1 Timothy 2:1

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone.

We have just completed our “24-Hour Prayer Vigil.” And now we are participating in our three services of worship, including the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

How appropriate is our text of 1 Timothy 2, in which our mentor, Paul, expresses some powerful teachings about prayer and worship to his young pastor friend, Timothy.

Let’s let Paul mentor us with these same teachings as we apply them to our lives today.

First: Our mentor, Paul, urges us to pray.

He writes: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Our prayers are to be of all types.

We could devote the entire message to discussing the various kinds of prayer. I have found it very helpful in my own prayer life to make certain that I have given time to: adoration; confession, thanksgiving; petition; and intercession. One’s prayer life is so much richer when we begin with prayers of adoration to God, followed by our own humble prayers of confession. It is important for me to stop and give thanks to God for specifics. So often I am caught up with my needs. I need to remind myself of how many blessings, tangible and specific, that I receive from the Lord each day. Then I am prepared to bring my own particular needs, those ongoing heartbreaks, fears, doubts, specifically stated to Him. And I am privileged to intercede on behalf of others for their needs, all in the context of knowing that this God is a God with whom I can have active conversation. I find that my prayer life is richer when I have had a time alone with God reading a passage from the Bible, priming the pump for prayer, with God’s specific written Word.

On this occasion, it appears that Paul is not trying to distinguish between the fine tunings of definitions that distinguish these particular words for prayer. Instead, he is using them in somewhat synonymous terms to emphasize the importance that we pray.

This is one of our mentor’s most central teachings. When he writes to Timothy, he also writes to the various churches, urging both individual and corporate prayer. To the church at Philippi he wrote: “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7).

Prayer has a way of straightening out our perspective on life.

Gordon MacDonald, in his book Ordering Your Private World, writes these words:

We live in a society that is reasonably organized. Put a letter in the box, and it usually ends up where you want it to go. Order an item from a catalog, and it usually comes to you in the right size, color, and model. Ask someone to provide you a service, and it is reasonable to expect that it will work out that way. In other words, we are used to results in response to our arrangements. That is why prayer can be discouraging for some of us. How can we predict the result? We are tempted to abandon prayer as a viable exercise and try getting the results ourselves.

But the fact is that my prayer life cannot be directly tied to the results I expect or demand. I have had many opportunities by now to see that the things I want God to do in response to my prayers can be unhealthy for me. I have begun to see that worship and intercession are far more the business of aligning myself with God’s purposes than asking Him to align with mine.

Henri Nouwen says it best when he writes: “Prayer is a radical conversion of all our mental processes because in prayer we move away from ourselves, our worries, preoccupations, and self-gratification–and direct all that we recognize as ours to God in the simple trust that through His love all will be made new.”

Paul encourages us to pray for all people.

How easy it is to isolate ourselves from the larger world. We need to be reminded to pray for others outside of our own limited circle. This involves prayers, not only for people who are like us, but for people who are very much unlike us. This involves people who are the poor, the outcasts of the society here and throughout the rest of the world. It also involves prayer for “all who are in high positions.”

Paul wrote this to the young pastor who had a tough job. His congregation in Ephesus was ostracized because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus had become a threat to the pantheon of gods worshiped. The abandonment of idols to Artemis had cost the silversmiths their livelihood. Radical discipleship had caused economic upheaval in Ephesus. An appeal was made to civil authorities, who ultimately had to account to Rome. Emperors and kings were often associated with religious persecution. At the same time, they had the capacity, with the right motivation, to provide a peaceful environment.

Whatever you think of your political leadership, pray for your leaders by name. Pray that God will work through this election period. It is important who we choose as our leaders, whether it be the president of the United States, the members of congress, or all the way to our local level of city council. Paul notes that there is a purpose to this kind of prayer, that we ” . . . may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity.”

You and I don’t know what it is to be Christians in a country where we, as followers of Jesus, are a minority.

I remember, in the mid 1980s, I had been invited to do a pastor’s conference in Egypt for the Presbyterian Church. I received a letter from a dear friend, with whom I went to seminary, who was then (and still is) one of the key leaders of the Coptic Church. It was a withdrawal of my invitation. In as gracious a way as possible, trying not to hurt my feelings, he told me that a wave of anti-Americanism had swept across Egypt with the emergence of radical, Islamic fundamentalism. American foreign policy that seemed to be highly pro-Israel was exacerbating these anti-American feelings and it would be better for the Christians in Egypt if the leader of that pastor’s conference was not an American but someone from another country. These believers were trying to lead lives that were quiet and peaceable, in all godliness and dignity.

