Prayer and the Gospel

Prayer and the Gospel

As we continue in our study of I Timothy, we yet again get a glimpse this morning of how timeless are the issues that Scripture addresses. Having encouraged his spiritual son, Timothy, to challenge those who were misteaching God’s law in chapter one—and sharing, in the process how Paul himself had been one of those false teachers when he used to persecute Jesus Christ as he sought to destroy his church—Paul begins this second chapter by urging Timothy “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” So perhaps we should begin by asking what the difference in nuance is between the various words Paul is using in this context:

A petition[1] is “an appeal or [urgent] request” to God;

A prayer[2] is “a solemn request for help;”

Intercession[3] is “the action of intervening on behalf of another” in prayer;

And finally thanksgiving[4] is “the expression of gratitude.”

So think about it. This is what our attitude should be towards others—towards all people. We should make our requests and appeals to our loving and heavenly Father knowing that he loves us and trusting that he hears and is responsive to us. And because to be made in God’s image means not only that we are all tied to the God in whose image we are made but are also tied to all others also made in his image, we should intervene on their behalf before our Lord, for when we do, in his kindness God often helps us see how he is working in others’ lives. We should bring all others before our gracious Lord, because all people, having been made in God’s image, will function best, i.e., will function as God intended, as they become aware of and intentionally live in relationship to him. So we are to pray for others with a sense of urgency and seriousness, asking that God intervene or act on their behalf.

Now we don’t pray because God won’t act unless we pray. It isn’t the case that God is passive and in need of being persuaded to care about others. We don’t need to convince God to love his creation. To think this would be backwards. In fact God is love and the only reason you or I or anyone is able to know, feel, and express love is because we are made in his image and therefore are made with the capacity and ability to love him and others. But we need to pray—which is simply another way of saying we need to talk with God about anything and everything—because this is the way he made us. This is the means he has provided for us to communicate with and learn from him. Prayer is how we are able to get to know and draw closer to God. And as we pray, we are often enabled to see how he is working in the lives of others as well. So prayer doesn’t cause God to act; prayer helps us to get to know him and see and understand what he is doing for he is a Person. Just as you and I are able to get to know each other by talking with one another, so too prayer—talking with God—is one of the means he has provided for us to know him.

Prayer—talking with God, both individually and in the presence of other believers—is important if we would develop not a birds-eye view, but a God’s-eye view, of our earthly lives. Prayer also helps us see and understand and embrace how God is at work. But we’re not just to bring our requests, prayers, and intercession before him with urgency and seriousness. We are not just called to be concerned about all others and therefore pray for them, but we are also to make thanksgiving for all people. We should thank God for all people. We should express our gratitude. We should be ready to show our appreciation to him that they share this earth with us at this time in history.

In verse two, Paul becomes more specific about some of the “all people” he has in mind. He identifies some of the “all people” for whom we are to urgently and seriously pray and intercede and give thanksgiving. Specifically we are to make “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” (1) “for kings and all those in authority” (2). We’ve mentioned in the Adult Ed class that we, as Christians, are citizens of two realms or kingdoms. We are citizens of heaven by virtue of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us; and we are citizens of earth by virtue of having been called by God to be stewards over the earth. But we shouldn’t separate these kingdoms in the sense of assuming the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other for God is God not only over Christians, over those who are now part of his heavenly kingdom, but he is also God over earth and all earthly kingdoms. Now this doesn’t mean that earthly kingdoms reflect his will and ways at every point—in fact the infamous emperor Nero[5] was in power when Paul wrote these words to Timothy—but it does mean that because God is God over all the world, he is able to work in all realms. And that includes worldly authorities. So you and I should urgently pray and intercede and express our gratitude for “for kings and all those in authority.” The passage doesn’t say “all those in authority with whom we agree” or “all those in authority whom we like” or “all those in authority with whom we share similar views.” No, we’re simply called to pray urgently and intercede and offer our thanksgiving for “kings and all those in authority”—or the equivalent of our president, governors, and senators.

And notice as well the reason why Paul calls us to pray for kings and those in authority: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Well that doesn’t sound disinterested, does it? Haven’t we often been told that we as Christians are called to selfless, not being concerned for our own welfare? Yet isn’t Paul expressing the opposite of being disinterested here? Rather than suggesting that we shouldn’t be influenced by considerations of personal advantage—the definition of disinterested—he seems to be saying just the opposite in terms of the prayers we make for kings and those in authority. Pray for these, Paul exhorts Timothy, “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Keep in mind that from its inception—beginning with the One who is the reason Christianity exists, Jesus Christ—Christians have been the object of persecution wherever they have lived. Beginning with Jesus, we see him being brought to trial before both Jewish (the priests and the Sanhedrin judicial body) and Roman leaders (Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea). And we saw last week how Paul, when he was still called Saul, did his best to destroy—to imprison and put to death—men and women who were followers of Jesus Christ. And we know that after Paul committed his life to serving Christ, he, too, became the object of persecution along with other believers. So we might think that one who has come to experience religious persecution and been a victim of it would view those in authority as the enemy, as those who should always be disobeyed, and government as an institution we should to seek to overthrow. But we would be wrong.

