Oh, I like (insert political title here), so and so. I agree with his/her policies and viewpoints. I have to pray for them. But those (insert political party or group here), I don’t stand with them, I can’t pray for them, they are all evil.
I stand in opposition to this group, I even pray against them and their ways. I come in prayer against these evil people.
Have you ever heard this, or similar statements from Christians? I have. Is that what scripture teaches us, is this what Jesus prescribed?
Scripture says that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:10-18), which includes people, leaders, governments, etc. We wrestle against spiritual powers and forces. We are not called to come in prayer against people or governments per se; as we will see, we are called to pray for all people, leaders, cities, nations and cultural conditions.
The world, our nations, our cities, our brothers and sisters and those who don’t believe, all need our prayers. The creation is ill, sick unto death, and our prayers invoke Yahweh to heal and save people and the nations. If we are warriors, prayer warriors, we are prayer warriors for good, of truth, love and salvation—praying for people, not against them, which is in many ways similar to calling down a curse. That is not what we’re called to do in the spiritual battle we wage today.
I urge therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings, be made for all people,1 Timothy 2:1
“All people”? Yes, that is what the Bible says. Even the self-proclaimed atheist across the street? What about the person who wishes me harm or who has threatened my family in some way? Yes, them too!
I can remember a time when the “unbeliever” was scorned and looked down upon by certain religious practitioners. Is that what Jesus taught? No! Jesus taught that these are the “sick” among us who need a physician. They need to be healed. They need the kind of true spiritual healing that comes with the new birth, salvation.
The record in Matthew 9 explains, starting in verse 9:
And as Jesus passed by from there, he saw a man called Matthew, sitting at the tax office, and he says to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. 10And it came to pass, as he reclined to eat in the house, Look!, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to his disciples, “Why is your teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12But when he heard it, he said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.13But go and learn what this means, I want mercy, and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Matthew 9:9-13
And in Matthew 5, beginning in verse 43, he taught:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ 44but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you 45so that you can be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do that? 48Therefore, you are to be mature, as your heavenly Father is mature.Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus not only taught this principle of prayer, he lived it, even up to the point of his physical death:
And there were also two others, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.Luke 23:32-34
33And when they came to the place that is called “The skull,” they crucified him there, and the malefactors, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up his garments among themselves.
(Also see Isaiah 53:12)
We all were like them at one time: unbelievers, enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-11, Col. 1:21-22). We were among the sick, the deathly ill. We needed the great physician. And so do they.
Paul, by way of inspiration and revelation, tells Timothy—as well as all Christians—that we should offer up sacrifices of prayer, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgivings for people, all people, and especially those riddled with the sicknesses of this fallen world. Then he adds:
for kings and for all who are in authority,1 Timothy 2:2a
This is interesting, because kings and those in positions of authority fall into the category of “all people”. Why would Paul single out these individuals? For emphasis, because of the tremendous effect they have on our lives and mission.
It does not matter what political party a particular government leader or official is affiliated with, or whether we agree with them or not, Paul tells us to pray for them with all types of prayer even interceding before the Lord on their behalf.
Oh, but it was easy for Paul to write those words, he lived during a much simpler time and in the great Roman Empire, we might say. But not so. 1 Timothy was written sometime around 65 AD. Nero was emperor and at best indifferent toward Christians; at worst, he was outright hostile.
Roman society was not all that much different than today’s “modern” societies. Theirs was molded by the political, civil, religious and economical leadership and by the populace’s response to their policies and laws (or lack thereof). The leaders (for the most part) of the Roman society were corrupt, bribes were the way things got done (compare Acts 24:26), and quid-pro-quo was commonplace. Marriage was an arrangement of convenience rather than commitment and love. Procreation was not for the purpose of building a loving family, but for the sake of legacy (survival/remembrance beyond one’s death).