The same is true right now in Iraq. There is a sizable minority of Christians in Iraq. In some ways, their circumstances under the dictator, Saddam Hussein, were better than they are now in these times of warring factions. They, as Christians, have become associated with Americans. Many have fled for their lives. Others live fearful of what will happen, as armed Islamic vigilantes disturb the peace and harmony of contemporary Iraq.

I just received an e-mail, telling me that one of our World Vision workers was murdered Wednesday evening in Mosul. Three masked men shot him three times in the head.

It’s a tough world, isn’t it? You and I are called to pray, pray for all who are in positions of leadership, that they may make the right kind of decisions to enable us to live lives that are quiet, peaceable, godly lives, lives marked by dignity.

Second: Our mentor, Paul, declares the universal nature of God’s saving love.

As we come to the communion table today, it is important that we come aware of God’s love for everyone.

John 3:16 makes this definitively clear: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Too often, the local church of Jesus Christ looks like a social club, made up of people with similar backgrounds, tastes, politics, dress, and economic status. This is now increasingly becoming true in terms of age, with niche marketed churches designed strictly for “boomers,” or “generation X-ers.” It is important to remember that Jesus founded the church to be made up of persons of all ages, backgrounds, colors, nationalities, and even economic and political philosophies. One of the major problems facing the first-century church were the realities of figuring out ways to get people with such different backgrounds to function together within the local church community. Do the gentiles have to be circumcised? Can a believer eat meat bought in the market that had earlier been offered in the pagan temple as an offering to the gods?

God is not a tribal god. God is the God of all peoples who yearns not just for Jews to be saved, not just for Americans to be saved, but for people of all backgrounds and walks of life to be saved and to come to the “knowledge of the truth.”

Too often, our God is too small. We can make out of the one true God, a little god who fits on the totem pole of our own making. The God of the Bible is a God whose love is universal. This does not mean that all people are saved. But those of us in the reformed tradition need to humbly acknowledge that we may not fully understand the biblical teaching about election. The same Scriptures that distinguish between the elect and the non-elect also declare that “whosoever will may come.”

I love the way Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a strong Calvinist, expressed a warning to himself and others like him, not to presume to fully understand how God works. He describes an old parable maker telling how he shut himself up in his study because he had to work out a difficult problem. His little child came knocking at the door. He said, “Go away, John. You can’t understand what Father is doing. Let Father alone.” Johnny, for that very reason, felt that he must get in and see what Father was doing, prying his way into the forbidden things that only his father could understand. So he climbed up on the side of the house, balancing tentatively on the window sill, looking in through the window at his father. It was with tenderness of care that the father opened that window, rescued his son from falling backward and endangering himself, motivated as he was by curiosity for that which he, at that point in his life, could not possibly understand.

There are some things in this life we will never understand. Only God understands. We must humbly live by the truth that we do have of God’s love for every person, and preach, calling people to repentance and trust in Jesus Christ, the only Savior, letting the final verdict as to who is saved and who is not saved be determined by God himself, whose love and message is universal, not just for people like us.

Third: Our mentor, Paul, gets very specific as to who God is.

He writes: “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:5-7).

Think of who God is!

There is only one God. For some of us there are many gods. In the first century, they bore names strange to us, Greek and Roman in their origins. They had statues describing their human characteristics. One was a god of war. Another was a god of sex. Another was a god of alcoholic beverages. And the list goes on.

The only difference between then and now is that our gods don’t have physical images, but they have just as strong if not a stronger stranglehold on our lives. For one of us worships money. Another is addicted to success. Another bows down and worships personal prestige. And another genuflects at the altar of power. Listen to the conversation of some who organize their lives around the imbibing of alcoholic beverages. Look at the person whose life is driven by the pride of the mind.

Then stop and compare to the God of Scripture. There is one God. And there is also just one Mediator between God and humankind. The priests and the priestesses of those pagan temples were not the mediators. Today’s pastors are not the mediators. There is one Mediator: Jesus Christ, God in human form, who has made atonement for sin. He gave himself a ransom for all. That is why the writer of Hebrews declares, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested, as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). It is important for us to understand that God does not need to be reconciled to us. The opposite is true. We need to be reconciled to God. But the Bible makes it very clear that there is no way that we can reconcile ourselves to God. To endeavor to do that is a religion of self-righteousness, a religion of works. There is only one way that we can be reconciled to God. That is through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is that which we celebrate here as we eat of the bread, the body of Christ, and drink of the cup, the blood of Jesus Christ.

