First Mennonite Church
May 13, 2018
An All-Inclusive Prayer
Text: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Paul’s words of instruction to Timothy continue here in chapter two. The instruction here appears to have an order of priority. I checked more than 40 Bible translations and they all begin verse one with: First of all. But Timothy is not given a “second” or “third” item of instructions following this one. Another way to translate the phrase “First of all” is “Above all things” or, “The most important of all” which makes more sense in the context of what follows. Paul tells Timothy the reason Paul had left him in Ephesus was “above all things” to be actively involved, and possibly lead others as well, in making supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving on behalf of everyone. But afterwards Paul says the prayer is for “everyone, who is in high position. Before we look into the reason for those mentioned objects of the prayers, let us see the kinds of prayers Paul commands to be made.
Paul gives a list of the kinds of prayers to be made for “everyone/for all.” Each of these kinds of prayers has a different purpose. Supplications. The purpose of this kind of prayer is obvious. A prayer of supplication means pleading for something. Pleading can vary depending on the need and situation. Was it for guidance, especially in light of those Paul would specifically ask these prayers for? Was it was for wisdom, self-control, or humility in those who are in power? Second in the list is simply prayers. Next in the list is prayers of intercessions. To intercede literally means to “go between,” to “stand in the middle.” Therefore, a prayer of intercession means to plead with God on behalf of someone. Timothy was called to plead with God on behalf of everyone. This prayer is very important, especially in light of the reason for all of these kinds of prayers—so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. I will say a little more why intercessory prayer is so important. The fourth kind of prayer Paul commands to be made is thanksgiving. Remember these prayers of thanksgiving are not for one’s self, but for all/everyone. That means that we should give thanks to God, not only for what we receive from God, but should be giving thanks for everyone else.
Giving thanks to God for others is easier if those others are our family members, our circle of friends, and those who are like us. But Paul’s command is that we give thanks to God for everyone. That means, we need to have more than an open mind about those who do not think like we do. Giving thanks to God for those who oppose our views, for those who do not hold the same values as we do, and for those who do not have the same faith as we have requires us to have the love of God poured into our hearts. Giving thanks to God for everyone/for all people means then that we must have a heart like God’s heart. I believe Paul was calling Timothy to have a heart like Jesus’ heart. Jesus said to his disciples:
“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 children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 7:43-48.)
After Paul called for all kinds of prayers for all, he specified two groups of people, namely kings and those in authority for whom these prayers are to be made. It is rather interesting what we find here, particularly because we believe this letter was addressed to a church leader. If this letter is to serve as a guide for what should be the character and duty of a minister of the gospel, it seems that preachers are required to be aware of what is going on around them in order to make effective prayers. However, Paul is very clear on one thing: preachers should be praying for all and for those who are in positions of authority. Why would Paul make such a request to pray for all of those in authority?
We should remember that the political environment and those who were in high positions of power during Paul’s time were not elected officials nor was the political environment like that of modern Western democracies. Kings and those in power often times exercised power for life; only death removed them from power. They were tyrannical at worst and kept peace by force, at best. Christian faith and values were not aspects embedded in the predominant culture. Christians were a marginal group of people often suspected of disloyalty to the culture and its institutions. The Christian community was often attacked without prior notice or without being given a fair chance to explain its way of life. It must have been shocking to the Philippians to hear what Paul was commanding them to do. To pray for a capricious and even tyrannical emperor? To pray for the provincial governor who shows no consideration for the fledgling Christian community? But here we see that Paul shares the long-held assumption that good government is for the benefit of all. The Christian community is part of society; thus when society does well as the result of good government, the possibility for everyone to lead a quiet and peaceable life is high. And for the Christian community there is even a higher expectation: that the believer would live a life in “all godliness and dignity.” What is godliness? The Greek word “eusebia,” (by the way that was the name of my maternal grandmother) means having a sense of devotion or obligation to God. A pious life. The Greek word “semnotes” translated “dignity,” can also be translated “reverence,” “respectfulness,” “holiness,” and “integrity.” What we find in these words of Paul, is that whenever there is good government the social condition is such that Christians have a greater possibility and freedom to live a life of devotion to God. Christians can live in a way in which they earn the respect the non-believer, because of their integrity, peaceable manners, and gentleness. This idea from Paul is also stated in 1 Thessalonians 4: 10-12: But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders.
In today’s passage, it is clear that Paul had an encompassing vision of God’s work in the world and about the believers’ role within God’s work. Paul reminds us here that the God we worship is the God of all peoples. The God who save Paul, the chief sinner, wants nothing less for others than he wanted for Paul. God’s concern is for everyone to come to the knowledge of his Son. Jesus is the only mediator between God and all the people in the world. And precisely because there is only one mediator, Christians are called to pray for everyone to come to the knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ. But the call to pray for everyone is a sorely needed remedy to all the anti-gospel values and spirit that saturates our society today. Tribalism, parochialism, vestiges or outright displays of racism often surface or are even promoted among groups of people today. In the Christian context, the tendency can be a feeling of exclusivity, denominationalism or religious bias against other religions. In general, it seems as if everyone is forced to fend for him/herself and for the group they belong in. It seems as if the well-being of the individual and that of his group can only be achieved by violating or disregarding the other.
This passage reminds us then that if we want to have a quiet and peaceable life in our city, county, nation, and the world we should begin by praying for everyone. That means we should be concerned for the well being of all, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, or nationality. We should be praying not only for our loved ones and families, but also for our neighbors, our city, nation and the whole world. We are called to pray for those who live their lives differently than we do. When we pray for people affected by disasters or catastrophes, we should not do so because there might be some believers affected, but because God is concerned for everyone affected and so should we be.
Paul specifies that prayers should be made for those in positions of power. Paul commands that all Christian men and women should make all kinds of prayers for all who are in a position of authority. This does not mean we approve everything those in authority decide. Instead our prayers should be for God to give those in power the wisdom to govern justly. It means praying that God would teach them equity when deciding what is for the common good. Only when there is justice can people lead a quiet and peaceable life. Only when there is good government striving for the common good can there be a social condition where dignity for all is possible. It is easier to pray for the government if those who are in power align with our views and are of our ideological persuasion. But we should pray for those in power even when we do not agree with their policies. We should pray for our local authorities. We should pray for all peoples and nations. On June 12th the president of the US and the president of North Korea are scheduled to meet to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We should remember that regardless of how flawed and selfish the intent of these two countries is, the pursuit to decrease the danger and possible destruction from nuclear arms is something we should pray about. If some measure of peace can be achieved that can lead to improve the life for many, then we should pray for that.
Above all, the passage for today is a reminder that the God we serve is the God of all people. His concern for the well-being of all should be the concern in our prayers. God wants all people to come to the knowledge of his Son, declares Paul. Therefore, above all things, let us pray for everyone. Amen!