Global Prayer for the Local Church


Global Prayer for the Local Church


Global Prayer for the Local Church (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

Main Idea: Pray for and proclaim the gospel to all kinds of people because God desires their salvation and Christ died as ransom for all.

  1. The Initial Exhortation (2:1-2)
    1. We should pray to God for all people.
    2. The progress of the gospel in the world is dependent on the prayers of God's people in the church.
  2. The Theological Motivation (2:3-6)
    1. We pray because God desires the salvation of all people.
      1. This does not mean all will be saved.
      2. This does not mean God's will has been thwarted.
      3. This does mean God loves all people.
    2. We pray because God deserves the honor of all people.
      1. Worship is the fuel of world praying.
      2. Worship is the goal of world praying.
    3. We pray because Christ died for the rescue of all people.
      1. Jesus is unique in who He is.
      2. Jesus is unique in what He did.
      3. Jesus is unique in what He does.
  3. The Obvious Implication (2:7)
    1. As we pray to God for all people, we preach to all people.
      1. We herald the cross of Christ.
      2. We teach the commands of Christ.
  4. The Coming Conclusion
    1. We pray with confidence, and we preach with boldness because we know.
      1. our mission will prevail.
      2. our Mediator will be praised.

We now live in a culture that is hostile to anyone claiming to know absolute truth. You can live however you please, and you can believe whatever you want—"Obey your thirst," the commercial tells23 us—just don't impose your beliefs on others. That's the unpardonable sin of our day. This sentiment is especially true when it comes to religious beliefs, which can make it highly uncomfortable for Christians sharing the gospel. After all, our message is, well, pretty much absolute: "There is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it" (Acts 4:12).

On the other hand, even though our message is exclusive, our witness should not be. We've been commanded to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). No one is to be left out, regardless of race, nationality, economic status, or any other distinction. The absolute and exclusive claims of the gospel are to be made known universally. The church must not ignore the great spiritual needs all around it, either by becoming exclusively self-focused or by targeting only a certain segment of unbelievers. Paul reminded Timothy in this passage that our hearts must come in line with God's heart. And God desires all people to be saved.

The Initial Exhortation

The Initial Exhortation

1 Timothy 2:1-2

Paul provides a foundation—a gospel foundation—in chapter 1 of this letter. He commands Timothy and the church at Ephesus to guard the gospel, to celebrate the gospel, and to fight for the gospel. Now, based on that gospel foundation, Paul begins to give practical exhortations to the church in chapter 2. He starts by talking about public worship. The opening words, "First of all," signal the paramount importance of this initial exhortation. How is it that you guard the gospel, celebrate the gospel, and fight for the gospel? You start, Paul says, by praying.

The church is on a life-saving mission surrounded by people who don't know the salvation of Jesus Christ. These people are destined for an eternal hell if nothing changes. So, as a follower of Christ, what do you do? You pray. It's the easiest thing you can do. You don't have to get out of bed. You don't have to leave your home. You don't have to get dressed up. And you don't even have to talk to people—just to God! Do you want to have influence on the lost people around you and the lost people around the world? Do you want to have influence on presidents, kings, queens, dictators, and rulers? Do you want to be a part of seeing people die and go to heaven instead of hell? Then pray!24

Consider in this exhortation from Paul to Timothy whom we are to pray for. For emphasis Paul used four different words in verse 1, each having to do with prayer. He urges us to make "petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings." All right Paul, we get your point. But whom do we pray for?

First, we are to pray for every kind of person. This is what Paul meant when he said we are to pray for "everyone" (v. 1). The point is not that every Christian is commanded to pray for each individual person in the world. No, Paul was talking about all kinds of people. As a church made up of both Jews and Gentiles, Paul was telling them to pray for one another. As a church where false teachers were limiting salvation to a small group of religious elite, Paul encouraged them not to limit their prayers. Prayer is not an elitist, nationalistic, racist, or selective practice; instead, Paul says there is no category of person you should not pray for. May there be diversity in our praying.

