Well, I don’t think Paul had any idea what would be happening in the year 2021 but this passage reads as if it was freshly scripted by God for us this year! It’s a very timely word.
1 Timothy is a letter that speaks into a whole range of issues that grind against our culture - it’s not anti culture - but trans-cultural - that is - it speaks of how to live as God’s family, in any and every time in history! And generally, that’s going to clash with some aspect of culture! - often has!
I don’t know how you’ve felt about all the decisions the government have been making over the last couple of years as we’ve journeyed through Covid - but I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all felt the frustrations of restrictions! Loss of jobs, masks on everywhere, weddings cancelled, solo birthday parties. Gyms closed, eating too much, everyone’s hair is growing out - I’m glad I learned to cut my own hair before covid!
As Christians we’ve definitely felt the restrictions! Church gatherings closed down, singing was taken away from us, home groups were told they couldn’t meet, our Church has had to go digital - gathering online… which we praise God for.
Now in our tightest version of lockdown … And lots of people are feeling very tense… very restricted… It’s been a really tough time in so many ways but what I’ve found really interesting is seeing how people have been responding to the whole thing online - or on the radio or TV… And it’s not only been interesting but at times it’s been really polarising!! One side against another! Maybe you’ve also felt it?
As people are feeling the stress of the virus and the lockdowns they’re pushing their views and responding intensely to others' views. Many wanting the government to be doing certain things and being really upset when things haven’t gone the way they expected! or wanted.. The polarisation has been crazy! There are so many sides on so many fronts! From Masks to vaccines to laws to freedoms…
Last week was a perfect example! There was so much talk about how our premier, Gladys Berejiklian, stuffed up because she didn’t lock NSW down hard and fast… And then when she finally did lock us down - hard and fast - there was a protest from people not wanting to be locked down hard and fast! She couldn’t do anything right!
It’s been interesting seeing the weight people have been placing on the government to almost be the solution to their life’s problems… “If they’d just do this or that - then my life would be better…” Or if other people would do this or that - stay home, - get vaccinated, - or stop telling me I need to be vaccinated that would affect the government’s decisions and then life would come back to normal for me - I would essentially be - free again!
Christians haven’t been exempt from those feelings, many have felt like the restrictions have even been a target on the church … a form of persecution… feeling like God’s work is being restricted by the lockdowns… And we get it - as ministers - it can definitely feel like that! And though this isn’t that - it’s not persecution: It can definitely feel like lockdown - restricts God!
But I love what Paul wrote from his prison cell while he sat restricted by physical chains!
I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. ~2 Timothy 2:9 (NIV)
It’s not bound! It made it out of that prison cell and it has been powering on through history and through Covid! Praise God for phones and internet! I’ve heard story after story of how God has been actively working even while we’ve been physically separated. And Paul shows us here how God continues to work no matter what’s happening in the world around us — whether restricted or not! He shows us what our role is in that work and where ultimate freedom is to be found! And very different from what we feel like we need to do: Paul says - Our role is to Pray!
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. ~1Timothy 2:1 (NIV)
Paul encourages various types of prayer here as we reflect on the different people that affect our lives. Notice the focus of the different prayers here are not for our daily needs, not for money, food or clothes, but for people! — All people! He means all kinds of people - people in all kinds of places - and he particularly lists those in authority - in their day kings, Emperors, in our day a Queen and our governments, police and so on… I think it can be really easy for us to generally lean a certain way in our prayers based on our personality differences… either focusing on negative things in others or just all the positive things.
But Paul helpfully draws us out of just praying prayers in line with our own views - to learning to see the world and people through God’s eyes and to bring all their various scenarios to him. So, for me it’s learning to not just pray for all the faults I see in others and praise God for food… but thanking him for our Garbos, who take away our rubbish each week… for those who serve in our healthcare system, and keep our shops going… for our electricity companies who keep our lights going… It’s learning to praise God for bringing the vast range of people from different nationalities into Australia - who live up and down our street… who work in our neighbourhood and praying for opportunities to interact with them…
It’s praising God for people who hold different views to me, that they can help me understand the world in a different way than I do… and praying for opportunities to open up conversations together… Praising God for our boss’s and co-workers - and praying that God might sustain them and helps us work together well. For opportunities to love them. So many different people to pray for and praise God for in so many different ways! And Especially - at the moment - our Government! I wonder what your response and attitude has been towards our government over this last little while? What have you been feeling towards them?? So many of us have been really appreciative of them in their difficult task! And have been praising God for them… But I’ve also seen so many Christians attacking or complaining about the government publicly on social media recently… and in different conversations… I’ve personally been feeling for them… I haven’t necessarily agreed with everything they’ve done - but have definitely been feeling for them in their roles!
