When He cleansed the temple, Jesus, quoting the Old Testament (Isaiah 56:7), declared that God’s house was to be a house of prayer for all nations (Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). Sadly, it had become everything but that.
What was true of the old covenant house of God is to be equally is to be equally true of the new covenant house of God. The local church—the body of believers that make up the congregation—must be a people of prayer. We as a congregation are to be a house of prayer.
It is because of this conviction that our church has a Sunday afternoon prayer meeting half an hour before the commencement of the evening service. For many years, we held this prayer meeting in an upper room behind the balcony in our building, but several years ago we made the move to shift the prayer meeting to the main auditorium. We didn’t want the prayer meeting to be a separate part of Sunday worship. We believe that the church is to pray together. When the church gathers, it is—like the church in Acts—to be the church at prayer.
This is the primary burden that guided Paul as he penned 1 Timothy 2. The theme of the letter is regulated church life (3:15). The apostle was aware of some particular issues that required apostolic instruction: heretical teaching and the need to keep the gospel central (chapter 1); the need for qualified office bearers (chapter 3), the need for Timothy to persevere as the pastor teacher (chapter 4; particularly vv. 12-16); the need for strengthened relationships within the church (chapter 5), the need to guard against materialism, etc. Included in the needs of the Ephesian church was the need to prioritise prayer (chapter 2). These believers needed the exhortation to be a praying church. When they gathered, they needed to gather as the church at prayer.
We need the same exhortation. Let us not forget that what we read in1 Timothy 2 is apostolic instruction. The chapter begins in the original with the word “I.” This was an apostle’s instruction to a local church, and we can therefore be sure that it is God’s will for us. At BBC, we have made some progress in this direction, but there is always room for improvement. It is my burden in this study that BBC would improve in this regard; and I trust that your local church—if you are a member elsewhere—will latch onto this same burden. To this end, let us notice several important lessons from vv. 1-10.
A Priority of Congregational Life
We learn in v. 1 that prayer is to be a priority of congregational life. Paul begins, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (v. 1).
The phrase “first of all” does not mean that this was the first exhortation that Paul was about to give in a long list of exhortations. Instead, it is a phrase that speaks of priority. Prayer is to be a matter of first priority in the church. First things must come first, and prayer is to be of first importance.
This should not surprise us. After all, the apostles were committed to give their time “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Prayer is mentioned first here because it was such a high priority to them. We sometimes think that we are too busy to pray. Bill Hybels argues that it is far more likely that we are too busy not to pray.1 Sadly, we are all too often guilty of relegating prayer to a matter of least importance. Martin Luther was a man of prayer, and while the veracity of the quote is disputed, Luther is often quoted as saying, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” Even if he never said those words, they certainly accord with his attitude in prayer, and relate a profound truth: We must soak our busyness in prayer.
As a local church, prayer is to be a matter of first priority. Do you gather with the church to pray? At BBC, we have to Lord’s Day prayer meetings: in the morning at 8:15 AM and in the afternoon at 5:30 PM. We frequently exhort our church members from the pulpit to gather with the church to pray, for we believe that it must be a matter of priority to the church. Such prayer meetings are a time of great encouragement. (Paul uses the word “exhort,” which carries the idea of strong encouragement.) Those who gather will testify to the encouragement experienced. Will you gather to be encouraged by prayer? Will you invite others to experience this same encouragement?
As I have said, it is often sadly the case that we fail to make prayer a matter of priority. Why is this so? I think there are several reasons.
First, there is often simply lack of instruction. Sometimes, Christians are simply not taught how important prayer is to the Christian life and church. That is part of the reason for my burden in this study.
Second, Christians and churches sometimes just doubt. We sometimes wonder whether God really hears us. We may be tempted to think that God has far weightier matters with which to concern Himself than our requests. But the Scriptures tell us that God delights to hear from His children.
Solomon wrote, “The LORD is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (Proverbs 15:29). Again, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15:8). Revelation 5:8 compares “the prayers of the saints” to incense before God (Revelation 5:8).
We need to be convinced that God loves it when His people pray, and then we must respond accordingly.
Third, we often battle with a sense independence and self-sufficiency. Like the Laodiceans, we sometimes feel that we have need of nothing—including God (Revelation 3:17). Nothing will kill prayer faster than self-sufficiency. Solomon promised that God “shall regard the prayer of the destitute, and shall not despise their prayer” (Proverbs 102:17).
Are you dependent enough to be desperate enough to pray? In Bible times, the most desperate and therefore dependent people were widows and orphans. Later in this letter Paul writes, “Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day” (5:6). Those who are truly desperate understand the importance of prayer.
Too often, we forget that our cupboards are full because God has filled them. Jesus told us to pray for our daily bread, but so often we have so much more than our daily bread that we neglect to pray for it. We must come to grips with our dependence on God if we will be people of prayer.
It is always important to pay attention in Scripture reading to conjunctions. When we read “therefore” in v. 1, we should understand that the apostle is linking what he is about to say on the matter of prayer to what he has just said in chapter 1, where he details the centrality of the gospel.