Next Paul says that we are to pray for leaders in high positions. Within the broader category of all kinds of people, Paul mentioned specifically that the church at Ephesus was to pray for "kings and all those who are in authority" (v. 2). This exhortation is fascinating when you consider that Paul was writing under the reign of Nero, a Roman emperor who violently persecuted Christians in the first century. At that time there would have been few, if any, Christian rulers in the world. Yet Paul was telling them to pray for these pagan leaders. Pray for the king you suffer under. Pray for the leader you don't agree with. Pray for the ruler you don't approve of. This is God's will.

Paul's instructions also have relevance for those of us who don't experience physical persecution. If you're a Christian in America, pray for the president, regardless of what you think of his politics and policies. Love him and pray for him. And not just for him but also for the vice president, your governor, your senators, and for all your government representatives. We should also pray for leaders of countries like Libya, Israel, Iran, and Afghanistan. The Bible tells us to pray for those in authority. So, are you praying for these men and women? Or are you watching the news and getting frustrated and angry with them? Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to pray, and he wasn't telling them to pray that God would blast Nero into oblivion!

Paul not only tells us whom we pray for but also what we pray for. The apostle's specific instructions were to pray for leaders "so that we25 may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (v. 2). What Paul was saying here is multifaceted. One goal of our praying is peace amid persecution. We pray for our leaders in such a way that promotes peace and, consequently, enables the church to flourish. This flourishing is not in opposition to the state but under the protection of the state. Those in authority can provide an umbrella of peace for the church to thrive and proclaim the gospel freely.

In the first century, the time when Paul was writing, there was a period known as the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace, which allowed for roads to be built and trade routes to be established. The way was literally "paved" for the gospel to spread across the vast Roman Empire. It's not that the gospel can't spread amid persecution—it can. However, in the context of peace, Christians and churches can freely live out the call of Christ and demonstrate the life of Christ for all to see. In our own day here in America, we have the freedom and privilege of living out the implications of the gospel freely among the people around us. That's a good thing, so pray for it.

We also need to remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in places like Egypt, where peace is in jeopardy, or in places like Saudi Arabia and North Korea, where peace is nonexistent. Pray that peaceful doors would be opened for the proclamation of the gospel. At the same time Paul also seems to be saying that we ought to pray for these leaders so that, even if they persecute us, we will live "a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" under their rule. Just imagine the hostility that might grow in your heart toward rulers and leaders who were persecuting you; yet Paul says to pray for them. Through such praying the church will be prepared and equipped to live lives of godliness and dignity amid persecution.

There's also a second goal of our praying. Not only do we pray for peace amid persecution, but we also pray for salvation for persecutors. We pray that rulers, leaders, and even persecutors would, to borrow the language of verse 4, "come to the knowledge of the truth." John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, pointed out that it is much more difficult to hate someone when you are praying for them (Chrysostom, "Homilies," 13:426). You are less likely to despise and react negatively against them. When you pray for someone, you can actually begin to love that person.26

In all of this, Paul is saying first and foremost to the church, "Pray." For all kinds of people and for leaders in high positions. For the spread of the gospel through a peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified church. This is the picture Paul was painting at the start of 1 Timothy 2, and it leads to this important implication: The progress of the gospel in the world is dependent on the prayers of God's people in the church. While salvation ultimately belongs to God, and even our prayers are His work in us, God has chosen to use the prayers of His people to accomplish His will. We desperately need to hear this truth. We are surrounded by people—from our own city to the ends of the earth—who are lost, perishing, and on their way to everlasting suffering. But we want them to know eternal satisfaction in Christ. We're on a life-saving mission, and the Bible is literally urging us here to pray. Richard Baxter, the old English pastor, put it this way:

