A Prayer for Politicians
Topic: Topical Passage: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Since yesterday was the 4th of July, I thought it would be appropriate to spend this morning thinking about how our theme for 2020, “Devoted to Prayer,” applies to praying for America. I don’t think there’s any question that our nation and, specifically, our politicians need a lot of prayer right now. God tells us how to pray for them in 1 Timothy 2:1–7.
Our nation has a lot to be proud of. We are blessed with a wonderful system of government, and God has used our nation and the freedoms we enjoy to do tremendous good in our own country and around the world. We live in a great nation. Don’t let all the nuttiness of our day cause you to forget that.
But it’s also true that sin and corruption are wearing us down. We are abandoning the Christian worldview, and the family is under attack. Without these basic anchors people and society as a whole is increasingly broken. As a result, there are plenty of things to be angry about, and many of them matter a lot.
But 1 Timothy 2 calls us to recognize that what ought to grieve us above everything else is how many people do not know the Savior. Therefore, more than we desire peace, prosperity, and influence, we must share God’s passion as expressed in v. 4.
What is so helpful about this passage is that it tells us how our passion for the Great Commission merges with our prayers for our nation and political leaders. So, the question I want to answer today is this. How should we think about our government and pray for our leaders? Paul answers by telling us first and foremost that…
I. Our first priority is always the Great Commission.
Before we go on, I want to emphasize that there are plenty of other legitimate concerns that we should have for our nation. We should care about ethical issues like abortion and upholding the biblical family. We should care about maintaining an economic system that prioritizes hard work and responsibility. We should fight to maintain our freedoms. All of those things matter a lot. But God says that the Great Commission must always be our highest priority.
Verse 2 packs the main punch as it pertains to praying for government (read). But the only way we can fully appreciate v. 2 is if we see it in light of the explanation in vv. 4–7. If you look at vv. 1–7 as a whole, it’s clear that Great Commission priorities must shape even our prayers for political leaders. Therefore, I want to begin with vv. 4–7, where Paul gives 3 reasons why we need to pray with a Great Commission focus. The 1st reason is…
God desires the salvation of all men (v. 4). To fully appreciate this verse, we have to read it in light of a conflict that Timothy was facing against a group of Jewish false teachers in Ephesus, where he was currently ministering. Notice how he describes them in 1:3–7.
What’s particularly significant to our passage is that most 1st century Jews despised anyone who did not abide by their Jewish scruples. They wanted nothing to do with “all those heathen Gentiles who couldn’t match their great holiness.” They certainly were not concerned for their salvation. Therefore, Paul responds in this passage by emphasizing God’s passion for the salvation of all people.
Notice how often Paul uses the word all. Verse 1 says to pray “for all men,” and v. 2 says to pray for “all who are in authority.” Verse 4 says God “desires all men to be saved.” Verse 6 says Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all.” And Paul ends the paragraph in v. 7 reflecting on his mission to take the gospel to the Gentile peoples (read).
Verse 4 is at the center of this worldwide push. Paul puts the arrogant elitism of the Jews in his crosshairs, and he declares “(God) desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” What a declaration! Of course, this desire will not ultimately be fulfilled, because in God’s perfect wisdom, he has not determined to save all men.
But that doesn’t change the fact that God sincerely desires the salvation of all people. In this context, Paul especially wants to say that God desires the salvation of all types of people—from every race, culture, and socio-economic background.
This is so timely, because we are living in a fiery political atmosphere. It’s very easy for us to look at people primarily as Democrats or Republicans, anti-police or pro-police, very concerned about COVID or not at all. As important as these issues may be, God says in v. 4 that when he looks at people, he doesn’t fundamentally see them for their politics, but as lost souls in desperate need of salvation.
And we have to discipline ourselves to do the same. We have to look past what are sometimes evil beliefs and see the darkness of Satan. And then our hearts must beat with God’s for their salvation.
It is so important that we look at the world through a gospel lens and that evangelism drives all our interaction with the lost. Even if we win a fight or a political victory, we always lose if we dishonor the spirit of the gospel and lose our evangelistic voice. Let’s make sure that God’s heart for the lost shapes all that we see, say, and do. The 2nd reason why we need to pray with a Great Commission focus is…
Christ is the only way of salvation (vv. 5–6). There is a lot of theology packed into these verses. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to plumb the depths of all that is here. Rather, I want to briefly emphasize Paul’s main point, which is to drive home the importance of preaching the gospel and praying for the salvation of souls. Paul makes this point by continuing the absolute, all-encompassing language that dominates this paragraph.
