1 Timothy: A Call to Prayer

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on July 25, 2004

1 Timothy 2:1-7

The Lord’s Day Morning
July 25, 2004

I Timothy 2:1-7
“A Call to Prayer”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
First Timothy, chapter two, as we continue to work through this great letter of
Paul to a young pastor working in Ephesus, a church where Paul himself had
ministered. In fact, he had laid the foundations for this congregation and he
is giving to Timothy a whole host of priorities for a healthy church. He’s
telling us–in this letter and in Second Timothy, and in Titus (collectively
called the “pastoral epistles” by students of the New Testament)– he’s telling
them and us what the church ought to be like; how we’re supposed to be as the
family of God, the body of Christ in the local congregation. And so these words
are just as relevant to us as they were to this congregation that received this
letter almost two thousand years ago.

Today Paul moves from the topics of the first
chapter to a very different subject matter. He moves first, in verses one
through seven of chapter two, to the subject of prayer. Everything that Paul
says in this passage has something to do with prayer and with ministry. And
this morning I want you to see three things in particular. Paul, first of
all in this passage, gives an invitation to prayer; then he explains why
Christians ought to pray for all kinds and classes of people. And then he
explains that this also has implications for Christian ministry.
So we’ll
explore those three things together.

Now let me also say that this passage has a number of
puzzling, perplexing statements. By the way, it’s not alone in First Timothy
chapter two with making those kinds of statements, because when we come
together, Lord willing, next week, to consider verses eight through fifteen, we
get into the subject matter of the role relationship between men and women in
the local congregation, there are going to be a number of statements which will
no doubt raise a few eyebrows in the congregation then! And I trust that you’ll
be in prayer with your pastor during the week as he prepares to address those
things with some clarity, and boldness and faithfulness from the word of God!

So we won’t be able to fully deal with all of these
questions, but perhaps some of them will pop into your mind. For instance,
you’ll notice in this passage that it says that “God desires all men to be
saved,” and you may say to yourself, “Well, wait a minute. The Bible also makes
it clear that not all people are saved–that there are some people who are not
saved; there are some people who will not be saved. Judas, for instance, was
not saved. Satan is not redeemed. There are many others whom the life and
ministry of Jesus Christ rejected, and they are not saved. And how do we square
this statement that God desires all to be saved, and yet not all are saved?”
That’s a very interesting and important question that we could explore. In
fact, I could fill a couple of hours on this passage. But I’m not going to do it
now.

Then there’s this question, “Well, when we say that
God desires all men to be saved, is that the same thing as His will? When we
say that God desires all men to be saved, does that mean that He wills all men
to be saved? And if it does, doesn’t that mean that God’s will isn’t coming to
pass, since all are not saved?”

Well, we say very quickly, “No.” ‘Desires’ here must
be distinguished from God’s will. There is a sense in which God has a
disposition for the salvation of all sinners, and yet this is not part of His
secret plan. Romans 9:1-24 makes that very clear.

Then there is this statement that “Jesus Christ is a
ransom for all,” and that’s a statement speaking about Christ’s atonement. So
is Paul saying that Jesus atoned for all people? Now, you know what ‘atonement’
means: atonement means covering sin and acquitting us of the wrath of God.
So, if Jesus covered the sins and turned away the wrath of God for all people,
then that would mean, in fact, that all people are saved–something that, again,
the Bible does not affirm elsewhere. So, clearly, the statement that Jesus
Christ is a ransom for all is not meant to mean, by Paul here, that Jesus Christ
is the atoning sacrifice for every last person who is alive, who has ever lived,
or who ever will be living. So you have to do some digging to understand each
of these truths, and I trust that studying Paul’s words in context will help us
to learn something of his intent.

