You’ll perhaps know or remember that Timothy, who was one of Paul’s co-workers in the gospel, is in Ephesus. Paul wanted him to remain there and to minister to the believers in that place. And in 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul is writing to Timothy to instruct him on what he’s to do and what he’s to teach and to encourage him as he ministers to God’s people in Ephesus.
And the focus in chapter 1 was on the false teachers: these men who regarded themselves as experts in the law, but who didn’t really know what they were talking about. And we were thinking last week about how what we don’t want is a law-based church and a law-based message. Instead we want a gospel-based church and a gospel-based message. Yes, the law instructs believers on how we’re to live our lives for God’s glory. And that’s good and necessary. However, the law must never take over and the gospel must always take precedence, because the law is about what we’re to do, but the gospel is about what God has done for us by his Son Jesus Christ. God sent his Son into the world to save sinners. That’s the gospel message which must always be proclaimed, because by hearing and believing the gospel you are saved from condemnation and you receive the free gift of eternal life. Focussing on the law can lead to pride or it can lead to despair, because we either boast about how we have kept the law or we despair because of all the ways we have not kept it. But the gospel leads to eternal life for all who believe and it makes us want to praise God who loved us and who sent his Son to save us.
And having laid that groundwork, Paul goes on to give Timothy some instructions about public worship. So, this is about what the church should do when we gather together for worship.
Verses 1 to 3
And Paul begins with prayer:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for everyone….
Paul is urging Timothy about this matter. And, of course, Paul is writing as an Apostle, with all the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, who appointed Paul an apostle and who sent him out into this world on his behalf. And Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And so, it’s not only Paul who is urging Timothy about this matter, it’s God himself who is urging Timothy. This is an instruction from the Lord to Timothy about what we should do when we gather for worship and how we ought to pray.
And the words ‘first of all’ emphasise for us the importance of prayer. This is the first thing Paul mentions; and he mentions it first because it’s so important. I wonder if you had to make a list of the things you do and you ranked them according to their importance, would you put prayer first in the list? And even if you restricted the list to things we do when we gather for worship, would you put prayer first in that list? Well, here’s Paul and he’s writing to Timothy about public worship and he puts prayer first of all.
And he uses four different words to refer to prayer. There’s not a great deal of difference between the first three words: requests and prayers and intercessions. If there’s any difference at all, then the word ‘requests’ might refer to praying for specific needs. So, when we make a request, we’re asking for something specific: Can I have this? Will you do this for me? Then the word ‘prayers’ highlights that these are requests made to God. So, you can make a request to me and I can make a request to you. But prayer is directed to God. And ‘intercessions’ are when we appeal to God on behalf of other people. So, when I pray, I can make a request to God for myself or I can intercede with God on your behalf. Intercessions are prayers for others.
However, there’s not a great deal of difference between the three words; and Paul is really saying that all kinds of prayer should be offered to God as well as thanksgiving. As well as making requests to God, we should always remember to give thanks to him for all the things he has already done for us and for all the ways he has answered our prayers in the past.
So, when we come together, when the church gathers for worship, we ought to pray to God, asking for his help and giving thanks to him. And Paul adds that we should pray for ‘everyone’. Other English translations say that we should pray for ‘all men’ or ‘all people’. And what he means is ‘all kinds of people’. So, we should pray for believers and unbelievers, for men and women, for adults and children, for rich and poor, for people in our own country and for people who live in other countries. We’re not just to pray for ourselves and for people like us. We’re to pray for all kinds of people.
Before Covid, our services of worship on Sunday always included three main prayers. There was the prayer of adoration when we praised God and gave thanks to him for his goodness. There was the prayer of confession when we confessed our sins and shortcomings and asked for his forgiveness. And then there was the prayer of intercession when we prayed for all kinds of people: for ourselves in Immanuel; and for people around the world who are in need; and for the persecuted church; and for the extension of Christ’s kingdom; and for other things. The service of worship included those prayers of intercession.
That was before Covid. But because of Covid we took the decision to make the service slightly shorter to make it easier for you, now that you have to wear face coverings which are uncomfortable. And so, while we still praise God in prayer and confess our sins, I had to drop the prayers of intercession. However, we continue to pray for all kinds of people on Wednesday evenings at the prayer meeting, which is for everyone in the congregation to attend. And one of the reasons we meet for prayer on Wednesdays is because God instructs us to pray for all kinds of people. And, of course, as the restrictions ease and we’ll have more time on Sundays, then we’ll include the prayers of intercession again.
