How should we pray for unbelievers?
We have already seen that the context surrounding 1 Timothy 2:1–2 implies that this passage’s command to pray is a command to pray for the salvation of all people.
So, now the question is, how does 1 Timothy 2:1–2 tell us how to go about praying for the salvation of all people?
First, let’s remind ourselves of Paul’s command: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Tim 2:1 - ESV).
Various terms for prayer indicate indicate how we can specifically pray for the salvation of others: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.
This passage and others show us that these terms can overlap and emphasize prayer in general.
Paul couples “prayers and supplications” elsewhere in other general passages on prayer (1 Tim 5:5; Eph 6:18). “Prayer” and “thanksgiving” are found in Col 4:2–3. Paul gives prayer as the remedy for anxiety in Phil 4:6 and mentions that we should give “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” to God, which uses three of the same terms as our passage in 1 Timothy 2:1. The larger point in 1 Timothy 2:1 is simply this: however you pray for unbelievers, pray.
However, we can see how to better pray for the lost by the differences between the terms as well.
Next week we’ll finish this series off by looking at 1 Timothy 2:2.
Last week I surveyed 1 Timothy 1–2 for how Paul weaves the gospel into his first letter to Timothy. This week is a brief look at the gospel in 1 Timothy 3–4.
1 Timothy 3
Paul addresses a number of topics in 1 Timothy 2–3 that involved how to worship when the church is gathered as a whole (cf. 3:14–15). In 1 Timothy 3, overseers (a.k.a., pastors, elders) are to be “able to teach,” and deacons are to “hold to the mystery of the faith” (3:9). At the least, the content to be upheld and taught includes the gospel. It assumes a greater knowledge of truth as well.
Of particular note is 1 Timothy 3:16. Paul quotes a fragment of an early church hymn that gives five statements that chronologically run through the life of Christ and ends with a sixth that emphasizes how we know Christ today. (Others may understand this structure differently.)
“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”
The first five lines (beginning with “He was…”) speak directly to or imply Christ’s (1) incarnation (cf. John 1:14), (2) resurrection (cf. Rom 1:4), (3) ascension (cf. Heb 1:6), (4) proclamation by the church (cf. Acts 1:8), and (5) reception by the nations (cf. Rom 16:25–26). Line 6 closes with a focus on Christ as the Son of God who ascended to heaven and is due all glory for what we see in the first five lines (cf. Heb 2:9). All of this is summarized as “the mystery of godliness.”
1 Timothy 4
Paul reminds Timothy to uphold the faith as a whole, a faith which includes the gospel (4:6). He was to do so as motivated by a hope in the Father who saves all who believe (4:10). Timothy’s perseverance in these matters was essential to the outworking of his own salvation and the salvation of those who listened to his preaching and teaching (4:15–16).
One thought we could take from 1 Timothy 3–4 is that these two chapters bring out the connection between belief and practice. Paul calls the gospel themystery of godliness (3:16). Timothy was to watch his teaching and life for the sake of his own salvation and others (4:15–16). May God help us all to know the gospel, to live the gospel, and realize that our perseverance therein is not only for our own salvation, but also plays a role in the salvation of others.
Next week I’ll close with a look at 1 Timothy 5–6.
How should we pray for unbelievers? 1 Timothy 2:1–2 helps answer this question, but we have to first figure out why 1 Timothy 2:1–2 can even answer this question.
1 Timothy 2:1–2 (ESV)
(1) First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, (2) for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Taken at surface level, 1 Timothy 2:1–2 is typically understood to give a general command to pray for all people and civil leaders. The surrounding context, however, shows us to see that Paul had in mind a prayer for the salvation of all. How do we figure this out?
Notice what Paul says before 1 Timothy 2:1–2.
Paul had just charged Timothy to command the false teachers to stop promoting false doctrine (1:3–7). They did not promote “the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1:4), which we can understand to be the content of the gospel and God’s program for the present age (cf. 1:15).
Paul then clarified how to use the law “in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1:11). Filling in the details of the gospel “with which [he] had been entrusted” (1:11), Paul brought its key premise to the fore: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1:15). Paul closes this section by reiterating to Timothy that he was to fulfill his charge along these lines (1:18–20).
Coming to the command to pray, 2:1 transitions to a series of topics pertinent to the church (“first of all”) but also does so with the previous context in mind (notice the “then” or “therefore” that refers to 1:1–20). In other words, with the gospel in mind, Paul gives the command to pray. It is not just a generic prayer for all people, but in context, a prayer for their salvation.
Notice what Paul says after 1 Timothy 2:1–2.
Paul gives three in 2:3–7 as to why the church in Ephesus was to pray for all people, and these reasons all involve salvation in some way, implying salvation is the aim of the prayer in 2:1–2. They were to pray for all people because (1) it would please God to do so because He desires the salvation of all (2:3–4), (2) Jesus died for the salvation of all (2:6; cf. 1:15), and (3) Paul’s mission was to give the gospel so that all could be saved, which is the mission of the church today (2:7; cf. Matt 28:18–20).
The surrounding context of 1 Timothy 2:1–2 implies that 2:1–2 commands us to pray for the salvation of unbelievers. Over the next couple of weeks I will look more closely at 2:1–2 in order to show us how exactly we can better pray for their salvation.
I am presently preaching through 1 Timothy on Sunday mornings at my church. My study has helped me to see the priority of the gospel in preaching and prayer. A brief look at 1 Timothy 1–2 draws out these emphases.
1 Timothy 1
In response to false teaching that de-emphasized the gospel (1:3–7), Paul brought the Ephesians’ attention back to the gospel time and again. The first words out of Paul’s pen spoke of the Father as our Savior and the Son as our Hope (1:1). Paul taught there was a certain way to use the Mosaic Law for to complement the gospel (1:11; cf. 1:3–11). In recounting God’s mercy to him, Paul emphasized Christ’s death for sinners (1 Tim 1:15), not just for himself, but for the sake of the Ephesians who had not been receiving this emphasis from the false teachers.
After this, Paul addressed a number of matters in the church for the sake of upholding the truth, which included the truth of the gospel (cf. 3:14–16).
1 Timothy 2
Paul commanded the Ephesians to pray (2:1–2), and in context, the content of the prayer seems to be more in focus than the command (cf. 2:3–7). This content involves the gospel, which is the gospel for all people. Paul desired prayers for all people to be saved because God desired their salvation (2:3–4), Christ died for their salvation (2:5–6), and Paul’s mission was to give the gospel for unbelievers to believe (2:7), which is the mission of the church at large (cf. Matt 28:18–20).
1 Timothy 1–2 shows the need to keep the gospel at the center of one’s preaching and to pray that the lost would believe the gospel. Paul ties the gospel to other areas of Christian living as well, and I will survey these areas from 1 Timothy 2–6 over the next couple of weeks.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.