Fourth: Our mentor, Paul, desires that our lives in their entirety be acts of worship.

He writes: “I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument . . .” (1 Timothy 2:8).

You and I are to “pray without ceasing.”

We are called to lift up “holy hands.” What does that mean? Does that mean that we have to pray, literally, the way the Pentecostals pray–with hands lifted up to the heavens? It is important to distinguish between the internal attitude and the outward expression.

Go back to Old Testament times. Because a person was circumcised in the flesh, does that mean that he was a close friend of God? Not for a moment. The prophets called for “a circumcision of the heart” that emphasized the true meaning of that physical symbol. The act of circumcision was to be taken seriously. What was to be taken more seriously, though, was an attitude of the heart for God.

Raise your hands literally if you choose to. But more important than the physical activity is the attitude of repentance of heart, whether you come to the Lord’s table and handle the elements worthily, having appropriated Christ’s atoning righteousness on your behalf. Lift up your hands literally or figuratively, hands that have been washed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and hands that are open to receive what gifts God has for you. Come, confessing your sins, letting go of that which would destroy your relationship with the Lord. Come in the spirit of the psalmist, who cries out, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer” (Psalms 66:18-19). This is the attitude with which we are to come to the Lord, both in our private times of prayer and in our public times of worship.

We are to come without anger. God’s forgiveness and our human forgiveness go hand in hand. We are to be forgiving, even as we are forgiven.

And we are to come without argument. The Greek word here can mean both argument and doubt. If we fall on the argument side of this definition, it means that we come to worship having put aside the bitterness, quarrels and arguments of our life, the ugly distractions that break up loving human interactions and drive a wedge between us and God.

I would, however, agree with those who would translate the meaning of this word to be that of doubt. We need to come believing in God. We need to come believing that there is a God, and this God has acted in human history on our behalf. Before we can be healed, we must believe He can heal us. Before we can receive the grace of God, we must believe there is the grace of God. And where there are doubts, you and I are privileged to “doubt our doubts.” How often I have prayed the prayer, “God, if there is a God, if your name is Jesus Christ, help me to know you, help me to trust you, help me to claim your promises. Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” Even the person most distracted by doubt can find that kind of focus. And God honors that prayer.

I will never forget my adolescent years, as one who had received Jesus Christ as a five-year-old, and who was experiencing intellectual struggles with the faith. The bubble of doubt expanded almost to the point that it burst the circle of faith that encompassed me. And yet, as I prayed that honest, heartfelt prayer, God honored that prayer. God can handle your struggles. Bring your doubts to Him in an attitude of worship and He will reassure you that He, the infinite God, is in charge, and He can help you relax and understand that there are some things you will never understand.

Fifth: Our mentor, Paul, pleads that worship not be ostentatious parading. It is at this point that we come to a very troublesome text for some of us, the text that has divided contemporary Christendom.

It is the women’s issue.

A few weeks ago, one of our members handed me this note after church: “John, 1 Timothy 2:8-15. How would you interpret and/or reconcile those words in light of today’s thinking?” She signed it and gave me her telephone number and e-mail address.

I’ve got to believe that is precisely the reaction some of you had when I read the text this morning. You sat there, thinking, “I wonder how John is going to deal with this issue. Or will he even bring it up? Perhaps he will duck the issue because it is Communion Sunday and claim it is not the appropriate moment to wade into such controversy.”

The value of expository preaching is that you don’t have the luxury of avoiding the difficult text. And I must say that I wish I had the wisdom to be able to understand fully what I simply do not understand fully. At the same time, I and you are forced to decide how we will interpret a text like this, and then get on with our life, not letting that be a perpetual obstacle in our relationship with the Lord and with other Christians who may disagree with us on our interpretation.

Let me take a stab at this in a way that will not disrupt our coming to the table. Let’s remember that Paul is addressing this issue in the context of worship. This letter to Timothy is not a letter about the women’s issue. This particular passage within the letter is addressing prayer and worship. Paul is hitting a troublesome issue in Ephesus head-on. He is declaring to both men and women that worship must not be a disruptive, unloving, argumentative experience. Worship is to be of the one true God, with open hands and hearts to receive God’s truth and apply that truth in positive ways. The last thing he wants to do is to divide the church on a controversial issue. What he wants to do is to bring healthful peace in a situation that is, there in Ephesus, contentious. We will come back to that in a moment.

