Pray For All People
November 25, 2018 Speaker: Jim Davis
Topic: Default Passage: 1 Timothy 2:1–2:8
As you heard read, we are in 1 Timothy chapter 2 this morning. Paul is writing this letter because he wants Timothy to be an effective pastor of a fruitful church. He wants the church to not only be stable, but faithfully on mission as well. And Paul is telling Timothy that there is a starting point for a missional church. If you want to be a church that impacts the surrounding community, you must be a church that prays for all people.
Outside of parenting, I can’t think of an area where more Christians feel guilt than prayer. We all know we can pray more often, more specifically and more Biblically. And here, in our text, is Paul seems to be raising the bar even higher in our prayer lives by saying that now we need to be praying for ‘all people.’
You and I, to some degree, are still getting to know each other. I realize that. But, I think I have been here long enough and had enough conversations with you to say that the preeminent desire among you is that this would be a church that tangibly be used to see the spiritual landscape of this city changed. In one of Curt’s last sermons on the seasons of OGC, he called this a season of influence.
Do you know that every major revival, awakening and missionary movement that I am aware of began with a deep desire inside the people of God to pray. There are stories preceding the great awakening of churches being filled with people who just wanted to come and pray. They would pray at all hours and stay so long that, at times, they had to be asked to leave.
Paul is telling Timothy that this is how the Kingdom of God comes to earth: by praying for all people. So, this morning I want to examine what Paul is saying by looking at who we pray for, how we pray and why we can pray.
- Who We Pray For
We pray for all people. Look at verse 1: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.
So, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we need to get out the phone book and pray for every name? I bet a third of this room probably doesn’t even know what a phone book is. I think we can by reason conclude that Paul is not commanding us to pray for every single person on Earth by name. That simply isn’t possible.
But, I also think the command is something more than a sweeping, “God, I pray that you would bless all the people. Amen.” If that is all we are supposed to do, what in the world was Jesus up all night doing? That’s not what the command is either.
The command is to pray for all kinds of people. Every category you can think of. All the types of people near and far. Some of them will be by name. Surely, the people you know best, your family, friends, and people in your church you will pray for by name. The lead pastor at my former church, JD Shaw, shaped me in many ways. I’m very thankful for my time with him. But one of the things that most impressed me about JD was that he would go through the church members name by name on a daily basis and pray for them. I know this is the practice of many of the elders here at OGC. I also know that they don’t just say your name and move on. They know how to pray for you. That’s an example of praying for one kind of people: the local church.
But the command is more comprehensive than just the people we know. We are to pray for all kinds of people we don’t know as well. And as an example of a kind of people we should pray for, Paul singles out one group: Kings and those in high positions. Why do you think he does this?
Surely, these are very logical people to pray for because they affect the our daily lives in significant ways. But I don’t think that’s all Paul is doing in commanding us to pray for kings and those in high position. Paul is focusing the church on a group of people that would have been very hard to pray for. And in doing so, he is exposing the reality of our hearts.
So, why would they have been hard to pray for? They would have been hard to pray for for at least three reasons. First, the church in Ephesus was a persecuted church at this point and the persecution came from up high. It came from the Emperor Nero and all those in high positions who carried out his orders. It is hard to pray for those who willingly do you wrong and contribute to your trials and suffering.
Certainly this is not a new idea that Paul is bringing to the table. Jesus said, “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..”
That’s the first reason it would have been hard to pray for kings and those in high positions. Second, not only are the Kings and people in high positions negatively affecting the lives of this church, but this is a group of people the church rarely or never saw. The Emperor lived in Rome so likely, hardly any of the Ephesian believers had ever even seen him. And whatever high officials lived in Ephesus were likely secluded somewhere protected and blocked off by their help and security. It is always hard to pray for those out of sight and mind whether they affect your life or not.
And thirdly, humanly speaking, this group of people would have been the least likely to convert. Those in positions of power and wealth are always the least likely to come to faith and because of that, the least likely to be prayed for. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God…With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Paul is pushing the boundaries of how the Ephesians pray. Those who do them wrong, those who are out of sight and those who are least likely to convert. And in doing so, Paul is pushing the boundaries of how we pray. Who are the people you think are beyond saving? Who causes you harm? Who are your enemies? Who are the out of sight, out of mind in your community?
I’d like to make two suggestions on different ends of the social spectrum. First, are you praying for the people in the political party you didn’t vote for? Certainly, they affect your life and they are, for the most part, distant and remote. Even if you see them on TV, you don’t know them and it would be easy for you to ignore them in your prayers, but Paul is saying pray for them.
Secondly, who are the out of sight and out of mind in our community? Who are the underprivileged and disenfranchised that we should be praying for? I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I don’t want to whitewash this topic either. There are people in this city who have no voice and we are called to be a voice for them in our prayers. This includes, the unborn, the impoverished, the incarcerated and the mentally incapacitated. Are you praying for the underprivileged and disenfranchised in Orlando?
My challenge to myself and to you is to list five different groups of people and pray for them. Make one group close to you, one group far off, one group out of sight, one group under persecution and one group that has done you wrong in some way.x2 Pray for those five groups for one month and see how the Lord might use it in your heart and theirs.
