My Role in God’s Global Purpose: Part 1
Passage: 1 Timothy 2:1-4
The more I work with people, the more convinced I become that the saddest, most depressed people are those who live for themselves. You would think that someone who gives his life and energy to chasing happiness would be the most likely to achieve it. And yet most intensely selfish people end up like Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge—bitter, lonely, and sad. Whereas, people who give themselves to something bigger and live with a selfless focus, typically end up in a place of joy and peace. Over the next two weeks, I want to turn our attention to the most important purpose that we can pursue—God’s global purpose of redemption.
This passage has a rich message for the church, but it is one of those passages where it is easy miss the forest for the trees, because it has some big trees. Paul begins by talking about prayer, and particularly prayer for government officials, and so politics and religious freedom stand out to us. Verse 4 frequently comes up in debates between Calvinists and Arminians. And then vv. 5–6 give a significant theological decree. In a matter of only 22 Greek words they declare significant truths regarding monotheism, its relationship to the Trinity, the exclusivity of the gospel, and Christ’s redemptive purpose. These big trees tend to overshadow v. 7, where Paul relates all of this to his God-given mission. There is a lot to discuss in this paragraph, and we will take our time walking through each section. However, to use another illustration, this is one of those passages where it is vitally important that we see the individual puzzle pieces in light of the entire picture. Otherwise, we are going to miss the true significance of the pieces, and, most importantly, we will fail to see the grand picture that Paul paints.
You see, this passage is not ultimately about politics, Calvinism, or even prayer and systematic theology. This passage is about God’s global, redemptive purpose and my tiny role in the most important mission of the world. The central message of this passage is this. God is the only Savior, and he has called his church to pray for and participate in his global purpose of redemption. I believe redemption is at the center of this passage because v. 6 says that Jesus gave his life as a ransom, or you could say, as the price of redemption. And Paul repeatedly beats drives home God’s desire to extend the message of redemption to the entire world. He says in v. 1 to pray for “all men.” Verse 4 says God desires to save “all men.” Verse 6 says that Christ gave his life “a ransom for all,” and v. 7 says that God called Paul to begin the global spread of the gospel. I pray that as we study this text, we will see God’s passion for the lost, and that we will embrace God’s passion as our own.
There are four sections to this paragraph. This morning, we will just look at the first in vv. 1–4. Notice first of all in vv. 1–2 that…
We should pray for the salvation of all people (vv. 1–2).
You may be surprised that I would summarize these verses as a prayer for salvation because most people assume the focus is political involvement and religious freedom. But politics is not Paul’s main concern, because vv. 3–7 are clearly focused on God’s global purpose of redemption; therefore, we need to read vv. 1–2 in that light. So what does Paul have to say about prayer for redemption? Notice first…
The Manner of Prayer
Verses 1 uses four terms for prayer beginning with “supplications.” The Greek term describes a request that is based in a need. In a context about prayer, it is asking God to do something. The second term “prayers” is the most common term for prayer in the NT. It is a general term that encompasses every aspect of prayer. The third term “intercessions” refers to an urgent appeal on behalf of another person. Paul also adds, “giving of thanks.” It’s interesting that Paul includes thanksgiving here, because Paul’s primary concern in this context is prayer FOR all men; however, he includes thanksgiving because no prayer is complete that does not include acknowledgment of God’s gracious gifts. Don’t miss this. If your prayer life sounds like a kid selfishly going through his Christmas list with Santa Claus, it is sorely lacking. Prayer is worship and communion with God, and thanksgiving is essential to that.
Together, these terms are intended to describe a fully developed, mature form of prayer. All of our prayer should have this kind of mature approach, though in this context, Paul is primarily concerned with congregational prayer in the services of the church. I say that because of v. 8–15. Verse 8 picks up on the theme of prayer from vv. 1–2, and based on what follows, we know that he is talking about congregational prayer. Therefore, v. 1 is primarily picturing the kind of mature prayer that God desires in the services of the church. Prayer is a vital aspect of our worship. We must never see congregational prayer as a mere duty or a convenient time to check a text messages or to slip out and use the bathroom. It is a sacred, urgent aspect of our worship. Notice as well…
The Content of Prayer
Remember that the primary concern of this paragraph is God’s purpose of saving sinners. Verses 3–4 make this clear when they give a reason why we should pray. We should pray for all men because God desires to save all men. In light of that v. 1 is not primarily saying to pray for world peace or safety through natural disasters. His concern is that we pray for the advance of the gospel. Our private prayers ought to include passionate pleas for souls. But again, Paul’s primary concern is our congregational prayer. A major aspect of congregational prayer should be for the spread of the gospel. Congregational prayer should not be driven by our temporal cares and desires. It should not be a bunch of flowery mumbo jumbo. No, it should reflect the heart of God and a passionate desire to see his mission accomplished. Notice also…
The Scope of Prayer
Verse 1 ends by saying “all men,” and so the scope of his prayer is universal. Most commentators agree that a major reason why Paul emphasizes a universal focus throughout this passage is because the false teachers rejected it. Remember that they held themselves up as superior because of their obedience to Jewish laws. Their arrogant exclusivism cut them off from the rest of society and particularly from “all those heathen Gentiles who couldn’t match their great holiness.” Paul implies that this is his concern in v. 7 when he brings up his Gentile mission and throughout the paragraph as he continually repeats the word “all.” And so the false teachers where preaching a message of exclusivism and had no interest in the advance of the gospel among all people, but this is not the heart of God. God wants the gospel to go to all people, and so Paul urges the church to pray for the global advance of God’s redemptive purpose.