To address the women’s issue, we must be reminded of three truths.

Truth One — There are major differences of thought among well-meaning Christians on this matter.

The facts are that in the first century, the best minds of that day and the wisdom of the ancients took for granted that the husband should have all legal authority, and the wife should be subject to him. Even though this often found expression in harsh male chauvinism, that fact was the universal thinking of that day. That made both Old Testament and New Testament endeavors to soften the harshness difficult. Even today, in the twenty-first century, there are parts of the world in which those concepts are still fervently held. There are also environments where radical feminism has gone to the opposite extreme, producing a harsh alienation between the sexes that is every bit as painful as the harshest chauvinism. The fact is that there are many well-meaning Christians who take the Bible seriously and who are opposed to women being in positions of governance in the church, and also opposed to women being ordained to ministries of Word and Sacrament. Some of the most prominent churches here in Orange County, in contrast to St. Andrew’s, hold those positions.

Truth Two — The best commentary on the Bible is the Bible.

You and I must not take out of context any particular passage of Scripture without interpreting it in the context of the rest of the teaching of Scripture.

Truth Three — You and I must distinguish between words written to address a particular situation and words addressed to be normative for all times, theologically.

We must be especially careful as to how we do this. Our tendency could be to make “situational” those teachings with which we disagree or have trouble understanding, rewriting the Bible to our contemporary cultural standards. At the same time, there are biblical teachings that are of a specific situational nature. That is why we must look at all of Scripture before we make final interpretations.

Let’s look for a moment at what the Bible does say that is clearly normative for all time.

One, the Bible says that every man and woman is special to God.

There is no place for male chauvinism that puts down women, or for radical feminism that puts down men. Both of these are sinful aberrations that emerge either from poor theology or one’s painful experiences as the victim of abusive behavior. Genesis 1:27 states it clearly: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Both male and female are in the image of God.

Two, the Bible makes very clear that there is a difference between a man and a woman.

There is no place for unisex. Wherever the roles emerge, in whatever cultures they emerge, still there are certain functions, both biologically and relationally, that come by very creation more naturally to women and to men. I would be the last to prescribe specific conduct in detail, going beyond both the natural revelation that we have historically in creation, and some special revelation that we have in Scripture. Both make it clear that, although there are enormous similarities between male and female, there are differences.

Three, the Bible makes clear that men and women are equal before God.

The same Apostle Paul, on one occasion is accused of being a chauvinist, the one who brought into that first-century Jewish and Gentile culture, that was so male-chauvinistically dominated, this radical declaration: “There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). He is declaring once and for all that, no matter what distinctions are made in society or shaped by culture, in the church of Jesus Christ there is equality before God. This was radical in his day. Imagine what the Jews thought when he declared that Jew and Gentile are equal before God. Imagine what the slave owner thought when he heard the word that slave owner and slave are equal before God. Imagine what the male thought when he heard that male and female are equal before God. This teaching has the capacity of shaking the arbitrary culturally accepted human institutions that bear the mark of the Fall to the very core. Even though the Apostle Paul was not prepared to encourage violent revolutionary activity that could have caused enormous bloodshed on all three issues, he was prepared to declare this God-given revelation, calling the church of Jesus Christ to march to a different drumbeat, to be an uncommon community in which Jews and Gentiles, slaves and masters, men and women together worship as equals the crucified and risen Christ.

Four, the Bible makes clear that women need to encourage men in carrying out their leadership positions in the home, church, and community.

Five, the Bible makes clear that men need to love and cherish their women as they love their own bodies and as Christ loves the church.

This was a specific teaching that he gave to the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 5, and he is continuing to encourage as he writes this personal letter to Timothy, who was pastoring that church.

Now it is important to realize that one must distinguish between what true, long-term biblical theology says and specific situations that are addressed in the Bible.

I am convinced, if you can accept what I have already articulated as generic teachings of God’s Word, we can distinguish from them the situations that had to be addressed correctively.

Paul writes to Timothy:

I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument; also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty (1 Timothy 2:8-15).