Human life was not considered a sacred thing, worthy of protection. If your slave died, you simply purchased another. If your soldiers died in battle protecting the Empire (actually gaining more territory and wealth for the Empire), the Emperor simply conscripted or trained more. No big loss. If the homeless died, his or her body was simply left on the street, pushed aside for the dogs and carrion birds to devour.
In practice, society existed to serve the needs of the Empire (the State, and those privileged few) rather than the populace. Any benefits or amenities that trickled down were only meant to keep the status quo. Status quo was extremely important and anything that was perceived to be a threat to it, or to the Empire as it existed, of necessity must be eradicated.
Life was pretty dismal for most. There was no middle class, just the haves and the have-nots. The haves (upper class) labored to protect and expand the status quo and their grotesque privilege at the expense of the slaves they owned and the lower class; meanwhile the have-nots (lower class) groveled and desired to gain access to and inclusion in the decadent privilege of the haves (see “Daily Life In The Roman City” by Gregory S. Aldrete).
Christianity instantly became a threat to both the pagan and established Jewish religious institutions along with their economic systems, and soon thereafter, a perceived threat to the political, civil, and sociological Roman establishments. It needed to be eliminated.
This was the environment when Paul, in-between his imprisonments in Rome and shortly before his own martyrdom, wrote 1 Timothy. Paul said (or better put, the Lord himself has now said) to pray for our leaders, regardless of party, political leaning, or anything else.
Are there other Biblical examples of someone living in troubled times or adverse or hostile situations where God told them to pray for the people, leaders and spiritual climate they found themselves surrounded by?
The answer is yes. We can look at a record in Jeremiah where the tribes of Benjamin and Judah had been taken captive, carried away to a faraway foreign land with foreign pagan gods and forced to live under foreign laws, in a foreign and hostile Babylonian culture.
In the midst of what most people would say was very adverse conditions, basically a condition of slavery and a tremendous infringement on their freedom, God tells the children of Judah and Benjamin to do a very interesting thing.
Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, to the prophets and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon,2(after that Jeconiah the king, the queen-mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the smiths had departed from Jerusalem) 3by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah (whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), saying: 4This is what Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captivity whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5“Build houses, and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their fruit. 6Take wives, and father sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands so that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there, and do not be diminished. 7Seek the welfare of the city to which I have caused you to be carried away as captives, and pray to Yahweh for it, for in its welfare you will have your welfare.”Jeremiah 29:1-7
“Seek the welfare of the city”. There are many Christians that would expect a different directive. Here “city” means much more than the physical buildings, roads and infrastructure that make up the city. It includes all of the people, the leaders, government, religious leaders etc. It also includes the economic and cultural welfare.
But why, you might ask? Why pray for people who may appear so despicable to us? The answer is given in the next statements in 1 Timothy.
so that we can lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior,1 Timothy 2:2b – 3
In the record in Jeremiah we read that the Israelites were to pray “FOR the city” (emphasis mine) not against the situation or against it’s people. Why? Because as the city (or nation) went, so did the people (including God’s people) living there. “In its welfare you will have your welfare”. If it goes down, you will feel it. If it prospers, you will feel that also.
Political, civil, religious and economical leaders wield tremendous influence over our daily lives. They make decisions that affect our personal lives, our ability to move, speak and exist in a tranquil and godly manner. Their decisions affect our mission, callings, and purpose.
For example, see 2 Chronicles 19:4–20:30—a record of a godly King (Jehoshaphat) making godly decisions and ruling in a godly way. The end result of his reign was “The fear of God was on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that Yahweh fought against the enemies of Israel. So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around.” (2 Chron. 20:29 & 30).
Simply put, godly leadership leads to “quiet in the land” so that God’s people can live their lives freely for Him, without hindrance. This is why we pray for these people—and not only that, but because it is “good and acceptable in the sight of God.”
Verse 1 of 1 Timothy 2 lists four different words for prayer (petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings). The word “intercessions” is very interesting. To intercede by way of prayer is to make a formal request to a high official or official body for another party. In this case, the request is made to Yahweh on behalf of other people, including kings and leaders (both believers and non-believers).