That’s who we are supposed to be praying for, now we are going to look at how we pray for them.
- How we pray
Paul lists four ways we are supposed to pray. Three of them are, again, in verse one. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.
Why do you think he listed those three things: supplications, intercessions and thanksgiving? He could have just said, “Pray for all people.” But he doesn’t because he is doing something very intentional here. Again, he’s engaging our heart. He doesn’t want us to grit our teeth and say some rote prayer like, “Dear God, I pray for Donald Trump. Amen.” Or “Dear God, I pray for Nancy Pelosi. Amen.”
I see enough of that at our dinner table. “Dear God, please help my brother to not be a jerk. Amen.” That’s not the way God wants us to be praying
God wants more of our heart to be engaged as we pray and so Paul makes sure to define what our prayers should look like. First, he wants us to make intercession. That means we are going to God and asking for things that person needs and wants for their good.
Second, he wants us to make supplication. Supplication engages your heart even more. If you think of intercessions like a petition, supplication would be more of a plea. Supplication is when we don’t just ask for something, we beg for it, maybe on our knees. And this is how we are supposed to be praying for all people.
Thirdly, we have prayers of thanksgiving. Paul tells the Ephesian church to pray for the people they dislike the most and then tells them to thank God for them. Not a general prayer, but a specific reason you are thankful for them. Paul does this because there is always something to be thankful for about anyone and this engages your heart toward them in the deepest possible way.
Every good marriage counselor will tell you that the antidote to bitterness is thanksgiving. Find something you are thankful for in your spouse and that will open the door to profitable discussion about the things that really hinder your marriage. It’s funny, often the thing that irritates you about your spouse now is the exact thing that attracted you to them years ago. Angela was attracted to my ‘driven nature’ when we were dating. We got married and she’s ‘drowning in my wake.’ I have a friend whose wife was attracted to his ‘laid back nature’ and after they got married he suddenly became ‘lazy.’
When we can see what we are thankful for in someone else, it softens our hearts. So, what are the things you are thankful about the people you either don’t know or don’t like? Paul is saying we are to pray them with a fully engaged heart.
There is another reason we know Paul’s hope is to engage our heart in the way we pray. Because of the word, ‘then.’ Did you notice that in verse one? First of all, then,... You could also translate this word as ‘therefore’ and we all know what to do with a therefore. Paul is connecting what he is saying here to the last chapter. Let’s go back there.
This charge, I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander…
Holding faith and a good conscience. That’s the key. That’s what this word ‘then’ is pointing back to. And in this passage, Pauls tells us what happens if we don’t hold faith and a good conscience: we make shipwreck of our faith. That’s why Paul names Hymenaeus and Alexander. That’s what they did. They made shipwreck of their faith by not holding faith and a good conscience.
So, how does a fully engaged heart in prayer help us to hold faith and a good conscience? I have John Piper to thank for seeing this clearly. A good conscience is a conscience that does not condemn you for the things you do or don’t do. So, Paul is saying that in order for your ship of faith to stay afloat, you need to see to it that you don’t do the things your conscience condemns or leave undone the things which your conscience demands.
Every Christian in this room has likely experienced this. I know in my own life I can fall into habits that my conscience condemns and then it begins to say things like, “Jim, you talk about Jesus all day, but then you go and do this or think this? If you really trusted Jesus, you wouldn’t be doing these things.” And this bad conscience begins, in Piper’s words, to drill its little holes into the belly of the ship of our faith until one of two things happens. Either we confirm the genuineness of our faith by changing our ways and plugging up the holes of a bad conscience or we show that our faith was never seaworthy and sink into the abyss of unbelief, like Hymenaeus and Alexander.
And Paul is saying in verse one that one way we keep the faith and a good conscience is by praying for all people! When we approach the God of the universe asking for the souls of other humans, we can’t help but expose our own bad consciences. We see our own sin even more clearly. And in that moment, we will either repent or stop praying. Prayer is in itself an act of worship.
The goal isn’t just that we would do something, the goal is that we would become something. The goal in the command isn’t our actions, but our hearts.
Then we have the fourth way we are to pray in verse two. We are to pray that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. I read this and my initial reaction is discomfort. A peaceful, quiet life? That isn’t the call of the Christian. The call of the Christian is to be a soldier, to sacrifice whatever we need to sacrifice to see the gospel go forward. Is Paul contradicting the lives of Jim Elliot and this week John Chau who died trying to reach the island people of Sentinel? What does it mean to pray for a peaceful and quiet life?
Here is what Paul is NOT saying: the goal of the Christian life is to be comfortable. Paul is saying there is something about a peaceful and quiet life that will fuel the spread of the gospel. In Paul’s mind, the gospel is better positioned to move forward the more Nero removes the pressure he is putting on Christians. Clearly, the religious freedom the United States experienced for about 400 years did much for the spread of the gospel. That just can’t be debated.
So, as we pray, we should have a regular place in our prayers for those in persecution that they may be able to lead peaceful and quiet lives that the gospel would go forward. Lord knows, we may need those in the Southern Hemisphere praying that for us before too long.