Let’s hear God’s word in First Timothy, chapter two,
but before we do, let’s ask the Holy Spirit for His help and illumination as we
study God’s word.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the word. We
recognize that the word of God itself is the product of the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit. You breathed it out, O Lord; You authored this word; it is Your
word for Your people. Help us, then, to understand it, even in places that it’s
hard. And especially today, help us to begin to have Your heart as you reveal
that heart for all people, in this passage. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is the word of God:

“First
of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings,
be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order
that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 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. 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 borne at the proper time. And 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.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy and
inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

This passage is a passage about three things.
It’s about prayer. You see that in verses one and two. And it’s a passage also
about God’s attitude towards a sinful, rebellious world. You see that in
verses three through six. But it’s also a passage about what God’s attitude
towards that sinful, rebellious world means for our ministry and our attitude
towards that sinful, rebellious world. You see that in verse seven. To be
specific, this passage is a passage about how God’s own heart and disposition
towards all humanity informs the way we pray, and the way we minister to
people. And I’d like to look at it with you for a few moments in three parts.

I want you to see three things today: A directive for
prayer; God’s disposition towards the world; and, it’s implications for
ministry. Those three things.

I. We must teach the Church to
pray for all people.
First of all, let’s look at verses one and two and see this
directive for prayer. Verses one and two are an exhortation from Paul to the
Ephesians, and to you and me, to pray. First of all, he says “I urge that
entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all
men…”

Now why would Paul need to say this to the
Ephesians? Well, think about it for a few moments. This is a congregation of
Jewish and Gentile Christians–perhaps a very small group of people compared to
the total population of Ephesus–huddled together in some house-church, and they
are in a culture dominated by hostile, pluralistic religions. Nero is the
emperor; Rome is not friendly to Christians; the Jewish community is perhaps
antagonistic to the small group of Christians that are gathering, some of who
are former Jewish followers, and some of whom are Gentiles claiming to be the
proper recipients of the promises of God to Abraham. This is a persecuted
minority. Now what would have been the temptation of their hearts? The
temptation of their hearts would have been, if they prayed for people at all, to
pray that, for instance, God might blast Nero into oblivion. That might have
been a good subject matter for prayer at their Wednesday night prayer meeting in
Ephesus.

Yet Paul is saying, ‘No, no, no: I want you to offer
up prayers and entreaties and supplications, and even thanksgivings for
all people! For kings and those who are in authority. The Roman emperor, who
is so antagonistic toward you–pray for him, thank God for him, offer up
supplications…’ Notice, Paul gives them lots of words for prayer, so that they
know that they can’t be perfunctory about this. You know, sort of gritting
their teeth, “Lord, bless Nero…” and then going on to what they really want
to pray about. No. Make prayers and entreaties and supplications, and even
thanksgivings for all people–even those who are in authority, even those who are
opposed to you, because their temptation would have been to hate the majority
that was persecuting them. Paul says, no, here’s the disposition that you’re to
have towards the world, towards all people: you’re to be praying for them.
You’re to entreat God, and supplicate to Him, begging that He would bless them
with salvation in Jesus Christ. You’re to pray for those kings and those that
are in authority that are giving you such a hard time. You’re to desire that
they would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Pray for them!

What a timely message that is for us, in a culture
that sociologists are telling us is more and more post-Christian. Now, we could
debate that fact. Who knows? Maybe in twenty years, things will turn around.
Maybe we’re in the midst of a trend, and we don’t realize it, where things are
actually getting better. Doesn’t feel like it, does it? But it doesn’t matter.
Whatever the case is, we know that Christians today are tempted to look at our
nation and our culture and say, “Things have gone to pot!” And to feel more and
more like we’re a persecuted minority, like Hollywood is going after us, and the
government is going after us, and the judiciary is going after us, and they’re
undermining the foundations of our nation. The temptation is to be angry about
that! And here’s Paul saying to us, ‘Here’s how I want you to be towards those
folks: I want you to be praying, and entreating, and petitioning, and
supplicating to God that they would come to a saving knowledge of Christ.’ And
here we see something of God’s directive for the church’s prayer, and this
speaks volumes to us who live in post-Christian times, and certainly it speaks
to churches that are under persecution in places like the Sudan and elsewhere in
this world.

