Why Does the Bible Say to Pray for People in Authority?

The idea that a human being should be treated with a certain amount of respect based on a position they hold has fallen out of fashion in Western society. We routinely complain about U.S. Presidents and some people even display banners and signs cursing their names. We say no one has the right to tell us what to do. We treat “authority” like it’s a bad thing to have, assuming it will only be misused. There are still pockets of authority we might respect–patients may respect a doctor, and students a university professor, for example–but even those are being chipped away as corruption comes to light, our faith in institutions erodes, and our sense of individualism increases.

In sharp contrast to this attitude are passages from New Testament epistles talking about how Christians ought to submit to human authority. I’ve written about this before, near the start of the pandemic when I and many people across the world were struggling with questions like whether to submit to rules forbidding church groups to gather. In that post, we talked about a sermon I heard covering the question of how a Christian can know when to obey human authorities and when to follow the apostle’s example of disobedience when they said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, WEB)

I’m approaching this question from a different angle today. We know from scripture that we’re supposed to obey human authorities because God tells us to. Submission to authority is a way for us to honor God. We also know that that obedience to human beings only goes so far because our primary loyalty lies with God. We do not obey laws that command us to do things God forbids or that command us not to do things God requires. However, appropriate submission and respect aren’t the only things the Bible says we should do for people in authority. We’re also supposed to pray for them.

Image of a man praying with text from Romans 12:11-12, NET version: “Do not lag in zeal, be enthusiastic in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, persist in prayer.”
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Two Reasons Why We Pray

A command to pray for authority figures shouldn’t surprise us. There aren’t many limits on who we ought to pray for. Jesus even told us, “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44, NET). If Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies I doubt He’s going to say it’s okay to avoid praying for people in authority who might not even be enemies to the faith.

Sometimes, you might hear arguments that instructions to submit to and pray for rulers were added by translators. For example, I’ve heard people say the KJV includes verses about honoring the king because the men translating it wanted to curry favor with King James. Those men might have been happy to find they could include a verse like that, but they’re not where the idea came from. It came from Jesus, Paul, Peter, and other writers inspired by God. Paul explains why it’s so important to include authority figures in our prayers when writing to Timothy.

First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all, revealing God’s purpose at his appointed time.

1 Timothy 2:1-6, NET

I like the NET translation for this verse because it acknowledges that some readers might balk at the idea that praying for “all people” includes “kings and all who are in authority.” Paul had experience living in a world where the culture and the authority figures were hostile to his faith. He knew it wasn’t easy to pray for people who’d martyred your fellow believers or kicked them out of a guild, ruining their livelihood. But we need to pray for them anyways, and he gives two main reasons why:

  • It’s good for us. We pray for authorities so that we can lead “a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Ideally, “rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad” (Rom. 13:3, NET). We pray that people in authority would be that kind of ruler, leaving us alone to worship God freely and working to keep society peaceful and safe.
  • It’s good for them. God welcomes prayers for everyone, even our enemies or those in positions of power, because “he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” That should be our desire as well. Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all,” and knowing that should motivate us to pray everyone would see His Light.
Image of a girl standing in church reading a Bible, with text from Colossians 4:2-3, NET version: “Be devoted to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for us too, that God may open a door for the message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.”
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Praying for Peace

God has called us to live in peace (1 Cor. 7:15; Col. 3:15). He wants us to have peaceful lives that aren’t characterized by quarreling, tumult, fear, and other things that would destroy our inner or outer peace. We can have God’s peace inside us and cultivate lives of peace and joy even when the world around us is far from peaceful. However, we should still do everything in our power to live peacefully with all people (Rom. 12:16-21; Heb. 12:4). That includes praying for those who have the power to make things un-peaceful for others.

Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon: … “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to Yahweh for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”

Jeremiah 29:4, 7, WEB

There’s nothing wrong with wanting peaceful lives. Paul even tells one church that it should be their “ambition to lead a quiet life, and to do your own business” (1 Thes. 4:11, WEB). Life is better for us, the Christian community, and for everyone else living here if there’s peace in our communities and countries. Peace is a good thing to pray for. We can ask God to share His peace with us and to inspire people in authority to work towards peace in their spheres of influence.

Image of a woman sitting at a table with a Bible in front of her with text from Philippians 4:6-7, NET version: “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
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Praying for Others’ Salvation

The second reason we should pray for people in authority is because, “Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4, NET). We’re supposed to be praying for all people, and those with authority are included in that category.

God offers humanity two very clear choices: choose life with Him, or choose death without Him. That’s simply how the world works. There are no other options. Walking with God leads toward eternal life, and walking away/apart from God leads to nothing. God also makes it very clear that we each have individual choices, and that it’s possible for people to change the course of their lives. If someone is heading toward death, God wants that person to turn around and choose life (Ezekiel 18:1-32; 33:1-20).

