Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 10/22/2000
Paul, preparing Timothy to be a leader in the post-Apostolic church, is concerned in chapter 1 that he be able to distinguish sound from false doctrine so that the Church may be built on the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles. In chapter 2 the focus shifts from talking about the nature of sound doctrine to giving it with respect to the practical life of the Church. (Remember that 3:15 is the thesis statement of the whole book: Paul writes so that we may know how to conduct ourselves in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the Truth.) The main subject of the first paragraph of this section is Prayer. To discuss Prayer, theology has to be brought in (vv. 4-7), but the "digression" on theology flows from the topic, which is Prayer. We will look at the main topic today, and fit the parenthesis into it in the next couple of weeks.
Paul's first concern is the the Church be established on the foundation of the Word of God fruitfully taught (chp. 1). In the practical outworking of that, his first concern is that she be devoted to prayer. Note some of the issues this comes before. It comes before the role of women (2:9-15), the organization of the Church and the nature and qualifications of its offices (chp. 3), and its relation to the created world (4:3-4). Not that these things are unimportant. They are very important and will receive due attention. Churches have been split over them. But they are secondary to this. Unless the Church is in daily communion with God, who cares what role women have in it or how it is organized? If the man is dead, who cares how he parts his hair?
An entreaty is a request from an inferior to a superior, expressing personal needs. Prayer is the general term which embraces all the specifics. Petitions involve intercession for the needs of others. And thanksgiving refers to the expression of gratitude, hence of praise and worship. These appear in no particular order--the generic term is jumbled into the middle of the list. The point is that Paul is referring to a well-rounded approach to prayer that contains all these elements--all kinds of prayer, in other words, including felt needs, others' needs, and worship.
Not for all men individually, which would be impracticable, but for all kinds of men. Everyone you know is a candidate for prayer and needs it. The point is that our prayers should reflect our concerns, which should be as God's, worldwide in scope: not just ourselves and our friends but every tongue tribe and nation. The Church's praying is to be missionary-minded. The theological parenthesis confirms this (v. 4).
Kings are one example of all kinds of men. Our prayers for them are in accordance with their natures and relevant to their position and potential impact. We pray for peace, not so that we may have untroubled lives, but so that the Gospel may spread without hindrance. There is a directionality that leads to v. 4 which we must catch to realize Paul's point. No doubt he was thinking of the Pax Romana, which made possible the spread of the Gospel in ways that would never have been possible before and would not be again for millennia. The ultimate aim of all prayer then is the greatest good, the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
I remember wondering as a child what the proper technique was for folding one's hands in prayer--with the fingers interlocked or not? Ancient Jews did not fold them at all, but lifted them up to heaven in anticipation of receiving God's blessing poured out. But Paul's concern here is not whether we lift them, fold them, or sit on them, but that they be holy hands. The hands exist to bring the plans of the heart into fruition in the outside world. Therefore the prerequisite of prayer is that we be inwardly and outwardly right with God. If we harbor unconfessed sin in our hearts, the only prayer God will hear is one of confession and repentance, not simply because He arbitrarily requires this, but because our hearts would not be in the right frame of mind for prayer without it in any case.
As we have studied the place of prayer in the life of the Church, we have seen its Priority, that it is of first importance; its Particulars, that it involves intercession and thanksgiving; its Parameters, concerned with all kinds of men and having a world perspective; its Preoccupation, with the glory of God in the salvation of sinners; and its Prerequisite, a clean heart through confession and repentance and the forgiveness that is in Christ. So finally, we see
A quiet and tranquil life? Perhaps. Saved souls and a vital church? Yes. But above all, it is good and acceptable in the sight of God. A small child knows instinctually the importance of pleasing its parents. If we could recapture that mentality in our relationship with our heavenly Father, then the mere fact that it pleases Him would be not only the greatest reason for prayer but also its greatest reward.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams