Paul gives the purpose of this letter in chapter 3 vs 15, “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” And so to that purpose, Paul has written so far about the establishment of the church, specifically, that the apostles were given to be the foundation of the church and to establish the church. Then he wrote about the ministry of the church, and we said there were many different types of ministers, or servants of the church. Not all have the same title, nor the same responsibilities, but all of us have a ministry, all of us are to serve the Lord.
Now as we begin chapter 2, Paul makes the point that one ministry that all of the church are given, the service that we are all tasked with, is the ministry of prayer. And we should notice that this exhortation to pray is given as an addendum to his charge to Timothy at the end of chapter one, vs 18, to fight the good fight. We see that prayer is one of the ways that we are to engage in spiritual battle.
In the famous section in Ephesians 6 on spiritual warfare and the spiritual armor that we are to wear, Paul lists all the pieces of armor, which are defensive, and then he says take up an offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And then he adds another weapon in vs18 “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and [pray] on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”
Now Paul doesn’t use a metaphor of a weapon to describe prayer, but nonetheless it’s clear that it is the second of only two weapons at our disposal. And both are empowered by the Spirit. That’s very interesting the way Paul says that; pray at all times in the Spirit. We need to think about how one prays in the Spirit. I can tell you what it is not; it is not some reference to praying in tongues. But rather it is a reference to spiritual communication in conjunction with the Holy Spirit. In agreement with the Holy Spirit. And the way you do that is by praying in conjunction and agreement with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. That’s how we pray in the Spirit.
Now there is much more that could be said about that, but I want to follow the text, and hopefully in so doing Paul will address all the essential elements of prayer in the process. So to start with, what Paul indicates in vs 1 is the priority of prayer. Notice he says, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men.” What he is saying is that this is a priority, of first importance. Prayer is not the last resort, prayer is our first resort. It’s the priority of the church. It’s first in ministry.
When the apostles were forming the first church in Jerusalem, they realized they needed to add the office of deacons to aid in the service of the church. But they said for their part, they wanted to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. They recognized that prayer was of utmost importance and deserved first place in their ministry. Consider even Jesus Himself who many times spent the night in prayer to His Father. Jesus was a man of prayer, though from our perspective, He was one who needed it the least. But He obviously considered it an essential part of His ministry. He needed consistent communion with His Father.
And that prompts the question – what is prayer? We are called to pray, to pray at all times, to pray without ceasing, but do we understand what prayer really is? Prayer is simply communication with God. It is spiritual communication, spiritual conversation. Now I say spiritual conversation because you are talking to a Spirit, and the Spirit does not respond verbally to you. So that is what makes it spiritual conversation. The Lord hears us whether we speak loudly or softly. The Bible says the Father knows what we are going to ask before we even say it. Whatever part of the world you happen to be in, it doesn’t matter, the Lord hears you. That’s spiritual conversation. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit indwells you, and He hears you and prays with you, and for you, according to the will of God.
Rom 8:26-27 says, “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for [us] with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to [the will of] God.” So that is another aspect of praying in the Spirit – the Spirit intercedes for us. But bottom line, prayer is spiritual conversation with God.
Now Paul breaks down our spiritual conversation into four categories. This is not a formula. We all would love to find a formula for prayer that assures us that we will get what we want when we pray. But this is not a formula. A lot of people want to say that in order to pray correctly you have to incorporate all four categories in your prayer. I don’t see that expressed in this verse. But rather Paul is just breaking down prayer into different types of conversation.
So I don’t think we need to make a mountain out of a mole hill here, but nevertheless, let’s consider the four types of conversation we might have. The first type is in the NASB translated entreaties. Other versions says supplications, or petitions. In the Greek it is deēsis, which means needs, or entreating, asking. Most of us are pretty good at that type of prayer. But I don’t want to diminish that type of prayer as juvenile and say we need to get beyond such things. I think Jesus taught us to ask for what we need, what we want, with the confidence that our Heavenly Father wants to give us good things. So as a child of God, entreaties are appropriate prayer, to ask for needs, to come to the Father and lay out petitions.
