What We Owe to Civil Authorities

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

- 1 Timothy 2:1–2

God’s establishment of a division of labor between the church and state raises some issues that we should address before moving on to what believers are to do when the state has turned wicked. We have already looked at the Christian’s duty to obey the earthly authorities whenever they do not forbid what the Lord commands or command what He forbids (Rom. 13:1–7). But aside from general obedience, are there other specific duties that we are obligated to render to the civil magistrate? And since the church has one job and the state has another, does this mean that Christians cannot speak to the government or serve as state officials?

Today’s passage gives us one important and often neglected duty that all Christians are obligated to perform in service to the state. Paul explains that believers must pray for kings and all those in “high positions” (2 Tim. 2:1–2). We would not be far off the mark to suggest that this duty to pray for the civil authorities, given to us by the Lord, is one of the most important ways we can serve those who govern our nations, states, and cities. Given the sorry state of the world around us, we are quick to complain when political leaders are failing at their jobs or promoting injustice. Certainly, we should raise our voices when we confront such problems; however, it is not enough for us merely to protest. We must also pray. God wants us to pray for our leaders, even the leaders for whom we have not voted, that they may rule in such a way that Christians are able to lead godly, quiet, and dignified lives. Essentially, we want the state to have the wisdom not to put onerous burdens on believers and to leave the church alone to do its job. When the state refrains from interfering with the church and the church can easily do its job of preaching the gospel, the whole society ultimately benefits, so to pray for the state to leave us alone is also to pray for the good of the culture.

Christians must pray for the state and respect the Lord’s choice to give the sword to the civil authorities, not the church, but that in no way means that believers cannot work in government service. In fact, Scripture gives us examples of people such as Daniel and Joseph who were believers and yet held high positions in secular, even pagan, governments (Gen. 41; Dan. 1). Believers who are gifted for civil service should pursue that as their vocation, as long as working for the government will not cause them to violate God’s law.

Coram Deo

It is easy to grumble and complain about our civil leaders and then stop there. But God would have us not merely speak up when the government acts unjustly; rather, He calls us also to pray for our leaders. Let us regularly pray for our leaders, even those leaders whom we have not chosen.

Passages for Further Study

Esther 2
Titus 3:1–2

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