January 19, 2015
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (First Timothy 2:1-4)
In these turbulent days that bring the year 2014 to a conclusion in the United States, Christians, as they usually do, have a lot of influence over how issues are decided. The surprising reversals in the November elections came in part from strong Christian participation. As salt and light, American Christians are bringing new strength to the movements in their country to defend life, marriage, and the rule of law. Yet these days have also brought dangerous confusion to the minds of many as to just what God’s people want, or should want, from their government, and specifically from their President. Both believers and unbelievers alike have reason to find out what the Bible says about this, and thankfully there is a passage in the New Testament that gives us a definitive answer.
The early followers of Jesus Christ had great interest in politics and government. They had little say in what their rulers would do (since the republican form of government was not being followed in any real way during the first century), but they definitely had an interest in it. Jesus predicted that they would be “brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake (Luke 21:12),” and they were. It was said that the great apostle Paul was “a chosen vessel to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15),” and he was. Paul and many others ended up on trial before rulers and magistrates, and many died in the custody of civil authorities. In scripture, Christians are told to “be subject unto the higher powers…not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake” (Romans 13:1-7). The Word of God tells us, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or to governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well…Fear God. Honour the king” (First Peter 2:13-17). The apostle guided by the Holy Spirit tells us in the First Epistle to Timothy how to pray for those in government. And what he tells us to ask God for them is a little surprising.
We are to pray “for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (First Timothy 2:2). We are not asking the government to help us, to support us, to adopt our convictions, or to wave our flag. Christians would love to have God-fearing leaders, as we can see in Proverbs 28:2-5, 15-16, and 29:2, 4, and 14. Certainly First Timothy 2:1-6 encourages every believer to pray for the personal salvation of our authorities, including President Obama. But the main concern in our prayer for our rulers is simply that they leave us alone!
We only ask that we not be harassed as long as we live “a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” This is what the earnest Christians that preached the Word in the newly independent states that became our nation were asking of the framers of our Constitution. They begged that a Bill of Rights be added to the original document guaranteeing that the new government would stay out of the important affairs of its decent citizens. The main body of the Constitution gives the power to make laws into the hands of a “Congress” of the peoples’ representatives (Article I) in order to restrain the President or anyone else in the federal government from becoming tyrannical.
Although the civil authority of the Roman rulers was not particularly limited, the Christians prayed that they would restrain themselves. And although believers in Christ were prepared to submit to unfair and oppressive measures decreed by their rulers, and to respect and honor their persecutors, they were praying that those in government would leave them alone. That was their main desire.
They were not looking for federal aid to faith-based initiatives. If a ministry is based on faith in God, why would it need federal aid? No, the Christians want to see the government restrained and limited and out of their business. To a Bible-believer, the business of government is to condemn and punish evildoers and not to solve the other problems of society. If Christians can be free, they can use the Gospel of Jesus Christ to solve social problems.
Those who will take the time to read the first chapter of this Bible book (First Timothy 1) will see the contrast it gives between the Law and the Gospel. As in other passages of scripture, we learn that the Law (both the Law of God and the law of man) can only condemn people (see verses 9-10). It can’t really solve their problems. The Law of God shows a man his real problem—sin—but it cannot take away his sin. Knowing what the rules are doesn’t give anyone the power to keep the rules. The Law has no power to change us. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can save a man from his sins and change his life (see verses 11-17).
“According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,…Christ Jesus our Lord…hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.”
Because of the limitations of Law, the government cannot solve the great social problems: immorality, divorce, prejudice, greed, poverty, hatred, violence, hunger, ignorance, suicide, addiction, insanity. Fundamentally these are sin problems, and only Christ can take away sin. The Gospel of Christ must be preached and believed, and only Christians can preach the Gospel of Christ (note First Timothy 2:5-7). It’s not the government’s job. So Christians are praying that the government will leave them alone so that they can do their all-important work.
Every unnecessary expansion of government power works against the spread of the Gospel. Even high taxes, which Christians will pay (Mark 12:14-17, Romans 13:3-6), restrict the work of the Lord by removing from the economy billions which Christians could use for church and mission work. Deliberate efforts by the tax-collectors (such as we have been deeply disturbed to discover) to use tax exemptions to oppress Christian organizations clearly put the powers of government against the Cause of Christ. The diminishing of the Congress in recent years threatens everybody’s freedom, and principally that of those who are spreading the Gospel. Our forefathers guaranteed that law-making authority would be reserved to Congress, where the people are represented, but the practice of Presidents who have gone to war without Congress declaring war, operated government without submitting budgets to Congress, and made laws by executive decrees not subject to Congress has threatened everybody’s freedom and served to make our chief executive more and more like a king. Christians do not want this to happen. If we must serve the Lord under the oppressive rule of a too-powerful government led by a tyrant, we will, but it is not what we hope for.
Let the followers of Jesus Christ in this time work and pray for limited government, as our spiritual fathers did, and let us re-dedicate our lives and efforts to the spread of the Gospel. This work is the main reason we have a right to ask the Lord for freedom. It is not the freedom to get rich, to do wrong, to stir trouble, or to control others that we seek. We just want to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Let believers believe that Jesus Christ is the answer to every human trouble. In the times of great revival in the past, the churches have stepped up to meet society’s deepest needs, and have succeeded in meeting them.
Dr. Rick Flanders