17th Sunday after Trinity September 22, 2002
1 Timothy 2:1-7
23, 377(5-9), 575, 313(3)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For 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 between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle; I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying; a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Dear fellow redeemed in Jesus Christ, our Lord:
Several years ago a friend had come over to my house to help me install a ceiling fan. The first item of business for him was to throw out the instructions. I’m just the opposite. When I have a project I pore over the directions. I read the instructions before I get started, as I progress, and after I’m done. There are others like me who will meticulously read directions, and others like my friend who will only read them as a last resort. Depending on your abilities and the project, you may be able to get away with not having any instructions.
When it comes to what God instituted, however, we don’t have the same leeway. We do well to follow His instructions. For instance, He has established Baptism, Holy Communion, and marriage and He has instructions in all of these areas. We do well to follow those instructions, and are blessed when we do.
The Lord also has established prayer. He gave us the Lord’s prayer as a model of how to pray, and speaks to us on the matter of prayer in other places in Scripture, such as the text that is before us today. Today, we learn for whom we should pray, and the reasons behind it. God gives us encouragement and instructions for prayer I. For whom? All people. II. Why? God desires all to be saved. III. For whom? Those in authority. IV. Why? So that Christians may worship and witness. May the Holy Spirit open our hearts to receive God’s encouragement and instructions for prayer.
There are different ways that we pray to God. Our text uses four different words for prayer: supplications, prayers, intercession, and giving of thanks. I would guess that many times we ask God for things concerning ourselves, but God turns it around and instead of telling us what to pray for, He tells for whom we should pray. We are told to pray for all men. Here “men” is used in the generic sense as in mankind, so we could say for all people. Later on in this chapter the Lord addresses men and women separately, but here the sense is universal.
Certainly we could be kept busy by praying for our fellow Christians, and there is that need to come to our Heavenly Father especially on behalf of those of the household of faith. However, God wants us to be aware of the needs of others that we do not know personally.
I remember a story of a promoter for a band that had filled a stadium for a concert. As he and the band’s manager were overlooking the full house the promoter was pleased, but the manager pointed him out to the busy interstate and said: “Those people who aren’t in here, those are the ones that I want to reach.” In the same way, God wants us expand our horizons, and realize that there are many people for whom we need to pray who are not in our church, or even in our town.
This is not going to be an easy task. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Just try putting that into practice. Have you prayed recently for the person who aggravates you to no end? To take it a step further, have you prayed for Osama bin Laden this week? Why should we do such a thing?
While God would not have to give us a reason why we should pray for all men—“Because I said so” would suffice—He has given us a very good reason. “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God does not rejoice in the condemnation of unbelievers. He wants every person to be in heaven one day. We are told in 2 Peter 3:9, “[The Lord] is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Yes, it is true that there are those who do not believe in God and who have rejected Him and His Word. The Scriptures tell us that the one who does not believe will be condemned. God does not force people to love Him. Neither does He take pleasure in the death of the wicked nor does force people away from Himself.
God has backed up His desire for all men to be saved with a plan of salvation that was designed for all. God did not exclude any person or group of people when He made promises concerning Christ and when Christ died. The gift of a Savior was for the world, because God so loved the world (cf. John 3:16). When Jesus died on the cross this was a sacrifice for men and women, rich and poor, and for every race. Every sin was placed upon our Savior, and He paid the penalty for every sin. What an extraordinary comfort this is!
God does not show favoritism. He has not overlooked the sins of any and excused one and not another. “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As sinners, we have all (at one time or another) been in the crosshairs of God’s wrath. At the same time, we read in the text that Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all. His blood was the price necessary to buy us back from sin. He was the perfect sacrifice, paying what was due. Anyone who is lost and condemned has nobody to blame but himself because God went the distance and did what He had promised.
This is the “knowledge of the truth” of which God wants people to be aware. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all.” In the paper this week I read an article which stated that Muslims believe that they and Christians worship the same God merely viewing the same God in a different way. This is certainly not the Biblical view. There is only one, true God. God reveals Himself as Triune—three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet only one God. He reveals Himself as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. He reveals Himself as a God of love and mercy.
God has this love for everyone, and that is the attitude that He wants to foster in us. He loved people enough to die for them. He’s not asking us to die for them as He did, but He is asking us to pray for all people regardless of whether they’re friends or enemies. God did not make a distinction, and doesn’t wish for us to make one either. Pray on the behalf of all people.
So far we’ve had the general instruction. We are to pray for all, but God also gives us some specifics. We are to pray in particular for kings and all who are in authority. This might be an aspect of our prayer-life that we tend to overlook. There might be times that we are frustrated with our government. Just consider our attitude weeks and months before the terrorist attack (on 9-11 last year). Think back to the previous presidential election when there were frustrations of both Democrats and Republicans over the debacle in counting votes in Florida. There didn’t seem to be much respect for those in authority at that time. Sometimes we even think of the government and those in positions of authority as the enemy. And yet our Lord encourages and instructs us to pray for them.
Consider when these words of Paul were written: On the throne of the Roman Empire was Nero. He began what was to become a series of vicious persecutions against the Christians. Many believers would lose their lives in the following decades. Many would be imprisoned or would have to go into hiding; and yet the exhortation to pray for such rulers is still there. Those in the government are God’s representatives and we are to obey them (except in cases where they would order us to disobey God) and we are also to pray for them.
Here again God gives us a very good reason why we should do so: “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” As a nation we crave quiet and peaceful times. Some would desire it for economic prosperity, others so that our young men and women would not have to go and fight in war, and there are other reasons. The Christian, though, has an added incentive to want a quiet and peaceable life. This is so that he may live his faith, and that he may worship and witness without interference.
We take for granted being able to assemble together and worship. We don’t need permission from anybody. Yes, the government has some regulations about fire exits, or electrical inspections when a church is built; but it will not step in and tell us when we can worship, or what we may or may not preach. What a tremendous blessing that is! We should pray for a continuation of such freedom.
We can also pray for other governments to change. We think of communist situations or where a government is Muslim or Hindu controlled, or where Christians do not have the freedom to worship. Consider places in Europe where state-controlled churches are denuded of any sort of Gospel truth. We can pray for such areas that they may enjoy the freedom that we do here.
In that same light, we also enjoy the freedom to testify of our faith. During the height of the Roman persecutions, Christians had to use secret signs with which they could identify each other. Here we can speak to our friend and neighbor about God’s desire for all men to be saved, and the Mediator and Savior Christ Jesus. This is a beautiful freedom that we may take for granted, and may not fully take advantage of.
In the middle of a national crisis or need we especially should pray for those in authority; but it is a prayer that should not be forgotten once the crisis or need is gone. Let our eyes turn heavenward to God and following His instructions pray for all men especially those in authority! We have many things that we can ask our heavenly Father, and just as many for which we can give thanks. Amen.
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