By Joseph Ametepe
God is the Great Ruler of all things. He is the Great King over all the nations. Not only that, He is the King of the ages. To God alone belongs eternal dominion. He is the Most High God, the ruler of the realm of mankind. God is the Ultimate Ruler over all creation. His kingdom endures from generation to generation. In His rule God establishes and maintains order. In other words, He is the God of order. Our God is not a God of confusion and chaos. Therefore God is very much concerned about government. He also wants His people to be prayerfully concerned about those He has sovereignly placed over them.
Over the ages, Christians have expressed varying opinions about the responsibility of God’s people with respect to the proper role of government. Some Christians disdain civil authorities and would not have anything to do with them. Others strongly feel they should be involved in political activism for the purpose of bringing social changes. Still others choose to play little role in the matters of government. They do not want to be entangled in civilian affairs.
Certainly, God’s Word can help us develop a proper balance in our responsibility to human governments. While many advocate non-involvement and others little involvement and still others proactive involvement, we have neglected the most important area of involvement which God wants His people to have in human governments. What is the most important involvement God wants us to have in governments? It is not politics. It is not passivity. It is not partial involvement. The greatest involvement God wants His people to have in human governments is praying for those who are in authority.
When we faithfully pray for those in authority as God prescribed in His Word, He will direct us to take appropriate practical steps to make our involvement significantly more effective and efficient. God’s order is that, first of all, His people should labor in prayer for those in authority. And as we consistently do so, God Himself will guide us to take the proper actions to bring changes not only socially, but more importantly, spiritually. In other words, prayer secures practicality. Prayer leads to practical and productive actions that glorify God. This is an important principle but we often neglect it to the delight of the devil.
Overview of Article
It is necessary for me at this point to give us an overview of the current article. In learning to understand the proper and effective role God wants His people to play in governments, there are several important principles we must carefully look at. To help us pray effectively for civil authorities, we will, first of all, look at the principal truths God reveals in His Word about human government. Second, we will closely examine His purpose for establishing governments. Understanding God’s purpose for appointing human governments will greatly aid us in approaching Him to pray for those in authority. Third, we will take note of one of the most powerful truths about God’s activity in the lives of those in leadership - His providential rule over rulers. The discovery of this truth is essential for our effective praying for those in authority. Knowing that God is able to direct the hearts of those in authority to wherever He pleases is a great motivator and passion generator for prayer for civil authorities. Fourth, we will discuss God’s particular command to His people to pray for all those who are in authority. Fifth and Finally, we will look at the petitions God wants us to bring to Him on behalf of all who are in authority.
My prayer is that God will use this article to deepen our walk with Him as well as make us more effective in our prayers for those who are in authority, thus partnering with Him to advance His purposes in our day to His praise and glory alone.
The Principal Truths God Reveals in His Word About Government
1. Human governments are established by God.
• Scripture makes it very clear that human governments are instituted by God. In Romans 13:1 we read these words, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
• The second part of this verse is the focus of the first principal truth God has made known to us about human governments. They are instituted by God Himself. But please note that this does not mean that God approves of all that human rulers do. Far be it from the holy and righteous God to approve the corruption, brutality, and tyranny of corrupt and cruel leaders! But the fact remains that the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
• The word translated ‘established’ [tetagmevai- from tasso] also means to place or station a person or thing in a fixed spot. It also means to appoint to, ordain or establish in an office. So in effect, the Scripture is saying that the authorities who are now in power are instituted by God.
• The Lord Jesus Himself understood this truth and applied it to Himself at His trial in Jerusalem. Having entered the Praetorium, that is the governor’s official residence, Pilate asked Jesus this question, “Where are you from?” (John 19:10). In fulfillment of Scripture, our Lord gave Pilate no answer. This did not please the proud Pilate, a people-pleaser, and a crafty and cruel man. In his pride, Pilate asked our Lord more questions. “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” (John 19:10). Since Pilate was boasting of his own authority, the Lord Jesus opened His mouth to reveal the source of the authority Pilate had. Solemnly, He said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it has been given you from above” (John 19:11). By these words, our Lord clearly affirmed the fact that the authorities who are now in power are instituted by God. Rome’s authority did not come by itself or from Caesar. It came from above. God ordained it.
• Before Paul was led to write the Letter to the Romans, he understood and believed that civil authorities are ordained by God. Speaking in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch to both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles on his first missionary journey, Paul declared this as part of the works of the God of Israel. He stated: “After these things He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart who will do all My will” (Acts 13:20-22).
• Since God establishes civil authorities, He is at liberty to remove them and replace them with others.
• The truth that human governments are established by God is not only revealed in the New Testament. The Old Testament also affirms this truth. Daniel and his three Jewish friends were about to be destroyed by the fury and indignation of King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream. He wanted to understand the dream. But he demanded that the dream be interpreted to him without telling the wise men of Babylon what it was all about. The wise men of Babylon, the magicians, the conjurers, as well as Daniel and his friends were facing the death sentence. Daniel asked for time in order that he might declare the interpretation of the dream to the king. Daniel then informed his friends about the matter and asked them to seek God. The result was that God revealed the mystery to Daniel. But in the revelation of the mystery, God also disclosed the truth that He is the One who establishes human governments. Daniel’s response to God was first praise. “Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven; Daniel said, Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him.” (Daniel 2:19-20). Continuing with his praise of God, Daniel said in the Spirit, “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings;” (Daniel 2:21). This statement again shows that human governments are established by God.
• The inspired prophet later reiterated this truth. Interpreting another dream for King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel declared these words in the Spirit: “The decision is a command of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on who He wishes and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17; cf. 4:25, 32; 5:21).
• The truth is well founded in the Word of God: He establishes human governments. No government exists apart from God’s will. We must understand this truth and live it like Daniel, the Lord Jesus and Paul lived it in their lives. Daniel and his friends, the Lord Jesus and His apostles lived victoriously under the human governments of their times. Understanding this truth can free believers to live victoriously under a democratic, a constitutional monarchy, or even a totalitarian regime.
• Bible Commentator William MacDonald wrote: “No earthly government is any better than the men who comprise it. That is why none of our governments is perfect. The only ideal government is a beneficent monarchy with the Lord Jesus Christ as King.”
• Please note that when Paul was inspired to write the words we read in Romans 13:1-7 on the subject of human government and our relation to it, the Roman Empire was not under a benevolent and kind emperor. It was written under the reign of the cruel and wicked Emperor, Nero. Those were dark and difficult days for believers. Nero blamed Christians for a fire which destroyed half the city of Rome. Many believe that Nero himself may have ordered the fire. Being an evil ruler, Nero put the blame on God’s people. Nero caused some believers to be immersed in tar, then ignited as living human torches to provide light for his orgies. At Nero’s order, other Christians were sewn up in animal skins, then thrown to wild beasts to be torn to pieces.
• Did God approve of these barbaric acts? May it never be! He did not approve of it.
• Would God let Nero go free of these heinous acts just because He established Nero in power? May it never be! God would hold Nero accountable for his wicked deeds.
• Did the believers die in vain? No! They did not die in vain. They lived and died as victors in Christ Jesus.
• Civil authorities are ordained by God. If we are going to honor God as believers and learn to pray with power on behalf governing authorities, we must believe this truth and live it.
2. Rulers are God’s servants.
• A second principal truth revealed in the Scriptures about human governments is that rulers are God’s servants.
• This is clearly stated in Romans 13:4, 6. “For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil…For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.”
• God is making it clear to His people that the state is “God’s servant.”
Scripture plainly tells us that the ruler, whether emperor, king, president, prime minister, governor, mayor or judge is a minister of God. The word used for “minister” is diakonos. It is the same word from which we get “deacon.” But here it is used to mean agent. In other words, the state or the governing official is regarded here as God’s agent and representative of the Lord. A ruler may not know God personally, but he is still the Lord’s man officially.
• Please notice that Paul was led to use the expression “a minister of God” twice in verse 4 of Romans 13. First of all, the repetition is to emphasis the truth that a ruler is indeed God’s servant. Secondly, the two uses of the expression “a minister of God” correspond to the two God-given responsibilities of civil authorities.
