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Monday, December 3, 2012

Politics and Prayer

Politics and Prayer

Paul has warned Timothy to expect opposition from two specific leaders in the church of Ephesus: Hymenaeus and Alexander. Far beyond giving Timothy a simple heads-up, Paul handed the two men "over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme." (1 Timothy 1:7)

Paul's spiritual battle with these two men was not vindictive, at least not on Paul's part. Paul remembered that he was, not long ago, a worse sinner than even Hymenaeus and Alexander. He called himself a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent of Christ. For his transformation from sinner to saint, Paul credited God alone.

"I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." 1 Timothy 1:16-17 (ESV)

Closely following Paul's giving over, but not giving up on, his two enemies into Satan's hands, Paul urged all manner of prayer on their behalf, and on behalf of all people who might be shipwrecked, stranded, and forsaken:

"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 (ESV)

This seems a mild endorsement prayer. Paul's urging is actually controversial and radical.

The "kings and all who are in high positions" were Romans, ruled by "an ineffectual, neglectful and brutal leader", Nero.

Nero poisoned his politically ambitious cousin. He executed his mother and his first wife. As the Roman empire crumbled, he purged the senate, executing many opposing leaders, kicked his second wife to death, finally fleeing Rome when the military rose against him. He committed suicide and Rome disintegrated in civil war.

(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/nero.shtml)

Paul did not denounce Nero, or rage against his atrocities. He did not pray for a specific political party. He endorsed no specific leader or style of government.

Paul saw only one purpose for political government, and it was for this one purpose that he prayed: a peaceful life that rests in the truth of God our Savior.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What do you see in the politics of our country that is opposed to the prayer of Paul? Is our political system striving for the same peaceful, godly life that Paul described? How can Christians balance political activism with spiritual godliness? Is a quiet, peaceful life necessary? Is it even desirable? What does does "a peaceful and quiet life" mean for those who enjoy adventure and stimulating recreation?

PEACEFUL: eremos (pronounced ay-rem-os, meaning tranquil, stillness); perhaps from eremos (pronounced er'-ay-mos, meaning lonesome, as in a wilderness)

"Peaceful" occurs only this one time in the Bible. The Greek word sounds similar to another word that means lonesome, often translated as "wilderness". The context makes the emphasis not upon being alone, but being free from conflict and fear. "Peaceful" here means a life that is lived among people, but in such a way that one can walk anywhere, say anything, consider anything, without fear, conflict or oppression.

QUIET: hesychios (keeping one's seat; sedentary, still, undisturbed and undisturbing); from hezomai (to sit) and scheo (to hold)

"Quiet" occurs one other time in the Bible:

"Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit." 1 Peter 3:4 (ESV)

While "peaceful" evokes an image of someone enjoying a walk through beautiful wilderness, "quiet" implies someone sitting, resting in confidence and security.

A "peaceful and quiet life" is one that allows meditation and contemplation, being honest without fear of rejection or punishment, enjoying health, beauty, insight and wisdom.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How do the policies and actions of "kings and all that are in authority" affect people's freedom to meditate, contemplate, speak, question, create, invent, consider or worship? In what ways are our lives right now complicated and conflicted because of our government, whether local or national? For what should we be praying concerning our leaders?

Paul described this "peaceful and quiet life" as one which was godly:

GODLY: eusebeia (piety, especially concerning the gospel); from eusebes (well-reverent, pious); from eu (well) and sebo (to revere or adore); from eu (good or well)

Literally, "godly" could be defined as "worshiping goodness". Piety is closely related to pity, sympathy for the sufferings of others. The oldest use of "pious" meant to be dutiful or loyal to parents and family.

Paul later described "godly" as a mystery:

"Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory." 1 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Taken together, "godly" means to adore goodness, and the highest example of goodness is that which is the essence of God, exemplified by Jesus Christ. For Paul, Jesus is the personification of perfect goodness, and worship of Jesus is perfect godliness, perfect piety, perfect sympathy for the sufferings of others.

Paul later warned Timothy to beware of fake Christians, people who put forth the form of godliness, but fail to allow Christ to actually work through them for the good of others:

"But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people." 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How is it possible that people could put forth the appearance of godliness, yet be disobedient, ungrateful, brutal and treacherous? How could such wickedness be disguised? Have you ever discovered yourself to be appearing godly yet knowing yourself to be the opposite?

Finally, Paul described a "peaceful and quiet life" as dignified in every way.

DIGNIFIED: semnotes (venerableness, probity); from semnos (vernerable, honorable); from sebo (to revere or adore)

"Venerable" means to be worthy of respect and admiration. "Probity" means proven to have virtue and integrity.

"Dignified" occurs two other times in the Bible:

"He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive." 1 Timothy 3:4 (ESV)

"Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us." Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)

"Dignified" is the reflected image of "godly". One who is godly is one who allows Christ to rule over his life, one who adores goodness and seeks to act with goodness toward others. One who is truly godly becomes one who is dignified in the eyes of others, one who has proven themself to be a model of good works, one worthy of all respect and admiration.

Paul says that godliness and dignity depend upon a peaceful and quiet life, which depends upon the policies and actions of kings and all who are in high positions.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you agree with Paul? Can we hope to become godly and dignified only if our government allows us to be so? What is the connection between godliness and dignity, and our government?

