“Paul’s Instructions on Prayer” (1 Timothy 2:1-15)
The epistle of First Timothy is a letter St. Paul wrote to instruct and encourage a young pastor in his ministry. In today’s text from chapter 2, the Apostle gives Pastor Timothy instructions about public prayer and order in the congregation in Ephesus. He shows that prayer is one of the primary duties of God’s people when they gather together. This certainly applies to our private, individual prayers, too.
We know that God tells us in his Word to pray. Yet how often do we actually take the time to do so? Before our meals, we offer up a quick “Come, Lord Jesus.” But then, we quickly dig in, because the food is sitting there getting cold, you know. In the liturgy, the pastor prays the collects and the Prayer of the Church. But are we really listening to the words and praying along with him so we can say a hearty “Amen”? Or are we mindlessly waiting for our cue “Lord, in your mercy” so we can robotically reply “Hear our prayer”?
Prayer is a great and awesome privilege. Prayer has no power, contrary to popular notions. It is God who has the power. But in some mysterious way, through prayer we get to participate in God’s work in the world as we bring our requests before him.
Paul begins his exhortation to prayer by saying, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Here is a whole list of synonyms for prayer. Each word can give us an idea of the various facets of prayer.
“Supplications” are prayer request to fill needs, the needs of others and our own. In supplication, we humbly come before God’s throne of grace, knowing he is the source of all that is beneficial for us.
The word translated simply as “prayers” is a general word for prayer. Literally, it means to “bow the knee.” This reminds us that we are to come before the Lord with due honor and reverence.
Next, Paul uses the word “intercessions.” To intercede is to act as an advocate for someone, such as in a court of law. In prayer, we advocate for others before the throne of the Judge of the Universe. Now, a few verses later we hear that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. But when we pray, we become mediators before God not on the basis of our own character, because we are soiled with sin. Rather, we come on the basis of Christ’s finished work at the cross. We can approach our Heavenly Father in prayer “with all boldness and confidence” as Luther explains the words “Our Father” in the Small Catechism. He says there that we can ask God as dear children ask their dear fathers. We can come to him with childlike trust and freedom.
The last word Paul uses for prayer is “thanksgivings.” As you would expect, these are prayers where we thank God for past blessings we have received, in particular the blessings of life and salvation given through Jesus.
Who should we pray for? Paul says we ought to pray “for all people.” It’s easy to pray for those whom we love. But what about those with whom we are at odds? That can be hard. But they are included in those words “all people.” Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44) And you will find that if you pray for them, it helps soften your heart toward them and helps you forgive them for the ways they have hurt you.
Paul also says we are to include our government in our prayers … “for kings and all who are in authority.” The well-being of our neighbor is related to good government. No government is perfect, that’s for sure. People make a hobby out of complaining about whoever happens to be in power. But instead of complaining first, we ought first to pray for our government and its leaders. Their job is to provide services for us and protect us from those who would seek to harm us. Who was the governing power in Paul’s day? It was the Roman Empire, with its Caesars who claimed divine power. So it’s clear that we are to pray even for evil rulers, for unbelieving rulers. They especially need our prayers.
Why ultimately should we pray for our rulers? We should pray this way in order to serve the preaching of the Gospel … not that our government should dictate what people should believe, but to maintain the freedoms we have to proclaim Christ as the only Savior of the world. The Apostle says that this type of prayer “is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ” Sadly, not all are saved because they stubbornly remain in their sin and unbelief and reject the Good News. That gives us all the more reason to pray in this way so that life in our land would be peaceful and quiet in order to aid the spread of the Gospel.
But we get comfortable in our peaceful and quiet lives, don’t we? We don’t always live “godly and dignified in every way” … both toward God or our neighbor. We don’t always act “godly and dignified” with each other.
Money becomes our god – both when we have it and when we don’t. We seek to get more and more when we have it. We worry and fret when we don’t. Jesus reminds us in today’s reading from St. Luke that “You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 15:13)
Moreover, we sometimes rile each other up inside the church and don’t treat one another with love and respect. Instead we get angry and quarrel with one another. And this happens even as your pastor lifts his hands in prayer on your behalf.
We pray for peaceful and quiet lives so the Gospel may spread. But isn’t it interesting that it’s in times of persecution when the Gospel often spreads the most? That’s the case even today in places like Sudan in Africa and elsewhere. Yet we don’t pray that God would send hardships, but for peace, because some do indeed lose faith and deny Christ during difficult days. But we can repent of our laxity in spreading the Good News here in our land. Then, we can thank God for the freedoms and opportunities we have to speak freely about Jesus here … and take advantage of those opportunities.
The last part of today’s text deals with further instructions for public prayer. The Apostle writes, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Paul teaches here that it is “the men” who are to pray publicly in worship, probably referring to the pastors. Lifting up hands was a common posture of prayer in those days, and pastors still do this when they are offering prayers on behalf of the congregation.
Next, Paul addresses the role of women: “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” Women should dress modestly so as not to be a distraction. Their “attire” should be the attire of good works.
Paul continues: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” St. Paul appeals here to the order of creation, the fact that Adam was created before Eve. Paul isn’t saying that women can never speak in church. Rather, he’s saying that the pastoral office – the job of publicly teaching God’s Word – is reserved for men, who are to be the spiritual heads of both families and congregations. Women are not to forcefully take over the role that God has reserved for the men, but are to recognize and receive the blessed vocation that God has given to them as women, including the vocation of motherhood.
At first hearing, it sounds like Eve gets a bad rap here. Some men have misread Paul’s words and used them to “put women in their place.” But Adam’s role in bringing sin into the world is not denied. In fact, greater responsibility is placed upon Adam as the head of the whole human race. Romans 5:12 says “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “In Adam all die.”
We need a Mediator. We need someone to cover Adam’s sin … to cover our sin … to intercede for us … to act as a go-between between us and God’s justice over our sin. And we do indeed have a Mediator. “There is one god, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as the ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”
Jesus is true God, but he is also true Man. The Man Christ Jesus is the New Adam for us. Back in Romans 5, Paul writes, “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (Rom. 5:15) And to finish that verse from 1 Corinthians, it says, “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Where Adam failed, Jesus was faithful. Where we fail, Jesus was faithful for us. We fail to pray, but Jesus never failed to pray. We struggle to pray for our enemies, but Jesus even prayed for those who crucified him, saying from the cross, “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34) We neglect to intercede for others, but Jesus always intercedes for us, displaying his pierced hands and side before the Father as the payment for our sins. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. He willingly gave himself over into the hands of his enemies. Jesus assumed our entire guilt and penalty at the cross. The empty tomb proves that God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice as sufficient for the sins of the world. This is “the testimony given at the proper time” … the testimony that God truly desires to save all. All. That includes you. No one is excluded from the saving benefits of believing in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection and being united to Jesus in baptism and by faith.
Our proper clothing is not braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire. Dress for success? Dress to impress? Dress instead with Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress; Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in that great day, Cleansed and redeemed, no debt to pay; Fully absolved through these I am From sin and fear, from guilt and shame. (LSB 563.1-2)
Forgiven, cleansed, redeemed, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can live “godly and dignified” lives. Wearing our baptismal robes of Christ’s righteousness, which cannot be seen, we can exhibit the proper attire of a life of good works which can be seen … a life where forgiveness, mercy, and care are shown to others. We can pray as Jesus prayed … for our friends, for our enemies, for all people everywhere. We can pray that they, too, would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, even as God has been merciful to give that knowledge and salvation to us.