By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul was a man of authority who respected the authority of others. In Acts 23 it is recorded that he was struck on the mouth, and he began to rebuke the one who did it. Those who were near by asked, "Would you revile God's high priest?" Paul answered, "I did not know brethren that he was the high priest; for it is written, you shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people." Paul was patriotic, and we do not find him anywhere trying to stir up opposition to those in authority. He loved his own people and their government. He was a leader in it as a Pharisee, and he also had a high respect for the Roman government. It's laws of protection for its citizens saved him on several occasions.
In his letters he encourages believers to be the best possible citizens, and to obey their rulers. We want to examine his advice to Timothy along this line and see if can gain a new vision of how we can be more patriotic, and have it be a spiritual exercise. Patriotism is not good in itself, for one might be devoted to a very evil government and be a party to its evil by being so devoted. Christian patriotism, as brought out in this passage, is always good, even if one is a Christian under an evil government. It consists in a devotion to that government's highest well being by praying for its leaders. It is being patriotic in prayer that has been characteristic of the church in its relationship to the state.
In verse 1 Paul says that one of the first duties of believers is to pray for all men. When our daughter was very young she began to pray in her own words, and one of her most common prayers was, "Make everybody grow up and be good." This seems a little too comprehensive to be meaningful, and yet the attitude behind it is basic, for that is what Paul is saying in this passage. Prayer is to be comprehensive and all-inclusive. There is the concept of universality that runs all through this passage. We have words like all men, all in authority, and ransom for all. Prayer is to be universal and for all men.
Paul breaks prayer down into 4different categories. First you have supplications, which refers to a request for God's aid in fulfilling a specific need, which is keenly felt. Then you have prayers, which is more general, and is a requesting for those needs, which are always present, such as the need for wisdom and guidance. If I desperately need to know what to do in a specific situation, it is supplication. If I simply ask God to guide me in His will, it is prayer. The urgency of the need seems to be the main distinction. Then you have intercessions. This is a pleading for others, and it seems to imply that you are fulfilling a role, which they cannot do for themselves. Finally you have thanksgiving, which is an expression of gratitude for blessings already received. Paul feels this is a vital part of the prayer life, and we need to make sure we do not forget it by including it in all of our prayers.
Paul says that all these kinds of prayer are to be offered for all men. It is obvious that we cannot be praying for everybody. We would need the infinite mind of God for this. We cannot take this literally, and yet we dare not dismiss the universality of Paul's intention. He did not expect Timothy and the Christians he shepherded to pray for all those living on the earth, but he certainly meant that all people are included as objects of prayer, and objects of God's love and concern. It is a paradox, but I take it both literally and not literally at the same time. If you take it literally to mean all people then that includes the dead, and so this has been a proof text for prayers for the dead. It is obvious to the unbiased reader that Paul had no such thing in mind. So I do not take Paul's language as that inclusive, but I do take it to include all living people.
All people are to be prayed for, and none are to be excluded. Even evil men are to be prayed for. Many evil men become godly men because people have prayed for them. The leaders who oppose all that is Christian are to be prayed for. They may repent and become Christians, but even if they do not they can make decisions that effect everyone, and they can make those that are of benefit to everyone. We need to remember that the man on the throne when Paul wrote this was none other than Nero, who was the most anti-Christian leader we can imagine. But Paul is urging Christians to pray for him, and Paul prayed for this man who would soon order the taking of his own life.
The value of this is to see how we must broaden our vision, and how our obligation as Christians goes beyond our own family, church, denomination and nation. We are to be universal in our concern. The cross breaks down all barriers of rank and race. We need never ask, should I pray for such and such a person, for even if they be an enemy of God they fall within the believers prayer life.
In verse 2 Paul gets more specific and connects prayer with the state. Separation of church and state does not mean the church has no concern for the state, or no influence on the state. The church has been the basic stabilizing factor in the state in many instances. This has been the case in America. Presidents all through our history have asked for the prayers of the people in order t have the guidance of God.
Back in 311 A. D. the Emperor Galerius asked for the prayers of Christians. The power of prayer in the history of politics has been amazing. In Ezra 6:10 Darius appeals to the Jews to offer sacrifice and to pray for him and his sons. Here was a pagan ruler requesting the prayers of God's people, and this is good in the sight of God to do so. God not only hears the prayers of unbelievers, but He also hears and answers the prayers of believers for unbelievers. On one occasion the Jews were even asked to pray for their pagan rulers in captivity. In Jer. 29:7 we read, "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
If all goes well with those who rule, then people will be free to pursue the things of God and develop resources for spreading the Gospel. America would not be what it is today as the center of Christian forces going out into all the world if our government had been opposed to Christianity. I do not doubt for a minute that the prayers of millions of God's people have been a primary cause for our nation being what it is. On the other hand, failure on the part of Christians to pray for all rulers may well be why America is becoming paganized. Only eternity will reveal to what extent neglect of being patriotic in prayer has been the cause of the decay of our nation. Being patriotic in prayer is a unique role that Christians play in politics.
