This chapter is a big apple with fantastically large themes. For the sake of time, let us take a bite from verses 1-7.
Chapter 2 opens with a call to war, evoking the words of Paul: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It is as if the world has suddenly woken up to this fact. Less than twenty years ago we were embarrassed to speak of wickedness or evil, at least in any absolute sense, somehow believing it was all relative to your point of view or your situation in life. But then 9/11 caused politicians on the world stage to borrow the vocabulary previously reserved for the pulpit. There is war, and it is a war on evil.
In this sense, we are all at war. St. Paul extends to us the call to arms. In particular, there is one weapon which is effective against so elusive an enemy. The weapon is prayer. He urges our prayers for everyone, but he singles out as the ones specially to pray for, kings and all who are in high positions, so we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.
Now the workings of this process are important. We pray. That is our duty here. We pray for those in high places, because those in high places have it in their power to order a quiet and peaceable life. If anyone can achieve a lawful, ordered society in which to live, it is surely those in high places. If anyone can bring about peace between nations and peoples, it is not we in lowly places, but those in high places. They have the power, do they not?
We pray. That is our duty here.
Well, yes and no. They may have power in their hands, but it is not their power. A conversation on just this subject once took place between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, the most powerful man in Jerusalem at the time. On trial for His life, and just a whisker from death, Jesus refused to answer the interrogation of Pilate. Pilate therefore said to Him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
So, we pray for those in high positions. They exercise a power entrusted from God. It is God’s power and, if used as God intends, can bring about great good, even a quiet and peaceable life, which, Paul reminds us, is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. In fact, the Church even has a name for this power. It is called, “the Kingdom of God’s Left Hand.” This is not actually a name from the Bible directly, but it is useful – partly because it keeps a distinction from the Kingdom of God’s Right Hand. Remember, Jesus is seated at God’s right hand, and this kingdom is the Kingdom of His Grace, the Kingdom whose power is not worldly, but is embodied in the living and suffering and dying of Jesus Christ, which is exercised not in human strength, but in the Word of God, and in the earthen vessels of simple Sacraments. This Kingdom, of the right hand, is extended as the Gospel is spread and hearts are won by it, turned in faith to Jesus Christ.
In turn, the Kingdom of the Left Hand is just as much a power of God, but it is separate from the one entrusted to the Church. This one is God’s remedy for sin on an altogether different level. The Kingdom of the Right Hand, the Kingdom of Grace, is to do with the rescuing of the individual soul estranged from its Maker. But this Kingdom of God’s Left Hand is to do with keeping a lid on the wickedness of a whole world full of souls estranged from their maker, and so from each other. It also reminds us how government is God’s power, entrusted to men and women. It is not man’s power, but God’s, even if the particular person exercising it is not godly. The authority is God’s.
Incidentally, we should note if government is power borrowed from God, then terrorism is power stolen from God. This is true because terror fights against the order and the peaceable life which we have seen is acceptable in the sight of God. The terrorist steals power, but this does not make the terrorist powerful. Far from it, actually, because God’s Word repeatedly exposes the weakness of those carrying out evil. They are, in fact, slaves of sin. They are powerless even to control themselves. They are, in fact, conformed to the world. So, they are victims of misguided ideologies and godless tactics which they are powerless to rise above. They are, literally, in the flesh. They are in submission to their own wayward ambitions and appetites. Every act of terror betrays weakness, not strength.
Is there an antidote in prayer? Is there power in prayer to resist evil? No. There is no power in prayer. That is the whole point of prayer, it is powerless. But prayer draws on the power of God. It appeals to God’s power. And here is the greatest mystery. God invites our prayers. More than that, his apostle urges them, presses upon us the duty to pray for the world. The Almighty maker of all summons and calls us, in our helplessness, to bring our supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for all, and especially for those in high positions.
So, we take our place in the running of the affairs of the world. It is not enough to take our part in electing our leaders. It is not enough even to render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, to pay our taxes and support those we have put in high places. It is not enough to be good, law-abiding citizens. Anyone can, and everyone should, do these things. But the peculiar calling of the Christian is to uphold those in positions of authority to the God whose authority they borrow. Behind this invitation there is the wonderful message of hope for the world, that God cares for it and responds to our prayers to direct it.
God invites our prayers. This alone is enough to lead His people to respond. But if it were not, surely just a glimpse of the world around us and its pressing need for order and for peace compels us to turn our hearts to God, imploring Him to take it in hand.
