Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 2:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/18/2016 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Prayer For All Men
Insiders and outsiders. In life, in various social groups, there are insiders and outsiders. And that is true with regard to Christ’s kingdom. With regards to the church, there are insiders and there are outsiders. In other words, there are those who are inside the church, those who are members of Christ’s church; that’s us. But then there are outsiders, the unbelieving world that doesn’t know Christ, who is not saved, and who is not a part of his church. And the thing about being an insider, is that you can often forget about the outsiders. Or maybe we can find ourselves just not caring about the outsiders. Or maybe we can even despise the outsiders. Well, this passage challenges this attitude with the call for us insiders to be praying for everyone. And it’s clear that the everyone here particularly has in mind the outsiders. And so this is a passage on prayer, and it’s a passage that calls us to pray for the salvation of the unbelieving world.
And so in our first point for today, I want us to see what should motivate us to this kind of prayer. Verse 4 gives us this motivation. We see here a bold statement that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And so here we have a great motivation for why we should pray for the unbelieving world around us: God’s desire for their salvation. Now I want us to make sure we understand the word “all men” here. This is a phrase that is really important for this entire passage. It’s also a phrase that has sparked a bit of doctrinal controversy among Christians. But you’ll notice that the language of “all” appears in several places in this passage. Verse 1, “all men.” Verse 4, “all men.” Verse 6, “a ransom for all.” The question and controversy comes up if you try to make the word “all” here mean each and every single individual person. Yes, the word “all” can be used in that way. But is that the way it is being used here?
If it did mean that, then this would raise a question about the sovereignty of God in terms of salvation. If God desires for each and every single person to be saved, then why doesn’t that happen? Is God’s sovereignty not able to accomplish his desires? A common response is to say that there is a difference between God’s revealed will, versus his secret will. God can have a real, genuine desire in one sense for all to be saved, even though he obviously has not ordained that to be the case. Well, though I think that is absolutely true, I don’t think that is the solution needed in this passage.
Similarly, when you get to verse 6 and hear that Jesus’ work on the cross was a ransom for all, it brings into question the reformed doctrine of limited atonement. Was Jesus’ sacrifice specifically offered for the elect as we teach, or for each and every human being? Critics to reformed theology would say that it was for each and every human according to verse 6. In response, some have argued that if that were the case, then every human’s sins would be forgiven and so every human would be saved, which we know is not true according to the Bible, nor even this passage. Well, though I think that response is also true, I don’t think we even need to go there for this passage.
You see, I believe the solution is quite simple. The word “all” when talking about humans doesn’t always mean “all” in the most absolute universal sense. The context of the passage can tell you what is specifically meant. For example, Mark 10:32 refers to how all believed John the Baptist was a prophet. Clearly in context you wouldn’t think that meant every member of the human race. Or in Mark 1:37 Jesus’ disciples tell him that “all” were looking for him; they also didn’t mean every member of the human race. There are other similar examples I could give you from the Bible. The point is that context can help us understand what the word “all” refers to. Sometimes instead of meaning “each and every single individual”, it can refer to “all kinds” or “all classes” of people. We get an example of that right away in the next verse, in verse 2, when the prayers for “all people” get specifically referenced to kings and rulers. So we could think of how all people could refer to both rulers and subjects. And yet I don’t think that is even the main point of these references to “all” people. Rather in this passage, I think the answer lies in verse 7. There Pail sums up this particular passage with the fact that he is an apostle to the Gentiles. And there’s the answer.
Notice in verse 7 that Paul says “I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying.” In case you missed that, that’s oath language. This is like Paul holding up his right hand and swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Why does he need to swear to this fact? Because that’s the surprising thing here. That’s what’s so remarkable about everything he’s saying in verse 7. The “all people” that he is talking about are the Gentiles. In other words, he’s making the solemn point that God is not just concerned with saving Jews. God’s also desiring to save the Gentiles. Remember, under the Old Covenant, the Jews were the insiders, and the Gentiles were the outsiders. And so there has been this great redemptive shift in God’s saving work. He now is calling for the gospel of salvation to be delivered not only to Jews but even to Gentiles. That’s what he’s talking about throughout this passage. He’s not having in mind each and every single individual. He’s saying that he desires to save from all classes of people. He’s saying that Christ’s atonement is available not only for Jews but for the all the nations. He’s saying that we should not only be praying for the insiders, but for the outsiders, that the gospel would go to the nations and bring salvation to all the world.
