Text: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)
People of God, this is the last Sunday of the Church Year. Last Lord’s Day I offered a short defense of the Church Calendar, and the importance of time and liturgy. As Christians we know that time is on our side because time belongs to King Jesus, and King Jesus has graciously given time to His Bride, the Church. The Church is called to use time wisely and cheerfully for the sake of the world. In other words, when the world asks “what time is it?” it is the Church’s role to let her know, not vice-versa. We set the agenda for the world, not the opposite. Now if we could only get Christians on board in this simple proposal, then we could expect some radical things to happen in the world. But what has happened instead? Well, by and large the evangelical, Protestant Church has followed the world’s calendar. She has borrowed money from the world, and now the world wants it all back with excessively high interest rates. At the end of the day we look at each other in amazement and wonder why we are losing the battle. We have been undiscerning, and unaware of how the world functions. Why? Because we don’t know how the Church functions, or what her role is in the world. Let’s be frank: when we think about time, we think more about vacation time than Church time. And we are wrong! And the fruits of this is becoming clearer and clearer in our society. There is no sense of belonging. The youth are leaving in large numbers. They are tired of lights, skits, false transparency, and religious pep-talks. We are all guided by time, but what is happening is that by the time our children turn 18 they take time into their own hands.
The question is: “What time will they follow?” The time the Church has historically followed or some individualistic time-frame?
As we enter into the Advent Season next Sunday we are going to be bombarded by the gospel story. We will be sharing this gospel narrative with the majority of the Church world. We are going to be communicating this same message through different texts, different perspectives, but the same story and the same Lord, and the same hope for the world.
With that in mind, let’s prepare ourselves for the Advent Season. Paul offers the perfect ending for the Church Year in I Timothy Two. He exhorts young Timothy on the glories of prayer. But not just any prayer, but different types of prayers. He says prayers ought to be specific, bold, and filled with thanksgiving to our God.
And these prayers have to do with our local communities, our local churches, but Paul also tells Timothy that these prayers are for all sorts of people. And on top of the list are “…kings and all who are in high positions.” All those in political authority are to be included in our prayers. Obviously we cannot pray for all political leaders, we cannot pray for all political and personal needs, but we can offer particular prayers for our leaders. For those who are in important places of authority. Consider your own prayer life and ask this question: How often are presidents, local and national politicians and people in different fields of authority included in your own prayers? “But we don’t mix faith and politics,” is what we hear some say in our day. “But I am just not a political person.” Well, you don’t have to be a political person, but you have to care about politics. Actually, biblically you don’t have a choice. If you care about peace then you have a duty to pray for those who lead you. Phil Ryken wrote:
Christians are to pray for peace and prosperity of their rulers, even when they are living among pagans.
We do not live in a monarchy, but our duty does not change. We are still called to pray for our political leaders. When Paul wrote these words there were no “Christian kings…only pagans.” In fact, Nero, the Roman Emperor, was using Christians as torches to light his garden. Calvin wrote that during the first century the rulers were “enemies of the Gospel, persecutors of the poor Christians, murderers, and wicked men.” It would be a couple of hundred years later before the Christian Emperor Constantine came to power and offered the freedom and peace the Church desired.
In the meanwhile, though we enjoy great peace in this country, we should always desire more peace. And by peace, I don’t mean the absence of spiritual war, but the consequence of a war well-fought. It is not an excuse for passivity, but peace actually provides the environment to be more active. So do not think of “peaceful” as a justification for inaction. Paul also says that the purpose of our prayers is that our leaders, especially pagan leaders, would provide us with quiet lives. This has a couple of implications. One of them is that through our prayers God would end our wars fulfilling the promise of Isaiah two, but also fulfilling the purpose of Romans 13, that there would be a well-ordered government that would use the power of the sword to keep peace, so that “thieves and murderers would receive just punishment.” The right way to keep peace is for everyone to have what is their own and for violent people to be restrained,” said Calvin. Let me add this political observation: In times of great frustration we on the more conservative side of things begin to dream about a society with no government. We want some form of anarchism to exist. But listen, if you pursue this line of reasoning, know that you are opposing the Reformation’s view of the civil government. The Reformers referred to those who want to abolish government as people “devoid of all humanity.” Why would they make such a strong statement? Because the Reformers knew that there is a proper limited role of the civil government. I heard one Christian pacifist say that the world needs Romans 12, but not Romans 13. In other words, he wants Christians to live Christianly as Romans 12 exhorts us to, but without a government, as Romans 13 says we must have. But we don’t have that choice when it comes to the Bible. We must have Romans 12 and 13. We must have godly Christians who pray for a government described in Romans 13. Just as we pray for our daily bread, we must also pray that God would uphold the Christian faith and religion.
