BEFORE YOU CRITICIZE THE PRESIDENT: NATHAN BUSENTZ
It is an inescapable topic these days. From recent Supreme Court decisions to America’s economic uncertainty to U.S. foreign policy, political issues are on everyone’s mind. The fact that this year is an election year only heightens the intensity of an already-charged discussion.
Few topics are more heated than politics, and the emotions evoked often present a temptation to sin. Anger and hatred; grumbling and complaining; gossip and slander; insubordination and rebellion; anxiety and worry — these are just some of the wrong responses that can arise whenever the conversation takes a political turn.
As Americans, our right to free speech makes it all-to-easy to criticize and decry any public figure or policy we don’t like. But as believers, we have a God-given obligation toward those who are in authority over us.
The following excerpt is from John MacArthur’s chapter on “God, Government, and the Gospel” in Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong (Harvest House, 2009). It is a helpful reminder for us, especially during a politically-charged election season.
In addition to submitting to the laws of our land, we are commanded to pray for those in authority over us. Even those whom we consider political “opponents” are to receive our prayers on their behalf. It was during Nero’s reign that Paul told Timothy, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Tim. 2:1–2). Paul prayed for the very king who would eventually authorize his execution. And he instructed Timothy to do the same.
The apostle Paul continues by delineating two aspects of a Christian’s prayer for government authorities. First, believers should pray for those in authority over them “so that you may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (v. 2). An immediate by-product of praying for our leaders is that it removes thoughts of rebellion, resistance, or anger towards them. It prompts us to be peacemakers, not reactionaries; to lead lives that are tranquil, quiet, godly, and dignified. As Paul told Titus: “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1–2). When our leaders do something we don’t like, our first response should be to pray, not protest.
Second, Christians should pray for the salvation of their leaders. Speaking of such prayers, Paul writes, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and 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. . . . Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (1 Tim. 2:3–6, 8).
Praying for the salvation of our leaders is good in the sight of God. The salvation of souls is in keeping with God’s gracious nature and His sovereign purposes; it is the reason Christ died on the cross. When we pray for our nation, we must not limit our prayers to policy decisions and other temporal issues. We must also pray for the souls of those in government and civil service, that by God’s grace they might be saved through faith in Christ.
One final point in this regard comes from Paul’s use of the word “thanksgivings” in verse 1. Thanks to the freedom of speech that we enjoy, Americans love to openly criticize our government — from court decisions and elected officials to police officers and IRS agents. But the attitude that Paul expresses here is one of thanksgiving, not bitterness or resentment. We must remember that God is the one who appoints those in positions of authority (Rom. 13:1). To complain about them is ultimately to complain against God.