1 Timothy 2:1-8
The apostle Paul has a word from God which we all need to hear. The word is found in his first letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verses 1–8:
Therefore, I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
The main point Paul wants to make this morning is the command to pray, and he mentions three things about this command to pray that we should listen to very carefully. First, he mentions its importance: "First of all, I urge you to pray!" Second, he mentions the wideness of its scope: "Pray for all men, especially kings and all in high positions." Third, he mentions the content or aim of these prayers: they include thanksgiving and the request that our lives be spent in peace and tranquility to the end that men might be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Prayer Is of First Importance
First, let's focus on the importance of the command to pray for others. Why Paul thinks this is of first importance becomes clear when we look at the preceding context. Notice the word "then" or "therefore" in verse 1: "therefore, I urge that you to pray for all men." That word alerts us to the fact that Paul's command to pray for all men is a conclusion that follows from something he had just said. In the preceding verses (1:18–20) Paul charged Timothy to "wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience." And he warns Timothy that, if you reject a good conscience, you may make shipwreck of your faith, like Hymenaeus and Alexander did. A good conscience is a conscience that does not condemn us for the things we do or don't do.
So, Paul's charge to Timothy to hold on to faith by keeping a good conscience is important.
That is what Paul says in verse 1. Since you must keep a good conscience in order not to wreck your faith, therefore I urge you first of all to pray for all men. At the top of Paul's list of things that we must do in order to keep a clear conscience is to pray for other people. In order to see why failing to pray for people will lead to a bad conscience and so jeopardize our faith, we have to ask, "What is it that will prick a Christian's conscience in his relations to other people?" All God's instruction is summed up in this: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. With that as a foundation we can start to see why prayer for other people is at the top of Paul's list of things we must do in order to keep a clear conscience.
What Makes Prayer So Important?
First, prayer taps the power of God on behalf of others. We could try to help others, without praying for them. And, from a very limited perspective, we might do a little good that way. But the little good that we could do on our own is not worthy to be compared with the great good God can do for people that he sets out to work for. If we want the best for people, if we really love them, of first importance will be prayers on their behalf. The first thing you do for a person, if you love them, is to ask God to work for them.
God's influence is everywhere and immediate, so if we lift up prayer to him on behalf of the saints, we can reach around the world in an instant. If a Christian wants to do the most good possible to the most people in the short time he has, he will turn to God first, whose influence reaches to every mind in the universe.
Pray for All Men
The second major focus is the breadth or scope of Paul's command to pray. "Make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions." Have you ever been tempted to pray like this? "God, bless everybody in the best way possible. To you be the glory. Amen." That covers everything, right? A text like this, which commands us to pray for all men, might tempt us to pray in sweeping generalizations like that, since you can't begin to name all men. But God has not taught us to pray like that, and we can be sure Jesus did not spend whole nights praying like that.
It is a great blessing if each day we have our daily bread. It is a blessing if our trespasses are forgiven. It is a blessing if we are not led into temptation but delivered from evil. But Jesus does not teach us to say, "Bless the Lord." He teaches us to say, "Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil." We have been taught to pray about particular kinds of problems. And when Paul needed help, he asked it for himself in particular.
If we give Paul serious reading, what he seems to be saying is this: "Timothy, push out the boundaries of your concern. Do not let your prayers be limited to any one group of people or kind of people. Enlarge the area of your love. Let your prayers embrace all kinds of people.
Isn't Paul's point the same as Jesus' when He said, You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy!" But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
There is no category of people that we can say, "You should not pray for them."
Pray for Kings and All in High Positions
After Paul has stressed that we pray for all men, he singles out kings "and all in high positions" to make sure that we include them. Why? I can see at least two reasons.
The first is that these people had characteristics that made it especially difficult for the early Christians (and for us) to pray for them. For example, they were so distant, so remote, if not in actual miles, then at least in accessibility. It is hard to pray earnestly for someone you don't know, and especially hard to pray for somebody you never see. Or to pray for that president or congressperson whose policies you don’t agree with. Yet, this difficulty needs to be overcome, Paul says. You must pray for them: emperors like Nero, governors like Pilate, kings like Herod. Remember these men were really bad men. They may seem remote and inaccessible, but they are not remote and inaccessible to God.
Another characteristic that makes rulers hard to pray for is that they are often godless men, insensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This was almost universally true in Paul's day. And in most countries around the world today I think it would still be true. It does not matter where or when we have lived, to obey God's command to pray for all in high positions will involve us in praying for many people who are indifferent or hostile to our faith.
But this should not cause us to hesitate one moment to pray for them, first, because God may save them and bring them to a knowledge of the truth, and second, because God uses rulers to accomplish his purposes whether they believe in him or not.
No king, no president, no premier, can stay the hand of the Lord when he has purposed to do a thing. "the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. Like the rivers of water, He turns it wherever He wishes" (Proverbs 21:1). "Many are the plans of the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established" (Proverbs 19:21).
So then, we have strong encouragement to pray for kings and for all in high positions, whether they are believers or not, because our God reigns, and no one can stop His will from being done.
This is the second reason Paul stressed that we must pray for kings and all in high positions, because through them God is able to do so much good for others, whether the kings know it or not. Paul's thought is this, "If you want your prayers to do the most good for the greatest number of people, be sure to include in your prayers those persons whose decisions create the conditions in which the purposes of the gospel prosper." It is important to pray for leaders because the conditions they create either advance or impede the gospel.
Pray with Thanksgiving for the Spread of the Gospel
We can confirm that this is the way Paul is thinking when look at up our third point, the content of our prayers for kings and all in high positions. According to verse 1 our prayers must include thanksgivings. When Paul wrote this, he was probably under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial before Nero who eventually executed him. Therefore, Paul is not naïve when he says, "I urge that . . . thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all in high positions." He sees things in much greater perspective than merely in relation to his own life or even his own ministry. The same emperor who executes Paul maintains the peace in the provinces where the gospel is spreading like wildfire. So, our prayers for kings should be seasoned with thanks.
But the main thing Paul mentions as the content of our prayer for kings and those in high positions is "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and respectfulness" (verse 2). Taken by itself, that request might seem to fly right in the face of everything we've said so far. Is it true in the final analysis that all we are really after in praying for our leaders is peace and tranquility? That would be a misunderstanding of God's Word. Verses 3 and 4 sharpen the focus of what Paul is really after. Why pray that rulers will keep the peace? Because "this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." God approves of our prayers for peace and tranquility because he approves of the advance of the gospel. Peace is not the main thing; salvation is the main thing. Tranquility is not the goal; the knowledge of the truth of God, that's the goal.
We pray for advancement of the saving purposes of God in every land. And to that end we can say, "Almighty God, ruler of heaven and earth, grant to the president, congress, the senate, and the thousands of other people in high positions that the decisions they make will create the conditions in which the good news of Jesus Christ will bear the most fruit for the salvation of men and for your great glory. Amen."
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, July 28 2019)
Russell Long, Elder