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
At the end of Part 1 of this study we came to the conclusion that we should indeed pray for the ungodly, especially ungodly leaders. We further concluded that 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.”
The thing that I found unsettling when considering praying for ungodly leaders was, “How can I pray for ungodly leaders without endorsing their ungodly actions?” There seems to be a faulty attitude or position that has crept into the church in our day. That faulty attitude is that Christians shouldn’t criticize leaders or people regardless of whether or not they are indulging in or promoting sin.
Biblical over political correctness. Christians seem to have taken politeness or political correctness to an unbiblical level. They have misinterpreted treating people in a “loving” way as meaning overlooking their sin. This is contrary to scripture and is actually a most unloving way of relating to people. Let me explain why.
Love exposes and deals with sin individually and nationally. Sin leads to death and damnation (Matthew 25:41; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Revelation 20:14-15). If we don’t address the sin issue with people, they will never have a clear understanding of their sin problem, and they won’t know the eternal danger they are living in. Not addressing the sin issue with people would be akin to walking by a burning house and filing to warn its inhabitants of the danger to the fire they are in. We must warn people of their sin. We must address the sin problem.
The same is similarly true of nations. In Proverbs it states, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). If we want the nation we live in to be pleasing to God and exalted, then we should work to help it be righteous. And such efforts would include identifying and constructively criticizing sin that we see in that nation.
So that is where we turn now, to consecrated criticism of ungodly leaders. Is there a place for criticism of ungodly leaders? What did Jesus do in this regard? And then, how should we pray for ungodly leaders.
Consecrated Criticism of Ungodly Leaders
The Bible tells us to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, “but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). And this is in line with the practices of Jesus and the Apostles and the testimony of God’s word.
Consecrated criticism. Now, the criticism we bring against ungodly leaders and authorities should be consecrated. The word “consecration” simply means sacred or dedicated to religious or divine purposes. “Consecrated” is a word that appears 37 times in the Bible. The word “consecrate” occurs another 34 times in the Bible. If we are going to criticize ungodly leaders, it should be in a way that is dedicated to God and His purposes. Criticism of leaders should never be merely for personal preference or political-one-upmanship. Criticism should be consecrated to God and His purposes. Criticism should be in line with Jesus and God’s word.
Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day with an unmistakably clear and convicting word to the Pharisees about their hypocrisy and unlawful practices (e.g. Matthew 23). Jesus criticized the church for its wandering from His word (e.g. Revelation 2-3). Peter criticized the sin of false teachers (e.g. 2 Peter 2). Paul criticized the sin of false teachers and those who contradicted the gospel (e.g. Galatians 1-2). John criticized false teachers and their false teaching as well (e.g. 1 John 1-2). If you look at the New Testament it is aimed to a great extent at correcting people to steer them away from sin.
Did Jesus criticize political leaders? Now to this you might respond, “Wait a minute pastor, Jesus and the Apostles were criticizing people relating to religion or the church, not government leaders.” But that is problematic statement. It’s problematic because Pharisees, against whom Jesus directed much of His criticism wielded political and civil authority over the people in the community of Jesus’ day. And if that is the case, then much of what Jesus taught and did had political ramifications. We miss an important aspect of Jesus ministry if we fail to consider the politics of His day.
The Sanhedrin was a political senate type group. Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin where He testified of Who He was and is (Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71). Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin and shared the gospel with them (Acts 4:5-12). Before the Sanhedrin Peter and John proclaimed they would obey God’s authority over the political authority of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13-22). The Apostle Paul was brought before the Sanhedrin and bore witness to Jesus before them (Acts 22:30 – 23:10).
But just what was the Sanhedrin? Was it only a religious body that dealt only with religious matters, or was it something more? The Olive Tree Ap blog explains:
According to later rabbinic (and probably Pharisaic) ideals, judges who proved themselves locally could be promoted to the Sanhedrin (t. Sheqalim 3:27), but in actuality the Sanhedrin in the apostles’ day probably consisted largely of members of the Jerusalem aristocracy and wealthy landowners in the vicinity.
