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Praying for our Persecutors

Today, my daily bible reading included Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 2.  Proverbs 31 is famous for the second two thirds of the chapter, which are focused on a wife of noble character (a wife such as my own).  The first part of the passage is equally important.

Proverbs 31:8-9:  "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute, speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy."

There is a clear message throughout scripture to take care of the poor and the needy.  In the law, God instituted radical provisions to help the poor, including the Sabbath year.  During the Sabbath year, the land was to lay fallow.  This serves as a year of rest, but also, a year of charity.  The fallow land was then to belong to the poor.  The owners of the land were to store up food from the last 6 years and use it, and the poor were allowed to pick the fields and get food from them.  Additionally, there was a year called the Jubilee year every 50 years, which was a radical principal and policy.  Every 50 years, the land was to go back to the original owners.  This way no one could accrue too much, and those who had to sell their land, had their land back.  This would enable the poor to have their land back, to make sure that no one had too little, and no one had too much.  Beyond these radical policies, scripture is full of admonitions to take care of the poor and needy.  The Word of God stands for justice and stands against injustice.  It calls for us to be a voice to the oppressed.

1 Timothy is one of the Pastoral epistles in which Paul disciples Timothy and advises the young leader.  Chapter 2 starts (v.1-7), "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men- the testimony given in its proper time.  And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle- I am telling the truth, I am not lying- and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles."

At the time that Paul wrote 1 Timothy, Christians were being heavily persecuted.  In many ways, they were the poor and needy.  They were viewed as the scum of the Earth.  Eleven out of twelve apostles would be killed for proclaiming the Gospel.  The one who survived (John) was allegedly burned with boiling oil.  The authorities opposed the early Christians.  And in fact, as Paul describes in the first chapter of 1st Timothy, he was one of them doing this.  Paul describes himself as the worst of sinners.  "Even though I was once a blasphemer, and a persecutor and a violent man..." Paul proclaims in 1 Timothy 1:13.  So in Chapter 2, when Paul tells them to pray, intercede, and be thankful for the kings and those in authority, Paul was telling them to love their enemies similar to what Christ said in Matthew 5:43-48, "You have heard that it was said, 'love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doin that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

So thus far, we have established that God loves social justice.  That the government and authorities over Paul and Timothy was actively seeking to kill the Christian community.  That Paul once persecuted the church in the same fashion, and that despite this, Paul is calling for the Christians to pray, intercede, and be thankful for the government and authorities over them.

The question then for us is this:  do we do the same?

The government in America is by no means as anti-Christian as the government Paul and Timothy were under.  And in fact, in many ways, it is pro-Christian.  Our churches are open.  We live freely and can proclaim our beliefs without imprisonment.  Are we praying, interceding, and thankful for those in charge of our nation?

Generally speaking, I think we fall short here.  And this should cause us to pause.  Perhaps part of the reason we fall short is we do not see a reason, and Paul gives us a most glorious reason.

1.)  1 Timothy 2:3 reads, "...This is good, and pleases God our Savior...."  Praying, interceding, and being thankful pleases God.  This answer should be sufficient for us, but God gives us more.

2.)   1 Timothy 2:4, "...who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."  Remember, Paul was one of them, and God came to him in a radical manner assigning him the role as an apostle and missionary to the Gentiles.  Without this call, I would not be saved!

Should we not also pray for the leaders and authorities, that their hearts might come to cherish Christ above all things?  That they might be saved from their sins and the wrath of God due them?

These two scriptures demonstrate an important juxtaposition.  Christians are called to hate injustice while loving the ones from which this injustice comes.  We are called to love those who persecute us.  We are called to love the enemies of the cross.  Which means we are to stand against police brutality, but stand with the police (most of which are innocent, and heroes).  We are to stand against ISIS, but to pray for and love ISIS, praying they will have a Damascus Road like conversion.  We are to hate the work of Boko Haram, and love the members, praying that they will be redeemed.  We are to abhor Al-Shabab, and the evil which occurred in Kenya, while praying that their members might repent to come to know the One True God.  We are even to love whichever political party that we oppose and pray for the politicians we rally against.

The call of the Christian is to love in the face of evil, to stand against evil, and to love those committing evil acts.  For we are guilty of all sorts of evil acts, and through the blood of Jesus Christ, we have been forgiven much.  So too should we pray that all nations and all people come to know the radical grace of our Savior.


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