• First of all, as servants of God, rulers are expected to promote the good of God’s people. Notice the Bible says, “it is a minister of God to you for good” (v. 4a). Remember God was speaking to the believers in Rome through His inspired Apostle. But I believe that in general, rulers are to seek the welfare of all the people. They are to work toward their security, tranquility, the maintenance of order in the society, and general welfare. Actually, the word translated “good” [agathos] also means in this context “advantage.” Civil authority as God instituted it, exists to our advantage.
• The second God-given responsibility of ruling authorities is that of being an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. God does not overlook wrongdoing. Anyone who practices evil can expect to pay for it, because the government has the God-given authority to bring him to trial and punishment. The Bible makes this so clear with a rather strong language. “But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (v. 4).
• Notice the expressions “the sword” [tes machairan], “an avenger” [ekdikos] and “wrath” [orgen]. The strong language used here demonstrates God’s commitment to maintaining justice. He is a God of justice and desires that justice be maintained at all levels in the society. That is precisely why in addition to being a minister of God to us for good, a ruler also serves God by administering punishment to those who break the law.
• In verse six, the truth that rulers are servants of God is again affirmed. “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” In describing rulers as servants of God, Paul was led to use a different word [leitourgoi]. In this context, the word speaks of the Greco-Roman officials as servants of God, workers for the people, public ministers. While “God’s servant” is an honorable title, it contains a reminder that the government or state is not God and that its function is to administer justice for Him in areas where it is competent to do so.
3. Human government is one of the means of God’s self-revelation.
• From a biblical point of view government is one of the means God has established to rule His creation through human stewardship. In this general context government is similar to all other forms of stewardship, including the responsibilities of parents, employers, teachers, and so forth. Each has a responsibility for administering part of God’s creation under the authority of God.
• In other words, Scripture shows government to be one of the means of God’s self-revelation. God has revealed Himself to us not only as Father (Isaiah 63:16; Ephesians 1:2), Shepherd (Psalm 23:1; John 10:11), Husband (Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:19), Counselor (Isaiah 9:6; 28:29), Gardener (Isaiah 5:1-7; John 15:1), Teacher (Isaiah 30:10; John 13:13), and Friend (Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23), but also as king (Psalm 10:16; Isaiah 43:15; John 12:15; 1 Timothy 6:15), Judge (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 50:6; 94:2; James 4:12), Governor or Ruler (Daniel 4:32; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6), and Lord (Genesis 18:27; Exodus 4:10; Matthew 1:20).
• Speaking through the Holy Spirit, the prophet Isaiah spoke of the government resting on the shoulders of the Messiah. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace”(Isaiah 9:6). This shows clearly that the idea of government is not human invention. It is God’s invention. He is the True Governor whose government leads to peace and prosperity of those He governs.
• The Spirit also revealed through Isaiah that there would be no end of the Messiah’s government. “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:7).
• Notice carefully that the Messiah’s government would not only bring about peace but also justice. That is what government is all about. The government, which functions properly by maintaining law and order and preserving justice, actually reflects God’s governance.
• One writer says, “Government, then, is not simply a human good that we have at our disposal for keeping some measure of peace and order on earth. Government is more than a this-worldly affair which may be discounted as less than important in God’s overall plan for creation. Government is as important in God’s self-revelation as family life, farming, worship, and every other aspect of creational life that was made in and through and for Jesus Christ to reveal the glory of God” J. W. Skillen, EDT.
• As believers, we need to understand that government originates with God and it also reveals something of Himself to us in a way we can easily relate to. He is the Great Ruler of all.
4. God’s people are specifically commanded to submit to civil authorities.
• God knows that in every ordered society, there must be authority and submission to that authority. In other words, authority and submission are the two sides of the coin of government. Without authority and submission to that authority, what we end up with is a state of anarchy. In such a state there will be confusion, chaos, political disorder and of course violence.
• In the opening verse of Romans 13, God commands every person to be in subjection to governing authorities. For we read, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
• Since Paul was writing to believers, the command first and foremost applies to every believer. Paul could only admonish believers. However, we know that government is necessary for society as a whole.
• Believers are to be subject to civil authorities. The expression, “to be in subjection” [hupotassestho- from hupotasso] also means “subject oneself, submit oneself, place oneself under someone else, be subjected or subordinated. The actual submission or subordination is to persons worthy of respect. Since rulers have a God-given authority, they are worthy of respect.
• Placing oneself under governing authorities refers to support as well as submission.
• Please, would you observe that Paul says nothing about certain forms of government being ordained by God! Nowhere in the Bible does God put forward an ideal of monarchy or republicanism or some other political system as the unchanging truth for our aspiration. In the time of Paul, the form of government was a monarchy. In other words, this command was given during the reign of the emperor Nero, a particularly evil monarch in his later years. So the point is, it doesn’t matter what form of government is over us. It could be a democracy, a communist regime, a monarchy or even a totalitarian regime. What matters is our submission to its authority in a way that honors our God.
• The matter of being in subjection to the governing authorities is very important to God. After giving the command to place ourselves under governing authorities, the Spirit led Paul to give a reason why we are to follow such a command. The reason is that such authority is established by God Himself. In other words, God has ordained human governments. They are part of His plan for us on earth. Human governments are consistent with the will of God. On the basis of this reason, Paul was guided by the Spirit to draw an important conclusion in verse 2. Notice verse 2 begins with “therefore” or “consequently.” “Therefore whoever [literally, he who or the one] resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Simply put, to rebel against the government is to rebel against what God has ordained. Anyone who rebels against lawful authority earns and deserves not praise but punishment.
• An important question needs to be asked at this point. Are we being asked to blindly submit to the civil government? Not at all! Acts 4:19-20 and 5:29 clearly teach us that there is an exception. A believer is not required to submit himself to the authority of the government if the government orders him to sin or to compromise his loyalty to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In such a situation, the believer must choose between obeying God and obeying men. The apostles were faced with the choice of obeying God or obeying the governing Council of Israel. They chose to obey God and incurred the wrath of the governing Council. They were flogged and went home rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (see Acts 5:29-42).
• So the point is clear. There are times when a Christian must, by submitting to God, incur the wrath of governing authorities. Should that be the case the believer must be prepared to accept the consequences of his refusal to obey civil authority.
• Verse three further gives a reason for believers to submit themselves to those in authority rather than resist them. “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.” The Scripture is simply saying that as a rule, people who do what is right need not fear those who are in authority over them. This is the ideal situation. If everything is done according to God’s design, rulers will not only recognize good behavior but they will also commend it. On the other hand, wrongdoing will bring condemnation on the wrongdoer. The government is instituted to commend good behavior and condemn or censure bad behavior. It is established to bring punishment on those who practice evil as well as praise those who do what is right.
• Actually, from the beginning of the biblical witness, God reveals that the use of force against another human being is wrong, and that it must be punished (see Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20:13; 21:12-27). Practice of evil, according to God deserves punishment by a God-appointed governor so that proper retribution can be made and so that justice can be maintained in society. For the government to fulfill its ideal functions, then, it must punish evil and reward good.
• If believers want to enjoy a life free from tickets, fines, trials, and punishments by the government, the thing to do is to be law-abiding citizens. But we all know that over the ages many Christians have done right but only ended up being persecuted and punished instead of being praised. Governing authorities in the past have rewarded evil and suppressed good. They still do this today. Even as God’s servants in the spiritual realm can err, so the government is not to be thought of as infallible in its decision.
• Multitudes of believers lost their lives under Nero, not because of doing evil. They were punished and persecuted for refusing to honor the pagan gods of Rome. In this instance, the Roman government used force in illegal ways. Governments who use force in illegal ways or in ways that do not restrain violence only encourage violence in the society and thus fail to maintain God’s norm of justice.
• There are governments like this today. God’s people are not to be discouraged and downcast because of the existence of such governments. God will hold them accountable to their lack of obedience to His norm of justice. But until then, God’s people can pray for the proper use of public authority and the cessation of the abuse of that authority.
• To finally press home the point of submitting ourselves to governing authorities, Paul was led to advance two reasons why the believer must be in submission to the state in verse 5. Verse 5 reads, “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’s sake.” The first reason is the fear or threat of punishment if one does not put himself in subjection. This appeal is based on personal advantage, the instinct of self-preservation. To defy the state could mean death.
• The second reason is the desire to maintain a clear conscience before God and before men. Maintaining a clear conscience [syneidesis] was very important to Apostle Paul. Standing before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem Paul declared to all, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1).
• Later, standing trial before Governor Felix at Caesarea, Paul again spoke of his practice of maintaining a clear conscience. “In view of this [that is, the certainty of a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, Acts 24:15], I also do my best [literally, practice myself] to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16).
• It is a blessing to have a clear conscience. To keep our conscience clear, believers are to be in subjection to rulers. However, this submission is not to be confused with unthinking, blind, docile conformity.
• Like Apostle Paul, Apostle Peter was also inspired to command believers to submit to those who are in authority. His inspired words are very similar to that of Paul’s.“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13-15).
• Order is certainly better than chaos. No society can progress under anarchy. So in a sense, any government is better than no government at all. Even if rulers are not believers, they are still God’s men officially. Believers should therefore submit to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. Why is that important? It is important because in our submission we are fulfilling God’s will and doing the thing that pleases Him. Like Paul, Peter also stated that rulers are authorized by God to punish wrongdoers and to praise those who do right. Actually, rulers have little time or desire to do the latter. They are more concerned about receiving the praises of the people than praising them for their right doing. But that in no way changes the responsibility of the believer to submit.
• Please notice that like Paul, Peter said nothing about certain forms of government. He approved no special kind of government, but supported law and order in general. Submission to civil authority was not only the will of God; it was also designed to “silence” (2:15) ignorant talk against believers.
• While the believer has his citizenship in heaven (see Philippians 3:20), he is not on that account excused from responsibility to acknowledge the state as possessing authority from God to govern him. We must submit now. However, in the future a time is coming when we will only submit to the Great Governor – King Jesus.
5. God’s people are exhorted to honor rulers.
• Giving respect to rulers is very important to God. As such, God specifically commanded His people to honor rulers.
• Speaking through Apostle Peter to suffering believers who were scattered in what is now modern Turkey, God commands, “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). In this short verse, there are four commands, the first and the last of which center on the subject of honor.
• Believers are instructed to honor all people, as well as honor the king. We cannot always honor peoples’ words or their behavior. However, we should remember that every single life is of more value than all the world. This is so because, every person is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Ephesians 4:24;Colossians 3:10). Also, we must never forget that the Lord Jesus bled and died for even the most unworthy.
• Returning to the subject of human rulers for a final reminder, Peter instructs the suffering and scattered believers to honor the king, who at this time Emperor Nero. We are to respect our rulers as officials appointed by God for the maintenance of an ordered society.
• In what practical ways are we to honor rulers? I think the first practical way of honoring governing authorities is giving them the due respect as officials appointed by God for maintenance of an ordered society.
• Secondly, we must restrain ourselves from speaking evil of them. Apostle Paul actually practiced this. While standing trial before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem Paul was struck on the mouth at the command of the high priest. Paul responded to this inhumane treatment by saying to him, “God is going to strike, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law ordered me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest? And Paul said, I was not aware, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:3-5).
• Much could be said about this incident. However, the key here is that even in the heat of a tense and trying time in the believer’s life he should refrain from speaking derogatorily of a ruler, that is whether the president or the prime minister or the governor or the mayor. Believers should not join in the verbal abuse that is so often heaped upon the President or the Prime Minister in a political campaign.
• Thirdly, we honor rulers by supporting them financially in order to do their work efficiently. This was the focus of Paul’s inspired instruction to the believers at Rome as he came to the end of his discussion on the believer’s relationship to the government. He wrote, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to who custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7).
• Although our Lord did not need to pay taxes, yet when the temple tax collectors demanded payment for the half-shekel tax used for carrying on the costly temple service, He paid, rather than cause needless offense (see Matthew 17:24-27).
• When “trapped” by the Pharisees and Herodians with the question: “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17), our Lord’s clever response defeated the cunning intention of His enemies. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). While exposing their failure to give tribute to God, our Lord taught that people are responsible to submit and financially support human government. In this way, they honor rulers.
• Let’s face the truth. The man in authority may be unworthy, but the institution is not, since God wills it. Without financial undergirding, government cannot function.
• William MacDonald writes, “It is to our advantage to live in a society of law and order, with police and fire protection, so we must be willing to bear our share of the cost. Government officials are giving their time and talents in carrying out God’s will for the maintenance of a stable society, so they are entitled to support. The fact that believers are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20) does not exempt them from responsibility to human government. They must pay whatever taxes are levied on their income, their real estate, and their personal property. They must pay required customs on merchandise being transported from one country to another. They must demonstrate a respectful fear of displeasing those who are charged with enforcing the laws. And they must show honor for the names and offices of all civil servants (even if they can’t always respect their personal lives).”
• The command to submit to rulers is found in the Old Testament as well. In Ecclesiastes 8:2-5, we read: “I say keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure.”
• This passage is similar to the ones discussed. It has a command to submit to rulers. It also speaks of authority given to rulers to judge. In addition, it points to God as One to whom the king and his subjects are ultimately accountable. It prohibits the practice of evil and having no need to fear the king’s displeasure when one does what is commanded. Oh how consistent is the Word of God! The Holy Spirit revealed the same truths to King Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes hundreds of years before revealing to Paul and Peter. How amazing is the Spirit of God! Inspired by the Spirit, Solomon wrote of the consistent work of the Spirit in revelation. “The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11).
6. God has given us biblical examples for praying for ruling authorities.
• The prophet Daniel served Babylonian and Medo-Persia kings. He interpreted dreams for King Nebuchadnezzar and inscriptions for the Chaldean king Belshazzar. Daniel was faithful in his service to the kings of these two great empires. Though often exhausted by the glorious visions he was blessed to see, he went about the king’s business without fail. Without fear or favor, Daniel warned the great King Nebuchadnezzar and later his son Belshazzar. Here was a man who left an indelible mark of his godly influence in high places.
• Daniel understood that God is the One who establishes rulers in authority. Therefore he served them faithfully. But perhaps Daniel’s greatest influence on leaders was his prayer for them. Daniel would have prayed for Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, as well as Cyrus and Darius, the Medo-Persian kings.
• In his great prayer of confession in Daniel 9, Daniel identified himself with his people in confessing the sins of all Israel. Daniel prayed, “We have sinned…we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land… Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have seen against You” (Daniel 9:5, 6, 8). Notice that Daniel mentioned “our kings, our princes” twice in his confession. This gives us a biblical example for praying for those who are in authority. To be specific, God has given us an example for identifying with those in authority in the confession of sins.
• Ezra, the scribe and priest, who led a second group of Jews returning from Babylonian captivity in 458 B.C., followed in the footsteps of Daniel. He also identified himself in the confession of the sins of Israel. Upon their return to the Promised Land, the priests and the Levites entered into mixed marriages against the direct command of God. This sin brought much grief to the heart of Ezra. Instead of condemning the priests and the Levites, Ezra fasted and identified himself with them in the confession of sins. Tearing his robe, Ezra fell on his knees and confessed, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day” (Ezra 9:6-7).
• Ezra identified himself with the rulers of Israel in the confession of Israel’s sins.
• Before Ezra and the Jews he led, left Babylon to Jerusalem, king Artaxerxes of Persia showed him great favor. Artaxerxes issued a decree that any of the people of Israel and their priests and the Levites in his kingdom, who were willing to go to Jerusalem, may go with Ezra. The king also released all the utensils for the service of the temple. The king and his counselors also offered silver and gold to the God of Israel. Artaxerxes also issued a decree to all the treasurers who were in the provinces beyond the River [that is, the Euphrates River] that whatever Ezra the priest might require, it should be done diligently (see Ezra 7:11-26).
• Overwhelmed by these favors and more Ezra blessed the Lord. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king’s mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the LORD my God upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me” (Ezra 7:27-28). Ezra praised God for the favor He extended to him through the king. Ezra was a man of discernment. He was given insight to see that the God of Israel was working through King Artaxerxes. God planted the desire to extend favor in Artaxerxes’ heart. God must therefore receive the glory due Him.
