November 6, 2012

Submission & Politics

by Nathan Busenitz

good_citizenshipOn election day, we continue our series from last week, entitled Prayer & Politics — looking at principles from 1 Timothy 4:1–7 regarding how believers ought to respond to civil authority.

Last week, we asked the question, “Why should we pray for those in authority over us?” The first answer is found in the fact that prayer reminds us that God is sovereign over our political leaders. Today, we will consider a second reason:

2. Prayer reminds us to keep our conduct righteous and respectful.

When we pray for our governmental leaders, we are not only reminded that God is in control, we are also reminded how we ought to live.

In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul says that believers ought to pray for kings and for all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

The words “tranquil” and “quiet” refer to the submissive and peaceable attitude that ought to characterize a Christian’s attitude toward those who are in civil authority.

These words echo Paul’s instruction in Romans 13:1–2, where he told the Roman believers, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and   . . . will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rom. 13:1–2).

The apostle Peter similarly told his readers, in 1 Peter 2:13–14, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”

As Christians, we are commanded to respond to civil authority with an attitude of submission. Faithfully praying for our leaders greatly enhances our ability to do that.

Why? Because when we pray, we not only recognize God’s supreme authority, we also align ourselves with His will—submitting our own agendas to His providential and perfect plan. Prayer causes us to remember that the Lord has sovereign chosen those who are in positions of power, and it responds accordingly. Thus it diffuses attitudes of sinful anger; it suppresses the temptation to become anxious; and it replaces complaining with God-honoring expressions of thankfulness.

John MacArthur, in Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong says it like this, “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. . . . An immediate by-product of praying for our leaders is that it removes thoughts of rebellion, resistance, or anger towards them. . . . When our leaders do something we don’t like, our first response should be to pray, not protest.”

The fourth-century preacher, John Chrysostom, said it this way, “No one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays.” Thinking back to the times of pagan Roman emperors, Chrysostom added: “Think what it was for those who persecuted, scourged, banished, and slaughteredthe Christians, to hear that those whom they treated so barbarously offered fervent prayers to God for them.”

What a testimony that is to the unbelieving world!

The apostle Paul continues by explaining that, as we lead lives of quiet tranquility, our conduct must be characterized by “all godliness and dignity.”

Those two words encompass both actions and attitudes and speak of that which honors God and meets with His approval.

And God’s approval is the ultimate motivation for why we respond to human governments in a submissive way—it is because we seek to honor the Lord. Our submission to them is ultimately an expression of our submission to Him.

The church ought to be known for the godly and dignified character of those who are members of the body of Christ.

Believers should be defined, first and foremost, by their  love for God and obedience to Him. It is not their political interests, but their pursuit of Christ, that marks them as His own.

That is an important priority to keep in mind, especially during an election season. Prayer helps us keep our priorities straight. It reminds us that our conduct must be both righteous and respectful.

There is much more that could be said about the submissive, respectful, and God-glorifying way in which believers ought to respond to those in positions of political power. How tempting it can be to join in with the radio talk show host in either mocking a government official, or becoming sinfully angry towards someone in a seat of authority.

But that is not the attitude or the behavior that ought to characterize Christians. We are to lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.

Nathan Busenitz

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