Pray and Give Thanks to God for Everyone
January 24, 2021 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Renewal 2021
Topic: Prayer Passage: 1 Timothy 2:1–7
PRAY AND GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR EVERYONE
An Exposition of 1 Timothy 2:1-7
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: January 24, 2021
Series: Renewal 2021
Note: Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Good morning. I invite you to turn to 1 Timothy 2, and I'm going to read verses 1-7. Holy Scripture says:
1 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. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)
This is God's holy Word, and it is for our good. Let's pray.
Father, we thank you that, in the midst of this fallen world and our own faltering steps, we have a sure word from the living God. And Father, I pray that this Word would dwell in our hearts and bear fruit. I pray that you would give understanding, that you would bring conviction and burden from you, and that you would transform our lives. In Jesus’ name, amen.
I want to begin with something that might seem a bit unrelated to this particular passage, but hopefully I'll be able to show you how it ties in. This past week I read an approximately ten-page article on revolutionary movements in the first century, specifically in Israel. And, of course, I was also thinking about the instability and chaos of our own times. So, I was reading about these revolutionary movements, and I learned that first-century Israel was exceptionally unstable. There was a lot of unrest and violence, and you can imagine the situation. You had the Roman Empire controlling and occupying Palestine. You had the Jewish aristocracy cooperating with the Roman authorities at the expense of the ordinary people. Ordinary people were suffering high taxation, oppression, abuse, and poverty. There was a loss of Israel's distinct religious and cultural identity. There were a number of conflicts: rich versus poor, religious versus secular, ruling class versus the peasants. And in this setting, a number of revolutionary movements gained traction among the people. There were social bandits. There were messianic movements. There was the Zealot party. And these groups were pro-violence and supported armed rebellion. In addition, there were also other movements that favored more peaceful approaches. But here's the thing: none of these movements succeeded. And, in fulfillment of our Lord's prophecy, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in A.D. 70.
Now the reason I mention this is because as Christians living in a time of cultural and social upheaval, we must resist the temptation to navigate this instability by yoking ourselves to a particular political or cultural movement. We need to rediscover that the Lord himself has called us – the church – to be a distinct people with a distinct witness in the world in which we live. The church needs to be the church. Now if your understanding of church is ‘90 minutes on Sunday morning, period’, then the claim that the church should be the church is really underwhelming, because what are you doing with the other 166 ½ hours of the week? But if you understand that the church is actually God's people walking together on mission with Christ, and that this fellowship that we have with Christ and with one another spills over into every aspect of life, then you can appreciate the significance of the church being the church. Our Lord Jesus said that we – His followers – are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Further, I want you to notice how Paul describes the role of the church in the midst of an unbelieving world: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
I want to focus on just that last phrase: “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” The God-assigned role of the church is to hold up the truth for the whole world to see. We are to declare and demonstrate the truth. We are to proclaim and practice the truth. And that's why back in Chapter 1 – which I preached from a couple weeks ago – Paul labored to emphasize how important it is to stay on the line of truth, to stay faithful and centered on God's Word. Because unless we are well-taught, and then putting the teaching of God's Word into practice, we will have mission drift right off the bat. What we need to do is to be fixed on the Lord, trusting in Him and believing His words and putting them into practice. And in this way, we will have a distinct and holy witness to our unbelieving world.
So with that in mind, let's look at 1 Timothy 2:1-7. These instructions are given, as indicated in the verses I read from Chapter 3, as part of Paul’s teaching about how the church is supposed to function – how believers are supposed to conduct themselves as God's people. And obviously the instructions here relate to how we are to conduct ourselves when we gather together. But the way that we conduct ourselves when we gather together is also supposed to spill over into how we are living, all the time, as God's people in this world. So, we want to pray like this passage teaches us. We want to pray and give thanks when we gather together as an entire congregation or in smaller groups, but we also want to be a praying and a thankful people at all times.
