When we commit to praying for our leaders (whether or not we agree with them), God is pleased with us and is pleased to work in their hearts according to His will. In relation to this divinely given duty, one passage in particular contains fundamental principles every believer needs to understand. Paul says in 1 Tim. 2:1–4:
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.
In these verses we hear the apostle’s plea to us to be obedient to God by praying for our leaders.
The Priority (v. 1a)
Paul begins his exhortation with a phrase that calls attention to the primacy of prayer in the life of the church. “First of all” is a plea to keep first things first. It is an appeal not only to individual Christians, but, since the book was originally written to instruct Timothy concerning local church life (3:15), it is a call to churches and their leaders to place utmost importance on prayer and, thereby, lead by example. As a pastor, Timothy needed to guard against prayer being openly abandoned by members of his flock or subtly replaced by self-reliance in the life of his church.
One of the “secrets” of the power of the New Testament church (though it is laid open for all to see) is prayer, plain and simple. Acts 4:31 reveals one example: “when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” Prayer unleashes the Spirit’s power in the church. Prayer must therefore be maintained as a high priority in the life of the church.
The Plea (vv. 1b–2a)
“I urge” is a strong plea carrying the meaning of “coming alongside in order to exhort.” The same word is used in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Even though Paul possessed apostolic authority to command Timothy, he chose instead to make a strong appeal to him to recognize the irreplaceable priority of prayer.
Paul used four different words to paint a balanced picture of prayer. “Entreaties” refers to prayers prompted by the awareness of needs. “Prayers” is a general term referring to approaching God with reverence. “Petitions” are compassionate prayers generated from empathy with others. “Thanksgivings” are specific praises to God for the works that He has done. The apostolic appeal is general at first and then gets specific. With these words, Paul provides a sampling of prayers that should be made on behalf of “all men,” but especially “for kings and all who are in authority” (vv. 1–2).
The Purpose (vv. 2b–4)
“[S]o that” is a clear statement of purpose. The purpose of praying for our government leaders is threefold:
- To promote peaceful and godly living (v. 2). First, we must pray so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” This refers to an external as well as an inner peace. How does praying for our leaders promote peace? Praying for God to give our leaders wisdom in world affairs may promote peaceful living, as will praying for the writing of good laws that honor biblical principles. According to Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” If we really believe this truth, we will get down on our knees in order to lift our government leaders before God in prayer. We must ask God to lead them like water in His hand to craft righteous laws.
- To please God (v. 3) Second, we must pray for our government leaders, because it is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” It pleases God, which ought to be the top priority of our lives. Matthew 6:33 calls us to this motive for life: “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” When we have this overarching philosophy of life, all peripheral matters fall into their proper place in their proper time. “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). This was the apostle Paul’s priority: “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). One clear way to please God is by faithfully praying for our government leaders.
- To propagate the gospel (v. 4) Third, we must pray for our government leaders because God “desires all men to be saved.” Conversion takes place when sinners “come to the knowledge of the truth.” Therefore, we must pray for the souls of our civil leaders, that they will come to know Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We should pray for the Holy Spirit’s convicting work (John 16:8), for faithful witnesses to be heard (Rom. 10:14), and for the faith-giving power of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).
Our government leaders need us. They need us to pray for them with all diligence. This obedient habit pleases God, but is also a means of making a difference for the sake of righteousness in our world and for the sake of the gospel for all eternity.
[This blog post is based upon a chapter from Teach Them to Pray.]
Join the Conversation
Sometimes Christians become lax in their prayer lives. By what creative means might we help them understand its importance?