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. … Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must you be, conducting your lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?

2 Peter 3:9, 11-12, NET

In this letter, Peter reminds us that the end of this present world is coming. While it might sometimes seem like Jesus’s return is taking an awfully long time to get here, what’s really happening is that God is being very patient with people because He wants everyone to choose life. Keeping in mind both this aspect of God’s character and the knowledge that Jesus will return, Peter asks us this: “What sort of people must you be?” He partly answers that question by saying we’ll be “conducting our lives in holiness and godliness” as we wait on God. Being holy and godly involves mimicking God’s character, including His perspective on other people. We need to love earnestly and pray sincerely for other people.

But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:7-8, WEB

Showing God Who We Are

Image of a man praying in a church with the blog's title text and the words "Following God’s instruction to pray for people in authority demonstrates our character to God. It is good for us, and it is good for other people."
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God is never happy when someone chooses death; it’s His desire that everyone will choose life. When we pray for other people, we participate in that godly desire. We show God that we also want other people to choose life with Him because we’re learning to care about them in much the same way that He does.

By praying for those in authority, we demonstrate our character to God. We show that we care more about following His instructions than we do about our own irritations with political leaders. We show that we long for people to change, grow, and work toward peace rather than wanting them punished because they didn’t do things the way we think they should.

I don’t always remember to pray for people in power. I don’t particularly want to pray for people who plunge nations into wars, vote to continue abortions, or use their authority to avoid the consequences of wrong action. But it does no one any good if I just get angry about this and sit around fuming or refuse to pray about it.

Prayer is the best response for everyone. I can pray for God’s justice to intervene and I can pray for His mercy to soften people’s hearts. I can pray He’ll protect those in danger because of a human leader’s actions. Jesus’s example of viewing people with compassion and praying for them even while not excusing their wrong actions.

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Song Recommendation: “Blessings” by Laura Story

God’s Questions for A Faithless People

I often think when reading the Old Testament prophets that it’s as if God could be speaking to us today. We don’t live in a whole nation claimed by God and governed by His laws (as physical Israel was) but believers today are spiritual Israel — the people who belong to God (Rom. 2:28-29; Eph. 2:12-13). When God talks to His wayward, complaining people in history, those words can also resonate with those of us who follow Him today but perhaps aren’t doing as good a job of that as we should be.

Micah’s book starts out with an alarm cry. “Listen, all you nations! Pay attention, all inhabitants of earth!” As a result of His people’s rebellion, the Lord is going to come with great destruction to crumble, split, and melt the earth (1:2-5). A spiritual infection has spread even into the “leadership of my people” (1:9), and that cannot go uncorrected. Wicked schemes run rampant in the land and it will result in disaster (2:1-3). Though people say, “The Lord’s patience can’t be exhausted— he would never do such things,” He will not put up with lying, stealing, defrauding, and persecuting the innocent forever (2:7-11).

Reading this, I can’t help but think of the world today. Outside the church, society is crumbling and the world’s going crazy. Injustice, lack of integrity, and disregard for God’s ways runs rampant. And, to our shame, it’s not much better in some churches. We have plenty of excuses for the way things are — often boiling down to something along the lines of it’s too hard to follow God today, He doesn’t really care what we do, or it’s enough if we’re good in our own way — but those excuses don’t stand up well in the face of God’s questions. God offers hope as well as judgement, though, and I think we can learn much from that message today.

God Will Judge

We know from scripture God will judge the world, but sometimes we forget He will also judge His own household. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Peter wrote, “it is time for judgment to begin, starting with the house of God” (1 Pet. 4:17, all scriptures from New English Translation). That’s still happening today, and it was happening before Peter, too. There are things God’s people ought and ought not to do, and He will hold us accountable.

I said,
“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of the nation of Israel!
You ought to know what is just,
yet you hate what is good
and love what is evil.
You flay my people’s skin
and rip the flesh from their bones.

Micah 3:1-2

James warns that teachers “will be judged more strictly” (3:1), and the same seems true for other leaders among God’s people as well. We’re each responsible for our own actions, but leaders are also responsible for the people who listen to them. When someone misleads the people of God, all those who are disobedient face judgement but the fault lies most with the leaders (Micah 3).

God's Questions for A Faithless People | LikeAnAnchor.com
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God’s Questions

After hearing of such judgement and disaster, the people’s objection from 2:7 might seems a reasonable one to some of us. God is loving, patient, and merciful — He wouldn’t really do that! And then when it turns out He’s different than we expect or want Him to be, those objections might then turn to complaints that God isn’t fair or that His expectations are unreasonable (something we also hear today). God has an answer to that.