There are many places in the Bible where one godly person interceded for God’s people and the Nation of Israel. For example:
Nehemiah 1:1 and following. Nehemiah prays for the people and situation back in Jerusalem. He begs God and calls him to remember His covenant. He intercedes for the Children of Israel, he stands in the gap. The results of Nehemiah’s intercessory prayer is recorded in chapter 2 verse 8: “The king granted my requests, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”
Another example can be found in Daniel 9, starting in verse 1. Daniel intercedes for the Nation of Israel and confesses their sins to God. Daniel implores God to forgive them.
Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of your servant, and his petitions, and for your own sake, Lord, cause your face to shine on your sanctuary that is desolate. 18O my God, incline your ear, and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we are not presenting our petitions before you based on our righteousness, but based on your great mercy. 19O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. Lord, listen and act. For your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people are called by your name.”Daniel 9:17-19
Verse 23 states that at the beginning of Daniel’s praying, “a word went out”. There was movement in Heaven. God began to move in favorable response to Daniel’s prayer and sent the archangel Gabriel to bring a great message of hope to Israel, a prophecy concerning the future (verses 24-27) and Israel’s ultimate deliverance in the Messiah.
Another example can be found in Acts 4. After being taken before and threatened by the Sanhedrin for speaking the truth concerning Jesus and the resurrection publicly (see Acts 4:1-22), Peter and John were released and returned to the fellowship of believers. Prayers were made to God, imploring Him for His help. They did not want their voices silenced, they wanted the boldness to speak the truth in the face of adversity and threats.
The result is recorded in verse 31: “And when they had implored God, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the holy spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
But what is the ultimate goal or purpose of praying for all people and especially for kings and those in positions of authority? It’s revealed in 1 Timothy 2:4:
who wants everyone to be saved and to come to a full knowledge of the truth.1 Timothy 2:4
Jesus taught his disciples to pray like this: “May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” (Matthew 6:10). 1 Timothy 2:4 reveals that it is God’s will (Greek word thelo, will, desire, want) for everyone—EVERYONE!—to be saved and equally to come to a FULL knowledge of the truth (emphasis mine).
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone to declare it? 15And how are they to declare it unless they are sent out? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim good news about good things!Romans 10:14-15
True, Christians are commanded to be a witness for God and for the Lord Jesus regardless of the political and cultural environment. But it is so much easier to do so when the climate is tranquil, quiet, and godly.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “May your kingdom come! May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” (Matt. 6:10). Well, what is God’s will? Partly for all people, even those who are practicing evil, to be saved, to escape the fire, and to know the truth so they are not defeated/destroyed (Hosea 4:6a). We are to pray for ALL people and kings, including people of authority, to be saved and know truth; that way, they can enjoy the blessings of salvation and rule in a godly manner so we can live tranquil, quiet lives and freely be witnesses of Christ and share the truth.
This is why we pray FOR these things and not against. We pray for God’s help, His intercession, His push-back on the adversary’s devilish schemes, and we continue to speak with boldness the truth about Jesus and the resurrection.
We can help bring tranquility to a troubled nation just like Jeremiah and Nehemiah. We pray for kings and leaders like Jehoshaphat and for those unlike him to change and turn to God. We need to seek the welfare of, and pray for, the city.
When we pray for these things, we are interceding to help God’s will be done on earth.
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,– St Teresa of Avila
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
The World’s Bible
Christ has no hands but our handsby Annie Johnson Flint
To do His work today;
He has no feet but our feet
To lead men in His way;
He has no tongues but our tongues
To tell men how He died;
He has no help but our help
To bring them to His side.
We are the only Bible
The careless world will read;
We are the sinner’s Gospel,
We are the scoffer’s creed;
We are the Lord’s last message,
Given in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked?
What if the print is blurred?
What if our hands are busy
With work other than His?
What if our feet are walking
Where sin’s allurement is?
What if our tongues are speaking
Of things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help Him
And hasten His return?