“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4
It’s a great privilege to live in a democracy where we are allowed to elect our governing officials. A great responsibility too! As with anything else, we need God’s word to inform our thinking, praying and acting in this role as citizens. Let’s take a moment to review what the Bible says, and in some cases, does not say on this topic.
What is the purpose of civil government?
The passage from 1 Timothy 2 is actually quite instructive for this question. The civil authorities keep order and protect the people (see also Romans 13:1-7). This orderly environmental allows the work of the church to proceed. What is the work of the church? According to the great commission by Jesus at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, we are to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe everything he taught.
With all the activism and advertising of an election year, it’s good to remember that electing a Christian president will not save our nation from moral and spiritual decline. While an outstanding leader can affect the climate in national government, it is more accurate to say that our leaders reflect the state of our nation more than determine it. If the church is disturbed by what it sees in our country, we should not be quick to blame elected officials. Instead we should look at ourselves. Are we doing our job of being salt and light in our culture? Are we being instrumental in seeing people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
Does God work through unsaved, secular government?
If you have read your Old Testament, you will get the answer to this question more quickly than others! The answer is yes, absolutely. God used nations to discipline the nation of Israel when they went astray and used nations to regather them after a season of repentance.
Remember Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel? God used him to send the nation of Israel into exile. God gave much of the known world in the Middle East to this pagan ruler. He also later humbled him by taking away his throne for a season through mental illness (see Daniel 4). And though he acknowledged that Daniel’s God was powerful and not be insulted, the scripture does not record that he became a follower of the one true God.
When it was time for God’s people to be summoned back from exile, God used another pagan ruler. Check out Isaiah 45. God told his people more than a century ahead of time about a Persian rule named Cyrus who he would use to bless Israel when they returned from exile. Verses 4 and 5 are pretty clear that this ruler is not one of God’s people “I call you by name, I name you, though you do not know me . . . I equip you, though you do not know me.”
So how does this affect our prayers for leaders?
1. We should pray for leaders to be able to fulfill their role in providing peace, stability and protection.
2. We should pray for leaders we like and do not like, leaders who we believe are Christians and those we believe are not. Proverbs 21:1 says “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he wills.”
3. Our witness is enhanced and we please God when we speak respectfully about those in positions of authority. Consider this exhortation from Titus 3 “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
4. We should faithfully discharge our responsibilities as citizens to vote, but always keep our eye on and trust in God.
Read Psalm 146 which I will only briefly quote:
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God . . .”