Original post at http://milewis.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/prayer-and-quiet-life/
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 dignity. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. 1 Timothy 2:1-6a
Last month, I read two stories in quick succession.
First, I read about Kansas pastor Sandra Moore who took a group of United Methodists to visit the Islamic Center of Topeka in order to learn more about the Muslim faith. Imam Omar Hazim invited the group to visit the mosque and have lunch with Muslim congregation. The visit allowed the Christians in the group to better understand Islam, and the Muslims to better understand the Christian faith. It was a nice, neighborly thing to do, and it reminded me of my visits to Buddhist temples during my assignments in Korea.
Then I read about Asia Bibi, a poor Pakistani woman who is in prison and facing death because of her Christian faith. While harvesting fruit with a group of women in 2009, she committed the sin of daring to drink water from same well as her coworkers, and then offering the cup to a thirsty Muslim woman. “Don’t drink that, it’s haram,” another woman screamed. “This Christian has dirtied the water in the well. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!” Why is sharing a drinking fountain such a cause of concern for people dividers in this world? You see it in so many cultures – even our own 50 years ago. Perhaps thinking of John 4 and the woman at the well in Samaria, Asia replied, “I think Jesus would see if differently from Mohammed.”
Asia’s adversary replied that Jesus was a “bastard” and that she should convert from her “filthy religion.” “I’m not going to convert,” Asia replied. “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?” The crowd erupted with anger, and Asia ran home. Within days, an even larger, angrier crowd appeared. They accused her of blasphemy and insulting the prophet. A religious leader told her, “If you don’t want to die you must convert to Islam. Are you willing to redeem yourself by becoming a good Muslim?” When she refused, the crowd beat her badly and screamed for her death. Before the beating was over, she was bloody and losing consciousness. Eventually, the police arrived and took her to jail. She now sits in jail under a sentence of death, awaiting her fate.
As Paul Harvey used to say, it’s not one world.
The apostle Paul’s world was much closer to that of Asia Bibi than to Sandra Moore. He faced angry mobs and violence wherever he turned. He had Jewish opponents, pagan Gentile opponents and even Christian opponents. As you follow Paul’s journey through the book of Acts, each city presents a new threat: Damascus. Antioch. Iconium. Lystra. Philippi. Thessalonica. Berea. Corinth. Ephesus. Jerusalem. Rome. Paul’s life was in danger at every turn. It is said that “May you live in interesting times” is an ancient Chinese curse. Paul certainly did live in interesting times.
Pray for the Shalom of All
For all of that, Paul still wanted Christians to get along with their neighbors – to live a quiet and peaceful life with godliness and dignity. In Romans 12:18, he wrote, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Now I can’t imagine Paul leading a tour of the temples to Jupiter, but he did ask that the church offer prayers, petitions, intercessions, thanksgivings – every kind of prayer you can think of – for everyone, presumably, even for those who wanted him dead.
Paul asked the church to pray “for” all people, not just “about” them. That is, Paul asked the church to intercede on their behalf and seek God’s blessings for them. It’s one thing to pray, “Lord, let me tell you about my nasty neighbor. What are you going to do about him?” It’s quite another to pray, “Lord, I really do want you to bless my neighbors and to give us a community where we can all live in peace together.”
And did Paul really say “thanksgivings?” Really? Even for those who cause the church so much trouble and pain? I probably should remember that Jesus himself told us to pray for our enemies and to bless those who persecute us.
Paul even asked the church to pray for kings and all in authority. Sometimes Roman power threatened Paul, but at other times it rescued and protected him. Paul’s relationship with Roman power was rather complicated. Overall, Rome was more of a threat than a friend to Christians. Paul spent a good bit of time in Roman custody, and it just so happens that the king on the throne when Paul wrote this letter was the emperor Nero. When the city of Rome burned, Nero blamed the Christians and had them burned at the stake. Peter, it is said, was crucified by Nero, and Paul was beheaded.
