Pray For The World | 1 Timothy 2:1-7
by John Fitzsimmons
Pastor, Sligo City Church
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These verses have been summarised by one commentator as ‘The Great Intercession’ which ought to go hand in hand with ‘The Great Commission’. Meaning, if we are going to play our part in making disciples of all nations then we firstly need to pray for all people.
A missionary called Joanne Shetler spent 25 years doing Bible translation among the Balangao tribesmen in the Philippine mountains. It was hard work, and when she returned to the US for her first sabbatical, she was deeply discouraged: “I was frustrated.” She said “When I came home on my first furlough, after 5 solid years, only two people had believed—not a very good showing, is it? I didn’t know what to do. I dumped the whole load on my home church. And found something out. You can’t do the job yourself. You have got to have people praying for you.” She was learning a valuable lesson about Christian ministry: spiritual work is not accomplished my might, ability, or technique, but by prayer. C. H. Spurgeon believed so much in a praying church that he once said to his congregation; “May God help me, if you cease to pray for me! Let me know the day and I must cease to preach and I will cry, “O my God, give me this day my tomb, and let me slumber in the dust.”
Prayer is the local church’s first priority
One of the things I pointed out last week is that prayer on its own isn’t enough; prayer must always lead to action! I highlighted that spiritual warfare according to Scripture is not less than prayer, but it is more than prayer... This week God’s Word balances things up again by highlighting that prayer must be the first priority of every minister and church. The primary reason God has left his church in the world is to pray for the world. Therefore if we do everything thing apart from pray we do not do enough! Jesus said in Matthew 21:13; “My house shall be called a house of prayer.”
This is what Jesus wants his church to be known as—a house of prayer. Surely this must mean that the very atmosphere of the church should be prayer. It ought to be the most natural thing for us to pray when together. If our times together are to be characterised by one thing that one thing is to be prayer. The church is essentially a worshipping, praying community. When Paul wrote these words to Timothy he had in view a time of public worship—when the church gathered together to praise, pray and learn from Scripture. John Stott warns; “whenever we fail to take public worship seriously, we are less than the fully biblical Christians we claim to be.” From the very beginning meeting publically has always been part of what it means to be Christian and to be part of the church, and these verses are teaching us today that when we meet prayer must be our first priority. These verses should influence how we do church from now on. We need to pray more in our times together. We need to make it priority, and we need to create more opportunities for prayer in the public life of the church if we are to do church as God desires. Colossians 4:2 says; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”
So what we have in these verses is a call to give prayer first priority in the public life of the church. Paul says; V1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.”
Christian Prayer Is Multidimensional
Many people get locked into one dimension of prayer and if others do not pray as they pray, then as far as they’re concerned they’re not really praying. This attitude can be traced to a lack of understanding regarding the multi-dimensional nature of prayer. Four dimensions of prayer are mentioned in our passage but there are others, like confession and praise for example, so I don’t think this is an exhaustive list. I think the fact that Paul uses the more general term “prayers” proves this.
Here’s the point, supplication looks different than thanksgiving, thanksgiving looks different than intercession, intercession looks different than confession etc. Yet they all overlap and complement each other under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and they should all be evident in our prayer life. This is true both in private and public prayer. ‘Supplications’ has to do with asking God to meet specific needs. Knowing what is lacking in someone’s life or in a situation, we plead with God to supply it... ‘Prayers’ is the more general word and in Scripture it is used only in reference to God. Therefore it carries with it a unique sense of worship and reverence. This reminds us that prayer is not all about asking, it is also about enjoying and acknowledging who God is and worshipping him as the LORD who reigns over all the affairs of men. This is why prayer should often be mingled with praise. 1 Thess. 5:16-18 says; “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”
‘Intercessions’ are more intense than ‘supplications’. Intercession has to do with identifying with people’s needs to the point of feeling involved in their struggles, standing in the gap for them. It involves empathy, sympathy, compassion and involvement. For example if we are interceding for the lost (which these verses have in view) we will feel something of their misery and lost-ness, therefore we will boldly draw near to God and cry out to him for the salvation of sinners. Ezekiel 22:30 says; “And I sought for a man from among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, but I found none.” We are called to stand in the gap for our people and the world. ‘Thanksgivings’ speaks for itself, but in the context of praying for people’s salvation we should always remember to thank God that we have a gospel that can save. For this reason all of our prayers are filled with great hope! Prayers of thanksgiving can also be sung. Colossians 3:16 speaks of “singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Christian Prayer Is Global
Christian prayers should be global in scope. This is clear from the rest of our passage which highlights God’s desire for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth! Jesus said in Mark 11:17 “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for the nations’?” Paul writes in our verses for today that we are to pray; V 2-7 “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, that man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 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.”
If we look carefully we will see the same basic truth emphasised five times in these verses: Prayers should be offered for all!