• From the prayers of Daniel and Ezra for kings and princes, God has left an example for us to follow in praying for those who are in authority.
God’s Purpose for Government
God’s purpose for establishing government is revealed in His Word.
• God has a purpose for everything He does. We have already seen from Paul’s and Peter’s inspired instructions to God’s people that God definitely has a purpose for the institution of human government. Through Paul and Peter (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14), God revealed that His principal purpose for ordaining government is for it to administer justice in society as a whole. When justice is not done by the government to everyone who is subject to its authority, then government fails to live up to its God-ordained purpose.
• In administering justice, the government not only maintains law and order in society, but it also praises those who perform good and punishes those who practice evil. It commends good behavior and condemns evil practices.
• Peter correctly sums up God’s purpose for the government in these words: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14; cf. Romans 13:2-4).
• Since God commanded that taxes be paid to the government (see Romans 13:6-7), it follows that the government is called upon to look after the general public health and welfare of the whole society. In other words, God’s purpose for establishing government includes maintaining the smooth running of society. Rules and regulations for such things as sanitation, transportation, security, contracts, construction, and punishment of crimes, are all public laws that belong to the proper domain of government. The government is expected to fulfill this public responsibility as a trust from God, a stewardship of justice for the sake of the whole society.
• Indeed, understanding God’s purpose for establishing human government does help the believer in his call to pray for those in authority with clarity and conviction of heart. God has a purpose for the existence of human governments and as a result, He will hold them accountable.
God’s Providential Rule over Those in Authority
God sovereignly rules over those in authority.
• Perhaps the most powerful truth God has given in His Word about those in authority is stated inProverbs 21:1. Understanding what God reveals here will greatly motivate us in our prayers to God for those in authority. This truth has practically transformed my prayers for ruling authorities. God used this truth to generate greater passion and confidence in my prayers for leaders. I know for certain that no ruler’s heart is beyond the reach of the living and true God whom I belong to and have the privilege of serving.
• Please listen carefully to what God said through King Solomon on the subject of His providential rule over those in authority. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1).
• This is one of my favorite verses in the Word of God. The more I prayerfully read the Word of God with an open and teachable heart, the more I see the truthfulness of this verse. God illustrated this verse in the Scriptures over and over again. A channel or canal directs the flow of water. The wider channel the slower the flow. On the other hand, the narrower the canal the faster the flow. The point being stated here is that just as a channel or canal directs the flow of water, so also the LORD rules and overrules a king’s thoughts and actions.
• But this is not to say that rulers are merely pawns in the hands of Almighty God or that rulers in authority are God’s robots. Far be it for me to lower God to such a view! What this means is simply this: no heart is far from the reach of God Almighty. He is able not only to touch the heart of the most powerful ruler on earth but also to direct it to wherever He wishes to accomplish His purposes for His glory. Oh how this should encourage believers living under oppressive government and to missionaries taking the good news to closed and hostile countries! Let us believe that our God directs the hearts of rulers to wherever He wishes in order to fulfill His purposes. In fact, this truth should motivate all believers to storm the throne of grace with prayers, praises and petitions for those who are in authority.
• Now, let’s look at some of the ways in which God illustrated this truth in His Word. Instead of discussing each illustration in detail, I have decided to present the passages in which the illustrations are found. They are self-explanatory.
• The first of these illustrations is King Cyrus, the first king of Medo-Persian Empire (539-530 B.C.). Although Cyrus was an unbeliever, one who did not know God personally, God called him to do His righteous will. God worked through Him to advance His purpose for Israel His chosen people. This should encourage believers to pray to our God to work through rulers, even those who do not know Him, to accomplish His purpose for His Church and for Israel.
• The writers of Second Chronicles and Ezra, both wrote of King Cyrus’ decree for the Jews to return to the Promised Land to rebuild the temple.“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia-in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth Jeremiah-the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may his God be with him. Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem’’” (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
• No doubt the lesson in this passage is clear: God was directing the heart of Cyrus to wherever He pleased in order to accomplish His purpose. Oh may His name be praised!
• Through His prophet Isaiah, God Himself spoke of His choice of Cyrus and His direction of Cyrus’ heart to accomplish His will for His people Israel. We read of this in Isaiah 45:1-6. “Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue the nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, and Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by name; I have given you a title of honor though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
• How vividly the truth that God providentially rules over those in authority is illustrated in this passage for us! Earlier in the prophetic record of Isaiah, God spoke of Cyrus as His shepherd who would do all His desire. “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid’” (Isaiah 44:28).
• Speaking of personally directing the heart of Cyrus to do what He desired, God spoke of it in this emphatic manner. “I have aroused him in righteousness and I will make all his ways smooth; he will build My city and will let My exiles go free, without payment or reward, says the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 45:13). Please note that God’s work of turning the heart of rulers to wherever He pleases to accomplish His desire is done in righteousness. In other words, as far as God is concerned, such an action is perfectly consistent with His character. God does no wrong. His actions are always done in righteousness and faithfulness.
• A second illustration is found in the life of King Darius of Persia (522-486 B.C.). The rebuilding of the temple was completed and dedicated in the sixth year (that is, 516 B. C.) of King Darius of Persia. After this great work, the Jews observed the Passover and rejoiced. Ezra, who had not yet returned from captivity, reported of their celebration and rejoicing. “And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them to encourage them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel” (Ezra 6:22).
• The Jews clearly saw God’s hand behind the favors they had obtained from Darius. Darius is called the king of Assyria here because he was ruling over the old Assyrian Empire.
• A third illustration is found in the life of King Artaxerxes of Persia (464 –423 B.C.). Having himself personally experienced the king’s kindness and overflowing favor, Ezra blessed God for directing the king’s heart to beautify His house and humbly thanked Him for the enabling strength He gave to accomplish such an important task. “Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to adorn the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and has extended lovingkindness to me before the king and his counselors and before all the king’s mighty princes. Thus I was strengthened according to the hand of the LORD my God upon me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me” (Ezra 7:27).
• A fourth illustration is one, which is yet to be fulfilled at the end of the Tribulation Period. It is revealed but it is not yet fulfilled. The ten-kingdom empire whose kings will unanimously yield their power and authority to the beast will go to war with the Lord Jesus at the end of the Tribulation but they will be soundly defeated (see Revelation 17:13-14). It was revealed to John the Apostle that God is behind the scenes in all of this, directing the hearts of even His enemies in order to fulfill His sovereign purpose. For we read in Revelation 17:17 these words: “For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose (see Revelation 17:13), and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled.”
• From these illustrations, it is clear that in His sovereign wisdom and power, God directs the hearts of those who are in authority to wherever He wishes in order to accomplish His purposes. This then should motivate us to pray to God on behalf of rulers and leaders because God is able to reach their hearts and turn them in the direction of fulfilling His sovereign purposes.
God’s Particular Command to Pray for Governing Authorities
• The Pastoral Epistle of 1 Timothy was written after Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment in A.D. 62. Although the Letter was addressed to Timothy as an individual, it was clearly meant for the edification and instruction of the church at Ephesus. While Paul was leaving Ephesus to go to Macedonia, he urged Timothy to stay on in Ephesus in order to instruct certain status-seeking men who were trying to become church leaders while teaching false doctrine not to teach false doctrine any longer (see 1 Timothy 1:3).
• Timothy therefore had his work cut out for him when Paul left him to minister in the church of Ephesus. A key part of this God-given responsibility is prayer. And so immediately after instructing young Timothy to keep sound doctrine, the Spirit led Paul to call the believers in the church of Ephesus to prayer. The inspired Apostle wasted no time in calling the church to prayer. He knew very well where the power resides, not only for overcoming false doctrine but also for bringing people into a saving relationship with the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was in the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led prayers of God’s people based on the solid foundation of the Word of God.
• The call for prayer reads, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 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. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
• By way of understanding the larger context of this prayer, chapter 2 of 1 Timothy consists of instructions for public worship. Paul was deeply concerned that divine worship should be carried on in Ephesus most effectively and edifyingly. Therefore his Spirit-led instructions on how the church should conduct public worship. Prayer was the first thing on his mind.
