Exposition of I Timothy 2:1-7 and Related Passages
The subject on which I will now write was given to me in question form and I was privileged to speak on it for the meeting of the Men’s League meeting held in Hudsonville recently. It was the desire and decision of the League that this lecture given in their midst be published for the benefit of a wider reading circle, and I gladly comply with that decision. Herewith I then make a beginning of publishing the same in the present form.
It should be borne in mind that I was given a mandate and request from the committee of the Men’s League to answer the question, “Must we pray for those in authority?” You will bear with me that I recast this question into a positive proposition; that, instead of speaking on the question, I speak on the answer which I believe is clearly and succinctly given in Holy Writ. The understanding reader will perceive that I could very well simply have spoken on I Tim. 2:2; that I could simply have read this text, and sat down, and considered my task ended as far as the question is concerned. However, I took it that the original questioner was well aware of this passage from I Timothy 2:1-7 and related passages, and that it was his desire that this question should be treated in a thetical and constructive way in the light of all of Scripture.
Certainly the Men’s League and no one of my readers is really interested in my private opinion concerning this matter. Should anyone think that I am going to write my opinion in this study and lecture concerning the demerits and merits of the candidates for the presidency of the United States, he must needs be disappointed in this study; he had better be disenchanted. I hold that in the church we are interested in the more sure prophetic word which shines as a light in a dark place—until the day dawn and the daystar arise in our hearts. II Peter 1:19. The undersigned is only interested to have such a discussion of the subject that hearers and readers are assured in their hearts that what I write and spoke is: thus saith the Lord!
I have looked at my task in this light and have made a survey of the Bible on the question of the prayers of the saints for those in authority, as these prayers are concerned with the gathering of the church, the course and progress of the Gospel-preaching in all the world, and the final coming of the Kingdom of heaven in the day of Christ. Our task is thus that of exegesis, synthetical exegesis. YOU WILL DO WELL TO KEEP YOUR BIBLE AT HAND.
To properly understand our subject I find it profitable to develop three theses for your consideration, which I here submit.
Those in Authority Are Ministers of God
The classic Scriptural passage which we must here consider to give direction to our thinking is, no doubt,Romans 13:1-7. However, there are many other passages both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament which we must pass in review at this juncture.
We place on the foreground the proposition that all government in the world is ordained of God!
Thus in the Old Testament we have the original mandate to Adam, so to speak, concerning his subduing all things in the earthly creation. In the monologue of God recorded in Gen. 1:26 we read, “Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” This is dominion, government with which Adam was vested as the viceroy of God. When God saw all that he had made and that it was “very good,” this also included the government of man over the three aspects of creation: sea, air, and land!
Again, in the Old Testament Scriptures we have the well-known passage in Gen. 9:5, 6, where we read: “And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at the hand of every beast will I re quire it, and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require it. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Whether we may conclude from this passage that before the Deluge there was no government vested with the sword, and that God Himself did this directly without the instrumentality of man, we leave an open question, and to the area of conjecture, and to those who fancy it their duty to speculate where the Scriptures make no clear revelation and pronouncement. However, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt that here in Gen. 9:5, 6 God definitely spells out the authority of the sword-power against those who break the second table of the law, and in so doing the first table of the law. Matt. 22:34-40. The Scriptures here teach capital punishment upon the murderer who has put forth his murderous hand against the man created in God’s image!
When we turn to the Bible and study the civil laws in Israel we notice that here the Lord definitely makes a distinction between the moral law, the Decalogue, the ceremonial laws, and the civil laws. The moral law is eternal, and is of central, basic importance. It is the law of all laws. The ceremonial laws are a part of the dispensation of the grace of God under the shadows, portraying the Christ to come. The civil laws dealt with the matters of civil affairs and the sword-power against the transgressors of both the first and second tables of the law. In a word, it dealt with: false religion, murderers, thieves, adulterers, liars.
In all of these cases we have considered the outstanding fact: all government is ordained of God!That, let it be remembered, is our basic proposition.