The Sanhedrin in Rome
Rome ruled through local aristocracies, in Judea as elsewhere. Municipal senates consisted of aristocrats that the Romans called decurions, ranging from as few as thirty to as many as five hundred members. Local senates often had property qualifications, and sometimes those who wished admittance to such a senate, especially if beyond the requisite number, had to pay significant fees (Pliny Ep. 10.112.1–2).
Jerusalem’s Sanhedrin was the ruling council for Jerusalem, Judea’s urban center. Just as the Roman senate wielded power far beyond Rome because of Rome’s power, Jerusalem’s Sanhedrin wielded some influence in Judean affairs, to the degree that Roman prefects and (at other times) Herodian princes allowed. They also had a police force of Levite guards; Rome allowed municipal aristocracies such limited forces.
At some point the Sanhedrin may have held seventy-one members, as tradition claims; it is, however, doubtful that all members were always present. Seventy may have been only an average figure. Later tradition claims that they met in the Chamber of Hewn Stone on the Temple Mount; first-century sources show that they met at least close to the Temple Mount (Josephus J.W. 5.144).
Herod the Great & the Sanhedrin
Rulers like Herod the Great appointed the Sanhedrin members they wished and obtained the results they wished. Before Herod came to power, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin exercised significant authority (Josephus Ant. 14.177). But if we may take Josephus literally, Herod executed the members of the former sanhedrin that had resisted him (Ant. 14.175), after which he assembled his own councils as needed (Ant. 16.357, 360; 17.46). After appointment by Herod the Great, its membership was probably largely hereditary and self-selecting; hence it undoubtedly represented the most powerful political interests.
These were most commonly associated with traditional aristocratic priestly families. In Pilate’s time, without Herod the Great’s interference and with Rome expecting local aristocracies to administer the business that they could (cf. Josephus J.W. 2.331, 405; Ant. 20.11), we should not be surprised that chief priests would convene a sanhedrin (Josephus Ant. 20.200), especially since the priestly aristocracy constituted a large portion of it. We should also not be surprised if the Sanhedrin found supporting Rome to be in their own interests, since they maintained their status by virtue of Roman benevolence.
In Josephus, as in the Gospels, the Sanhedrin, consisting of “chief priests, scribes, and rulers or influential citizens (=elders),” judged and sentenced those found guilty of crimes. They also constituted the leading Jewish body with which Roman rulers would deal. Clearly, as Raymond Brown observes, they “played a major administrative and judicial role in Jewish self-governance in Judea.”
It’s pretty clear from the above comments that the Sanhedrin was a political entity.
The Pharisees were “political” leaders. While it is true that at the time of Christ the authority to carry out capital punishment had been mostly removed from the Sanhedrin and religious leaders (i.e. Pharisees and Sadducees) by the Romans (as predicted in Genesis 49:10), it still served as a civil authority over the lives of the people. The Pharisees had authority to arrest people, incarcerate criminals, judge them in their courts, and enforce civil laws. To say they were only “religious” and not “political” in their function because they could not sentence people to death is like saying our local city civil governmental authorities or a school board are not political because they cannot sentence people to death. Because a local court can’t sentence some to death for speeding or shop lifting, doesn’t mean they are apolitical.
The Romans delegated authority to the local Sanhedrin
The focus of Romans rule was tax collecting and putting down insurrections. When Jesus was brought before Pilate, he tried to avoid controversy by pushing Jesus off on the Sanhedrin. “They Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and judge Him according to your law.’ Therefore the Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,” (John 18:31). So, while the Sanhedrin didn’t apparently have authority to execute someone, they did have other political civil authority.
Whether or not you agree about the authority of the Sanhedrin to enforce capital punishment by stoning at the time of Christ, the fact remains, the Sanhedrin was a political entity and Jesus actively brought consecrated criticism against it.
Jesus did not ignore the arena of politics as so many allege. Jesus came and addressed falsehood, injustice and sin wherever He found it. He taught His disciples to be salt and light and not to hide their light under a basket but to let it shine (Matthew 5:13-16). Light in scripture is synonymous with truth and holiness. We are to take a stand for God’s truth and holiness!
Jesus criticized and even rebuked authorities in His ministry. Here are some examples:
- Jesus rebuked the devil who is a spiritual authority (Matthew 4:1-11).