• There are several things I want us to note about the call to prayer.
- First, observe prayer’s primacy in the life of the church.
Notice the Bible says, “First of all” (2:1a). Literally, “firstly of all.” The phrase “first of all” emphasizes primacy in importance. The most essential part of public worship is prayer. Oh may we never forget this fundamental truth!
Prayer was to play a vital role in the church. It was to have a paramount place in the life of the church at Ephesus.
A church that makes a lasting impact on its community is a church that takes prayer seriously. The early church in Acts took prayer seriously in carrying out her ministry and mission (see Acts 1:14, 24; 2:42; 4:24-32; 12:5).
Being a man of fervent and fruitful prayer himself, Paul, inspired by the Spirit, pointed Timothy to the primacy of prayer, the most essential part of public worship in the church.
It is as if Paul is saying to Timothy, “O Timothy, as you deal with the problems in the church at Ephesus, remember the supreme place of prayer. Keep it foremost in your life and in the life of the church. My son in the faith, never relegate prayer to lip-service in your life and in the life of the church God has given you the privilege to serve and shepherd. Let prayer have first place in both your life and in the lives of God’s people at Ephesus. Remember, I said to you, ‘first of all.’”
- Second, observe that the call for prayer is an urgent plea.
Notice the Bible says, “I urge” (2:1b). Literally, “I exhort.”
The Greek word translated “I urge” or “I exhort” is parakalo from the verb parakaleo. The verb also means appeal to, encourage, beseech. Through the Spirit, Paul was earnestly appealing Timothy and the church of Ephesus to practice prayer. There was a sense of urgency in Paul’s appeal and admonition. He seems to be saying, “Practice prayer. Don’t merely pay lip-service to it in your own life or in the assembly of God’s people.”
Oh that the church today will listen to the plea to practice prayer! God has given to His people access to His throne. He has invited His believing children to come boldly to His throne of grace. This is an incredible privilege. But over and over again, God’s people fail to take full advantage of this great and glorious invitation.
Paul wanted Timothy and the church at Ephesus to take full advantage of this great opportunity. And so with apostolic passion, Paul made an urgent plea to the church to fervently practice prayer.
- Third, please take note of the principal aspects of the call to pray.
Inspired by the Spirit, Paul used four terms to describe the ministry of prayer in the church. In the New Testament we find seven different nouns used for prayer. Four of them occur in verse 1. Four aspects of prayer is listed, namely petitions (deeseis), prayers (proseuchas), intercessions (enteuxies), and thanksgivings (eucharistias) (2:1c).
Let’s take a look at each of them. The first aspect is deeseis, which is translated here as “entreaties” (NASB), “supplications” (KJV) and “requests” (NIV). Entreaties or supplications or requests are almost always addressed to God. The word carries the idea of desire or need. The thought here is therefore more that of specific requests for specific needs. All true prayer begins with a sense of need and involves a deep desire, although it should never stop there. God wants His people to bring their “requests” or “supplications” to Him, and He always has a listening ear. The only time His ear is not ready to hear us is when we are holding onto sin in our lives (see Isaiah 59:2).
The second word the inspired Apostle used is proseuchas (plural ofproseuche). It is the most general word for prayer emphasizing worship and reverence. It always signifies praying to the Person of the true and living God. It is used for both private and public prayers.
The third word is enteuxeis, which is translated literally as “intercessions.” It is a technical term for approaching a king, suggesting intercession on behalf of others. In other words, intercessions describe those forms of petition in which we address the Person of the living God as our Supreme King and Lord in behalf of others. What a great privilege!
Actually, Origen, the greatest Bible scholar of the early church taught that the fundamental idea of enteuxeis was boldness of access to God’s presence. So what is being implied here is that we must come to God with full confidence and enter into close communion with Him in a heart to heart atmosphere of conversation if we wish to experience depth and richness in our prayer life.
The fourth word is eucharistias, from which we get “eucharist.” The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, should always be a time of “thanksgiving” as we reflect on the great sacrifice of Christ our Savior for our sins. Giving of thanks should be a part of all praying. In other words, an attitude of thankfulness should always accompany prayer. Thanking God for what He has done for us in the past strengthens our faith to believe that He will meet our needs in the future. In heaven, we will continually be thanking our God and Savior.
- Fourth, would you please notice the persons God commands His people to pray for!
Prayers of these varied types, namely supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving are to “be made on behalf of all men oreveryone” (huper panton anthropon) (2:1d).
However, under the Spirit’s leading Paul made special mention of“kings and all those in authority” (2:2a). Supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings are to be made for everyone, but especially on behalf of kings (basileon) and all those in high position, literally, in eminence (huperoche).
Paul was revealing possible areas being excluded in prayer. Paul’s instruction to pray for kings was especially significant in the light of the fact that Nero (A.D. 54-68) was in office at this time. Emperor Nero was a cruel monster, who not only persecuted the early believers in the early part of his reign, but later, also put Paul and Peter to death. When we remember that this Pastoral Epistle was written at the time of such an evil king, we should also pray for our present rulers, no matter how unreasonable they may seem to be.
The inspired teaching of the Apostle is clear. Prayer on behalf of all those who are in authority in various levels of government should have a regular place in all public worship. In our public gathering for worship, God says, all who are in authority should occupy a special place in our prayers. They should not be neglected in our prayers.
Few, if any, are the churches that pray for their own needs, let alone pray for all those who are in authority on a consistent basis.
Is the church of today fulfilling her God-given tasks?
Is the church ever going to stop “playing church” and “be” the church God wants her to be?
Is the church of our day ever going to go back to basics, Christianity 101, and prayerfully and faithfully follow God’s guidelines for her?
Is the church of today going to stop criticizing and complaining and condemning those in authority and call to God on their behalf?
God wants us, His people, to call on Him for all those who are in authority, but we love to call on each other for the purpose of bashing those God has sovereignly placed in authority over us. Rarely, do we include them in our prayers in our public gatherings. But how we often find ourselves pointing accusing fingers at them! We have not learned the lesson of the early church: Love that comes out of a pure heart, good conscience, and a sincere faith reaches out beyond the community.
Through Paul, God was calling the church of Ephesus to reach beyond herself first of all through prayer. A church that reaches beyond herself first in prayer is effective in reaching beyond the community with the Good News. This is the pattern God has established for us in His Word. He is the Only Wise God. We better learn to follow His wise guidelines for His Church.
- Fifth, would you take note of God’s revealed purpose for praying for all those who are in authority!
Although God didn’t need to reveal His purpose for commanding us to do certain things, He often does. Here, God chose to reveal to us why He commanded us to pray for everyone, especially, all those in authority. His purpose is not only very logical but also significant. The Bible says,“in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (2:2b).
Here lies the purpose behind the call to prayer for all those in authority. Here is the reason to pray for rulers. It is for our own good. We are permitted by law as upheld and enforced by our lawmakers, administrators, and judicial leaders to meet peaceably for public worship. Is that not for our own good? Yes, indeed! Shall we not then pray for them and also thank God for them? But how often do we do that in our public gathering for worship? Rarely! How sad!
The word translated “tranquil” (eremos) has the basic idea of restfulness unmarred by disturbance. Is it not to our own advantage that we have a tranquil and quiet life in contrast to noisy commotion and chaos caused by unstable government, revolution, civil war, turmoil, and anarchy? We who are presently living in the United States are so blessed to have a stable government and a country that is preserved from civil strife and turmoil. But do we constantly thank God for that and continue to pray for our rulers so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness? (NIV).
The word translated “dignity” (NASB), “honesty” (KJV) (semnoteti) also means reverence, seriousness, gravity, respectfulness, holiness, or probity.
Peaceful and quiet living is to promote godliness and holiness among God’s people. So you can see why it is so important that we commit ourselves to praying for rulers. We benefit socially and spiritually.
I am always amazed at the purposes of God. Even through His call to pray for those in authority, His ultimate goal is to promote godliness and holiness in us here on earth.
