Praying For Governments
I urge you first of all, then, to offer petitions, prayers, requests, and thanksgiving on behalf of all persons, for kings and all those in high places, so that we can lead a quiet and tranquil life of the greatest piety and purity, as is good and proper in the eyes of our savior God, who wants all people to be saved and come to the perception of truth.—1 Timothy 2:1-4, The Unvarnished New Testament
By Leonard Griehs
The social structure of human existence is not created by fallen humans. Paul tells us elsewhere (Col.1:16, NAS) that God intended that there would be rulers among his earthly creation: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him.” From this standpoint, those who rule on earth are permitted to do so by God. They exercise authority which has been entrusted to them. Without this stabilizing factor, human existence would plunge into chaos.
It is not government which causes problems. The social organization of man could not be effective without some means to determine and administer the will of society.
Throughout the Old Testament, we find noble characters such as Joseph and Daniel taking an active role in the government of the kingdoms in which they lived. It was their influence, their example of godly living that had a preserving influence over the existing political structure and played an important part in the overruling of earth’s affairs for the benefit of the children of Israel.
In the New Testament no such involvement is sanctioned, although Jesus calls his followers the “salt of the earth.” (Matt. 5:13). Just as salt was used in to delay the deterioration of meat, so Jesus’ followers are to be such an example among men that they will have a delaying influence upon the deterioration of society. Their dealings in the affairs of the world exhibit qualities of justice and fairness which do not generally exist.
The followers of Jesus become a gracious spiritual influence of God that touches human lives in surprising, non-discriminatory ways, transfiguring human existence at all levels. As agents of Christ’s Kingdom living in society, members engage those in authority with principles that aim wholly at the good of human beings— not only in terms of their ultimate salvation, but also temporally, in advancing justice and peace in human relationships.
The Necessity For Prayer
“For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake” (Rom. 13:3-5).
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, all these things will I give thee . . .” (Matt. 4:8,9a) “Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh. . .” (John 14:30). In these two scriptures, Jesus tells us in an indirect way that the present order of things is under the supervision of Satan, not God.
God’s intent is for leaders to create and administer justice, to protect the good and punish evil. Without such law, and effective administrators of that law, man’s fallen condition results in the strong continuously taking advantage of the weak. While powers were intended to be merely instruments in the service of humanity, to be mediators of the structure of society, and to order human existence, their fallen condition, and the overwhelming influence of Satan and his legions, leads some to abuse their place and to seek to dominate and tyrannize those whom they were intended to serve, and to assume for themselves a role never intended by God. This is why Paul urges us to pray for kings and government and those in authority—that they might not be swayed by Satan and use their position for evil.
“And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Dan. 7:27). Here we are told that when Jesus begins his reign over the human family, only then will kings and priests and people serve and obey him voluntarily. It is only then that God’s principles and rules will reign in the hearts of those who lead, and only then will the “desire of all nations” come (Hag. 2:7)..
Under all the kingdoms that have ruled since Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:37-43), men have demonstrated their inability to fix the difficulties which confront humanity. None has been successful in abolishing sin and sorrow, crying and dying. Each nation seeks power, claiming to be more capable of rulership, yet none successfully eliminates the problems which dominate society.
As one nation has helped another, it has rarely done so without seeking some reciprocity. Both righteousness and unrighteousness have at times dominated. Yet in all countries and in all ages, the selfishness of individuals has ultimately surfaced to displace fairness and equality. That is the predicament which faces fallen man.
When God’s kingdom is established, the contrast between its government and all other governments will be marked by eternal benefits for all. Those who have suffered injustice during the reign of the present governments will be better prepared to appreciate the beneficial rulership of Christ’s kingdom. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth, even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isa. 53:7). Until that time, it is necessary that we pray for God’s overruling of leaders throughout the earth.
