Thanksgiving Day Sermon – by Pastor Rolf Preus

1 Timothy 2: 1-8

We should pray for our government because it serves us as God’s servant. The Bible teaches that all governments instituted among men get their power to govern from God. We should submit to all legitimate human authority because all authority comes from God Himself. St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. . . . For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:1&4)

The civil authorities govern as God’s servants. This is so even when the civil authorities are less than just. Nero was Caesar when St. Paul wrote his Epistle to the church in Rome. Nero violently persecuted Christians. He regarded himself as a god.

Even though he was an enemy of the Church God commanded Christians to submit to his authority.

Christians obey human authority for Jesus’ sake. St. Peter writes:

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)

The Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of government we should have. It tells us to submit to whatever government we happen to have. We do so because those who serve in the government do so as servants of God (whether they know it or not!) and in obeying human authority we are obeying divine authority.

Governments frequently abuse their people. Corrupt officials use political power for personal gain. Political ideologues impose their utopian ideology on millions of helpless victims, promising prosperity to the poor while driving them deeper into poverty. Justice is bought and sold. Governments lay claim to democratic legitimacy and steal elections. How can the Holy Scriptures tell us that crooked politicians are servants of God? Because they are, that’s why. God runs this world through wicked people in spite of their wickedness.

This is why we need to pray for our government. God hears our prayers for our government. How could he command us to pray for them and then ignore our prayers? God is not a Republican or a Democrat. He doesn’t tell us how to vote. He doesn’t even tell us to vote. The only election God holds is the election of his people to eternal life in Christ. God is the only one who votes. The Christian has no duty to vote or to participate in the political process. The Christian’s duty is to obey the government and to pray for those who govern.

If we pray to God for our daily bread, will he not hear our prayers for our government? After all, a bad government can impoverish a nation, depriving them of their daily bread. If we intercede to God for the benefit of those who govern in the nation and the state won’t God help them? God hears our intercessions. He hears our prayer for the sake of his Son the Mediator, the Man who brings us together with God.

Christ gave his church the authority to forgive and retain sins. The state has no authority over sin. It deals with crime. We call on the state to outlaw abortion, not because it is a sin against God, but because it is a crime against the unborn. When we call on the state to protect the unborn, to avoid unnecessary war, to protect the sanctity of marriage, and to do other good things that protect the welfare of the nation, we are not imposing the Christian religion on the state. We are appealing to natural law, the law that God has Written in nature and imprinted on the conscience.

The danger of mixing church and state does not come from the direction of the church, as if a particular establishment of religion is going to start giving orders to the civil authorities of America! No, it’s the other way around. It’s the danger of imposing America on Christianity.

A love of country agrees with the Fourth Commandment. If we are to honor our father and mother, we ought to honor our fatherland and motherland. But just as our true Father to whom we owe primary allegiance is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, so our first loyalty must not be to America but rather to the true Christian Church into which we have been baptized. God is not an American. God blesses governments instituted among men for the sake of the government of grace in which Jesus Christ himself rules. After telling us to pray for our government, St. Paul tells us why: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” A good government can keep the peace. A good government that has God’s blessing on it can maintain the ordered liberty that enables us to live a quiet life, free from threats of violence. As we live reverent and godly lives at peace with our neighbors, the Church can bring the saving truth to others.

The apostle continues, “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.” When there is peace in our country and neighborhood We have the opportunity to bring the truth to others. God doesn’t want anyone to be ignorant of the saving truth. He wants all people to be saved and no one can be saved except through the truth. Here in America, where we have religious freedom, the truth is freely proclaimed. God doesn’t bless America for the sake of America. He blesses her for the sake of his Christians. We are the heirs of the blessing God promised to our father, Abraham. It is for the sake of the Holy Christian Church on earth that God blesses governments and nations of this world.

God wants the gospel proclaimed. He wants people who are trapped in lies to be set free by the truth. He wants the blind to see. He wants the pure doctrine of his saving gospel proclaimed throughout the world. Where the state protects the right of the church to preach God’s word in its truth and purity, God will bless the state. He promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse him who curses you.” (Genesis 12:3) God blesses the temporal nation for the sake of his eternal kingdom. God will bless America as long as America protects God’s Church.

God doesn’t preserve his Church in American so that Christians can make America God’s kingdom here on earth. God preserves his Church in America so that the saving truth of the Mediator between God and man might be proclaimed to Americans. This Mediator is true God and true man. St. Paul calls him a man. Jesus is the substitute for us men. He is the ransom that sets the world free. This is the truth that the whole World needs to hear.

If you need a ransom this means you’re a slave. That’s an admission most Americans are unwilling to make. We are Americans! We are free! We don’t need a Mediator! We don’t need any ransom paid! But we do. On this Thanksgiving Day, before we can give genuine thanks to God, we need to acknowledge our need for the ransom of Christ’s holy precious blood that he paid for us all.

When we bemoan the crime we see in our beloved country we should look at the sin within our own hearts. Crime that calls out for divine retribution flows from the same selfishness we harbor within ourselves. Even as we thank God for our political freedoms we confess that we are by nature enslaved to every kind of sinful desire and selfish ambition. We are guilty. We need someone to mediate our cause before God.

God Himself pleads our case for us. He is the true Man. He is the One who gave himself a ransom for all. When he sets you free you are really free.

As We pray for our country and her leaders, we thank God for our right as Americans to freedom of religion. For us this means we have the right to hear the pure gospel preached and to receive from God’s hand the forgiveness of sins that Christ’s ransom obtained for us. We are reconciled to God by the blood of His Son. We have access to God’s grace through the one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. Thank God!

