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Priority One

The apostle Paul wrote his last three epistles to Timothy and Titus. We refer to these three letters as the Pastoral Epistles. Paul wrote the books of First Timothy and Titus in 64 A.D. He wrote Second Timothy, his final epistle, in 67 A.D. not long before his martyrdom. These books, which Paul wrote to two young preachers he mentored, provide manuals for church life, especially church leadership consisting of bishops and deacons. Every seminary should offer and require intensive classes, both exegetical and expository, covering these books. 

This article examines a section of First Timothy that establishes prayer as priority one for the local church. Our text is 1 Timothy 2:1-4:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

Paul's instruction to Timothy takes the form of an exhortation, in which he urges Timothy to make prayer the top priority in church life. Its immediate applicability is the church at Ephesus where Timothy was the pastor. But it applies to every local church from the apostolic era to the present. The priority of prayer is encapsulated in the  phrase first of all [things]. The Greek πρῶτον (prōton) signifies “first in rank (order of importance).” In the list of all things the church is to be about, prayer is to be at the top of that list.

The Objects of Our Praying

The objects of prayer where the church is concerned are: (1) all men, (2) kings, and (3) all that are in authority. The all men for which we are exhorted to pray (2:1) are the all men God desires to save (2:4). Calvinists break a leg here claiming “all men” must mean “all [kinds of] men” due to their doctrine of Limited Atonement. But the Greek construction in both instances (πάντων ἀνθρώπων) disallows such an interpretation. No one would deny that God desires to save all kinds of men. He has done and is doing exactly that. But that stipulation is no reason to believe God desires to save some but not all anymore than it means we should pray for some but not all. 

The word therefore points back to 1:18-20, where Paul gives Timothy two very important reasons prayer should be the first priority of the church. First, the young pastor, like all believers, was engaged in spiritual combat. This is a truth too few believers learn early on in their Christian walk. In this regard, the church has failed miserably in the area of discipleship. Secondly, combat produces casualties. Paul mentions by name two men—Hymenaeus and Alexander—who had “shipwrecked” concerning the faith. Satan takes no prisoners! Therefore prayer is seen as preparaton for spiritual warfare and the prevention of spiritual shipwreck.

The text does teach us to pray for two kinds of men within the all men context: kings and all that are in authority (2:2). Kings is the plural of βασιλεύς (basileus), “a leader, a sovereign power.” These are heads of government. Jesus is the king of these kings (6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). All that are in authority is ὑπεροχή (hyperochē), “one superior in rank or authority.” This group represents those who hold lesser positions in government as well as anyone under whose authority a believer lives his or her life. Reverence and respect for the various authorities in the believer's life is fundamental to the Christian faith. We are exhorted to pray for them. 

There's an interesting play on words in our text. It involves the preposition ὑπέρ (for) and the noun ὑπεροχή (superiors). The preposition ὑπέρ is used throughout NT scripture to teach the substitutionary death of Christ. It means “over, above, in the stead of” and is integral to the word ὑπεροχή. We are exhorted to take a position in our praying similar to the position those in authority take in their governing. In their governing, they're OVER us. In our praying, we're OVER them. Prayer enables the church to blanket its political leaders with God's spiritual authority at the same time they blanket us with their political authority. This play on words teaches a profound spiritual truth. Doesn't it make perfect sense for the church to pray on behalf of those on whose behalf the Lord Jesus endured the brunt of God's justice and wrath toward sin?  

The Elements of Our Praying

Paul uses four words to describe for Timothy the basic elements of prayer. The first is supplications. The word is δέησις (deēsis), “a petition to meet a need.” The second is prayers. The word is προσευχή (proseuchē), “a form of oratorical worship directed toward God.” It's the more general word for prayer, which emphasizes God as the one toward whom we direct our prayers. The third is intercessions. The word is ἔντευξις (enteuxis), “a coming together to have a conversation, an interview.” An intercessory prayer session involves God and the believer (in this case, the church) coming together to have a conversation about third parties. The fourth is giving of thanks. The word is εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), “an expression of thankfulness, gratitude to God (as an act of worship).” 

It would take a good-sized dictionary to enumerate all the things for which a believer should-could offer thanks. In the context, however, the thankfulness in view would seem to do with the individuals for whom the church is praying. The church, in its thanksgiving toward God, expresses gratitude for who he is, for what he's done and in advance for what he's going to do in the lives of men. Moreover, the verbs I exhort (active voice) and be made (passive voice) are both present tense. The exhortation to pray has continued in force for two-thousand years.  

The Effects of Our Praying

The effects of prayer are felt primarily by the church itself. Although the men, the kings and superiors for whom the church prays may find salvation in Christ and therefore be more kindly disposed toward the church, prayer's primary goal is “that WE may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (2:2) without regard for how the world behaves or treats us. 

