Applying 1 Timothy 2


xiAs I was speaking with the pastor of my sending church this week, he told me about  another missionary from our church who was facing religious liberty challenges in her part of the harvest field, China. Many Christian workers from the West have had to make the hard decision whether to remain in their ministries there or make other plans due to increasing persecution.

Maybe you haven’t heard of the word “sinicize” (it was new to me.) According to reports, President Xi Jinping announced last spring his new five-year initiative to sinicize all religions, especially by forcing allegiance to Communism. Persecution of Christians, including imprisonment, is on the rise and house churches are being threatened.

But here’s the sentence that caught my eye in this article that details the situation: “Experts say the new wave of persecution comes as the country undergoes a religious revival.” The very definition of a paradox, but it has happened many times before.

The shell of Communism is crumbling and in its place we’re seeing huge numbers of people coming to Christ. Just as the first-century church blossomed during persecution, China is experiencing the same thing over the past several years. While religious liberty is being tightened and even rejected by the government there, the gospel is taking off.

The Bible encourages followers of Christ to get along with their civil governments and model cooperative citizenship as long as obedience to the Lord is the priority. In 1 Timothy 2:1-2, we’re commanded to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Peter wrote the same idea.

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”  1 Peter 2:13-17

We should be grateful for the measure of religious freedom we have in America and should speak up for the God-given (not man-given) right to freely worship for all people and all faiths. We should pray for our brothers and sisters in China and elsewhere who are being denied these rights. But we should never get the idea that the gospel cannot go forward unless it is unshackled from government regulation. It will go where God ordains it to go, regardless of the godliness or godlessness of any given governmental system. He decides – not man, not Satan, not Xi Jinping – only God.

Keep in mind as you read this final verse that it quotes a brutal tyrant who ruled Babylon and had severely mistreated the nation of Israel. God dealt with Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and narcissism by sending him into a season of insanity and taking him off the throne. When he was finally restored, he was praising God and his words apply to China right now:

All the peoples of the earth
    are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
    with the powers of heaven
    and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
    or say to him: “What have you done?”   Daniel 4:35

News reports out of Washington, D. C. today are recounting the sad story of the death of Christopher Barry, the 36-year-old son of the late former D. C. mayor, Marion Barry. It is just another reminder that politicians face the same day-to-day responsibilities you and I do, like parenting. But unlike us, they have to face them in a fish bowl with 24/7 media coverage.

barry

Christopher Barry

The reports are saying that Christopher Barry died of a drug overdose. His father, Marion, who died in 2014, struggled with drugs also, even spending some time in federal prison for drug possession. Legal problems dogged Marion Barry in his time as mayor and councilman, with charges ranging from tax evasion to perjury to unpaid speeding and parking tickets. My point is not to speculate on the spiritual condition of either of these men, but simply to say that children watch parents and when there is an unstable role model, the results can be catastrophic. We should all stop to pray for comfort for the Barry family.

The Bible isn’t without stories of governmental leaders who failed in the area of parenting. Kings David and Solomon are well-known examples of domestic disasters, so much so that the nation of Israel was divided in half by the time Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, reigned. But one example that may not come to mind as quickly came 300 years after David: King Manassah and his son, Amon.

2 Chronicles 33 tells the story of the beginning of Manassah’s administration. He did evil early on, refusing to listen to the Lord, but came to a crossroads when he was carried away to Babylon in chains by the king of Assyria. Then a switch occurred:

And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God. 2 Chronicles 33:12, 13

Manassah’s son Amon watched all this. Manassah ruled for over 50 years leaving a negative, then a positive model. When he died, his son chose which one to follow.

And he [Amon] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done. Amon sacrificed to all the images that Manasseh his father had made, and served them. And he did not humble himself before the Lord, as Manasseh his father had humbled himself, but this Amon incurred guilt more and more. And his servants conspired against him and put him to death in his house. 2 Chronicles 33:22-24

As you pray for those in authority, pray for their home life. Pray they will exhibit the humility Manassah did, early and often, so that their children will receive the good influences of God-infused priorities. Pray that they will understand the importance of the legacy they will leave for their children and that their children will choose paths that honor God, not lead to the tragedy of self-destruction.