- Jesus corrected the mindset of the Pharisaical legalists who enforced laws only outwardly. He pointed out that the law should be enforced internally as well; in the heart. He did this in the Sermon no the Mount when He said, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5).
- Jesus criticized hypocritical showy practices of the Pharisees concerning prayer and performing good deeds (Matthew 6).
- Jesus taught His disciples (and us) to pray to the Father to “deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).
- Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Matthew 6:44) and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40), yet He also rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and corruption (Matthew 15 and 23). This demonstrates Jesus didn’t see love and criticism as contradictory.
- Jesus taught accountability. He taught there was a narrow and broad way to His kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus taught not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-24).
- Jesus pronounced “Woe!” on cities (Matthew 11:20-24).
- Jesus physically cleared the money changers out of the Temple court areas twice (e.g. John 2:13-16; and Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48).
- Jesus told Nicodemas the pharisee that he must be born again if he wanted to enter heaven (John 3).
- Jesus didn’t cower before political authority. When He learned “Herod wants to kill you” He courageously continued His ministry (Luke 13:31-33). Jesus boldly told Pilate he had no authority over Him “unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:10-11).
All of these teachings and comments by Jesus should be understood, at least in part, in their political context.
In 2 Thessalonians 2 the Apostle Paul speaks of “what is restraining” and “He who now restrains” (2 Thess. 2:6 and 7). The “what” which restrains is the church. The “He” who now restrains is the Holy Spirit working in and through the church. And that which is the target of such restraining according to the context is “the falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3), the rise of Antichrist with his “power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish” (2 Thess. 2:4, 9-10), “lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:7), and a lack of “love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10-12). In all of this a holy consecrated criticism of leaders who indulge in and promote such things should be seen as part of the Christian’s call and duty.
If we return to the context of 1 Timothy, we see that Paul instructed Timothy about criticism of leaders in the church. Now while this is immediately relevant to religious leaders in the church, we can glean some principles of consecrated criticism we can use with ungodly leaders. Paul instructed:
- 1 Timothy 5:17–21 – 17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. 20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear. 21 I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.
From this we can see in principle criticism consecrated to God would include:
- Compliments – We should note those who “rule well” (5:17).
- Compensation – Leaders who serve well compensated for their work (5:18).
- Confirmation – Criticism brought against leaders should be verified and substantiated by “two or three witnesses” (5:19). In other words, we should not fall into the trap of relying on “news” that supports our political preferences. Any criticism that is consecrated to God should be validated by real evidence. It is our responsibility to validate our criticisms otherwise we may become guilty of being a false witness, something the Lord hates (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 6:16-19).
- Consequences – Those “who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (5:20). There is a deterrent to public consecrated criticism. It serves as a deterrent to the one criticized. It serves as a warning to others who may be contemplating sin. Part of the problem in our day is there are no consequences for corrupt and sinful practices which communicates a kind of license to sin to the ungodly leader. We need to openly voice our criticism when corruption is found. We need to honestly investigate and come to a determination if corruption is present.
- Consecrated – Something consecrated and done in the name of God must be just, fair, equitable, unprejudiced. That is why Paul charges Timothy “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality” (5:21).
These are fair standards we should use when criticizing ungodly or any leaders in any setting church, political or otherwise.
Reality check. In this same context Paul ends with a reality check to Timothy. It is a reality check we too should consider. Paul comments:
- 1 Timothy 5:24–25 – 24 Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. 25 Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.
“Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment.” “Some,” implies that others sins will be hidden to us. There will be “those of some men follow later.” Some corrupt ungodly leaders in this life will get away with their sins in this life. But Paul encourages Timothy and us that the hidden sins divulged “later,” will also be “to judgment.” No one gets away with sin forever. God is just and He will repay injustices and corruptions. The only way out of corruption and sin is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (e.g. Ephesians 2:1-9). So if you’re a corrupt ungodly leader, now would be a good time to repent and seek God’s forgiveness through faith in Christ. If you die in your sins, you will suffer at the judgment.
Don’t give up! Paul also encourages us that “likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden.” Those who do good will be recognized, either in this life or the next. We should always remember, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10). God has an eye out for those who are loyal to Him and He will be strong on their behalf (2 Chronicles 16:9). Don’t grow weary in doing good, “for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Don’t give up!