When we pray for kings and those in high places, certainly we pray for good judgment and a good heart, but I think we pray for their overall well being as well. In A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit offers a toast wishing his stingy boss Scrooge a long and happy life. Similarly, Scrooge’s scorned nephew Fred drinks to the miser’s health. These two characters understand Paul’s intent. To pray “for” someone is ultimately to seek their good. Even evil leaders are among the “all people” that God wants to be saved and know the truth. Even with Nero sitting on the throne, Paul could wrote, “I implore (the word is quite forceful) … I implore you to pray for kings and all in high places so that we can lead a quiet and peaceful life.” How Paul himself must have longed for this peace and quiet. It is just amazing to me that Paul could have such amicable aspirations for those who so often tormented God’s people.
One God, One Mediator
Paul is willing to pray for the kings and rulers of this age, but it is not peace at any price he seeks.
Let me put Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2 in a different context. Rome expected its subjects to offer sacrifices to the emperor as a god. Technically, Romans offered sacrifices to the genius of the emperor, but that sort of technicality tended to get lost in the eastern parts of the empire. To the Romans, the genius was a kind of a divine spirit. For the Jews, then there was no difference between offering a sacrifice to Caesar’s “genius” and Caesar himself. There was only one God, and it wasn’t Jupiter or Mars or Caesar or Caesar’s genius.
Because of the Jewish objection to all idolatry, Rome allowed the Judeans to offer sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple FOR the emperor instead of TO the emperor. There’s a big difference between “for” and “to.”
In 66 AD, as tensions with Rome escalated, the Judeans stopped offering the temple sacrifices on the emperor’s behalf. The Romans considered that event to be an act of open rebellion and thus began the First Jewish War with Rome. Jerusalem was razed and the temple was destroyed.
When Paul told Christians that they ought to pray for the emperor, that’s exactly what Paul’s Jewish brothers and sisters were doing in the temple in Jerusalem prior to 66 AD.
As we have seen, Paul asked Christians to pray for the emperor despite the emperor’s misdeeds. Like all Jews, however, Paul refused to compromise with Rome on the uniqueness of Israel’s God. With God’s people throughout the ages, he confessed the great shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” If we continue reading in 1 Timothy 2, we quickly come to this affirmation in verse 5: There is one God and one mediator between God and man. In the light of Jewish experience with Rome, I can’t help but hear the unspoken words, “And it’s not Caesar.”
There is one God. Rome was filled with gods: household gods for every domus, invisible sprits in nature, patron deities of every place and activity, the classic gods of antiquity and the growing imperial cult. “Pray for the emperor,” Paul says, “but remember that there is only one God. And it’s not Caesar.”
Paul then adds that there is one mediator between God and humankind – the man Jesus Christ. Again, it’s not Caesar. One of Caesar’s titles was “Pontifex maximus,” which is usually translated “high priest.” One of Caesar’s duties was to offer sacrifices to the gods. The word pontifex is really “bridge builder” – one who builds a bridge between heaven and earth, between the gods and men. At least that’s how many Romans interpreted it. Every Roman coin bore the Caesar’s boast. Paul reminds his readers that there is only one bridge builder – one mediator – between God and humankind, and it’s not the emperor in Rome.
Pray for the emperor, Paul says, but don’t buy everything he’s selling. Our relationship to the world always entails good will and a desire for peace in the community, but it never entails compromising our faith.
To Serve God’s Purposes
We pray for the emperor not to serve his purposes – or even our own – but God’s. God wants all to be saved. God wants all to know the truth about his son who gave his life as a ransom for all. That’s what Paul says in verses 3 and 4. Whenever possible, the church lives a quiet and peaceful life with its neighbors. Our living a quiet and peaceful life in the world falls short if we use that peace and quiet as an opportunity to avoid responsibility. We don’t seek peace out of fear or laziness, but because God loves our neighbors. God wants to use the church as his instrument in the world. He wants all men and women to be saved – even his enemies – and the church is his instrument for that.
Brothers and sisters, I urge that you pray for everyone, so that the church of Jesus Christ may lead a quiet and peaceable and godly life. This is how God wants us to live, because desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And this is the truth. There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.