I also want to say that our manner of conversation does not need to be stilted and so formal that it is not natural. I don’t think that God relates to our prayers better when we say thee and thou rather than you. We don’t need to speak in stilted, formal language in order to pray effectively. Imagine if your child or grandchild came in to your living room and said, “O blessed Father, who sitteth upon the couch, please grant the requests I make to thee.” If your son or daughter said that, you would think he was setting you up for something big. He wants to take your vintage sports car out on a date or something. God doesn’t need us to speak in Elizabethan English in order to be sympathetic to our prayers.
Jesus said in Mat 6:5-8 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”
All right then, entreaties, supplications or petitions. That’s one type. The second type is prayer. That’s a little redundant, isn’t it Paul? Well, I confess I don’t know exactly why Paul uses this here, except perhaps that it is a more general, broader entreaty or supplication than the previous type. All of these words are meant to describe prayer. So there is a sense in which they are all expanding on the previous type. Entreaties may be specific needs, prayers may be general needs.
I find it interesting that the first time the word pray is used in the Bible, it is in Genesis 20, and it is used by God. He says to Abimelech, who had taken Abraham’s wife thinking she was his sister, and God said to Abimelech in a dream, “Now therefore, restore the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” So in that case, prayer was for someone else’s good. Abraham was praying for someone else’s needs, not his own.
But that reference in Genesis also speaks to the next type of prayer Paul lists, which is intercessions or petitions. And intercessions is perhaps the best translation, which has the idea of speaking to God about someone else’s need. Pleading on behalf of others. That’s what Abraham did for Abimalech. Praying that he would not die. And what’s really interesting in that example is that Abimalech is a king, and Paul says in vs 2 that we are to pray for kings. It’s interesting that the first recorded example of prayer is a prayer of intercession for a non believing king.
So obviously there is some overlap in these types of prayer. As I said, I don’t think it is so much meant to be separate categories as it is to be an expansive description of prayer. The last type of prayer Paul gives is thanksgivings. Now in the original Greek I am told that there were no punctuation marks. The NASB has a comma after thanksgiving, followed by the phrase, “be made on behalf of all men.” And I think that is correct, in that “be made for all men” applies to all the categories or types of prayer. Some translations have no comma there, so that thanksgiving for all men is the meaning. I don’t think Paul is saying we should give thanks for all men. That doesn’t make sense. While Paul may say pray for kings and those in authority, he does not say give thanks for Nero who was killing Christians on a massive scale. That just doesn’t make sense. Where you place a comma makes a big difference. It’s like the texted the a group text at Thanksgiving that said, “let’s eat Grandma” and forgot to put a comma between eat and Grandma. Grandma got a little concerned. So we can’t be dogmatic about the comma, but I think it makes more sense that the phrase “be made on behalf of all men” applies to all categories, and not just thanksgiving.
Thanksgivings are to be made to God for what God has done. Thanksgivings are an important aspect of our prayer. They are not some part of a secret formula by which you can get God to do what you want. Some people seem to teach this narcissistic view of God that just wants to hear us praise Him and thank Him all the time. He doesn’t care too much about anything else as long as we praise Him. I don’t think that is a true characterization of God at all. But we should be cognizant of all that God has done for us, and continues to do for us on a daily basis and we should express our thanks to Him. In other words, our conversation with God should not be just one sided, as in what we want God to do for us. If we have a mature relationship with Him, then it should be evident in our conversation with Him.
Now as I said, I believe Paul says we should pray on behalf of all men. That is our service to God and to one another. We are given the ministry of prayer for all men. We pray for all men, all people, all that we come into contact with. We are to pray for our church, pray for our families, pray for our neighbors, and even pray for our enemies. We pray according to the will of God, according to the word of God, in conjunction with the Spirit of God, in agreement with the Spirit of God. God wants to work with us, and our service of prayer is the means by which He does that. We are to pray for all men, for what they need, for God to work in their hearts and to save them.