II. We must understand and embrace
the posture of God towards the world.
But secondly, notice in verses three through six that
Paul doesn’t just tell you to pray for all kinds and classes of people, even
those who are your enemies; Paul goes on to say that we ought to do this because
this is God’s disposition towards the world. In verses three through six, Paul
explains God’s position towards the world, His attitude towards the world, His
disposition to the world, is the basis for exhorting us to pray for all kinds
and classes of people. And we must understand and embrace God’s posture towards
the world, and that will inform the way we pray for the world.

Why are Christians to pray for all kinds and ranks
and classes and conditions of people? Even people who are antagonistic towards
us? Well, Paul provides the rationale. He gives us two reasons. In
verses three and four, he gives us the first reason; in verses five and six, he
gives us the second reason.

In verses three and four, he explains to us
that God’s disposition towards humanity is one of a desire to see people come
to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ
. Notice what he says: “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.” You see, Paul is just expressing an
Old Testament hope there. What was the hope of the Old Testament prophets, and
of the psalmists? That one day the earth would be filled with the knowledge of
the Lord as the waters cover the sea, and that all the nations would come to
Mount Zion and worship…whom? The Messiah, the Living God. And Paul is
saying, you see, it’s God’s desire that the nations would come to a saving
knowledge of Him.

Now, you see, very often Arminians, those who are
not Calvinistic or Reformed in their belief, think that Calvinists, Reformed
people, people like us, don’t believe that. They think that we think that God
only loves a tiny little number of people, and that He really hates the rest of
mankind. They think that’s what we think. That’s not what Calvinists think!

Calvinists believe, right alongside Arminians, that
God has a love for the entire world of people, but we believe in addition to
that, that He has a special love for His own people, wherein He does not simply
love us generally and desire us to be saved, but wherein He loves us
specifically, and as Jesus says in John six, draws us to be saved. Jesus, in
John seventeen, prays especially for His people. In fact, He prays only for His
people. You remember His words in John seventeen? “I do not pray for the
world, but for those whom You have given Me.”
And so, the Calvinist
believes that there is a general love of God for all humanity, but there is a
special love that He has for a multitude that no man can number. And the
Arminian doesn’t believe that God loves anybody in that way. So, Calvinists
actually believe that God loves a greater number of people in this special way
than the Arminian does. This is very important for us to understand, as we come
to a passage like this. **

The point of this passage is not to say that God has
willed all to be saved, and so if they’re not, God’s will has failed. The point
of this passage is to make the exact same point of Ezekiel. Remember what
Ezekiel said about the Living God? Over and over he repeats it in his book: “I,
the Lord your God, do not delight in the death of the wicked, but I delight when
sinners turn from their wicked way and return to Me.” That’s exactly
what Paul is saying here. Paul is telling us something about the delight of the
heart of God: that He does not delight in the destruction of the wicked; He is
not some ogre in the sky that loves to see people ruining their lives and being
cast into Hell, although He will punish the wicked. But His real delight is
when sinners are saved. We believe that, and Paul says that impels us to pray!
Because God has this desire to see the world coming to Jesus Christ, we pray for
the world.

But he doesn’t stop there. He says something that’s
positively un-Politically Correct! In verses five and six, this is the
second reason we ought to pray. Look at these words. “For there is one God and
one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a
ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” Do you see what Paul’s
saying there? Why should we pray for all people? Because there’s one God;
there’s one Savior; there’s one mediator. His name is Jesus Christ, and He is
the one hope of all humanity
.

You see what Paul’s saying there? He’s saying all
roads don’t lead up the mountain! He’s saying there are not many ways to God!
He not saying that all religions are the same–in fact, he’s saying the
opposite. He’s saying there’s only one way of salvation, one hope, and that
hope is in Jesus Christ. And therefore, if we have been saved, if we’ve been
ransomed by Jesus Christ, if we have partaken of that one hope–and there is only
one hope–if we don’t pray for the world, what hope does the world have? Because
there is no hope apart from this Jesus Christ who has saved us from our own
sins, therefore we must pray for this world!

