The musical “Fiddler on the Roof” is the story of Russian Jews during the pogroms led by the Russian government. As the Jews sing about their traditions, and how they help the Jews survive in the face of persecution, one of the acolytes of the local Rabbi asks, “Tell me, Rabbi. Is there a blessing for the Tsar?” The Rabbi answers by saying, “A blessing for the Tsar? Of course. May God bless and keep the Tsar…far away from us.” What an amazing statement of obedience and faith that is, with a heaping of humor as well. While acknowledging the need to pray for those in authority, the last phrase, “far from us,” also notes that his presence, whether in person or in the form of his troops, was usually bad news.
Often, one person becomes the face of government. Whether it be Caesar, the Tsar, or the President, that one person becomes the face of the country to the world, and to the citizens. I have no doubt that most of us, were we asked the same question the Rabbi were asked about our government leader, would answer much like the Rabbi: “May God bless and keep the president…far away from us. Paul noted the obligation to pray for those in authority as he wrote to Timothy. “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 1:1-2)
There are many who believe that Paul wrote this letter after his first imprisonment in Rome. If so, what Paul writes about government is significant. His letter references those who held him in house arrest for a couple of years before his meeting with Caesar. It’s written in the beginning stages of persecution that is slowly spreading across the Roman Empire. To be fair to the times, up until the persecution started, the “Pax Romana” or, Peace of Rome, had made it much easier to spread the gospel. The roads built to allow soldiers to march made travel easier for Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they walked on their journeys. Still, the beginnings of persecution were affecting those in the early church and Paul had dealt with some of those issues himself. In this situation, Paul reminded us that we should be praying blessings on the king and all those in authority so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
There’s a problem with this passage here in the United States. I think most Christians are pretty weak on prayer. And of those that do pray, about half of them will be praying for the president now, when they weren’t a few years ago, while the other half won’t be praying for the president now, but did a great job of that a few years ago. We’ve allowed politics to divide the body of Christ. We can’t withdraw from the political arena, but we also can’t let the politics of the day determine our beliefs, our friends, or our families. Paul’s message, much as I hate it sometimes, is not, “Pray if you like the king and the authority.” His call is to pray for those in authority. If you don’t like the current president, pray. Knowing American politics, he will change sometime – probably for someone you like. If you do like the current president, get into the habit of praying for your leaders now, because the time will come when someone you don’t like becomes president. Paul understood the truth that our commitment to Christ goes beyond the government. We’re grateful when we have a government that allows us to live peaceful and quiet lives, but even when we don’t, we pray for our governmental authorities because the God who is ultimately in charge can draw them into His will. It goes beyond politics. It goes to godliness and holiness
Lord, remind me to pray. Remind me when I pray that You are the ruler of all. Help me to pray for my leaders even when I don’t like them.