- Sixth, notice the pleasure such praying and godliness brings to the heart of our God.
The Bible says, “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” (2:3-4).
“Good” (kalos) also means “beautiful, excellent.” And “acceptable” (apodektos) also means pleasing. This kind of praying that promotes godliness and holiness is beautiful in God’s sight. Not only that, it pleases God. It gives Him great delight. His desire is for the salvation of all men. Therefore to pray for all men is to promote the desire of God in this regard. In other words, the call for universal prayer was based on the universal desire of God - the salvation of all the human race. God’s desire defines and shapes the nature of this age and should also shape the behavior of believers. Paul desired that the believers at Ephesus would pray sincerely for all people.
Notice the title Paul was led to give God here: “God our Savior” (cf. 1:1). In this age of grace, God is in the business of saving sinners like you and me. How thankful I am for this! God’s heart is set on saving lost and wandering sheep of humanity. He “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” This statement is in perfect harmony with such passages as (Ezekiel 33:11; John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9 and with the declaration in 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 that Christ died for all.
Lest you think I am teaching universal salvation, please take note of this: Salvation has been provided for all, but only those who accept it are saved.
The verb “to be saved” (sothenai) is passive, meaning that man cannot save himself but must be saved by God. To be saved one must come to the knowledge of the truth. Man must come to Him who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
The sinner, when convicted of his sin and his need of a Savior, must believe and embrace Jesus Christ as the only Savior from sins. He must accept the gift of God’s complete forgiveness of his sins on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This choice cannot be forced upon Him. He must willingly agree with God that he is a sinner and needs a Savior and turn from his sin and sinful ways.
In their disputes and fruitless discussions, the believers at Ephesus were neglecting to pray for all men who needed salvation. Whenever a church or fellowship is caught up in “in-house” disputes and divisions, they completely forget what God has called them to. They spend their energy on themselves. They focus on themselves and forget all others who need the saving grace of Jesus Christ. They have little or no concern for those outside the church. They think that God is only concerned about them. They forget that God is not partisan.
There are many churches today who are caught up in “in-house fights” and therefore have no time to pray for their own needs, let alone pray for the salvation of sinners in their communities in which God has planted them to be His witnesses – salt and light. This is sad indeed!
- Seventh, notice the proper view of God we should maintain in our approach to God in prayer for all people.
“For there is one God” (2:5a). This is one of the most significant verses of the New Testament. It declares first of all that “there is one God.” This declaration is not common to the New Testament alone. The Old Testament affirms it again and again. In the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, God Himself commanded His people not to have other gods besides Him (see Exodus 20:3). Later, through the prophet Isaiah, God made one of the most emphatic statements about being the only God.
“You are My witnesses, declares the LORD…before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even, I am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you; so you are My witness, declares the LORD, and I am God. Even from eternity I am He…” (Isaiah 43:10-13). What a passionate declaration of God! Truly there is no God besides Him.
With the same passion, God again thundered through the prophet Isaiah; “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: I am the first and the last, and there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me?” (Isaiah 44:6-7).
As if these words were not enough to establish the truth that there is only one true God, God later asked a powerful and heart penetrating question which He answered Himself. “Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:8b; cf. Isaiah 45:5-6).
Through Apostle Paul, God made it crystal clear that He, the One true God, is both the God of the Jews and the God of the Gentiles (see Romans 3:29-30). In other words, the One true God is the God of all people. God is one. Period.
This truth should therefore motivate the believers at Ephesus to earnestly pray for the salvation of others.
The “for” (gar) of 2:5 explains why it is good to pray for the salvation of others and why God desires all to be saved. All people have one true God. This is the proper view of God we should maintain in our approach to God in prayer for all people.
As God is the God of all men, it follows that prayer should be addressed to Him in behalf of all men. If God were one of many gods, He might be concerned only about his worshipers. But thanks be to God that He is the One and only true God of all people and as such is concerned about all people!
- Eighth, would you please observe the peace-making role of Christ Jesus between God and men, that is, sinners like us.
The Bible not only speaks of one God but also one mediator. It is written, “and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (2:5b).
The word for “mediator,” mesites also means arbitrator. The basic meaning of mesites is one who stands or mediates between two parties to remove a disagreement or reach a common goal. In other words, a mediator intervenes between two, either in order to make or restore peace and friendship. Christ Jesus is the only One who perfectly represents both parties, that is, God and men. Christ, the God-Man, is the perfect Mediator, representing both God’s interests and man’s without prejudice or compromise.
Bhudda, Confucius, Mohammed, not even the blessed Virgin Mary or saints are mediators between God and man. There is only one Mediator, and His name is Christ Jesus.
Would you please notice how the inspired Apostle describes the Mediator! He says, “the Man Christ Jesus” (anthropos ChristosHesous).
Identifying the Mediator as “the Man Christ Jesus” does not at all deny the deity of the Lord Jesus. In order to be the Mediator between God and men, he must be both God and Man. The Lord Jesus is God from all eternity, but He became Man in Bethlehem’s manger. The fact that He is both God and Man is indicated in the name “Christ Jesus.” Christ describes Him as God’s Anointed One, the Messiah of God. Jesus is the name given to our Lord in His incarnation, specifically revealing His reason for coming to earth and what He has come to do for mankind. The name Jesus means, “Yahweh saves or the LORD saves.” That is why the angel announced to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
The Mediator is God’s Anointed One and Savior of sinners. He alone, therefore, truly represents God and sinners.
Christ’s peace-making role as the one Mediator between God and men is expressed beautifully in the words of Bible Commentator Ralph Earle. “To be of any use, a bridge across a chasm or river must be anchored on both sides. Christ has closed the gap between deity and humanity. He has crossed the grand canyon, so deep and wide, between heaven and earth. He has bridged the chasm that separated man from God. With one foot planted in eternity, [He] planted the other in time. He who was the Eternal Son of God became the Son of Man. And across this bridge, the Man Christ Jesus, we can come into the very presence of God, knowing that we are accepted because we have a Mediator.”
- Ninth, notice the price paid in order to free sinners from their sins.
“Who gave Himself as a ransom for all,” (2:6a).
God’s desire for the salvation of all men is further revealed in this verse. His Eternal Son, the Lord Jesus, who became the Son of Man and thus perfectly represents God and men, willingly gave Himself as a ransom for all. His own testimony of voluntarily giving His life as a ransom for sinners is stated in Matthew 20:28. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom (lutron) for many.”
God commanded that prayer be made on behalf of all men (2:1), for kings and all who are in authority (2:2a), so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and holiness (2:2b). All because He desired all men to be saved (2:4). To prove to us how committed He is to this desire, we are now told, the Man Christ Jesus, the Mediator, gave Himself as a ransom for all (2:6).
What is the point God is trying to get across to us? He has done everything that is needed to save lost sinners. He is also giving us convincing reasons to pray for all people. All people have one God, one Mediator, and one ransom.
The word for “ransom” antilytron, means what is given in exchange for another as the price of his redemption. In other words, a ransom is a price paid to release or set another free. In freely giving Himself, Christ paid in full the ransom price to free us from slave market of sin. The ransom to free us from the slavery of sin was paid by Jesus Christ. This is good news. Because Christ paid the full price for our freedom from sin, we are rightfully His possession. Please note that Christ died on behalf of all people, but only those who accept His sacrifice are actually set free from the shackles of sin.
Tenth, would you please notice the proper time at which the ransom price was paid!
God is a God who does His work at His appointed time. So here we are told by the inspired writer, literally, “the testimony in its own appointed times” (2:6b).
What is being said here is that, Christ’s once for all sacrifice for sin took place at God’s appointed hour. It occurred at the proper time fixed by God Almighty. God knew what He was doing. His plan of redemption was carefully set in place. He was not caught by surprise when Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden.
The message of Christ’s sacrificial and redemptive death was given at the proper time by the apostles. It is now our turn to bear our testimony concerning the death of Christ. This is the proper time to do so. Why? This is the age of grace. God still desires all men to be saved. His Son paid the ransom for all.
Eleventh, observe the privileged role God gave Paul to play in His plan of redemption.