“And they sent some of the Pharisees and Herod’s men to him to trap him in his words. And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are truthful and no respecter of persons, because you do not look to the face of the world, but teach the way of God based on the truth. Are we allowed to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’ Seeing through their performance, he said to them, ‘Why are you testing me? Bring me a drachma and let me see it.’ And they brought it, and he said to them, ‘Whose picture and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Give Caesar’s things to Caesar and God’s things to God.’” (Matthew 22:16-21, UNT)
Jesus’ answer establishes guidelines for prayer. The situation in Israel was not unlike our own, in that Jews were subject to the Roman government, yet were very divided in their view of how to deal with that government. While Pharisees accepted Rome as God’s punishment for disobedience, Zealots favored revolution. Sadducees supported Rome openly while the Herodians not only supported Rome, but collaborated against the Jews.
The Zealots were attracted to Jesus because he had on occasion criticized the authorities. In Matthew 9:10, Jesus categorized tax collectors with sinners, and in Luke 13:32 he referred to Herod as “that fox.” Perhaps this was the cause for Judas Iscariot, a Zealot, to be drawn to Jesus.
Jesus made it clear that his followers should not to be partisans of Herod or puppets of Caesar. Neither should they be enemies of the state. He repudiated any political understanding of his kingdom: allegiance to God does not mean that his followers refuse to pay tribute, even if it might be going for evil purposes. Nor does it mean that they embark on a revolutionary movement to displace evil governments or evil laws. His kingdom was not to be advanced by any political movement.
Similarly, God is not honored by thoughtless obedience to the state. While He has given existing governments lease over earthly affairs, they are not His vicar. The follower of Christ must remain outside the political atmosphere, a judging and transforming influence, supporting government’s right to exist for the benefit and order of society.
Submission To Authorities
Although authorities are as much heir to the problems of sin as their subjects are, Peter admonishes Christians to submit to authority because it is rightfully exercised in God’s scheme, and He will overrule for His own cause. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” (I Peter 2:13,14.NAS)
However, this submission cannot remove the possibility that Christian principles will at times cause conflict with the state. Jesus told his followers , “And you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the gentiles.” (Matthew 10:18) Therefore, it is in the interest of God that, as followers of Jesus, we pray as Paul has suggested.
Years ago a chaplain of the American Senate was asked by a visitor, ” Do you pray for the senators?” He replied, “No, I look at the senators, and then I pray for the country!” So we may ask, “Why should we pray for those who have authority when the government is corrupt?” Paul makes no distinction between good and bad leaders even though the Roman ruler at the time he wrote these words was Nero, one of the harshest and most inconsiderate leaders in history.
However, the prayers we offer are not to be for the benefit of individuals in particular. Our prayers are not that certain leaders may continue in power and control, nor that certain others be removed. Nor are our prayers that certain individuals be elected who we believe would best represent Christian ideals. That would be contrary to God’s expressed plan, which is to break in pieces and consume all of the kingdoms of this world. (Daniel 2:44). Nor are we to pray for the conversion of the leaders, even though they might be reached through our witnessing efforts. (John 17:9). Jesus did not pray for Caesar, or Pilate, or Herod, nor make any special effort to reach them with his message. When he gave the disciples the formula for prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), it contained no reference to kings and rulers of this age.
God’s Overruling Of Gentile Powers
How then, should we understand Paul’s admonition? We are to pray that God would so overrule and direct affairs by raising up or casting down leaders who would be most beneficial for working out his plan for the development of the Church now being selected, and for the proper preparation for the establishment of His kingdom. That is what Paul meant by “so that we can lead a quiet and tranquil life in piety and purity” and what Jesus meant by “thy Kingdom come.”
Although God has given over the world to the rule of worldly agents until the full end of the gentile Times, He has not given them unlimited powers over the world. He will suffer them to take their course only so far as it does not interfere with his plans. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” (Psalm 76:10) David tells us that God causes man’s unrestrained desires to work to his praise, and that those who hinder or thwart his cause are prevented from working harm. One example from recent history illustrates this principle.
