"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."
I Timothy 2:1 - 2
2008 is an election year in the United States, and an unusual one in several ways. For one thing, the presidential election campaign began quite early in 2007, making the campaign season the longest one in history. Another unusual aspect of this election year is the amount of money that will be spent by the candidates to secure the nomination of their party, more than ever before. However, one thing that will not be unusual about this election year is the fact that evangelical Christians will be active and important in the choosing of the new president. Both the Democrats and the Republicans have demonstrated their awareness that the Christian vote will be important and must be courted. Certainly believers in Jesus Christ know that they still have political influence in this country. A serious question for them this year will be, "What do Christians want of the new president?" Of greatest importance is the issue of what the Bible says believers should ask of those who rule over them. In his first epistle to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote down a divinely-given exhortation that Christians pray for their leaders. In that exhortation (found at the beginning of the second chapter), the followers of Jesus can find just what they should ask God to give them through the authorities over them. What the Bible says should be prayed comes as somewhat of a surprise: simply "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty."
Of course, a godly president would be a blessing. The Book of Proverbs, especially in its twenty-eighth chapter, speaks of the blessings that flow from a godly ruler.
"For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged." (verse 2)
"As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people. The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days." (verses 15 and 16)
But Paul did not exhort us to pray that our rulers be godly. Certainly it is not wrong to ask God to give us a president who knows Him and is committed to His truth, but this is not the primary thing I Timothy 2 says we should ask. The chapter does say that God wants all men to be saved, and it indicates that we ought to pray for their salvation, but this is not the prayer God puts in first place in the prayers of His people for their rulers. He tells us to pray that they will let us live godly lives without harassment. We are told to pray that the government will leave us alone to serve Christ.
Now Paul is careful to specify that Christians are not asking to be allowed to hurt others or do evil. The prayer is that rulers let them "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." Government is responsible to God to "execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Romans 13:1 - 5). But when Christians are not doing evil, and not harming anybody, they simply ask for freedom to go about their work for God. They don't ask for the state to help them, to support them, or to honor them. They are asking for the king not to hinder them.
When the apostle wrote these words, virtually none of those who ruled in civil authority over Christians were godly people. They needed the Savior, which is why he reminded Timothy that God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4). Although believers in Christ deeply desired that their rulers know their Lord, their initial desire was that their rulers not persecute them. The primary desire of present-day Christians in regard to their president should be that he grant them the freedom to serve Christ without government interference.
Of course we'd like the laws of the land to reflect the Law of God, and of course we'd like to have a president who prays and reads his Bible every day. But mainly we want our freedom. This we want for several reasons.
First, we believe that the needs of our countrymen and the problems of our country cannot be addressed adequately by the government. These needs will be met and these problems will be solved by the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of the Bible. These are things the state does not do. Christians do them. We are saying, "Leave us alone and let us do what we do." So-called social programs sponsored by the government have largely failed to solve the problems of poverty, prejudice, family disintegration, and cultural decline in the United States. If the churches were to be revived in their commitment to New Testament Christianity, the ills of society could be cured, as long as the government stayed out of the way! The over-regulation of fields formerly left to religion (so-called social or human services) and the over-taxation of the American people have definitely hindered churches from mobilizing to do what they do best. When the president began proposing government assistance to "faith-based" agencies, some thought the idea to be strange. If their work was based on faith in God, why would they need the government's help? The servants of God should not seek the help of the king in fulfilling the Lord's commission. They should look to Heaven for help, and pray that God would keep the king out of their work.
Furthermore, we have noticed that whenever civil government gets big, human endeavor apart from government activity (including religion) is hindered. The truth is that there is hardly any greater problem in our country today than the meddling of the state. Even the awful conflict with militant Islam can be traced to radical measures our government has taken to address environmental problems. Fanatical and backward extremists in the Middle East have become some of the richest men in the world partly through the unreasonable restrictions placed on the American oil industry over the years by the federal government. If they were the poor, isolated people they used to be, they would pose no threat to our country or the world, but they have grown rich partly because American companies are restricted unnecessarily from tapping oil supplies in our own land. At the same time, free government money corrupts both rich and poor, and has turned our elected representatives into pawns of special interests susceptible to many forms of bribery. Excessive regulation restricts every kind of activity and mocks the claim that America is the "land of the free." Bureaucratic red-tape hinders the initiation and operation of many kinds of Christian endeavor, and good things don't get done because the state is overseeing the work of the church. So we must ask the Lord to hold back the mighty arm of the state in order that His servants may freely minister to men in His dear name.
This year the crying need of America is that a new president be chosen who will work to rein government in. Our current president, as upright and courageous as he is, did not do this. The Bible says that this should be our prayer, just as it was the petition of the Christians in the first century. It was also the prayer of God's people when our nation was first established. Although they did not insist that the name of the Lord appear anywhere in our Constitution, they did insist that the federal government be restricted and limited ("Congress shall make no law"). May the God of truth revive His church, filling us with His power as in days of old, and putting His people again into the work of evangelism which can turn the world upside down. And may they ask of the president no more than freedom to serve Christ!