Praying for Our Government Christ is “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). He is the Ruler of earth’s rulers and the Governor over earth’s governments. His authority over all earthly governments is made available in His name to the church—the assembly of His believing people. As Moses stretched forth his rod on God’s behalf over Egypt, so the church by its prayers stretches forth Christ’s authority over the nations and their rulers. Good Government Is God’s Will In his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructed him in the proper administration and order of the local church, which he called God’s house. (See 1 Timothy 3:14- 15.) Paul also gave directions for the church’s ministry of prayer: 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. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
“First of all, ” Paul called for “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks.” If we were to choose one term to cover all four activities, it would be prayer. The first duty of Christians meeting in fellowship is prayer. It is also their primary outreach. In the second verse, Paul said that prayer is to be offered “for all men.” This agrees with the prophecy of Isaiah 56:7, where God says, “Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” God is concerned with “all men” and “all people.” He expects His people to share His concerns. Contrast this with the narrow, self-centered prayers of many professing Christians! Someone offered the following as a parody of the average church member’s prayer: “God bless me, my wife, my son John, and his wife. Us four. No more. Amen!” After “all men,” the first specific topic for prayer is “kings, and…all that are in authority.”
In countries such as the United States, which have no monarchy, the word “kings” does not apply. In any case, whether there be a monarchy or not, the phrase “all that are in authority” indicates all those who are responsible for governing the nation. This may be summed up in the single word: the government. Thus, the first specific topic of prayer ordained by God for His people meeting in fellowship is the government. Extensive experience has convinced me that the vast majority of professing Christians never give any serious consideration to this topic in prayer. Not merely do they not pray for the government “first,” they scarcely pray for it at all! They pray regularly for groups such as the sick, the shut-ins, preachers, missionaries, evangelists, the unconverted—anything and everybody but the one group that God puts first— the government. It is no exaggeration to say that many who claim to be committed Christians never pray seriously for the government of their nation as much as once a week! When praying for the government, what specific petition are we exhorted to make? In the second verse, Paul answered, “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Does the kind of government we live under affect the way we live? Obviously it does. Therefore, if we desire a good way of life, logic and self-interest alike indicate that we should pray for our government.
This was brought home to me in a new way when I applied for United States citizenship. Like all who make application, I was required to study in outline the basic principles and purposes of the Constitution of the United States. As I meditated on these, I asked myself, “What was the real objective of those who originally drafted that Constitution?” I concluded that their objective could be summed up with complete accuracy in the words of Paul: “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” The authors of the Constitution had as their objective a state in which every citizen would be free to pursue his own legitimate interests without interference from other citizens or the government, but with the protection of the government and its officers. Judged by the language that they used, most, if not all, of those who drafted the Constitution viewed such a state as being possible only under the sovereign protection and favor of Almighty God. Christian citizens of the United States should forever be thankful that the basic charter of their nation agrees so exactly with the purposes and principles of government ordained by Scripture. Continuing in 1 Timothy 2, Paul said, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” (v. 3). The pronoun “this” refers back to the topic of verse 2, which we summarized as “good government.”
If we replace the pronoun “this” by the phrase to which it refers, we arrive at the following statement: “Good government is good and acceptable in the sight of God.” More simply stated, “Good government is the will of God.” Here is a statement with the most far-reaching consequences. Do we really believe it? To judge by the words and actions of many Christians, they have little or no expectation of good government. They are more or less resigned to the fact that the government will be inefficient, wasteful, arbitrary, corrupt, unjust. For my part, I have studied this question long and carefully in the light of logic and of Scripture, and I have come to a deep conviction concerning God’s will in this area: The will of God is good government. Why God Desires Good Government Moving on to verse 4, we find that Paul stated the reason why good government is the will of God: God desires “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” God desires the salvation of all men so intensely that He made it possible by the supreme sacrifice of history, the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Through faith in Christ’s atonement, salvation has been made available to all men. However, for men “to be saved,” they must first “come unto the knowledge of the truth” concerning Christ’s atonement. This is possible only if they have the Gospel preached to them. Paul presented this issue very plainly in Romans 10:13-14: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Unless the Gospel is preached to them, men cannot avail themselves of the salvation purchased for them by Christ’s atonement. We may sum up the logic of this very simply: God desires “all men to be saved.” For this it is necessary for them to “come unto the knowledge of the truth.” “Knowledge of the truth” comes only through the preaching of the Gospel. Therefore, God desires the Gospel to be preached to all men. It remains to trace the connection between good government and the preaching of the Gospel. We may do this by asking ourselves one simple question: Which kind of government makes it easier to preach the Gospel—good government or bad government? To obtain an answer to this question, we may briefly contrast the effects of good and bad government, insofar as they relate to the preaching of the Gospel.
