THE CHURCH AND PRAYER
1 Timothy 2
Question: Why and how should we pray in church?
Good morning brothers and sisters, boys and girls.
One of the new things Jeannette and I did last week was to walk from the Pavilion to KLCC in the covered walkway. It is 1.17km long and we were pleasantly surprised to find how beautiful it is and even air conditioned. How many of you have done that walk? Aiyah, what happened to the rest of you? After eating all that yummy Malaysian food that is a nice walk to burn off the calories. Try it!
So how was your week? Did you spend more time with the Lord and get some sound teaching?
I hope you are looking forward to listening what God has to say to us from 1 Timothy chapter 2.
Last week and today
Last week we learnt that Paul left his assistant Timothy in Ephesus because the young church there was being attacked by false teaching. In the 2nd chapter of 1 Timothy Paul teaches them why and how to pray in church. Before we start let us ask God again for help to understand and concentrate.
Dear heavenly Father,
Thank You that we can come again to worship You this morning in freedom. As we come to chapter 2 of the first letter to Timothy we want to hear what You want us to learn from this ancient document. You have preserved this document over the ages because You want to teach us the same things as the original recipients, the church in Ephesus. May You therefore please give us open ears and a teachable heart. Help us to concentrate and take away any distracting thoughts and focus on Your word. May You also help me to be clear and faithful to Your word.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Please keep your Bibles open at 1 Timothy chapter 2.
Paul starts in v1 by saying I urge then, first of all,
What follows is the first thing Paul wants Timothy to do at the church, the most important thing. No wonder he urged Timothy, not suggested or encouraged, but urged.
And what is the most important thing? Prayer. Yes, prayer is the most important thing Paul wants the church to do. I’m sure we all agree that prayer is important in church life, but do you agree with Paul that it is the first thing, the most important thing in church life?
In Sydney Jeannette is the prayer coordinator for the 9.15am English service. She produces a monthly prayer letter and twice a month she organises a prayer meeting an hour before the service starts. Sadly only about 6-8 people turn up.
I’m afraid to say that at St Andrews it is not much different. At the 8am prayer meeting only 3-4 people come. Helen being the most faithful. And as far as I know there is no prayer meeting for the 11am service.
But if we did a survey I’m sure everyone will agree that prayer is important. Saying is easy but doing is harder. That’s the reason this morning we want to look at why we need to pray at church. May we all go home with a commitment to pray more.
Why does Paul consider prayer to be first of all. Because prayer shows our submission to the almighty God, acknowledging our dependence on Him, acknowledging that He is in control. We often forget to pray when the going is good because we think we are in control. It’s only when the dark clouds come that we submit to God again and pray. Paul says: That’s wrong, put prayer first.
Paul wrote this letter around 65AD, after ~25 years travelling and suffering incredible hardships. In those years he learnt to depend and submit to God first of all. That is why we need to pray.
In v1 Paul mentions several aspects of prayer: requests, prayer, intercession and thanksgiving. It’s not necessary to define these 4 terms. Paul just means that there are different forms of prayer, not just requests. Remember that most people in the Ephesian church were first generation Christians who came straight from a pagan background. Their tradition of prayer would be going to a temple, probably the temple of Artemis, the fertility god. They would bring offerings and in return ask for a fertile crop, fertile cattle, many children and other material successes. This is similar to the pagan culture of Asia, prayer is basically asking the gods for something in return for your offering or promises. It is a transaction, like a business deal. They pray to the idols: If you heal my mother, I will do so and so. If you prosper my business, I will donate money.
Paul wants to tell them that prayer is much more than asking for things.
After telling us why we need to pray at church he continues by telling us how to pray.
He continues in v1 saying that prayers should be for all people, not just for yourself or your family. It should be for everyone. Then he drops a bombshell in v2: all people includes kings and all those in authority.
…for kings and all those in authority
Are you serious Paul? Pray for kings and all those in authority? We need to remember that in the middle of the 1st century Christians were a small persecuted minority. The Roman Caesar at the time was Nero, the cruel emperor. So you can just imagine the hearers of this letter asking Paul: don’t you know that Nero is so cruel that when he has a garden party in the evenings he ties Christians to a stake, covers them with tar and burn them like a torch to light up his garden? Don’t you know, Paul that for entertainment Nero fills the colosseum with spectators then throws Christians in the ring to fight against lions?
Yes, undoubtedly Paul knew about all that. What Paul didn’t know was that about 3 years after writing this letter, around 68AD he himself would be killed by Nero.
