The spirit of error
1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(1 Tim. 2:1-4 NKJV)
The occasion and context of the passage of scripture quoted above is very interesting. Paul, who is recognized by most biblical scholars as the author of this epistle addressed to Timothy, is writing, among other things, to encourage his son Timothy in his extremely difficult task of dealing with various doctrinal errors and practices taking place at the church at Ephesus.
This Ephesian church, as you will recall, was birthed through Paul during his third missionary journey. Upon arriving in Ephesus Paul was introduced to a group of disciples (twelve men) who were followers of John the Baptist’s teachings, but who were not yet introduced to the gospel of Jesus Christ or the person of the Holy Spirit. Upon discovering this, Paul proceeds to upgrade them in present truth, baptizes them in the name of Jesus, and lays hands on them for the impartation of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. Not only do they speak with tongues, but they prophesy as well (Acts 19:1-7).
This is a Spirit-filled, tongue-talking, prophesying church. They have apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers operating within their midst (Eph. 4:11). However, with all the spiritual resource and five-fold ministry leadership available, they were still being assaulted by doctrinal error and incorrect religious practices.
According to Paul, this error was the result of deep internal deficiencies on the part of those desiring to be teachers. They were lacking in love from a pure heart, a good conscience and sincere faith (1 Tim. 1:5-7, 19-20).
Error doesn’t start from poor biblical understanding; it starts from an incorrect internal posture – an impure heart, a defiled conscience and hypocritical faith. When your heart or conscience is defiled everything else gets defiled, including the revelation you claim to receive from God. To the degree that there is defilement within you will be the degree that there is defilement or error in your ministry and teaching, which is why God always focuses on our heart rather than our actions (Prov. 4:23; 1 Sam. 16:7).
With this context in mind, Paul is exhorting the Ephesian believers to pray for all men (people), and in doing so he identifies several different aspects of prayer:
* Supplications – petition; to make known a particular need.
* Prayers – prayer addressed to God; a place set apart for prayer.
* Intercessions – interview, conference or conversation; petition made on behalf of oneself or another.
* Thanksgiving – expression of gratitude and thankfulness to God.
Rather than get too technical with the various terms Paul chooses to use in his exhortation for prayer – which most scholars believe was not his intention – I want to point out that none of these terms carry a negative connotation. This point will be developed further shortly.
With the doctrinal errors and incorrect practices taking place within this community of Kingdom citizens, Paul’s first course of action is to correct the deficiencies in their personal and corporate prayer initiatives, because our prayers very often are a reflection of what is going on in our hearts.
It would appear that a spirit of exclusivism and/or narcissism had taken hold of their hearts so that their prayers – both individually and corporately – were focused upon themselves and their immediate community without a genuine love or concern for the wider community beyond them. They were self-consumed, focusing upon their own ministry, leaders, needs, churches, people, etc.
Any church or ministry whose prayer initiatives are focused exclusively upon themselves and their personal vision is a church or ministry operating in error! When it comes to prayer God does not discriminate, and neither should we. Prayer should be offered up to God for all men (people).
Paul then continues to elaborate on this point by identifying two key groups of people who should be given particular emphasis when it comes to prayer: Earthly or civil government and all those who operate within a position of authority. His purpose for placing emphasis on civil government and earthly leaders is not for attacking them with vicious prayers like that denounced by Isaiah (Isa. 58:4), neither was it for the purpose of coming against their legislation, as biblically offensive or inaccurate as it may be. It was not for the purpose of asking God to remove them from power. None of the words used by Paul carry such a negative connotation. They are supplications for, not against! Prayers offered up for, not against! Intercessions made on behalf of, not against! Thanksgiving and gratitude for, not complaining or griping against!
In fact when you examine the text and the verbiage Paul uses to describe the purpose of these prayers for civil government and leadership, you discover that it was not to change them or the situation or circumstances, but to change us instead.
“…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
The word quiet in this text is translated from the Greek word ḗremos, meaning composed, quiet and tranquil. It describes an inner quality and disposition that is not affected by what is going on externally around it. The word peaceable is similar. It is translated from the Greek word hēsúchios, meaning still, quiet and undisturbed from without. Godliness and reverence carry the same connotation of being a description of an inner disposition or quality. They describe an inward reality that is not determined by outward circumstances.
This principle is extremely important, because it runs counter to what is practiced by most of Christendom today. I am horrified by the dishonor that we give to earthly leaders who are either non-religious or hold to a different value system than ours. Our current president here in America, Barak Obama, receives nowhere close to the support of his predecessor, George W. Bush Jr., from the evangelical religious community because he is not recognized as “Christian”. Very few will genuinely pray for him, the protection of himself and his family, or for his success in government. You would think that there was a hidden clause somewhere in the text that made it read “for godly kings and all Christian leaders who are in authority…”, but there isn’t! There are absolutely no preconditions!
Recently I was approached by a young prophet who was inquiring of me whether or not I felt that President Barak Obama would be reelected in the upcoming elections. When I responded that several of my peers received visions that he would be and that I had no reason to doubt them, he immediately began to rebuke it and pleaded with me to pray against it, claiming he (the president) was wicked and needed to be removed! All I could do was shake my head and walk away.
I know people who call themselves “intercessors” who make it their duty to pray against our current president and who petition God to raise up someone else in his place. I have heard just about every foul word used by Christian and non-Christian alike against our duly elected leadership. I have seen less than flattering posts being made on Facebook and Twitter as Christians I know make fun of him and insult him. I have seen religious leaders mobilize prayer and support among all denominations of Christianity against him and his government. After listening to the propaganda from some of these religious groups or organizations you would believe that God was a Republican and President Obama was the anti-Christ.
We use prayer as a weapon to wound and kill instead of bless and build. There are even some recognized prophets here in America who not only practice this evil, but who teach others to do the same. But the principle of the Kingdom is not that we overcome evil with greater evil – i.e. witchcraft prayers – but that we overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
(James 3:8-10 ESV)
How can we bless God with our mouths and then turn around and use it to curse (speak evil of) the very same people made in God’s image? In the words of James, these things ought not to be so!
It’s interesting to note that the current civil leadership in power during the time of writing of this epistle by Paul was the wicked emperor Nero. This was the same leader responsible for murdering thousands of Christians and torturing them to death in the Roman Coliseums. He was as anti-Kingdom and as anti-religion as they come, wickedly insane. Yet Paul exhorts the Kingdom citizens at Ephesus to pray for him, not petition God for his removal or death; and in doing so they would find quietness, stillness, rest, peace, godliness and reverence within their souls despite the intense persecution and turmoil taking place around them – peace in the midst of the storm and victory in the midst of the crisis (Isa. 58:10)!
According to Paul, this is the only type of response that God will call good and acceptable in His sight; when we pray for them instead of against them, because He desires all men (mankind) to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. This suggests that an inaccurate response – one that makes prayer a weapon of evil, judgment or vengeance – is capable of not only hindering or hampering the salvation of men, but can give an inaccurate representation of God and His Kingdom by blinding them to the knowledge of the truth. This applies not just to prayer but to every word that proceeds out of our mouths.