National Thanksgiving

Preached: July 8, 2012

Pray for the Nations
1 Timothy 2:1-6

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

First of all then, I urge that petitions, prayers, requests, and thanks be offered for all people, for kings and all who are in high offices, so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and honesty. This is good and pleasing before God, our Savior. He wants all to be saved and to come to know the truth. For there's one God and one Mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus. He gave himself as the ransom for all, the testimony at it's own right time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Combined in a certain way, they make TNT, a dangerous explosive. But combined in a different way, they form proteins, the basic building blocks of life.

Religion and politics don't mix, they say. So often when they are mixed, the results are bad, if not explosive. Look at Iran where religion dominates politics, creating a militant Islamic state. Look at many of the churches in our own country. Their politics have blinded them to the church's true mission to proclaim Jesus as the only Savior, who brings us to God through the forgiveness his cross has purchased for us. Yes, the church and the government need to recognize their distinct God-given roles and the differing tools he has given each of them to carry out their responsibilities.

Mixing religion and politics in the wrong way is dangerous, but not mixing them at all is also deadly. If carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen never mixed, you wouldn't have explosive TNT, but you wouldn't have life either.

Where must religion and politics mix? Right inside you, dear Christian, for you are both a citizen and a Christian. Unless we are going to lead a double life of hypocrisy, the two mix in our hearts. How can we see to it that this mixture of religion and politics inside of us is for good and not for destruction? The words the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul to write help us answer that question as he encourages to pray for the nations. Remember that theme.

A. God wants all to be saved by faith in his truth

Who do we pray for? Having just celebrated our country's birthday, maybe the first answer that comes to mind is: We pray for our country, our fellow Americans, our soldiers and sailors and airmen. That's true. We do pray for them, but not just for them. Paul broadens our perspective. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1 NIV) -- not just for our fellow Americans, but for all people.

Who does that include? Not only your friends and family and fellow church members. It includes that neighbor who upset you or that acquaintance who gossips about you. It includes the homosexuals and the adulterers, the porn-peddlers and drug dealers, the drunk and the swindler. It includes those in Colorado suffering from fire and those on the East coast suffering without power. It includes the foreigners in our country, whether the speak English or not, whether they are here legally or not. It goes farther than our borders as well. It includes our neighbors to the north and south and those across the ocean. It includes those in Syria enduring armed conflict as well as those causing the conflict. It includes children in Uganda taken to serve as soldiers as well as those, like Joseph Kony, who took them. It includes enemies of the state like members of al-Qaeda. “All people,” the Apostle writes. That leaves no exceptions. The theme isn't pray for the nation, but the for nations (plural), all people.

Notice how Paul even draws our attention to one particle group: “for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2 NIV). They are the leaders in government, which means our politicians. We like to criticize and complain about them, especially if they're from the other party. God wants us to pray for them.

Why pray for all people, even foreigners and politicians? Because God wants them to be saved. Yes, those aliens or immigrants, legal or otherwise, are a mission field for us. He wants them to come to fully know the truth, the only truth that saves. Whether they are a war criminal, a great philanthropist, or a helpless victim, each of them is a creation of God just like you and me. Because he is our Creator, each of them, just like you and me, owe him perfect, complete obedience. The conscience each of us has makes that clear. But each one of them, just like each one of us, is a sinner, who has broken God's law that we're obligated by nature to obey. Our own conscience testifies against us. Who can step between us and the righteous judgment of death and hell we each deserve?

Only the God-man, only Jesus Christ is the intermediary, the go-between. He's not a negotiator working toward a compromise. He's not that kind of mediator. Rather he gave himself as the sacrifice. He stepped between God and us and took the punishment we deserve. He gave his life as a ransom. A ransom for whom? Not just for good people, not just for believers, not just Christians, but for all people. That's how earnestly God wants to save. He gave his own Son as the ransom to set you free. “... God our Savior ... wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Timothy 2:3-6 NIV). Pray for all people because Jesus died for each one of them.

And that also gives us insight what to pray for. God wants them to know the truth. So pray for them to see their need for Jesus because of their sin. Pray for them to trust him as their Mediator who gave his life to ransom them. Pray that through faith in Jesus they are saved, just like you. Pray for the nations. God wants all to be saved through faith in his truth.

B. God grants us earthly peace to spread his truth

But as we move to the second part here, we note that there is a particle reason Paul singles at our leaders in government and urges us to pray for them. God uses the government he's placed over us to funnel certain earthly blessings to us. Through the government he blesses us with law and order, protecting us from rampant crime and invading forces. Through the government he blesses us with an ordered society so that we can carry on business and commerce, providing for ourselves and our families. So Paul urges us to pray for those in authority “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:2 NIV).

Don't get the wrong idea here. I think that some people hear those words and think, “OK, I should pray for the government so that I can have a good life.” Isn't that the way a lot of people vote? They vote according to their wallet. Which candidate or policy is going to make my life better. Whose going to improve my economic outlook? The experts tell us that the economy affects the way people vote more often than any other issue. If that what motivates our voting, isn't that also likely to seep into our prayer life. “OK, I'll pray for the nation because that will make my life better.”

But, dear Christian friends, that's twisting what the Apostle is saying here. That ignores the phrase “in all godliness and holiness.” And it ignores the context that talks about God wanting all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

First of all, we pray for those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives not because good lives now will give us a secure future, not because good lives now let us pursue happiness, not because good lives now let us take it easy and enjoy ourselves. Why do we want peaceful and quiet lives? So that we can live in all godliness and holiness. So that we can live in a way that glorifies our God, that brings honor to his name, that spreads the kingdom of our Lord, that carries out his will here on earth.

In fact, when God blesses us with peaceful and quiet lives through our government, when he blesses with prosperity that gives us so much more than basic food and clothing, doesn't that give us many more resources to devote to spreading the Good News of Jesus? I'm not just talking about money resources. When others see how you spend your leisure time, they get to know what is important to you. When others look at where your time and money goes, can they tell how important Jesus is to you? Are you using the blessings of peace and prosperity in our land to show that you worship the God who wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?

You know your failures. And you know your Savior. He has redeemed you, ransomed you to be his own. He stands between you and the holy justice of God. He became man stepping to our side to save us. Only Jesus -- he is your God and Savior. With your confidence in Jesus, resolve to use your earthly prosperity to spread God's saving truth. With that mindset, pray for the nations, for God grants us earthly peace to spread his truth.

Religion and politics are certainly mixing in our hearts, just as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Those also are the elements that mix to make ammonium nitrate. Maybe that's the way to think of yourself as a Christian citizen. Ammonium nitrate can be a marvelous fertilizer to produce a bountiful harvest, or it can be part of a deadly explosive in a car bomb. How will you use that mixture of religion and politics in your heart as you pray and vote? Pray for the nations, believing that God wants all to be saved through faith in his truth. Pray for the nations, using the earthly peace and prosperity God gives you to spread his word of truth. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313