“For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher in faith and truth” (2:7).
Paul is here giving the believers at Ephesus and us, another reason why prayers should be made for all. God has appointed him to work with the Gentiles, the group disregarded by most Jewish believers. In other words, Paul is saying, God desires also that the Gentiles be saved. It was not to one small segment of mankind, such as the Jews, that Paul was sent, but rather to the Gentile nations. This is to serve as a final demonstration of God’s desire for the salvation of all men.
So what is the implication of this? We must adopt God’s attitude toward the world. He desires all men to be saved. Therefore, as believers we must not hinder or block God’s desire by refusing to pray for unbelievers. We must offer prayers and intercessions on behalf of all men.
Please notice how Paul speaks of himself. He describes himself as a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.
The word for “preacher,” keryx also means a herald, a messenger from God, whose duty it is to make public proclamations. The herald is therefore God’s ambassador, a proclaimer of the divine word. He makes a proclamation for the King of kings. This strongly implies he is not to air his own petty opinions or debate other people’s ideas, no matter how popular they are. He must only proclaim the Word of the King – the Word of God. What a glorious privilege this is! What an awesome responsibility too!
In addition to describing himself as a preacher, Paul also says, he is “an apostle” (apostolos). The use of the word here means Christ’s authoritative representative as a leader of the church.
Paul was not only a preacher and an apostle but also “a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” NIV renders this part of the verse as “and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” Paul not only taught what was true and trustworthy, and totally consistent with faithful Word of God, but he also told the truth as it is in Christ. Giving added emphasis to what he is saying, Paul confirms his claims with these words: “I am telling the truth, I am not lying.” Literally, “I say truth, I do not lie.”Though Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews (Philippians 3:5), the Lord Jesus Himself gave him this special assignment of being a teacher (didaskalos) of the Gentiles or nations (see Acts 9:15).
To drive home his point that prayer should be practiced and not merely given lip service in public worship, the inspired Apostle concludes his call to prayer with these words: “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (2:8).
The idea here is simply this: “Pray and don’t get caught up in petty squabbles. Don’t let pettiness rob you of the glorious opportunity of praying for all men. God commands you to pray for all men, especially for kings and all who are in authority. He desires all men to be saved. His Son freely gave Himself as a ransom on behalf of all men. I have also told you the truth to emphasize the fact that God is concerned about the salvation of all men. On the basis of all these, you should give yourself to prayer. Do not allow Satan and your own self-centeredness to rob you of calling to God on behalf of all men. Godly men in God’s church, living holy lives, take leadership in this matter.”
The Petitions God’s People Are to Bring to Him on Behalf of Rulers
- The principal truths God revealed in His Word about human governments have been stated and discussed. Let’s restate them. First, human governments are ordained by God. Second, rulers are God’s servants. Third, human government is one of the means of God’s self-revelation. Fourth, God’s people are specifically commanded to submit themselves to civil authorities. Fifth, God’s people are exhorted to honor rulers. Finally, God has given us biblical examples for praying for those who are in authority.
- God’s purpose for ordaining government has also been made known to us in His Word. It is to administer justice in society as a whole. God’s purpose for establishing government includes praising those who do good and punishing those who practice evil, thus maintaining law and order in society.
- Perhaps the most powerful truth revealed about God’s activity in the lives of those who are in authority is His providential rule over them. As stated earlier, this revelation should renew our confidence and generate passion in us to pray for all those who are in authority. No matter how high they are, their hearts are not out of reach to God.
- Praying for all those who are in authority is not Paul’s idea. It is God’s idea. He has given a particular and purposeful command to pray for all who are in authority.
- Having looked at all these important aspects of this article, let’s now finally look at the petitions God’s people are to bring to Him on behalf of civil authorities.
- God has specifically commanded that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for everyone – for kings and for all those in authority. But God didn’t spell out for us the petitions we are to bring before Him on their behalf. But this is not a problem at all. I believe God expects His believing and serious students of His Word to search the Scriptures to discern the petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings we should be constantly bringing to Him on behalf of all civil authorities.
- I would therefore like to suggest from the biblical data several petitions to bring before God on behalf of all those who are in authority. Since these petitions are derived from the Scriptures, they are consistent with the will of God. He will be delighted not only to hear them but also respond to them in order to advance His purposes in our day.
- One of the books of the Bible that says a lot about rulers or kings is Proverbs. This is not surprising because the inspired writer of Proverbs was himself a king. Several of the petitions for civil authorities are therefore derived from this book. I humbly suggest that you prayerfully read the references in order to pray with understanding and conviction.
1. Pray for those who are in authority to be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-7).
From the context of God’s particular command to pray for all people, this is the specific request He would like us to bring to Him on behalf of those who are in authority.
Administering justice is God’s purpose for establishing human governments. So it is His will for us to bring this petition to His throne.
God’s desire is that those who do what is good by following His principles should be praised not punished. But often, there is the abuse of public authority. Since God desires justice to be preserved, we can pray to Him for the proper use of His delegated authority to those in leadership at all levels and the cessation of such abuse. But please note that this is not praying that persecution will never come to believers. The point being made here is well stated in Proverbs 14:35: “The king’s favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, but his anger is toward him who acts shamefully.” This is clearly the proper use of authority that is not abusive. Proverbs 17:15 even makes this request clearer. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.”
Proverbs 17:23 says, “A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice.” Many in government establishments receive bribes from the very people who must be judged by the law. The Bible makes it clear that a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists (see Deuteronomy 16:19). It reveals that a bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; wherever he turns, he prospers (see Proverbs 17:8). In other words, a bribe is a powerful charm. It performs wonders, opening doors, obtaining favors and privileges. It is able to get the one who gives it out of trouble. Such is the power of a bribe. The Bible also says, a bribe also corrupts the heart (see Ecclesiastes 7:7).
Proverbs 29:4 reveals the destructive work of bribery by a leader. It says,“The king gives stability to the land by justice, but a man who takes bribes overthrows it.” In the light of these truths about the power and lure of bribery, it is not only necessary but also important for us to pray against bribery that leads to perversion of justice in our governments.
Even though King Cyrus did not know God personally, God stirred up his spirit to do what He had prophesied concerning the people of Israel, that is, the rebuilding of the temple. Because our God has not changed, we can also confidently pray to Him to work through leaders and rulers in order to advance His purpose for His people.
God gave specific tasks to both Nehemiah and Ezra. Nehemiah was to lead in the task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra was given the responsibility of beautifying the rebuilt temple. But God knew very well that His servants each needed favor in the sight of the king who was ruling over the nations. The king’s name was Artaxerxes. God gave both Nehemiah and Ezra favor before Artaxerxes. Thus Nehemiah and Ezra accomplished what God has called them to do. Our God is willing and able to do give favor to His servants today before rulers and all they will have to do with in order for them to fulfill His calling upon their lives.
Proverbs 16:15 beautifully describes favor in a king’s sight. “In the light of a king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud with the spring [literally, latter] rain.” Nehemiah and Ezra both experienced this. Earlier, Joseph experienced this favor before Pharaoh of Egypt. Joseph, a prisoner was promoted to the position of a Prime Minister and fulfilled God’s purpose (see Genesis 41 and 45:5-11). Mordecai and Daniel were others of God’s servants who experienced God’s favor before great rulers of their times.
Proverbs 19:12 also vividly describes the king’s favor in contrast to his wrath. “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like the dew on the grass.” God is able to give this favor to His servants in order to fulfill His calling upon their lives.
7. Pray that those in authority will not be unfaithful in their judgments (Proverbs 16:10).
The above verse reads: “A divine decision is in the lips of the king; his mouth should not err [literally, be unfaithful] in judgment.”
Because a king is a representative of God (Romans 13:1), his decisions carry authority and finality. Therefore he must not err in judgment. Solomon himself experienced this truth in his life. Two prostitutes came to him for judgment. The harlots lived in the same house and each gave birth to a son. One of the prostitutes slept on her son and he died. But the careless harlot stole the son of the other harlot. They brought the dead and the living sons to the king. Since each of them was claiming the living son was her own, Solomon asked for the sword to divide the living son. The true mother was deeply stirred over her son. But the other prostitute, who pretended the living son was hers, had no compassion on “her living son.” She wanted him to be divided. How cruel! The king wisely gave his verdict after the true color of the pretended mother was revealed (see story in 1 Kings 3:16-27).