I was reading this blog post today by Darin Smith (which I recommend to you) and agree with it completely. Except for one sentence. confused

In the penultimate sentence, the author says, “It is important to pray for governmental leaders because the circumstances they create either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.”

Hmm…

Is it right to pray for religious freedom? Yes. Surely there is a benefit when laws do not restrict religious belief and expression. Is the Gospel dependent on religious freedom to flourish? I don’t think so. I don’t believe that leaders can create conditions that can “either stop or advance the progress of the Gospel.” No person or group of people have that kind of power

History proves this. Christianity grew in its earliest days under government systems that weren’t always favorable to the message. Sometimes, civil disobedience was even called for because of early restrictions:

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Acts 5:27-32 

Current statistics prove this. According to the mission research organization Operation World, the Gospel is currently growing the fastest in Iran and Afghanistan. China is in the top five. Laws do not determine whether truth will spread. Faithful followers of Jesus who share their faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit, determine whether the Gospel spreads.

I applaud Darin’s great article to remind us to pray 1 Timothy 2 prayers for those in authority. He gives some great suggestions for the content of those prayers. But let’s not forget on whom the spread of the Gospel depends.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.Acts 1:8

Leave me a comment with your thoughts!

hoganEarlier today, Maryland heard from her governor, Larry Hogan, that he has cancer. The outpouring of care and prayer on sites like Facebook is encouraging. Reading supportive post after post, especially from lawmakers who are sharply divided with him politically, is an encouragement to the heart. Many are praying and public prayer vigils are being planned in every county. It’s interesting how people instinctively know that turning to the Great Physician in times like this is the right thing to do. How it would heal our troubled land if we turned to Him more than in days of suffering, yet I’m struck that there has been enough residual faith left in our collective culture that prayer is still a positive option for so many. Thank God for that.

Prayer for Governor Hogan’s health is altogether appropriate right now, regardless of your political view. The priority of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is unchanging – for our leaders’ health as well as their wisdom and spiritual condition. Take several moments and follow that biblical mandate to pray for our governor and his family. The cancer he has can respond to aggressive chemotherapy. God is always able.

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford will need our prayers, too, as he assumes more responsibility in the coming days. lt gov rutherford

Also, a site has been set up for one week for well-wishers to send a personal message to Governor Hogan. You can find it here until June 29, 2015. These comments will be collected and given to him as he recovers from treatment.

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. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Believers in Annapolis at the National Day of Prayer (May 7, 2015)

Believers in Annapolis at the National Day of Prayer (May 7, 2015)

A week ago today, people all over America gathered at events that centered on interceding for our country. The National Day of Prayer is an annual tradition for many and for that we should be grateful.

I took part in the observance at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis, Maryland. This is the spot used for most assembling that is done in the capital. During the legislative session, every day witnesses a protest or rally of some kind on a major issue or bill that is being debated. But on the first Thursday of May each year, that space is reserved for prayer.

We recited the pledge to the flag. We heard the national anthem sung. We prayed for several categories of influence in America – government, business, media, family and others. The gospel was presented. And the thing that always seems to strike me when I’m there is how biblical it is. How obedient to the Scriptures these folks are.

Here we stood in front of the capitol building, to the side of the governor’s house, across the street from the offices of the General Assembly and right next to the statue of Justice Thurgood Marshall.  Right in the middle of the center of power of Maryland with strong, bold reminders of all three government branches on every side. And we prayed. It is a modern-day bowing to the Lord based on a first-century text that still points us to the top priority of any citizen of heaven who is temporarily also a citizen of an earthly nation:

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.  1 Timothy 2:1-4

No anger was shown. No bullhorns were used. No placards were waved at cars passing by. Just prayer. Peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified.

Thanks to Juin Killingsworth, who heads up the National Day of Prayer throughout Maryland and also to Mitch Ekstrom for diligently coordinating the Annapolis meeting each year. And may we not stop praying for America and our leaders to repent and turn to God.

pulpitLast week, five Houston area pastors were told by the courts to produce sermons and other communication that referenced HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). This law protects, among other things, the right of any man or woman to use whatever public restroom they want, depending on which gender they identify with. The mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, a lesbian herself, tweeted “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game…” This brings up several thoughts here at Rotunda Reflections, since this has caused such a firestorm of criticism by many in the religious community.

