"First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time." (1 Timothy 2:1-6)
We are well into another season of political campaigning leading up to the primaries on June 8, preparing the way for the main event in November. I already feel overwhelmed with the number of candidates and initiatives on the ballot and the welter of claims being thrown around about them. But of one thing I can be sure, whoever wins and whoever is placed in authority, I am under orders from God to pray for them. Of course, I do pray that the best candidates win but I must also realistically allow for the possibility that those I may deem best will lose and that it will still be the case that God's will was done. As the Bible also says, "Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." (Romans 13:1-2)
Of course, the Apostles did say to the ruling authorities when they were arrested for disobeying their orders to no longer teach and preach in the name of Jesus, "We must obey God rather than man." (Acts 5:29) God is an infinitely higher authority than any human being and if there is a contradiction between their requirements we must serve God and disobey even the human authorities which God has, by His providence, placed over us. But where the requirements of human governments and God are the same or at least do not conflict, we must obey God by obeying the government. What is wonderful in our country is that we do have some say in who rules over us. Of course, we have to convince a majority of the other citizens to see it the way we do or they will vote someone else into office, but we can't say we didn't have a chance to affect the outcome.
So, whether or not I agree with who is placed in office, I must pray for them. What reason does the Bible give for this? Look at the passage quoted at the beginning of this article. When the Apostle Paul wrote this, the governing authority over him and his fellow Christians was Rome. It was a dictatorship. Even though Paul was a Roman citizen he couldn't vote for a candidate. There was no election for Emperor and even the Roman Senate was a hereditary rubber-stamps body. I think we Christians need to remember this when we start to complain about current political conditions. It could be a whole lot worse and for much of the history of our faith, it was. The reason we are supposed to pray for those in power is, basically, so they will leave us alone to get on with our job! And what is our job?
Jesus, speaking to His disciples, said, "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16) If society is corrupt it is because it lacks salt and if a nation is in darkness it is because it lacks light. We, the believers, are supposed to be that salt and light. Jesus mentions good works. Those good works include those things Jesus speaks about inMatthew 25:31-46: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting those who are sick and imprisoned. With such things, few people will find fault. But what are these activities supposed to accomplish, besides providing aid? They are also helpful in turning people toward the God we serve: "that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven."
Ultimately, the way to change society for the better is to change souls for the better. Besides practicing our faith, there are two additional things we must do to change souls and, ultimately, to change society. In 1 Timothy 2 we find both of them: prayer and theproclamation of the gospel. Paul tells us to pray for "kings and all who are in authority", not because they are the ones our prayers are ultimately to benefit. No, he begins by telling us to pray for "all men" that they might be saved. The reason Paul inserts the clause about kings is to neutralize them as possible opponents to the efforts of Christians to spread the gospel among the general population. At the time Paul penned his letter, Rome was still not officially opposed to Christianity. A number of times, Paul had even found protection from mobs or persecuting lesser authorities by appeal to Roman law. This was very soon to change and Paul's appeal to Christians to pray for the authorities that Christians might be left alone to do their job was much timelier than perhaps even he realized.
Thankfully, we live in a nation where Christians have probably the most freedom to practice and spread their faith of anywhere on earth. Yes, there are some ways in which our constitution's prohibition against governmental establishment of religion has been misconstrued to require governmental antagonism toward religion, or actually, antagonism toward Christianity, but we have even more freedom here, as believers, to practice, pray and proclaim our faith than people in Western Europe. The problem is that we are not taking advantage of our freedom. Too many of us have lost our saltiness and are hiding our light under a basket. Our good works are few, our prayers are feeble and our witness is mute. Christ tells us that we are the problem and we are also the solution, by His grace. Let's stop complaining so much about the state of politics and start to work on the state of our own hearts. If "those who are in authority" are leaving us alone then we have every reason to rejoice and to get on with the work of practicing our faith, praying for the lost and proclaiming the gospel to every creature. And yes, let us do our best to be informed and to vote.