I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling … (1 Timothy 2:1-8 ESV)
From this passage of Scripture here in 1 Timothy, we have been placed back into the context of a young pastor’s work in the church at Ephesus. This young pastor’s name was Timothy. And his spiritual father and mentor, the apostle Paul, was writing to him to encourage him along in the ministry and to give further guidance as to what needed to be done within this church.
Ephesus, as with all the other churches being birthed at this time, had its strengths and weaknesses. The Lord had obviously done a great work in this city to convert Jews and Gentiles delivering them from their idolatry. Many of the Gentiles had built a large bonfire and torched their magic arts books. All of this took place in the face of extreme persecution from the pagan majority.
Right on the heels of this great work, Satan was now interjecting error within the truth being proclaimed. False teachers had already infiltrated the ranks teaching a wrong view on the Law (1:6-11); asceticism (4:1-4, in other words harsh treatment of the body in order to “become godly”); and a craving for controversy speculation and quarreling over nuances of words (6:2-10).
As Paul gets us caught up to speed on the purpose for writing the letter and the issues at hand that he needs Timothy to address, we who are the bystanders have a firsthand look into “gospel ministry.” Paul’s not involved in establishing a school or hospital or business. No, the apostle is working to ensure that those 2+ years spent in Ephesus ministering the Word of God to the believers there will not go down the tubes at the hands of those who had swerved from truth and godliness.
Paul recognized that sound doctrine leads to a visible change in the behavior of the children of God. On the other hand, the false teachers were teaching error that produced vain speculations, pride, and greed. In 1:5, Paul states his opposition to this unbiblical teaching: “The aim of our charge [in other words the stewardship of the gospel given to us by God] is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Paul points out that all sin is “contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God…” (1:10-11).
So in working to maintain this healthy gospel ministry that results in Christlike behavior, Paul’s methods would not be that of a school or hospital administrator, businessman or marketer. No, the apostle to the Gentiles is engrossed in a spiritual warfare and all he does will revolve around the ministry of the Word to destroy strongholds, arguments, and “lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5). Throughout this epistle, Paul moves systematically from one column to another making sure that each is in place to support the entire structure of the church. Timothy received instructions on the matters of worship, church leadership, practical instructions for those within the church and dealing with false teachers. Many of the burning questions that a young pastor would be dying to ask were being answered in this letter.
However, before Paul gets to what may have been Timothy’s top ten list of “what do I do when this happens?” and “how do I handle this?” he clearly and emphatically puts first things first … “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” This prayer for others is the vital priority to be accomplished first before anything else is even started. It is something that must then continue concurrently as other tasks are worked.
I like the way one pastor put it when he said that in ministry there are essentials and incidentals. Prayer is an essential for all who name the name of Christ in His church to carry out the discipling of the nations. There is an overwhelming amount of space dedicated to the subject of prayer in the pages of Scripture. On the other hand, buildings, budgets, marketing schemes, visitor surveys, and how many amps your sound system can pump out are all incidentals—actually trivial matters in comparison to the mighty effort of prayer.
Even when stacked up against the importance of qualified, godly elders and deacons, orderly worship, pure and honorable relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ, and opposing false teaching, prayer remains the more important “first of all” concern. Do you remember how Jesus puts it in John 15 (see 15:1-6). Then our Lord brings His thought home by stating: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (verse 7). And jump down to verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Do you understand the truth that Christ has just communicated to His disciples? He appointed His disciples to 3 purposes:
1. That they should go and bear fruit.
2. That their fruit should abide.
3. That whatever they ask the Father in Christ’s name, the Father would give it to them understanding that they could do nothing apart from abiding in the Vine.
So getting back to Paul’s admonition to young Timothy, in essence, he’s telling his protégé: “Timothy, I know you have a lot of important matters on your plate to take care of and they need to be taken care of properly, completely. But, hey, before you even get started, get down on your knees in prayer and seek the Lord, and His wisdom, and His power. There will be no spiritual fruit that lasts without prayer.” Paul underlines, italicizes, and puts his instruction in a bold font by putting it this way: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, etc.” There is an urgency or criticality about praying, and this must be done first. So much is at stake in Ephesus and no one is sufficient in and of himself to take care of business. The sufficiency and competency must come from God through His ordained method of prayer.