Annise Parker Mayor of Houston

Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston

1)  The first thought was, “When (not if) this happens in Maryland, what will be the response of pastors and churches?” The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill last March (the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014) guaranteeing the same rights to transgenders. The governor signed it into law in May. California is the only other state with such a law on the books.

2)  Any fair-thinking person, liberal or conservative, should be able to see the unconstitutional nature of this subpoena of sermons. By the way, the original subpoenas were amended to demand the pastors produce speeches instead of sermons. This was surely due to the public outcry over the clear violation of the pastors’ first amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion. And isn’t a pastoral “speech” just a sermon anyway?

3)  Christians began immediately opining what they thought the pastors should do. It’s still early, but if Houston moves forward with the demand for these sermons (which are public anyway), those who follow Christ will have to come to terms at some point with what they believe – the dilemma of this issue may be in our backyard next. I’ve seen some believers say the pastors should comply and be grateful their sermons will be read. Others say defiance is the way to go. It’s not a cut-and-dried answer since the Scriptures give us both ideas relating to interfacing with government. Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 speak of submission to governing authorities. Also, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 point us toward an attitude of quietness and peacefulness regarding government relationships. But there are also examples of civil disobedience that clearly show there are times to refuse obeying government’s demands. The three Jewish youths disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:12), Daniel prayed when it was forbidden by Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:7-10), and Peter and John kept preaching when they were commanded to stop (Acts 4:18, 19). So, which is it? Quietly submit or defy authority?

I would lean toward the latter, but not necessarily because of the examples above. Each of these examples were fairly extreme and don’t have a direct parallel to the Houston case. But for American Christians under the rights and privileges of the constitution, there seems to be a biblical precedent to stand up here. Paul, on several occasions, appealed to his status as a Roman citizen when his freedoms were threatened. And freedom of religion is such a basic right of those in our nation, it would be wrong to quietly let that right erode in small increments (because it won’t happen in one big reversal). Just as Paul reminded rulers of his rights and forced leaders to acknowledge them, we have a biblical and constitutional responsibility now and for generations to come to refuse our government’s inappropriate erasing of those rights.

The other part of this equation is that there may be consequences to pay for refusing the demands of government. Will we see the day that pastors are fined or jailed for preaching against homosexuality and same-sex marriage? I pray not. Even those who champion the homosexual agenda in America should fight against forcing anybody to think and act only as the government tells them to. Our core values and freedoms are at stake now. Let’s prayerfully move forward with a desire to submit, but be ready to challenge if that’s what we’re called to do.

So, if my sermons were subpoenaed, I would definitely pray hard, prepared to refuse Caesar’s overreaching and suffer whatever consequences might come.

roy costnerA video that is making its way around social media seems to be meeting with the approval of many Christians. In it, Roy Costner, the valedictorian of a graduating senior class in a South Carolina high school, stands to give his pre-approved speech, rips up the text and proceeds to share the importance of his Christian upbringing, including The Lord’s Prayer. All this despite the decision by the local school board to ban prayers from public meetings due to protests from atheists in the area. This resulted in applause from some in the crowd, drowning out most of the prayer itself.

I’m having a difficult time sharing the enthusiasm of fellow believers who give their approbation to this speech, calling it “courageous” or a blow to our enemies in our ongoing cultural battles. Christians have a responsibility to understand exactly what is happening here and respond. Based on the facts, here are three reasons I’m having a problem with this “prayer of protest”.

1) DECEPTION – It seems to me the atheists have the moral high ground in this situation. They worked within the system and shared their concerns. What does it say about a young Christian man who has his speech pre-approved, then discards it in favor of comments that are clearly against what he agreed to share? What does it say about Christian adults who cheer him on for his ambush of the administration? There are words that come to mind to describe actions like this, but “courageous” isn’t one of them.

2) THE NATURE OF PRAYER –  Right before Jesus instructs us to pray what has become to be known as The Lord’s Prayer, He revealed much about the place and motivation behind prayer:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5, 6

There is a time and place for public prayer, no question. But is communicating with God something to be done as a protest? Even Daniel, who defied authorities who banned prayer, did not publicly protest. He continued his practice of prayer in his home. He was being told not to pray to God at all, which justified his civil disobedience, knowing that he would probably suffer consequences.

3) THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITIES – What is the goal of obeying governmental authorities?

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. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Americans swagger. We just do. But it’s hard to swagger and submit. Yes, you have God-ordained rights, but so do others who disagree with you, whether they believe in God or not. The command to submit to the local school board in a public event would not have caused Roy to sin. Using prayer as a “statement” does not meet the purpose of prayer.

Truthfully, I’m still thinking this through, but my spirit did not rejoice when I saw this video. If there’s something I’m missing, please comment and let me know why.

good and evilSeveral days ago, after the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were hunted down, I shared these verses as a Facebook status:

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.    Romans 13:2-4

One comment a friend made under the status wondered what happens when the government and people of a nation call evil good and good evil. It’s the natural question that is begged when we read these verses. Things clearly do not always play out as they should.

The reason I shared the verses that day was because there had been a criminal act committed and as the suspects were being chased, more criminal acts were layered on top. The governing authorities had to use deadly force to deal with the suspects, killing one and severely injuring another who was eventually arrested. This was an example of God-granted governmental authority to “bear the sword” to bring judgment to those who do wrong. Simple as that. We should be grateful for law enforcement officials who carry weapons, sometimes actually using them to maintain safety and peace for our society to operate as it should.

But what about laws and leaders that do not reward good behavior, but elevate evil as something that is right? The verses from Romans 13 paint a picture of civil government as it ought to be, not as it always will be. In this passage, Paul calls on all to submit to governments, since they are God’s servants for our good. This is written by a man who lived under Roman as well as Jewish rulership in the first century, which would ultimately give him a death sentence for spreading the gospel of Christ. Not all decisions by government will fulfill God’s intended role of upholding right and punishing evil. After all, governments are composed of humans. Sinful humans who are in need of God’s wisdom and guidance. Wisdom and guidance that are often rejected.

A glaring example of this is from today’s headlines – President Obama’s speech this morning at Planned Parenthood’s 75th anniversary gala. Our government in America has sanctioned the destruction of millions of lives, many snuffed out by this organization. Not only do we have laws that allow this killing of innocent life, but we pay for it – our tax dollars funded Planned Parenthood with $542,000,000 in 2012 (that’s $61,836 an hour 24/7/365). Not only do we fund it but our president proudly promotes the mission of Planned Parenthood, which performs 320,000 abortions a year, by giving a speech of appreciation and encouragement to continue the job.

The bombing at the Boston Marathon displayed sin, evil, the intentional taking of innocent human life and a despicable devaluing of personhood. These very words may even show up in media reports as they describe the atrocity and follow-up on the victims’ stories. But what we won’t hear are the same words used to describe the work of Planned Parenthood and other abortion doctors who deserve to be characterized the exact same way. And we’ll never hear a follow-up on the victims.

What are we to do and how do we look at Romans 13? Prayer for the spiritual awakening of our leaders and nation is always the first step (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should also pray for, work for and vote for people who know what good really is and what evil really is. Government cannot and will not carry out true justice until we have leaders who can tell the difference.

praying manToday at the Ligonier Ministries’ blog, David Robertson shares some thoughts on citizenship and prayer. Click here to read his argument that prayer for leaders is not a passive cop-out, but a biblical exercise with great power.

His text (1 Timothy 2:1-4) is also the basis for Capitol Commission’s prayer website, Pray1Tim2, which lists office holders each day as reminders to pray. You can sign up for daily or weekly emails for your state (all 50 are available). Click here to find a specific state’s leaders to pray for today!

stressWe often pray for our leaders’ wisdom and guidance, but personal issues should  also be our concern. This is a good reason to become Facebook friends with them or follow them on Twitter, because they may post more everyday items that can inform our prayers for them.

I was reminded of this today when I saw a Facebook post from a Maryland state delegate stating that she would need an “extended absence from work” due to a physical condition that is exacerbated by stress. Her comments were full of hope since she is a woman of faith and her care for her constituents was evident. She ended her notice by saying she coveted the prayers of her friends. May we not fail any of our leaders by forgetting to pray for them.

Physical problems are important for us to be aware of even as we are so aware of the spiritual nature of our prayers according to 1 Timothy 2:1-4. But don’t forget to pray for the stamina needed in their busy positions to handle the inherent stress that comes with it.

Next Page »