This Sunday at New Life, we were introduced to Mordecai and Esther, the two main characters of faith in our series through the book of Esther. As we studied Esther 2:1-11, we noticed Mordecai's and Esther's condition as Jewish exiles in a foreign land, and we picked up a few reminders for our own exilic condition within a world that isn't our true home.
Of special note was the brutal nature of the Persian lawmakers. They gathered young, unmarried girls from all the provinces of the empire for the pleasure of the Persian king (Esther 2:1-4, 8). From other historical sources, we learned that they also gathered young boys from within the empire to be castrated and serve as eunuchs in the king's court. No matter who you were, and no matter your gender, you lived at the mercy of the desires and decisions of those in power.
The same is true for us today. In our own culture, we live at the mercy of those who hold governmental power over us. But no matter how our authorities wield their power, whether for good or for bad, the Bible calls all followers of Jesus—who also suffered under the rule of the Jewish and political authorities of his day—to commit to certain actions. Here are two of those actions, seen in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
A Commitment to Intercessory Prayer
Paul starts by writing, "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority..." (1 Tim. 2:1-2a). Paul wrote these words most likely during Nero's reign as emperor of Rome (A.D. 54-68). From history, we know Nero was someone who wielded his power in some of the most inhumane ways. His tyranny extended even to his own mother, whom he had killed in the early years of his reign. His cruelty chased after Christians, too, whom he blamed for the Great Fire of Rome (A.D. 64). And yet, even for someone as wicked as Nero, Paul called the early Christians to pray for him.
It’s a timely lesson for us as we get ready for our own transition of power in our own country in the coming days. For good or for bad, we’ll continue to live at the mercy of those with power over us, just as we always have. But no matter how our authorities will continue to wield their power, and no matter their choices in law and policy, God is calling us to pray for our governing officials. Yes, even the ones you disagree with and dislike. Even those who might be given to corruption. Even those who openly stand against religious liberties.
One reason why we should pray for "kings and all those in authority" (Other than the Bible tells us to) is because of the efficacious nature of prayer. James 5:16 reminds us: "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." Through intercessory prayer, people have been spared from God's judgment (Gen. 18:16-19:16). Through intercessory prayer, God's anger has relented against his wayward people (Ex. 32:11, 14). Through intercessory prayer, God has revealed his might so that his people would turn back to him (1 Kgs. 18:22-39). Through intercessory prayer, God has comforted and acted on behalf of his people (Dan. 10:12). Even Jesus, our ultimate Intercessor who died to save us, continues to intercede for us from the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34).
Our gracious God is inviting us to—like Jesus—prayerfully stand in the gap for all, including those who hold earthly power over us. If we're honest, we're probably more likely to complain about the politicians and officials we dislike, rather than to pray for them; I wonder the effect our prayers might have if we just remembered to petition the Lord on their behalf. Can you envision how different things might be in our own culture if we simply committed to prayer for our authorities? How might our merciful God intervene as a result of our committed intercession? If you aren't already, hopefully this encourages you to start interceding for our ruling officials on a daily basis. Not just because the Bible tells us to (Although being obedient to that call is a good starting point), but also because of the assurance that our prayers are "powerful and effective".
A Commitment to Quiet Holiness
After raising his urgent call to prayer, Paul continues to write, "that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Tim. 2:2b). It's natural for us to feel frustrated, upset, or even infuriated when those in positions of power abuse their power. Have you noticed, however, that God's Word doesn't call us to revolt against our earthly leaders? Our anger, as substantiated as it might be, is never justification for rebellion. That was true in Paul's day under the rule of Nero, and it's true for us today under the rule of our own officials.
We saw this in our previous series through Peter's first letter to our early brothers and sisters-in-Christ. These early Christians were scattered and suffering trials of various kinds (1 Pet. 1:1, 6), but Peter called them to commit to holiness throughout their sufferings (1 Pet. 1:14-16; cf. 1 Pet 2:11-12). One way to display holiness amid their suffering was through their own meekness and submission to their authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Of course, Peter's call also extends to us today, which brings us back to Paul's words: "live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."
The aim is to live with such godly meekness and submission that we remain peaceful and quiet. Certainly, this doesn't mean overlooking abuses. This also doesn't mean Christians should never voice their societal concerns. But it does mean that our hearts should be so governed by Christ that we remain peaceful, not turbulent or wildly agitated. In fact, in the original language, Paul's use of "quiet" literally means "tranquil" or "inner calmness," not the absence of sound. Peaceful quietness, therefore, from a biblical perspective, is simply the avoidance of unnecessary friction or destructive commotion.
Taking it one step further, peaceful quietness is a reflection of our humble Redeemer. In his own sufferings under the authorities of his day, he remained quietly meek and submissive (Matt. 26:62-63; 27:12-14; cf. Isa. 53:7). Hopefully this glimpse of our Savior inspires us to respond with Christlike quietness and godliness in our own day. Especially when it's so easy in our own culture to stir the pot with the many public platforms available at our fingertips, I hope the example of Christ motivates us all toward peaceful calmness and tranquil interactions.
Our Obvious Need for Jesus
This should hopefully remind us how much we need Jesus to be able to do this. If we want to put 1 Timothy 2:1-2 into practice in our own culture and in our own day—if we want to commit to intercessory prayer and quiet holiness—we need the Spirit of Christ to help us. We can't do this in our own strength. We are continually tempted to complain about or even badmouth the officials over us. We are prone to destructive debates. And if not careful, we're even prone to chaotic and turbulent manifestations. Apart from Christ, we are weak and we easily give in to sinful responses. We desperately need Jesus.
Turn to him today. Ask him to strengthen you in these areas of your life. Allow his Spirit to fill you and lead you in all Christlikeness. And with his help, commit to intercessory prayer and peaceful living. In this world, we will always live at the mercy of those with power over us, but with Christ, we are empowered to walk in merciful godliness every day.
By God's grace alone,