Praying for the Government I: The Biblical Exhortation (Part 1)

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;  For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;  Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;   Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. – 1 Timothy 2:1-6

Why We Should Pray For the Government

  1. It is God’s command

The first thing we learn from the Scriptures about praying for the government in this epistle from Paul is, praying for the government is a biblical command. The Holy Spirit who authored the Scriptures gives us a directive, a direct command to pray for the government. Using Paul as the human author of this inspired writing, it would have been easy to omit this important point if it was note of great worthy especially when we put into consideration the fact that Paul lived in the day when the Roman government was very hostile to the Church. The Roman government had persecuted and killed several believers, and apostles James, Peter and Paul both suffered martyrdom at the hands of the vilest and cruel empires that sought to destroy Christianity. Yet, they never wrote evil or spoke badly about their respective governments but exhorted the Church to pray for their respective governments.

Our brethren suffered displacement, torture and horrible deaths in the great amphitheaters of Rome and lost lives to gladiators and predators in Rome’s arenas because the government and the vilest emperors had given edicts that sought to eradicate the Christian faith and those of the Way. Houses, properties and lands were confiscated; families were torn apart. They labeled Christians with all sorts of bad names, drove them to be killed by darts and had them torched as Nero’s torches for his garden. Yet, the Church continued to pray for its government. Exhortations were given to bless and not to curse, in the hope that the Lord will one day intervene and turn the misfortunes of the Church into a blessing.

Explaining a Biblical Command

It is important to understand first and foremost that for the Christian, the Bible is not only a book of God’s messages, will and revelation. To the Christian, the Bible is Law; it is God’s command. Thus, under girding this assumption is the concrete and utmost belief that the Bible if God’s law and carries in it laws and commands to be faithfully obeyed. Most Christians used to the preaching of grace only can find this to be a bit confusing, but allow me to state that God is a lawgiver and He expects his laws to be fully adhered to and acted upon in perfect obedience. Various passages in the Bible assumes that the Bible is a book of law (e.g. Isaiah 2:2-4; Jeremiah 31:33; 1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2).

Someone once argued that the Bible cannot be law for the Christian because several authors conveyed their thoughts and it is blasphemous to attribute these laws to God as His own laws at par with the Ten Commandments. I listened as he unveiled his supposedly new revelation as he called it. However, I saw the error in his reasoning because he started with a wrong foundation, a wrong footing. Before one can come to a study of the Bible to understand its teachings, a person must begin with certain suppositions. At the core of these suppositions should be a firm belief in the inspiration of the Scriptures. If your hermeneutic is lacking the Holy Spirit element, then you have started your studies on the wrong ground. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:21). He gave the words, and breathed upon them and superintendents the writers of Scripture so that what they wrote is indeed the very words of God. In other words, God made sure that what he wanted written as His word is written for our benefit, exhortation and encouragement. Even the apostle wrote, “But if any of you thinks that he is a Prophet or spiritual, let him know that these things I write to you are the commandments of Our Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37). Thus, in this particular instance, we are not only reading Paul, his philosophy or theology (though it is right to think of it that way), but we are reading God’s word and God’s command that underlies the thinking and exhortations of Pauline authorship.

Commands are orders or adjurations given by authorities. When given, the authorities expect them to be fully obeyed or there will be some repercussions and sought of punishment to those who failed to follow and obey them. If this is true with earthly commands, what more of those spiritual commands that God has given. The writer of Hebrews says, “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:” (Hebrews 12:25). God has spoken and has spoken and he has given us his word to which we must obey. We have no choice but to obey Him who speaks from heaven. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me”, said Jesus (John 10:27).

Thus, when God has given a biblical command as our Authority, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16; 1 Timothy 6:15), the Sovereign Lord (Lamentations 3:37-39) and Lord of Hosts (1 Samuel 1:3; Psalm 99:1), we have no any other option but to obey. The difference between our obedience and that of the world is: our obedience is based on a loving relationship we have with our Master and the desire to please Him. Recording Jesus’ lengthy conversation with His disciples, John wrote, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:15, 21). In other words, our love for Christ is fully manifested when we obey His commands which are not grievous (1 John 5:13). Professing a love for God without a willing heart to fully hearken and diligently obey His voice (Deuteronomy 28:1) is nothing but hypocrisy.

The Rationale Behind The Command To Pray For The Government

  1. The Earth Belongs to the Lord

We need to fully understand that this command to pray for the government stems from God himself as the context of 1 Timothy 2 says. Perhaps, before we get to this passage, we would do well to trace this theme beginning with the Old Testament. While some would try to quickly dismiss this kind of thinking because in the Old Testament God had an idea of a theocratic kingdom where He ruled and reined supreme over Israel, we should not fail to see that He has always been the God of the nations, the God of all the earth. The Psalmist, though living at a dispensation where Israel had the sole right to claim that they were God’s nation on earth wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). This is a profound and irrefutable truth! The earth, the world and everything in it belongs to the domain of the Sovereign Lord, the Owner of the universe. As the owner, He exercises oversight, rule and power over the nations and He has the power to give to the kingdoms of man to he whom He wills. It was this kind of understanding that drove the apostle Paul, though living at a time when human governments were against the Lord’s people to write to the Church in Rome, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Romans 13:1-2).

  1. God Sets up Leadership of the Nations

Living at a time when  Gentile kings felt they owned the nations because of their mighty and strength, the prophet Daniel amazed the gentile king Nebuchadnezzar with heavenly messages that superseded the wisdom of the most wise and intelligent men of the Chaldeans. God had given him unique abilities to interpret dreams and visions and he was ten times better than their wisest men (Daniel 1:17). This youth served in the Babylonian kingdom for seventy years and made Gentile rulers to understand and know that, despite all their military power, it was God who had given them the nations and could uproot them from them anytime He so wills because He is the Sovereign Lord. The book of Daniel clearly shows the Sovereignty of God in greater magnitude and we would do well to look at some of its key passages. “Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him” (Daniel 2:20-22).

When Daniel got to King Nebuchadnezzar, he said, “This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold” (Daniel 2:36-38). In this text, Daniel acknowledged the king to be the king of earthly kings since he had subdues several kings and their kingdoms. He did not want to deprive him of his accomplishments and the pride that comes with such extraordinary expeditions but rather, he was quick to point to him that there in the heavens sit enthroned the Lord of hosts, the Lord of the heavenly and earthly armies who give earthly kings their domains and kingdoms. He far exceeds them all and has the right to let all earthly kings give account to Him of their actions and governance, a theme which is well carried by the prophets in our Bible’s prophetical books.

 The Pslamist Asaph sang, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another (Psalm 75:7). It is interesting to note from the accounts of Daniel and Asaph that the Old Testament did not affix a geographical boundary or location for the reign of Yahweh, the God of Israel. They spoke of Him as having a universal rule and universal presence who was not only interested in the affairs of His chosen nation Israel, but all Gentiles and their leadership. If the leaders were evil and wicked, God would punish them inasmuch as their countries too if they sin against Him. It was for this reason that the Israelite nation would stand and boldly declare, Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12). This was a unique perspective of the biblical writers because they knew that if a nation could be built without the Lord, that nation would never stand (c.f. Psalm 127:1).

Part 2 of this discussion follows…EM


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