”
From the time of Moses, the leaders of Israel were judges, which also meant they were chief executives (and often prophets). Then, when kings replaced the judges, Israel’s kings would decree justice from their throne. They were to rule in fear of God. So it should be today in our lawmaking, enforcement, and adjudication. States Proverbs 24:23–25 in this regard:
“These also are sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good. He who says to the wicked, ‘You are righteous,’ peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”
So great should be the judicial righteousness of the aforementioned that they rule with total social and economic impartiality.
“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8–9)
It is only through righteous lawmakers, enforcers, and courts that a state can have any semblance of justice. Judging righteously stems from righteous leaders for sure. But how are those righteous leaders created, raised, and groomed?
How does the state gain noble leaders?
In God’s design, they are to be manufactured (at the risk of sounding impersonal, I like the connotations of that word) by the institution of the church: God-fearing individuals are created, raised, and groomed by the discipleship priorities of believers in a composite nation wherein exist the co-abiding institutions of church and state. Wise is the state that upholds religious freedom so as to provide the church ease in manufacturing what it most desperately requires: the next generation of righteous state leaders. Keep in mind the state is not tooled by God to create what it most requires for its very survival: righteous, just leaders. In summary, the second of the five characteristics of righteousness is justice. Are you comfortable being a servant (first); and are you committed to being just? Such “exalts a nation.”
C. TO BE RIGHTEOUS MEANS YOU MUST BE DISCERNING.
If righteousness exalts a nation, then it follows that good discernment by a public servant—to associate with people of integrity—is a sure path to national prosperity. To do otherwise is to be unduly, continually tempted by evil. “Bad company corrupts good morals,” candidly states Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:33. Like begets like.
Too often righteous elected officials associate with or hire the wrong kind of people who do not represent their values.
Don’t let that be the case with you. Your staff must represent your values in order to be effective in the long run. I am not saying one should hire only Christians and fire non-Christians. Such a belief is to endorse theocracy—a church-controlled state—which the New Testament does not support, and neither do I. Sometimes believers, in their spiritual immaturity, exhibit many more character flaws than do some nonbelievers, and must be fired. And sometimes there are nonbelievers who live according to God’s principles, even though they fail to give attribution to the Author of those principles— and they should be hired. The overarching point is this: be discerning if or not the team you build adequately represents your values.
In Proverbs 25:5 (here, in the context of training his son), Solomon summarily addresses this very important, timeless principle:
“Take away the wicked before the king, and his throne will be established in righteousness.”
It is critically important, a matter of utmost discernment, who you hire; they will shape you to some degree!
Further and very importantly, one specific form of wickedness before the king is highlighted several chapters later by Solomon: personal bribery. Bribery can undermine the best of legal constructs; there is virtually no way for a nation to manage against bribery apart from previous character development, given the existence of private, non-investigatable bank accounts in countries like Switzerland, Belize, and Malta. The only way to manage against such private corruption is through the formation of convictions against such things in the heart of those who are bribed. (Keep in mind, bribery is not a problem with people who have no power, but it is with those who do). Samuel’s sons took bribes, which ruined Israel. Bribes can ruin the best of democracies: witness the recent revelations of then Vice President Joe Biden’s family taking bribes from the Chinese government and the ensuing blind eye treatment of the Obama administration to unfair trade practices!1 States Solomon in Proverbs 29:4:
“The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it.”
The wise statesman associates with and hires people who represent his or her godly character. On the other hand, embracing wicked people will ruin your office. You are playing with fire! Far from establishing you, they will harm you, misrepresent you, and may even corrupt you! And states Numbers 32:23 in this regard, “And be sure your sin will find you out.” In summary, the third of the five characteristics of righteousness is one’s ability to be discerning and circumspect of the influence of others on you. Are you a servant, just and discerning? Such “exalts a nation.”
D. TO BE RIGHTEOUS MEANS YOU MUST HAVE CONVICTIONS.
Whereas convictions are more than having knowledge of scriptural truths, they are nothing less. It is only upon deliberate and courageous implementation that knowledge can become a conviction.
“Like a trampled spring and a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” (Proverbs 25:26)
To lack conviction as a believer is often an indication of biblical illiteracy, if not an absence of courage.
