1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. – 1 Timothy 2:1-7 ESV
This chapter is chock-full of verses around which men have built entire doctrines or teachings regarding the church. And in many cases, they have ignored the context while focusing on a single concept or idea. But we have to remember that Paul is giving his young disciple, Timothy, some instructions regarding his ministry among the people in Ephesus. The focus of this entire chapter appears to focus on the gospel and the environment in which it can most effectively thrive and spread.
There are things that can hurt or hinder the gospel’s impact. There are activities or circumstances that can make the message of the good news of Jesus Christ difficult to understand. Well-meaning Christians can also conduct themselves in ways that end up discrediting their role as messengers of the gospel. Paul’s primary emphasis in this chapter is the salvation of others. That is the main subject he is trying to communicate to Timothy. Everything else he deals with becomes the context in which the salvation of others functions best.
He begins with an admonition to pray. Prayer is not some magic formula or secret weapon given to believers but is intended to be intimate communication with God. The ability to speak to their Heavenly Father is a privilege every child of God enjoys. As the church, we are the people of God and, as such, we should always have a God-ward focus in our thinking. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all people. But pray what?
Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. – 1 Timothy 2:1 NLT
Paul actually lists four different aspects of prayer: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Paul chose each word carefully because, in the original Greek language, each word has a specific meaning that helps to illustrate the rich depth that should mark our communication with God.
“Supplications” is the Greek word, deeseis and it carries the idea of determination and earnestness because we are convinced of the need. As believers, we understand that every human being has one primary and pressing need: Jesus. When we go to God in prayer on behalf of others, our primary concern should be for their salvation. Whatever their perceived need may be, what they really need is a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Those who receive healing from sickness but who remain unsaved, are still under the condemnation of death and face eternal separation from God. To pray for someone’s financial well-being without having a concern for their spiritual health would be a crime.
The word “prayers” is the Greek word proseuchas and it is a more general description that covers prayers of all kinds. Its focus is on God, not the one for whom we are praying. We are to lift up all men to God, placing them in His hands and under His care, trusting that He knows what they need. The content of our prayer is less important than the identity of the one to whom we pray. Our requests are based on His character, focused on His faithfulness, and fully dependent upon His power.
“Intercession” (enteuxeis) would seem to cover those specific requests we make on behalf of others. When we become aware of a specific need or circumstance in another person’s life, we take it before the Lord. We intercede on their behalf. In a sense, we converse with God about the matter, sharing our concern for the needs of others. This is a selfless act of love and compassion done for the benefit of someone other than ourselves.
Finally, “thanksgiving” (eucharistias) conveys the idea that our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving to God. But in this context, Paul is suggesting that we thank God for the ones for whom we are praying – and that includes all men, not just some. Again, the focus is on God. To express gratitude to God for someone we would normally be unthankful for, is to express trust in the sovereignty of God. It reveals that we know He is in charge and has a purpose for that person’s presence in our life.
Prayer is not meant to be formulaic or ritualistic. It is to be marked by a variety and intensity of style and content, with the focus always on God.
Paul goes on to instruct Timothy that the prayers of God’s people are to include kings and all those in authority. These people are sometimes the most difficult individuals for whom to pray. But Paul’s emphasis is on God using these people to help create an atmosphere in which believers might “live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity” and the Gospel might prosper and spread. Why? Because God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. His desire is that all men hear the Good News that “there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT). So pray!
But there are certain things that can hinder our prayers and destroy our witness as believers. Paul mentions anger and controversy. Jesus Himself warned us that “if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT).
Disunity can derail our prayer lives, but so can our actions. And our behavior among those for whom we are praying can have a powerful impact on whether they eventually experience the salvation they desperately need.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.