1 Timothy 2:1-7 – “The Priority of Prayer”
Updated: Jun 10, 2020
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
We cannot begin to study these verses without first understanding that a transition has been made. The whole of chapter one focused in a single direction: To give general instruction to Timothy to confront false teachers. Beginning here in 2:1, Paul transitions to specific commands regarding the church and its leaders, as well as its members. Paul has made his case for the church’s authority (Christ through the Scripture). Now he will systematically bring the church in Ephesus (and the surrounding area) into conformity with that authority. Verse one reflects this transition well.
First of all, then
What follows should be understood as the first specific command given to a church body that is submissive to Christ and His word.
I urge that entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men
I don’t think we can move forward before we acknowledge and dwell on the obvious. That is, the very first thing the apostle Paul instructs Timothy to do, and by extension the elders and church at Ephesus, is to pray. “I urge” translates the Greek command παρακαλῶ that literally means, “to call alongside.” The most common and basic understanding of this verb is a call to toe the line. In other places the word is translated as exhort or, as it is here, urge.
Entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings
The first three of these four terms are more or less synonymous. There is no major distinction between them. But that, I believe, is the whole point. Paul is urging Timothy and the church at large to pray. In exhorting them to do so, Paul stacks up synonyms for prayer like cordwood to emphasize that point.
Out of all the things that Paul could have said, all the places where he could have begun, all the deficiencies that any given church has, Paul begins with prayer. That should be telling. Immediately following Paul’s defense of biblical authority (exposing false teachers, the purpose of the Law, the glory of the gospel, the worthiness of the fight for the gospel), Paul exhorts believers to pray. But this is no blank statement, “y’all need to pray more!” Paul is calling the elders and members of Christ’s body in Ephesus to toe the line and pray on behalf of all men. But why?
In the remaining verses, Paul gives four reasons why Timothy, the Ephesian church, and by extension we must pray for all men.
Stability: The Advancement of the Gospel (v. 2)
“For kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”
One of the biggest questions we need to answer, and the sooner we do so the better, is: What does all men mean? Paul urges that the Ephesian church prays concerning or on the behalf of all men. God desires for all men to be saved. Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. What does all mean? Sometimes knowing the right question to ask is the key to understanding. Any fool should be able to tell you what all means. All means all. It indicates totality. It denies exclusion. It encompasses everything to which it is assigned. Yet notice that Paul does not use every (indicating every individual within the group), but all (indicating the group as a whole). So perhaps our next question needs to look at the group. Instead of asking the question, “What does all mean?” Let’s ask the question, “What does Paul mean by men?”
This is obvious but I think it needs to be stated plainly. Paul is not distinguishing males from females in these verses, but is using men (ἀνθρώπων) to indicate the human race. But what is in view is not every single individual within the human race, but simply the race as a whole. Paul is not indicating every single person, but all people. There is a big difference between the two. The first looks at every individual, while the second identifies all kinds. Paul urges Timothy to pray for all kinds of people, and then names two specific kinds of people as heads/representatives of other kinds of people.
For kings and all who are in authority
People are divided among social, economical, political, and ethnic boundaries. This is true today as well as in Paul’s day. Do you know what you call people who govern or are in charge of those divisions? Kings and those in authority. Pray for all men. Pray for those who oversee all men. Why?
In order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity
The purpose of civil authority is to punish evil and promote righteousness. It is for this reason that God ordains and places those men into the positions they hold (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). But God’s purpose is not so that all might experience their best life now. God’s order and stability has always been the foundation from which the promised seed would come from the woman to crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 8:20-9:17) promised stability from which this promised seed might come. In a very similar manner, the civil authority established by God is supposed to keep chaos at bay for the expressed purpose of providing stability so that the gospel might be preached and believed.
This is not a prayer for the purpose of being left alone. This is a prayer for the civil authorities to restrain evil so that believers would live a life of obedience.
In order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life
This does not create a picture of Paul sipping an umbrella drink in a lounge chair on a sandy Caribbean beach. All it indicates is a life that is orderly and free from chaos. One can think of several occasions in Acts where complete chaos reigned (Acts 7:54-8:3; 14:19; 16:19-24; 21:27-22:29). If one is to look closely you will notice that in many of those instances the gospel is either being prevented or being reacted to. In other words, the chaos is because of the gospel, or it is preventing it from being preached. If you are to look at a few of these instances (Acts 14 and 16) and their wider context, the gospel is eventually preached and God’s grace is proven effective; but only after stability has come to the situation and chaos has been abated. Pray for all men. Pray that the leaders of all men would do their jobs and restrain chaos, so that we might lead quiet lives in all godliness and dignity.