Firstly Paul says prayers should “be made for all people.” Secondly he says we should pray “for kings and all who are in high positions.” Highlighting that we do not only pray for our own leaders but also the leaders of other nations! Kings and all in high positions were not likely candidates to be on a church prayer list when Paul wrote this letter. They were often harsh rulers disliked by the people, and from a Christian perspective most of them were enemies of the gospel. But Paul encourages Timothy to pray for world leaders and governments, his reasoning being; “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” N. T. Wright notes; “when the world is at peace, the gospel can spread more easily. God wants people of every race, colour and language to come to him and find the true ‘salvation’. Verse 4 & 7 indicate that praying for the peace of the world will be part of the apostolic mission to make this wider salvation a reality.” Praying for national leaders works two ways. On the one hand God uses our prayers to change corrupt leadership, benefiting the furtherance of the gospel among other things... And on the other hand it changes our hearts towards them and the people under them...
Thirdly we pray for all because God “desires all people to be saved.” Fourthly we pray for all because “Christ Jesus... gave himself as a ransom for all”! And fifthly we pray for all because Paul describes himself as “a teacher of the Gentiles”, that is, not only to one elite people group, but to all! So as you can see Christian prayer is as global in scope as the Great Commission.
This means when we meet together publically we should not only pray for our own needs, family needs, church needs and local needs. We do pray for these things, of course we do! But if we are to pray as God fully intends then we need to go beyond this and pray for what is happening in the world. We are not to be insular, or narrow, or selfish in our prayers. The individual Christian and the local church’s prayer focus ought to be as wide as the world. This is not an excuse for someone to pray around the world in one go... we’ve all been at that meeting... Rather this is a call to bring specific world issues, leaders, nations to God when we meet together. This protects us from becoming insular & narrow, & it helps enlarge our hearts to see there is a big world out there desperately in need of the love of Jesus. In other words it ignites a missionary passion within us. A missionary passion that has the potential to bring some of us to the ends of the earth...
Global minded churches grow, but insular churches don’t... It’s very simple but it’s very true... Think about it, people don’t want to be part of something insular they want to be part of some global, something that impacts the real world. Apart from anything else it’s hard to break into an insular group... Generally people do not want to be part of some little holy bless me club that is detached from reality in a little Christian bubble floating somewhere in the sweet by and by beyond the real world... No, they want to be part of something that makes a difference in the real world. Something that engages with the social issues of the day... something that takes a stand and fights for justice... something that offers real hope to people who have only known hopelessness... something that hears the cry of the broken-hearted & the poor and brings good news... something that call’s people to live for something bigger than themselves & their little narrow community.
We might be tempted to think the best way to reach Sligo is to only focus on Sligo, but the best way to reach Sligo is to have a vision that is bigger than Sligo, a vision that is global! It’s when we have such a vision that people (especially young people) will begin to flock into the church again because they want to be part of something significant, something that impacts other parts of the world, something bigger, & what we have been called to is as big as the world! And it all starts with learning to pray for the world! It doesn’t end there; remember prayer always ought to lead to action, but everything truly great in the kingdom of God started with prayer, and the amazing thing is any of us can do it!
Christian Prayer Is Evangelistic
So a truly biblical local church is a church with a global vision... It prays for nations, leaders & world issues. It prays for social issues like human trafficking, poverty, natural disaster victims, national governments... and this prayer should always lead to action... But more than all of this Christian prayer is evangelistic because more than anything we want to see people reconnected with God through the person & work Jesus Christ. This is the heart of God & it comes through really strong in these verses when it says; V4-6 “God our saviour... desires all people to be saved & to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, & there is one mediator between God & men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
The world is a very diverse place; diverse in culture, language, politics, religion, needs and people; but in spite of all this diversity there is only one true God, and there is one mediator between God and man - “the man Christ Jesus!” He is the only one who gave his life as a ransom for all! There is no one else who can take his place or share his place. According to Scripture he is the ONE & ONLY mediator!
The fact that Jesus “gave himself” speaks of the sacrificial nature of his death on the cross. His crucifixion was a voluntary offering; he laid it down of his own accord (John 10:18). The fact that Christ died not for himself but “for all” points to the substitutionary nature of his death. As 1 John 2:2 says; “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” His blood made atonement not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. So because Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all, by being crucified for all and therefore becoming the substitute of all, then we should join our prayers with the desire of God and pray for all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
When Paul say’s; V4 “God... desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” – And the next verse makes clear he means the truth as it is in Jesus – he is highlighting that it is not only about people getting saved, but it’s also about them growing in maturity and relationship with Christ... Paul wants us to pray for genuinely saved fully committed disciples who truly desire to know & live for the God who desires them to be saved... Disciples who are hungry to be taught “in faith & truth”... We pray for nothing less and we settle for nothing less...
C. H. Spurgeon who was a greatly used evangelist reminds us; “You cannot bring souls to God if you go not to God yourself.” If we are to see people saved and committed to Christ then we must go to God in prayer on their behalf, on behalf of individuals and nations... John Stott reasons; “I sometimes wonder whether the comparatively slow progress towards peace and justice in the world, and towards world evangelisation, is due more than anything else to the prayerlessness of the people of God.”
The most foolish thing we can do is not pray... because prayer causes things to happen that would not happen if we do not pray... It causes things to happen in the world and it causes things to happen in our hearts... God is calling us to be a house of prayer for the nations...
This is church! Jesus defines it. Do you want to be part of it?