The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Limits of Prayer for those in Authority

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Some of the inspiration I get for writing articles comes from emails I receive from supporters and antagonists. I received the following email the other day from a supporter who had a good question about a misunderstood and misapplied Bible passage:

This may sound stupid, but I am having a little problem understanding 1 Timothy 2:1–4. My liberal brother-in-law says that he is thankful for President Obama and that we all should be. Maybe I am wrong, but I am having trouble being thankful for a president who is so against biblical principles, freedom, and our country. I told my brother-in-law that I pray that he will not be elected again and that in November we can vote in a way to stop his agenda. If I am wrong please explain to me 1 Timothy 2. I am willing to listen, but I have trouble listening to my brother-in-law who is a big Sojourner’s follower. If you could help me out I would greatly appreciate it.

Let’s look at 1 Timothy 2:1 to see what it says before going on to verse 2: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men.” Following your brother-in-law’s logic, if someone breaks into his house, steals his stuff, urinates on his floor, and rapes his wife, he should not protest or try to stop him. Instead, he should just pray for the criminal who did these things. Note that the text says prayers are to “be made on behalf of all men” not just those in positions of political authority. Keep in mind that there are no qualifications. It does not say “pray for all men” and only pray for all men and don’t oppose anything they say or do. The Bible often makes general statements and expects to understand that exceptions may have been indicated elsewhere. Here’s a passage that fits with the example I gave above about a home invasion: “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account” (Ex. 22:2). There is no call for prayer in this case. Yes, we are to pray for all men, but this does not absolve us from being responsible for protecting our family and property.

Let’s take a look at 1 Timothy 2:2–3: “[I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made] for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Those who hold civil positions of governmental authority have the power of the sword (Rom. 13:4). Once a new power is given to a civil official, he can use the sword to enforce it. That’s why the Bible and our own Constitution gives only limited and enumerated powers to civil officials. Just because someone holds a political office, it does not give him the right to rule any way he wants. He is as limited in civil government as we are in self and family government.

Our prayers are to have a purpose. We aren’t to pray for those in authority so they will be successful in everything they do no matter what they decide to do. How can we live a tranquil life if we have to work two or three jobs to support our family because of an onerous taxing system that punishes employers and affects hiring and wages? Politics affects family and property. The misapplication of civil authority can lead to abuses (1 Sam. 8:11–22). In what way should we pray for this type of political leader? I suggest that we should pray that he comes to his senses so “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” These prayers are more about us than they are about him. Family and church governments are just as valid as civil government. The role of the civil magistrate is to protect the freedom of both. If we aren’t praying this way, then we are not praying biblically.

In the case of the United States, the President, Congress, and Supreme Court Justices take an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution was designed to protect a very specific set of rights. When politicians violate their oath, we are not duty-bound to uphold their oath-breaking in prayer. We are to pray that they uphold their oath, and if they continue to violate that oath then we are obligated to remove them from office using constitutional means. May of these oath-breaking laws that civil officials pass have a direct impact on our life (abortion, war, healthcare), property (excessive and unconstitutional taxation and eminent domain), and future (debt and inflation). Again, there is a particular purpose in our prayer: “that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” This can’t be done if civil officials are violating their oath of office.

Did the people who hid Jews from the Nazis violate the mandate of 1 Timothy 2:2? Did praying for Hitler mean that his policies should not be questioned and worked against? I don’t think so. The president is an elected official who is bound by oath to uphold the Constitution. When he or any member of Congress violates that oath, we have a constitutional right, according to the wording found in the First Amendment, to petition the government “for a redress of grievances.” Their governmental positions do not nullify the Constitution for us. We are not violating 1 Timothy 2:2 when we oppose some governmental policy since our governmental system allows us to disagree and work against unconstitutional provisions. We don’t live under Caesar, and even if we did, Caesar was bound to follow God’s limitations on his civil office because God’s image is stamped on him. We have specific constitutional freedoms in the same way that elected office holders have constitutional limitations. Our rulers do not have a “divine right” to rule. They are “ministers of God” (Rom. 13:4). The Constitution is our “Caesar” (Matt. 22:21); it has our image on it—“We the people”—and we have God’s image stamped on us. We are rendering to the Constitution what is due to it as specifically stated in the Constitution itself. Civil authorities govern at our discretion. We can vote them out of office and oppose them when they are in office.

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