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.
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