The word dignity signifies a certain amount of seriousness. Some translations use the word holiness or even honesty. Both of these words miss the mark somewhat. Paul urges and exhorts prayer for stability so that Christians can be about their work. That is, make disciples (i.e. preach the gospel and train the saints).
Scope: The Gospel is for ALL men (vv. 3-4)
“This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
To pray in this manner, with this motivation, and for this purpose is perfectly within the revealed will of God. For that reason Paul can say that it is good (καλόν – same word as used in vv. 8&18) and acceptable in His sight. To pray that men would obey their creator and fulfill their roles as God commands in order to provide a stable environment for the gospel is of course pleasing to God. Why?
Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth
It is pleasing to God when His people pray in this manner because it is His expressed will and desire for all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Once again, we are faced with what appears to be a problem. Does God desire the salvation of every single individual upon the planet? And if so, why then is His will not accomplished?
This is a text that is extremely easy to preach heresy from. To suggest that God desires what He cannot control is to deny the omnipotence of God and thus blaspheme. To suggest that God limits Himself in some way so as to remove His sovereignty from the choice of men to either accept or reject Him is to misrepresent His justice, grace, and honor, and thus proclaim heresy.
To misrepresent God or His word is always heresy at best and blasphemy at worst. Bible teachers be warned.
Yet if we simply look back at the context we will soon discover that there is no such tension within this text. What does Paul mean by all men? Could it be that he means exactly what he meant in v. 2? Has Paul somehow changed his intention and meaning in the span of a single sentence without telling us? I think not. To say that God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth is simply to say that God desires men of every tribe, tongue, and nation to be saved. In other words, God desires the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3).
The point is not universal salvation for every single individual. The point is the universal scope of the Gospel. Jesus did not atone for the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles. By Gentiles we don’t mean for the Greeks and Romans only, but for the barbarian, Scythian, slave, and freeman as well (Colossians 3:11). Pray for all men. Pray for men of every tribe, tongue, and nation. Pray for them because the Gospel is for them as well as for you.
Supposition: Prayer assumes God and submits to His will (vv. 5-6)
“For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.”
Paul has not launched into a completely unrelated rant about monotheism. The argument for a singular God and a singular mediator supports his claim that the gospel is universal in scope. If the gospel were only for a select nation or people group, then what is God’s relationship to those people outside that group? Is He still not their God and creator? Do they not also have an obligation to repent and submit to Him? The very idea of God as one (the only God of 1:17 as well as the singular indivisible God) assumes a symmetrical relationship with all of humanity.
Humanity as a whole is unredeemed, rebellious, and damned. God desires for humanity to be saved. There is only one way for this one God to be reconciled to His creation and that is through the one mediator.
And one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Jesus said it Himself in John 14:6. There is but one way, one truth, and one life – and it is Jesus Christ. There is no other way, means, avenue, or approach to God the Father other than through Him. Pray that men come to this understanding of the truth. Pray that they know only Jesus can save them.
Praying for the salvation of men assumes and supposes that:
1. God is sovereign.
2. Man is sinful.
3. Christ is the only savior.
4. Man must submit.
To pray this prayer submits to a sovereign God. What you’re praying for is that those men also submit. To pray that men understand and believe the gospel is nothing less than living out the implications of the gospel within your own life. You’ve submitted and believed and you wish others to do the same. In so doing you’re submitting and believing that God can and will do that same work in their lives. And so you pray.
Symmetry: Praying for all men is consistent with gospel ministry (v. 7)
“And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
Paul’s entire ministry has been to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. He has made it his life’s work to proclaim the glory of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to every Middlesex, village, and farm between Jerusalem and Rome. To pray in this manner, that men would repent and believe the gospel, is only consistent with a gospel-preaching ministry.
Can you imagine what Paul’s ministry would be like if he did not pray in concert with his mission; to preach and preach to the Gentiles without ever praying earnestly for their conversion? Can you imagine preaching week after week to a mixed bag saints and sinners without praying for their conversion and maturity? Understand that to take that approach is to physically deny the first aspect of the gospel: that God is sovereign. A genuine gospel ministry will work symmetrically with genuine gospel prayer.
The New Testament elder/overseer/pastor is charged with only two tasks: to preach and to pray (Acts 6:4). There is nothing else required of the men who lead the church other than these two things. When teaching, preaching, counseling, admonishing, or disciplining the churchmen have but two tasks to bring to the table: to preach the Word and to pray. That is all. And yet it is totally uncommon to find a church that is led by men who do either (much less both) of these simple things.
The entirety of chapter 1 has been to establish the authority and proper use of Scripture. The best way to counter heresy is through sound biblical teaching (preach). But now Paul comes to the second command given to every church leader (pray). How are we doing, church?