“The Church and Prayer”                                                                  June 9, 2013

1 Timothy 2:1-7

 

SI:  1 Timothy is a pastor to pastor letter about church life.

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.

   Timothy was a pastor, apparently the new pastor, of the church in Ephesus.

Paul says in chapter 3 that he has written this letter so that people will know how

   to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God.

 

Paul’s main point to Timothy is that anything in the life and teaching of the

   church that detracts from, erodes, or contradicts the Gospel must be opposed.

And on the positive side, the church must be organized and guided in such a way

   that the Gospel is adorned and magnified.

 

 


 

INTRO:  I once heard a speech by a man who ran a fundraising business

   for charitable and religious organizations.  He was taking about basic principles

   of fundraising, and as an illustration, he told a personal story. 

He said that when he was in college, he got involved in raising money for some

   sort of charitable project connected with his university. 

   I can’t remember exactly what it was, it may have been work with inner-city kids.

But I do remember one detail.  He and the other students involved in the project

   had to raise $400,000.  Well, this was during the 80s, and there was one very

   wealthy man who was often in the news during those years—Ross Perot.

 

This college boy and one of his friends got to thinking—

   what if we could get an appointment with Ross Perot?  Wouldn’t that be great?

   So they wrote some letters, made some phone calls and lo and behold—

   They got an appointment!

They went to Dallas, the moment arrived, they were ushered into the inner sanctum,

   and there he was—Ross Perot, the billionaire.  He told them to get right to point.

So they told him about the charitable project, told him needed to raise $400,000.

   When they were finished, Mr. Perot said:  That sounds like a worthy cause.

   But you never told me how much you wanted me to give. 

 

The man who was telling this story, who now runs a fund-raising business said

   that he and his friend had never even considered that.  Thought they would just

   lay it out there, and let Mr. Perot decide out of the goodness of his heart. 

But they realized right then that he wanted them to ask him for a specific amount.

   So this college boy gulped, and he said: 

   Mr. Perot, if you would be willing to give $25,000 that would be great. 

He said that Mr. Perot took out a checkbook, wrote a $25,000 check—

   and as he was handing it to them he said: 

   Boys, if you had asked for $400,000, I would have given it to you. 

After telling that story, the man when on to drive home his point:

   When it comes to fundraising, ask for big things, ask for specific things.

   When that is done respectfully and for a good cause, it honors the donor.

 

In chapter 1, Paul has addressed the urgent matter that cause him to write letter.

   He’s told Timothy to deal with the different doctrine some people were teaching

   that was hurting the church.  He’s warned Timothy about the danger of apostasy.

And now he shifts gears, and he starts to deal with positive thing—

   various aspects of the life and ministry of the church,

   and how they need to be conducted so that the Gospel is magnified and adorned.

The very first topic Paul deals with is prayer. 

Prayer in the church.  What God’s people are to pray for and how we are to pray

   when we are together, whether in worship service or other meetings of church.

Paul’s words here certainly apply to our private prayer, and our family prayer,

   but the context is how we are to behave in church. 

In this case, how we are to pray when we are together as a body.

 

What Paul says in these verses is humbling and convicting and exhilarating

   at the same time.  He says that when you pray, you are not talking to some

   two-bit Texas billionaire—you in the presence of the one true God.

And you are petitioning the one and only mediator between God and men—

   the man Christ Jesus.

 

So when the church prays, we shouldn’t limit our prayers to little things.

   There must be a broadness, an expansiveness, a liberality to our prayers.

And the great request, the huge request, that must always be on our lips—

   when God pulls out his checkbook and says—What do you want me to do?

We should say:  God Savior, Christ Jesus Mediator, we want you to save people. 

   And God, not just one or two people, or the right sorts of people—

   but all people.  God, save all people.  Save everyone. 

 

That’s Paul’s word to Timothy.  It’s not just, Timothy, make sure the church prays.

No, it’s Timothy, teach your church, lead your church to pray for the salvation

   of all people.  And here’s why you must ask for such a huge thing: 

Because God wants all people to be saved. 

   This 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. 

 

Every week when I study for my sermon, I’m convicted by the Scripture passage.

But sometimes the Holy Spirit lays a deep conviction on me and even uses

   providential events to drive the Word deep.  That has been the case this week.

I’ve been negligent in this aspect of the Christian life.

   And it’s not something of minor importance—this is huge.  Paul says it’s first.

   Evangelistic praying.  God, save this person.  God, bring that person to a

   knowledge of the truth.  Jesus, Mediator, ransom all people from sin and death.

