Article of the Month

 

February 2008

"Prayers . . . For Kings"

United States citizens currently find themselves in the midst of choosing new “rulers”—those who will administer the federal government for the next four years.  Citizens of this nation are of varying opinions and positions regarding what should be the extent of their individual involvement in this process.  A good number of sincere Christians are convinced that the tenor of the New Testament is that Christians not be participants in the political processes.  Those of us who believe this believe it because we are convinced that God and Jesus now are actively intervening in earth’s affairs for the imminent establishment of their own peaceable Kingdom on earth in answer to the age-old prayer, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth.”  Clearly, the conviction that this event is even now in process of happening would mean that we have no interest in the affairs of current governments which will soon be replaced by the greatest government anyone could imagine.

THE SCRIPTURAL INJUNCTION

It is important, however, to give heed to the Word of God.  Note two texts which might prompt questions in our minds:

“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.”  (I Timothy 2:1, 2)

 

 “Let every soul be subject unto higher powers.  For there is no power but of God:  The powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:  and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation condemnation]. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.  Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power?  Do that which is good, and Thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good.  But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain:  for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”  [Romans 13:1-4]

WHAT DO THESE TEXTS MEAN? 

A number of important points can be gleaned from a careful consideration of these texts.

1. These texts do not suggest blind, unreasoning allegiance or obedience to any or all rulers. Clearly, for instance, Hitler’s regime was not there to praise good and punish evil.  It was there to practice evil and punish the innocent who objected.

 

2. These texts do not suggest that earthly rulers are the “ministers of God” in the sense that they convey God’s will or standards.  These rulers do not have the right to issue inviolable rules of their own which conflict with conscience. Consider, for instance, Acts 4:5, 6, 18-21 in which the Apostle shows that individual responsibilities toward God supersede the unreasonable dictates of rulers.

 

3. The I Timothy text is not just about rulers, but about “all men.”  In this text, the Apostle Paul gives the REASON for these prayers.  The reason is so that we (the church of Christ) may live quiet, peaceable, godly, and honest lives. His reasoning is exquisitely noble and profound. Paul understands that if we pray for all (enemies included) we will not be of a mind to be complainers, manipulators, accusers, revolutionists, or trouble-makers.  We will live with our own holy interests in mind, wanting in our external relationships only quiet, peaceable, godly, and honest relationships.  That is the simple content and meaning of the Timothy text.  It is applicable at all times and in all places.

 

4. These texts do not suggest that we should support or abhor leaders or other social functionings.  They do not suggest that we are praying that kings or “those in authority” (marginal translation is “eminent place”) retain, change, or lose their positions or their control.  The Romans text is simply the rational requirement that Christians must be law-abiding citizens so as not to bring reproach upon their holy cause.  Christians who are a “law unto themselves” are just as likely to break God’s laws as they are to break the laws of men.

 SUMMARY

Praying for the best eternal welfare of all is appropriate for Christians.  Praying for our relationships with the world also is appropriate.  “We are ambassadors for Christ.”  (II Corinthians 5:20)  We want to represent Christ before the whole world in the very best behaviors possible.  Obeying the laws of the lands in which we live is only one of the many ways we can do this.  Likewise, however, ambassadors are never to become involved in the politics of the country to which they were assigned.  We are aliens and strangers in this world.  We claim our citizenship rights in it (as did the Apostle Paul, a Roman citizen) only when it aids our service to the Most High.