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.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.