The early church took Paul seriously. They made prayers for their leaders and pagan governments a major aspect of church life. Here is the prayer of Clement of Rome for the Emperor of Rome. This is found in his first letter to the church of Corinth, which was written in about 90 A. D. when the horrors of persecution were fresh in the mind of everyone.
"Thou, Lord and Master, hast given our rulers and governors
the power of sovereignty through Thine excellent and unspeakable
might, that we, knowing the glory and honor which thou hast given
them, may submit ourselves unto them, in nothing resisting Thy
will. Grant unto them, therefore, O Lord, health, peace, concord,
stability, that they may administer the government which Thou
hast given them without failure.... Do Thou, Lord, direct their
counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in Thy
sight, that, administering the power which Thou hast given them
in peace and gentleness with godliness, they may obtain Thy
favor. O Thou, who alone are able to do these things, and things
far more exceeding good than these for us. We praise Thee
through the High Priest and Guardian of our souls, Jesus Christ,
through whom be the glory and majesty unto Thee both now and
for all generations, for ever and ever. Amen!"
Here is patriotism in prayer in the first century, and the church continued this attitude, for it combines loyalty to one's government and God. God is supreme, but in no way does that make one less loyal to his government. Instead, it gives him a greater concern for his government to be the best. Theophilus of Antioch wrote, "The honor that I give the Emperor is all the greater, because I will not worship him, but I will pray for him. I will worship no one but the true and real God, for I know that the Emperor was appointed by Him. Those give real honor to the Emperor who are well-disposed to him, who obey him, and who pray for him."
Justin Martyr in his Apology wrote, "We worship God alone, but in all other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging kings and rulers of men, and praying that they may be found to have pure reason with kingly power." Tertullian wrote, "The Christian is the enemy of no man, least of all the Emperor, for we know that, since he has been appointed by God, it is necessary that we should love him, and reverence him, and honor him, and desire his safety, together with that of the whole Roman Empire." These are the attitudes of men who were persecuted by those very leaders they prayed for. These quotes from the early church fathers reveal that Christians took Paul seriously and practiced his advice. They prayed for all in authority even though those in authority often despised them, and sometimes sought to destroy them.
Their motive was just what Paul refers to here, for they wanted peace so that they might live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness. The church is not to stir up trouble, but to seek to maintain peace so that it is free to witness to the saving power of Christ. Christians are to be the best citizens possible, and this calls for loyalty to the government as long as it is not directly opposing what is the clear will of God for His people.
In verse 3 Paul says this is good and acceptable in the sight of God. He desires all of His people to be patriotic in prayer. They can survive and thrive under any government if there is freedom from restraint. Calvin is very strong in his words on this passage, for he says, "When we despise those whom God would have honored, it is as much as if we should despise Him." We may not always know who we ought to vote for, but we always know who we are to pray for. Paul makes it clear that we are to pray for all in authority. This means that Democrats who are Christians are to be praying for Republican leaders, and Republicans who are Christians are to be praying for Democrat leaders. Christians are to be praying for all, even their political enemies. This could make a major difference in the degree of peace we have in our nation, and that is the point of Paul in being patriotic in prayer.
This is not to say that there is to be no criticism of leaders. To say my country right or wrong is like saying my water pure or putrid. The critic may be more of a patriot than the silent citizen who does not protest what is folly. If we truly love our country we will be always seeking ways to improve it and make it better, and this will mean that criticism of what is lacking is valid. God has worked through many unbelievers to bring forth good for the whole nation, and that is why we keep on praying even for those who we disagree with in many ways. The worst leaders may still make decisions that are for the good of the people as a whole.
Paul is saying that no Christian can stay out of politics. If you are obligated to pray for politicians then you are involved on the highest level. The only way to stay out of politics is to stay out of the will of God on this issue of prayer for your leaders. It is a patriotic duty to pray, and it is a Christian duty to pray. This is more important than voting. In Paul's day nobody got a vote. They lived under a dictator, but it was still their duty to pray for him. It is one of the ways the Christians in any nation can help bring about change that is a blessing to the people. History is filled with examples of how customs that were harmful to the people were changed by the influence of the minority of Christians who prayed for change. Since both godly and ungodly leaders are involved in making change possible it is a perpetual duty of Christians to be praying for all leaders and thereby be patriotic in prayer.