“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
It is a timeless truth: The culture of a society will never be any better than the character of its citizens. A healthy nation requires citizens to operate with “rightness” in three essential areas. These three characteristics of tzedek are what make a nation strong. If citizens neglect any of these three areas, it puts a nation at great risk.
- Virtue. This is when people live and work in alignment with God’s moral standards. It is when individuals honor God in their personal conduct and in the national policies they promote and support.
- Personal responsibility. This is when people take ownership of their contribution to the health of the nation and its culture. It is when people acknowledge that national culture begins with personal character.
- Productivity. This is when people operate every day with a strong work ethic. It is when people are disciplined, diligent, and productive in their work.
When the citizens of a nation have these characteristics, the nation will succeed. But if these characteristics are lacking among the citizens, a nation will struggle and eventually fail.
Plato: “A city is what it is because its citizens are who they are.”
Benjamin Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. No longer virtuous, no longer free is a maxim as true with regard to a private person as a Commonwealth.”
John Adams: “If the success of the Revolution were to be called into question, it was not for Want of Power or of Wisdom, but of Virtue.”
These comments echo what Solomon wrote: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14.23)
Only personal virtue and responsibility can supply the self-restraint that is the indispensable requirement for liberty. Freedom for a citizen is the fruit of self-control, training, and discipline, not self-indulgence. This is the core message of musar that we read about so frequently in the book of Proverbs.
America has lost its vision for virtue, personal responsibility, and productivity. Who then will do the hard work of cultivating these essential characteristics among our citizens? Who will call our nation and its leaders back to the core pillars upon which the nation was founded? Who will be salt in the midst of the decay and light in the midst of the darkness? Who will fight the good fight?
The rest of the 21st century will be a time of unparalleled change. It will be a demanding social and political environment that requires strong and effective leadership skills and great courage. It will also be a time of challenge and opportunity for Christians in the marketplace and in society, demanding of them new levels of maturity, strength, and wisdom both personally and professionally. We must be prepared.
Christian leadership in a secularized society is a great challenge. But it is a challenge we must address. It is time for the body of Christ to recognize the strategic importance of our role in the culture-shaping institutions of our nation, and to commit to developing resources for encouraging and equipping Christian leaders in every sector of society.