When World War I began on August 1, 1914, leading Jews were pressing the Jewish interests in Palestine. This was in harmony with God’s planned restoration of the nation of Israel at the beginning of the end of the Gentile Times. (See Thy Kingdom Come, Study VIII.) Turkey was in control of the area and would have to be expelled before the Jews could do anything in Palestine. In the latter part of 1917, the allied armies under the leadership of General Allenby of the British army, drove the Turks out and took possession of Jerusalem. Just one month prior to this event the British government had signed the Balfour declaration which had as one of its purposes the reestablishment of Jews in Palestine. This declaration was given by what was then the greatest world power among the gentile nations. The League of Nations was to confirm the mandate to have the Jews reestablish Palestine in July, 1922.
However, it was realized that if opposition should arise in the council of the League of Nations against the confirmation of this mandate, it would not be confirmed and the Jews would not be allowed to rebuild Palestine. Great Britain was in favor of the Jews return to the land, but the man representing that nation at the council, Lord Curzon, was not. Shortly before the time of the vote on the confirmation, Lord Curzon became seriously ill and could not represent Great Britain. Mr. Balfour, the sponsor of the original declaration in 1917, was selected to vote in his place. Mr. Balfour led the voting, the confirmation was passed, and Great Britain was appointed as administrator of the land of Palestine.
In this way, God overruled the existing authorities to exercise his purposes. Thus prayers in that day for the blessing and comfort of Israel were accomplished through God’s overruling of the leadership.
What Should We Pray?
We should feel a keen interest in the whole world, its great and its poor. They are our brethren and neighbors according to the flesh and God loved them and redeemed each of them with the blood of his son. In proportion as we are in accord with our Lord we should love mankind and desire to “do good unto all men.” (Galatians 6:10)
Everything which relates to the beneficial interests of humanity must come close to our hearts. It is appropriate, that on proper occasions prayer be made on behalf of rulers, indicating our good wishes for their welfare and leading in ways of righteousness toward our fellows.
Ambassadors For Christ
We who belong to God are as citizens in a foreign country. We see that we are more or less influenced by the condition of the things of this world. Elsewhere Paul calls us “ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) As ambassadors, we must represent the One to whom we pledge allegiance. In our dealings with others, and in our prayers for those leading our “host” country, we would follow Paul’s advice by formulating our thoughts along the following guidelines.
1. Personal integrity. We should pray that we can live an honest life with provision for ways to exercise our Christian principles when the needs of the state might require individuals to submit. For example, we can give thanks for those laws which provide for those with religious conviction against participation in war.
2. The dignity of individuals. We should be thankful and pray that laws can be maintained which allow us to treat our fellow man without partiality. For example, civil rights laws which place all individuals on an equal level without respect to sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. These laws make it possible for us to follow God’s principles in dealing with coworkers, subordinates, or superiors who may not hold respect for such people.
3. Objectivity. We should be thankful for laws which administer justice without partiality and under due process of law. For example, the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” allows us to escape the tortures of the dark ages, when many were put to death for no cause other than being accused by someone in authority who disagreed with the accused’s religion or lifestyle. Also, some governments even today treat certain ethnic or religious groups as “second-class” citizens.
4. Independence. We should give thanks for laws which do not require us to pledge allegiance to any person or political party. At times in history it has been required that individuals pledge allegiance to a religious leader or political figure or else be imprisoned or even killed.
5. Development of Others. We should give thanks and pray for laws that provide for those individuals who cannot care for themselves, or that we may have the opportunity to care for those less fortunate. For example, in ancient Rome, the state left unwanted babies abandoned on the street to die at the hands of the elements; today the state has created agencies to provide for unwanted children and place them in the hands of those willing to care for them.
6. Interest in the major problems of the day. We should be thankful and pray for leaders who take a genuine interest in protecting the people from harm. For example, laws which prevent misuse of our environment, or laws which regulate the safety of our food and water supply guaranteeing our ability to live our life without worry over basic needs.
Let us continue to view the kingdoms of this world in passing, and look forward to the day when the righteousness of the Lord will displace feeble human efforts and His glory will fill the whole earth.