The religious animosity back then between Jews and Gentiles was huge. It was very real, particularly from a Jewish perspective. Paul again reminds the church that it must not discriminate between Jew or Gentile. For us today, that application still exists, but it is probably not as pressing of an issue for us. And yet an extended application of this principle would tell us that today we must not discriminate against any people groups as if the gospel should not be offered to them. Too often churches can become focused on ministering only to people like themselves. Or certain ministries can seem to value the salvation of some groups of people more than others. For some groups, it is the poor, for others its white middle class, for others it’s a particular minority ethnic group. Or sometimes Christians have made the mistake on the mission field to give the impression that conversion to Christianity is about embracing Western cultural values. But the gospel ministry is bigger that any one people group. The gospel is to go out to people of every tongue, tribe, and nation. And so the reason and motivation is because of verse 4. Because God doesn’t desire for just a single people group to be saved. He desires for people of all the nations to be saved. And that is then why we pray to this end. That’s our motivation for our evangelistic prayers.
So then, let’s turn next to discuss that. Let’s consider this exhortation to pray for all men. This is the key exhortation in this passage. It’s right there in verse 1. It’s a command. It’s a duty for the church. I love how prayer is part of the means here of how people of all sorts are going to saved. It is going to involve the church praying for them. Now of course one of the aspects of our prayer is more specifically given in verse 2. There it talks about praying specifically for kings and rulers. There it doesn’t specifically have in mind their salvation, though it doesn’t rule that out either. Rather the prayer request in verse 2 seems to be a sort of an aside. While we’re praying for the salvation of all men, this means we need to also be praying that the rulers in this world would provide an environment where we Christians can live without provocation or persecution. The point it seems is that this will help us in bringing the gospel to the world around us. Again, I’ll talk more about that next week.
But in general, we are being called to pray for the nations and their salvation. And I love how he describes this in verse 1. He uses four words to describe the prayer that he has in mind: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving. Now I don’t want to overly distinguish between these words, because there is some overlap here. But I’ll mention each briefly. Supplications are specific requests we will make. The word for prayer is the most general term here, just like we use it. It can refer in general to our speaking to God. The word intercessions is a more specific term. It refers to how we speak to God regarding someone else and for their benefit. And so in these first three, we can think of how we should be speaking to God for the lost souls around us. We should be asking for their salvation. We should be praying for opportunities to share Christ with them. We should pray that they would see the gravity of their situation without Christ and why they need to be saved. We should pray that they would respond rightly to the gospel as it is shared. We should intercede on their behalf to God. And lastly he says we should be offering thanksgiving in our prayers. At a minimum we can thank God when such people are converted to Christ. We can also thank God when he uses such converts for his glory; Paul is an example that comes to mind. Certainly there are various ways we can be thankful for people who have not yet become Christian, even while we pray for their conversion. We can even thank God when he shows them various mercies and pray that these people would recognize that as coming from God.
And so the point here is that Paul wants our prayers for the lost to be rich. He could have just said in verse 1 to pray for them. But he took the time to say it basically in four different ways. Have rich and complete prayers for the unbelievers around you.
And as some further application, I think we should especially be reminded that this is important for our congregational prayers when we gather on Sundays. This is certainly something I’m reminding myself about today. Paul’s writing to Timothy, a pastor in this congregation. There seems to be a larger context here about what goes on in the church and in its worship. And so we should not only be having this kind of prayer life individually. But especially as a church we should include prayers for the unbelievers around us and pray that they would become saved from their sins.