Paul exhorts Timothy in the opening chapter to fight the good fight to guard the gospel. He wants Timothy to go to war, as it were, to guard the true gospel. But the proclamation and protection of the glorious gospel of God requires prayer.
I recently spent some time in another part of the country teaching at a conference for pastors of local churches in the area. I have been involved in these annual conferences for some years now. This year, I taught 1 Timothy, which was a tough assignment given the fact that several of the “pastors” present were women! I anticipated a difficult time. As I prepared to teach each day, I received numerous texts from men in our church assuring me of their prayers. Though some tough things were said, I can honestly say that it was perhaps the best year I have experienced at these conferences. I have no doubt that the prayers of the flock at BBC played an integral role in this.
As we will see, prayer is a God-ordained means to the end of the salvation of all kinds of men. It is a means to reformation and revival (see Ephesians 6:18-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Prayer takes on different forms at different times, but Paul wants the church to be comprehensive in its prayers. He exhorts the church to give itself to “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks.”
“Supplications” speaks of offering requests for a felt need.
“Prayers” is a more general word, which speaks of ever form of reverent address. Importantly, it speaks of reverent address, for prayer is a sacred matter. It is an act of worship, and the church ought to treat it as such.
“Intercessions” means, literally, “meeting with.” We meet with God at His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16) and bring our petitions to Him. There is a suggestion here of confidence in God as we pray—confidence that He can grant the petitions that we bring.
“Giving of thanks,” clearly, speaks of expressed gratitude. It is important to express gratitude to God in prayer, both for what He has done, and by faith for what He will do.
In short, we are to offer all kinds of prayer to God. Just do it! Just pray!
The Triumph of the Gospel
It is important to note that Paul has a very particular focus of prayer in these verses. The congregation is expected to pray for the completion of the Great Commission.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
(1 Timothy 2:1-7)
As a local church, we are expected to pray for conversions, for gospel success. God’s concern is to be ours (see Matthew 6:8-9). Let us notice several things from these verses.
All Kinds of People
First, the church must pray for all kinds of people. Paul says that we are to pray for “all men” (v. 1). “All” here does not speak of all numerically but of all categorically. We are to lift up all kinds of prayer for all kinds of people.
Again, Paul has a particular focus here. Certainly we are to pray for all sorts of things—provision, protection, healing, etc.—but this is not his emphasis here. Instead, Paul has in mind prayer for gospel fruit.
The Power of the Gospel
We might say that Paul wants the church to pray all kinds of prayers in order that all kinds of people will experience all the power of the gospel. To put it in his words, we are to pray “for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (vv. 2-4).
Importantly, God is presented here as a saving, delivering God. God loves to save people! He sent Jesus to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Through Isaiah, God said, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (45:22). The Christmas blessing was a promise of “peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14, ESV) or “to the people He favours” (HCSB). To return to the language of our present text, God “desires all [kinds of] men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).
There is something of a technical point here. The word translated “desires” can be used in various ways. Depending on the context, it can either mean “wishes” or “purposes.” Some have argued that this verse teaches universalism: that since God “wishes” or “purposes” all men to be saved, all men will ultimately be saved. But, again, “all men” must be read in the light of the context. We pray for all kinds of men because God wants all kinds of men to be saved. And so we pray for pastors, politicians and parents—because God wants all kinds of men to be saved. We pray for students and surgeons, accountants and architects, dentists and draughtsmen, teachers and toxicologists—because God wants to save all kinds of people. Do not be sidetracked here. We know that not every person will be saved, but we know that all kinds of people will be saved (see John 12:32; Revelation 5:9).
Regardless of your soteriology, let’s all agree on the same kneeology. We are commanded to pray for the success of the gospel. We are to pray for conversions. And we who believe in the doctrines of grace have greater encouragement to pray, for we know that God will save some!
God wants all sorts of people “to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He does not want them to only be exposed to it, but to actually embrace and experience it. The implication is that prayer is a necessary means to this end. We will never be successful in evangelism as a church if we are not persistent in prayer.
Such prayer pleases God. It is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour” to pray this prayer (v. 3). It is “good” in the deepest sense: right and morally excellent. It is a godly thing to do. It is “acceptable” or pleasing to God to pray this type of prayer. The word translated “accepted” is translated in Luke 8:40 as “welcomed” and in Acts 2:41 as “gladly received.” God welcomes and gladly receives prayer for the success of the gospel. And He does so because such prayer glorifies Him.
Such praying is welcomed by God because “there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (vv. 5-6). Our prayers are motivated by the desire for God to be glorified by His glorious gospel.
As all kinds of people are saved, the Lord Jesus receives His due reward. The Father has given a number of people to the Son, and they are brought to Him by means of the gospel. As all kinds of people are saved, they come to worship the only God who is (Isaiah 45:22-23). This is the essence of evangelism.
The most basic doctrine in the Bible is monotheism. As John Dickson notes, “monotheism, crystalized in the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, is the Bible’s most basic doctrine.”2 It is this most basic doctrine that we want all kinds of men to embrace through the gospel.
