By Chuck Griffin
1 Timothy 2:1-7 (NLT)
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For,
There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time. And I have been chosen as a preacher and apostle to teach the Gentiles this message about faith and truth. I’m not exaggerating—just telling the truth.
In these highly politicized times, Paul’s words to a young pastor will make some of us squirm.
Obviously, we are polarized as a nation. We’ve seen the left and right run toward their extreme edges, leaving a void in the middle. Far behind us are the days of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill sitting down in a room and hashing out a way to govern despite their political differences.
So, let me ask you the tough questions the Apostle Paul has raised for us. For the last four years, have you been praying for our president? Regardless of what you may think of him?
Will you pray for our next president, regardless?
I suspect some of us are blanching at the idea. Me, pray for him? Me, lift that guy up to God for support and sustenance?
Our situation could be worse, much worse. Just in case you’re thinking, “How could Paul suggest we do such a thing,” let’s take a moment to consider the context of his words.
The worldly leader of leaders in Paul’s day was the Emperor Nero. Yes, that Nero. The Nero who persecuted the Christians, having them dipped in tar and turned into human torches, or letting them be torn apart by wild animals for sport. The insane Nero, the evil Nero, the guy likely assigned the code number “666” by the author of Revelation.
Paul was telling Timothy to pray for the worst leader you could imagine, and for all of his flunkies. And frankly, as strange as Paul’s request sounds, there is some incredibly powerful Christian logic here, a logic rooted in Old Testament teachings.
Proverbs 21:1 makes clear God can control the will of any leader. The prophet Jeremiah exhorted the Jews in exile to pray for their captors, knowing that if their captors were at peace and blessed, the Jews would be at peace and blessed, too.
We pray assuming God can change anyone so he or she is inclined to do God’s will. It is of course a good thing when our leaders follow God’s will, even if they have not done so in the past. Paul is essentially saying, “If they begin to listen to and follow God, things will be better for all of us.”
He goes on to emphasize there is but one path, one God and one mediator, Jesus, who is the Christ. Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, regardless of whether we sit in a palace or sift through a dung heap for a living.
In a way, Paul’s (and Timothy’s, we must presume) prayers do seem to have borne fruit, although not in time to save Paul from martyrdom. Nero’s empire eventually passed into the hands of other emperors, until one day it finally belonged to Constantine, who made Christianity the official religion.
Some people debate whether it was really a good thing for countercultural Christianity to suddenly be acceptable in the halls of power, but one thing is for sure—the alignment of the empire’s leaders with the faith sped the spread of Christianity.
So, if you’re one of the many folks who lie awake at night worrying about this nation’s future, quit worrying and start praying. Certainly, pray for the leaders you like. But also pray fervently and regularly for the leaders you feel are not aligned with God.
Pray for all the people who might lead us soon. God may do great things in their hearts, working through them to awaken this nation to its role in Christ’s kingdom.
Lord, bless all of our civic leaders with a deep sense of your presence and guidance. Amen.