“The Church and Prayer, part 2”                                                       June 16, 2013

1 Timothy 2:1-8

 

SI:  1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.

Paul says in chapter 3 that he has written this letter so that people will know how

   to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God.

 

Paul’s main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the

   church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way

   that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.

 

We studied this passage last week and focused on how we are to pray for

   the salvation of all people, because God wants all to be saved.

How as a church we must be diligent in evangelistic prayer.

 

But there is another specific instruction that we need to spend some time on—

   the instruction to pray for kings and all those in authority.

The church magnifies and advances the Gospel by praying for all civil authorities—

   for presidents and governors, congressmen, mayors, counselors and judges.

Kings and all those in authority.


 

INTRO:  On night in Washington DC, a man wearing a ski mask stuck a pistol

   into the ribs of a well-dressed gentleman and said:  Give me all your money!

The well-dressed gentleman began to sputter in anger and said:

   Do you know who I am?  I am a United States Congressman.

Well, in that case, said the mugger:  Give me all my money!

 

Politicians and public officials are easy targets for jokes.

   Think of how often they are depicted in cartoons and how often they are

   mocked in parodies and impersonations.

   Saturday Night Live has made an industry of that.

There is nothing wrong with political satire per se.

   It’s part of the way we talk about politics and government in a free country.

Often times it puts a finger on the truth. 

   There is waste and corruption and cronyism in Washington.

It is funny to think about a well-dressed, elected mugger

   being mugged by an honest mugger who is working for a living. 

  

But often it goes beyond satire,

   and government leaders are objects of disdain and hatred.

In America it seems that there are two competing visions of what this country

   should be and what constitutes a just society—and never the twain shall meet.

Just take one of the great dividing issues of our time—abortion.

   There are some who say a good and just society protects the life of the unborn.

   And there are others who say that just society allows them to be killed for the

   good of the mother. 

And on a great many issues, there are similar divisions.

 

Government leaders, those in positions of authority, become the face

   of one side or the other of these competing visions of America.

So people look at them, and don’t see a person or even an office,

   but the personification of justice or the personification of great evil.

Based on that, they either support them without question or disdain and hate them.

 

I myself have a visceral reaction toward certain political leaders.

   I will read a news story about a position one has taken on an issue,

   or I will hear a news conference or an interview, and my blood will boil.

And I will think:  This person is ruining our country.

   I can’t help hoping they will very quickly meet their political demise,

   and be stripped of all power and influence.

But this passage reminds me that no matter what my convictions morally and

   politically, that I am called as a Christian and as a pastor,

   and we are called as the church to pray for all those in authority. 

No matter how we might disagree politically, they need our prayers.

   It’s easy to criticize, it’s easy to despise.  But as Christians, we don’t look at

   everything through a political lens, we look through a spiritual lens.

 

In a sermon on this passage, JC Ryle, godly, 19th century Anglican bishop said:

   “We must never forget that none are so truly to be pitied, none in such spiritual danger, none

   so likely to make shipwreck to all eternity, and none stand in such need of our prayers as the

   kings of the world.  Few out of the many who criticize their conduct seriously consider the

   enormous difficulties of their position.”

Then he elaborates on what makes their spiritual position so dangerous. 

   “Think of the temptations which surround them.  Seldom advised, seldom contradicted,

   seldom warned, they dwell in bodies like our own and have passions as we do, and are liable

   to be overcome by the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

And he talks about how those in the highest positions are “fearfully alone.”

   If it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, how much harder a king.

 

The context of this passage, as we saw last week, is God’s desire for all people

   to be saved.  His love for all mankind.

When you think about those in high positions, and how dangerous that place and

   office is to their souls, and that God wants them to be saved—

   then it’s pretty straightforward. 

 

As Christians, and as a church,

   we please God and we magnify and advance the Gospel by praying for

   our government leaders, by praying for our president in particular. 

 

So let’s look at this passage under three simple headings:

1.  The content of prayer for our government leaders

2.  The character of prayer for our government leaders

3.  The consequences of prayer for our government leaders

 

 


 

MP#1  The content of prayer for our government leaders

 “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,

   for kings and all who are in high positions . . .”