Listen to what the Lord says:

“Get up! Defend yourself before the mountains.
Present your case before the hills.”
Hear the Lord’s accusation, you mountains,
you enduring foundations of the earth.
For the Lord has a case against his people;
he has a dispute with Israel!
“My people, how have I wronged you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
In fact, I brought you up from the land of Egypt;
I delivered you from that place of slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to lead you.
My people, recall how King Balak of Moab planned to harm you,
how Balaam son of Beor responded to him.
Recall how you journeyed from Shittim to Gilgal,
so you might acknowledge that the Lord has treated you fairly.”

Micah 6:1-5

God’s not the one who broke the covenant. If anyone has cause to bring an accusation against someone else, it’s God against the people. And though the language would change if used today (e.g. we no longer personify mountains as witnesses to treaties, as they did in the ancient Near East [NET footnote to v. 1]), God could say much the same thing to many modern Christians. Hasn’t He given and done so much for us? Is what He asks in response so unreasonable?

He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the Lord really wants from you:
He wants you to carry out justice, to love faithfulness,
and to live obediently before your God.

Micah 6:8

There is Plenty of Hope

Following God really isn’t all that complicated. He tells us what He expects from us, Jesus lived an example of faithfulness, and then He died to cleanse us from the sins that we do commit. God is clear with His expectations, and He’s got a sort of “safety net” to save us if we slip; all we need to do is repent and move forward in renewed, faithful obedience. We’re the ones who complicate things, or perhaps more accurately the world makes following God seem confusing and difficult. But if we keep walking with Him, there are better days ahead.

God's Questions for A Faithless People | LikeAnAnchor.com
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And in future days the Lord’s Temple Mount will be the most important mountain of all;
it will be more prominent than other hills.
People will stream to it.
Many nations will come, saying,
“Come on! Let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the temple of Jacob’s God,
so he can teach us his ways
and we can live by his laws.”
For instruction will proceed from Zion,
the Lord’s message from Jerusalem.
He will arbitrate between many peoples
and settle disputes between many distant nations.
They will beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nations will not use weapons against other nations,
and they will no longer train for war.
Each will sit under his own grapevine
or under his own fig tree without any fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has decreed it.
Though all the nations follow their respective gods,
we will follow the Lord our God forever.

Micah 4:1-5

This promise is still for the future. We can look forward to the time when Christ will rule as David’s heir (Mic. 5:2-9) and the whole world will have peace. Until then, we ought to follow the prophet’s example here in saying no matter what the other peoples of the earth do, we will follow God. In Hebrew, it is more literally “walk in the name of our God,” which involves recognizing His “authority as binding over” your life (NET footnotes to v. 4-5). Living as a Christian can’t be a half-hearted commitment. God wants your whole heart, and in light of how much He loves us that doesn’t seem an unreasonable request.

Featured Image by JPierre Desvigne from Pixabay 

How Can A Christian Know When To Follow Human Authority and When To Obey God Rather Than Man?

I’ve been pondering the question posed in today’s title for a number of years now. How much obedience do we owe to human authorities, both inside and outside the church? Is a Christian allowed, per scripture, to speak against people in authority? Are they ever encouraged to stand up and fight against authority that is unjust and immoral? And why are churches, even those that preach the importance of obeying God’s word, so reluctant to talk about submission to authority passages like Romans 13:1-7 and 1  Peter 2:13-19?

Until fairly recently, this was mostly an intellectual puzzle for the American church. Then came questions about baking cakes for same-sex weddings, then whether or not to assemble for services when governors shut down states, now debates over the mask issue, and rising fears that a Covid vaccine might be the Mark of the Beast. We live in confusing times, and they’re forcing us to face questions and wrestle with decisions some of us haven’t had to deal with before.

Those of us who prize our independence might be angry about infringements on our freedom, wrestling with whether to follow our personal choices or do as we’re told. Those of us who struggle with anxiety might be scared — paralyzed, even — both by everything that’s going on and by not knowing what is the right thing to do. Those who are people-pleasers might be running up against the fact that we’ll need to pick a side and can’t make everyone happy.

Today’s post isn’t going to offer answers for the specific issues we’re facing right now. Rather, I hope to highlight scriptures that provide principles which we can use whenever we struggle with how to respond to human authority in a way that honors God. This is a question we will face at some point, if we aren’t facing it already. We need to be prepared to answer these questions, to ourselves and when asked by others, in a Biblically solid way. Read more

Titles of Jesus Christ: David’s Son

Over and over in the gospels, people cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, you son of David!”

Why is the Messiah’s title as David’s son the one that blind men and a Canaanite woman latched on to as they asked for healing? (Matt. 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mark 10:46-48; Luke 18:35-39). Why did the people shout, “Hosanna to the son of David!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem, and why did that make the chief priests and the scribes so indignant? (Matt. 21:9, 15; Mark 11:10). What is the significance of this title?