Be a witness to truth like Jesus. The bottom line in all of this is, we are to follow in the steps of Jesus (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6) and Jesus self-described mission was to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). And His prayer and desire is that we would be sanctified by the truth of God’s word (i.e. John 17:17). Therefore, we too must openly bear witness to the truth. The one qualifier we are to follow is to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). But speaking the truth in love doesn’t mean we water it down or soften its truthfulness. We are to test all things by God’s word (i.e 1 Thess. 5:21; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). And we are to expose the darkness of sin wherever we find them (e.g. Eph. 5:11).
How Should We Pray for Ungodly (even evil) Leaders?
We pray for all our leaders based on 1 Timothy 2:1f. But how we pray for them makes all the difference in the world. This passage tells us how to pray for them. The further context of our verse is:
- 1 Timothy 2:1–8 – 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. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
Based on these verses we find ten aspects of praying for all people.
First, pray in context – “Therefore” (2:1a). We should always study God’s word in its context. The word “therefore” connects what follows with what precedes. What precedes 2:1?
- 1 Timothy 1:1-11 tells us the purpose of the law is to convict sinners.
- 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Paul testified that even though he was a terrible “chief of sinners,” the Lord was able to save him.
- 1 Timothy 1:18-20 Paul exhorts Timothy to “wage the good warfare.” WE ARE IN A WAR! But our weapons and way of fighting is different than that of the world
- 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 – For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
- Our weapons are different (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18).
- WE WAR ON THE FLOOR; WARFARE PRAYER.
We are to go to war against evil, but pray for the soul of evil people.
Second, pray fully (2:1b). Paul then describes the prayer he is speaking of with three words: “supplications, prayers, intercessions.”
“Supplications” (Greek deesis) means need, indigence, want, privation, seeking, asking, entreating. This is a strong term which implies more than a simple single request but more of a persistent begging. It is closely related to the verb deomai which means ask, beg, beseech. It was a word used to describe a prisoner’s request for freedom or favor.
“Prayers,” (Greek proseuche) is a word that refers to prayer generally, petition, place of prayers. That it is in the plural indicates such praying should be done more than once.
“Intercessions” (Greek enteuxis) refers to prayer, intercessions. This is a word that conveys the idea of meeting to pray. It conveys the idea of encounter, interview or meeting with God to converse in prayer. It can also refer to official petitions.
When we put these words together it is clear we should meet regularly to pray and seek the Lord for direction in how to pray for people and leaders. In this way, when evil leaders arise to power, they are an added incentive for us to get together to pray. That is not a bad thing!
Third, pray with thanks (2:1c). “Thankfulness” (Greek eucharistia) means thankfulness, gratitude, prayer of thanksgiving. Now this does not mean we give thanks for evil. That would run counter to everything we see in scripture. We aren’t to give thanks that evil or sin prospers, (Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil! 1 John 3:8), but that things are not worse than they are and that God will ultimately win the day. We should be thankful that even when evil befalls us, God is always there and God is always in control (e.g. Psalm 2 and 3).
Fourth, pray for all in authority no matter what (2:1d-2a). Paul states very clearly, we are to pray “for all men.” “All” (Greek panton from pas) means all, every, each, everyone, everything. We are to pray for all people, including, “kings and all who are in authority.”
Now, we may not know exactly how we should pry for them, but we should pray for them. And that is part of prayer; learning how to pray as we are led by the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:26-27).
Fifth, pray for OUR peace and quiet (2:2b). We are to pray that “we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” What are these four things?
- “Quiet” (Greek eremos) means quiet, tranquil, calm. This is a tranquility that is external referring to national and political as well as personal application.
- “Peace” (Greek hesuchios) means quiet, tranquil, peaceable, still. It refers to an inner disposition or character that is quiet, gentle, still. This is a word that refers to one’s inner nature and spirit of peace.
- “Godliness” (Greek eusebeia) means piety, godliness, respect and reverence toward God. This refers to right conduct before God.