This passage really unfolds in three interrelated points. And so, let's just start off.
PRAY AND GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR ALL PEOPLE
First, pray and give thanks to God for all people. This is really simple, isn't it? What a great way to express love. The Bible says: love your neighbor as yourself. The Bible says: love your enemy. No one is to be excluded from our love and, therefore, it stands to reason that no one should be excluded from our prayers. I love this phrase that John Stott uses: “to embrace the world in prayer”. Pray for fellow Christians, missionaries, neighbors, colleagues, relatives, persecutors, enemies.
The early church sought to put these instructions into practice. We have a couple testimonies from the early church fathers. In the early 2nd century Polycarp of Smyrna gave this instruction. He said: “pray for all the saints, pray too for all kings, and powers, and rulers, and for your persecutors, and those that hate you, and for your cruel enemies.” Polycarp had read Scripture well.
And you'll notice how this instruction to pray for all people in verse 1 is given further elaboration in verse 2, where Paul says to especially pray “for kings and all who are in high positions.” Here's another testimony from the early church. Tertullian gave us this testimony about the Christians in Carthage in the late 2nd century. This is a beautiful description of how to pray for those in positions of authority. He wrote: “We Christians do intercede for all the emperors that their lives may be prolonged; their government be secured to them; that their families may be preserved in safety; their Senates faithful to them; their armies brave; their people honest; and that the whole empire may be at peace; and for whatever other things are desired by the people or the Caesar.” Isn't that beautiful?
Notice that Paul did not say to pray for only godly kings. Of course we want to pray for godly kings, but he didn't give that qualifier. We should pray for all kings. The emperor of the Roman Empire, at the time that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, was Nero, who was no saint and no friend of the church.
So, we are to pray for all people. What should we pray for? We should pray for their well-being. We should pray for the full range of their needs. We should pray for the effective stewardship of their official duties – if we're talking about kings or other political rulers or others in positions of influence. And you might extend that out to your workplace, because we're supposed to pray for everyone. Pray for those that you work with, and pray for your superiors – pray for the effective stewardship of their official duties. If the person you are praying for is not a believer, then pray for their conversion. That's going to be really obvious as we walk through the rest of these verses, because Paul is very much thinking about conversion of lost people. And so, if they are lost, then we want to pray for their conversion. If there are already saved, then we want to pray that they would have an effective witness for Christ. We may also pray for them to have a favorable disposition toward the church, or toward us, for Jesus’ sake. Remember how Nehemiah prayed: he prayed to the Lord that the king would have mercy on him. And the king did have mercy on him and dispatched Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem.
By the way, there is a lot of overlap between the three terms “supplications” and “prayers” and “intercessions”. The precise meaning of each term in contrast to the other two terms, is really hard to pin down. At a basic level, they are kind of just three synonymous ways of saying to pray for people, intercede for people, go to God on behalf of other people.
Notice also that we’re not only called to pray for all people, but to make thanksgivings for all people. Don't just make requests, but give thanks for everyone. Isn't that remarkable? You may find it difficult to give thanks to God for certain people, but you should strive to do so in obedience to Paul's instructions. Remember that God created them. They are endowed with certain common graces and skills. Even if they're not yet saved, remember that they are not as wicked as they might be, and that they might become an instrument for great good. So, keep a tender heart and pray for everyone.
PRAY AND GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR EVERYONE, BECAUSE IT IS KEY TO LIVING A HOLY LIFE
Now, let's go to the second lesson here in this passage, which takes us to the second half of verse 2. Here is my summary: pray and give thanks to God for everyone, because it is key to living a holy life. So, here is a reason why to pray for everyone, because doing so is essential to walking in holiness.
Do you see the connection here? Paul says in verse 1 and the first half of verse 2: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” – then the next word is “that”. “That” is a word that indicates purpose, which is given to us in the second half of verse 2. Pray for everyone, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” All this raises a really good question: What is the relationship between praying for everyone and the effect or the result of prayer which issues in a godly and holy life? What is the connection?