For a Christian elected official to fall from his principles—to compromise biblical absolutes—in his policies or interactions with others grievously tarnishes his or her testimony, and I might add, the corporate testimony of the body of Christ. One forms convictions by constant Bible study, prayer, and meditation. Convictions too are either emboldened or weakened in relationship to fellowship or not with other believers. In summary, the fourth of the five characteristics of righteousness is conviction. Are you a man or woman who is a servant, just, discerning, and in possession of inalterable convictions based on God’s Word? Such “exalts a nation.”
E. TO BE RIGHTEOUS MEANS YOU MUST BE PRAYERFUL.
The last of the five characteristics of righteousness found in Proverbs is that of being prayerful. Note Proverbs 15:8–9 in this regard:
“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves one who pursues righteousness.”
In these two back-to-back Proverbs of parallelism, prayer is equated with righteousness (the second stanzas of both passages). What every country most needs are men and women beseeching God’s guidance in their personal and state affairs. Furthermore, and very important to understand about this:
The Bible says God only hears the prayers of leaders and citizens who are upright and righteous from His perspective, meaning they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.
Scripture is clear here. For those who are at odds with God, who passively or actively reject the Son of God, their prayers, beyond the prayer of repentance, go unheard. (Note what follows is what the Bible says; this is not just my personal opinion!)
“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.” (Proverbs 15:29)
“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.” ( John 9:31)
“If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear; but certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me.” (Psalm 66:18–20)
“He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” (Proverbs 28:9)
“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2)
In summary, the fifth of the five characteristics of righteousness is prayerfulness. Are you a servant, just, discerning, conviction-driven, and prayerful? Such “exalts a nation.”
It is amazing that way too often personal righteousness is overlooked as an essential, preeminent ingredient to the dispatch of good civil government. But how you produce such individuals to lead in the state is more difficult than the simple analysis of the need. The only sure-based means to produce these virtues in leaders is through the evangelism and discipleship efforts of believers in the lives of other individuals. As the discipleship priorities, responsibilities, and manifestations of the church go, so goes the state. Put another way:
The state reflects the collective righteousness of its people, much more than it is the cause of it.
This explains why so many democracies with little or no disciple-making churches suffer. Put still another way, the heralders of God’s truth are critically important to the success of the public servant and the future of the country. The expositor/instructor of God’s precepts is the seminal incubator of a country’s present and future culture. In Hosea 4:6, God summarily underscores this principle when He said to His Bible teachers of the time:
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
This OT passage, which explains the responsibility of Israel’s priests to the nation’s citizens, serves to reveal the God-intended relationship between the church and the state today. For the church to fail to teach God’s precepts to the leaders of the state is a sore subject in the eyes of God. It is incumbent on the church to teach God’s precepts and manufacture righteous leaders and citizens for and in the state. The state itself is dependent on the church to do this for her. It is important to realize that the state is not in the business of creating its own leaders.
The insight and emphasis of Proverbs regarding the health of a state, including its economic viability, clearly reveals the need for the continual development of righteous leadership. Definitively, a Solomonic spectral analysis of righteousness reveals at least five beautiful colors: service, justice, discernment, conviction, and prayerfulness. To what degree does each of these wonderful virtues shine forth in and from your life? Does your life reveal these characteristics? To the degree it does, you are adding to the exaltation of our nation.
Next week in part 11, we look at the phenomenal perseverance of the nineteenth century righteous British Parliamentarian William Wilberforce and the role that Bible teachers had in the formation of his character, which led to the exaltation of, in specific, the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. Wilberforce serves to pack the aforementioned principles in a personality. cm
1 Robert Kraychik, “Exclusive—Steve Hilton: Joe Biden ‘has taken billions of dollars in bribes from the Chinese government,” Breitbart, May 29, 2019, https://www.breitbart.com/radio/2019/05/29/steve-hilton-joe-biden-taken-billions-dollars-bribes-chinese-government/. See too Steve Hilton, “Steve Hilton: Joe Biden should be called ‘Joe China’—and never be allowed near the White House again,” Fox News, The Next Revolution, April 29, 2019, https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/steve-hilton-joe-biden-should-be-called-joe-china-and-never-be-allowed-near-the-white-house-again