Nero was a liar and a murderer. And, in his time, he also happened to be perhaps the most powerful man in the world. That’s a dangerous combination that often leads to suffering. In this case, it was Christians who suffered.
Nero set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians for it. As a result, many followers of Christ paid the punishment for a crime they did not commit.
In light of all of that, Paul gave a strange command to the church in Ephesus.
Pray for Nero.
How often we forget to do that these days. It’s easy to criticize our leaders, especially when we do so in front of a crowd of people who agree with us. It’s much harder to pray for our leaders. All you need in order to criticize the president is a platform and some degree of anger. To pray for him requires humility and submission to God’s will.
And a little consistency.
Many conservatives talk about respecting the president. So tell a crowded church to pray for President Trump and you’ll likely get a lot of Amens and maybe even a few salutes in return. But many of the folks who today are telling us to respect the president are the same ones who not even a year ago were passing around memes comparing the Obamas to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.
It’s no better on the left. The folks who today are praising professional athletes for condemning the president and refusing to visit the White House with their championship teams are the same ones who accused other athletes of being bigoted for doing the same thing a year or two ago.
Why is this?
It’s because we would rather identify with our earthly rulers than commune with our real Ruler. Depending on whether we like him or not, we tend to view the president as an all-powerful benevolent dictator worthy of our worship or all-powerful tyrant who leaves us no other option but obsessive and paralyzing fear.
I like Paul’s option much better.
In both the bullying of the Obama administration and the chaos of the Trump administration, I’ve heard a lot of believers asking what we’re supposed to do.
The answer couldn’t be more clear.
We need to pray so, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2, ESV).
Paul goes on to say that, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:3, ESV).
This is not to say that we should never question the president or any other government ruler. There are times when condemnation is necessary. But there is never a time when prayer is not needed.
Some churches are known for worshiping the man in the White House, as if he were God.
Other churches are known for fearing the man in the White House, as if he were the AntiChrist.
The church that pleases God will be known for praying for the man in the White House, as if they’ve known all along Who’s really in charge.