 

Two points:

1.  We must pray for the salvation of all people,

2.  Because God wants all people to be saved. 

MP#1  We must pray for the salvation of all people.

There was something in the Ephesian church where Timothy was pastor

   that was discouraging members from praying for the salvation of people.

Different commentaries have different theories, but most think it had something

   to do with this erroneous teaching about the law mentioned in chapter one.

There was some element of that teaching that caused many members

   to look at people out in the world and think that very few could possibly be saved. 

   Maybe people out there were just too bad, or too different from them.

 

Paul says, Don’t fall into that way of thinking.

   He says, I urge you.  Please, listen to me.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people . . .”

He uses four words to describe this evangelistic prayer.

   Now, in a sense, these are all synonyms.  Paul is just piling up synonyms to

   make a point of how important this is:  Pray, pray, pray, pray for all people.

But there are some nuances of meaning that give us a more complete picture.

 

Supplications.  It’s a common word in Scripture. 

   It comes from a root word that means to need, to lack, to be deprived.

And so it communicates the idea, as a word for prayer, that we are coming to God

   because there is a lack of something that is desperately needed.

That’s a very fitting way to view evangelistic praying. 

 

This is where it starts.  It springs from a sense of need. 

   Those without Christ need him.  They lack a Savior. 

   They lack forgiveness of sins. 

   They are in a dire, desperate situation—heading for death and judgment and hell.

Evangelistic praying begins with a sense of the great need of lost people.

 

Listen to Richard Baxter, famous 16th century Puritan pastor:

O, if you have the hearts of Christians, let them yearn toward your poor ignorant ungodly neighbors.  Alas, there is but a step betwixt them and death and hell.  Many hundred diseases are waiting ready to seize on them, and if they die unregenerate, they are lost forever.  Have you hearts of rock that cannot pity men in such a case as this?  If you believe not the Word of God and the danger of sinners, why are you Christians yourselves?  If you do believe it, why do you not bestir yourself to the helping of others?  Do you not care who is damned as long as you are saved?  If so, you have sufficient cause to pity yourselves, for it is a frame of spirit utterly inconsistent with grace.

 

Evangelistic prayer starts with sense of need.

After supplications, then prayers.  This is simply the general word for prayer.

But what’s interesting about this word is that it is only directed toward God.

   Supplications can be directed toward other men—supplication to the king.

So there is an element of sacredness, an element of worship in this term.

   That adds another dimension to praying evangelistically.

When you pray for a person to be saved, you are not only motivated by his or her

   need, but also because of God’s glory. 

You want this person to come to a knowledge of the truth, because you know that

   when that happens, God is glorified, Christ is exalted.  That’s important to you.

 

Next, intercessions. 

The nuance of this word is that you are praying on behalf of someone.

You know how you sometimes will hear that people in certain lines of work,

   can’t let themselves get too close to the people they deal with.

   For their own psychological well-being, have to maintain emotional distance.

Intercession is not like that at all.

   It’s not just advocacy, but also empathy. 

This is so convicting.  Because it means that in this matter of evangelistic prayer,

   there must be personal compassion, a true concern over person’s lost condition.

 

Finally, thanksgivings.

That’s an element of all prayer.  It means in this specific case, that we are to thank

   God for the privilege of praying for lost people. 

Thank him for the power of the Gospel that reaches past every barrier. 

   Thank him for whatever he does in answer to our prayers—

   whether the person we are praying for responds to grace or not. 

 

So this is how Paul urges us to pray evangelistically:

   We pray because people have desperate spiritual needs.

   We pray because God deserves glory.

   We pray because we feel sympathy and anxiety for lost people.

   We pray thanking God for this great privilege and for whatever he does.

 

And then who are we to pray for?  All people.

What does that mean?  Do we get out the phone book and go down the list?

   Paul is dealing with the narrow, restricted view that this bad teaching had

   brought about in the Ephesian church.  May not have been praying for anybody

   to be saved, may have just been praying for the right sort of people.

Paul’s point:  Let our prayers be as wide as the Great commission.

Pray for every kind of person.  Pray for everyone outside the kingdom who God,

   in his providence brings to your attention and lays on your heart.

Don’t consign anyone to a category of not being worth your prayers because

   it’s very unlikely they will ever be saved.  Don’t think that way.

 

As an example, Paul points to a category of people that we often think are beyond

   prayers for their salvation—kings and all those in authority.

