As Pastor Joe has recently been pointing out, sometime in the mid to late first century AD, when an autocratic pagan emperor ruled the Mediterranean world, the Apostle Paul wrote this instruction to Timothy, who was leading a young christian church Asia Minor:
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)
“I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men.” From this, two advantages result.
First, hatred towards those who are without is done away; for no one can feel hatred towards those for whom he prays: and they again are made better by the prayers that are offered for them, and by losing their ferocious disposition towards us. For nothing is so apt to draw men under teaching, as to love, and be loved. Think what it was for those who persecuted, scourged, banished, and slaughtered the Christians, to hear that those whom they treated so barbarously offered fervent prayers to God for them.
Observe how he wishes a Christian to be superior to all ill-treatment. As a father who was struck on the face by a little child which he was carrying, would not lose anything of his affection for it; so we ought not to abate in our good will towards those who are without, even when we are stricken by them…
But some one perhaps will say, he meant not for all men, but for all the faithful. How then does he speak of kings? For kings were not then worshipers of God, for there was a long succession of ungodly princes. And that he might not seem to flatter them, he says first, “for all men,” then “for kings”; for if he had only mentioned kings, that might have been suspected. And then since the soul of some Christians might be slow at hearing this, and reject the exhortation…he shows them the advantage of it, thus at least to reconcile them to the advice, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life”; as much as to say, Their safety is a security to us; as also in his Epistle to the Romans, he exhorts them to obey their rulers, “not for wrath but for conscience’ sake.” (Romans 8:5)
For God has appointed government for the public good. When therefore they make war for this end, and stand on guard for our security, is it not unreasonable that we should not offer prayers for their safety in wars and dangers? It is not therefore flattery, but agreeable to the rules of justice. For if they were not preserved, and prospered in their wars, our affairs must necessarily be involved in confusion and trouble; and if they were cut off, we must either serve ourselves, or be scattered up and down as fugitives. For they are a sort of bulwarks thrown up before us, within which those who are enclosed are in peace and safety.
He says, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks.” For we must give thanks to God for the good that befalls others, as that He makes the sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and sends His rain both upon the just and the unjust.
Observe how he would unite and bind us together, not only by prayer but by thanksgiving. For he who is urged to thank God for his neighbor’s good, is also bound to love him, and be kindly disposed towards him. And if we must give thanks for our neighbor’s good, much more for what happens to ourselves, and for what is unknown, and even for things against our will, and such as appear grievous to us, since God dispenses all things for our good.
Whoever is in government, may we be strong enough to head the word of God from two millennia ago, and the sound teaching from 1600 years ago, and know and do the things that make for our peace.
And, friends, the flavor of Christians who walk closest with God is always, everywhere, that strong, peaceful joy, able to engage the world with seriousness and compassion, able to take action to solve problems, able to bear with injustice without bitterness, able to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, able to see past the world’s triumphalism when things go their way, or despair when things don’t, able to see through it all, all the way to the day when the clouds part, and the dawn breaks.