Then in v. 2, he adds a specific group, “kings and all who are in authority.” This is a reference to all levels of governmental authority. The false teachers were probably opposed to such prayer. First century Judaism was strongly nationalistic, so much so, that only a few years later, Jerusalem foolishly tried to rebel against Rome. And the false teachers probably had a similar resistant attitude toward the Roman government. And so Paul says that rather than trying to resist civil authorities, we should pray for them, and in this particular context, pray for their salvation. It’s been a discouraging political season hasn’t it? The political news is tough to swallow, and we often wonder how in the world we ended up with the political leaders that we have. God hasn’t told us why, but he has told us our responsibility to them. He put them in office, and we are responsible to pray for them, and especially to pray for their salvation. Notice finally…
The Result of Prayer
In light of the political context, we can easily understand what Paul means by “quiet and peaceable.” It is a life that is free from governmental or social hostility, where the state and the society at large are friendly to the church and do not oppose its work. It is freedom to do what God has called us to do without governmental or societal resistance. Paul also adds “in all godliness and reverence.” “Reverence” can also be translated as “dignity” or “moral earnestness.” It describes a respect that is earned through a consistent life of integrity. And so the goal of these prayers for government leaders is to have a favorable relationship with the government and with society at large. We want peace with the government so that they don’t interfere with our mission. Our message may offend, but we don’t want to offensive in our manner. Again, the false teachers failed here. They were cutting themselves off from society and probably being obnoxious toward authorities. In contrast Paul says to pray for the salvation of all people including government officials. Respect them, honor them, and pray for them in such a way that that will respect you and not resist you and interfere with the mission God has given you.
In sum, vv. 1–2 calls us to pray for the salvation of all people, including government officials. We should be burdened for the world, and we should be good citizens of the world, but not ultimately so that our lives are comfortable and easy but so that we can give ourselves to God’s global purpose of redemption. Is that your focus as you think about our nation? Do you pray for our nation with a Great Commission perspective? Or are you just concerned about your own comforts and getting your way? Certainly, we should desire prosperity for our nation and for it to uphold godly values. But we better not forget that we have a much higher citizenship than to the USA. We have a heavenly citizenship and a heavenly mission. And so we need to pray for the salvation of our leaders, and we need to honor them so that they don’t oppose our work. But as v. 1 says, we also need to pray for the gospel to go out to all people. How much do you pray for the advance of the gospel? Do you pray consistently for the God to save souls in AV, America, and around the world? Do you pray that our missionaries would be effective in their work? We must have a burden for the lost that is matched in our prayers.
And so vv. 1–2 give the only exhortation of the paragraph, we are to pray for the salvation of all people. With the remainder of the paragraph, Paul gives three reasons why we should pray this way.
First Reason: God desires the salvation of all people (vv. 3–4).
I’d like to break down my discussion of these two verses into three questions. We might as well begin with the point of debate.
If God desires the salvation of all, then why aren’t all saved?
I hope that we all agree that we serve a God of infinite power. He can accomplish whatever he desires. In light of, what do we do with the fact that v. 4 says God desires that all people be saved when the Scriptures absolutely deny that eventually all people will make it to heaven. In fact, they teach that most people will go to hell (Matt 7:13–14). So how do we reconcile the fact that God is all-powerful and most people will not be saved with this statement that God desires the salvation of all people?
One potential to solution would be to say that God’s desire is limited by the free will of mankind. In other words God desires all people to be saved, but most people refuse his offer of salvation; therefore, God’s desire goes unfulfilled. But this solution doesn’t actually solve anything unless you are willing to say that man’s free will is stronger than God, which is absurd. Man’s free will is no rival to God’s almighty power. But very few people are willing to go that far. Instead, they would argue that God desires the free choice of man, without any divine intervention, more than he desires the salvation of sinners. But the Bible never says that, and our passage certainly does not.