Well, I think there are at least two possibilities. Both of these possibilities are sensible. If you ask me to pick just one, I couldn't right now. I think they're both compelling. They're not at odds with each other. They could both be true. So, let me unpack these two understandings of how praying for others helps us to live a holy life.
Prayer is Effectual
Here's the first possible understanding of the connection between prayer for others and a holy life: praying for others helps us to live a holy and winsome life, because God answers our prayers by working through the people that we pray for. Does that make sense? We are praying for other people, we are praying for kings, we are praying for those in positions of authority and influence. Our God is the God who hears and answers prayer. He answers those prayers, which results in more good in society, which increases our capacity to live peaceful, quiet, and undisturbed lives. The reality is that the president and the governor, Congress and the state legislature, the courts, local officials, and beyond that big tech executives and media outlets – they all have the ability to make life more or less difficult for Christians. And not just for Christians, but for everyone. They have the ability to make life more or less difficult for huge numbers of people, don't they?
Now there's a great Old Testament passage that gets at this reality – Jeremiah 29:7. Jeremiah had given instruction to the Jews who were going to be exiles in Babylon. And remember that we Christians, according to the New Testament teaching, are exiles, strangers, pilgrims in this present world. Jeremiah told those who were to be relocated to Babylon: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7) Our goal in praying for this outward peace and liberty, for freedom and justice to be extended through kings and others in high positions – the goal isn't personal ease and affluence. Rather, we want to live well as Christians. If possible, we don't want to be caught up in all kinds of cultural and legal conflict. God is able to work through human rulers and all of our neighbors. God is able to work through pagans in order to bring about periods of relative peace and stability within society, and we should pray for that. We should pray, believing that God hears and answers prayer. And so be a good neighbor. Be an honorable citizen. Be an outstanding member of society. Be a large-hearted inhabitant of the world. By praying to the God who works in the affairs of men, and pray that he would bring about peace and justice, so that we as Christians and as the church could have freedom to be the church and proclaim the gospel without disturbance.
Now to be honest with you, most commentators stop there. The above explanation – what I just shared with you – seems to be the majority view based on my research. However, I have to be honest with you, I'm not convinced that that is the only or best understanding of how praying for everyone and praying for rulers results in a godly and holy life. And so, I want to share with you the other connection that I think we need to think about.
Prayer Cultivates Godliness
So, here's the second possible understanding of the connection between prayer for others and a holy life: praying for others helps us to live a holy and winsome life, because praying for others confirms and cultivates godly dispositions in us. Paul doesn't spell it out. He doesn't say pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” so that they would rule in a certain way, and that God would answer those prayers, and that therefore we would live a peaceful and quiet life. He doesn't spell it out with that much detail. He says pray for all these people, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life”. It's as if “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way”, consists in large measure of praying. Think about it like this: praying is at the intersection of faith and love. I’ll unpack this in just a moment, but first let me make clear that the traditional adage that ‘prayer changes the one who is praying’ doesn't quite capture the depth of what I'm trying to communicate here. I’m aiming for something deeper. So consider how prayer stands at the intersection of faith and love.
In Chapter 1 Paul said, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) Faith looks to the Lord, and love does good to others. At the intersection of looking to the Lord and doing good to others is taking others into your heart before the Lord in prayer. And what I'm trying to say is that praying for other people confirms and cultivates and strengthens and expresses the walk of love that is rooted in faith. Do you see? Now think about the opposite mindset. If we're not making supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for other people, then what are we doing? We might be complaining, grumbling, quarreling, being dismissive, writing people off, not caring, or worse, gossiping and slandering. These anti-love dispositions and actions are hardly conducive to living “a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We want to be peaceful and quiet. But if we're harboring complaints and grumblings, then we are apt to be contentious, adversarial, striving, full of conflict, and way too much drama.
