Those words seem general and somewhat bland when we initially read them. In Paul’s day those were powerful words that set a strategic priority for the prayers of the church. Verse one had to be important to Paul, for he opened the sentence with “First of all” — in other words, “This is a priority.” Then he wrote, “I urge,” pressing the readers to take action. This was more than sage advice or a simple request.
It is doubtful that Christians in Ephesus were inclined to pray for the caesar in Rome. That is what made Paul’s exhortation so powerful. He was saying in effect: “Stretch your prayers; pray for all people…even Caesar.” Why should they pray for wicked kings who had sworn that the kingdom of Christ was an enemy? Paul called them to pray for the civic leaders so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (v. 2). Don’t misread this. His purpose was not personal peace and prosperity of individual Christians in that great city. The “we” in that sentence is the church. Paul was pressing the church to pray for the caesars of this world, that the church might not live under the constant disruption and havoc of persecution. This command is also particularly relevant today in our country as the government becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity.
Paul’s instruction to the saints in Ephesus was to pray for their rulers and others for the sake of the kingdom. Paul was not telling them to seek their own advantage in their prayers. He was saying, “In your prayers make the kingdom of God a priority.” Most of us as individual Christians aim our prayers at our own personal welfare. Has the first concern of our prayers this week been His kingdom and His church?
Several years ago I was convinced by the Holy Spirit that I had the wrong priorities in my prayers. When I examined them, it was obvious that my first concern was “me and mine.” Jesus said in every part of our lives we are to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). I had to ask myself: “In my prayers am I seeking the kingdom of God first?” As a result of this self examination, the structure and priority of my prayers changed.
Should we pray for our family’s physical and economic well being? Certainly we should. But Paul was saying to Timothy: “Make the welfare of the kingdom of God a priority in your requests. Stretch your prayers even to include the caesar, for the benefit of the church.”
He went on to say that we aim our prayers this way because God “desires all people to be saved.” (1 Tim. 2:3–4) Thus, if we are praying God’s will, we will pray for people around us to be saved. Are our prayers aimed toward the repentance and salvation of fellow sinners who are outside of Christ? All true evangelism begins with prayer.
Dr. Leon Morris, one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the twentieth century, wrote, “When Christians evangelize, they are not engaging in some harmless and pleasant pastime. They are engaging in a fearful struggle, the issues of which are eternal.” In evangelism we are wrestling “against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
Several years ago a member of the church I was serving came to me concerned about a friend of his who had a serious cancer. He said, “John, I feel awful. When my friend told me he had cancer I cried. I don’t want him to die. However, that is not why I feel so terrible. I only became concerned about him when cancer was discovered in his body. For years we have been friends and I have known that he was not a Christian. He has always said he was an agnostic. In all that time I have never really prayed for his salvation. I had not been concerned even though he had something wrong with him that was much worse than this cancer.” Do you know what was wrong with that church member? The same thing that is wrong with you and me when we see a friend spiritually perishing and have little or no concern. The problem is with our own spiritual condition. The Anglican leader John R. Stott put it this way: “Nothing shuts the mouth, seals the lips, ties the tongue, like the poverty of our own spiritual experience.” Some of us struggle with actually verbalizing the gospel to our neighbors and fellow workers. We say we are not “gifted” in such evangelism. But there can be no excuse for failing to pray for our lost neighbors. That is something all of us can do.
Many Christians and churches pray. However, their prayers are not aimed at the vision, advancement, and growth of the kingdom of God. Are your prayers well aimed?