Then more specifically, Paul says pray for kings and for those in authority. And perhaps that is the extension of praying for your enemies. Look at Vs 2, “for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Now as I said earlier, I don’t think Paul was saying that he should give thanks for Nero. Nero was a blood thirsty, insane tyrant. He was an enemy of the church. He had a young man about 14 years old castrated and he married him in a public ceremony. He tarred and burned Christians upon stakes to light up his garden. He set fire to Jerusalem and then blamed it on the Christians so as to justify persecuting the church. I don’t think Paul was saying we should give thanks for a demonic tyrant.
But I do think he is saying pray for tyrants, pray for those in authority whether they be good or evil, that they would leave us alone so that we might live a tranquil and quite life of dignity that we may live godly without persecution and have the freedom to proclaim the gospel. That is an appropriate type of prayer for those particular type of people. There was no recourse in Paul’s day to go to the polls and vote and hopefully get a new emperor in four years. You were saddled with a king for life in most cases. So the only recourse you had was to pray for them, that God would somehow prevail over the inherent evil that these tyrants brought to bear upon the church.
Romans 13 tells us that we are not to overthrow the government. We are to submit to the government as long as they are not forcing us to do something contrary to the command of God. So the only other recourse for us as Christians is to pray for the governing authorities. God is able to change the king’s mind as in the case of Abimelech.. God is able to make it possible for even an evil king to find other things to occupy his mind and leave the church alone.
So we should pray for all men, even our enemies, and the enemies of God, because Paul says in vs 3, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” So we pray because that is the means by which we partner with God, we collaborate with God to bring about salvation for all men. Now of course, he is not indicating that all men will be saved. Peter said, God is not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance. But the Bible tells us that not all will be saved. The scripture makes that very clear. Jesus made that very clear saying the way is narrow that leads to life, and few there be that find it. Not everyone finds it. But we are to pray for all to find it.
Now that’s an interesting dilemma isn’t it? That God’s will is that no one perishes, yet they perish. That reveals to me that God’s will is not intractable. But God has a perfect will, and a passive will. And man has a part to play in the execution of God’s will. Jesus when he taught the disciples to pray said, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our prayers facilitate the will of God on earth. But if God’s will was completely foreordained and intractable, then why are we told to pray for His will to be done?
Now the scriptures say that salvation is of the Lord, but we are tasked with participating in bringing salvation to men. I don’t pretend to know how all of this works. But I know that God works through prayer. God desires our prayer. And God wants all men to be saved. And so God sends us to proclaim the gospel to all men, everywhere. And He wants us to pray for all men to that end. So at the very least, we know that our ministry which we are given to perform is to pray for the salvation of all men. That is the service we are to give to men and to God.
I can tell you this. From what I have read in biographies of great preachers, and stories about great revivals, the success of both were preceded by a period of extensive prayer. Prayer is the essential sharpening of the axe before the first swing is ever laid against the tree. Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have said, “if you have 8 hours to cut wood, spend 7 of them sharpening your axe.” I think that can be applied to prayer in regards to evangelism as well. That is why we do the Jericho March before we enter every summer season on the beach. That season of prayer is necessary if we are to have a successful season on the beach.
The next part of prayer that Paul addresses here is the principle of through whom we pray. We are very much accustomed to end our prayers by saying “in Jesus name we pray, Amen.” We do that without thinking, for the most part. But what does it mean to pray in Jesus name? Why does that matter? Well for one, Jesus told us to pray in His name. In John 14:13-14 Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do [it.]”
