1 Timothy 2:1–7 (NRSV)
Instructions concerning Prayer
2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For
there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
—this was attested at the right time. 7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Reading through the books of the New Testament, we are exposed to many letters. Most of these are written to churches, but there are a few that were written to individuals. I find this interesting because it shows the intimacy and friendship of the early church leaders and members. A couple of weeks ago we discussed the letter to a man by the name of Philemon, and now we are looking into the letter written to Timothy. Timothy traveled with Paul on his missionary journey for several years, he worked directly with this Apostle and saw many things. Eventually Paul made his way to the city of Ephesus where he went about the work of planting a church. When Paul left this city he encouraged the young disciple named Timothy to stay, to continue the work that was started. This young man was a gifted individual who stayed to encourage the believers to continue their walk deeper in Christ.
Like Philemon, who was from the city of Colossae, Timothy received this personal letter but the general church also received a letter. So many of the things mentioned in the general letter to the church are similar, but the difference in these personal letters are that they give advice to the people that Paul sees as being weighty individuals within the community of faith. There are differences in these personal letters as well, they are not necessarily things that pertain to the greater community of the church, but an encouragement to the leader in how to bring about the ideas mentioned in the larger letter. In the case of Philemon, the letter dealt with the return of a fugitive slave, not only to the house he ran from but as an equal in the church community. This is a personal issue, but it is also an issue that Paul encouraged within the larger church because he does mention how the wealthy within the community should treat those whose lives and livelihoods depended on them.
Timothy received a letter from the apostle to give him encouragement. I am sure like many leaders within a church Timothy felt greatly discouraged; rightly so Ephesus was a tough town to be a Christian in. During the Roman rule this city was the third largest of Asia Minor. This city was also contained the largest temple to the goddess Diana. This particular goddess in mythology was one that refused marriage and sought companionship among men as an equal. Only one man caught her greater attention, Orion. She was often seen as the goddess of light (moon goddess), the hunt, and nature. The actual cult practices of Diana are not really known, but she is most commonly attached to the succession of kings and issues surrounding childbirth. What we do know about this cult is that it was part of a celebration circuit meaning people would make pilgrimages to this city to participate in celebrations to this goddess, so the cult was very important to the city.
This city was also home to a large Jewish population, and many of which came from the tradition that drew a great deal from the teachings of the Essenes. And some believe that the opening portion of the letter to the church of Ephesus was actually written to the Jewish faction of the church to remind them that according to their own teachings all people are equal until they are brought into the family of God, so they should be more accepting of the gentiles among the faithful.
But this clash of cultures does prove to have tension. The gentile population was one that offered great freedoms to people. Ephesus was seen as one of the most liberal places in the empire for women. Because there was such a high honor given to Diana, women were often found among the artisans. It was also the site of a major theater that could house 25,000 people at one time, a great library, and several roman bathhouses. Since there was a great emphasis on hygiene it is not surprising that the Essene tradition of Jewish faith took off in the community, since their practices primarily revolved around ritualistic bathing. But many of the Jewish people were also artisans so there were cultural clashes within their business dealing that posed issues especially in regard to gender roles.
This is why it is important to know as much as we can about the background of the communities that the letters were written to. If we read through both Ephesians and Timothy we begin to see that many of the things that Paul speaks with such passion are not necessarily hard rules for the church in general but are localized issues where certain cultural norms are causing distraction from the core of the gospel. It also gives us some understanding as to why Paul uses certain wording to illustrate ideas.
As we walked through the book of Ephesians last year, I said that Paul was writing to a church that was advancing to a spilt between the Jewish and gentile factions of the faith. I believe that this was also why Timothy received the letters that he received because as a leader within the church community he was given the charge to encourage unity among the faithful as he encouraged them all toward Christ.
In the first chapter of this letter Paul give is testimony, saying that he is the foremost of sinners, but due to the grace and mercy of Christ he was given a place and ministry in the kingdom. He then connects that to the person of Timothy, saying that Jesus gave him a task as well that was confirmed by prophetic words and the commissioning of the elders. These are the sorts of things that is always important for people to hear, especially from those we respect. I have failed and am not perfect yet God saw it fit to use me, and He wants to us you as well. Those words encourage us all who feel like we should just give up because God cannot use a broken person like me.
Then Paul gives practical advice. Timothy you are given the task to unite this divided church. Unite this group of believers that come from extreme Jewish faith and liberal Gentile traditions and mold them into children of God. If this was my charge, I think I would hand in my resignation, it is a task that is not possible in our own strength. To unite people under one banner that have radical views and encourage them to love one another. It would take a miracle. Which is exactly what Paul is getting at. You cannot do it in your own strength. So you must rely of the strength of God. So first of all, Paul, urges you to pray. He urges us along with Timothy to pray for all people, all kings, and all leaders of prominence.
