The first order of business
Once again, it's context, context, context when interpreting Paul's urgent instructions to Timothy about prayer. It's another of those texts that guides believers in every voting cycle. The lesson is that citizens should pray for those shouldering the heavy burdens of government leadership. That Paul specifically identifies "kings and all who are in high places" is thought to direct the prayer to our elected officials at every level of government. And, rightly so. We don't have kings and potentates and aristocracy like the privileged system that ruled Palestine and surrounding areas during the mission of the Apostle Paul. But, it cannot be a misuse of this passage for it to form a biblical foundation for praying for government officials.
The context issue is twofold. Notice that Paul mentioned this prayer as the first order of business. His words "First of all, then, I urge..." (v.1) is a shift to the instructional points he wishes transmitted to Timothy. Evidently Timothy was dealing with some of the hard stuff of Christian leadership and ministry. Chapter one is personal encouragement for Timothy in dealing with improper teaching by "certain persons" (1:3,6). He wanted Timothy to "wage the good warfare" (1:18), "holding faith and a good conscience" (1:19). Paul even mentioned two individuals he had "handed over to Satan" because of their blasphemous ways (1:20). In Chapter 2 Paul turns to instruction that will guide Timothy beyond those interruptions and distractions to fulfillment of his ministry. As indicated, prayer was the first order of business in Paul's teaching letter. Right up front he emphasized the centrality of prayer as a means of conducting good warfare.
Praying for "kings and all who are in high places" isn't usually in position numero uno in our agenda about politics and government. The most recent election cycle has thrown the nation, most religious institutions, and even those in evangelical circles into divided camps more than any election in modern history. There's been a good bit of critique of Mr. Trump, his cabinet choices, those in his inner circle, as well as those politicians who supported him in the election. Christians and non-Christians have debated his short-comings, his take on world affirms, his unconventional rhetoric, and his use of social media as a communication platform. We've been pretty quick with our evaluative mechanisms and posturing. I'm just curious where prayer for him and everyone else in the ranks of government have been situated in our to-do lists.
The second context item has a couple of bullets. One is Paul's insistence that this kind of prayer is intended "for all people" (v1). The normative prayer life Paul pressed on Timothy was a broad spectrum of prayer for everyone. Another point involves the multiple dimensions of prayer he expected Timothy to offer in their behalf. They were---
supplications: asking God for something
prayers: solemn requests for help
intercession: intervening on behalf of another
thanksgivings: thanking God for something
Evidently this prayer experience was expected to be more than a line in the breakfast or lunch grace, a prayer of more depth than a mere mention. Paul called his protege Timothy to bring this kind of concentrated experience to his prayers for everyone.
Verse 2 is apparently an expected addition to the normal day to day prayer spoken for everyone in Timothy's life. It's like Paul extended Timothy's prayer responsibility beyond his immediate circle, to include those guiding the nation. Paul wanted Timothy to enlarge his prayer influence to include those who defined and insured the welfare of the nation at the leadership level. His aim was that Timothy would remember these officials, most often hostile to the Christian community, in the four levels of prayer so that everyone "may lead a peaceful and quiet life, dignified in every way" (v. 2).
Contrary to the strains of contemporary religious sentiment, Paul added something startling to Timothy's instruction. It's flashpoint of contention in our current anti- Christian culture. He wrote, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (vv. 3-4).
The backdrop of this prayer is that these leaders would come to know the truth.
It should be the first order of business today as our government and our leaders are making a transition that few of us could imagine a year ago. Let's offer up front these supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for those who serve at every level of national, state, and local government. And, pray that they will know the truth.