A God-centred church will be a gospel-centred church, and therefore it will be a praying church.
Preaching and Praying
But while we pray for the advancement of God’s kingdom, we dare not separate preaching from praying. Paul speaks of this gospel “for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (v. 7). Preaching is the ordained means to the ordained end of v. 4.
There has always been a danger of a wrong emphasis on the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign in salvation. The Bible teaches that quite clearly. But that does not mean that we have no part to play in the salvation of the lost. On the contrary, hear the words of Paul elsewhere.
For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
It seems that this misguided emphasis may eventually have infiltrated the Ephesian assembly (see Revelation 2:1-5). And perhaps the reason it did was because they (eventually) did not heed the words of Paul to Timothy. Prayer keeps the heart warm, and when we cease praying we cease caring.
I pray every day for the salvation of the lost. There have been people on my prayer list, related to members of our church, for whom I have been praying for decades. Those prayers have thus far born no gospel fruit, but I keep praying, for I believe that God wants all kinds of people to be saved, and I know that He can save those for whom I pray. I don’t know that He will, but I know that He can. Will you humble yourself and pray for the lost? Will you humble yourself and pray for the lost in all nations? Will you pray for the people of Somaliland and Somalia, who need the gospel? Will you pray for the many unreached people groups in our world? God intends to save some of them; will you be part of that in your prayer life?
Importantly, let us note that v. 7 is the reason for v. 2. That is, we are to pray for “kings and all who are in authority” because God wants to save people. We are to pray “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence,” not primarily because we want to avoid persecution, but because we want freedom to preach the gospel. Too often we pray selfishly for government leaders. We pray that our taxes will be reduced and for harder penalties on criminals so that we will feel safer. It is not wrong in and of itself to pray for these things, but God has a far greater agenda than our personal comfort. We must pray for our leaders that they will give us freedom to preach the gospel.
We must learn to pray radically. We must pray for our leaders to be saved, or reformed, or perhaps removed. If a government stands in the way of God being glorified through the spread of the gospel, we must pray that God will remove the hindrance. He may do so by saving the government leaders. He may do by reforming their way of thinking. Or He may do so by removing them. We need to be willing to pray that God will do whatever He needs to do to promote freedom of gospel witness.
If all kinds of people will experience all the power of the gospel, then all kinds of prayers must be offered for all kinds of people—by all the church in every church. This brings us to our closing point.
A Universal Exhortation
All the congregation is to pray for the triumph of the gospel. This is Paul’s exhortation in vv. 8-10: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (vv. 8-10).
Paul begins with an exhortation to “the men” (v. 8). It is necessary to make a technical point here. When Paul speaks of “men” in vv. 1, 4-5, he uses the Greek word anthropos, which speaks of “mankind.” Women are included in this word. However, in v. 8, when he exhorts “the men” to pray everywhere, he uses the Greek word aner, which speaks of a male. He is therefore exhorting men in particular at this point. The exhortation is pretty clear: Male members in all churches are to give themselves to prayer.
The word “desire” is a strong word, which speaks of a command. Once again, Paul uses “I” as an apostle. His exhortation to them men, therefore, is nothing short of an apostolic command. And that apostolic command is that men are to lead the church in prayer, and to pray specifically for the triumph of the gospel to the glory of God. As we will see, there is nothing wrong with women praying in this way, but the men are to lead in prayer.
It is important for men to lead because this is spiritual warfare. Men are to lead the army into battle. The passion of the Christian man must be the triumph of the gospel—the success of the Great Commission—and they must therefore pray accordingly.
Paul does, however, issue a necessary qualification here. The men leading in prayer ought to be “lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (v. 8). Effective prayer requires holiness and harmony. Men should strive to be holy if for no other reason than to effectively pray for the glory of God. Men, stop with your anger and argumentation so that you can pray. Perhaps it was necessary for Paul to issue this exhortation because men in the church were fighting amongst themselves. Certainly there are men in our churches who need to hear this. Do you need an attitude adjustment? Are there fellow church members you would rather avoid? If so, know that your prayers will be hindered! Your relationships in the church will affect your reach in the world.
But it is not only the men who are to pray. Rather, “in like manner also, that the women” (v. 9). Women too are to pray. This is likewise a command. The church must be at prayer.
But again there is a necessary qualification. Praying women are to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (vv. 9-10). Ryken notes, “While men are to pray without argumentation, women likewise are to pray without ostentation.”3
Like the men, women are to have a demeanour of godliness. The principle is simply this: Only beautiful women are to pray. But this beauty is not an external beauty. All women in the church are to be beautiful. Beauty, as defined biblically, is adornment with good works (1 Peter 3:1-4). As they pray, women are to be done with competition and envy. They are to be holy and humble so that the Lord will hear their prayers.
As you take these words to heart, be sure to gather with your church as a holy, harmonious and beautiful congregation. And then turn to God, lifting your voices to Him as the church at prayer.
- Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not to Pray (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1998). ↩
- John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than Our Lips (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 26-27. ↩
- Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed), 81. ↩