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. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling – 1 Timothy 2:1-8
An Inauguration Day like none we’ve witnessed in our lifetime will nonetheless begin today as so many others have before it – with prayer in a morning worship service. That’s perfectly in keeping with the exhortation from Paul that the Church should ‘first of all’ offer prayers and intercession for ‘all who are in high positions.’ As this day dawns, I hope many Christians will pause for a moment and pray ‘first of all’ for soon to be President Biden and Vice President Harris, together with their families.
Having noted the priority of offering prayers for those in authority, Paul goes on to write about the purpose of such praying. It isn’t political praying, at least not in the sense that it seeks to invoke God’s blessing on every policy position of an elected official or military advance from an Emperor. It isn’t even designed first and foremost for the benefit of the person in authority.
There are two primary reasons we pray for those in high positions.
The first is ‘that we may lead a quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’. Where good government exists, we notice its work less and enjoy a peaceful life more. Wicked governments lead to societal upheaval, mismanagement to mayhem, prejudice to injustice, and corruption to the oppression of the innocent and widespread cynicism. In other words, praying for God’s help for those in authority doesn’t mean we ask God to help them because we agree with everything they stand for but because we desire lives and societies marked by peace.
That leads to the second primary emphasis. Paul writes that these prayers rise to God so that the Gospel may spread more freely to all people. God seeks the salvation of all people and when the Church is on mission in a society marked by good order and justice, the mission of spreading the good news about Jesus faces fewer impediments and God’s servants fewer dangers as they work and serve. ‘God our Savior desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth…’, and that purpose in God’s heart is furthered in a society where his people are at peace.
You might be thinking, ‘Well, the Gospel spreads when persecution of the Church arises.’ That can be true; God does ordain suffering for his Church in certain seasons and sometimes the Gospel prospers in such times. In fact, the Emperor who Paul exhorts the church to pray for in this passage is none other than Nero, one of the cruelest of Rome’s Caesars and a violent persecutor of the church, the very Emperor under whom Paul would eventually be martyred. While the Gospel does move forward even when the Church is suffering persecution, it is also true that persecution has snuffed out Gospel witness in some places. That certainly happened in Japan and in the Middle East, especially after the 14th century. We endure persecution when we must, but we are never commanded to pray for it to occur. We pray for good government and for peace in our land, so that we may be at peace and do our work in peace.
Our new President and his Administration, together with all those who serve us at all levels of government, face the difficult task of leading a population exhausted by a pandemic, economic uncertainty, political madness, and social division. Wherever we stand on political principles, we are all called to fall on our knees and pray, ‘lifting holy hands’ as priestly people on behalf of those who offer this service to us. This is the posture of our prayer for those in authority – humility, seeking God’s blessing, and united in heart and voice for the sake of the world.
Let us pray.
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