In one of our all-time favorite films, Fiddler on the Roof, the Jewish citizens of the fictional Russian shtetl of Anatevka ask the rabbi if there is a prayer for the Czar. With a twinkle in his eye, he assures them there certainly is, and then goes on to cite the prayer for his listeners. “May God bless the Czar and keep him – far from us!” Living in Illinois, we sometimes think that might be an appropriate prayer for our current governor. To be fair, most Americans can probably think of a politician or two they would be inclined to pray that prayer for – not to mention the federal, state and local taxman.
With all the current chaos going on in culture and politics we wonder how the First Century church might have responded to their esteemed rulers. The First Century Roman Empire had some similarities – and differences – to modern America. Our friend Kirby Anderson did a nice piece in 2009, Rome and America – Comparing to the Ancient Roman Empire which outlines the Similarities, Differences, makes Six Parallels, looks at the Decline of the Family and finally compares the Spiritual Decline of the two cultures. Keeping in mind this was written a decade ago one of the points in the Decline of Family section was this point:
In his 1934 book, Sex and Culture, British anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin chronicled the historical decline of numerous cultures, including the Roman Empire. He found that cultures that held to a strong sexual ethic thrived and were more productive than cultures that were “sexually free.”
In his section on Spiritual Decline, Kirby walks the reader through each stage of decline and comments:
Notice that this progression is not unique to the Hellenistic world the apostle Paul was living in. The progression from idolatry to sexual perversion to anarchy to judgment is found throughout history.
“…not unique to the Hellenistic world the apostle Paul was living in.” Paul lived in a culture not that unlike ours. We don’t really need to wonder how he prayed or instructed the church in his day to pray for the people in authority. In his last letter to the young pastor Timothy he wrote:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:1-4)
Who are we to pray for? “All people.” Wow, that is a lot. Fortunately, we don’t have to pray for all people individually by name.
Second, we are to pray for those in government. Why should we do that? It certainly is not always easy. “…that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” No matter how we may feel about the person, our peace, our security, and the well-being of our families very likely depend to one degree or another on the decisions he or she makes. We want them to have wisdom and withholding prayers for them cuts off our nose to spite our face. If this person makes a very bad decision that indeed hurts all of us, are we going to be satisfied to be able to say “I told you so” to his or her backers? That is short sighted thinking. Even if we were right as rain, we all have enough experience by now to know they – whoever “they” happen to be – won’t see it that way. Much better to pray that God will grant our leaders wisdom.
When we pray for those in government it may not change the government in ways that we can always perceive, but at the least it certainly changes our focus. It takes our focus from those undeniably flawed individuals (as we ourselves are) who hold those offices to God, Who is in control and Who, in the end, will have the final say. We can “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” despite the pandemonium swirling around us. This is reminiscent of David in Psalm 23:5:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
David knew his enemies were still present. Yet God provided and cared for him before their very eyes.
We live in a fallen world, and we will until this whole thing is wrapped up or we pass into eternity. Human beings are not going to create utopia on this earth. Even the best of human intentions does not produce perfection in any human endeavor, and mostly far from it. But God is with us and thankfully will never leave us.
Paul concludes this thought with the end goal in mind. God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This undoubtedly refers to all people, not just people we like or approve of. Probably includes scallywags too, and politicians – but I repeat myself. Okay, okay, not all politicians are scallywags.
It doesn’t mean we should not exercise ours rights as citizens. Of course, we should. Paul did. (Acts 16:37-38; 22:25-29). But when all that we can do is done, we must entrust ourselves to God Who will put all things right in His time.
People question how there can be a God when there is so much evil in the world. If He is going to end all evil someday, and He is, what is He waiting for?
Jesus explained this in the parable of the wheat and the weeds:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No, he answered, because while you are pulling the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ (Matthew 13:24-30 NIV)
Instead of the “weeds” (evil actions and people) indicating that there is no good God in charge, it shows again the great compassion of God. The wheat would be injured if the weeds were pulled before the time. God is waiting because of His great compassion. He is not willing for any to perish. He has provided a way for mankind – admittedly “weedy” characters all – to be forgiven and made righteous – and He wants to give people time to come to Him, receive His gift of salvation, and be brought into His barn at the harvest.Ω
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