When I was twenty-five years old, I had become politically active. I’d formed my basic political philosophy and posted incessantly on Facebook a host of articles and links that I believed would help everyone convert to my side. Then, one day, I received a letter in the mail from an elder minister whom I respected much. His message’s greatest takeaway was that he noted that not everyone would share my views—my Christian faith supported ideas that I happened to believe. Because this was a reality, he encouraged that I weigh the possibility that by being so politically active aloud, I may risk alienating someone by my views, which I might otherwise be able to share the gospel with. While it seems an obvious point, it was one I hadn’t considered, and the most important thing to me was the work that I do for Jesus above and beyond any political view that I might hold.
Since then, I’ve sought to maintain a separation of church and state, if you will. I still have opinions, and I keep up with things, but I don’t always express my feelings because my allegiance to Jesus is the most valuable commitment I’ve ever made. Therefore, I endeavor to preach the Kingdom of God’s politics exclusively. If I’m to be known for where I stand relative to anything, I want it to be concerning my Christianity and not necessarily my political views. There are indeed issues here or there that are guided by my Christianity—such as the sanctity of life—so I’m never fearful of speaking about individual matters. They may be fleshed out in Scripture, but not partisan platforms.
One sad reality is how some brethren think their party’s platform is equivalent to Christianity. The two major parties aren’t perfect because they aren’t the Kingdom of God. They are servants of the citizenry, and their main concern always seems to be the next election. Here’s what concerns me—politics is seeping into the church in a way that some brethren believe their opinions on matters here or there are akin to the will of God. This is creating a division among us. It may not be as apparent to some, but a division is beginning to surface.
Were Paul to write 1 Corinthians 1:12–13 today, here’s how it would read:
Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of the Republicans,” or “I am of the Democrats,” or “I am of the Libertarians,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Were the Democrats crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of the Republicans?
Brothers and sisters, I am not willing to become divided because you may see something different than I do, especially earthly politics. Neither will I frame my prayers in such a way that they seem partisan. Prayer isn’t a sounding board for politics. We’re indeed commanded to pray for our governing leaders, but how we pray for them needs to square with God’s will. Notice what Paul urged Timothy:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1–4)
Today, in congregational prayers, we typically reserve a more significant part of our praying to ask God for things. This is an aspect of prayer (cf. James 5:13–16; 1 Peter 5:7), but there’s also the focus, as Paul points out here, of praying for specific things for others and simply giving thanks.
These categories of prayer focus on “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim. 2:2). Therefore, the subject of such prayers was to have been everyone, even those in authority. Perhaps Paul has in mind those who incorrectly taught the Law and Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom he’d already mentioned in this letter. Praying for those who we find troublesome is an excellent way to order our hearts toward them rightly. Paul isn’t saying anything new, but admonishing Timothy as Jesus would have: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45; cf. Rom. 12:7–21). Timothy was to have prayed for all people because God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).
In addition to remembering everyone in prayer, there’s also the mention of kings and authority. Our American society’s climate is so politically charged that I doubt very much that we Christians are prayerful of our governing leaders as we should be. Instead, we embroil ourselves in “gotcha” politics wherein we are the most ungracious and partisan. If I were to judge by what so many brethren post on Facebook and Twitter, we follow not the Prince of Peace, but the Devil of Division. Were we to pray for our governing leaders as God would have us, we would likely not be so vitriolic against them despite agreeing or disagreeing with policy decisions. Let’s face it—we’re a prosperous nation, the likes of which the world had not seen until our country became its own. Any discomfort we experience is a high-class problem that a decent portion of the world will never share, but we moan and groan as if it’s the world’s end.
As we think about corrupt, unjust rulers, and who most would say deserve what they got coming to them, let’s remember that as Paul has already said, “Jesus came to save sinners.” He desires all men to be saved, and we should have that same desire too. Think about when David was fleeing the murderous intentions of King Saul. On a couple of occasions, David could have murdered Saul quickly. After all, Saul was a sinful man whom the Lord had rejected as king. God gave him an evil spirit to torment him, but when David had those chances to take Saul’s life, he refused to do so, saying, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Sam. 24:6). All that David had done was to cut the corner off Saul’s robe because he’d gotten that close, but his heart troubled him since he did that. David said pretty much the same thing on another occasion, affirming that he would not harm Saul despite how evil and rejected he was because he was anointed by God (1 Sam. 26:11). No one would have blamed David had he done such, but he didn’t because Saul was God’s anointed no matter how sinful he’d been.
I think it striking that David maintained respect and reverence towards the man who occupied the same position that God had rejected him from being and sought to end his life. Nevertheless, David took God’s anointing seriously so that even after being rejected by God, Saul was still one worthy of respect in David’s mind. We see Paul later acting similarly when he was on trial before the Sanhedrin. After beginning to address those present, the high priest ordered him stricken, and Paul replied by reviling the high priest. After it was disclosed to Paul that he’d cursed the high priest, Paul repented with the invocation of a passage from Exodus, “You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:1–5). Despite the high priest acting contrary to the law, Paul still knew that he was worthy of respect because of his position. Perhaps instead of saying that we respect the office but not the person, we could look at the office occupying. As Paul instructs Timothy, pray for those occupying it and not separate the occupier from the station itself.
God is not so detached from creation that He doesn’t play any part in it. It is He who establishes and tears down kingdoms (Jer. 18:7–10). Interestingly enough, kings’ hearts are like streams in the Lord’s hands, and He turns them wherever He wants (Prov. 21:1). God can divert the channels wherever He chooses, so regardless of whoever is in power, He can do with them what He wishes for His ultimate purpose. If we spent our time prayerfully praying God’s blessings and best for our governing leaders (cf. 1 Peter 2:13–17; Rom. 13:1–7), we might not speak so unkindly of them. It would be somewhat hypocritical to pray for God to use those in authority for His good while at the same time criticizing everything they do.