And in our prayers of intercessions on Sundays and on Wednesdays, we pray for the leaders of the nations. And we do that, because God instructs us in verse 2 to pray for all kinds of people ‘and for kings and all those in authority’. When Paul wrote this, the kings and those in authority over them were pagans. They were unbelievers, who were no friends of the church. But whether the leaders of the nations are believers or not, we’re still to pray for them and with thanksgiving.
And we ought to pray for them — Paul goes on to say — that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. So, we’re to pray to God for the leaders of the nations so that we’re be able to live in peace and safety. One of the fundamental responsibilities of every government is to uphold law and order and to ensure the peace and stability of the nation. And so, one of the reasons we can sleep safely at night is because the leaders of our country have put laws in place to protect us; and we have the police and the law courts to punish lawbreakers. When we go out on the road, there’s not chaos, but order, because we have leaders who made laws so that our roads are safe to drive on. And when we’re ill, we know we can get medical help because our leaders fund a health service which is available to all. We’re able to live peaceful and quiet lives because of the rulers God has placed over us.
And so, we should keep them in our prayers, asking the Lord to help them to govern us in such a way that we’re able to live in peace and safety. And because of Covid, we should ask God to give our leaders the wisdom they need to know how best to respond to this crisis. No one has ever faced anything like this. What are we supposed to do to deal with it? Well, we’re relying on our leaders to guide us. And in our prayers we’re able to ask the Lord to help our leaders to know what to do. And we’re able to give thanks to the Lord for all the ways our leaders do help us.
So, pray for our leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives ‘in all godliness and holiness’, Paul adds. In other words, pray for our leaders so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives and may be able to live out our Christian lives without difficulty. Think of believers in countries where the church is persecuted. They can’t meet for worship. They can’t be open about their faith. Well, we should pray for their leaders, asking for God to enable them to protect those believers. And we should continue to pray for our own leaders so that we can live out our Christian lives without difficulty.
Isn’t that what we did during lockdown? For the safety of all, the government decided it was best for everyone to stay at home. For a while we couldn’t come to church. We couldn’t meet together. We couldn’t enjoy fellowship with one another. It was necessary, but it was awful. And so, we prayed for our leaders and we prayed about the situation and we prayed that the day would come when the restrictions would be eased and we would be able to meet again for worship. And thanks be to God who heard and answered our prayers. And we must continue to pray to God to help our leaders so that we can all live peaceful and quiet lives and live out our Christian lives without difficulty.
This is good, Paul says. What is good? It’s good when we pray for all kinds of people and when we pray for the leaders of the nations. It’s good when we do this; and it pleases the Lord our God. So, do you want to please the Lord? Do you want to do what is pleasing in his sight? Well, this is how to please the Lord and this is how to do good: pray for all kinds of people and for the leaders of the nations so that we’re able to live peaceful and quiet lives and live out our Christian lives in all godliness and holiness.
Verses 4 to 7
I said last week that we want to have a gospel-based church and a gospel-based message, instead of a law-based church and a law-based message. And Paul doesn’t go very far in his letters without mentioning the gospel. And so, having instructed Timothy to pray for all men, he goes on to write about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Now, when Paul said we should pray for all men, I said that he meant ‘all kinds of men’ or ‘all kinds of people’. Instead of praying only for ourselves and people like us, we should pray for all kinds of people. And when Paul tells us in verse 4 that God wants all men to be saved, he means God wants all kinds of men or he wants all kinds of people to be saved. Salvation is not just for people like us; salvation is for all kinds of people: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, people from all kinds of backgrounds and people from all kinds of country.
So, in the past, in Old Testament times, salvation was for the Jews. The Jews and the Jews alone could be saved, because they alone were God’s chosen people; and God had revealed to them and to them alone his willingness to save sinners. And if anyone from another nation heard about the Lord and wanted to belong to him, they had to become a Jew, because salvation was for the Jews. But now that Christ has come, salvation is for all, because Jesus Christ came into the world as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. He is the Saviour of the world and whoever believes in him is saved.
And when Paul refers to being saved, he means saved from God’s wrath and curse and saved from condemnation, which is what we deserve for our sins. Saved from condemnation and saved from eternal punishment. All of us are sinners and we deserve to be condemned and punished for ever. But God is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and he’s abounding in steadfast love. And so, he sent his Son to save sinners.
