Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2
The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy the following words:
- 1 Timothy 2:1–2 – Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
We read those inspired words, and perhaps you’re like me and think, “Really Paul, for ‘all men,’ even the wicked, even wicked, crooked, corrupt men and leaders? Even them?” I’ve been wondering that in the last few months as there seems to be an abnormally expanding proliferation of not only political, but people corruption, injustices, lawlessness, and sin.
Some might be wondering about another question, “How CAN we pray for ungodly leaders; or those who are contrary to God and His word?” I’ve been pondering that question. And the conclusion I’ve come to is, the ungodly are those who MOST need our prayers.
Prayer for Sinners Leads to Their Salvation and Change
Think about it, if no one prayed for you or me, before we came to Christ as Savior, how would we have been saved? How is anyone saved from their sins other than by God’s grace and His moving people to pray for sinners?
And when people are saved from their sins, they are changed for the better. The Bible says:
- 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
- Titus 3:4–8 – 4 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, 5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.
- 1 Peter 1:22–2:3 – 22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 24 because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, 25But the word of the Lord endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. 2 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, 2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is
Notice that in each of these passages it doesn’t merely refer to salvation from sin, but also a changed life; a holy life (cf. also 1 Peter 1:13-19). So yes, we should pray for “all men,” especially the worst of sinners, because it benefits them, but also it benefits us.
And during times when the ungodly are in office, we especially need to pray. We need to pray for ungodly leaders as well as for ourselves and our vulnerable situation when they are in power. If you want the world to change, if you want evil to be overcome and God exalted and glorified, then you have to pray; pray for all people, even the evil ones.
The Historical Context When Paul Wrote to Timothy
When Paul wrote to Timothy and during the historical context of the New Testament, Rome was in power. These were evil, evil leaders who committed genocide against Christians in the most severe and inhumane ways. For instance, around 64 AD Caesar Nero set the city of Rome ablaze, then blamed Christians for it. He had them arrested, and used them as human candles set aflame in his garden while riding his chariot around them proclaiming, “you are the light of the world! You are the light of the world!” At other times the roads to Rome were lined with crucified Christians. Christians were sewn into animal skins and then thrown into an enclosed area where lions and other predators were then turned loose on them to devour them alive. On top of this evil, Caesars were given godlike status. People were expected to pay allegiance to them like to a god. Christians of course refused to bow to anyone but Jesus. They were severely persecuted as a result. There were other such tortures the Caesars subjected them to. Yes, these were horribly evil rulers. Thankfully, we have not had any leaders that severely evil, yet. (Though arguably leaders who support abortion commit an even worse carnage in the womb!). And yet, these were the people Paul instructed Timothy to pray for; “all men” and “those in authority” which included very unrighteousness, ungodly, evil leaders.
How could Paul instruct Timothy to pray for such leaders? Because he knew evil people need saving and prayer is a big part of that. And he knew that relief from evil comes through prayer.
Don’t Pray for Evil to Prosper
Certainly, we should not pray for evil to prosper! That should be obvious! We need to pray against evil wherever it is found. Jesus taught us to pray to the Father, “deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We should not pray for evil leaders to prosper PERIOD. But HOW do we pray when evil leaders are in power?
David prayed the following:
1 Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble?
2 The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor;
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire;
He blesses the greedy and renounces the Lord.
4 The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God;
God is in none of his thoughts.
5 His ways are always prospering;
Your judgments are far above, out of his sight;
As for all his enemies, he sneers at them.
6 He has said in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
I shall never be in adversity.”
7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression;
Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.
8 He sits in the lurking places of the villages;
In the secret places he murders the innocent;
His eyes are secretly fixed on the helpless.
9 He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den;
He lies in wait to catch the poor;
He catches the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 So he crouches, he lies low,
That the helpless may fall by his strength.
11 He has said in his heart,
“God has forgotten;
He hides His face;
He will never see.”
12 Arise, O Lord!
O God, lift up Your hand!
Do not forget the humble.
13 Why do the wicked renounce God?
He has said in his heart,
“You will not require an account.”
14 But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief,
To repay it by Your hand.
The helpless commits himself to You;
You are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man;
Seek out his wickedness until You find none.
16 The Lord is King forever and ever;
The nations have perished out of His land.
17 Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will prepare their heart;
You will cause Your ear to hear,
18 To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
That the man of the earth may oppress no more.
This is what is referred to as an imprecatory prayer. An imprecatory prayer is a prayer that seeks God’s intervention to bring down those who perpetrate evil. There are a number of prayers like this in the Book of Psalms. Some would say praying in such a way is inappropriate under the New Covenant of grace. But we should be very cautious about dismissing any portion of scripture.
- Matthew 5:9–12 – Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And Jesus taught:
- Matthew 5:43–48 – 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Do these words of Jesus nullify the use of imprecatory psalms for today? It certainly advises us to have the right heart attitude toward others, especially our “enemies.” But let’s dig a little deeper still.
What Does the Bible Say About Our Attitude Toward Evil?
What does the Bible say about our attitude toward evil? It says very clearly and in numerous places that we should hate evil;
- Psalm 34:14 – Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it.