Paul urges four different types of prayers. The first arises from urgent need.

SUPPLICATIONS: deesis (a petition); from deomai (to beg, as if binding oneself, asking from urgent need); from deo (to bind)

Supplication is often connected with fasting and deep emotional desire (Luke 2:37, Romans 10:1). Supplication can be with joy or with tears (Philippians 1:4, Hebrews 5:7).

Zechariah made supplication, asking God for a child to be born to his barren wife, Elizabeth (Luke 1:13).

Paul made supplication for the Jews, his family and countrymen, dear to his heart but far from Christ (Romans 10:1).

In the face of heavy affliction and suffering, Paul asked Christians to make supplication for him, asking God to deliver him, asking for God to bless others through his preaching despite the deadly peril in which he found himself (2 Corinthians 1:6).

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What can bring you to tears when praying? What things are you passionately, emotionally desiring from God? What significance is seen when someone prays without emotion?

Secondly, Paul urges Christians to pray as a practiced habit:

PRAYERS: proseuche (worshipful prayer, an oratory in chapel); from proseuchomai (to pray to God); from pros (forward to, toward) and euchomai (to wish)

This seems to be a general word for any sort of prayer. It is often connected with fasting (Matthew 17:21). Jesus prayed all to God, with great emotion (Luke 6:12). Prayer was the fourth spiritual discipline of the early church, along with teaching, fellowship and breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). The distinctive quality of "prayers" is that of consistency. Many references to "prayers" indicate that it was part of a regular habit, or that the prayer persevered over time. Several times it is combined with prayer of supplication, indicating emotional, deeply-felt prayer that endures over much time.

"She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day." 1 Timothy 5:5 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you have an established time for prayer? How do you avoid falling into shallow, emotionless thoughts when praying according to a schedule? How do you pray when your heart is just not in a prayerful, worshipful mood?

The third type of prayer that Paul commends is that of intercession.

INTERCESSIONS: enteuxis (an interview, a special supplication); from entynchano (to chance upon, to confer with, to entreat); from en (fixed position) and tynchano (to affect, to hit or light upon, to attain or secure; to happen, as if meeting with); from teucho (to make ready, to bring to pass)

"Intercessions" are prayers of the moment, resulting from a chance encounter or conversation with another. It perhaps is the reverse of "prayers", in that intercessory prayer is not necessarily planned or scheduled.

"Intercessions" occurs only one other time in the Bible:

"Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer (intercession)." 1 Timothy 4:4-5 (ESV)

This is quite a revealing verse. "Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected..." Pause for a moment and consider what "everything created by God" is, and how often we reject things that He has created or allowed in our lives.

This sweeping statement is made within the context marriage and diet:

"The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." 1 Timothy 4:1-3 (ESV)

Lying religious leaders, with seared consciences, will attempt to forbid marriage. They will demand abstinence from certain foods in order to conform to religious devotion.

Intercessory prayer gives us the opportunity to immediately thank God for His providence, and ask to Him for His blessing on the situation, whether concerning marriage or diet, or anything created by God. Immediate, spontaneous prayer intercession reminds us of God's power to create good things.

In our daily routine, at work or home, we will encounter many different situations or conversations that seem to challenge the goodness of God. Perhaps a friend tells you they are sick. Your friend may feel like God has abandoned them, or that the sickness is punishment from God. Intercessory prayer moves you to immediately turn to God, thanking Him for His constant goodness, asking Him to turn this sickness into a blessing, asking Him to bring healing, whether now or later, according to His good plan.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Sickness is one opportunity for exercising intercessory prayer. What other situations might be reason for intercession? Why does it seem that unplanned, chance encounters often provide times of fervent, meaningful prayer, often more so than that of regular, planned prayer times?

The final form of prayer urged by Paul is that of thanksgiving.

THANKSGIVINGS: eucharistia (gratitude; grateful language to God, as an act of worship); from eucharistos (well favored, grateful); from eu (well) and charizomai (to grant as a favor); from eus (good) and charis (graciousness, as gratifying); from chairo (to be "cheer"ful, calmly happy or well-off)

Thanksgiving seems rightly listed last. The result of realizing God's providence through supplication, prayer and intercession is a grateful heart.

In many ways, giving of thanks is the greatest demonstration of God's power, bringing more people to see God's glorious grace.

"For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God." 2 Corinthians 4:15 (ESV)

The prayer of supplication is an urgent, desperate plea for rescue and protection. A habit of regular prayer times help us set aside our busy lives and seek the face of the One Who created us, and the One for Whom we were created. Intercessory prayer is moment by moment, as chance or circumstance requires.

However, the prayer of thanksgiving is for all instances of prayer.

Prayer begins and ends with gratefulness.

Gratefulness is the reason we pray, and it is the result of our prayer.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

In circumstances of weakness or sickness, we desire immediate strength and health. In moments of fear and violence we desire immediate courage and rescue. But beyond our desire for strength, health, courage and rescue is our desire for peace. No matter what our circumstance, no matter what we think the immediate solution may be, peace is our ultimate goal in prayer.

And peace depends upon God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What is the practical application of Paul's urging of four types of prayer? How can "all people" be prayed for? How can all four types of prayer be involved? Of the four types of prayer, which do you experience most frequently? With which type are you least experienced, or least inclined toward?

European Union And Turkey by Vera Kratochvil, Creative Commons License