In fact the apostle Paul did not hesitate to use his society’s civil laws to his own advantage. In the book of Acts[6] we are provided with an account in which Paul and Silas, his colleague and brother in Christ, confronted a female slave who was making “a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling”[7] and she was able to do so by means of a spirit within her. Paul commanded that the spirit come out of her[8] and thus did away with the source of income for her owners. These owners were not happy. They then had Paul and Silas brought before the magistrates—the civil officers who administered law—by claiming “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”[9] In other words, they lied. Regardless, this lie worked and both the magistrates and the crowds attacked Paul and Silas, had them stripped, beat them with rods, and then severely flogged them, threw them into prison, and appointed a jailer to guard them carefully who did so not only by putting them in an inner cell but also by fastening their feet in the stocks.[10]

Now one of the many interesting components of this account is that Paul and Silas, though in prison and despite having been beaten, “were praying and singing hymns to God” as “the other prisoners were listening to them.”[11] And as they were doing so, around midnight “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose”[12] and the end result was that their jailer—along with his entire household—came to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And so their captor became their servant as he washed their wounds, brought them to his own house, and set a meal before them. [13]

But in this account, there’s yet another unexpected component. At daybreak Paul’s jailer let Paul know that the officers of the magistrate were allowing Paul to be released.[14] Yet rather than happily leave now that he was free, Paul refused and instead said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”[15] The officers were rightly alarmed upon learning this so, “They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.”[16]

Though perhaps a long way around, this account is an illustration of what Paul is saying to Timothy in I Timothy 2:2. We’re not to pretend we aren’t citizens of the societies in which we find ourselves, but are encouraged by Paul to work within those structures, fallen though they may be—Paul was wrongly beaten and imprisoned, after all—“that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” In the account in Acts, Paul used societal structures to his own end. Why didn’t he simply leave when released? Well, we’re not told, but I suspect that part of the reason is because Paul had no intention of ceasing to proclaim the Gospel. Under Roman law, he had every right to do so. Having been falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned, he was doing all that he could to make sure that the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel of Christ wouldn’t be hindered. And standing upon his Roman citizenship was part of the means he used to do so.

In verses 3 and 4 of I Timothy, Paul’s teaching to Timothy, his urging of Timothy, goes on to state: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The “this” he’s referring to is what he’s stated in the opening verses. It pleases God our Savior, it pleases Jesus Christ, when we offer “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” not only for “all people” but even “for kings and all those in authority.” And again the reason we’re to do so is “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” But here’s the thing. Part of the “peaceful and quiet lives” we as Jesus’ followers are to live “in all godliness and holiness” is not only that we’re to love the LORD, our God, with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and not only are we to love our neighbors as ourselves; but part of this living peacefully and quietly in all godliness and holiness means that we are to bear witness in word and deed so that those who don’t yet know Christ as their Savior and Lord might come to know him. As Paul states in verse four, Christ our Savior desires that “all people…be saved and…come to a knowledge of the truth.” In this context the “all people” probably means people from every socio-economic class within society. In other words, the Gospel isn’t just for common Jane’s and Joe’s like you and me but is even for those who rule in society. Jesus Christ came to save all types and kinds of people, whatever their station in life. God is kind even to the wicked—even to violent blasphemers as Paul had been. The Gospel is even for those who may abuse their rule in society. Paul is reminding Timothy that Christ Jesus came, and suffered, and died, and rose even for them for he is Lord over all so we must include all in our prayers and witness.

Coming “to a knowledge of the truth”—coming to a knowledge that Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the life[17]—is what we, God’s image-bearers, were made for. If, as we’ve often noted, to be made in the image of God means, as Anthony Hoekema[18] has observed, that we—all people—are inescapably related to God, then a knowledge of him is why we’re here. As Paul goes on to state in verse 5 and into verse 6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Paul is building here on the Jewish foundation of the shema from Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One. With the coming of Christ and the giving of his Holy Spirit, we learn that this One God has made himself known in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And Paul’s mentioning this one God may be to counter those mentioned in chapter 1 who were teaching the law falsely. But though we may not be dealing with false teachers of the law in our own day, we, too, have to address false teaching in our own day. Contrary to what our society would have us believe, all paths do not lead to God. It really does matter whether we follow Jesus Christ—or Allah, Mohammed’s God—or Vishna and Shiva, two gods in the Hindu pantheon of gods—or the Buddha as a spiritual guide and example—or no god at all. Again in verse 5 Paul makes clear that Jesus Christ is the one and only mediator between God and humanity whom our heavenly Father acknowledges and accepts. The Son is the only way for anyone to gain access to—to know—our kind and loving heavenly Father.