So we pray for all people with supplication, thanksgiving, intercession that they might lead peaceful and godly lives and in doing so, our heart is engaged. But, we haven’t seen the true reason we pray. The why behind the what.
III. Why we can pray
There are two reasons we can pray. First, we can pray because God desires it. I know some of you have noticed this already, but in the middle of our passage, we have this landmine verse. It is a verse thrown around a lot like a missle from theological camp to theological camp. Let’s read it remembering that Paul is giving us the first part of the answer why we can pray.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Why do we pray for all people? Because God desires all people to be saved and our prayers are a real part of that process.
Now, can you see why this is a landmine verse? If God desires all people to be saved, why are all people not saved? Is God limited in His ability to save people? Is He unable or unwilling to carry out this task? Because we know all people are not saved. Jesus makes that abundantly clear. There will be people like Judas at the end who are told “depart from me. I never knew you.” You see why it’s a landmine.
So what do we do with all that? It’s actually not as confusing as it has been made out to be. The ‘all’ Paul is referring to here is the same group we are to be praying for: all people. And we have already seen that it isn’t a command to pray for every single person, but every type of person. So, the desire God has is the same. He desires all types, all classes of people to come to faith. Whether King or slave, politician or peasant. God’s desire isn’t for one class or ethnicity, but for all classes and all ethnicities. That’s the desire Paul is talking about. That’s why Jesus in John 17 says: I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.
So, it can’t be every single person. The purpose of this verse is to encourage us in our prayers. Do you know why we pray for all people? Because God wants their souls. Even those who seem far off, even those seem most lost, even for those we have prayed for for years. God desires every type of person so we pray for every type of person. And our prayers really matter. Maybe the reason we feel moved to pray is because God has put a person or a group of people on our heart because He is calling them to Himself.
Nothing could be more useless than prayer if God doesn’t desire the souls of His people and Paul is saying that is exactly what He desires. He desires their souls, so we pray.
That’s the first reasons we can pray.
Secondly, we can pray because we have a mediator. Look at verses 5 and 6:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
There is that word ‘all’ again, which I hope is clear by now. Do you realize that the only reason we can pray is because we have a Mediator? There is a phrase I’m sure many of you have heard before that says, “hell is eternity without the presence of God.” I appreciate what that phrase is trying to communicate, but it’s not accurate. Hell is standing in front of God in all His glory with no mediator at all.
If you’re here today and you’re not a Christian, my guess is that this would be the most controversial part of my sermon. The fact that we can only pray if we have a mediator. And to be fair, I think that most of America would be with you and not me. But, I’d like to lay out the Christian view of why we need a mediator and why that mediator is Jesus.
When we, sinful, rebellious people stand in front of a Holy and Just God, that will not go well. It can seem like poor old God is allergic to sin. If He gets around sin, He might get sick. Everywhere in Scripture that sin and the holiness of God meet, though, there is an explosion and when the dust settles, God is doing just fine. That is why we need a mediator! Someone to make our case before a holy God and Jesus claims He is that mediator.
So, what qualifies Jesus to be that mediator? To go between sinful men and a Holy God? I mean, why can’t Oprah do that? Or the guy who writes our horoscopes? What about Buddha or Muhammad? Well, the text tells us. Because only Jesus is qualified.
In our increasingly pluralistic society, people want to affirm Christ as long as it doesn’t exclude anyone else. The problem is that you can’t do that when there is only one qualified mediator. As the tensions between parties rises and the relationships and issues become more complex, the number of qualified mediators decreases.
We have four kids and I can tell you that my wife feels like a full-time mediator. Especially last week when our kids were out on vacation. But the tensions and complexity of the issues at home aren’t that large so most any of you could step in and mediate my family strife. And believe me, over Thanksgiving, a few people did step into my family strife.
But if you go to mediation between two very complex businesses looking to merge, the number of people qualified to mediate gets drastically smaller. Then you go to mediation between two countries about to go to war and there are just a handful of people alive who can step in and mediate. The tensions, complexities and stakes are just too high.
But when you talk about mediation between the One True God and all of mankind who has rebelled against Him, there is only one. The only person who is fully man, tempted in every way as we are and yet fully God remaining sinless. Only He can truly understand our plight and approach God on our behalf. And only He can take our place and endure the wrath we deserve in our place. His is what Paul means when he says that Jesus ransomed Himself. He substituted Himself for every type of sinful person.
There is only one qualified mediator so there is only one way to God. If you’re here today and you don’t have a mediator, would you like one?
And to every Christian here today, in addition to being the reason we can pray, He is the proof that God desires all people to be saved. He provided a way for us at great cost to Himself. Our only hope, Jesus Christ, our Mediator. So we pray.
This passage is about prayer, but prayer as a means to accomplish something: all types of people entering the Kingdom of God. So, I want to change things up just a bit. I want to finish by asking each of you to think for a moment about a few groups of people. I want you to push the boundaries in your heart and include at least one group who are out of sight and one that you don’t like. Get them in your head
Now, I want to spend just a couple minutes praying for each of these groups of people.