Thursday, June 16, 2016

1 Timothy 2:2 and Praying for Kings and All Those in Authority

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Out of the universal group of 'all men' for which Christians should pray, Paul specifically singles out some who might otherwise be neglected in evangelistic prayer: kings and all who are in authority. Because ancient (and modern) rulers are so often tyrannical, and even disrespectful of the Lord and His people, they are targets of bitterness and animosity. They are also remote, not part of the everyday lives of believers. Hence there is a tendency to be indifferent toward them.

Such neglect is a serious sin because of the authority and responsibility leaders have. The injunction here calls for the Ephesian assembly to pray for the emperor, who at that time was the cruel and vicious blasphemer, Nero. Although he was a vile, debauched persecutor of the faith, they were still to pray for his redemption. The request for prayer for kings and all who are in authority is not limited to just a petition that they would be wise and just, but that they would repent of their sins and believe the gospel for the sake of their eternal souls.

Thus, when Paul urges the church to pray for everyone, he means everyone. Praying for the world includes praying “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2). There may well have been a murmur of surprise when Timothy read this to the Ephesians! Nevertheless, the Bible commands intercession (with thanksgiving!) “for kings and all who are in high positions.”

The early church took this responsibility seriously. Consider how Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: 
“Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly administer the government which you have given them.… Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and pleasing in your sight, so that by devoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy.”
Clement’s mention of peace and stability is fully in keeping with Paul’s instructions. The late second- and early third-century theologian Tertullian wrote,
Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish. These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone. …
Do you, then, who think that we care nothing for the welfare of Caesar, look into God’s revelations, examine our sacred books, which we do not keep in hiding, and which many accidents put into the hands of those who are not of us. Learn from them that a large benevolence is enjoined upon us, even so far as to supplicate God for our enemies, and to beseech blessings on our persecutors. Who, then, are greater enemies and persecutors of Christians, than the very parties with treason against whom we are charged? Nay, even in terms, and most clearly, the Scripture says, “Pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.”
We know that a mighty shock impending over the whole earth—in fact, the very end of all things threatening dreadful woes—is only retarded by the continued existence of the Roman empire. We have no desire, then, to be overtaken by these dire events; and in praying that their coming may be delayed, we are lending our aid to Rome’s duration. (Apology, XXX, XXXI, XXXII; The AnteNicene Fathers [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], 3:42–43)
With that sentiment the second-century apologist Theophilus of Antioch agreed: 
I will rather honor the king [than your gods], not, indeed, worshipping him, but praying for him. But God, the living and true God, I worship, knowing that the king is made by Him. … Honour the king, be subject to him, and pray for him with loyal mind; for if you do this, you do the will of God. (Theophilus to Autolycus, I.xi; The AnteNicene Fathers [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 2:92)
Moreover, concerning subjection to authorities and powers, and prayer for them, the divine word gives us instructions, in order that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” And it teaches us to render all things to all, “honour to whom honour, fear to whom fear, tribute to whom tribute; to owe no man anything, but to love all.” (Theophilus to Autolycus, III.xiv; The AnteNicene Fathers [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 2:115)
From those examples we learn that the ancient church, often in the worst eras of persecution, prayed for Christless rulers. If we would influence our society the way earlier Christians did theirs, we must follow their example. We pray for our leaders “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2; cf. 1 Thess. 4:11–12). Like the captives in Babylon (see Jeremiah 29:7), Christians are to pray for the peace and prosperity of their rulers, even when they are living among pagans.

Christians are not always known as peacemakers in those times in which they live. This was true already during Paul’s lifetime, when Christians were blamed for the burning of Rome. It was also true during the Reformation. Calvin first wrote his Institutes (1536) to show that the Reformers were not trying to undermine the social order. The church’s reputation is in need of almost continual defense, for Christian involvement in public life is often greeted with skepticism, even hostility. This is partly because the gospel is so radical that Christians are always potential revolutionaries. Yet in the face of opposition, God wants his people to keep it quiet. He wants them to lead orderly, dignified, reverent lives in all tranquility and serenity. In the words of the New English Bible, Christians are to maintain “full observance of religion and high standards of morality.” They are to be respectful and respectable.

The reason Paul insisted on good deportment is that it is essential to the witness of the church. Christians who do not pray for their political leaders tend to disturb the peace. They are cynical about their political opponents and rejoice when they fall into disgrace. Since cynicism about the government is so prevalent in the church today, we may well conclude that Christians are not always diligent in prayer for people in authority. For as John Chrysostom rightly claimed, “no one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays.” Prayer replaces hostility with compassion.

One good reason to pray for the government is that a peaceful society is a good society. These verses show the proper relationship between church and state: not separation, but partnership. John Stott offers a balanced perspective:
It is the duty of the state to keep the peace, to protect its citizens from whatever would disturb it, to preserve law and order, and to punish evil and promote good, so that within such a stable society the church may be free to worship God, obey his laws and spread his gospel. Conversely, it is the duty of the church to pray for the state, so that its leaders may administer justice and pursue peace, and to add to its intercession thanksgiving, especially for the blessings of good government as a gift of God’s common grace.
When the state protects the church and the church prays for the state, everyone lives in peace. Although Christianity no longer enjoys the favor it once did, Americans can still praise God for religious liberty and pray for its preservation. Peace, in turn, aids the worldwide spread of the gospel. 

This was true during the Roman Empire of the pax Romana, when safe roads sped the first missionaries on their journeys. It was true during the British Empire, when British missionaries spanned the globe. It was true in the American Century, during which missionaries went out from the United States to translate the Bible, evangelize unreached people groups, and plant churches in every nation. Peacetime missions is part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world, so pray for peace.