Let your heart yearn for your ungodly neighbors. Alas, there is but a step between them and death and hell. Many hundred diseases are waiting, ready to seize on them and if they die unregenerate, they will be lost forever. Have you hearts of rock that cannot pity men in such a case as this? Do you not care who is damned as long as you are saved? If so, you have sufficient cause to pity yourselves, for it is a frame of spirit utterly inconsistent with grace.... Do you live close by them? Or, do you meet them in the streets or work with them or travel with them or sit and talk with them and say nothing to them of their souls? If their houses were on fire, you would run and help them. Will you not help them when their souls are almost at the fire of hell? (Di Gangi, Golden Treasury, 92-93)

Oh, Christian, see these people! See the faces you work with, the people you live next to. You will stand in a shopping line next to them this coming week. These are souls destined either for eternal suffering or eternal satisfaction—either hell apart from Christ or heaven with Him. Pray and yearn for the advancement of the gospel to all kinds of people in your city and across the world.

A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was said to wake up in the morning, bow on his knees, clutch a globe, and weep in prayer. May that be a picture of our lives not only as we scatter throughout the week but also as we gather together with other27 believers. We should take time in our worship gatherings to intercede in prayer for all kinds of people spread across the globe. Next we'll see that there's a theological motivation behind this kind of prayer.

The Theological Motivation

The Theological Motivation

1 Timothy 2:3-6

Paul has told us whom and what to pray for, but what drives us to pray like this? This is where verses 3-6 come in, and they're some of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture. One writer has said that these words contain "the key, not merely to the New Testament, but to the whole Bible, for they crystallize into a phrase the sum and substance of its message" (Packer, God's Words, 109). In short, the motivation behind our praying for the world is God's passion for the world. Paul gives us at least three different aspects of this theological motivation.

First, we pray because God desires the salvation of all people (v. 4). When you begin to pray for all kinds of people in the world to be saved—Jews and Gentiles, friends and enemies, Democrats and Republicans, reached and unreached people groups—your heart is coming in line with the heart of God Himself, for He desires their salvation. However, we need to be clear about what this does and does not mean.

This does not mean all will be saved. Some people have used this passage to argue for universalism, the belief that all people will be saved. The reasoning runs like this: Because God desires all people to be saved, and God always gets what He desires, then all people will be saved. That's definitely not what this passage, or Scripture as a whole, teaches. Scripture is clear that we are only saved by grace through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8-9), and only those who trust in His salvation will experience eternal life (John 3:36).

In addition, this does not mean God's will has been thwarted. Some people have made the following argument: If God desires all people to be saved, and not all people are saved, then ultimately God is not in control of everything in the world. This is clearly not true. From beginning to end, Scripture is clear that God is sovereign over all things and that His will cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). While this topic has long fueled28 theological discussions, God has both a decreed will and a declared will. His decreed will involves what He ordains to take place in the world, while His declared will includes what He commands and makes known in His Word.7 An illustration may be helpful at this point.

Let's assume, for the sake of illustration, that I am going to lie to someone tomorrow. Question: Is my lying to this person in the will of God? Well, no, not in the sense of God's declared will. He has said clearly, "Do not lie" (Lev 19:11 NIV; Col 3:9), so I would be disobeying God's will. At the same time my lie does not catch God by surprise (Ps 139:4). He's not going to say, "Whoa, I didn't see that coming." Everything I do is ultimately under the sovereignty of His decreed will so in that sense my lying is actually in His will. God is sovereign, even over the worst things in this world, though He Himself never sins or does evil.

Putting together our responsibility and God's sovereignty is not easy to understand, but we have to affirm the things Scripture makes clear. God said, "Do not murder" (Exod 20:13; Deut 5:17). That's His declared will. Yet He was sovereign over the murder of His Son on a cross (Isa 53:10; Acts 2:23). God knew it was going to happen, and He ordained it to happen. There's certainly mystery here, but know this: God's decreed will cannot be thwarted (Dan 4:35).

