Preaching to his congregation on 1 Timothy 2, John MacArthur urged his congregation to pray for political leaders, even ones that the members of the congregation don’t agree with. Writing during the time of Nero, 1 Timothy 2 focuses on prayer, particularly for kings and those in authority, saying, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour…” On speaking of praying for leaders, MacArthur said, “We need to know that this is God’s calling for us. 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.”
MacArthur emphasized that salvation is for all, saying, “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.” He reminded his congregation that Nero was the ruler at the time of Paul’s letter. Nero is one of the greatest persecutors of the Christian church, with Peter and Paul being traditionally believed to have been martyred during his reign. MacArthur, however, pointed at the similarities between Paul and Nero.
Prior to his conversion to Christianity, Paul had been known as Saul and had persecuted many Christians, including Stephen, the first Christian martyr. “[Paul] would not be one that you would want to pray for any more than you’d want to pray for Nero. But God saved Paul,” MacArthur said. MacArthur speculated that Paul’s conversion was a direct result of Stephen’s prayer for his persecutors. “Could it not be that the conversion of Saul in chapter nine was, in part, an answer to the prayer of Stephen… 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.”
The sermon is notable because of MacArthur’s numerous battles with his state’s governor, Gavin Newsom. MacArthur famously refused to shut down his church during the 2020 COVID pandemic and remained in violation of Newsom’s directives against indoor worship. Courts later ordered California and LA County to pay MacArthur’s Grace Community Church $800,000 over COVID restrictions. More recently, MacArthur took Newsom to task for pro-abortion billboards that were put across the state. The billboards cited Mark 12:31, which earned MacArthur’s ire. In an open letter to Gavin Newsom, MacArthur wrote, “Scripture also teaches that it is the chief duty of any civic leader to reward those who do well and to punish evildoers (Romans 13:1–7). You have not only failed in that responsibility; you routinely turn it on its head, rewarding evildoers and punishing the righteous. The Word of God pronounces judgment on those who call evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), and yet many of your policies reflect this unholy, upside-down view of honor and morality.” He blasted Newsom’s support of abortion amongst other things. Yet, despite his stark warnings, he ended his letter with that same call for prayer. “Our church, and countless Christians nationwide, are praying for your full repentance. Please respond to the gospel, forsake the path of wickedness you have pursued all your life, turn to Christ, ask for forgiveness, and use your office to advance the cause of righteousness (as is your duty) instead of undermining it (as has been your pattern).” He ended with a quote from 2 Corinthians 6:2, “now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation.”