A sermon delivered on September 18, 2022, by the Rev. Dr. Patrick H. Wrisley
Our text this morning comes from one of three pastoral letters written by the Apostle Paul to aspiring leaders in the early church. The Pastoral Epistles comprise 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. They contain sage advice from an older, seasoned pastor written to the new generation of leadership that is beginning to emerge in the early church. It’s analogous to me, having moved away, sitting down to write Nic a letter on what’s important to this faith community and how to lead this church. The Pastorals are Paul’s notes of encouragement to younger leaders.
Paul’s focus in 1 Timothy is to help Timothy learn how to deal with difficult, divisive members of the church who are using their leadership in the church as a means to teach inaccurate information about the Gospel. Paul’s words to Timothy leading a church in Ephesus are reminding him how to live and act in the community called Church. He’s asking Timothy to step up and into vital leadership in order to ensure the pure Gospel message is communicated. Turn in your Bible to 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Listen to the Word of the Lord.
1 Timothy 2:1-7
2.1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,4who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6who gave himself a ransom for all—this was attested at the right time. 7For 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.
Our portion of the letter today contains two crucial lessons for us. Lesson 1: Paul reveals the first priority of any Christian community. Lesson 2: This lesson outlines in seven short verses four foundational spiritual truths that comprise the Gospel message Timothy is to use. You see, some people in the church were pushing their way into leadership, teaching patently false notions about Jesus, and giving a distorted view of the grace-filled Gospel Story. Lesson 2 in our text is Timothy’s rebuttal to those false teachers.
So, what is the most important thing for the people of the Church to do according to the Apostle Paul? The foundational truth Timothy must learn is that the Church is to make prayer its number one priority.
Honestly, Paul is giving Timothy, he’s giving us, a helpful reminder as to what the content of our prayers is to be. Most often, our prayers are directed heavenward for our personal benefit. We pray for a better job, a better paycheck, a better relationship with our spouse or kids, a successful winning game…add your own. Think of your prayers, Church. For whose benefit and behalf are they directed to God? Is it solely for you or is it for everyone else? Paul says it to be for everyone else. I’m not suggesting we are not to pray for our particular, individual needs; I am saying that our pattern for prayer needs to follow the Jesus model of living: He lived to share love with others. He humbled himself as a servant of others. He sacrificed himself so that others, people like you and me, can live. The Knox translation of the Bible says it this way in verses 1 and 2:
This, first of all, I ask; that petition, prayer, entreaty, and thanksgiving should be offered for all mankind, especially for kings and others in high station, so that we can live a calm and tranquil life, as dutifully and decently as we may!
Now we may be tempted to break down the four different prayers Paul writes about, i.e., supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving, and understand what those mean. The problem is that when we do that, we are engaging in an exercise of missing the point. Paul is saying the church’s number one priority is to pray all different types of prayer as a foundation of its worship. Furthermore, they are prayers directed on behalf of certain people.
Church, who are we to pray for? We are to pray for all humankind as well as those who are leaders in our society and political sphere. Did you notice who was excluded from the list? Ourselves. The Church’s prayers are directed for the benefit of others. The Church isn’t praying for itself but for everyone else in the world who are part of the Church or for those who are not. The Church’s number one task is to pray for all people. We are to pray for people we like and for those we dislike. We are to pray for those of like minds as well as for those who think contrary to what we believe. We are to pray for the Ukrainians and at the same time, we are to pray for the Russian soldiers and mercenaries who are brutally torturing innocent people. We are to pray for everyone.
We are also to be specific and pray for our leaders in society even if we believe they are jerks and are acting out of their own self-interest. He’s telling the Ephesians to pray for Caesar and the Roman guards. He’s telling the Jewish believers to pray for the Gentile believers in power. He’s telling you and me to pray for Putin and Zelensky. Democrats are to pray for their Republican counterparts and vice-versa. We are to pray for our police and fire chiefs, mayors, and city council members. And why are we to pray for them?
We are not praying for their cause. We are not praying for their success and prosperity. We are not praying for them because we agree with them or disagree with them and want them to see things our way. No, we lift all types of prayers for humankind and those in charge and rulers so that we, the Church, the Body of Christ, may live quiet, peaceable lives in a manner God finds appealing and beneficial. We are to pray for our Kings, Presidents, governors, and the like so that under their leadership, the Church can quietly be about the business of doing the ministry of Jesus to the people in the world. We pray for our leaders so that the environment is conducive to sharing the love of Jesus Christ.
So why is this important? Because verse 4 reminds us God, “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Paul calls the Church to pray for society’s leaders for the sole, evangelistic purpose of sharing the Good News of Jesus to those who are deaf to whispers of the Spirit. Beloved, this church, the Episcopal church across the street, First Baptist, First Methodist, and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church are to be praying for our leaders so that we can live unhindered Christian lives in order to share the Gospel and radically burn this town down with the flames of the Holy Spirit.
Now, switching our gears a little bit, we will look at Lesson 2. If we slide our finger back a few paragraphs to the first chapter, we note that Paul was encouraging Timothy to teach sound doctrine to the Church with love as its foundation. Our scripture today not only tells the Church to pray for an environment where we can winsomely share the Good News but in verses 5 and 6, Paul gives us the kernel, the essence of what that winsome news is. He gives Timothy the answer to those false teachers referenced in the first chapter. Paul is reminding Timothy and the Church, that the Winsome News of the Gospel is to share with others that –
There is only One God, and his Savior is Jesus;
There is but one mediator standing in the gap between the Divine and all humankind;
That Jesus was indeed a true human being, a flesh and blood man; and,
This man Jesus humbled himself in love for us in order for him to be the ransom, the payoff, for all people.
So, beloved, this is the essence of the Christian message. There is One God and Savior who became a human being in order to hold heaven and Earth together by ransoming, giving up his rights as God so that you and I can live to tell others the Winsome News of salvation.
Church, Paul gave us our marching orders this morning. We are called to pray for everyone we see in the world, including our civic leaders, so that we can share the Winsome News of God’s presence and work in Jesus of Nazareth, the man who is also the Beloved, God himself. So, let’s all say that we will commit to doing this as a church. Can you do that? Amen?
© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 See 1 Timothy 1:3-11.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.