- Psalm 97:10 – You who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
- Proverbs 8:13 – The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate.
- Amos 5:15 – Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
So, we are to hate evil and have nothing to do with it.
In the New Testament we are told to have a similar attitude toward evil. But it elaborates on how to fight against evil. We fight against evil with the way we live. In Romans it states:
- Romans 12:9–21 – 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
“Abhor what is evil.” The word “evil” (Greek poneron adjective of poneros) means something painful, something morally bad, wicked, evil, something useless, bad, harmful, good for nothing; roguish, malicious, base. This is a term used to express a desire to do evil and hurt others. A woman intending to seduce a man was called a ponera. This is a word used for Satan, (i.e. ho poneros) as in “the evil one” (cf. Matthew 5:37 and 39; 6:13; 13:19; Luke 11:4; John 17:15).
We are to “abhor what is evil.” “Abhor” (Greek apostugountes – Present/Active/Participle of apostugeo) only occurs in Romans 12:9 in the New Testament. The root word apostugeo means to hate violently. Apostugountes means to abhor and keep on abhorring, to detest and keep on detesting. This is a word that conveys the idea of a continuous rejections and passionate hatred of evil. It is a word that means to both inwardly and outwardly constantly reject evil. Paul could not have chosen a stronger word. And remember, this is a statement inspired by the Holy Spirit.
One of the ways we attack evil is that if “evil” here means to seek to inflict pain and suffering, we should “overcome evil with good”; the good described in Romans 12:9-21. We aren’t to “repay” anyone “evil for evil.” Leave vengeance to God; He will repay the evil one. Instead, we are to “feed” our enemy. The phrase used by Paul here, “For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” likely means that by returning kindness for evil actions, you will shame the belligerent into repentance. (An Egyptian ritual to show genuine repentance involved carrying hot coals around in a container.)
Actively and persistently overcome evil with good. The last verse here warns, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The word “overcome” (Greek niko verb of nikao) means be victorious, prevail, conquer, overcome, win. This is a term used to describe overcoming in a military setting, athletic contests and or in political or social causes. There is implicit in this word the sense of vanquishing the opposition in order to succeed, overpowering opposition. The word refers to victory that comes after a struggle.
Now the Present tense of this verb conveys the idea of a continuous action. The Imperative Mood of this verb conveys the idea of something that must be done; something essential; mandatory. Therefore, the idea of “overcome” here is it is essential to continuously be victorious, continuously prevail, continuously conquer, continuously overcome, continuously win in our battles, contests, and political/social challenges involving evil.
The grammar of “overcome” here also has a subtle change that is worth mentioning. The first occurrence of “overcome” here is Present/Middle/Imperative of nikao. In the second occurrence there is a subtle change from Middle voice to Active voice (i.e. Present/Active/Imperative). What does that mean? The Middle voice conveys the idea of one who overcomes himself. The Active Voice conveys the idea of overcoming for himself or taking action to overcome something else. Therefore, we are to make sure we don’t allow ourselves to be overcome by evil. In the Lord; in the power of His might; in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can resist evil and not be overcome by it. Then we are to take action to overcome evil around us. Again, in the power of the Spirit we have the ability to do this.
We have seen what evil is, but what is “good” (Greek agathos)? “Good” here means that which is good, perfect, complete, upright, kind, benevolent, useful, acceptable, wholesome, beneficial, goods, good deeds. Externally it refers to something useful or practically helpful. Internally it refers to that which is noble, brace, spiritually perfecting or mature. These are the things we should be mindful of when encountering evil and dealing with it.
When we put this all together, considering the grammar of the words, we get the idea of it is essential to always and continuously make sure you do not allow yourself to be overcome by evil and instead continuously take action to be victorious, prevail, conquer, overcome, and win the battles, contests and political/social challenges involving evil. We do this and overcome evil inwardly with spiritual maturity, outwardly with good benevolent deeds that help others.
Based on these verses it is certain we should continuously and always hate evil, but we need to make a distinction between evil and the evil person. That is what Paul does in this passage. We aren’t to overcome people; we are to overcome evil. Similarly, “we do not wrestle [another term which conveys the idea of a struggle or battle or fight] against flesh and blood [i.e. people], but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hoses of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). We enter this wrestling match or struggle by trusting in the power of God and putting on the armor God provides for this battle (Ephesians 6:10-18). Therefore, it is very important not to target evil people as much as evil itself. God alone is the One who determines the eternal destiny of people, not us.
We are to look to God in times when evil is attacking and ruling. We are to leave any thoughts of vengeance to the Lord. We are to work in the Spirit with all our might to expose and stop evil, but any not “return evil for evil.”
In the second part of this study, we will examine what Paul says in 1 Timothy about praying for “all men.” This is an important are of scripture ot understand given the developments in our own land. You might want to study ahead by reading 1 Timothy 1 and 2. There are ten aspects of praying for people, including the ungodly, that we will look at in our next part of this study. Until then, pray for “all men” including ungodly leaders. Pray for their salvation. Pray for a revival. Pray for the salvation of all. Abhor what is evil. Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. And pray, pray, pray! In Jesus’ name amen.