And Paul addresses that same principle here in vs 5 “For there is one God, [and] one mediator also between God and men, [the] man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony [given] at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”
The One to whom we pray is God the Father, but we pray through the Mediator, the man Christ Jesus. The scriptures teach that Jesus is both fully God and fully Man. In theological terms it is called the hypostatic union. But in layman’s terms it means that He is God in the flesh. And He was our Mediator in salvation by becoming our substitute, taking the wrath of God upon Himself that we might be given life and sonship in the family of God. But now, having risen from the dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand, He lives forever to make intercession for us. Rom 8:34 says “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”
Now He intercedes for us according to the Father’s will. He intercedes for us by application of His blood for our sins so that we might be counted as righteous as sons of God. But He also intercedes for us as we pray in His name. God seeing His righteousness applied to our account hears our prayers as being sanctified by Jesus Christ.
Heb 10:19-23 says, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since [we have] a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [clean] from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” We come into the holy place to speak to God by the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all sin.
So what Paul says here to Timothy is that there is One Mediator between God and man, and only One Mediator is needed. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, through the sanctifying power of His sacrifice, so that we may have full acceptance at the throne of God. There is no need for any other mediator. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you attempt to go through another mediator, you are in effect blaspheming Christ. If you attempt to go to God through Mary, then you are taking the honor and glory that belong only to Christ and giving it to a person, and a person who is dead at that. If you pray to a so called saint, you are praying to a person, and taking away from what is Christ’s alone. Christ, who alone was holy and righteous, died and shed His blood so that He might be our Mediator, and we dare not take away that which He shed His blood to procure. You do not need to go to God through a priest, or Mary, or a saint, but you can only go through Jesus Christ. In Him alone we have the right to enter into the throne of God.
Paul began this passage about the ministry of prayer by urging prayers to be made for every man. And he bookends this section with a similar statement in vs 8, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.” And I think he is being in this case, deliberately redundant. He is emphasizing the importance and need for prayer by saying it twice.
Now some think that this reference to “every place” is a reference to the church. And so Paul is saying we should pray in the church. To that, I would agree without argument, that we should pray in the church. Jesus said “My house is to be a house of prayer.” Prayer, we have already said, is to be a priority in the church, and especially in corporate assemblies. Corporate prayer is powerful prayer. Remember how the church prayed for Peter to be delivered from prison and God sent an angel to release him.
But I think what Paul is saying is not limited to the church assembly. He wants men to pray in every place. You go back to Eph 6:18 and read that again, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” You can’t pray at all times and not pray in all places. Just be in a constant state of prayer. If we are walking in the Spirit, and living by the Spirit, then we must have constant spiritual communication irregardless of where we are or what we are doing. That doesn’t mean we have to fall on our knees at the bank and at the grocery store and at work, but it does mean we are in constant communication with God at all times, in all places, in all circumstances.
And as a reference back to the idea of praying for our enemies, or our persecutors, we pray without wrath and dissension. We don’t take our own revenge. We leave room for God to avenge us. James 1:20 says “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
Our goal in prayer is to see others saved. If we give way to our anger we are not going to achieve that. We want to work with God, not against God. So let’s pray, lifting up holy hands. That is not speaking of a posture of prayer. Some people seem to think that holding up your hands has something intrinsically holy about it. Most of the time in the Bible when you see someone come in the presence of God they are flat on their face. They aren’t holding up their hands and dancing around. Holy hands is a reference to consecrated hands. Hands refers to the work of our hands, to our deeds. As we are holy in our deeds, consecrated to live righteous, godly lives for Christ, then we can win the lost to Christ by our example and not give cause for the gospel to be slandered.
Our prayer life is affected by our sin or the lack of sin. David said if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. So we make sure that we have repented of any sin, that we are living godly lives, and we pray in every place at all times, joining with God in accomplishing His will on earth. That is our service of prayer, our ministry of prayer which we render unto God and men.
God’s will is that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He desires all men to be saved. I trust that if you have not accepted His free gift of salvation, then today would be the day that you surrender to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and receive new life in Him.