with Tony W. Cartledge
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Teachers: Scroll down for teaching materials.
It’s Not About You
Prayer: Few words are more common in the Christian vocabulary. We punctuate our worship services with prayers: invocations, intercessions, confessions, doxologies, and benedictions are some of the fancier names. We talk a lot about the importance of prayer. In times of trial we may ask others to pray for us, or assure troubled friends that we are praying for them.
Some people literally kneel by the bed and pray before turning in each night. Some have the discipline to rise early and pray with the dawn of each new day. Some never eat without offering thanks. Some practice “breath prayers,” seeking to time a simple prayer with their breathing so that they can truly “pray without ceasing,” as Paul encouraged the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:17). Other believers give lip service to prayer while rarely moving their lips, praying only when in trouble.
Where do you fall on that spectrum? Is personal prayer an integral aspect of your faith and practice, or do you tend to be more of an observer? When you pray, do your prayers focus on your own needs, or the needs of others?
The writer of 1 Timothy was convinced that prayer should be at the heart of Christian living — and that a concern for others should be at the heart of prayer.
Prayers for all(vv. 1-2)
Having introduced the theme of Christ’s salvation (cf. 1:15), Paul turned to a series of instructions for church members, so that “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (3:15). Those instructions begin with prayer.
Paul stressed the importance of prayer by introducing it with the word prōton, which can mean either first in order or first in importance. Paul urged Timothy (with a word that could mean “command”) to promote prayer with passion. Paul believed that the church needs to pray, and to pray “for everyone.” We may be tempted to limit our prayers to self-oriented concerns and grow weary if the pastoral prayer extends to victims of war and natural disasters around the world, but the church’s primary prayer should extend beyond itself.
Verse 1 includes four different words for prayers — “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving.” The words vary slightly in meaning, but Paul’s piling up of synonyms was more concerned with emphasizing the importance of prayer than with delineating categories. The point is that all types of prayer are important, and should be offered for all people.
“Kings and all those in authority” should be specific objects of prayer, he said. As the Jewish people commonly prayed for the emperor, Christians recognized the need to pray for government leaders, even (or especially) those who were not Christian. Such prayers were not for the benefit of government leaders alone: Paul understood that a stable government facilitates Christians’ ability to lead “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity” (v. 2).
These paired expressions suggest the ideal deportment of a believer: a life of “peace and tranquility,” expressed in “reverence and dignity.” Americans may take religious freedom for granted, but others struggle under dictatorial regimes that deny free expression. Should we not pray for them — and for their leaders?
Paul was well acquainted with Roman oppression, but he generally expressed a positive attitude toward government, which he elaborated most clearly in Rom. 13:1-7. He knew that, while widespread political stability made the practice of personal faith easier, it also facilitated missionary travels and the spread of the gospel.
Under Roman rule, believers had no elective input into who ran the government: they could only pray for its leaders. Today we can do both, making Paul’s advice even more pertinent. Our nation’s march toward increased political polarization drives fellow citizens apart, and Christians often find themselves on opposite sides of an increasingly rancorous debate. In such times, it is particularly important that we make prayer a priority, praying for candidates we don’t like (and those who support them) as well as for those we favor.
The vitriolic behavior we have seen at many political rallies is far removed from the peaceful, godly, and dignified demeanor Paul sought. Whether we are pleading for change or expressing gratitude, prayer should be a priority for believers.
A desire for all(vv. 3-4)
With v. 3, we are reminded that Paul’s purpose is not only to promote prayer, but also to pray to the end that all would come to know Christ. “This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,” he wrote, “who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vv. 3-4).
God’s desire is a two-fold progression, then. We are to pray for all people, first, that all should find salvation through Christ, and secondly, that they “come to the knowledge of the truth.” This phrase also appears in the Pastoral Epistles at 1 Tim. 4:3, 2 Tim 3:7, and Titus 1:1. The expression does not refer only to the truth about salvation, but indicates the body of Christian doctrine that Timothy is to teach and to uphold, “the divine training that is known by faith,” and that results in “love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith” (1:4b-5).