There is one other little word here in 2:1 that I want you to notice and that is the word “then.” This word isn’t thrown in here for filler … Paul’s not trying to hit a 5000-word count target. The apostle inserts “then” because he is tying this priority and urgency of prayer in with the ground he covered in chapter 1. And what is that? Paul shared with Timothy that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15) and now Paul and Timothy have been appointed to the Lord’s service—they have been given a charge—to proclaim the gospel, especially to the Gentiles, and this truth would lead to lives marked by “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). Paul specifically charged Timothy in 1:18-19 to “wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.”
With the backdrop of chapter 1, the word “then” puts the urgency of this command to pray for all people into its proper context. These supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings were to be made for all people because “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” and He “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” All types of prayers are to be lifted on behalf of those who will hear the gospel proclaimed. Obviously, Paul is not preaching “universalism” here (the belief that everyone will be saved) nor is he teaching that “all people” translates into every person. Paul and the other apostles, however, do make it very clear that the redeemed will be drawn from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Paul was countering the wrong idea that God was still primarily interested in only the nation of Israel. The apostle to the Gentiles was making much of his calling to highlight the fact that the church is to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Bringing this intercession on behalf of the lost before God our Father is pleasing in His sight and guarantees its success.
Paul uses this word “then” a second time in verse 8 as he refocuses Timothy’s attention to this all-important practice of prayer. He wrote: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…” Paul would then transition into an issue of proper worship, but don’t miss what he’s emphasizing—“the way the church conducts itself in corporate worship (unity, modesty, proper submission) bears significantly on its effectiveness in world evangelization” (ESV Study Bible, note on 1 Timothy 2:8). AND the church’s character and effectiveness can only be enhanced and reach their completion through the act of prayer. Paul didn’t want Timothy to miss the crucial point. So he restates the first-things-first position of prayer.
In conclusion, I want to draw your attention to 3 points as they relate to us in general and me as a pastor of a church plant:
1. Urgent prayer on behalf of all people must be our priority. I have been convicted over the past several weeks by the Holy Spirit because as we have been working on this church plant for the past 8-9 months, prayer has not been a “first thing.” It must be. The Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, has appointed us to pray in His Name in order that we might receive from the Father the good He has promised us. We will not be fruitful here in the Slate Belt without it. So it is my desire to lead GCC in such a way that prayer becomes the habit we just can’t shake. May the Lord do such an earthshaking work in us that we refuse to go anywhere or do anything that we have not first adequately bathed in prayer.
2. In beginning this church, we have all made certain sacrifices and we have put certain “things” on the line. It would be easy to fall into the mode of praying out of desperation that God blesses this work OR ELSE! However, the 1 Timothy 2 prayer is not intended for such things as saving face through numbers and material gain. Paul’s instruction to Timothy served the young pastor well and it is ALSO to serve us well. Our goal is to preach the gospel to the nations in order that we might see many disciples made … not names added to a membership list. As A. W. Pink puts it, "How clearly then is the fundamental duty in prayer set forth. Self and all its needs must be given a secondary place, and the Lord freely accorded the pre-eminence in our thoughts and supplications. This petition [hallowed be thy name] must take the precedence for the glory of God's great name is the ultimate end of all things." May the Lord use this truth to guard our hearts and our minds.
3. Prayer and worship will transform us into those who willingly and joyfully go into all the world to preach the gospel. As John Owen asks: “…who can dwell on the consideration of the glory of Christ, being called with that to the declaration of it, but his own mind will engage him to invite lost sinners to a participation of him” (The Glory of Christ, 230)? In other words, which one of us after meditating on the excellencies of Christ will want to keep Christ to himself? True worship and devotion to our Lord produces an insatiable desire for all to come and join in the feast. How can we be totally satisfied with Jesus Christ and allow others to starve with no knowledge of Him?