Scripture instructs us to pray for one another and for those who do not know the Lord and for those in positions of authority. We read this command in Paul’s first letter to Timothy who was serving the church in Ephesus.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.1 Timothy 2:1–2 ESV
Paul lists various types of prayer: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. Rather than attempting to be exhaustive of all the ways we could pray for others, he is emphasizing the holistic nature of praying for others. Whether urgent requests (“supplications”) or petitions that are directed specifically to God (“prayers”) or formal requests made of God (“intercessions”) or expressions of gratitude (“thanksgiving”), the point is we must engage with God on behalf of others.
He gives a reason for praying for kings and all who are in high positions: “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” This has often been understood as an instruction to pray that we might be free to live as we deem fit, free from outside interference from others. As Americans we tend to resonate with this understanding, but this is not quite what Paul had in mind. As with all Scripture, instructions like this must be read in context. Paul urges us to pray for all people, including those in positions of civil authority, so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives, but why? Paul tells us.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.1 Timothy 2:1–7 ESV
It is clear that praying for all people is directly connected to God’s desire for salvation. This is seen immediately in how Paul references “God our Savior.” It’s even more explicit when he says God our Savior desires all people to be saved and that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all. He says this is why he was appointed a preacher and an apostle—a teacher of the Gentiles, or nations. God intends to save people from every tribe and language and people and nation. For this reason we must pray for all people: “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s entire point in this instruction to Timothy is that God intends to save many from their sins, so we must pray! This is because God has chosen to use means to accomplish his purposes. That is, God works in and through others to bring about all that he intends. He can act directly, though most of the time he does not. In Acts 10 we have an incredible example of both of these things. God appeared to Cornelius—a Gentile—in a vision to tell him that Peter was coming to him to share a message from God. The obvious question is this: why didn’t he just deliver the message at that time? This would be like me writing a note to my neighbor and asking my daughter to deliver the note, but first stopping by my neighbor’s house to tell him that my daughter would stop by shortly to deliver a message from me. Why would God do this? Because God has chosen to use means. He uses others to accomplish his purposes in this world.
This is why Paul instructs the church in Ephesus—and by extension, New City Church—to pray for all people, to bring our supplications and our prayers and our intercessions and our thanksgivings to God. We must also pray for those in civil authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This peace and quiet is the for the purpose of engaging in God’s mission in our spheres of influence. We pray that God would work in and through us.
Church, let’s devote ourselves to prayer! Let’s pray for God to save many from their sins, transforming them into the image of Jesus. Pray for opportunities to share the good news. Pray for God’s Spirit to be active powerfully in and through us.