Verse 5 begins with, “There is one God.” The point is that every man is accountable to him. Therefore, our standing with God is the most important issue in life. And there is only “one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” In other words, there is only one way that we can be rescued from the judgment of God and be brought into a right relationship with him. Jesus is the only bridge that can connect sinners like us to a holy God.
Why can he bring us to God? It’s because Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all.” The Greek word for ransom is the same word we often translate redeem. The idea is that we all have a sin debt that we can never repay. But Jesus fully paid our debt when he died on the cross. In the process, he made it possible for the sin that stands between us and God to be removed and for us to be brought into a right relationship with him.
And notice that he did this “for all.” Jesus didn’t just die for the Jews. He died for every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, for Republicans and Democrats, for whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics, and for blue-collar working people and for urban elites.
So, if there’s anyone here who has never come to Christ for salvation, I hope you will see today that Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for (YOU).” He took your judgment in his body on the cross so that he could make a way for you to come to God. This salvation can be yours if you repent of your sin and believe on Christ. We’d love to talk with you today about how you can receive this salvation through faith in Christ.
And if you are a Christian, vv. 5–6 offer a powerful reason why the Great Commission must shape how we see all people. That politician or activist that drives you batty is hopelessly lost, but God loved sinners enough to send Jesus to provide a ransom for him. That’s a heavy thought. We dishonor the cross and the heart of God, when we fail to see with this lens. So, let’s make sure that the cross reshapes how we see each person. The 3rd reason we need to pray with a Great Commission focus is…
God’s purpose for this age is the advance of the gospel among all people (vv. 6b–7). Notice that v. 6 says that the message of the gospel was prepared, “to be testified in due time.” In other words, within God’s eternal sovereign purpose, this present age of history is fundamentally for the proclamation of the gospel to all nations. This is the most important work for this age.
Verse 7 tells us specifically that this is what Paul has in mind. God chose him to be a “teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” The point is that God called Paul to begin spreading the gospel among the Gentile nations.
It’s our job to continue that spread. God didn’t leave you here to indulge every worldly pleasure and to live out the American Dream. No, our job is to glorify the Savior by reaching people with the gospel, discipling them into maturity, and building churches that can continue the mission. This is your job, if you are a Christian, and this is our job as a church. Nothing else can get in the way of this most important priority. That’s how God wants us to think.
In sum, as we think about our nation and our role in our nation, we must never forget the priority of our heavenly citizenship and our basic duty as citizens of heaven. Yes, we are also citizens of the U.S.A., and you should get involved in other righteous causes that affect our nation. But every other cause must remain subservient to the Great Commission. It’s essential that our minds and hearts and actions reflect this priority.
So, my first main point is our first priority is always the Great Commission. With this perspective, we are now able to fully grasp the point that Paul wants to make in vv. 1–2. My 2nd main point is….
II. Pray with Great Commission zeal (vv. 1–2).
Paul packs a lot of really important perspective into v. 2, which is where I want to focus with the rest of our time. Specifically, I want to highlight 3 prayer requests that should dominate our prayers for the U.S.A. First…
Pray for the salvation of our leaders. Notice that v. 1 gives the only command in the paragraph. It tells us to pray “for all men.” In light of what we’ve seen in the remainder of paragraph, we know that he means, contrary to the elitist spirit of the Jews, all people. We also know from the rest of the paragraph that Paul specifically means that we are to pray for the salvation of all people and especially all types of people—Jews, Gentiles, liberals, conservatives, urban, suburban, and rural. Our prayers must be dominated by a Great Commission zeal for the spread of the gospel among all people.
Then in v. 2, Paul narrows the focus to one particular group—“kings and all who are in authority.” Nero was the primary king in Paul’s day. When he wrote 1 Timothy, he had already appeared before him one time, and in the next couple of years, Nero would order Paul’s execution. “All who are in authority” is a reference to all other levels of governmental authority.
The question is why does Paul single out government authorities for prayer? Most likely, the false teachers refused to prayer for them. Again, 1st century Judaism was strongly nationalistic, so much so, that only a few years later, Jerusalem foolishly tried to rebel against Rome. And the false teachers probably had a similar resistant attitude toward the Roman government. So, Paul says that rather than being embittered against political leaders and resisting their authority, we should pray for them.