And when Paul tells us that we should be “godly and dignified in every way” – think about what that looks like. ‘Godly’ means that we are devoted to the Lord, that we are reverent and standing in awe of him, and seeking to live all of life as his faithful servants. To be ‘dignified’ means there is a weightiness and a gravity to our life. We know that the stakes are high. We are walking on holy ground. We are here to serve and honor the Holy One and to represent him faithfully to our neighbors, including our unbelieving neighbors. But if we are complaining and grumbling and contentious and adversarial, then we're going to be steeped in anger and bitterness and cynicism. Do you see what I'm trying to say? Prayer is at the heart of a life of love flowing out of faith, where we take other people into our heart and bring them before the Lord in prayer.
How are you going to live Romans 12:18-21 without prayer? Paul writes,
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:18-21)
Do you think prayer would help you live this out?
How about Titus 3:1-2? How are you going to live this out? This passage says:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:1-2)
I assure you that praying for all people, genuinely from the heart, will help you show perfect courtesy to all people, when you are face to face with them.
Finally, how are you going to live out Luke 6:27-28? The worst someone can be to you is as an enemy who hates you, and Jesus gave this instruction:
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27-28)
Brothers and Sisters, people are not the real enemy. Which is why we go before the Lord in prayer on behalf of all people, because we know that the real battle is in the heavenly places, and we do battle with the powers and the principalities who operate in the kingdom of darkness. And so, outward peace and liberty is a wonderful blessing. But inwardly and spiritually, we must strive to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way”, no matter what other people or other political rulers are doing. Praying helps us to live a holy and winsome life.
PRAY AND GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR EVERYONE, BECAUSE GOD CARES FOR EVERYONE
Finally, we come to the third part of our passage. It is interesting that the instruction to pray for all people covers one and a half verses (verses 1-2a), and the effect of prayer in a holy and godly life covers half a verse (verse 2b). However, the foundation of praying for all people covers five verses (verses 3-7). The Lord really wants us to understand the foundational reason to pray for all people. And here it is: pray and give thanks to God for everyone, because God cares for everyone.
Isn't that simple? It's simple, and it's right here in the passage. In verse 3 Paul says, “This is good” – that is, it is good to pray for all people, for kings and those in high positions, which then flows into a godly and holy life. This is a good thing. Why is it a good thing? Because God cares for all people, and this comes up in two very specific ways. Let me show you.
Verses 3-4 say that “God our Savior… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And then in verses 5-6 we are told that “Christ Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all”. Th is very deliberate language, because the reason that Paul is writing this theology here is to undergird and support and motivate the call to pray for everyone. Why should we pray for everyone (verse 1)? Because the Father loves everyone (verse 4) and Christ died for everyone (verse 6). This is why we should pray for everyone. In other words, having a heart for God must lead to having God's heart for people. That's the idea here.
God cares for the sparrow (Matthew 10:29). “[His] mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). From the very beginning, when God called Abraham, his intent was that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). God sent Jonah to Nineveh because he cared for the Ninevites (Jonah 1–4). Jesus loved the rich man who walked away from him in unbelief (Mark 10:21-22). Jesus loved that man. And Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). These things reveal to us the heart of God.
What Paul is teaching us here in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 is that the extent of God’s compassion – and the extent of God's compassionate action – should show up in our prayer life. The range of God's concern should be the range of our concern.
Now some people, when they read a passage like this, may want to know how verse 4, which tells us that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”, squares with other passages that seem to say that that God chooses or elects those whom he will actually save. And in the same vein, some people want to know how verse 6, which tells us that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom as [a payment] for all”, squares with other passages that seem to say that Jesus died specifically for the elect, for His bride. Those are very, very good questions. And I'm happy to affirm both aspects presented in these questions. Even so, I think sometimes we try to fit everything into a neat and tidy box. We kind of bend certain texts in order to make it appear to fit with everything else. But I think it's biblical and true and right to say that there is a genuine sense in which God cares for all people and desires all people to come to a knowledge of the truth, and that there is another sense – also biblical and true and right – in which God elects those whom he will save. Likewise, there is one sense in which Christ died for all of humanity, and there is another sense in which he died for the elect.
