From the Pastor's Pen

February 2021

 

From the Pastor’s Pen . . . .

 

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 2:1–4

 

The year AD 49, though obscure in most world histories, would prove pivotal for Christians living under the influence of Rome. Allow me to explain. It was in AD 49 that a royal named Agrippina married her uncle Claudius, emperor of Rome. Such marriages were not uncommon among those who claimed royal lineage in those days, but for Agrippina, the marriage was clearly—and predictably—strategic. You see, Agrippina came into the marriage with a son, Domitius, who was the last remaining male descendent of Caesar Augustus. Agrippina no doubt felt that her son should be the next emperor of Rome, and quickly set in motion her plot to secure that position for Domitius by persuading Claudius to formally adopt him as his son, even at the peril of his own son and heir, Britannicus. When it became apparent that Britannicus was on track to inherit the throne of his father, Agrippina had Claudius poisoned. Domitius then became emperor of Rome, and a puppet-king of Agrippina who secured his ascendency to the highest position in all of the Roman empire. What followed would become one of the most notorious reigns in all the history of Rome. You see, upon his adoption, Domitius took the name by which he is known around the globe to this day: Nero.

 

Nero’s bloody edicts and notorious reign are well known. His step-brother, Britannicus, his mother, Agrippina, and his wife, Octavia, are among those who were killed at his command. But Nero is perhaps most known for “fiddling while Rome burned.” In July of AD 64, Rome was ablaze for six days. Seventy-percent of the city burned and half the population of Rome was homeless. While it is doubtful that Nero actually fiddled during the fire (the violin as we know it would not be invented until about 1500 years later) the message behind the sentiment is clear: Nero was an inept, mentally compromised, socially detached emperor who was deaf to the needs of his people. It is no wonder that he was blamed for the fire. Nor is it any wonder that he placed the blame on a small religious group in Rome—the Christians—and thereby set into motion the state-sponsored persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ . . . and the martyrdom of both Peter and Paul.

 

“Why,” you might ask, “all this talk about Nero?” Simple. Nero was Emperor of Rome when Paul penned the passage from 1 Timothy, above (c. AD 62–64). The tyrannical, inept, mentally deficient, usurper to the throne Nero was the “king” Paul had in mind when he exhorted that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and for all that are in authority.” This puts things into perspective.

 

But it also raises questions.  How could Paul even suggest, much less command, that believers pray for the likes of Nero? Does not Scripture say that even to greet one who fights against Christ is to “share in his evil deeds”? (2 John 10–11) A brief look at the Who? What? and Why? of Paul’s exhortation may help us grasp what the Holy Spirit intends.

 

For Whom are we to pray?

  • For all men—That is, pray for all humanity
  • For kings—Kings here refers to persons who hold positions of authority within the  government, but particularly those who occupy chief executive positions.
  • For all who are in authority—The word translated authority here is not the usual word for those who have governmental rule over us, but rather those who are in prominent places, i.e., those who have positions of influence. This might include opinion makers, sports figures, and yes, even actors and actresses who have influence over large segments of culture and society. But we should not limit this to those who have a place on the national stage. Church leaders, school teachers, university professors, local government officials, employers, and parents all hold positions of influence and are rightfully the object of the prayers of God’s people.

 

What are we to pray?

  • Supplications—To make supplications emphasizes prayer to God for the personal needs of the individual’s for whom the supplications are made. Those for whom we are to pray are, before all else, human beings who have real personal, physical, and especially spiritual needs. Often those needs are vastly different than those perceived by the individual for who prayer is being made. God alone knows their true needs, and we can trust Him to address those in a way that honors Him when we pray as led by the Spirit.
  • Prayers—The usual word for making requests to God. It is never used in reference to making requests to another human being, and thus emphasizes an ultimate appeal to the highest authority for intervention in earthly affairs, always with the glory of God as the ultimate priority.
  • Intercessions—Intercessions is often misunderstood to mean to try to persuade God or step between God and the individual for whom intercession is being made. This notion could not be more wrong! God always knows and does what is ultimately best (from God’s perspective) for the person or situation. Here “intercessions” emphasizes free, intimate conversation with God concerning the person or situation in view.
  • Giving of thanks—Every human being is made in the image of God, is of inestimable worth to Him, and will be used in some manner in the accomplishment of His purposes. We may not always be able to thank God for how a person behaves in actuality, but we can always thank God for the person he or she is potentially when gripped by the grace of God.

 

Why must we pray?

  • That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence—Consider this paraphrase: “That we might live lives free from outer turmoil and filled with inner peace, in a manner that is honorable and shows reverence for God.” Those who have authority and influence over us can make it exceedingly difficult to be at peace within and without, and to maintain appropriate human dignity in a spirit of reverence toward God. Among the first things that despots and tyrants try to strip away is human dignity and the ability to show reverence to Almighty God. We pray for kings and those in authority over us in order that we might be free to live for the Lord.
  • For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior—Far from being a practice that God would censure, prayer for all men, kings, and those in lofty places, is good in His sight. Why? Because…
  • [He] desires all men to be saved and to come the [full] knowledge of the truth [about the redemptive purposes of God]—We can justly pray for all men, even kings and those in lofty places, because God wants every person to be saved and to know Him.

 

How then can we justify praying for leaders who clearly have an agenda that is anti-God, anti-Christian, and anti-Christ? We certainly do not pray that God would prosper them and help them to accomplish their ungodly agendas. Indeed, to do so would make us partaker of their evil deeds. Rather, we pray that they will be saved and come to have a living knowledge of the Lord. We pray that God’s will and desire for their individual lives will be accomplished, and that He would restrain them from doing things that would hurt His people and incur God’s wrath. We pray that they will promote conditions that are favorable to the spread of the gospel and the kingdom of God. The quality of our lives just may depend upon the effectiveness of our prayers.

 

Blessings,

Pastor Mark