I want us to consider this for a moment. The first and probably greatest missionary of Christian history encourages us to begin with one thing. Prayer. He does not start with theology, he does not start with a program or even ministry to the poor within the community. He says that before you do anything else pray. Pray for everyone, pray for the king, pray for the leaders within the community. Why should we begin there?
There is something about prayer. Prayer is the place where intimacy with God begins. It is where we converse and commune with the creator of the universe and the one who fashioned our bodies in our mother’s womb. Prayer is where we connect with the God, who loved us so much that He through Jesus came down from heaven to dwell among mankind, to teach us how to live lives in communion with the Father, and who provided the way and means of that communion through His sacrifice on the cross. Prayer is where we begin.
Jesus, Himself, began his ministry in prayer. After his baptism by John in the Jordon, he withdrew for forty days to fast in the wilderness. During that time he was tempted by the devil but that was not the only thing that happened in the desert. There was also prayers being lifted up. How was Jesus going to do the work that He was sent to accomplish. If you think about it, the temptations of Christ are very much connected to the work he was about to pursue. As Jesus prayed, Satan tempted him to focus on his own physical needs, a show of power at the busiest place of worship, and a kingdom without end. Satan tempted Jesus with His own mission, because Jesus was praying and discerning how to accomplish the mission before him.
Timothy is also facing a great mission. The only way to start is through prayer, so that we can live quiet peaceable lives in all godliness and dignity so that through us everyone can be saved and come to true knowledge of God.
God is calling us to the very same mission. We live in a city of great wealth and diversity. How can we bring the gospel to this city? How can we unite everyone and bring everyone into the kingdom of God? The first thing that comes to my mind is not how, but why me. I am a simple man from the middle of nowhere, why am I even here in a city to begin with. I do not know what city people do, think, need or even care about. How can I relate let alone encourage anyone to come into the kingdom of God? The truth of this is, I can’t. I can’t and neither can anyone else. There is no argument that is perfect enough that will convince anyone to change their ways. There is no service I can provide that would so touch the lives of anyone that they would leave the life that they have been comfortable living and pursue a life with God. There is nothing I can do, without the Grace of God. Because like Paul, I have failed. Like Timothy I am discouraged. Like every other person in this city and in this world, I am broken, tired, poor, wore out, and stretched to the limits. Yet God called me to be here. He called me to live here. He called me to live a life and lifestyle of faith. He called me here to live among you to encourage you and everyone else I encounter that maybe the lifestyle of God is worth entrusting their life to.
We are called first to pray. When we look at the life of Jesus we find that He lived a rhythmic life; he made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, He withdrew often to pray in the isolated places, and he ministered to those around Him. He loved God, He embraced the Holy Spirit and He loved those around Him. This is our mission. This is who we say that we are, and like Jesus that begins with prayer. It is through prayer that we commune with God. When I say prayer, I mean our devotional life. The reading of scripture and the reflection on scripture. Just as David says in the psalms he delights in the law of God, meditating on them day and night. This is prayer, it is allowing God to speak to us often through scripture as we consider how we should encounter the world around us. In those times of prayer we begin to feel and sense the where God will lead us and we meet Him there in the community, ministering to the needs of others. It is through prayer that we find the words to say to those around us that need encouragement, and often those words are simply our story of how God has been with us in our own journey. It is through prayer for the kings and leaders where we might see where many of the people around us have become marginalized by our society and how we might be able to encourage them and bring them to a place of glory with Christ. It all begins with prayer. And it continues with the humbling ourselves to respond according to the spirit’s leading. Entrusting our lives to God, so that we are able to go where He leads.
We often look at the world around us and we fear the future. We see corruption, we see terrorism, and we see war and natural disasters. It is easy to become overwhelmed and say come lord and take us out of this place. Yet He waits. Imagine Timothy in Ephesus. Imagine Jews on one side demanding that all the people conform to their ideas and the gentiles on the other side demanding that everyone live lives of liberty. Imagine the place he was trying to unite these people, many of whom believed that Jesus was truly the chosen one of God, and the salvation of mankind. As we consider that transpose that image to our world today, we can see that things are not all that different. There are culture clashes all around us, yet God continues to call us to live lives for Him, so all might be saved. Paul still tells us to begin with prayer. Pray for everyone that you encounter, you might even pray with them. Pray for our leaders and you might even let them know how you are holding them up to God and encourage them. Pray for the kings and leaders around the world and support the ministries and missions of those that travel to those areas so that they too will have people to encourage them to encounter the true knowledge of God. Then move from that prayer into the world and live the love of Christ with those we meet. Extending to them the very same grace and love that Jesus gave to us, because in His mind that person at the register or at the desk, that person cleaning your room or fixing your computer is worth dying for in the mind of Christ.