July 5, 2012

Before You Criticize the President

by Nathan Busenitz


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.

Nathan Busenitz

Posts Twitter

Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • Romabella50

    What are the Biblical model of imprecatory  prayers?  David prayed many of these for the vanquishing of evil doers.

    • Gabriel Powell

      Before we start wearing WWDD (What Would David Do) bracelets, we should first come to terms with what Jesus did and what our Lord commands us as New Covenant believers (e.g. John’s article above). The commands to submit and pray with thanksgiving in the New Testament are not invalidated by prayers by one man in the Old Testament.

      • AStev

         …careful here.    The psalms are not the words of “one man in the OT”, they are the words of God, no less than any other part of Scripture.

        At any rate, David is an excellent example, considering his attitude and outlook as he was pursued by King Saul.    David recognized (1 Sam 26) that Saul, despite his moral failings and hostility towards David himself, was holding a station of authority that God had placed him in.   Psalm 59 is the closest David comes to imprecatory prayer against Saul, and even there, David asks God to punish “the nations”.

  • Karl Heitman

    this biblical view of government is clearly antithetical to our culture. Even among Christians, prayer for those politicians whom staunchly advocate immoral agendas are the
    last thing on our minds, so this is a good reminder.

    our leaders do something we don’t like, our first response should be to pray,
    not protest.” One question
    that I’ve always had was about the American Revolution. Was the American
    Revolution a biblically justified revolt against Britain at the time or should
    they have just submitted to the King? Relevant question after the 4th,
    I think….

    • Jerry Brown

      Perhaps a closer read of the section of MacArthur’s quote that you pointed out is in order. MacArthur is talking about our first response. It may well be that Christians may need to draw the line if they personally are being forced to do something immoral. But, too often, our first response it to spout off about our leaders, and we are clearly told it should be to pray for them. Pray first. Also, note that the Church has grown in the face of incredible opposition and persecution. Did it grow because Christians revolted all the time? I think not. We should always guard our tongues, and our first response should always be to pray for wisdom for our leaders

      • Karl Heitman

        Jerry, forgive me for isolating that quote. Taking the paragraph as a whole, one might conclude that it is never OK to revolt. So, your answer to my question about the American Revolution is…?

  • Jerry Brown

    Pride lurks when voices rise in anger.

  • ali


  • Megadittos…. erm, wait…

  • Good1

    A serious violation of the contexts of the passages you and MacArthur cite.  You are confusing disagreement and the pointing out of violations of his oath of office and violations of enforcing the Constitution (which he swore with an oath that he would do) with disobedience and illegal activity; the breaking of proper laws of our nation.

    By your comments one could not vote against Obama since to do so would be a tacit criticism of him.  Plus, according to you, one would be in violation of disobeying one who has the rule over one.

    Did not Peter and the Apostles disobey the ruling authorities when they refused to stop their preaching (Acts 4:15-20)?

    • Nate_Busenitz


      Thank you for your comment.

      I believe you have missed the point of this post. The apostle Paul obviously did not agree with all of Nero’s policies. Nor did Peter. Yet, they instructed believers to pray for their secular leaders, Nero included. (I fail to see how those verses were taken out of context.)

      I am not suggesting that Christians should agree with the policies advocated by the current administration. In point of fact, I have strong disagreements with much of what happens in Washington and in my own state government. And I believe that it is appropriate to voice those concerns, as long as it is done in a way that is lawful and God-honoring.

      Having said that, even if we vehemently disagree with their policy decisions, the Bible still commands us to pray earnestly for our leaders. If Paul could pray for Nero, I certainly can pray for any of our nation’s leaders.

      Sadly, I fear many American Christians spend far more time criticizing their leaders than they do praying for them. That’s why I thought the quote from John MacArthur was such a timely reminder.

      • Good1

        My objection to the post is the use of the word, “criticize.”  Romans 13 has to do with disobedience to the point of law-breaking (refusal to pay taxes, “practicing evil”, etc.).  The Bible is full of criticism of kings, priests, civil and religious leaders.  I’m thinking of all 19 of the northern kingdom’s kings, typical would be 1 Kings 22:52 speaking of Ahaziah who was king over Israel for 2 years, “He did  evil in the sight of the Lord . . .”  Is this not “criticism” of a ruler?  And 2 Samuel 12:7–12 where Nathan confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba; seems pretty critical to me.  And no one was more critical of the Jewish leaders of Israel than Jesus Himself (Matthew 23, particularly the 8 woes of verses 13-33).  

        I just think “criticize” is too much of a stretch for the New Testament’s commands for Christians to live in subjection to the legitimate laws. 

        In fact we are commanded to be critical of everything.  “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good, abstain from every appearance of evil” (! Thessalonians 5:22-23).  As much as MacArthur has called for the modern church to be “discerning,” surely he did not intend to place criticism of its leaders beyond the bounds of godly discussion.

  • Miguel

    I will not vote for the current President, but I will surely pray for him…I will vote for the GOP nominee, and I will pray for him…I can’t believe this is happening… 

  • Pingback: To Whet Your Appetite: 07/06/12 « Endangered Minds()

  • Pingback: Before You Criticize the President « A Modern Puritan()

  • Pingback: Odds & Ends (7.08.12) | Unsearchable Greatness()

  • Pingback: During this election season remember this « Strengthened by Grace()