Pray for All Who Lead
1 Timothy 2:1-2
by Bob Burridge ©2018
The movie Fiddler on the Roof has always been one of my personal favorites. One of the scenes in the opening sequence shows the men of Anatevka asking their beloved Rabbi if there is a proper blessing for the Tzar. With a wise twinkle in his eye the Rabbi suggested this prayer of blessing: “May God bless, and keep the Tzar — far away from us.”
Sometimes those who lead cities, counties, states, or nations abuse their authority. They promote laws that diverge from God’s revealed principles rather enforcing them. There were wicked Governors, Kings, and Emperors like the Tzar all through human history. We have seen some in modern times who have been cruel tyrants or immoral examples.
In the time of the Apostle Paul’s travels, the Roman Empire dominated the part of the world where he ministered. Nero was probably the Emperor of Rome when this letter was written. The Emperors and local Governors were certainly not supporters of the Bible. They were primarily politically corrupt pagans. The natural tendency of those being oppressed would be to curse the leaders, and to pray for bad things to happen to them.
In general there is a temptation to offer prayer for certain groups of people only. We might be tempted to pray for those with whom we can identify, those who agree with us, those with whom we can sympathize, or those who benefit or can help us in some way. But then to neglect or even to pray against the rest. It may not even be intentional.
God shows us a different way to pray in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
1. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
2. for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
The expression, “First of all” does not begin a numbered list. There’s no “second of all” or “third of all”. He didn’t mean that there should be. Paul was not starting a list with “First of all”. He didn’t get side-tracked and forget to add the second and third of all. The Greek word order in the original is “I am urging therefore first … “. He means that what he’s recommending is a priority matter. It’s something very important.
Next, Paul specifies prayer with four terms. The first three are close synonyms.
1. We should make “supplications“ (sometimes translated as “entreaties”). This is the Greek word “de-ae-seis” (δεήσεις). These are petitions, requests, where God is asked to help with specific needs.
This kind of prayer fully recognizes that God is our only true helper and provider. Ultimately, if anyone is to be helped, God is the one who makes that help possible. We sometimes go to human experts like lawyers, doctors, politicians, or pastors. But they can only do their work well as God enables them. Therefore when we go to those God gifted to be able to help us, we must do so with prayer. Pray for those experts while you go to them for help.
Here Paul is specially telling us to pray for God’s help toward our leaders — whoever in God’s providence they may be.
2. We’re also to offer “prayers“. This is the Greek word “pro-seu-chas” (προσευχάς) which is a very general term that could apply to all of our communications with God. It includes all the proper concerns we bring to him.
The Shorter Catechism’s familiar definition in Answer 98 would fit here, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”
When a general word is used in a list of synonyms, it has a specific reason for being there. It’s probably intended here to show that those more general things in life should be brought to God too. It shows a contrast with the specifics of supplications, intercessions and thanksgivings. When we pray for our leaders, we keep even their more general needs before the Lord. That means, not only relating to their leadership, but also their private lives and needs.
3. Next, we’re to make “intercessions“. This is the Greek word “en-teu-xeis” (ἐντεύξεις). This word is only found here and in chapter 4:5. It appears no where else in the New Testament. Romans 8:27 tells that the Holy Spirit “intercedes” for the saints. There Paul uses a different form of the word.
The emphasis of this word here seems to be the personal coming before God in confident openness, humbly pleading for help and comfort on behalf of others. This we must do for all our leaders in the various levels of government, at home, at work, and in the church.
4. We’re to offer “thanksgivings“. This is the Greek word “eu-charist-ias” (εὐχαριστίας). This 4th word for prayer reminds us of the need to express our gratitude to God, giving him full credit for all that is good. When there are times when our leaders do well we should thank God for moving them to do so.
There’s a temptation to pray only for those who benefit us, and to neglect the rest. Paul shows us that our prayers should be very broadly offered. We ought to pray on behalf of “all people“. That doesn’t mean you should pray specifically for every one of the 7.6 billion humans on earth. That strains the natural meaning of the context.
The context here shows us which “all” he means. He is telling us that we shouldn’t exclude any group of people when we pray. Dr. Hendriksen explains the meaning here as, “all men without distinction of race, nationality, or social position, not all men individually, one by one.”
There is a common human tendency to exclude some groups when we pray, intentionally or not. Paul was particularly concerned that prayers be made specially for Kings and those in authority. He used the more broad term for kings, “ba-si-le-on” (βασιλέων), rather than the specific word for Caesar or Emperor. This word for king was often used even for some of the lesser Roman governors. To make his point clear he adds .. “all who are in high positions”.
When those in positions of responsibility and rightful authority are ungodly, we may not like what they are doing. But they are still to be prayed for. Only God can restrain the evil in the heart of a Senator or President. Prayer is one of the means God has ordained by which we as a church are to use for advancing our Creator’s plan.
Paul then explained the reason for these prayers. He provides 4 terms arranged in two pairs:
… that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
1. The first pair says we pray for them in order that we might lead a “peaceful” and “quiet” life.
The word “peaceful” (or “tranquil” as some translate it) is “hae-re-mon” (ἤρεμον). It’s only found here in the New Testament. It means to have freedom from things around us, specially bad things. This includes freedom from wars, crime, persecutions, and things like that.
The word “quiet” (or “peaceable” as some translate it here) is “hae-such-ion” (ἡσύχιον). It’s only used here and in 1 Peter 3:4. The word has to do primarily with freedom from inner turmoil and anxiety.
Of course Paul isn’t suggesting that we ought to expect to have lives without problems. He means that when those in authority are doing their jobs in ways that please God, it will reduce the things that trouble us from without and within.
Governors are there by God’s sovereign appointment. Paul had summarized that teaching explicitly in Roman 13:1-4.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
We have a duty to pray for them that they will do their job well to keep civil order. Civil order is a non-redemptive benefit to society. It doesn’t make its people Christians, but it does invoke God’s outward blessings.
2. The next pair points out that our goal is also to enable us to live in a responsible manner.
That is, when we have the benefits of freedom and of public safety, we ought to live that life in godliness and dignity. The word “godly” is “eu-se-bei-a” (εὐσεβείᾳ) which means to live in a manner and attitude that pleases God. The word “dignified” (honesty in some translations) is “sem-no-tae-ti” (σεμνότητι). It has to do with respectability and dignity as others see us. It’s our reputation.
1 Peter 2:13-17 applies this principle clearly, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (the word “emperor” here is the same word translated as “king” back in 1 Timothy 2:2.)
As Christians, we should be above the petty prejudices of the lost world.
Paul commanded Timothy to pray for cruel and deranged pagan Roman Emperors. We know that it’s best for all of us if our leaders, whoever they are, lead according to God’s principles, and that they live godly personal lives. We should pray for them, all of them who lead: Conservatives, Liberals, Moderates, Libertarians, Progressives, Independents,
Democrats, Republicans, or any other party in power by God’s providence.
As elections and politics are so much in the news, we need to remember to pray. Pray for all those who actually have power to make, enforce, and judge our laws. Your prayers are more important than even your votes and petitions submitted to your leaders.
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)