In the New Testament Scriptures we refer primarily for this point to Romans 13:1-7. Paul speaks here not simply concerning “authority,” but definitely concerning the “powers that be.” Here we read: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but of God, and the powers that be are ordained of God,” Now these powers which were in that day of Rome were not the most acceptable from the viewpoint of personal liberty! Nero was on the throne! It was the year 60 A.D. when Paul wrote this letter to the Romans. Once and again he would have desired to come to Rome, but he had been let hitherto. But as soon as he could he would come to Rome too. The conclusion is warranted that what Paul writes in Romans 13 was written after his third missionary journey and possibly while he is a prisoner in Caesarea these two years. It was about this time that while in Festus’ court he says: “I appeal to Caesar.” It is good to bear that in mind, that Paul was under the imperial state of Rome when he writes Romans 13 concerning the duty of every soul to subject themselves to the powers that be. He is a living example of it in his own life, which will lead eventually to his execution at Rome. Tradition has it that he was beheaded outside of Rome at the Tre Fontane. Even though he must stand trial before Nero in Rome, that frivolous monster of iniquity, he teaches and acknowledges such as being ordained of God. They are the powers that be! Ministers of God, who must be God’s vice-roys on earth in civil affairs! He takes the position, the exalted position of Daniel, as we have this recorded in Daniel 2:20-23, where we have a rhapsody of Daniel, a prayer, an acknowledgement of God. Here we read: “Daniel answered and said, Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his: and he changeth the times and seasons: he removeth kings and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things; he knoweth what is in darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. I thank thee and praise thee, O thou God of my fathers, who hast given me wisdom and might, and hast made known unto me now what we desired of thee: for thou hast now made known unto us the king’s matter.” Daniel takes the stand there that God lifts up the kings and dethrones them, even though this be done through the machinations of men, of one against the other!
Or let us heed Paul’s beautiful oration as he stands in the Areopagus in Athens in Mars Hill as we have it inActs 17:26, where we read: “And he hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation.” Just how long a nation shall be a nation, where their geographical boundaries will be, is determined by God, as we read in Deuteronomy 32:7-9: “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father and he will shew thee; thy elders and they will tell thee: When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD’S portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” This setting of the boundaries of the nations was according to the number of the children of Israel, so that it had to serve the gathering of the elect, the church, out of every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
Paul in Romans 13 teaches definitely that there is no authority but by God. I would like to point out that according to the Greek text twice it is emphatically stated that government is thus by God, in such a manner, that it is in the world without human intervention or medium. Government is not in the world through men, but it is a reality by God’s secret providence, in his inscrutable wisdom as he directs the affairs of men, so that there is never a place under the sun, under heaven, where there is no government! You can have the most chaotic circumstances, you can have revolutions, you can have bloodshed; but, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an inter-regnum. There is no hiatus in God’s ordinance between the two regimes. God maintains government. Let me here state that poor government is always better than no government. Government is of God; government may be poor, but it is far better than anarchy!
And that government is of God, Jesus, the Son of God, Himself confesses before Pilate, as recorded in John 19:11, where he says: “Thou wouldest not have (be having) authority against Me at all, except it were given thee from above.” And there again in the Greek text Jesus uses “thou wouldst not be having this authority constantly.” It is the verb tense giving us a moving-picture view. PILATE WOULD NOT BE HAVING THIS authority except it had been given him, as it culminates in this trial, except it were given him from above. And we know that Pilate, not so many years later, was defrocked by Caesar because of his maladministrations and cruelties, and banished into Gaul (Spain).
In the light of the foregoing we take the stand that all authority is of God and is ordained of God!
In the second place under this proposition that government is of God I want to point out that those who are in authority must be obeyed for conscience’ sake, that is, for the sake of a conscience that bows before the Word of God. It must be a sanctified conscience! It must not be conscience which pretends to be an autonomous guide and rule apart from the revealed will of God. In Romans 13 Paul is speaking to the church and not to the world. He is addressing those whom he can beseech by the mercies of God that they walk in their reasonable service, and that they approve what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God—also in respect to those in authority. Only they whose sins are forgiven, only they who are sanctified by the grace of God, only they who have renewed hearts and enlightened minds, have a sanctified conscience, and can for conscience’ sake bow in godliness before the authorities.
(to be continued)