First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Shortly after Election Day, I released an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama in which I told the new president that I would pray for him, his family and his administration, noting that I would pray that God would bless him with “safety, health and all spiritual blessings.”
What prompted my promise to pray for the president-elect? The Scriptures are clear: while as a Christian I am a citizen of both the earthly and spiritual realms, I am under the authority of the civil magistrate (Luke 20:25). I am compelled to be a good citizen of the state “for conscience sake” (Rom. 13:1-7).
In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that the first priority in our fulfillment of our civic duties (“first of all,” 1 Tim. 2:1) is to pray. We are to remember everyone, including all those in authority over us, with “petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.” Paul sought to underscore the fact that proper conduct within the body of Christ includes praying for and respecting those in power as a primary spiritual civic duty.
Those in the first-century church, including the original recipients of this letter, were no doubt chafing under the yoke of a thoroughly pagan (and antagonistic) state that harbored no thought of affording the masses religious freedom.
Remember, the New Testament churches existed in occupied lands, under the watchful eyes of Jewish religious leaders in some areas, and everywhere under the steady and hostile glare of the Roman government leaders and their local lackeys, who were decidedly negative about any worship that didn’t involve their gods.
Joining the Apostle Paul on missionary journeys, Timothy experienced the fact that those in authority were hostile, often violently so, to followers of Christ. Paul experienced firsthand the wrath of those who opposed his proclamation of the Gospel. And he understood that Christians abused and victimized by government authorities would not be predisposed to remember such officials in prayer.
The Apostle Paul was well aware that during His earthly ministry Jesus had promoted respect for the state, for His Kingdom was not primarily of this world. Jesus did not confront the Roman state directly, but taught respect for the civil magistrate (Matt. 22:21). Paul also would have known, as a rabbi, that in the Old Testament, God likewise told the Jews who were in captivity to respect those who took them from their homes (Ezra 6:10; Jeremiah 29:7).
Matthew Henry, the great 18th-century British expositor, commented on 1 Timothy 2: “Our duty as Christians, is summed up in two words; godliness, that is, the right worshipping of God; and honesty, that is, good conduct toward all men.” Thus, Henry concluded, by such means those who do not know God will be more likely attracted to the Gospel.
This teaching of the Apostle Paul, as summarized so aptly by Matthew Henry, reminds us that while we are commanded to be “salt” and “light” in the world (Matt. 5:13-16), we also are to seek to live peaceably with all men. That includes respect for whatever civil authorities God has allowed to be in power.
It is likely that, as with every person who has occupied the White House in our lifetimes, we will disagree with at least some of President Obama’s positions on social and moral matters. If we contend with his decisions with bitterness and an unflattering spirit, we run the high risk of bringing dishonor on the name of Christ.
We should urge those within the Obama administration to apply biblical principles and values in their decision-making. However, it could well be that how we convey our concerns will have as much, if not more, impact on our ultimate success than the nature of the concerns themselves. We must be mindful of our Gospel witness. We can, and must, disagree without being disrespectful.
You may not have voted for our new president, yet I imagine that as a follower of Christ you are thoroughly convinced of God’s Divine Providence. God is not surprised at who is serving in the White House, in Congress, or in any other office in Washington, D.C. We can be confident that God does not ignore an institution He Himself ordained–civil government (Romans 13:1-7).
We can pray:
• for the safety of President Obama and his family, that God would foil the attempts of those who wish to harm him, that his family would be protected and blessed, that they would always trust God and know His Scriptures;
• that our president and other national leaders would look to God for His wisdom in dealing with the difficult issues of the day;
• that Christ would be glorified by the decisions made in the White House, the Congress, and the Courts, and that good would triumph over evil in every policy decision;
• for policies that encourage moral behavior and attitudes, that prescribe justice for those who do wrong, that do not fetter our right to speak freely, and that recognize the foundational strength and importance of biblical marriage;
• that we would be willing to make the necessary hard choices and become a part of the solution to the troublesome problems we face as a nation and, that as churches and Christians, we would be particularly sensitive to those who are struggling and defenseless; and,
• that we would put our faith in God, not in man’s plans or government programs.
If we are not faithful in going to our knees in intercession for our new president and other national leaders, we can be assured that evil will be more likely to prevail. We hope that you will join us in praying for our new president, his family, and for those who advise him.
We have developed a prayer guide that can be downloaded at iLiveValues.com/prayer and distributed as you desire. We are hopeful your church will set aside time on Sunday, January 18, or sometime during the week of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, to lift up to our Heavenly Father our new president and all those in earthly authority.
Our prayers can change our country–they will change us.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.