The Small and the Great Alike
Right now, there is a lot of discussion going on in this country about the qualities that a person must possess to be an effective arbiter of justice. Looking at a person’s past, and prognosticating what their future character might be, weighing those things next to the benefit of age and experience, all help us to decide how they might exercise their ordained authority.
Whether or not we approve of the manner in which these discussions are happening, the discussions themselves are vitally important, if we believe that God’s ways are truly better for all humans. Furthermore, they should encourage us to maintain God’s high standards within the church, where leadership and judgment are that much more important.
When God established Israel as a nation, He also instructed that the selection of judges be part of the authority structure, demanding that they “not show partiality in judgment” but “hear the small and the great alike.” (Deuteronomy 1:16-18) The qualities they would seek out would ensure that they “judge the people with righteous judgment.” The direct commands Moses provided the people to give to the judges would uphold God’s values. “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, [and only] justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which YHWH your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20, cf. Leviticus 19:15-16, 35-37)
Part of the restoration of God’s people after times of unrighteousness included judges who were instructed, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for YHWH who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of YHWH be upon you; be very careful what you do, for YHWH our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” (II Chronicles 19:5-7) Even the spiritual restoration that God planned for His people included men who would enact righteous judgment toward the poor, the orphan, and the widow. (Isaiah 1:21-26, esp. 26)
This is why the characters of those who would serve the church are worth noting before they are appointed. God’s standards are to be maintained even when judgments are made among the brethren. (I Corinthians 6:2-4) Those who are willing to serve as elders/overseers/shepherds are given such a long and serious list of character requirements because God’s justice is to be maintained. (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9) The standard is high because the responsibility is great. Deacons are, of course, no exception. (I Timothy 3:8-13; Acts 6:3?)
As we continue to have these hard talks about the character of leaders, let us prepare ourselves to seek out men who will appropriately fill the leadership roles God has commanded in the church. Let us work to instill God’s righteous characteristics in our young people before they are of age to serve.