And above everything else, our prayers for political leaders must reflect the passion of v. 4. You should pray for President Trump, Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Paul Cook, Gavin Newsome, and so forth, with the heart of God, who “desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t grieve over their character or some of their decisions or that you shouldn’t push back. But our fundamental stance toward them must be as a citizen of heaven. We must see them as lost souls, and we should pray that God would open their eyes to the beauty of Jesus and that they would be miraculously saved. And we should pray knowing that God can do it. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
And as we pray that way, let me just add that it will hopefully reshape our entire stance toward them. I want to be clear that many of the beliefs and political actions that our leaders are taking are evil. God hates a lot of what is happening in our nation. But no amount of evil in Washington excuses ungodly attitudes from Christians. God requires us to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit in any political climate.
And yes, there is a legitimate biblical category of lament. We should bear each other’s burdens, and we can’t do that without being honest about our struggles. But Philippians 2:14–15 also say, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Sadly, a lot of what I see coming out of the mouths and keyboards of Christians is not lament. It is angry, bitter complaining that is contrary to our responsibility to “shine as lights in the world.” It betrays a worldly heart, not a heart of faith in the purpose of God and love for others. We all need to examine our hearts and think about where our focus is.
I need to share the evangelistic heart of our text, and then I need to pray hard for the salvation of men and women all over our country, for churches to swell with new converts, and for God to do a radical gospel work in Washington and Sacramento. The 2nd prayer request is…
Pray that our leaders would not interfere with our life and ministry. Verse 2 says that the end result of good leaders will be “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”
Notice the manner or the stance of that statement. Our priority is not to be the movers and shakers in society, who throw our weight around politically. We aren’t to be brash and harsh. No our desire is for “quiet” and “peace.”
As it concerns government, we can easily understand what Paul means. We should pray that the governmental and the society at large would be friendly toward the church and not resist our convictions and mission. We should pray for freedom to do what God has called us to do without governmental or societal resistance. Paul is praying for religious freedom.
As we think about our government, there is nothing that we should desire more. Yes, there are plenty of ways that the government affects our lives. But even the best government cannot save souls, make disciples, and build churches. The government cannot fix what is most broken in the world. That’s our job by the power of the Spirit.
So let’s embrace a “quiet and peaceable” spirit, and then let’s pray that we would have a godly testimony before our community and our leaders and that they would not resist the work that God has called us to do. With that, we should give thanks for the long legacy of religious freedom that we enjoy in our nation and for the incredible amount of gospel work that has been done as a result. The 3rd prayer request is…
Pray that we maintain a godly testimony. Paul ends v. 2 with 2 more ambitions. We want to live “in all godliness and reverence.” Both of these terms speak of our testimony before the world. Godliness speak of a life that is consistent with God’s nature. We want to reflect our Savior in all we do.
Reverence can also be translated as “dignity” or “moral earnestness.” It describes a respect that is earned through a consistent life of integrity. In other words, the gospel may offend people, but we don’t want to be offensive in our manner. If people are pushed away from us, it better be because they hate the truth, not because we presented it arrogantly or harshly or because our lives distracted from the message.
I’m reminded of what Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:16 before sending them out to preach. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” That’s not easy is it? We live in the midst of wolves, so we have to keep our defenses up. If we are going to fulfill our mission, we need to be wise.
But we also need to be harmless in the sense that we are filled with gospel grace that is evident to all. If we are going to balance those things well, we need God’s help. We need to pray for wisdom and grace.
There is so much going on in our country right now. I think we are all exhausted with all that has gone on this year. And pretty soon, the election cycle is going to get nutty. It all will send your blood pressure through the roof, if you let it. Don’t let it. Our God is not surprised by any of it, and he is in control of it all. We know how it will all turn out. Jesus is coming again, and he will establish a perfect kingdom where righteousness dwells.
So, my prayer is that this message will help you cut through all the fog and focus your attention and prayers on the one thing that matters most—God’s glory through the advance of the Great Commission. Let’s pray that God would give us his heart for the lost, and that he would fill us with boldness and grace. And then let’s pray for our leaders that God would give them wisdom and righteousness in every decision, but especially that God would save them and that they would leave us free to live the gospel and preach the gospel.