“Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and a thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.” Westminster Shorter Catechism Q 98
~ Don’t forget to pray this week for one another in the congregation, for our leaders, for friends and neighbors in need. Especially, pray that as Christ shines through our lives those who do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, will see in us and hear from us the glorious truth of Jesus Christ.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Tim. 2:1-6 ESV)
“First of all” is the language of priority. Paul is concerned for the prayers of the church to be ordered in God glorifying way. Ordered not so much in structure or the way we say our prayer, but in content or what our prayers say. Paul believes this with a degree of intensity and “urges” us to practice what he preaches. So that we understand his intent Paul states, what he is asking of us, who is to be the target of our praying, and why we must pray in this manner before giving the aim of his instruction.
- What is Paul asking the church to do? Paul places a string of words together that describe our calling on God, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.” All of these words signify our conversation with heaven’s King, and as our relationship with the King is personal our conversation will vary according to need. Our talking with God will sometimes rise to the throne of grace as a supplication or entreaty. The word used here captures more of the pathos of our prayer, our earnestly imploring God to hear us. Elijah was commended for his effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16), not like the prophets of Baal who decimated their own bodies, but as one who was sincerely and intensely serious about his plea to God. To hear that a covenant child has been overtaken in a sin or temptation will cause the heart of parents and pastors alike to raise many earnest supplications and fervent pleas. King David made supplication, saying, “Help Lord, for the godly man ceases” (Psalm 12:1). Prayers are those petitions to heaven’s King that demonstrate our complete dependence upon God. Prayer is a sign of our belief in God’s faithfulness and so also becomes a sign of our own commitment to Him. Intercessions are those prayers akin to our Great High Priest, Jesus who ever lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). Specifically, praying for others and on their behalf or benefit. Thanksgivings, when directed towards God, are also a part of our regular conversation with God (Rom 8:1; Phi. 1:3; Phm 1:4). These are intended to express gratitude to God for His mercies and kindness (Col 4:2). It difficult to tell where one starts and the other ends as they often go from one to the next and back again almost imperceptibly (Phi 4:6). It seems appropriate then to consider, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” as styles of address, even tones (“groanings which cannot be uttered”, Rom 8:26) of our conversation with the Triune God rather than different types of prayer. So rather than 5 minutes with God on supplication, 5 minutes on prayer, 5 minutes on intercession and 5 minutes on thanksgiving, let our requests be made known unto God using all the components of godly and reverent conversation with God. Praying always ,with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).
- Who is Paul urging the church to pray for? The text quickly supplies an answer, “all people.” But another question arises, in what sense are we to pray for “all people” and how is that even possible? We cannot pray for all people in a personal and individual sense, for we haven’t known the sum total of all people. Is Paul asking us to pray in the way we often hear our small children pray, “God help all the people of the world. Amen”? That Paul is asking us to pray universally is true, but the universality he is recommending to us is for, all kinds of people and not every individual. This is alluded to in the companion phrase when he says to pray, “for kings and all who are in high positions.” We can see then we are praying for categories of men. Meaning, either Paul is listing rulers as examples of the categories to pray for, or by praying for our rulers we in effect will pray well for all kinds of men, because of the desired end. So we need to ask …,
- Why does Paul urge the church to pray in this manner? “… that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” By praying to God for rulers to lead and deal justly we secure our personal and corporate benefits for the church and for all. Times of war have proven to be disruptors of gospel progress as missionaries doing the kingdom’s work are driven out, church gatherings ended, hearts are jaded to gospel love, and talk of another king, King Jesus is unsettling to despots and tyrants of all political shades (Acts 17:7). So praying for the stability of a people is a means used by God’s amazing providence as the pathway for the gospel of King Jesus. Consider the transportation system of the Imperial Roman government that was used to convey soldiers as well as goods was also used by the apostles and their missionary zeal in the first century of the Christian Church. Throughout church history the expansion of economic interest in both east and west have often been accompanied with cargo holding the church’s finest wheat, missionaries bearing the Word of God. We pray evangelistically as we pray this prayer to lead a quiet and peaceable life knowing that an orderly government was designed by God to be the friend and handmaid of the church (Isa. 49:22-23). Yes, God is sovereign and He is as free to use the devastation of war to accomplish His plans as He is free to remove war from the earth altogether (Hab. 1:6-13; Psalm 46) and to use rumors of wars as much as the making weapons into farming tools (Mk 13:7-8 ; Joel 3:10, Isa. 2:4). Since we are a people whose King and kingdom are not of this world (John 18:36) our lot in life is to pray for the church’s quietness, peaceableness, godliness and dignity in every way so that through gospel prosperity (not health and wealth prosperity) the world is made more secure and the church is helped to corporately carry out the Great King’s work. By praying faithfully in this way we are echoing the heart of God. Recognition of this leads us to the last section …
- The great ends of gospel praying. It is good and pleasing to God our Savior. Prayer takes on more than a merely moral dimension as the word good describes what is well, sound, healthy, whole, beautiful (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:17; Mt 7:17; Mt 13:8; Lk 21:5). Prayer is sound and beautiful not due to the form or the many words spoken (Mat 6:5-13). Rather, it is the content and intent which is beautiful, precisely and only because it reflects the heart of God, where true beauty exists. Further, this kind of prayer is acceptable to God for it shows that we understand who God is and His purpose in the earth. God is disposed toward the salvation of all peoples and no one who has truly heard the everlasting gospel can easily dispute this claim. God has His secret election made from before the foundation of the world concerning those who will certainly be saved (Eph. 1:3). God’s election of men to salvation is not based upon our performance, but on free grace alone (2 Tim 2:9), yet God’s decree of election does not interfere with God’s will of disposition toward the wayward in this life (Eze. 18:23; 33:11), neither should it interfere with our prayer for all men. We rightly pray for the salvation of all men until their death according to God’s will of disposition, and must finally rest in the truth that God has chosen to save all kinds of men as it pleases God best according to His decree of election (1 Cor 1:27-31). To conclude this matter Paul reminds us that this is no universal salvation. Christ is the one mediator between God and men who gave Himself as a ransom for all. However, when Paul says that God testifies this truth of redemption in the proper or right time we must ask when does this occur? Theologically speaking, we can say this testimony happens at conversation in the believing soul as the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. But in a broader sense God gives this testimony in the last great day before all the world showing all for whom the ransom was given. Just as each of Christ’s sheep come to call Jesus Lord and believe on Him to everlasting life at the proper time (Gal 1:15, 16), so ultimately when Jesus says to us, “Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mat. 25:21) all the world will hear, but only His own will be present, where not one seat in heaven will be empty, for all were redeemed.
Paul’s urging the church to pray in this fashion may not seem to follow the model prayer of Christ in the gospels. Yet, in a very real manner it does contain all the material within the Lord’s prayer at one level or another. This prayer culminates in God’s glory and the hollowing of His name, it concerns the coming of His kingdom even as we pray for the ruler’s submission to Christ, it seeks the benefit of all with a daily supply of quietness and peace, and the forgiveness of sin in God our Savior and ransom provided only in Christ, it prays against corruption and temptation as we want for ourselves a godly and dignified way of life. It creates a sense of purpose in this world and expectation of eternal life with Christ. This is faithful prayer for a faithful people.
The next time we come to a prayer meeting and think that seeming random prayers concerning the well-being of all kinds of people are not big ticket items on God’s agenda, may this prayer list for the church teach us to look again.