The Bible says, “When all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28). God worked through other rulers to render faithful judgments and He is able to do so today.
8. Pray that those in leadership will seek to establish their authority on a foundation of doing right rather than on wickedness (Proverbs 16:12).
Proverb 16:12 says, “It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, for a throne is established on righteousness.”
Many in leadership today try to secure their positions of authority through wickedness. They slander. They slaughter. They sabotage. They steal. They seek revenge over their opponents. You name it. They do all these in an attempt to strengthen their grip on power. But this is not God’s way of establishing one’s position of authority. Since rulers represent God they have greater responsibility. We must therefore pray that those in authority at all levels will seek to establish their “thrones” on righteousness rather than on rebellious acts.
9. Pray that all those who are in authority will desire people who are sincere and whose words are trustworthy to work with them (Proverbs 16:13).
“Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and he who speaks right is loved”(Proverbs 16:13).
Good and honest leaders don’t appreciate those who flatter and speak hypocritically. They want men whose word is reliable and trustworthy. They want men who are sincere, not devious. Let’s ask God for these types of leaders.
10. Pray for God to give wisdom to those in authority to know how to weed out the wicked from their leadership teams (Proverbs 20:26).
“A wise king winnows the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them” (Proverbs 20:26).
A wise king or ruler is one who does not tolerate the wicked. He separates them from the righteous, brings them to trial, and punishes them. God knows how we need such rulers in governments of today. But we must ask Him specifically for such wise rulers.
11. Pray for truth to preserve those in authority (Proverbs 20:28).
“Loyalty [literally, loyalty covenant] and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness” (Proverbs 20:28).
A leader who is characterized by loyalty and truth will have the respect and support of his subjects. He maintains his position of authority by righteousness, not by tyranny. We need to pray for such leaders to be raised up into several government positions.
12. Pray that God will direct the hearts of those in authority to wherever He wishes in order to accomplish His divine purpose (Proverbs 21:1).
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; [He] directs it like a watercourse wherever [He] pleases” (Proverbs 21:1 NIV).
We would do well to memorize this verse. It is the foundational verse to build our prayers on for all those are in authority.
13. Pray for wicked rulers to be toppled and those who sincerely hate ill-gotten gain will prolong their days in office (Proverbs 28:15-16).
“Like a roaring lion or a rushing bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A leader who is a great oppressor (i.e., a tyrannical ruler) lack understanding but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days” (Proverbs 28:15-16).
The regimes of many tyrannical leaders like Stalin of Russia, Hitler of Nazi Germany, Iddi Ammin of Uganda, and Saddam Hussein of Iraq have been toppled. I believe if God’s people give themselves to prayer in this regard many more regimes of such beast-like and inhumane tyrants will be toppled and those who sincerely seek justice will be raised up.
14. Pray that those in authority will not listen to lies (Proverbs 29:12).
“If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked” (Proverbs 29:12 NIV).
How true this is! Lying is the work of the devil, who has come to steal and kill and destroy (see John 10:10). Therefore if those in authority pay attention to falsehood then wickedness will reign. The idea behind this proverb is that since such a ruler wants to be pampered, flattered, and comforted by pleasant news, then all his servants will treat him that way. They will lie and flatter. This is so true in many government establishments. So it is very important for us to pray that civil authorities will not listen to lies and be surrounded by liars and flatterers.
15. Pray that those who are in authority will judge the poor with truth (Proverbs 29:14).
“If a king judges the poor with the truth, his throne will be established forever” (Proverbs 29:14).
God has a deep concern for the poor. He is especially interested in whether rulers treat the poor based on truth and without prejudice. The only King whose throne is established forever is King Jesus. But we can certainly pray for leaders over us to operate in truth.
16. Pray against immoral and drunkard lifestyles of those in authority (Proverbs 31:2-5).
King Lemuel meaning (dedicated or belonging to God) had a godly mother who taught him godly principles. The king kept these teachings in his heart. The first and second of these teachings had to do with shunning loose living and craving for strong drink.
Lemuel’s mother warned him to avoid a life of dissipation and sensual lust. She also pleaded with her son to refrain from excessive use of strong drink.“What, O my son? And what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows? Do not give your strength to women, or your ways to that which destroys kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed, and pervert the rights of all the afflicted” (Proverbs 31:2-5).
While today, moral character is disregarded in leadership in our permissive society, God has not lowered the standards He established long ago. Moreover, God has not changed. It is still His desire for those in leadership to have a morally clean character lest they deprive the oppressed of their rights. This is because their ability to judge and to make proper decisions might be impaired by excessive use of strong drink. Therefore we must work with God by specifically asking Him to raise up leaders who are not morally corrupt. Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 makes it all the more urgent to ask God for rulers who are not given to a life of dissipation and drunkenness.
17. Pray that rulers will speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend their rights (Proverbs 31:8-9).
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of those who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).
Those in authority should be responsible spokespersons for all who cannot defend themselves. They should plead the cause of all the poor and needy. This was the admonition of a wise mother to her son who was a king. This prayer is much needed today before the Great Day of the Lord on which true and final justice will be administered.
Since God commands that petitions as well as thanksgivings be made on behalf of all who are in authority, here is a suggested list of thanksgivings to offer up to God on behalf of our civil rulers. It is not in anyway intended to be a comprehensive list. So please fill free to give thanks to the Lord for other reasons you are directed to do so.
18. Thank God for permitting us through government law to meet peaceably for public worship.
19. Thank God for His work through the government to maintain law and order in the nations.
20. Thank God for the social services provided by government institutions for our benefit.
21. Thank God for the favor He extends to His servants before rulers in order for them to fulfill His calling upon their lives.
22. Thank God for desiring all men to be saved, a desire that motivates us to pray for all those in authority to experience the saving grace of Christ.
23. Thank God for establishing human governments.
24. Thank God for His purpose for instituting human governments.
25. Thank God for giving us biblical examples of praying for rulers.
26. Thank God for being able to reach and turn the hearts of rulers wherever He desires in order to fulfill His sovereign purpose.
27. Thank God for the godly leaders He raises up to rule over us.
28. Thank God for toppling evil regimes of beast-like and inhumane tyrants.
29. Thank God for leaders who speak up for the poor and defenseless.
30. Thank God for those in authority who stand for the truth.
God wants His people to play an important role in governments. This role is clearly defined for us as praying for all those who are in authority. Praying for our leaders is consistent with God’s will. Why? Human institutions are established by Him. He has also revealed His purpose for ordaining them. As God Himself is the God of justice and is keen on administering justice, so also God’s purpose for appointing governments is to administer justice in society as a whole. Furthermore, God has convincingly shown us in His Word that He providentially rules over those who are in authority. Moreover, being the only wise God who knows what He is doing, He has given us a particular command concerning all those who are in authority. We are to pray for them. This is the most important part of our role in governments. This is the most effective role we can play in our civil governments.
Prayer doesn’t lead to passivity. It leads to practicality. When we pray consistently for those in authority as God prescribed in His Word, He will direct us to take practical steps that will make His influence through us significantly felt. God’s impact through us will be greater. God’s order is simply. First of all, His people should labor in prayer for those in authority. And as we consistently do so, God Himself will guide us to take fruitful actions to bring changes not only socially, but more importantly, spiritually. In other words, prayer secures practicality. Prayer leads to practical and productive actions that glorify God. This is an important principle but we often neglect it to the delight of the devil.
Let’s be people who tremble at God’s Word, who take God at His Word, who trust in His Word, who tell of His Word, who are transformed by His Word to do what He has commanded us to do, totally relying on His Spirit!
Let’s confess our failure to pray for civil authorities in our public gatherings and in our private meeting with God! Let’s thank God for the forgiveness of our sins on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins!
Let’s depend on the Holy Spirit from now on to pray for all those who are in authority and leave the results of our obedience in this matter to our wise and faithful God!
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).