Last week I pointed out that these four words that Paul uses to describe prayer

   are in a sense all synonyms.  Paul is just piling up synonyms to make a point of

   how important this is:  Pray, pray, pray, pray for kings and all in authority

But there are some nuances of meaning that give us a more complete picture.

 

Supplications.  It’s a common word in Scripture. 

   It comes from a root word that means to need, to lack, to be deprived.

And so it communicates the idea, as a word for prayer, that we are coming to God

   because there is a lack of something that is desperately needed.

And when it comes to those in high office, their spiritual need is magnified

   because of their position. 

Ryle:  Because they are lifted above other people, they are terribly alone.

   They are often surrounded by yes-men and flatterers. 

That makes temptations that are common to all people of us even more intense

  and difficult for them to resist.

 

Prayers.  This is simply the general word for prayer.

But it’s a word is that it is only directed toward God.

So there is an element of sacredness, an element of worship in this term.

   That adds another dimension to praying for government leaders.

Because in doing so, you are praying for God’s glory. 

   You want this leader to know the truth and govern well, because you know that

   when that happens, God is glorified, Christ is exalted.

 

Next, intercessions. 

The nuance of this word is that you are praying on behalf of someone.

   It is a great privilege and duty for believers to intercede for kings.

Our father Abraham gave us an example in his prayer for Abimelek.

 

Finally, thanksgivings.

It means in this specific matter of government and political power—

   we thank God that he is the King of kings and the Lord of lords,

   and that Jesus Christ rules over all the nations.

We thank him that we are part of his eternal kingdom,

   so our fortunes and hopes don’t rest on who is in the White House.

The point is that our prayers should be more than just:  God bless the President.

So what exactly does this prayer look like?

Chuck Garriott is a PCA pastor who oversees work of our denomination called

   Ministry to State.

He lives in Washington and spends his time witnessing to, counseling, teaching,

   and praying with and for government officials. 

 

He wrote a book titled Obama Prayer:  Prayers for the 44th President

   The book is a tool to help the church be faithful to this command in 1 Timothy.

Everything in the book could be applied to any President, but Mr. Garriott probably

   knew that a great many evangelical Christians did not vote for Obama,

   and might not be inclined to pray for him. 

So he didn’t just make this a book of general instruction about praying for

   Presidents in general, but a book about praying for President Obama.

 

What Mr. Garriott does is he turns to the book of Proverbs for instruction.

There is a lot in Proverbs about kings, because it was written by a king, Solomon.

   What a king needs to be a good ruler, what dangers and temptations kings face.

   What blessings come to a country with a good king, and curses with bad one.

 

Now, we don’t have a king, of course, but he applies these to our President.

   And then he explains how this might motivate us to pray for him.

He lists twelve petitions, drawn from Proverbs, that we can bring to God on behalf

   of our President.  I won’t list them all, but let me mention two.

 

A Chapter titled “Petition for Words”  He quotes Proverbs 16:10

   The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth should not betray justice.

Then he discusses the great significance of the President’s words.

   Even though he is a fallible man, he is called upon to speak, and his words have

   repercussions for peace or war, for prosperity or for adversity. 

What a sobering position to be in, that your words carry such weight.

   With that in mind, he gives a sample prayer for God to bless President’s words.

 

Another example:  Chapter title “Petition for Family”  Proverbs 31:2,3

The sayings of King Lemuel—an oracle his mother taught him:  O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.

   Mr. Garriott reminds of turmoil caused during Clinton administration, his affair.

How delighted his political opponents were.  Crowing over the exposure and lies.

   Quick to say, that as Christians, no place for any gloating in moral downfall.

   Bad for the Presidency and the country, bad for the man.

We of all people should see that. 

So he says that this should be one of our prayers, based on the book of Proverbs

   A prayer for the marriage and family of President Obama,

   for his faithfulness and morality. 

I don’t know if this is as convicting to you as it is to me.

 

I’m not inclined to think this way—But this prayer is good and pleases God,

   who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

 

Content of our prayers:  Thoughtful, deliberate petitions for blessings.

 


 

MP#2  The character of prayer for our government leaders

As usual, the Word of God goes deeper than just words, deeper than actions—

   it goes to the heart.  And Paul tells us the character, the spirit that should

   animate our prayers.