Now why do we need a mediator? A “mediator” is someone “who attempts to make people involved in a conflict come to an agreement; a go-between.” So why do humans need a go-between to intervene between God and us? Historically philosophers have noted that because we are finite and God is infinite, there’s a huge gap between us and God because how can that which is merely mortal come to know that which is immortal since we are different orders of being? So human finitude keeps us from knowing the infinite God. But Scripturally, the problem is framed quite differently. Because we are made in the image of God, we have been created by our Maker with an ability to know him—so knowledge of God in and of itself isn’t at issue because we were made with this capacity. However, because of the Fall—because of Adam and Eve’s conscious decision to disobey the voice of God, the command of God, and listen and obey instead the voice of the serpent, God’s enemy, we now need a go-between because our nature has changed and we no longer desire to have God as our head. We need to be reconciled to God—to have our relationship with God restored—because the most devastating effect of the Fall is that it’s resulted in humans being self-centered rather than God-centered, in being servers and lovers of self rather than servers and lovers of the God for whom and in whose image we’ve been made. So scripturally our dilemma—our problem—is that human sin keeps us from knowing a holy God. We are now sinful—we are now those who seek to be a law unto ourselves—but God is holy—he is the measure and standard of all that is truly good and right. And, what is worse, the Fall has resulted in our being blind to our need for God. To use Paul’s language in Romans, we are now by nature “hostile to God.”[19] This is why we need a mediator. This is why God in the person of Jesus Christ came to earth that we might have a means of knowing both what God is like and what humanity was intended to be like and so might return to our heavenly Father by means of the mediation he has provided in his Son. And God does this opening of our spiritually blind eyes by the work of his Holy Spirit who is able to convict us of the truth of who God in Christ is, and so helps us to turn from our ways to God’s ways, accepting Christ’s sacrifice—his obedience—his mediation—on our behalf.

Jesus Christ who was God in the flesh, is the one mediator God has provided as a ransom for us and our salvation. By his death on the cross, Christ paid the price necessary to free people from their sins. Apart from him we are prisoners of self and prisoners of the prince of this world. But the payment God in Christ has made on our behalf is his very life. Jesus Christ’s coming to earth 2000 years ago occurred, as Paul states “at the proper time.” It occurred in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies that God would one day send his Messiah to make things right—to restore shalom—to make things as God intended. And Paul and all the authors of the Gospels and epistles and other New Testament books witnessed this arrival of God’s Messiah in his Son, Jesus Christ, i.e., Jesus the Messiah. As John reminds us, what he and others are writing about and proclaiming is “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched.”[20] John and others knew Jesus Christ, the Word of life, and testified to him and proclaimed that “the eternal life, which was with the Father…has appeared to us.”[21]

And such was the case with Paul. Though he didn’t come to understand that Jesus was the Christ, that he was the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures, that he was God in the flesh, until after Christ had lived, suffered, died, risen from the dead, and ascended to heaven, nonetheless Paul, too, as we saw last week, had his life turned around the day that Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus Road. As he underscores in verse 7 to Timothy: “And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.”[22] Upon having his life changed by the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul’s purpose in life was to testify that Jesus Christ’s death has bridged the gap between the One, holy God and sinful humans and salvation has been made available to all who turn from their ways and turn to him—even to kings and those in authority. Paul is not only an apostle, one who is sent by God, but he is a herald—he is now one of God’s official messengers bringing not just any news, but the good news of God’s remedy in Christ for what ails us—the good news of God’s remedy for our sin.

Brothers and sisters, I began by noting the timeless nature of the truths we find in Scripture. We may feel disheartened at times—especially in this election cycle—about our leaders. But if Paul could urge Timothy and the churches under his charge to pray for their leaders, even the Emperor Nero, then we should pray for our leaders for it pleases God when we offer petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving for all people, even for kings and all those in authority. It pleases God when we use our heavenly citizenship, our knowledge of the One King over all the world, to serve our earthly citizenship. And we should ask Jesus, our King, that even our earthly leaders would come to a saving faith and knowledge of him; and we should pray these things to Jesus, our King, as well that we may be able to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness as we serve him on earth.

So let us take a moment to pray for our leaders and so please our gracious Savior and mediator who gave his life as a ransom that we and all others might be enabled to know and love him and others as he intended from the start.

Let us pray.




[1] Greek: “δεήσεις”

[2] Greek: “προσευχάς”

[3] Greek: “ἐντεύξεις”

[4] Greek: “εὐχαριστίας”

[5] Reformation Study Bible: Nero was Emperor from AD 54–68.

[6] The full account is Acts 16:1–40: 16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. 19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. 35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

[7] Acts 16:16.

[8] Acts 16:18.

[9] Acts 16:20b–21.

[10] Acts 16:22–24.

[11] Acts 16:25.

[12] Acts 16:26.

[13] Acts 16:30–34.

[14] Acts 16:35.–36

[15] Acts 16:37.

[16] Acts 16:38–39.

[17] John 14:6.

[18] Created in God’s Image.

[19] Romans 8:7.

[20] I John 1:1, 3.

[21] I John 1:2.

[22] Paul’s identity as the apostle to the Gentiles is also indicated in Romans 11:13, Galatians 2:8, Ephesians 3:1.

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