And yet, incredibly he asks for prayers for kings like Nero and all those in authority. All those in authority at that time were not Christians. Society was hostile and anti-Christian. The Christians were a persecuted minority. You could call the kings and those in authority enemies of Christians.
Shocking as this sounds to the persecuted first century Christians, they and us are reminded that this is indeed what God wants Christians to do.
And when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome about 10 years earlier, in chapter 13:1-7 he wrote at length about submitting to governing authorities. This includes not just the government but also authorities in church. Christians must submit to the leadership of the church.
So God expects Christians to pray for their government and all those in authority.
Paul wants to teach them….
By this Paul wants to teach them that:
God has the highest authority. Kings and those in authority only have power because God gives it to them, but God is still the boss.
Christians should submit to secular authorities, not rebel.
How about us today, do you pray for your government and those in authority? In Australia we have an excuse for not praying much: we get confused who the PM is, it changes so often! Fortunately in May this year Scott Morrison was re-elected. He is a Christian and even the secular newspapers said that he won because so many Christians prayed for him. His first words after being re-elected were: I believe in miracles! You may feel the same when you remember your election in May last year.
I don’t know about Malaysian churches but I guess that you pray a lot more for your government at election time or when a major political change is on the horizon. Is that right?
What about those of us who come from other countries. Do churches in your home country pray much for your government?
Even when our rulers and authorities are anti-Christian Paul says: don’t oppose them but pray for them. Why does he say that? The reason is in the next verse, v2:
There are two reasons why should we pray for kings and those in authority.
The first one is:
That we may live peaceful and quiet lives
In all godliness and holiness.
Yes, it is beneficial for us. In the OT God told the prophet Jeremiah the same thing. The Jews had been taken captive to Babylon because they were disobedient to God for centuries. In that foreign land, far, far from home God told Jeremiah to tell the people to set down roots, pray for the country they were in. Jer 29:7 says: Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
One reason to pray for those in authority is so that we can live in peace and quietness, not in war, upheaval and troubled times. Don’t take that for granted but be thankful. Pray for kings and those in authority that this will continue. Similarly at church, pray for the leadership that there will be loving harmony in the church family.
But notice the second part of v2: Living in peace and quiet should be done in all godliness and holiness. Godliness is an inward attitude of a deep reverence for God, a submission to His authority, acknowledging that this enjoyment comes as His answer to our prayers.
Holiness is the outward sign of our relationship with God. The way we behave is a reflection of our inward godliness. So if we are thankful to God for a peaceful and quiet life, show it outwardly. Don’t join the critical crowd who always whinge about society, complain about the government, grumble about everything. Instead, show in our lives that we are thankful for living in a peaceful country.
But there’s a second reason why we should pray for K & A’s and that is in v3,4; This is good and pleases God our Saviour who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
It is God’s will that all people are saved. This process of salvation is helped if there is peace and quiet in the land. You remember that during this time the Roman Empire was huge and powerful. There was peace, called Pax Romana. During this peacetime the Roman Empire built many good roads to crisscross the land. These roads facilitated not only trade and military movements, but also the gospel. The good news about Jesus travelled quickly throughout the Roman Empire and young churches sprung up all over as people were converted. In the first 100 years the church grew very quickly in part due to the peaceful conditions of the Roman Empire.
So the second reason for praying for K & A’s is: good and peaceful conditions in a country helps spread the gospel. Similarly at church; a loving, harmonious church will attract non-believers to accept Christ.
Looking more closely at the will of God
Let’s look more closely at the will of God.
God wants all people to be saved and know the truth. What Paul means by the truth is explained in v5,6. There is one God. In The Roman Empire there were many gods including Caesar who was considered to be god. Anyone is free to add another god, the Roman government doesn’t mind that. What they did mind was Christians saying there is only one God. Did you know Christians were called pagans because they did not believe in many gods?
It is similar today; you can believe in any and as many gods as you like and society doesn’t care. But as soon as you insist there is only one God, you get accused of being intolerant and exclusive.
Paul continues, there is not only one God, there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Another word for mediator is a go-between, an intermediary. What that means is that there is only one person who can reconcile a holy God with sinful mankind. That person is Jesus because He gave Himself as a ransom for all mankind.
About 10 years earlier Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome. That letter is the most systematic explanation of what the Christian faith is all about. In Rom 3:23 Paul said that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That means that in the eyes of the holy and only God, we all fall short of His standard and therefore deserve to be banned from His presence. Because sinful people can not come into the presence of the holy God, we are all doomed to go to a place where God is not present, a place where there is no love, no goodness, no justice, where there is nothing good. A place where only evil reigns. This place is called hell. The Bible often portrays it as a place of incredible suffering like burning in the flames of a furnace, where the fire does not go out and the worms don’t die (Mark 9:44-48). And there is nothing we can do to avoid that destination. We can’t avoid it by living a good life, or going to church, or giving money to charities, or trying to follow the 10 Commandments. There is nothing we can do to get us out of that predicament.