So we've seen that God's desire for all to be saved does not lead to universalism, and it does not mean He's not in control of all things; however, this does mean God loves all people. It is clear from 1 Timothy 2:3-4 that God loves all people and He desires their salvation. We find this in other passages as well. Second Peter 3:9 says that the Lord "is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance." Or listen to God's Word to the prophet Ezekiel:

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel? (Ezek 33:11)

Because God desires the salvation of all people, we should pray for the salvation of all people. When you pray for lost family members, friends, neighbors, enemies, and people groups who are hostile to the29 gospel, pray knowing that God loves them and that He desires their salvation.

The second theological motivation behind our prayer is this: We pray because God deserves the honor of all people. Paul began verse 5 by saying, "For there is one God." This seems like such a simple statement, but it is full of significance. There is not one god for one group of people, and then another god for a different group of people, so that all kinds of people can worship all kinds of gods. No, one God deserves the praise of all people. John Stott helpfully reminds us that monotheism drives missions (Stott, Message, 67). He points to passages like Isaiah 45:21-22:

There is no other God but Me,

a righteous God and Savior;

there is no one except Me.

Turn to Me and be saved,

all the ends of the earth.

For I am God,

and there is no other.

Ultimately, we live and work and go on life-saving missions all over our city and around the world because we know there is one God and He deserves the praise, honor, and adoration of all people.

It follows that if God deserves the honor of all people, then worship is the fuel of world praying. We gather with other believers to declare there is one God. Our God is greater, stronger, and higher than any other. We sing that (Chris Tomlin, "Our God"), we believe that, and we pray like that. This is the heart of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy" (Matt 6:9). However, worship is more than just the fuel of world praying.

Worship is the goal of world praying. We are praying night and day, week after week, for all kinds of people in the world to come to a saving knowledge of God so they might bow down and worship Him. That's what we're after in our praying—worldwide worship. We look forward to the day when all people will worship God's name. Do you see the theological motivation here? We long for God to get the glory He is due.

Finally, there's a third theological motivation behind our prayers: We pray because Christ died for the rescue of all people. We read in30 verse 5 that there is not only one God but also "one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself—a ransom for all" (vv. 5-6). This word "ransom" literally refers to the price that would be paid for the rescue, or release, of a prisoner. This is the gospel in a nutshell. God, the One who is completely holy in all His ways and completely just in all His judgments, stands over against us sinners, who are completely deserving of all His judgments. Therefore, we desperately need a mediator to pay our ransom. Enter Jesus.

Jesus is unique in who He is. He is the perfect mediator because He is uniquely able to identify with both parties. No one else is qualified to represent both God and mankind. He is fully able to identify with God because He is divine, fully God (Col 2:9). Yet, at the same time, He is fully able to identify with humanity since He is "Himself human" (emphasis added). Jesus was, and is, fully human, like us in every way "yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). He is uniquely qualified to stand in the middle in order to bring together both God and man.

Not only is He unique in who He is, but Jesus is also unique in what He did. He gave Himself as a ransom by dying for us, though He did not deserve death. Jesus had no sin (1 John 3:5). He died even though mankind alone owed the price. We are sinners, and we are the ones who deserve to die. But the reality is that we couldn't pay the price that needed to be paid, the infinite wrath of a holy God. God alone could pay this price (Anselm, "Why God Became Man," 176). And how did He do that? In Christ! In Christ, God took the full payment of sin upon Himself, and in the process He rescued us from sin and death. The payment was paid and the rescue was made.

Finally, we see that Jesus is unique in what He does. Jesus is not just our mediator in the past through what He did on the cross, as glorious as that reality is. He lives as our mediator right now at the Father's right hand. That's right: today, at this moment, Jesus is interceding for us, standing before God on our behalf. He is the constant, continual means by which we approach the throne of God in worship. Oh, to know that Christ, even now, is our mediator!