Paul’s point is not that you need to pray for the king, or president, or governor,

   that God would give him wisdom, help him to govern rightly.  Good prayers.

This about the salvation of their souls.  God, bring the king to knowledge of truth.

   Lord Jesus Christ, bring president to a saving knowledge of you.

Those are the prayers God’s people should be praying.

   God’s grace and love are so wide, that we should be willing to pray for everyone.

 

This week, a woman who is a neighbor of ours stopped by my study to give me

   a book that she and some women in her church have written. 

I asked what the book was about and she said that it is about

   being an authentic Christian woman.

I said that I really appreciated the gift, but that being an authentic Christian woman

   was not high on my priority list.  But as I was skimming the book, the first line of

   one chapter caught my eye.  And as I read, it humbled me to the dust, because it

   was this very subject of praying for the salvation of all people.

 

The opening line of the chapter was:

“I recall a few years ago, I had been thinking about Whitney Houston a great deal.  I was not a crazy fan of hers, so I could not figure out why.  Finally, I realized I was to pray for her each time she came into my mind.  And I did.  Not long after that, I was at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, and as I was getting on the elevator, there she was, Whitney Houston getting on the elevator too!  We made eye contact and greeted one another.  I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me, and thankfully, since I had been praying for her, I felt empowered to act.  I leaned over and quietly said, “You have been on my mind a lot lately and I have been praying for you.”  She moved closer to me and said, “Really?  What about?”  I said, “I know this is from the Lord.  He loves you very much and wants you to come back to Him.  He knows that you are going through a lot and He sees you.  You know the way to Him and you have to give some things up.  Run back to Him, Whitney.  He wants you back.”  The elevator door opened and I could see she was crying.  She reached over and hugged me and whispered, “Thank you so much, and keep praying for me.” 

 

The woman telling the story said two other things that struck me.

   “I saw her as a sister in trouble, not as a singer or superstar.  I knew she was broken, and God

   was her only answer.”

And then years after this encounter in the elevator, when the news broke about

   Whitney Houston’s untimely death she said:

“I hate to think of the regrets I would have felt when I heard of her death had I not been obedient when I was given the opportunity to minister.”

 

What do you hear in that story?  The very heart of Paul’s command.

   Supplication, prayer, intercession, and even thanksgiving. 

   Thank you Holy Spirit for moving me pray, so now I have no regrets.

And rather than seeing this woman as an unreachable, distant, celebrity—

   seeing her as a soul that desperately needed Jesus and salvation.

 

Here’s the specific application. 

When we pray, not just in private, but as a church—whether in worship,

   in Sunday school, in Covenant Groups, in other groups and meetings of the

   church, the salvation of all people must be prominent in our prayers—

   all sorts of people, people high and low, people we know and people are just a

   face on TV.

 

Why should we pray this way?  That brings us to the second point.


 

MP#2  Because God wants all people to be saved.

Just look at how many ways this idea of all people is repeated in vs. 2-7

   This is good, (praying for all people to be saved 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. 

 

Now Paul elaborates on this theme of all people.

   For there is one God (there is one God for all people, not different gods for different nations)

   and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (one mediator for all)

   who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

 

Then Paul brings up his apostleship, he points out that he was called as a teacher

   of the gentiles.  His point is that the Gospel is sent to all nations.

   For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying),

   a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

 

I’m a Calvinist. 

I believe the Bible teaches that salvation, from first to last is by the sovereign grace

   of God alone.  I believe that all people are by nature hardened rebels against God.

I believe that we are born dead in sin, unable and unwilling to turn to God.

   We are by nature objects of wrath, and deserving of judgment,

   and unable to choose faith and repentance.

 

And so if we are to be saved, God must not only offer salvation, he must place it in

   our hands and in our hearts.  He must even close the fingers of our fist around it.

He must help us in every way to get from this world to the next and to heaven.

   So God’s grace to his people is more than just an offer of salvation—

   it is salvation from beginning to end.

God must do the saving, it is his work alone.

 

There are hundreds of passages in Scripture that teach us relentlessly and

   unapologetically that our salvation from beginning to end was accomplished

   for us and given to us as a free gift.

The cross, the new birth, the gift of faith, the indwelling of Holy Spirit,

   deliverance from bondage, preservation in the way—all works of God alone. 

God chose the elect for salvation, he predestined them for glory,

   Christ died for his sheep, the Holy Spirit’s call awaked their souls alone, 

   and they alone are brought safely home to heaven.