Another solution would be to say that all means all types of people, not every single person. According to this view, God doesn’t actually desire the salvation of all people; he only desires the salvation of all types of people—Gentiles and Jews, men and women, slaves and free. There is some basis in the text for taking all this way because a primary purpose of this paragraph is to counter the racial exclusivism of the false teachers. But to say that the various “all” statements in this passage don’t actually mean all people is to press a theology on this passage that doesn’t reflect the most natural reading. When you just read the paragraph, it’s clear that Paul means all people, especially in vv. 1–2. Paul says to pray for the salvation of all people, and then he specifically adds the government authorities over you. These authorities are individuals, not just a class of people. And if “all men” means everyone in v. 1, we ought to assume it means the same in v. 4.
There is a much simpler solution, which most people who believe in election prefer: God has two wills. In other words, there are things that God desires which are not a part of his sovereign or decreed will. The verb Paul uses supports this idea. It’s a verb that indicates an emotional desire, not necessarily a final decision or determination. The Scriptures also speak often of desires in God that are not fulfilled (Matt 23:37), including desires for the repentance and salvation of the lost (Ez 33:11). These passages are not saying that man defies the sovereign will of God; rather, they teach that there are some things God desires, which are not ultimately a part of his sovereign will. In particular, he loves all people and sincerely desires their good, but all of his desires do not ultimately fit within his sovereign will and ultimate purpose. This is ultimately where someone who takes the first position must land as well. For him, God’s commitment to complete free will prevents the salvation of all men. For the one who believes in election, it is God’s pursuit of his glory. That being said, let’s consider Paul’s point.
God desires the salvation of all people.
Again, the false teachers were not marked by such an all-encompassing love. They despised everyone who did not abide by their Jewish scruples, and they certainly were not concerned for their salvation. But Paul says that God has a very different kind of heart. Verse 3 says that he is “our Savior” speaking to Christians. He has saved us, and he desires to extend that salvation to all people. Notice how he describes this salvation. He ends the verse describing it as “coming to the knowledge of the truth.” The word translated knowledge describes doesn’t describe a meager, basic knowledge but a deep, full understanding that God produces in those who are saved. As 2 Corinthians 4:6 states, they see the glory of God in the face of Christ. And they are saved by the grace of God. To be saved is to be rescued from the penalty and the power of sin. It is to be forgiven by God so that you will never face the punishment you deserve, and it is to be freed from the slavery of sin that dominates the lives of all who are outside Christ. And Paul says that God desires this for all people. Now again, God is the Lord, and we should read this verse and imagine God pacing back and forth in heaven like an anxious mother who has no control over her children. He is the Lord, and he will accomplish his purpose. But we must not use this fact to downplay what Paul says. God loves sinners and wants to see them saved.
I’m sure that there is someone here who has never been saved. If that’s you, I hope you will see today like you have never seen before that God desires your salvation. He sent his Son to die for you, as he says in v. 6. And he wants you to know him. I don’t just mean that you know who he is, and you try to obey some of his rules. I mean know him like a Father. I pray that you will see today that you cannot save yourself because you are a sinner. But Jesus provided the ransom or payment for your sin when he suffered on the cross. And if you come to him today and believe on Christ and Christ alone for salvation, you can be saved. Don’t run from that offer; believe on Christ today.
For those of us who are saved, we need to ask ourselves if we share God’s zeal for the lost. Do you desire that all men be saved? It’s one thing to nod your head, but does your life reflect a passion for the lost? Do you pray regularly for them, and do you aggressively pursue opportunities to share the gospel? When you watch TV, and see a mass of people at a sporting event or on the streets of a major city does your heart ever burn over the fact that the vast majority of them are lost and don’t know the glory of who Jesus is? Or have you lost God’s zeal for the lost? Maybe you have developed the kind of arrogant exclusivism that marked the false teachers. All of us need to seriously consider what Paul is telling us about our God and pray, “Lord, give me your heart for the world, and use me to advance your redemptive purpose.
Paul says that when we embrace this heart of God and pray accordingly…
God is pleased when our prayers match his desire (v. 3).
We need to review how v. 3 fits within the argument of the text. Verse 1 commands us to pray for the salvation of all men. And vv. 3–4 say that when we do this, it is good and acceptable to God because God desires the salvation of all people. In other words, God is pleased with our prayers because they reflect his heart. It’s interesting that the word translated “acceptable” is commonly used in the context of worship. The OT talks often of how a righteous sacrifice pleased the Lord. That’s the idea here. When we pray earnestly for the salvation of sinners, it’s like the smoke of a sacrifice rising to the nostrils of God. When he hears that prayer, it is like the smell of pure, righteous sacrifice, and God is pleased.
Again, my challenge today is simply to embrace God’s passion for the salvation of the lost. I pray that all of us will think deeply today and in the coming days about how God views the world, and that his passion will become our passion. I pray that this passion will turn into significant prayer. And I pray ultimately that God will use us as a church to fulfill his passion through an abundant harvest that can only be explained as the work of Almighty God.