On Sunday, author and pastor John MacArthur urged his congregation to pray for political leaders, including the ones they oppose, saying it's God's will for the church and a powerful spiritual "weapon" to change society for the better.
The pastor of Grace Community Church in the suburbs of Los Angeles, MacArthur, made the comments during a sermon from 1 Timothy 2, where the Apostle Paul reminds first-century Christians to pray "for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." The same chapter urges believers to pray for the salvation of leaders.
Praying for leaders, MacArthur said, is an acknowledgment of prayer's power.
"We need to know that this is God's calling for us," he said. "Though it may seem hard, though there are a lot of things we don't like about the people in power over us, we would do an act of disobedience against our calling if we did not pray for our rulers' salvation. And that goes not only for governors, but all rulers all the way to the presidency and across the world."
Praying for leaders is "part of our ministry," MacArthur said.
"If you want to live a quiet life, if you want to live a peaceful life, in human society in all godliness and dignity, pray for the rulers," he said. "Because so much of what a society is, as we know very well, is a direct result of its rulers and leaders. And God wants us to pray for those who rule over us. … We are to pray for the salvation of all men, but especially for those who rule over us because that conversion at that level changes culture dramatically. So when things aren't the way you would like them to be – yes, we recognize sin has consequences, yes, we recognize divine judgment is operating. But still, the promise here is that we should pray for the conversion of rulers, because it will change life as we know it."
MacArthur noted that Nero was the Roman ruler when Paul wrote 1 Timothy.
"Why is that so strange? Because Nero was as wretched a ruler as would be possible or conceivable," MacArthur said.
Nero persecuted Christians.
"That's what Paul is saying. Pray for Nero, pray for his salvation, pray for magistrates, and judges and proconsuls and governors," MacArthur said.
As an example of prayer's power, MacArthur asserted that Paul's conversation may have been the result of Stephen's prayer in Acts 7. As Stephen is stoned to death in that chapter, he prays in verse 60 that God will forgive his tormentors. One of those tormentors was Saul, who was converted to Christianity in chapter nine and then became known as Paul.
"Could it not be that the conversion of Saul in chapter nine was, in part, an answer to the prayer of Stephen?" MacArthur asked. "... Stephen prayed for the forgiveness for those who took his life within a two-chapter span. That prayer was answered in the salvation of Paul."
Like Nero, Paul was a wretched man prior to his conversation, MacArthur said.
"He would not be one that you would want to pray for any more than you'd want to pray for Nero," MacArthur said. "But God saved Paul."
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.