Knowing what is right and doing what is right are the basics to following Jesus in this world. But it's not always simple.
The freedoms for Christian discipleship in the United States seem to be shriveling, albeit slowly. American Christians may be entering a day when the civil authorities tell us we must not do what we know is right. And at the same time, could it be that we also are entering a day when God tells us what's right regarding the civil authorities, but we don't want to do it? The government may tell us we can't do what we know is right, while God may be telling us to do what's right and we refuse to.
Could Christians in America actually become modern-day Jonahs? Could we hear God's word and flee a different direction?
God's Word to Us
Through his apostle, God tells us in 1 Timothy 2:1–2,
First of all, then, I urge that supplication, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions.
We should pray for our civil authorities. The call is crystal clear. But do we?
In the States, we could replace "king" with "president." But whichever term is used, if you're like me, this is not an active discipline in your daily life, or at least we don't approach this command with the same spiritual seriousness as we do others.
We should, though.
The theological freight behind this command barrels down the exegetical tracks with dogged force, supplying us with powerful reasons why this sort of praying is so important. There are three reasons in this text why Christians should pray for their nation's leader. What follows is these three reasons, telling us specifically why Christians in America should pray for President Obama.
1. Praying for the President is critical for faithful Christian living.
Verse 1 begins, "First of all, then." Now, we are used to Paul using "therefore" to introduce new ideas connected to what's before it. But this time, he gives us an amplified version. He says, literally, "therefore first." He is preparing to tell us the most prominent implication of what he has already said. If we look back a few verses, we see where this is coming from.
Paul has told Timothy that the purpose of his charge, and the prophecies previously made about him, were meant as a means for him to "wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience" (1 Timothy 1:18–19). Paul is concerned that Timothy fight the good fight of faith — that he stay true to the gospel.
And because this is the case, 1 Timothy 2:1 follows with the first thing it implies: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made..." Notice the four types of prayer mentioned here. This is a unique construction that both parses out how we pray and adds emphasis. Paul is saying, Timothy, I am all about you waging the good warfare, about you staying true to the gospel. And therefore, first things first, I urge you to pray for all kinds of people, specifically your political leaders.
Praying for the president is linked to gospel fidelity. If we are going to wage the good warfare, first of all, pray for all kinds of people, specifically President Obama.
2. Praying for the President is for the purpose of our own well-being.
Paul says to pray for "all people" — meaning, all kinds of people. He singles out the leader and civil authorities and provides a purpose clause. Pray for "kings and all who are in high positions so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."
We should pray for the President so that we Christians live at peace. Justice, after all, is the role of government. Crimes should be punished, not Christianity. Ideally, we should not fear our governing authorities so long as we live in good conduct (Romans 13:3–4). And we should pray for our political leader to this end. We should pray for him so that we can live godly lives faithful to the gospel of God's grace.
The mechanism here, in a word, is religious liberty. We should pray for President Obama for the sake of religious liberty.
3. Praying for the President is beautiful in the eyes of God.
Paul comes right back with a key statement about what this kind of praying means. "This," he begins in verse 3, "is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2:3). In other words, praying for our president is beautiful in the eyes of God. It brings him pleasure. Why is that?
Praying for the President is beautiful in the eyes of God because it says something amazing about who God is. Notice verse 4. The God who is pleased with this kind of praying is the God who "desires all kinds of people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). God is glad when we pray for all kinds of people, specifically government leaders, because he desires all kinds of people to believe in Jesus. And there's more.
In verse 5, Paul gives us the ground as to why God desires all kinds of people to be saved. It is because God is the one true God, and there is only one mediator between him and man — the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Because God is the only true God, he can be the only real God for every kind of person on this earth. Wherever they are from, whatever language they speak, whichever job they have, the only chance anyone has of having a real God and a real salvation is in our God through Jesus Christ.
This reality heralds both God's marvelous exclusivity and his incomparable universality. It is glorious. God is the God of all kinds of people, and he alone can be the real God of all kinds of people only through Jesus Christ. And when we pray for President Obama we are saying this. We are publishing this truth about God. We are shining forth his majesty and worth. And that, in God's eyes, is beautiful.
Going All In
When we see the biblical rationale behind the command to pray for the President, it compels us to go all in. Far from being told something we don't want to do, this is something we don't want to miss out on.
If you don't actively pray for President Obama, today is a great time to start. Praying for him is part of what it means to follow Jesus. It is for our own peace. It is beautiful and pleasing in the sight of God.