But here in 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Paul is trying to get us to have and to feel God's heart for everyone. Look at verse 5: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Verse 5 helps us to understand why praying for people and praying for their conversion is so important. Paul starts off by saying for there is one God. I really appreciated John Stott’s comments about this, because Stott was highlighting the fact that there is one God and not many gods, not many tribal gods, not many nationalistic gods. And this truth that there is one God who created all of humankind establishes the fact that this one God cares for every human being and that every human being ultimately has to reckon with the one true God. Further, there are not many ways to know and be reconciled to this one true God, right? There is only one way – only one mediator. “[There] is one mediator between God and men”, between God and humanity. There is one mediator, one go-between, one agent of reconciliation. You may have recently heard about a prayer from the floor of Congress which concluded with something like this – in the name of the monotheistic god or in the name of this god or in the name of any god of any faith. That is seriously wrongheaded! There are not multiple ways into the presence of the Holy One. There is only one way: the Lord Jesus Christ, who is truly God and truly man, and who is thus able to mediate in a beautiful way between his Father and his fellow human beings.
This mediator is “the man Christ Jesus”. ‘Christ’ refers to his Messiahship, his Kingship, His Saviorhood. “Christ Jesus… gave himself as a ransom for all”. We human beings are in a real fix on account of our sin. And the Lord Jesus Christ took upon his own shoulders the sin of the world. Remember what John the Baptist said? “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The sin of the world went on his shoulders. He bore in his own body the penalty, the guilt, and the punishment for our sin, thus clearing the way for any man, woman or child – who would turn away from his or her sin and trust in the Savior, and trust in the Savior's dying love upon the cross and his resurrection on the third day – to be reconciled to the Father.
This passage concludes by Paul saying that this message is the message that he proclaims and teaches: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” (verse 7) It is as if Paul is saying, I've been sent as in an apostle. I've been appointed as a herald, a spokesman. And this – what I have been telling you in the previous 6 verses – this is what I teach. I teach that the Lord Jesus Christ laid down his life for sinners. I teach that behind this gospel is a God who loves sinners and wants them to be reconciled to him. And therefore, we call all people to repent. That is Paul's message.
And the question is: does this message that we preach, does this reality that Christ died for sinners, does that reality that behind the death of Christ is the love of the Father, does this message and is this reality showing up in our prayer life?
Consider this: what do we really want? I think that the past 10 months have really brought that question into clearer focus. What do we really want? Do you really want something culturally or economically or politically? Is that what you really want? Is that what gets you energized when you're thinking and reflecting on the state of things? Or is what you really want for people, who are lost and hopeless and clueless and looking in all the wrong places – do you really want lost human beings to come to a knowledge of the truth and become part of God's forever family? If that's what you really want, then it will show up in your prayer life. And praying thus, you will live a winsome life. Because what happens when people live “peaceful and quiet [lives], godly and dignified in every way”? This way of life is attractive and compelling. Other people see the hope, the stability, the beauty and excellence with which you live, and they might ask you: can you tell me about this hope that you have, because I don’t have the kind of hope that you have?
Father, I pray that this passage would shape our lives. I pray that we would be attuned to your heart. I pray that we would be attuned to the sacrificial love of Christ. I pray that we would live and breathe the message of the gospel. I pray that our hearts would break for those who don't know Christ. I pray that we would love our enemies, our persecutors. And Father, I pray that – in part through our praying and through our witness – that many would turn away from every false hope, and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. In his name we pray, amen.
 The information in this paragraph is drawn from W. J. Heard, “Revolutionary Movements.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992: p. 688-698.
 John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996: p. 61.
 John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996: p. 66-71.
John Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus (The Pillar New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018.
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