A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:1-2. a). The church’s prayers should concern all people (continued).
In particular, Paul directed the churches to pray *for kings and all those in authority* (2a). This was a remarkable instruction, since at that time no Christian ruler existed anywhere in the world. *The Book of Common Prayer (1662)* is wrong therefore in its Communion Service to limit its intercession to Christian leaders, asking God ‘to save and defend all Christian kings, princes and governors’. By contrast, when Paul told Timothy to pray for kings, the reigning emperor Nero, whose vanity, cruelty and hostility to the Christian faith were widely known. The persecution of the church, spasmodic at first, was soon to become systematic, and Christians were understandably apprehensive. Yet they had recourse to prayer. Indeed, prayer for pagan countries and their leaders already had a precedent in the Old Testament. For Jeremiah told the exiles to pray for Babylon’s peace and prosperity (Je. 29:7), and the edict of Cyrus, which ordered the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple, included a request to the Jews to ‘pray for the well-being of the king and his sons’ (Ezr.6:10).
It is hardly surprising to find the early church following this warrant from the Old and New Testaments.Thus Clement of Rome, towards the end of the first century, included a prayer in his first letter to the Corinthian church for rulers and governors: ‘Grant them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, so that they may give no offence in administering the government you have given them.’
Tertullian too in his *Apology*, which is usually dated about AD 200, wrote: ‘We pray also for the emperors, for their ministers and those in power, that their reign may continue, that the state may be at peace, and that the end of the world may be postponed.’
Paul is quite specific in directing why the church should pray for national leaders. It is first and foremost *that we may live peaceful and quiet lives*. For the basic benefit of good government is peace, meaning freedom from both war and from civil strife. Paul had had many experiences of this blessing, when Roman officials had intervened on his behalf, not least in Ephesus itself when ‘a great disturbance about the Way’ had arisen, and the city clerk had succeeded in quelling it (Acts 19:23ff.). Prayer for peace is not to be dismissed as selfish. Its motivation can be altruistic, namely that only within an ordered society is the church free to fulfil its God-given responsibilities without hindrance. Two are mentioned, and a third is implied. Those mentioned are *godliness and holiness* (2b). ‘Godliness’ (*eusebeia*) is a favourite word in the Pastorals (see 3:16; 4:7-8; 6:3; 5:6, 11;2 Tim.3:5; Tit.1:1), where it is used as a synonym for *theosebeia* (2:10) meaning the worship of God or religious devotion. ‘Holiness’ (*semnotes*) seems in the context to mean ‘moral earnestness’. The NEB portrays these two blessings of peace as the ‘full observance of religion and high standards of morality.
The third positive benefit of peace is implied in verse 3. *This is good* (namely prayer that those in authority will maintain peace), *and pleases God our Saviour (3) who wants all men to be saved…* The logic of this seems to be that peaceful conditions facilitate the propagation of the gospel. Certainly the *pax romana* was a major factor in its early rapid spread. The ultimate objective of our prayers for national leaders, then, is that in the context of the peace they preserve, religion and morality can flourish, and evangelism go forward without interruption.
Here is important apostolic teaching about church and state, and about the proper relations between them, even when the state in not Christian. It is the duty of the state to keep the peace, to protect its citizens from whatever would disturb it, to preserve law and order (using this expression without the opposite overtones it often has today, referring to the clampdown on dissidents), and to punish evil and promote good (as Paul teaches in Rom. 13:4), so that within such a stable society the church may be free to worship God, obey his laws and spread his gospel. Conversely, it is the duty of the church to pray for the state, so that its leaders may administer justice and pursue peace, and to add to its intercession thanksgiving, especially for the blessings of good government as a gift of God’s common grace. Thus church and state have reciprocal duties, the church to pray for the state (and be its conscience), the state to protect the church (so that it may be free to perform its duties). Each should acknowledge that the other also has a divine origin and purpose. Each should help the other to fulfill its God-given role.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 2:3-4. b). God’s desire concerns all people.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.