Summary: We are commanded to pray for all people, even for kings. Were the people of God to obey this command, we could change our world, and in the process, honour God.
“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 Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Apparently, one of the most difficult commands of all Scripture is that which commands Christians to pray for “all who are in high positions.” At least, that is the obvious conclusion, if the paucity of public prayers for government officials, or even prayers for those who direct our great corporations and businesses, is any indication. Perhaps we fail to pray for such people because we have become so clearly polarised politically, attributing unworthy motives to those with whom we disagree.
Though I do not suggest withdrawal from the political process, I must remind the people of God that though we are not of the world, we are nevertheless in the world. We are responsible to live in such a way that we serve as salt in a decaying world and as light in the midst of a darkened world. It is our presence as Christians that delays the progress of moral and ethical rot through righteous lives and through exercising godly discernment as we participate in the selection of national, provincial and municipal leaders. We reveal the grace of God through holy and godly lives that reflect the love of God and we thus create a desire for goodness in others who witness our righteous demeanour.
The message this day seeks to lay a foundation for “religious liberty.” Religious liberty is the doctrine that asserts mankind’s freedom to worship according to the dictates of the heart—a freedom the state is charged to protect. The tendency in recent years appears to witness states intruding ever more deeply into the realm of the Faith, seeking to compel agreement with and practise of an unspoken, though nevertheless very real, state religion of niceness and quiet tolerance of every deviant behaviour. Addressing the Southern Baptist Convention, the former American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, spoke of the necessity to protect religious freedom. Ms. Rice stated her conviction that “people everywhere are entitled to religious liberty.” Later, she followed that statement with the affirmation that “government simply has no right to stand between the individual, and the Almighty.” Each true Baptist would utter a hearty “Amen.”
How may we change the situation in which we find ourselves? How can we transform government, assuring freedom to worship as we believe right? The answer provided in Scripture gives no comfort to those who wish to organise a noisy march or a raucous demonstration; the answer given in the Word of God debars us from even imagining that we can castigate government or speak ill of those who give their time to direct the affairs of state. Instead, what we discover in Scripture is that we are responsible to change government—one prayer at a time.
THE SCOPE OF THE TEACHING —Paul urges us as Christians to offer up “supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings … for all people.” The scope of his plea is as broad as humanity itself, saints as well as sinners. That this is the will of God should be no surprise since God gave each of us our life and our being; and God has provided salvation for all who receive the sacrifice of Christ the Lord. This is in accord with the Scriptures that teach us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” [JOHN 3:16].
The opening words of the text—“first of all”—indicates that prayer is vital in the program and purpose of a church. Tragically, prayer appears to be an afterthought in the churches of this day. We no longer depend on prayer. When there is a need in the church, we announce the need and ask for volunteers or for contributions; but we no longer look heavenward to find the mind of the Master. A saying that once was common among the churches warned, “No prayer, no power.” That could well be applied to the life of churches today. If I announce a potluck meal, the church will be full; however, if I should announce a prayer meeting for the church, I will be fortunate if the elders attend.
Paul adds the adverb “then,” thus providing continuity by drawing attention to the matters he had already addressed. He has already encouraged Timothy to stand firm, resisting error, and especially to present in all its glory and clarity the message of God’s Good News in Jesus Christ. As a primary means of accomplishing this responsibility, the Apostle urges “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.” It is fair to state that in the mind of the Apostle, prayer is a primary—if not the primary—means of advancing the cause of Christ and in resisting error. The congregation that is not marked by prayer is susceptible to every sort of error and whether there is a large attendance or few members in attendance, that congregation will never enjoy sustained success as they seek to fulfil the call of Christ in the life of the assembly.