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. – 1 Tim. 2:1-2
In this series, we are looking at Paul’s first letter to Timothy, and how this epistle can help us be more effective in sharing the gospel. In particular, we are exploring what we can learn from this letter about how our speech and conduct affects our witness and the church’s overall mission.
The world – but most particularly the people of Ukraine – is living through a moment of justifiable questioning as to whether praying for all in authority is really what God expects of us.
In the last two weeks alone, the Russian military bombed dozens of civilian targets, including a hospital, apartment complexes, and public swimming pools. Indeed just this week they attacked a theater with 1,200 people inside and the Ukrainian word for “children” written clearly on the pavement outside.
Despicable is too kind a word for these actions.
The Russian dictator – and let’s be clear, that is what Vladimir Putin is – has a heart made of stone and a mind fueled by delusion. His actions have been collectively condemned the world over. If ever there was someone we might deem not worthy of God’s grace, this man is he.
And yet Paul instructs, indeed he “urges”, that we pray for Putin. Yes, even Putin.
If we are tempted to think that Paul just never foresaw a man like Putin coming into authority, we need only be reminded that the apostle penned this letter during the reign of Nero. That would be the same Nero who was infamous for his persecution of Christians. The same Nero who lit believers a flame as a source of light for his garden parties. Paul was well acquainted with evil in authority.
Leading Tranquil Lives
So why then does he call on us to pray even for evil people in authority? His rationale is that in doing so, Christians “may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” But isn’t that counterintuitive? How can Christians live tranquil and quiet lives in the midst of persecution and war? That’s the point. They can’t. Which is why prayer for those in authority is needed. Because only God can restore peace in such circumstances.
Although it may not be the approach we would choose, the best answer to men like Putin and Nero is that their hearts be transformed. While we may wish they would burn in hell, that is never God’s desire for any of His creation. He so loved the world that He gave His only son, not just believers.
God is well aware of those who will not repent and, by their own choosing, face eternal condemnation. Indeed, as He showed us through Pharaoh, He will even take away the gift of repentance from those who persistently rebel against Him. But for those who earnestly turn away from their sin and toward Him, God accepts their repentance and does not despise their contrite hearts. Psalm 51:17. And there would be no more painful an experience for Putin, I believe, than the realization he would have about what he has done if he came to repentance.
But there is another way in which our prayers lead to tranquility and peace, to godliness and dignity. They do so by reminding us that we can pray to the Creator of the universe; the One who is truly in control. They remind us that evil dictators of this world and this age are but temporary flames that will be snuffed out. Putin, with all of his military might, is little more than a school yard bully compared to some of his predecessors. Take Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, arguably one of the most powerful and corrupt men ever to live. If God can reduce the once king of Babylon to a crazed man chewing cud in field like a cow, we can certainly take solace that no existing ruler is beyond His power of correction.
In addition, and to the overarching point of our look into 1 Timothy in this series, our prayer for men like Putin speaks volumes. As Christians, we are called to a life that is not only unconventional, but frankly inexplicable to the rest of the world. When we pray for those in authority over us, especially when they are abusive, we make a world scratch its collective head. Why would they do that? Who is this Jesus that He calls on His followers to pray even for their enemies? Mt. 5:44.
We may just find, when we pray for men like Putin, that we get the opportunity to answer that question. And in that is the victory. For if all the world truly knew who this Jesus is, there would be no dictators for us to fear, no war for us to dread.
Abraham Lincoln once said “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” I truly believe, if he is not already there, that Vladmir Putin will find himself in the place where he has nowhere else to go. I pray, like Lincoln, he too is driven to his knees.
Finally, let’s not forget the bigger picture Paul is giving us in these verses – which is that our ministry and our witness must always begin with prayer. It is only by the will of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that any of our works succeed. For this reason, prayer is not just an ancillary matter. It is the core of what we must do when we set out to serve our holy God. Is it at the core of your life? Or, as Corrie Ten Boom once put it, “is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” May it not only be your steering wheel, may it also be the engine that powers all you do for God.