It is good that our nation sets aside a day of thanksgiving to God for his blessings upon America. We pray for America today. We have the God-given right to pray for America and her leaders. We pray that God would give our leaders wisdom, courage, and the Spirit of justice. God hears our prayers for the country we love for the sake of the merits and mediation of Christ, who gave himself a ransom for all, and that means for every American. God bless America! Amen.


About Pastor Rolf Preus

Pastor Rolf David Preus grew up on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the fourth of ten children, where his father, Dr. Robert David Preus, taught for many years. Pastor Preus graduated from high school in 1971, from Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1975 and from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1979. He was ordained on July 1, 1979, at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Clear Lake, Minnesota. He served Trinity Lutheran Church in Clear Lake (1979-1982), First Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1982-1989), St. John's Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin (1989-1997), River Heights Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1997-2006), and First American Lutheran Church in Mayville, North Dakota and Grace Lutheran Church in Crookston, Minnesota from (2006-2015). On February 15, 2015 he was installed as Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana. Pastor Preus received his Master of Sacred Theology degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1987. His thesis topic was, “An Evaluation of Lutheran/Roman Catholic Conversations on Justification." Pastor Preus has taught courses in theology for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Concordia University Wisconsin, and St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil, Ukraine. Pastor Preus married Dorothy Jean Felts on May 27, 1975, in Coldwater, Michigan. God has blessed Pastor and Dort with twelve children: Daniel, David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, James, Mary, Samuel, and Peter. David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, and James are pastors in the LCMS. God has blessed Pastor and Mrs. Preus with forty-three grandchildren so far. Pastor Preus' mother is living in Minneapolis. Three of his brothers and two of his brothers-in-law have served as pastors in the LCMS.


Thanksgiving Day Sermon – by Pastor Rolf Preus — 7 Comments

  1. “We should submit to all legitimate human authority….”

    How does one determine whether a human authority is legitimate or not?

    “The civil authorities govern as God’s servants.”

    Did the authorities of the Third Reich, say, “govern as God’s servants”?

    “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man….”

    Was the American Revolution wrong? Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad? The French Resistance? The African-American Civil Rights movement? What about civil disobedience generally?

  2. Good questions!

    Hitler was a servant of God, albeit an evil man who abused his power to commit terrible crimes. Likewise, Fidel Castro. Both of those men were servants of God and both of them deserved to be hanged for their crimes.

    I believe the American Revolution was a just war. They were defending their legal rights recognized by the king himself all the way back to the signing of the Magna Carta. The French Revolution, on the other hand, was lawless and unjust.

    Harriet Tubman put the value of human lives above allegiance to the civil law. Black slavery as it existed in America left people in perpetual slavery without any realistic means of obtaining freedom.

    The French Resistance were fighting a just war against foreign aggression and occupation of their country. They were right to do so.

    On the African-American Civil Rights Movement, while I agree with their goal, I cannot in principle support the tactic of civil disobedience. MLK crossed a line. May we disobey unfair laws? We should disobey laws that, if by obeying them we would be doing wrong, but if obeying them doesn’t involve us in sinning against God’s law, we should obey the civil authorities as God teaches us in Romans 13. Martin Luther King taught that we have the right to disobey unjust laws if we are willing to pay the price. I don’t agree with his teaching. It is unbiblical.

  3. @Rolf Preus #2

    Martin Luther King taught that we have the right to disobey unjust laws if we are willing to pay the price. I don’t agree with his teaching. It is unbiblical.

    So if one of your grandchildren were told that a baby might have [ultrasounds have been wrong] Down’s Syndrome and the government required (instead of doctors and insurance companies strongly encouraging) abortion, you would tell them to be obedient to the government?

    Some “progressives” would be quite happy to make a list of cases in which euthanasia would be required because the potential victim’s “quality of life” doesn’t meet their standards. If the government made it law, would you think it a matter for obedience?
    [As it is, insurance companies will tell you that a sub standard nursing home is “good enough” because they don’t want to pay more for care that might actually improve the patient’s condition. So patients die by inches of neglect, (unless they have a lot of money).]
    Money may not protect them either if the heirs are anxious to save their inheritance.

    I read your comment again. Perhaps you have answered my questions. The questions are legitimate; we have narrowly (and perhaps temporarily) escaped such laws for the time being. But the principle behind Planned Parenthood (besides profit) is eugenics and the “unfit” will always be threatened while the government aids (with our taxes) and abets such organizations!

  4. If the government required us to kill an innocent unborn baby we would be required by God to disobey the government. If, on the other hand, the government required us to pay taxes to do all sorts of things the government shouldn’t be doing (the list is long!), we would be required to pay the taxes (Romans 13:6-7), but not a dime more! 🙂

  5. The government requires that citizens not leave the country without proper papers. If the safety and security of one’s family is at risk because of a brutally oppressive government, should one submit to to the aithorities or flee with one’s family?

  6. Hitler and Castro “deserved to be hanged for their crimes.”

    Hanged by whom? Assuming that brutal dictators generally do not want to be hanged, how could the citizenry both submit to them (as per the article above) and hang them?

  7. All civil authority ultimately comes out of the 4th Commandment. From this commandment also comes the duty to protect one’s family, a duty more fundamental than the duty to honor the civil authorities. I would argue that, all things considered, a man’s duty to protect his family trumps his duty to obey the government.

    Regarding the question of who should hang such brutal dictators as Hitler and Castro, the answer is: I don’t know. I said they deserved to be hanged. I didn’t say by whom or how.

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