By Shawn McMullen
Some people say politics and religion don’t mix, but the apostle Paul had a different idea. In his first letter to the young evangelist Timothy, Paul included instructions about public worship. First among his instructions was a call to pray for all people, and especially government leaders.
He wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
I wonder what the early believers thought about Paul’s instructions. Would they have eagerly agreed to pray for “kings and all those in authority”? Paul most likely wrote this letter when Nero was emperor of Rome. Known for his harsh—even brutal—mistreatment of Christians, Nero may have been the last person they would have chosen to pray for. Many leaders with authority under the emperor would have been just as corrupt and cruel.
In another letter to the early church (a church in the heart of the Roman empire), Paul wrote, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). Whether or not the early church agreed with or supported their rulers, they were to respect the authority of those who governed them, recognizing that God established the concept of government to preserve order in the world.
So the wise apostle insisted that Christians pray for their leaders. Why? “That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” The Greek word for peaceful used here can also be translated “tranquil.” The word quiet describes the life of a person who stays at home, minds his own business, and does not meddle in other peoples’ affairs. Now it begins to make sense. The early church was to pray for rulers and government leaders, however evil they may have seemed, so that peace would prevail throughout the land. When peace prevails, Christians have greater freedom—and more opportunity—to worship the Lord, put their faith into practice, and demonstrate holiness to a watching world.
Paul explained, “This is good, and pleases God . . . who wants all people to be saved.” If God wants everyone to be saved, and if peace in the land increases the opportunities for Christians to live out their faith and tell others about Christ, and if that peace depends in part on the leaders who govern the land, then it follows that praying for those leaders should be a priority for God’s people.
Regardless of their political party or persuasion, let’s pray for those who govern our nation, our states, and our communities—privately, in our family devotions, and in public worship.