The direct effect of corporate prayer by the church is “a quiet and peaceable life.” The word quiet is ἤρεμος (ēremos), an adjective meaning “still, quiet, tranquil.” This is its only usage in the NT. The word peaceable is ἡσύχιος (hēsychios), an adjective meaning “quiet, sedentary (by keeping one's seat), undisturbed.” It's used twice in the NT. The words are virtual synonyms. Quiet refers to an inward calm whereas peaceable refers to an outward demeanor. I'm inclined to believe Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were “quiet and peaceable” in the midst of that fiery furnace even as Daniel was “quiet and peaceable” in the midst of that den of lions. In the midst of a tempestuous storm on Galilee, Jesus was engaged in “quiet and peaceable” sleep while his disciples feared for their lives. A quiet and peaceable life is possible only for those who operate under God's authority and know that even their enemies are governed by the same authority. Prayer creates that posture of calm for the church.

Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy in 64 A.D. The “king” at the time of writing was Nero (54-68 A.D.). He was merciless in his treatment of Christians, killing both Peter and Paul (65 A.D.). The Emperor Trajan (98-117 A.D.) was “more skilled” than his predecessors, but nevertheless a persecutor of the church. He implemented a policy, wherein he decreed that Christians be allowed to affirm allegiance to Roman gods and denounce Christ before being officially charged and punished. The reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) saw the first official anti-Christian literature. He killed Justin, the first Christian philosopher, in 165 A.D. During his reign, Christian blood “flowed more profusely than ever before.” Prayer that produces tranquility and peaceability among God's people does NOT necessarily produce immunity from persecution and national mayhem. 

There are many who quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the cure-all for America's ills. In so doing, they typically assign blame to the church for corruption in government and general ungodliness in the land. I get the sentiment. But the “my people” of 7:14 is a reference to Israel, NOT the church. The promise God gave Solomon was given in the midst of spiritual renewal. The “land” God promised to heal was the Promised Land. He promised to “heal” it if backslidden Israel would repent, turn from their sin and seek his face. The Christian church can obey Paul's exhortation to pray and still, through no fault of its own, endure hardship and find itself surrounded by a society immersed in wickedness. Some measure of persecution is guaranteed to all who will live godly in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12). Those who hold to 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the answer to America's problems and blame the church for them must also acknowledge the same logic has global application. In order words, if the church in any land ever gets right with God concerning its prayer life, that nation will experience revival as well. Tell that to Christian churches in Muslim countries. Is there any need to explain the fallacy of that logic? 

In addition, prayer breeds “godliness and honesty.” Godliness is nothing more than God-likeness. It signifies a holiness of life. Holiness is not so much a prohibitive life as it is an affirmative life, wherein the believer embraces the promises in Christ as “Yea, and Amen” (2 Corinthians 1:20) and allows the Spirit of God to produce the fruits of righteousness in his life (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9). Godliness is a strong God-consciousness resulting in conduct of which God approves. The word honesty is σεμνότης (semnotēs), signifying “gravity” or seriousness of life. Paul lists this trait as a pastoral qualification (3:4). In his letter to Titus, he uses the word to describe the seriousness with which the man of God should deal with doctrine (2:7). Honesty strikes the perfect balance between arrogance and foolishness. Seriousness is not joylessness, but rather purposefulness of life lived out in the sight of God. 

The Rewards of Our Praying

The reward for the praying church is how their praying stacks up “in the sight of God our Saviour.” Scripture says it is “good and acceptable” to pray for all men, kings and superiors. The word good is καλός (kalos), that which is “excellent in its nature and characteristics.” The other NT word for good is ἀγαθός (agathos), that which is “beneficial, useful.” While both describe the goodness of a thing, καλός  speaks of inherent or intrinsic goodness whereas ἀγαθός calls attention to the goodness of a thing for its beneficial effect. For example, one can hold an apple in his hand and admire it for its beauty (free of blemishes), shape and color (i.e., its καλός). But when one bites into the apple and begins to consume it, he experiences the benefits of the apple as to taste and nutritional value (i.e., its  ἀγαθός). Paul tells Timothy prayer offered to God on behalf of all men, kings and superiors is a good thing in and of itself without regard for its benefit. 

In the sight of God our Saviour, this is an acceptable thing. The word acceptable is ἀπόδεκτος (apodektos), that which is “agreeable.” The idea is God gladly “receives from” the church the prayers, petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving it offers up in prayer. To say this is an acceptable activity signifies it is agreeable to his will. That which is agreeable to his will is pleasing to him. We know prayer that's pleasing to him and agreeable to his will can shake buildings (Acts 4:31), unlock prison doors (12:10) and open the hearts of lost men (16:14, 30-31). The Saviour is in the business of saving men. It's what he desires to do. Can any church that goes month after month, year after year without seeing God save sinners in their midst think for one minute they're in business with God? If your church seldom if ever sees lost men come to Jesus, you might as well hang an “Out of Business” sign outside!

Prayer is priority one for the local church. If the church fails here, it will likely fail everywhere else. Paul is clear about the objects of our praying, its basic elements, its effects upon the praying church and its rewards in the sight of God. The Lord Jesus, God our Saviour, is in the business of saving men. He came to seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). The best evidence that a church is doing business with God is the Lord Jesus saving sinners in their midst.


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