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Summary: Reviewing the response of believers when they no longer represent the majority views in society.

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“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. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” [1]

The Apostle’s words in our text lead to the conclusion that prayer, and especially for those who govern, must be of first importance to the faithful. If the public prayers offered in church services are any indication, one must wonder if modern Christians are convinced of this. If people could hear the prayers Christians offered in the privacy of their homes during the previous days and weeks and months, I wonder whether those listening would be convinced that praying for those who govern is a priority in the lives of contemporary believers.

The message today is presented as a challenge—a challenge exacerbated by changing social conditions. The message is a challenge to examine our prayers, which in turn reflect our own attitudes and our relationship to the True and Living God. Join me in study of Paul’s instruction to a young pastor concerning prayer for those who govern.

PRAYER FOR THOSE WHO GOVERN MUST BE A PRIORITY — Who was the Emperor at the time Paul wrote this letter to Timothy? What social conditions prevailed for those who sought to follow the Christ as Master over life? The questions are not incidental to Paul’s instruction to Timothy—they are both germane and central. The answers to such questions will provide occasion to discover our own responsibilities to government as followers of the Risen Christ.

The Emperor at the time Paul wrote this Letter to Timothy was Nero. Nero reigned from 54 to 68 A.D. In the year 64 A.D., about the time Paul wrote this letter, a fire began in the southeastern angle of the Circus Maximus. The blaze spread rapidly through the many shops clustered near where it had first begun. After a week, it was thought the fire was controlled; however, the blaze broke out anew, continuing to burn for nearly a fortnight until the flames had destroyed ten of the fourteen Augustan regions into which Rome had been divided.

Though Nero was adulated by the Greek population, he was in substantial disfavour with the Roman populace. The fact that neither Nero’s mansion nor that of his advisor, Tigellinus, were damaged, led to speculation that Nero himself had set the fire. It was commonly bruited that the fire was set deliberately, and that Nero was responsible for the conflagration. Though he likely didn’t set the fire, his lack of popularity fuelled the speculation; and the fact that he seized the occasion to rebuild the city in a manner suitable to himself only added to the resentment.

Nero and Tigellinus realised that if they could charge someone with the fire they would divert attention from themselves; and there was a group at hand—Christians. Christians refused to worship the Emperor, they lived lives that were generally odious to the population, they met in secret, they spoke often of the destruction of the Empire and the coming of their God—in short, they were suspect and detested, having no strong advocate to promote their cause in the Empire.

At Nero’s behest, Christians in Rome were killed in large numbers, their deaths engineered in the most vicious ways imaginable. These hated Followers of the Way were exposed to wild beasts in Nero’s Circus, they were crucified and they were smeared with pitch before being set ablaze to illuminate the night. The executions were so grisly that even the populace became sympathetic to the victims of Nero’s madness. Ultimately, Nero’s vicious assault failed to induce the populace’s adulation. [2]

Judaism was a religio licita. Jews were numerous, and persecution of them because of their religion would have caused problems for the government. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism. Because the Jewish religious leaders persecuted the Christians, under Roman law, Christianity became, as least tacitly, religio illicita. Hence, throughout the Empire, persecution of Christians was tolerated because the Followers of the Way were unpopular.

Armed with this information, consider how radical Paul’s instruction appears: “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.” The instructions are radical precisely because Jesus’ disciples are called to adhere to His instruction. At least twice, the Master spoke to this issue. “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [MATTHEW 5:44-48].

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