“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.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
While Paul encourages prayer generally, his real focus here is on urging believers to pray for their societal leaders. His reason for this is clear: So that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
If you want a peaceful, quiet life, that’s only going to come when your nation’s leaders get their job right. The burden of leading a nation is a great one. The weight of having to write laws that get the balance between letting people live as they please and putting in place sin-necessitated restraints on human behavior is a heavy one.
It is made more difficult by the fact that different worldviews count different behaviors as sinful. Thus, different lawmakers aim to restrain different types of behaviors by the laws they write. They need wisdom to do that in a way that recognizes that not everyone shares their worldview and that, in theory, their constitution allows for this state of affairs to exist. We need to pray for them.
In my country, the President is also the commander and chief of the armed forces. That means he has the authority to unleash the military might of the nation against those perceived to be its enemies. Such decisions require incredible amounts of wisdom. We need to pray for him.
In any nation, the judiciary has great power in terms of evaluating the constitutionality of the laws and upholding justice. Whether or not justice is served properly when crimes are committed has a huge impact on life in that country for the average citizen. If citizens cannot trust that justice will be administered fairly according to the rule of law the likelihood of their taking matters into their own hands or else bonding with others in extra-legal groups to enforce the will of their group on as much territory as they can manage goes up radically. When justice becomes individualized, life becomes very difficult. We need to pray for our judges that they will have the wisdom and courage to administer justice fairly and impartially according to the laws of the land.
For readers in the United States who are also followers of Jesus, we need to face a tough truth. The worldview that is quickly coming to have dominance in our nation is not Christian theism. It is a still-uncomfortable combination of progressivism, secularism, and postmodernism. Not only is this not Christian theism, it tends to be dismissive and even hostile toward it. We cannot expect to have all the breaks coming our way as we did a generation ago. In this, we are only starting to catch up with much of the rest of the world.
The proper response to this is not fear and loathing, but exactly what Paul says here. Remember: He didn’t write this under the auspices of a benevolent and tolerant government. He wrote this when Nero was the Emperor of Rome and being a Christian publicly was soon-to-be one of the quickest ways to receive a death sentence in the Empire. What’s more, he wrote this when he was sitting in prison awaiting his own death sentence for being a follower of Jesus to be carried out!
Prayer unleashes the power of God into our lives and the situations around us. If that power is something in need of being unleashed where you live, then get to using it.