Finally, we see that Jesus is unique in that He leads us on mission. In the Great Commission, Jesus promises to be with us always, even "to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). He enables and empowers all that we do. Apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). The Son of God leads His church by His Word and through His Spirit.31

The Obvious Implication

The Obvious Implication

1 Timothy 2:7

There is an obvious implication to our prayers and the theological motivations behind them. The implication for Paul is spelled out in verse 7: "For this I was appointed a herald, an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." Even though Paul was talking specifically here about his own unique role as an apostle, what he said applies, in large part, to every follower of Christ. As we pray to God for all people, we preach the gospel to all people. We know that God desires the salvation of all people (v. 4), that He is worthy of their praise (v. 5), and that Christ has died for their rescue (v. 6), so we should begin to share this gospel with everyone. Consider two different ways in which this plays out in our lives.

First, we herald the cross of Christ. Paul referred to himself as "a herald" of the gospel message in verse 7. That word "herald" is not one that we use much today. It was used in ancient times to refer to someone who would make an important announcement, such as an announcer at an athletic event or a political messenger in a royal court. This is a picture of what we do as followers of Christ—we herald the gospel.

You, brother or sister in Christ, are a herald this week. Announce to people who are dying in their sin that there is a Savior. Tell them they don't have to fear death. Tell them Christ the King has conquered death. Tell them about eternal life in Him, that they might be saved from eternal death. This leads us to the second implication.

We teach the commands of Christ. After people trust in the cross of Christ, we teach them the commands of Christ. This too is part of the Great Commission, for Jesus told us to teach everything that He has commanded (Matt 28:20). We make known the truth of God's Word. This is what the church is to be about.

The Coming Conclusion

The Coming Conclusion

God's Word leaves no doubt as to the outcome of our mission. Because of God's purposes and the work of Christ on our behalf, we pray with confidence and we preach with boldness. Revelation 5:8-10 gives us a glimpse of where our mission is heading, and it has everything to do with what we've just seen in 1 Timothy 2. Revelation 5:8 says of Christ, "When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders32 fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints." Commentators vary on what exactly the prayers of the saints are here, but most believe they include the prayers of the saints in heaven (see Rev 6:9-11) as well as the prayers of saints on earth who are longing for God's kingdom to come. As those prayers are lifted before the Lord, we read of a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth. (5:9-10)

John's vision has everything to do with what our lives are to be about and what the church is to be about. We can pray with confidence for all people to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, and we can preach to them with boldness, all the while knowing that our mission will prevail and our mediator will be praised. One day individuals from every tribe and language and people and nation will be ransomed. This is what Revelation 5:9 tells us, and it's what God desires according to 1 Timothy 2:4. Therefore, we can be confident in this mission.

Jesus Christ is worthy of the praise of all people. When we take the gospel to our neighbors and to the ends of the earth, we do it for the glory of our King. Make no mistake about it: He will be praised!

Reflect and Discuss

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How do advertisements encourage each person to determine what is good in his or her life? Which particular advertisements promote something as good or desirable when it in fact violates scriptural principles?
  2. In what way is praying the easiest thing to do? In what way is it difficult?33
  3. What different kinds of people are there in your life? In what ways do you pray for them differently? In what ways are their prayer needs the same?
  4. What kinds of prayers should you pray for politicians you don't agree with? How might your prayers affect your attitude toward such authorities?
  5. What advantages to spreading the gospel are provided by the situation in the country where you live? What are the disadvantages?
  6. How does an understanding of the difference between God's decreed will and His declared will help us avoid endorsing universalism on the one hand or compromising God's sovereignty on the other?
  7. How would you describe God's sovereignty to a high school class? How would you express a person's responsibility for his own actions in the light of God's sovereignty?
  8. What is the connection between what God gets when we pray (worldwide worship) and what people get (eternal life)?
  9. Why is it important that Jesus is fully God? Why is it important that Jesus is fully human?
  10. How does it encourage you to know that Christ is interceding for you right now?

God's declared will is also referred to as His "revealed" or "moral" will because it refers to what He has revealed for us to do in His Word (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 332).