Verse 8:

   I desire then that in every place the men should pray,

   lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.

Paul says that this thoughtful, deliberate prayer for the blessing and salvation

   of kings and all those in authority should be practiced “in every place.”

 

That phrase “in every place” is a reference to place of worship,

   to the gathering of the congregation.

This is to be a regular part of the corporate worship of the Christian church—

   praying for civil authorities.  We are delinquent when we fail to do so.

   Many of the traditional liturgies of the church include this weekly.

 

But then Paul goes to the heart.  He says that this prayer,

   this lifting holy hands, should be without anger or quarreling. 

If there is one area of life that can lead to anger and quarreling, it’s politics.

   We can get so worked up about this, there seems to be so much at stake.

   And it can easily affect our prayers.

 

It’s hard not to be alarmed at the rapid pace at which civil and religious liberties

   are being undermined.  It’s hard not to get angry at our leaders. 

I read a news story this week about the growing hostility in military toward

   evangelical Christian service members who express their faith. 

The article mentioned some high-profile cases.

An Air Force officer was told to remove a Bible from his desk

   because it might give the impression he was endorsing a religion

A soldier received a “severe and possibly career-ending reprimand”

   for posting the biblical position on homosexuality on a personal religious blog. 

A chaplain was relieved of his command over a military chapel because,

   consistent with DOMA’s definition of marriage, he could not allow same-sex

   weddings to take place in the chapel.

 

There has been an amendment proposed to the National Defense Authorization Act

   that would protect the religious rights of men and women in the military.

   It’s a very reasonable amendment.

But this opposition is coming from the top.

And the President has come out saying he is strongly opposed to this amendment.

   In doing that, he has struck a blow against religious liberty.

That makes me angry. 

Yet God’s Word says that without anger and quarreling, in every place of worship,

   we are to lift up holy hands and to pray for the president and all in authority.

 

It’s always helpful to me to put things in historical perspective.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy somewhere between the years 62 and 67 AD.

   Do you know who was the Roman emperor at that time?  Nero.

Nero who wrapped Christians in tar and set them on fire as human torches

   to light up his evening dinner parties.  Paul says, pray blessings for that king.

 

About 100 years after Paul, there was a church father named Tertullian.

He lived during the reign of two Roman emperors who also persecuted church—

   Marcus Aurelius and Septimus Severus. 

He wrote a treatise defending Christians against the charge that they were guilty

   of treason against the emperor.  In that treatise he says to the pagans who

   were bringing this accusation—come to any of our worship services,

   and listen to the way we pray for the Emperor.

 

“It is from the heart we supplicate.  Without ceasing, for all our emperors, we offer

   prayer.  We pray for life prolonged, for security to the empire, for protection of

   the imperial house, for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the

   world at rest, for whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish.”

It’s an amazing list of petitions.

   That the early church would pray this way for the very man persecuting them.

  

Then Tertullian says something else.  You critics may say that Christians pray

   this way in hopes of flattering the Emperor so he’ll let up on persecution.

You’re wrong.  We do care for him.  These are genuine prayers from heart.

   Here’s the proof, look into God’s revelations, examine our sacred books.

   You will read there that God tells us to love our enemies,

   and pray for those who persecute us. 

 

We still enjoy enormous freedoms.  President Obama is not Nero, not even close.

   But even if he was, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who loved us when enemies,

   has called us to love our enemies and pray for them.

His apostle Paul has urged us to pray for kings and all in authority—

   because this pleases God who wants all people to be saved.  From the heart.

MP#3  The consequences of prayer for our government leaders

Pray for kings,

“that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” 

 

The church is faithful in prayer for our government leaders.

God responds by pouring out his blessing on those leaders.

   And that leads to conditions in the nation and in the world that nurture

   and promote the advance of the Gospel and the growth of the church.

In other words, remembering the context of this passage—

   it leads to more people hearing the good news and being saved.

 

Commentators have pointed out that this phrase:  “a peaceful and quiet life”

   is not what it appears to be at first glance to modern Americans.

We read that and think it is referring my private life—

   peace and quiet for me and mine.  Just doing my own thing.

