A vital aspect of this prayer for the church's mission is prayer for the state. This practice began with the worship of the Diaspora Jews, who were thus to ensure the people's prosperity in a pagan environment (Jer 29:7). Back in the Jews' own land, this prayer was coupled with offering sacrifices for the king, the whole of which came to be an expression of loyalty (Ezra 6:9-10; 1 Macc 7:33).
These two ideas, with a slight twist, seem to have come together in the New Testament church's thinking. On the one hand, the church was to respect state rulers and to submit to the institution of the state. The theological rationale for this obedience was the fact that the state and human government are a part of God's creative will (Rom 13:1; 1 Pet 2:13). But from a more practical standpoint, a submissive posture toward the state would lend the church credibility in the eyes of the world (1 Pet 2:15). The church was to express its submission by paying taxes (Rom 13:7), honoring the ruling authorities (Rom 13:7; 1 Pet 2:17) and praying for kings and all those in authority.
The twist comes in that while the immediate goal of prayer for the state is that it fulfill its God-given function of maintaining an orderly, peaceful environment (v. 2: that we may live peaceful and quiet lives), this goal is meant to serve a higher end. What is sought is the best of conditions for expanding God's kingdom, not simply a peaceful life. The context determines the overriding interest in salvation, from which the meaning of verse 2 must be derived. Furthermore, the description of the manner of Christian living (in all godliness and holiness) contains hints of witness. Godliness is Paul's term in the Pastorals for "genuine Christianity"; it brings together knowledge of and faith in God and the observable response of lifestyle. Holiness (NIV), better translated as "seriousness," suggests a deportment of respectability that is evident to observers. The manner of life here described has the evaluating eye of the observer in mind (1 Tim 3:7; 6:1; Tit 2) and is meant to recommend the gospel to those who look on.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.