- “Reverence” (Greek semnotes) means dignity, honorablenss, nobleness, proper conduct toward God. It describes the conduct of Christian citizens.
Sixth, pray knowing that praying like this is good and acceptable to the Lord (2:3). Such prayer is pleasing to our Lord. The word “good” (Greek kalos) here means beautiful, good, excellent, advantageous, noble. The word “acceptable” (Greek apodektos – adjective) means pleasing, acceptable, agreeable, welcome.
This is how God sees us when we pray for all people in this way. It’s a word that also means useful, suitable, functional, healthy. When we pray this way for all people, we become useful to the Lord, suited and functional for His plans. Praying for all people is the healthy way before God.
Seventh, pray for all people to come to the knowledge of truth and be saved (2:4). This is the crux of our praying for all people. We are to pray for the salvation of all people, no matter how evil or wicked or ungodly. The salvation of the lost is the priority in all our prayers for all people, including ungodly leaders.
Eighth, pray remembering JESUS DIED FOR ALL PEOPLE, INCLUDING EVIL RULERS AND CORRUPT POLITICIANS (2:5-7). Paul states confidently:
- 1 Timothy 2:5–7 – 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, 7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
There is only One Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. Only One Man is suited to bridge the gap between sinful people and Holy God, Jesus. And that is true because Jesus gave Himself for as a ransom. We owed a debt to God; Jesus paid our debt on the cross. And the redemptive work of Jesus was done “in due time,” or at just the right time. That was Paul’s message. That is our message. And we should pray that God empowers us to spread the message to all people. It is a message of eternal truth. It is a message proclaimed by faith and bound up in God’s revelation truth. We should pray for all people with this in mind.
Ninth, pray and worship for God’s will to be done (2:8a). Paul says, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere lifting up holy hands.” This speaks of worship. Prayer is a part of worship. True prayer brings us to the heart of worship. “Holy hands” implies those praying are living holy lives. Sin hinders prayer (e.g. Psalm 66:18). But we need to worship the Lord no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in. God is in control no matter what!
Tenth, pray “without wrath and doubting” (2:8b). This speaks to us about two things we should guard against:
- Guard against “wrath” – “Wrath” (Greek orge) means anger or wrath; an inner disposition or impulse that builds and explodes outwardly. In James is states, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Don’t let anger fester and boil within and then explode outwardly in ways that will not achieve God’s righteous purposes.
While circumstances might arise where we need to pray for GOD to oust or overcome an evil ruler such as in imprecatory Psalms (which include Psalm 69 and Psalm 109, while Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 79, 83, 94, 137, 139 and 143) we should not do so wrathfully. If we pray for evil rulers to be exposed and outed, and even removed, we should still do so with an eye to their salvation. We are not in a position of judgment over them (e.g. Matthew 7:1f.), GOD IS JUDGE; WE ARE NOT GOD!
- Guard against “doubting” – “Doubting” (Greek dialogismos) is unredeemed thinking that leads to sinful carnal views on life. This is inward reasoning that leads to evil (Mat. 15:19; Mark 7:21), suspicions (Luke 2:35; 6:8), cynicism (Luke 5:22; 24:38), and a feeling that we or others are worthless (Romans 1:21; 1 Cor. 3:20).
Wrath and doubting should not enter our heart or prayers. We should always pray in faith remembering that GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL; JESUS IS STILL KING!
God’s kingdom is going to come. Don’t get frustrated and angry when the enemies of God and those who promote evil succeed. This must happen as part of God’s plans. God allows this to happen. That is because there is an entire prophetic scenario that God has revealed to us in His word that takes place BEFORE His kingdom is established in the earth (e.g. Revelation 1-20). Persecution and hard dark times are a part of God’s plans. But we pray “without doubting” because we know of a “blessed hope” – the Rapture (Titus 2:13; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). And remember, there is a final victorious outcome where GOD WINS, and if God wins, WE WIN! (Isaiah 11:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Rev. 20).
Keep in mind that this passage is speaking to a pastor about how to conduct church ministry (i.e. 1 Timothy 2:9-15). This is the ministry and one of the particular responsibilities of the church, i.e. to praying for all people. So, let’s pray, in context, scripturally, for all people, especially those who are far from God.