Thankfully, there is one mediator, Jesus, who gave Himself up as a ransom, as a payment for all men. Jesus, is fully God and yet fully man, and gave His life and took the punishment for our rebellious attitude to God. As a result, anyone who sincerely repents can ask God for forgiveness based on Jesus paying the price for us. There is nothing more we need to do nor can do to get this forgiveness. God will freely forgive us and make us His child so we can live in His holy presence.
I have found this to be the major stumbling block for people when I speak to them about God. People get offended when you say that they can’t go to heaven because they want to go there. Isn’t that ironic that people who have no time for God in this short life on earth, want to spend eternity in His presence!
The reason people get offended is that we are all proud human beings. We think we are good because we don’t steal, kill, commit any other crimes. We feel that way because we compare ourselves with society around us. Unfortunately society around us does not decide who goes to heaven, but God does.
People also don’t like being told they can’t earn God’s acceptance. They don’t want free handouts, they want to earn it themselves, to show that they are good enough. They point to the long list of their charitable activities and good behaviour. But they forget that the standard is not society’s standard but God’s, and that is a whole new ballgame. It is like swimming. Most of us can swim and some of us are quite good at it. The good swimmer can look at others and legitimately claim they are better than them. But if you ask people to swim from Port Klang to Sydney, nobody will make it: the standard is too high. Similarly God’s standard is far beyond anybody’s reach.
It is only by faith in Jesus that we can be accepted by the holy God. Jesus Himself says; “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6).
And yes, it is free. This is why the gospel is called the Good News.
And that is what God wants: that all people are saved. He does not want anyone to go to that other, terrible place called hell. We should never say that God sends people to hell. No, God wants each and every one of us to be His children. So this morning, if you haven’t yet accepted God’s gracious forgiveness, may I sincerely ask you to explain to someone what is holding you back?
All this matter of praying for K & A’s is for the purpose to make it easier for people to be saved. God wants this so much that prayer should be of first importance when Christians gather as a church.
How to pray in church
v8-15 talks about how to pray in church.
First Paul addresses the men in v8. They are to pray by lifting up their hands like the Jews in the synagogue. More importantly is the reminder of holy hands, without anger or disputing. Holy hands means a clear conscience, a clean heart. It reminds us of Psalm 24 where David asks: Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?
And the answer is He who has clean hands and a pure heart.
So the requirement for men to pray in church is to have a clean heart, no unconfessed sins, a clear conscience. But also without anger or disputing. Remember there were false teachers in the church who want to argue about myths and endless genealogies which Paul says promotes controversial speculations (1:4) and probably leads to angry arguments and disputes. So Paul tells the men to pray with a clean heart so the focus is on God and not themselves.
To the women he gave a similar instruction; pray with a dignified behaviour, so the focus is on God not themselves. He told them that their dress and make up should not draw attention, don’t show off. Instead, when a woman prays people should remember her good deeds and not her appearance.
This chapter is all about praying in church, but don’t forget our personal prayer life.
Do make time to be with God each morning to read His word and pray. Last Sunday I said that if we pray while on the way to work or late at night before we go to sleep, that really is giving God our left over time, time we can not use productively otherwise. That is not making prayer our first priority, is it? If you are married, make time to pray with your spouse, even if you start when saying grace for the food. If you have a family, make time to pray with your children. Teach them that prayer is important to you. Children learn from watching their parents.
Let us make prayer a priority in our personal life as well as at church.
The last few verses from v11-15 is a controversial passage dealing with women in church leadership.
I don’t want to get into the debate but just leave you with two points to remember:
1. Whatever view you take about women in church leadership, always be open minded enough to accept the possibility that you could be wrong. Don’t be dogmatic.
2. Remember that in the overall scheme of the gospel this is not important. Salvation does not depend on your view of women in leadership. Therefore, don’t make it a big deal and definitely don’t cause a breakdown in fellowship between you and someone else.
So here is the summary of Paul’s teaching in chapter 2:
Prayer is of first importance at church. This prayer should include the government leaders and those in authority over us.
The reason is that we may live in a peaceful society which helps achieve God’s will that all people be saved.
This salvation is available because Jesus gave himself as a ransom but He is the only way.
Let us make prayer a priority, starting this week. Amen.