These are just a few of the words that describe the Roman emperor, Nero. Roman historian, Suetonius, said that Nero “showed neither discrimination nor moderation in putting to death whomsoever he pleased.” He killed his own mother and other relatives, and kicked his pregnant lover to death.
Still, Paul urges Timothy to offer “entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings…on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
The Bible was written by people who lived in times when the government was not friendly to the people of God. Yet Jesus says to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Paul had a clear sense of God’s sovereignty over both church and state. He did not regard God as part of one realm and human institutions as part of another. All rulers, he said, are in power because God ordained them.
In spite of the horrible tyranny of Roman emperors (Nero put Paul and many other Christians to death), the general peace made it possible for the gospel to spread rapidly through the Empire. The very regime so fiercely devoted to emperor worship became the catalyst for the proclamation of the gospel. A wicked government may have twisted aims, but God uses its dysfunctional rulers to accomplish His higher purposes.
Why does God appoint rulers like Nero, Herod, Pontius Pilate and Hitler to serve as rulers? We cannot know the full mind of God on these matters, but we can say this:
- God has the long term in mind; though the short term looks bad to us, it always serves His larger purpose and works for ultimate good.
- God’s ultimate aim is to complete the Great Commission and glorify Himself.
- God uses rulers to discipline His people and bring them out of complacency and ingratitude to depend upon Him.
- God demonstrates through wicked rulers that He is not limited by human wickedness in accomplishing His greater good.
- Bad rulers have a way of deepening our faith in God so that we call upon Him to work in marvelous ways.
- Bad rulers move us to pray better prayers, develop more godly voting standards, and seek more godly ways of persuasion and action to influence political leaders.
Whenever we fail to pray for our leaders, regardless of their political persuasion, we sin against God. Evangelist Billy Graham has met privately with all kinds of political leaders. He says, “We sometimes forget that some of the loneliest people in the world are those who are constantly in the public eye. They have spiritual needs just like everyone else. I have found many world leaders who sense that our problems today are so complex as to defy [human] solution. They know that the only answer is to be found in God.”
We often forget that the halls of government are also mission fields for the gospel. In India, we have had many opportunities to befriend numerous political leaders—not all of them Christian—who regularly come asking prayer for help with the deep burdens they carry.
Both church and state are God’s avenues to do His will. Let our prayers for our leaders come out of the abundance of our certainty in God and our own daily dialogue with Him so that we might prepare the way for completion of the Great Commission.