Churches commonly have far more members on the rolls than persons in the pews, for many people seek salvation but don’t follow through with the kind of discipleship that leads them to express unselfish love, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Have you ever found yourself in that situation?
A mediator for all(vv. 5-7)
To reinforce the importance of core beliefs, perhaps, the writer turns to the words of what must have been a familiar confessional statement, perhaps sung as a hymn. Most Bibles set the confession in poetic form: there is one God; / there is also one mediator between God and humankind, / Christ Jesus, himself human, / who gave himself a ransom for all / (vv. 5-6a).
The confession makes three affirmations. First, “there is one God,” a statement that echoes the Old Testament emphasis on worshiping Yahweh exclusively within a polytheistic land (Deut. 6:4-6). Timothy and the believers he served lived in a society that revered many gods. The city of Ephesus, where the letter of 1 Timothy presumed him to be, was home to a massive temple to Artemis, known to the Greeks as Diana. Following Christ was not a matter of adding one more god to the list of those worshiped, however, but of rejecting all others to recognize that there is only one true God.
Secondly, “there is also one mediator between God and humankind.” That mediator is Christ Jesus, who is “himself human.” Jesus knew what it was like to be God, and to be human. As a result, only he could serve as a true mediator to bring reconciliation between God and humankind. This does not suggest that Jesus worked in the same way as a court-appointed arbitrator seeking to work out compromises between conflicted parties, but that his actions made it possible — at God’s initiative — for humans to enter a personal relationship with God.
The third affirmation is that Christ Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all.” This is one of several ways to speak of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, which is a mystery beyond human understanding. In the writer’s context, slavery was common. The price one paid or the action one accomplished in order to win a slave’s freedom was called a lutron (Matt. 20:28, Mark 10:45), or antilutron, as here. It is usually translated as “ransom,” for lack of a better word, though it could indicate a redemptive action as well as a monetary payment.
Paul’s concern was not to explicate fine points of theology, but to emphasize divine initiative. The real point is that Jesus “gave himself,” an expression Paul often used to speak of Christ’s crucifixion (Gal. 1:4, 2:20; Eph. 5:2, 25; Titus 2:14). Jesus willingly gave himself, and he did so “for all.” If Jesus could give himself for all people, Christians could surely pray for all people.
This teaching, Paul wrote, “was attested at the right time” (v. 6b). The word kairos indicated a particular time or opportunity rather than a chronological date or time on the clock. At God’s initiative and in God’s timing, Christ came, and at God’s discretion, messengers were appointed to spread the news.
Indeed, Paul insisted that God had appointed him as “a herald and an apostle … a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (v. 7). Paul did not limit his ministry to Gentiles: he typically visited the local synagogue when beginning work in a new place. Still, he understood himself to be a pioneer in taking the gospel to the Gentiles.
Paul’s interjection that he was telling the truth and not lying might lead us to think that he thought Timothy doubted him, but it’s more likely that he used it as a rhetorical device to emphasize the truth of what he was saying.
If we were to tell the truth, without lying, what could we say about the priority of prayer in our lives? NFJ
| © Nurturing Faith Bible Studies are copyrighted. DO NOT PHOTOCOPY.
Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for September 18, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
It’s my assumption that you pray for your children. I’m guessing it’s a pretty good assumption, but the better question might be, when do you pray for your kids. Do you only pray for them after something has gone wrong? Do you pray for them when something big is coming up in their lives? Do you pray for them continuously? Prayers for you children shouldn’t be popcorn prayers when something is needed, just like you shouldn’t pop in and out of their lives only when you are needed. Remember, prayer isn’t about you, or even your children, it’s about God.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Movie Prayer Montage” from grabthemoments via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: 1 Timothy 2:1-7