Theodore Wedel told the story of a crude lifesaving station. (See previous post for story.) Originally, its sole purpose was to save people who were shipwrecked off the rocky coast. Over time, however, it became a popular gathering place and functioned more as a club for its members. Consequently, while shipwrecks were still frequent in those waters, most of the people drowned.
The apostle Paul sounds a similar warning to the church in Ephesus. In 1 Timothy, Paul gives Timothy instructions how the church is to be organized and structured. In chapter 2, Paul turns his attention to the subject of prayer (1-7) and the role of men and women in worship (8-15). He explains that men are to lead the congregation in praying for the spread of the gospel (2:1-8).
In verse 1, Paul says that prayer is one of the priorities of the church. He uses four words to describe prayer—supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving. Rather than offer a legalistic formula that every prayer should include each category, I believe Paul is using the first three words as synonyms for prayer. His point is that prayer should be laced with thanksgiving. Rather than just ask and make demands of God, we should offer our prayers in an attitude of gratitude.
Specifically, Paul tells us to pray for our government leaders (2). Far too often, we are quick to criticize our leaders and complain about their decisions. Instead, Paul tells us to pray for them because their decisions affect how we live. Leaders can create an atmosphere conducive to the spread of the gospel. The bills they consider and the laws they pass determine whether we will be struggling for survival or whether we can focus on sharing our faith.
Paul goes on to explain that this type of prayer fits in with God’s plan (3-6). God desires that all people come to know his grace and love. Please don’t misunderstand and think that Paul is teaching universalism, that all people will be saved. He already made it clear in 1:18-20 that Christ died to save sinners. Not everyone will accept Christ’s sacrifice. But that doesn’t change the fact that God provided the way of salvation and desires all people to receive the gift. Not only does God desire all people to be saved, he is completely focused on salvation (5-6). As Paul explains, there is only one God, one mediator who brings God and people together, and one plan of salvation. Paul understood that preaching the gospel was his sole purpose in life (7).
In verse 8, Paul explains that men are to take the lead in praying. They are to set the pace in leading the congregation in praying for effective outreach. In saying that they should lift holy hands, he is not emphasizing one’s posture in prayer. Rather, he is contrasting that action with the attitude of contention and conflict. If your hands are lifted up, they are not clenched in anger or pointing fingers at others. One’s attitude in prayer is far more important than one’s posture.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 29, 2013. It is part of a series on 1 Timothy. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.