This leads us then to our third and final point for today. Having seen God’s heart for the lost, and seen the call to prayer, we are then reminded in the final verse that God also uses preaching to save people. We talked early about the means of prayer in terms of the bigger picture of evangelism. But verse 7 reminds us that we still need to actually convey the gospel to people. It is a message that needs to be communicated to the lost. That’s what Paul says he’s especially been tasked with doing. He says three things about his role. He’s a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. I think this is a nice complement to how he described praying for unbelievers. Unbelievers need not only to be prayer for. But they also need to have the gospel communicated to them. And so look at how Paul describes that communication with these three labels. First, he’s a preacher. This is the word for being a herald or a proclaimer. When you here this word, think of something loud and public. Think of like when a royal messenger comes and blows a big loud trumpet and proclaims some edict from the king. That’s basically the idea here about being a preacher. It’s not some secret message that is discretely transmitted. No, it’s something to declare on the roof tops to everyone!
Second, Paul is an apostle. That means he is an authorized messenger. He is a commissioned delegate. In other words, Paul is not just some random person spreading some gossip or rumor that he overheard. No, he comes in the authority of the person who actually sent the message. And remember, that’s God. God is the one according to verse 4 that has the desire to save Gentiles. And so Paul has been commanded by God to go to the Gentiles and declare the way of salvation.
Third, Paul is a teacher. This is a word of instruction. The gospel is knowledge that needs to be taught. You can’t just join a church and commit to believe whatever is they will tell you. To join the church, to become an insider, you have to have faith in the truth of the gospel. That’s what verse 4 says. To be saved from your sins you need to come to know and believe the truth. That’s why Paul says in verse 7 that he is teaching them in faith and in truth. A convert needs to know and believe that God sent Jesus into this world to save sinners. That’s how we are saved from God’s damnation. That’s how we can have eternal life. That message has to be taught to the world. This is the testimony mentioned in verse 6. We bring testimony to the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our debt of sin. What a wonderful description of this in verse 6. Jesus gave himself as our ransom. We’ll be talking about that more in two weeks and how this speaks of Christ’s substitutionary atonement.
And so I love how verse 7 and verse 1 complement each other so well here. On the one hand, prayer for the lost is so important and often overlooked or undervalued. And yet sometimes the other temptation is to only pray for the lost. In other words, sometimes we can fall into the trap of always praying for the lost, but never actually going out and spreading the word. We can pray and pray for our evangelism, but then never go out an evangelize. This passage reminds us that we need to do both.
Now yes, not all of us are preachers, apostles, and teachers. Not all of us are gifted in these areas. But each of us can and should testify to Jesus and the gospel as we have opportunity. And as the church, the church itself is called to preach, and teach, and give apostolic witness to Christ to this world. That means even if you yourself are not called to be a pastor or a teacher, you are to participate in this work of the church. One way to do that is by supporting those and serving those who are pastors or teachers. Be a support role for those who are especially gifted in gospel proclamation. Maybe you aren’t as gifted at writing an evangelistic article, but you can at least take the time to share it or pin it or tweet it via social media. Maybe you aren’t as gifted at going to the street corner and proclaiming the gospel, but you could still go out with the brothers who are, providing moral support and be with them to greet inquirers. Those are just a couple examples of course. And yet many of you are gifted communicators and should especially find ways to speak forth Christ and the gospel to others. Share the gospel as the Lord gives you opportunity and ability!
And of course, to come back to our first point: even though we are all not pastors or teachers, we can all pray. Pray for your pastors and teachers and others who are on the front lines heralding the gospel. Pray for the lost and their conversion. Endeavor to pray not only in quick vague general terms, but to really devote yourself to rich, specific, and hearty prayers for the lost.
So then, I leave us today with two final applications. First, I invite you all to our outreach prayer meetings. We have them after our fellowship meals, which happen when we have them, on the second Sundays of the month. Come and pray together with the saints in a concentrated way for the lost and for our outreach and evangelism.
Second, I point to the phrase in verse 1 “first of all.” I don’t mean to overstate this, but Paul is saying that in his list of exhortations he wanted to especially highlight this. That may be because it was an area that the Ephesian church particularly needed to grow in. But either way it shows that this is an important thing. Make this an important thing to you as well. Let us be lifting up to God our supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for the lost. Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.