You see, Paul is saying that God’s heart and
disposition, wherein He delights to see sinners saved, ought to be our heart,
and it ought to move us to prayer. And the fact that there is only one way of
salvation into Jesus Christ makes us to want to pray that the nations, all
people, even our enemies, would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Paul is saying that God’s heart and God’s person, God’s Christ, God’s plan–all
of these things conspire together to move us as Christians to pray for all kinds
and classes and conditions of people.

III. God’s disposition toward the
world must be determinative for our attitude in ministry.
But he doesn’t stop there. Notice what Paul goes on to say in
verse seven. Paul tells us that God’s disposition towards the world was
determinative for His own ministry. And because it was determinative for Paul’s
ministry, it’s also determinative for ours. God’s disposition towards
the world must be determinative for our attitude in ministry. Paul said,
“…for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle, as a teacher of the
Gentiles in faith and truth.” You see, Paul was the most unlikely candidate in
the history of the world to be the leading world evangelist of Gentiles. He
made his name and reputation in his early career killing people who were trying
to take the Abrahamic promises to Gentiles. He made it his business to kill
Christians and to hinder them in any way from taking their message of the gospel
about Jesus Christ, whom they said was the Messiah of Israel, taking that gospel
to the Gentiles. And then God met him, converted him, and made him the chief
apostle and missionary for the Gentiles. And so Paul is saying here, ‘I wasn’t
born as the apostle and teacher of the Gentiles, I was appointed to that job. I
had worked with all my might against that job, and then God changed my heart,
and He appointed me to be an apostle not just to the Jew, but also to the
Greek. Not just to the one who had had all the glorious privileges of the
knowledge of the revelation of God in the Old Testament, but to barbarian
Gentiles.’

And you want to know what is the proof of the power
of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles? It’s that you’re sitting here today,
Gentiles. Most of you are full-blooded Gentiles. And you wouldn’t be here
today had not God in His wisdom appointed Paul to take this message not just to
the Jew, but also to the Greek, to the Gentile, to the barbarian; to slave, to
free; to male and female. He goes out with that message. Why? Because God
desires the world to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And those of us ministering and living in a
post-Christian society, we may be tempted to be angry with this world–a world
that we see destroying itself; a world that we see turning its back on Christian
principles and law and morality; a world that we see as antagonistic towards
Christ and towards the gospel, and towards the church; a world that we see
mocking us and our Lord at every turn. It’s tempting to be angry with this
world, and Paul is saying, ‘Oh, far from it! My position towards this world is
to desire to see it come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.’

You see, when God chooses to love, He has to love a world
that hates Him. Because we are born in sin, we are born in rebellion; there is
none righteous, no, not one. And so, when God loves and chooses to love, His
love must take initiative.

Paul is just sketching out for us once again the
basis of the world missionary enterprise. We as Christians must long to see the
world come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ; and if we don’t, then it is
perhaps an indication that we have not understood in our own hearts the wideness
of God’s mercy and the depth of His grace. But when you realize the wideness and
the depth of His grace towards you, you want every person to know God savingly,
as He by His grace has caused you to know Him.

And so, Paul is saying we’re to pray for all kinds
and ranks and classes and conditions of people; and we’re to do this because of
who God is, and because of His disposition towards the world; and because
there’s only one way of salvation, and this in fact is to impact our ministry.
We, in our ministry, are to reach out to this world, even when it hates us. And
we’re to love, and we’re to pray, and we’re to preach, and we’re to long for the
nations to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

May God bless His
word to us. Let’s pray.

Our heavenly Father, we ask that You would so
change our hearts by this beautiful and clear revelation of who You are and how
You are, that we would have a heart for the world. That we would pray, and
minister, and give and go to the very limits of our capacities, and perhaps
even, by Your grace, beyond them; so that all kinds of people would come to know
Jesus Christ, and would gather around His throne a multitude that no man can
number, singing His praises, thanking Him for His grace, forever and ever. We
ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father
and our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.

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