Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to correct a few doctrinal problems in the church. He also sent Timothy a letter outlining his mission—a letter that was designed to be read to the entire congregation so that everyone would know that Timothy was acting with Paul’s authority.
Prayer for public peace (verses 1-3)
Paul included some instructions for what should be done in the church meetings: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” The meetings would include prayer, and these prayers were to be positive, unlike the curses that became part of some synagogue liturgies.
But this was not just intercession for church members—the prayers were to be for all, including “kings and all those in authority.” Paul did not want the church to be elitist, nor become become identified with an underground resistance movement. A parallel may be seen in the way that Judaism dealt with the Roman Empire. Although Jews could not worship the Emperor, they could offer worship to God on behalf of the emperor; they made prayers and sacrifices for him (see Ezra 6:10).
Similarly, Paul wants church members to pray for government leaders. The purpose is “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” The early Christians were persecuted for the gospel, and for proclaiming allegiance to another Lord. They did not need to provoke officials even more by being anti-government agitators.
This approach has the approval of God himself: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” Although the word “Savior” usually refers to Jesus, in this case it seems to refer to the Father.
A message of salvation for all (verses 4-7)
Paul then includes an important digression about what God wants: “who wants all people to be saved…” Our prayers should not curse or condemn the rulers, because God does not want the worst for them. His desire for them is salvation—but this begins with an acceptance of the gospel message: “…and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Does God always get what he wants? Will everyone be saved? Paul does not address that question, but it is obvious that God does not always get his wishes, at least not right away. Even now, almost 2000 years later, “all people” have not yet come to a knowledge of the gospel, much less accepted it and experienced salvation. God wants his children to love each other, but it doesn’t always happen. His will is that humans have wills of their own.
Paul supports his claim by giving reasons: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” There is only one God, who created everything and everyone. His purpose for every person is the same: all were created in God’s image, to be a reflection and a representation of God on earth (Genesis 1:27). The oneness of God means that there is unity in his purpose for his creation. All humans are included.
Further, there is one mediator. We all have a relationship with God through Christ Jesus, who became a human, and can still be called a human, because he did not abandon his humanity to the grave. Rather, he was resurrected as a glorified human, and he rose to heaven in human form, for he has incorporated humanity as part of who he is. Since humanity was made in God’s image, essential aspects of humanity were in God’s mind from the beginning; it is no surprise that humanity can be given expression within the Godhead by Jesus.
As our mediator, Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Some theologians object to the plain meaning of this verse, but it fits well with verse 7, and with what Paul wrote a little later: God “is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10). He died for the sins of all people, even for those who do not yet know it. He died only once; he did not wait for us to believe before he acted to save us. To use a financial analogy, he paid the debt, even for people who don’t yet realize it.
Now that Jesus has done this, what remains to be done? Now is the time for people to come to the knowledge of what Jesus has done for them, and that is what Paul is trying to do. “This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.” That is what he wants Timothy to be, too.
Things to think about
- When we pray for our rulers, is it for their salvation, or for our own peace?
- When we realize that Jesus died for our cantankerous neighbors, does it change our attitudes toward them?
Dr. Michael Morrison teaches classes in the New Testament at Grace Communion Seminary. More information about the seminary can be found at: www.gcs.edu. It’s accredited, affordable, and all online.
Author: Michael Morrison, 2012