That is, he sent his Son to be our mediator. That’s in verse 5. You know what a mediator is, don’t you? When two people or two groups of people are in a dispute and can’t agree, you send in a mediator to try to work things out between them and to bring the two sides together in agreement. Once they were in conflict with one another; but now they are at peace with one another; and the mediator was the one who brought them together.
And Christ is the mediator between God on the one side and sinful men and women and boys and girls on the other side. We were born into this world as sinners and we have sinned against God continually in thought and word and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have broken his commandments. We have fallen short of doing his will. And therefore we stand before him as guilty sinners who deserve his wrath and curse and who deserve to be condemned and punished forever. Elsewhere Paul says we are by nature objects of God’s wrath. Until we’re saved, he is angry with us, because we’re sinners who sin against him continually.
But because God wants all kinds of people to be saved, he sent his Son to be our mediator and to make a lasting peace between us. And he has made a lasting peace between us by giving himself as a ransom. Do you see that in verse 6 where Paul says he gave himself as a ransom for all men? And once again, he means that the Lord Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all kinds of men or for all kinds of people. He gave himself as a ransom for all kinds of people in order to make peace for us with God.
Let’s think about the idea of a ransom for a moment, which, of course, is normally money given to release a captive. In Bible times, prisoners of war might be released on the payment of a ransom. Imagine you were a king and some your best soldiers had been taken captive by the enemies. You would presumably want them back. And so, you would enter into negotiations with the enemy and come to terms with them and agree a ransom price in order to set free your best men. Slaves might also be set free on payment of a ransom. In fact, if the slave was able to save up his money, he was allowed to pay for his own release. And in Exodus 21 we read about what should happen if a man had a bull which attacked and killed another man. When that happened, the bull must be killed. It must be stoned to death. But under certain circumstances, the owner of the bull must be killed as well. That’s what the law said should happen if the owner of the bull was somehow responsible for what happened. However, in such cases, it was possible for the owner of the bull to pay a ransom so that he was not killed, but spared. In the eyes of the law, he was guilty and deserved to die. The law condemned him. However, it was possible for him to pay a price, a ransom, and so be spared.
And that’s the background to what Paul says in verse 6 where he writes that the Lord Jesus gave himself as a ransom. In the eyes of the law, we are guilty and deserve to die, because the wages of sin is death. In the eyes of the law, we deserve to be condemned as sinners. But the Lord Jesus came to earth to pay a ransom to free all kinds of people who were under God’s wrath and curse and who deserved to be condemned as sinners. And the ransom he paid to free them was his own life. He gave himself. That is, he gave his life. Paul is referring to the cross, isn’t he? When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, he was giving his life as a ransom in order to pay for our sins, so that we — the guilty ones — may go free. And we — the guilty ones — may go free, because he has paid for all that we have done wrong with his life.
This is the good news of the gospel. It’s what every one of us needs to believe, because whoever believes the good news of the gospel and is trusting in Christ the Saviour who gave himself as a ransom to pay for our sins is set free from condemnation and has peace with God forever. Don’t you want peace with God for ever? Don’t you want peace with God so that you’re no longer under his wrath and curse? Don’t you want peace with God so that you can turn to him for help every day instead of having to face all the troubles and trials of life on your own? Don’t you want peace with God so that you won’t be condemned on the day of judgment and sent away to be punished forever? Don’t you want peace with God so that you can have perfect peace and rest in the presence of God in the life to come? Don’t you want peace with God? Well, the way to have peace with God is to trust in his Son who is the only mediator between God and sinners and he is the only one who gave himself as the ransom for sinners.
And because God wants all kinds of people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, he appointed Paul a herald and an apostle and a teacher. All three terms are to do with proclaiming a message, because the gospel is news which needs to be proclaimed. It’s the news of what God has done to save sinners by his Son. And so, it’s not about what we need to do to climb up to God by our hard work and good deeds. If it were about what we need to do to climb up to God by our hard work and good deeds, then God would have appointed Paul a trainer, because a trainer shows someone what they need to do and how to do it. But the gospel is not about what we need to do to climb up to God. The gospel is about what Christ has done for us to bring us to God. And so, the gospel is a message about him, which you’re to hear and believe. And whoever believes will be saved.