On the one hand, good government maintains law and order; it keeps communications open, preserves civil liberty, and protects freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. (It is noteworthy that nearly all these points are specifically covered by the Constitution of the United States.) In short, good government, without becoming involved in religious controversy, provides a climate in which the Gospel can be preached effectively. On the other hand, bad government allows the breakdown of law and order, permits unsafe travel conditions and poor communications, and imposes unjust and arbitrary restrictions. In all these ways, although in varying degrees, bad government hinders the effective preaching of the truth. At its worst, bad government either restricts or totally suppresses the universal right of all men to believe in God and to express their faith by public worship and proclamation. In one degree or another, we see these conditions in countries under communist rule today. Our conclusion, therefore, is that good government facilitates the preaching of the Gospel, while bad government hinders it. For this reason, good government is the will of God.
We are now in a position to present the teaching of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 in a series of simple logical steps: 1. The first ministry and outreach of believers as we meet together in regular fellowship is prayer. 2. The first specific topic for prayer is the government. 3. We are to pray for good government. 4. God desires all men to have the truth of the Gospel preached to them. 5. Good government facilitates the preaching of the Gospel, while bad government hinders it. 6. Therefore, good government is the will of God. Praying with the Knowledge of God’s Will The final sentence of the above summary has the most far-reaching consequences for our prayers. In all effective praying, the decisive issue is the knowledge of God’s will. If we know that what we are praying for is according to God’s will, then we have faith to claim it.
But if we are not sure of God’s will, our prayers are wavering and ineffective. In James 1:6-7, James warned us that such wavering prayers will not be answered: “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.” On the other side, John described the confidence that comes from the assurance of God’s will: “And this is the confidence that we have in him [God], that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). John’s teaching in this passage revolves around the knowledge of God’s will. Provided that we know we are praying in full accord with God’s will, we may know that “we have” whatsoever we prayed for.
The use of the present tense “we have” does not necessarily indicate an immediate manifestation of the thing that we prayed for, but it does indicate an immediate assurance that the thing is already granted to us by God. Thereafter, the amount of time taken for its actual manifestation cannot affect this initial assurance.
This agrees with the teaching of Mark 11:24: “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them [more properly, believe that you already received them], and ye shall have them.” Receiving comes at the very moment of praying. After that, the actual manifestation of that which we have received follows at the appropriate time.
With this preliminary explanation, it is now possible to apply to 1 John 5:14- 15 the same kind of logical analysis that we have already applied to 1 Timothy 2:1-4. John’s teaching in these verses may be summed up as follows:
- If we know that we are praying for anything according to God’s will, we know that He hears us.
- If we know that God hears us, we know that we have the thing that we prayed for. (This does not necessarily indicate immediate fulfillment.) To comprehend fully what we can accomplish by praying for our government, we need to combine the teaching of John with that of Paul. The result is as follows:
- If we pray for anything knowing that it is according to God’s will, we have the assurance that the thing is granted to us.
- Good government is according to God’s will. 3. If we know this and pray for good government, we have the assurance that good government is granted to us. Why, then, do the majority of Christians have no assurance of good government? There can only be two reasons: either they do not pray at all for good government, or they pray for good government, but without the knowledge that it is God’s will. These conclusions drawn from Scripture have been confirmed by my personal observations.
The great majority of Christians never pray seriously for good government at all. Of the few who do pray for good government, hardly any do so with the scriptural conviction that it is really God’s will.
Whichever of these explanations may apply in any given situation, the conclusion remains the same: God has made it possible for Christians by their prayers to insure good government. Christians who fail to exercise this God-given authority are gravely delinquent—both toward God and toward their countries.
Having been raised in Britain, I am frequently shocked by the way in which Americans habitually speak about the officers of their government. I do not know of any European nation where people would permit themselves to speak about their rulers with the disrespect and cynicism regularly heard in America.
The irony of this is that, in an elective democracy, those who continually criticize their rulers are, in effect, criticizing themselves, since it is within their power by the processes of election to change those rulers and to replace them by others.
This applies with double force to Christians in such a democracy who, in addition to the normal political machinery, also have available to them the Godgiven power of prayer by which to bring about the changes that they believe desirable, either in the personnel or in the policy of the government. The truth is that Christians are not held responsible by God to criticize their government, but they are held responsible to pray for it. So long as they fail to pray, Christians have no right to criticize.
In fact, most political leaders and administrators are more faithful in the discharge of their secular duties than Christians are in the discharge of their spiritual duties.
Furthermore, if Christians would seriously begin to intercede, they would soon find less to criticize. I am persuaded that the root of the problem with most Christians is not lack of will, but lack of knowledge. Let this fact first be clearly established: Good government is God’s will. This will provide both the faith and the incentive that Christians need to pray effectively for their government.