Hundreds of passages that speak of the particular grace of God for his elect.

 

But we aren’t studying those passages, we are studying this one.

And this passage says with utmost clarity that God wants all people to be saved

   and that Jesus Christ gave himself as a ransom for all.

 

And it’s wrong to take this beautiful passage of Scripture and try to force it

   into a neat theological system.  Too many Calvinists have done that.

   I’ve done that.  And it destroys the glory of this passage.

I read a sermon this week by a fine Presbyterian minister—

   and right off the bat he said:  This doesn’t mean all people, it just means all

   kinds of people, which is basically the same as saying some people, and that

   refers to the elect.

 

Is that all that Paul is saying?

Pray for all sorts of people

   because God wants some of all sorts of people to be saved?

That doesn’t move you.

 

Let’s say I meet some rascal.  He’s a very unpleasant, unlovable person.

   And I think:  God wants some people like this man to be saved.

That thought might motivate me to squeeze some affection for him

   out of my stony heart.  But more than likely, I’ll say to myself—

God wants this type of person to be saved. 

   God wants some rascals to be saved—but probably not this rascal.

But if I don’t believe that God wants this very man to be saved—

   how will I ever be moved to plead for his salvation

   with supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings? 

 

However, if I am persuaded that it is this very man standing before me—

   and not others like him—but it is this very man, in his spiritual ignorance and

   rebellion—who God wants to save.  Will that not motivate me to pray?

 

The Bible says that it is God’s love for all he has made that causes him

   to shine his sun on the evil and the good,

   and to send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 

Should we not love with the same wideness and generosity?

 

Christ’s love for stubborn, unbelieving Jerusalem made him weep over that city.

   “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,

   how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her

   wings, but you were not willing.” 

He was calling out in prayer for all the inhabitants of that city,

   even those with hearts full of murder against him. 

If Christ had love as wide as whole city, should we not love and pray for cities?

   For Cullman and Birmingham, for New Orleans, Las Vegas, San Francisco,

   where there are millions of people trapped greed and sensuality.

 

Over and over in Scripture, we hear God, the one God and Savior extending a

   universal invitation to all mankind:  Isaiah 45.

   “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God and there is no other.”

No one is exempt from this invitation, even if they live as far from

   God’s saving presence as they can.  All who turn to the Lord will be saved. 

 

And it is God’s good pleasure that every single person turn and be saved.  Ezk 33

   Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the

   death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your

   evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

 

And we could go on and on, hundreds of passages that speak of God’s love for

   all mankind and his sincere desire that all be saved and none lost and that all

   hear the message of the Gospel and turn to Christ the one and only Mediator.

So what does that mean about the people we meet?

   If they are your closest friends, God wants them to be saved.

If they are in your family, God wants them to be saved.

   If they are people you work or study with, God wants them to be saved.

If they are strangers who pass you in a crowd, people who you have the slightest,

   momentary impression of, you know this about them, God wants them saved.

If they are celebrities and world leaders on TV, God wants them to be saved.

   If they are just statistics, more than a billion people in India . . .

And Paul tells Timothy, let that desire of God motivate you to pray for all men.

 

How do we reconcile the Bible’s clear teaching that God wants all people to

   be saved with the Bible’s clear teaching that God has a chosen people,

   an elect from before the foundation of the earth who he does in fact save?

How do we reconcile the generous Gospel call for all men to turn and be saved,

   with the fact that many are called but few are chosen, and that only those who

   are appointed to eternal life believe?

 

Rather than trying to reconcile them, we should preach them both.

   We should listen to both, glory both, be faithful to both, enjoy sweetness of both.

There is a sense in which Jesus died for all,

   and there is a sense in which he laid down his life for the sheep and not goats.

There is a general love that God has for all mankind,

   and there is a special love that he has only for the elect.

There is a will of God in which he expresses his desire for all to be saved

   and none to be lost, and there is a will of God in which some are fashioned

   for honor and some for dishonor.

 

Who are we to reconcile these mysteries?

   we’re talking about the mind and heart of the living God.

Do we really think we can comprehend everything he feels and desires and has

   planned through our systematic theology?

 

Listen to Charles Spurgeon preaching on this passage:

   one of the greatest Calvinist preachers in the English speaking world.

 

My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture.  I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater.  I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God.  I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent?  

 

But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture.  God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, “God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”

 

What a sweet word.  Let’s take it to heart, and let us be a people, a church,

   that offers up supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all

   people, sincerely desiring that all be saved.