Over the last couple of weeks we have heard a lot about praying for our leaders in light of the inauguration of a new president. Obviously, this call has been heightened by the reality that most evangelicals didn’t vote for the president, and he stands for a few things that evangelicals stand strongly against. So, appropriately, there has been a strong reminder for believers to pray for the President, regardless of whether we voted for him.
So it was fortuitous when our time in our High School sunday school class brought us to the first part of I Timothy 2. I had read a lot of people building on the command to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions”, but not a lot else exegetically about the passage. So when I spent some time studying, reading, and meditating on it, I came to some conclusions that I believe help us better understand not on the command to pray, but also how and why. Here are some thoughts in no particular order.
Obviously, we all know that context is king when understanding a passage, so its helpful to notice the context of this passage. It directly follows Paul reflecting on the Gospel’s effect in his own life. He recognizes that formerly he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But Paul, the foremost of sinners, received mercy through Christ. This causes him to spontaneously break out in praise in verse 17, proclaiming that God is the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, and deserves all the honor and glory forever and ever.
Once we approach the passage of 2:1-7 itself, we notice that it’s actually about the Gospel also. In verse 4 we are reminded of God’s desire for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (I told the kids that Conor would be providing a discourse fully explaining this and other difficult passages concerning God’s will in two weeks.) Paul says that there is one way to God, one mediator between man and God, that being Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for many.
I don’t think we can separate the Gospel from the command to pray for leaders. This means, I believe that the primary concern and topic of our prayers should be the salvation of our leaders. This fits in with the reality that we can’t transform our nation through political reform, but through the transforming work of the Gospel. Of course we are to pray for wisdom and guidance for our leaders, but I don’t think our prayers should stop there.
That leads me to the statement in verse 2. Paul says we are to prayer for our leaders “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” When I read this, I could see a health and wealther taking this verse and preaching that our lives would be easy and comfortable if we just follow this command. Unfortunately, we know that this won’t be our physical reality on this side of eternity. I don’t think this is talking about a physical state of our lives.
Rather, I think that when he speaks of a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified, I think he speaking of an emotional and spiritual perspective prayer brings us. Prayer aligns our priorities and perspectives with God. Prayer is not just making our thoughts known to God, but uniting our hearts and minds with His. So when we make a practice of praying for our leaders, we are reminding ourselves of God’s sovereignty over the leaders of our nations, states, and towns. Truly this was to bring comfort to believers living under the tyranny of Nero, as was the case in this context. If they can draw comfort and peace from prayer in that situation, surely it can be a comfort to us no matter who our leader is.