Worship in the first-century Jewish synagogue was worship in which the men were separated from the women. Bring Jesus Christ into the picture. Take that statement of emancipation we just read from Galatians, and you have the context for radical disruption. Even today at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, there is a barrier between men and women at the Wall. No women are allowed in the larger area where the men worship. The women have to look through the fence to see the circumcision of their sons. Go back to the first century and make the statement of egalitarianism that Paul made, and introduce into Christian worship Jews, who had one way of living, and Gentiles, who had another way of living, and there has to be some kind of social stability. Women who hadn’t even been allowed to sit with the men now can do that. But he cautions them against taking charge.

Mix Gentile and Jewish women together, with different dress styles and lifestyles, and those very styles of dress could be disruptive of worship. So Paul calls for modest, decent clothing. He knows that braided hair, fancy jewelry and expensive clothes in first-century Ephesus was associated with the women of the street, prostitutes of the first century. He is declaring, instead of looking like prostitutes, that the women look like gracious, humble women, letting their true adornments be “good works” and “reverence for God.”

At this point, I will give my own opinion. I am convinced that Paul was smart enough in psychology to know that women tend to be more spiritually sensitive than men, and it is very easy for men to abdicate spiritual leadership in the home, church and community. Every church I know has more women on the membership rolls than men. If you turn the leadership over to women without cautioning them as to how to handle the leadership, I will assure you that what I have observed in the twenty-first century is true: Men will abdicate leadership in the home, in the church and in the community. My observation is that a woman-dominated home, church or community is no more pleasant to observe than a male-dominated home, church, or community. It is a call for partnership, a partnership that is peaceful in its intent.

I would in no way question the sincerity of those who have taken Paul’s teaching to specific situations and normalized them for all time. Although I have noticed that, in some of the churches here in Orange County that do not allow women in leadership roles, they certainly do not uphold some of these situational teachings about dress, jewelry, and hairstyles.

There has been a history some have referred to as instances of “stabilized piety,” in which teachings that were designed to maintain peace and prevent revolutionary bloodshed became institutionalized to the point that some, in the name of the Bible, have defended slavery, child labor, slums, racial discrimination, and other evils, claiming divine sanction for them when they never were God’s will, but instead were evidences of the Fall.

I must be respectful of those in our own community and those in other parts of the world who do not see this the way I do. At the same time, I dare not be intimidated by them and keep from teaching what I believe in my own finite understandings are sincere and biblically based interpretations of the holistic teaching of God’s Word. I believe that woman can be called to ordained ministry and can take active leadership roles in the church as their gifts for ministry are recognized by others. Strong women such as Deborah, Priscilla, Lydia and others convince me. And I have seen godly women of today who have made great contributions in leadership roles.

What we know for certain is that Paul pled that worship not be done in ostentatious parading of one’s own rights, but done in humble submission to each other and to Jesus Christ.

Let me conclude with this invitation to come to the table, prayerfully and in the spirit of authentic worship.

Come humbly.

Come with awareness of your sins, laying them down at the foot of the cross, claiming God’s atonement through Jesus Christ.

Come in a spirit of prayer for yourself and for others.

Come, aware of the universal body of men, women and children, past, present and future, of all nations, bowing before the one true God we know in the Person of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Yes, come in the spirit of prayer. I will never forget my little group of yesterday morning — myself and four women who prayed, specifically by name, for each of those requests on those yellow cards. What a sacred time it was to come together in prayer.

And as you come to the table, remember what our missionary, Jane Holslag, said two weeks ago when she shared with us that greeting from those twenty or so believers meeting in Lithuania: “Tell your Christian friends in the United States that they are not alone!” Isn’t that the ultimate expression of the universality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? You and I are not alone. The Lord is with us, and we are one in the Spirit and one in the Lord with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ all across Planet Earth who are today celebrating World Communion in the spirit of prayer and authentic worship.

I invite you to come to the table in this spirit!


John A. Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA.

Read the other sermons in this series:

Mentored for Sound Doctrine & Godly Lifestyles (1 of 12)
Christ’s Power to Save (2 of 12)
Prayer and Worship (3 of 12)
Servant Leadership (4 of 12)
Believing the Truth (5 of 12)
Relationships (6 of 12)
Greed vs. Contentment (7 of 12)
Strength in Suffering (8 of 12)
Perseverance & Persistence (9 of 12)
Workers Pleasing to God (10 of 12)
Following the Truth (11 of 12)
What Jesus Came to Enable You to Say (12 of 12)

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