For this is a broken world. The Book of Genesis recounts the grim consequences of human rebellion against the order of God. Where previously the Garden of God’s Creation was so harmoniously arranged that even its divine maker could only look at it and declare it was good, now it began to be overrun with thorns and thistles and sweat and pain and every temptation. The trajectory was set. At once there was shame. Within one generation there was murder. Before long, every imagination of man’s heart was only evil all day. And by now, where have we come to?
Then there is this incredible invitation of the first letter of Paul to Timothy. It seems to say there could be a different trajectory. It is to do with kings and those in high positions – presidents and prime ministers and governments. It seems to say, if they would exercise the power we call the Kingdom of God’s Left Hand, there can be a quiet and peaceable life. And what has this to do with you? This is what you pray for. So, with St. Paul, I urge you, I urge for supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings to be made on behalf of kings and all who are in high places.
There is even something else. What is true of the Kingdom of God’s Left Hand applies also to the Kingdom of His Right. In other words, God not only invites our prayers for the peace and well-being of the world, but also for the salvation of all its people. He urges our prayers for all men. He requests our prayers to the God and Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. It is God’s desire that everyone should know the saving truth of Jesus Christ – for there is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Of course, we desire this too. How can we look with indifference on a world full of people turned against their God eternally? We often think of our duty to proclaim, as God gives us opportunity, the saving, good news of Jesus. This is only logical, because, as the Bible states, how can they believe unless they hear and how can they hear unless someone is sent? But here God urges us to do something else: to pray for all people, through the one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.
It was St. Paul who said it, who urged our prayers. He wrote how he desired in every place people should pray, lifting holy hands without anger and quarreling. Because perhaps he remembered once, when he was an enemy of God, when he was a terrorist of a sort, an anti-Christian terrorizer, people prayed for him. And perhaps that is true of all of us who live in the Gospel. Once someone was praying for us, and perhaps they still are.
Praying is the most important thing God’s people do. This is why, having charged Timothy to defend the faith, the apostle Paul gives intercession TOP PRIORITY in public worship: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2:1).
We also do not pray for only those we want either. Because let us face it, there are people for whom we have no interest in praying. Some people do not deserve our prayers. There are some we have written off. But the Lord tells us for whom we are to pray and, here in 1 Timothy, He tells us why. We are to pray for all people because God wants to save them; because Christ is a Savior for everyone, and the Gospel is preached to everyone. The kind of prayer the apostle Paul has in mind, then, is evangelistic prayer and it does not work like Facebook® where you discriminate who belongs in your prayer social network. The invitation list has been set by Christ the King. He likes. It is not who you think is worthy. It is an intercession invitation for the salvation of souls - even the worst of them. Although God is the Christians’ Savior, He wishes for the benefits of His salvific work to be enjoyed by all, even the, “worst of sinners,” and a means to that end are our prayers.
Acts 2:42 describes how the first Christian disciples devoted themselves to, “the teaching of the apostles, to the communion in the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” In other words, what the disciples of the Lord do is devote themselves to the Eucharistic Liturgy, where the Gospel is preached and read from the Scriptures, to Holy Communion and the prayers of the Church. This is what we are called to as well.
No prayer is unimportant, but the most important prayer, clearly, is the great ‘Prayer of the Church’ because in it we entreat God for what is dearest to His heart: the salvation of all people. This makes prayer a great act of faith. The God who rules the world wants His people to pray for the world.
No prayer is unimportant, but the most important prayer, clearly, is the great ‘Prayer of the Church’ because in it we entreat God for what is dearest to His heart: the salvation of all people.
But a great prayer is not the focus of the passage. Already Paul has shown how salvation is the result of God’s mercy and grace, a gift illustrated most clearly in Paul’s conversion (1:12-17). Paul has cited the faithful saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15), and now he offers a confession which Christ Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all (2:6) in accordance with God’s desire for all people to be saved (2:4). Prayer, therefore, is not the topic of this paragraph but rather the stage upon which Paul bases his teaching on the topic of salvation. Prayer is the context, salvation the content.
More specifically, the emphasis appears to be on the universal offer of salvation to all people. The keyword of this section is universality. Four times Paul uses the word, “all.” This sets the tone for the paragraph: “prayers… be made for all people” (v.1); “for kings and all who are in high positions” (v.2); “who desires all people to be saved” (v.4); “Christ was made a ransom for all” (v.6). This theme of salvation for all comes out of the universal implication of 1:15: “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief.” He who saved us, including the chief of sinners, wills to save all. His will to save is as wide as His will to create and protect. God desires salvation beyond what we do and that is because His love expands and is expressed infinitely beyond.
Concordia Theology -Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching I Timothy 2:1-15.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Timothy 2:1-8.