Remember these are the inspired words of God. These are not optional. We don’t have the luxury of choosing over the Holy Spirit.
Not only is peace and protection provided when we have a biblically operated government, we also have provided an environment where godliness can be exercised with the seriousness it deserves. This is what it means when Paul says we are to live godly lives in a dignified way. Paul is saying that when you have a government that does not seek to destroy the Christian influence,when you have a government who is not seeking to destroy churches, or regulate what can be said from pulpits, then you have the freedom to act in the way you were called to act. You see, the Christian faith was never meant to be privatized. The primary function of government, according to Paul, is to allow you to express your Christian faith sincerely, faithfully, and freely. And any government that takes away those rights is in opposition to the Word of God and subject to the punishment of the Triune God.
When our liberties are violated, our first duty is not taking up swords, it is taking up prayer; all kinds of prayers. “Lord, change the heart of this president. Direct his attention to your Word. Use him to do what you desire. Cause him to strive to provide freedom for us, Christians. This is how the early church prayed for their leaders who despised our Messiah.
Why do we pray in this way? Paul says:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Why should we pray in the way Paul exhorts us? Because it is “pleasing to God.” Literally, “because God desires it.” The purpose of prayer, the purpose of a righteous civil government is twofold:
First, so that God would save people. There are great implications to Paul’s wording here, but we can say that God uses right governance and right living to save people. And through what means does he accomplish this? Prayer. We ended the sermon last week by making the rather bold claim that prayer changes the world. God, who is the Savior, desires the salvation of all people. Paul is not saying that every person will be saved. He is not a universalist. Some will go into eternal punishment, but Paul is saying that God saves people of every kind: Jew, Greek, salve, free, infants, adults, and so on. Remember that some Jews were exclusivists, meaning they believed salvation belonged only to the Jews, but Paul is saying that God desires the salvation of all sorts of people. And when the Word of God is unhindered by government bureaucrats, when pastors can declare evil to be evil and good to be good, when God’s people live out their faith in godliness without being spied upon, or imprisoned for speaking gospel truth, then people are saved. That is, they are brought into the community of faith. They are delivered from their sins, to love and serve our Risen Lord.
But secondly, God desires to draw people into all truth. We need “true truth,” as Francis Shaeffer once stated. Give the Church an unhindered platform and she will be the city on the hill.
This may be too much to assimilate in one sermon, but what you need to know is that God cares about prayer, government, godly living, salvation, and truth.
N.T. Wright says that the call to prayer is a “call to think clearly about God and the world, and God’s project for the whole human race.” So don’t idolize the political system, don’t be working to overthrow it, try praying for rulers instead, and “watch not only what God will do in our society but also how your own attitudes will grow, change, and mature.”
So How Now Shall We Then Live?
First and foremost, pray. Ask yourself: Why am I not praying? And then can I do reverse this miserable trend? If you are praying, ask yourself: “How can I be more specific, bold, and thankful in my prayers? Column A: here are my specific requests. Column B: here are my bold requests on behalf of other Christians. Column C: here is my thanksgiving list. We are a people prone to trying everything first, and prayer last. We need Paul’s priorities.
Secondly, do you know your local and national leaders? Do you know your mayor? If you consider yourself an apolitical person, someone who professes political ignorance, how can you fulfill the Bible’s command to pray for those in authority? How can you pray for something or someone you know nothing about?
Thirdly, how are you participating in prayer? Let me encourage you to join the Church for our once a month Vesper’s Service re-starting in January? We have an opportunity to model Paul’s words with fellow saints. Also, if there are ways you think we can become a more effective church in the area of prayer, please let the session of Providence know about it.
Finally, don’t lose hope. God is with us. He is especially with us through His Son; the One whose coming we will celebrate in the weeks ahead. Do not put your trust in chariots, but in the One who unto us a child was,
to us a son was given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Government education being a prime example.
 Phil Ryken, Commentary on I Timotny. Reformed Expository Series, 61.
 Quoted in Ryken.
 See Leithart’s Defending Constantine.
 I have used this line before. I find it helpful in the context of the “Christian as warrior” theme.
 John Calvin, Commentary on I Timothy 2, The Crossway Classic Commentaries.
 Calvin. Ibid.
 I think it was Hauwerwas.
 Luther views this salvation as deliverance from illness. In other words, he understands it as good health. I am not persuaded.
 N.T. Wright, The Pastoral Letters for Everyone, 21