First of All
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.”
~1 Timothy 2:1
Here, in the second chapter of First Timothy, the Apostle Paul is instructing Timothy and the body of Christ on practical matters.
The apostle beings with the phrase “first of all.” In other words, he is saying, “Let me begin with…” or, “First, let me emphasize…” This is the only time the phrase “first of all” appears in the Bible. Paul uses this phrase to make us recognize the importance of what he is about to say.
He then continues by saying that, “supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men.” I would like to emphasize, first of all, that the prayer life of the believer should always include prayer for others, for all people. We are not to just pray for some people, not just the people you like or the people you feel especially need God’s help. Paul says all men. He then proceeded to explain why we are to pray for all men. As he shares in verses 4-5, Jesus Christ would have all men be saved. He died for all! To put it plainly, pray for all because He died for all. Jesus became the mediator for all the world! While it is true that not all accept Him, not all choose His sacrifice, not all make Him their Lord and Master; we still must pray for all because He died for all.
In this portion of Scripture, the Apostle Paul calls to our attention a specific group of people we are to focus our prayers on. This group affects our lives whether we know them personally or not. In verse two, Paul says specifically, “For kings, and for all that are in authority.” What would the world look like if we, first of all, were to pray for all men, especially for those in authority? What would the world look like if the body of Christ truly interceded day after day for our leaders?
It is easy for us to pray for someone who fights for righteousness and biblical values in our laws. But it is just as important for us to pray for those leaders void of God who have no knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ. These leaders do not have the Holy Spirit guiding them.
The Bible says in Romans 13:1 that all authority has been given by God. Whoever is currently in authority may not always be the perfect will of the Lord as was the case with King Saul. God wanted to lead Israel, but they wanted a king; so He gave them Saul. He allowed them to have the leader they wanted. And yet ultimately God is the one giving the power. Therefore, we are to pray for ALL in authority even for those with whom we don’t always agree.
At the time of Paul’s writing, who were the kings that were in power? The leader of Rome was the infamous Nero who was one of the most brutal dictators in not only Rome’s history but also world history. He was responsible for the death of countless Christians. We can only imagine how difficult it was for the early church to pray for such a person. As the Christians in the early church were walking the streets of Rome, they could hear the clash of gladiators battling in the arena or the roar of lions waiting to eat their fellow church members. They could see the sight of believers being burned as torches lighting the city in brutal death. In Israel, there were also leaders like Pilate and Herod. There have always been and will always be evil people who opposed the gospel. But Paul clearly says to pray for even those who do these abominable things. He was asking the early church to do an incredibly radical thing.
As a matter of fact, the Roman historian Josephus wrote that a war was started between Jews and Romans over this issue. The Romans wanted the Jews to pray for their leaders, and they refused. Blood was spilled over this issue. Paul is saying here in First Timothy that we as Christians should pray for our leaders no matter what their beliefs or opinions are. And the early church did pray. One of the bishops of the church in Smyrna Polycarp who was one of John’s disciples who himself died in the coliseum said, “Pray for all the saints; pray, too, for all kings and powers and rulers, and for your persecutors, and those that hate you, and for your cruel enemies.” He was echoing the words of Jesus, “Love your enemies, pray for them who despitefully use you.”
We in this hemisphere don’t face anything even close to what the early church faced. But Paul faithfully reminds the church of that era as well as the church today that we are to pray for those in authority regardless of their views, their opinions, or their political parties.
In addition to telling the early church who to pray for (all men, kings, and those in authority), Paul also does not neglect to share the why. He gives two reasons for why we should pray for all these men. First, he says in verse two, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” How can this be true?! The early church was suffering so greatly, and many were being killed at the hands of Nero. What does Paul mean by talking about a peaceful and quiet life? The early church certainly did not experience tranquility at all. He is saying that this is the goal for us as Christians. Our desire is to be at peace and live quiet, godly lives. We are to pray and pray and pray until we see this type of change even if it is not in our lifetimes. We do not always see revival right away, but it comes through much prayer. Similarly, we will not see peace and quiet lives immediately, but it will eventually come through prayer. The second reason Paul gives as to why we should pray for our leaders is that they may “come to the knowledge of the truth,” that they may recognize that Christ is a mediator between God and man, that they may recognize that the man Jesus Christ took the penalty of sin and paid for it on our behalf. Paul could say this better than anyone else. He had previously been a man with authority coming against the body of Christ. He was once Saul of Tarsus void of truth who persecuted the church, but he was then radically transformed by the truth. Paul is definitely not the only one to have experienced this radical change. Nebuchadnezzar was worse than any leader we could ever imagine, yet through the power of God, he humbled himself and found God. Cyrus the Great was another pagan King whose heart was yielded to the Spirit of God and brought peace and restoration to God’s people. What would happen to the world if men and women of authority all over the world would turn to Christ through the prayers of the saints?! What would happen if, first of all, we interceded for our Governors, our President, our representatives as we never have before? If we were to do this faithfully, the changes we would see would be great indeed! There would be a change that would transform the whole world. Today, in these tempestuous times, I implore you that we would, first of all, pray for our leaders. Let us in the body of Christ stand in the gap for kings and all that govern over us.