But for the Greeks and Romans, a peaceful and quiet life was a way

   of describing a good citizen.  Someone involved in the life of the body politic

   who is seeking the peace and quiet of society. 

We pray for those in authority, so that Christians can fully

   participate as citizens and have a positive effect on society.

 

And then these next two terms, godly and dignified in every way—

   these refer to our public religious expression. 

We pray for those in authority so that we don’t have to hide and worship in secret,

   but that gatherings on the Lord’s Day at places of worship can be seen in their

   public expression.

And so that the church can do thing openly in carrying out her ministry.

   So we can build church buildings and Christian children’s homes and

   have chaplains in the military, and any other public expression of ministry.

 

I’ll never forget a man who came to speak when I was in seminary.

   This was in the late 80s, early 90s when the Soviet Communist bloc was falling

   apart, the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

A German pastor who had worked for decades secretly behind the Iron Curtain,

   helping churches in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. 

   He was talking about the changes that were taking place.

A student asked an interesting question: 

   Doesn’t persecution make the church strong? 

   Are you going to lose some things by this new freedom?

This man took him to task, reprimanded all of us.

Christians in the West have this romantic idea persecution makes the church strong. 

   Let me be clear, God preserves the church.  Gates of hell will not prevail.

But persecution is very harmful to the church and the spread of the Gospel.

   In the Soviet Union, 70 years of persecution has made the churches ingrown,

   legalistic, ignorant.  He gave one example.

For 70 years, Christians have not been allowed to pursue higher education. 

   The children of the church who want to pursue engineering or medicine aren’t

   allowed to do so.  Christians all given most menial jobs. 

   Pastors have no seminary training and virtually no Christian books at all.

Think of what that does to the thought life of the church, how narrowing it is.

   These people are just trying to survive. 

He went on to praise God for these great changes and the new freedoms.

 

There is a question that often perplexes us: 

   Does prayer work?  Does prayer really change things? 

   Did the prayers of the saints break down the Berlin Wall and give the church

   in that part of the world breathing room and greater freedom for a time?

If we pray for kings and all those in authority, will God respond by blessing them

   in such a way that the church will enjoy liberty and protection for its mission?

 

There is an awesome passage in Revelation 8 that pulls back the curtain

   and shows us prayer at work.  John has a vision of heaven and he says:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. 

   A censer is a device for carrying burning incense, usually on a chain.

He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints,

   on the golden altar before the throne. 

He comes to the altar of incense.  Golden altar, charcoal burning on it.

   Given incense and mingled with it are our prayers.  Prayers of saints, church.

 

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints,

   went up before God from the angel’s hand. 

A beautiful picture of our prayers, going up like pleasing smoke before God.

   But then listen to what happens next.  It’s exhilarating. 

Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth;

   and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.

He takes this golden censer, scoops up glowing coals, that are smoking with this

   aromatic incense mingled with our prayers, fills the censer, swings it on chain,

   and hurls it and when it crashes to earth, things start to happen.

 

In the symbolism of Scripture, these events—

   thunder and lightning, rumbling and earthquakes are used to describe the

   affairs of nations—kings and kingdoms, empires rising and falling.

The unmistakable message is that when the church prays,

   God mysteriously uses those prayers to accomplish his purposes on earth,

   even the affairs of nations are changed by the prayers of the saints. 

 

There are still many things that are perplexing.

Why does the Lord allow his people in some times and places to suffer

   so much for so long?  Why does he subject them to hateful governments?

   Why does he allow them to be killed by the very leaders they pray for in worship?

We don’t know why that is also part of his plan.

 

But here is an instruction, for the church, here is a promise—

   that when we pray for kings and all those in authority,

   in God’s time, we will lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.

That the church will carry out its mission, that the Gospel will go forth,

   and that God will be pleased, because he wants all people to be saved,

   and come to a knowledge of the truth.

 

If you love the kingdom of God and want the Gospel to go forth and

   for men and women and boys and girls to be saved,

   then pray for President Obama, pray for Governor Bentley,

   pray that the leaders of all nations will be protected and blessed.

Those prayers will go up as incense before God,

   and before the great King of kings, our Lord Jesus Christ,

   and will be used to accomplish his purposes.