It would be easy to gloss over Jesus’ title as David’s son, simply taking it as fulfillment of a few prophecies that said Messiah (the Hebrew equivalent to “Christ,” which means “anointed”) would come from King David’s descendants. But the Biblical writers treat this as a highly significant fact, and I think it’s worth looking into more closely.

Fulling A Covenant Promise

I’ve talked about the covenant aspect of Jesus being descended from David in several posts already, including “Inheriting Covenants.” The Lord made a covenant with David that He would establish his offspring’s kingdom forever, and that connected with the promise of Messiah (2 Sam. 7:12-15).

Yahweh has sworn to David in truth. He will not turn from it: “I will set the fruit of your body on your throne. If your children will keep my covenant, my testimony that I will teach them, their children also will sit on your throne forever more.” (Ps. 132:11-12, all verses from WEB translation)

David’s descendants eventually fell into disobedience and lost the physical kingdoms of Israel and Judah. But Jesus — a sinless, obedient son of David — inherited the covenant promise. According to Peter, David actually knew that would be the end result of God’s promises to him about his descendants. Read more

Under God’s Authority

I thought last week’s post was going to be my last one on the topic of authority. But we still haven’t really talked about the big reason for Christians to use authority rightly (part one), to respond well to authority in the church (part two), and to respect worldly authorities (part three). We’re to do all this because we’re under God’s authority.

Any time we rebel against or balk at one of of God’s commands (including the ones about respecting positions of authority), we’re questioning God’s authority. We’re rebelling against His right to tell us how we’re supposed to live. And that’s not something people who describe themselves as Christ-followers should be doing. We should be in awe of our God and treat Him with the utmost respect.

His Authority As Lord

Once you acknowledge Yahweh as your God, you should also recognize His rights as creator and ultimate authority in the universe. When we call Jesus Lord, we’re saying He’s our owner, master, and ruler (kurios, G2962). And if we’re going to call ourselves Christians, we need to live as if we really believe this is true.

Woe to the one who strives with his maker, a potsherd among potsherds of earth! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, ‘What are you making?’ and ‘Your work has no hands’? (Is. 45:9, LEB)

Not only does God have claim on us as our creator, He also claims the rights of a redeemer. You are part of “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28, KJV).

Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:19-20, WEB)

We belong to God and He has absolute authority over every human life, whether we acknowledge His rights or not. And for those of us who do know Yahweh as our God, we need to make sure we respect His authority. Read more

Authority In The World

This probably isn’t going to be a very popular post in the little series I’m doing about how Christians relate to authority. Bible-believers like to ignore or debate around the verses that talk about how we’re supposed to respect  authority figures in the world. We’re pretty good at finding loop-holes so we can grumble about paying our taxes, complain about the President, and ignore as many “little” laws as possible (like the speed limit).

But I haven’t found any Bible verses that say it’s okay to say nasty things about people in power or rebel against earthly authority unless one of man’s laws conflicts with following God. I’m hoping in this post we can try to set aside our preconceived ideas and puzzle out what God’s instructions are and how to apply them today, rather than looking in scripture for excuses to keep resenting authority in the world.

Who Counts As Authority?

The key verses we’ll be looking at today are Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, Titus 3:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:13-17. These verses talk about various types of human rules and rulers. Here’s a list:

  • Authorities — exousia (G1849). Authority, power, rule of government (Rom. 13:1-5; Tit. 3:1).
  • Rulers — archon (G758). Commander, chief, leader (Rom. 13:3).
  • Servant — diakonos (G1249). One who executes commands (Rom. 13:4).
  • Servants — leitourgos (G3011). Minister, a servant of the state (Rom. 13:6).
  • Kings — basileus (G935). Leader of the people, commander (1 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 2: 13, 17).
  • All who are in authority — huperoche (G5247). Elevation, superiority (1 Tim. 2:2).
  • Rulers — arche (G746). Principalities, a person who is first (Tit. 3:1).
  • Be obedient — peitharcheo (G3980). To be persuaded by or obey a ruler/magistrate (Tit. 3:1)
  • Every ordinance — ktisis (G2937). Building, institution (1 Pet. 2:13).
  • Governors — hegemon (G2232). A leader of any kind (1 Pet. 2:14).

I think that covers pretty much everything. Those might not be the titles we use today, but the meaning is clear. These verses we’ll be looking at cover all types of worldly authority from your boss at work, to the lawmakers in your county, to the head of state. And we’re also told to respect the laws put in place by these people.Authority In The World | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Respect And Honor

Most of us (speaking from the perspective of a blogger in the U.S.) don’t even think about what it would mean to live in an honor-based society. We value individual freedom over the collective good. We cling to our right to express our ideas freely (a right which I’m using to post this article). We don’t like to think of people deserving respect or honor simply by virtue of their position. In fact, we often treat those with authority (or anyone who steps into the public eye) as fair-game for our nastiest comments. But God expects something different of us. Read more