But as I’d been working on this talk I realised, I’ve been praying for the government with different groups, I’ve been trying to help people think positively about them, even defending poor ol’ Gladys to different people… But I realised I hadn’t been personally praying for them on my own! Or praising God for them… I’d praised them to other people - but not to God… I realised I’d been talking about them a lot, but not talking to God about them. So, I spent some time this week bringing them all before God.
Now I’m not saying you have to be happy with everything they’re saying or even agree with it all - It’s a free country - we have voting rights… but what I will say is what Paul’s telling Timothy and the church in Ephesus! That one of our greatest witnesses to our world that we trust in a Governor that’s greater than any human government is that we pray for our governments - long before we complain about them! 1 Timothy is about God’s family - Christians - Guarding God’s truth by the way we live and speak - so that our world will see and know the glory of the gospel!
If we let go of the truth in the church - we have nothing to give the world! And friends - even how we interact online is a demonstration of our commitment to God’s cause… Not even the way we interact - but what we go looking for! What we speak about and the way we speak online before a watching world can serve to either repel or compel others towards Jesus. Complaining about our government - as legitimate as your points may be - does not help the cause of the gospel!
Historical Context: You know, when Paul first issued this command in the 60’s AD, they were living under the Roman emperor Nero, who was an absolute tyrant. There were no voting rights for all and no democracy, but it was more of a dictatorship! Nero hated Christians and viewed them as the scum of the earth. People viewed Christians as enemies of humankind because they held that their Lord Jesus was Lord above all governing bodies, and that even the emperor should submit to Him. Christians were outcasts - they were quite counter cultural - not engaging in the brutal Roman sports or in political offices at all! Eventually Nero falsely accused the church of setting a fire in Rome and he set a mass persecution against them! Listen to how Nero treated Christians in Timothy’s day:
Its in that context that Paul calls the church to pray - not just for friends and family, for their church and loved ones but for their govt… for people in authority!! Nero and his soldiers… And that’s because the power of prayer is greater than the power of protest - or of any other action we can take - because the God behind our prayers is unrestrictable! He can do far more than we can!
One wise pastor put it this way: Let’s get more Petitions to God in prayer - than signatures to Government in letters. Let’s get our knees to the floor in humility - before our fingers to the keyboard in hostility!
This week I saw a Christian friend share what she’d done for the government - she’d sent a letter to Gladys, encouraging her in her role and letting her know she’d prayed for her!
How much more does that serve God’s cause rather than publicly shaming her?
Imagine she received a heap of letters from MBMers over the next few weeks saying the same thing…? And to what end are we praying? What’s the goal of this prayer?? What are we hoping would happen as we pray and praise God for all these people?
…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. ~1 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
We pray that God might sovereignly handle all the aspects that affect our lives - that we might get out of lockdown??? - NO - That we might have the opportunity to live in a way that demonstrates trust in a God who’s bigger than this world’s issues. Quiet - Peaceful - Holy lives. Not Angry, violent, or civilly disobedient lives. In that way - by prayer and faithfulness - we achieve what God really wants.
This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. ~1 Timothy 2:3-4 (NIV)
What’s the “Good” here? What is it that pleases God? That we pray? Or when our prayers are answered? Is the good thing when people are saved and come to the truth? I think all are on view - it’s good that we entrust ourselves and other people to God and live in a way that honours him and the connection here is that that’s how God brings people to salvation! Through His people’s prayers and their godly witness. And that’s what God wants! He wants more and more of that!
I put out a post this week on our church Facebook groups asking for people to share how they’ve seen God at work even in the midst of lockdown and it was so encouraging to hear the stories! God has definitely not been restricted! One guy said he was sharing the gospel with the Obrien’s window replacement man who came to fix his car. Another person who lived in a unit block had fresh opportunities to get to know their neighbours who were usually out at work all day. Another started online gaming again and reconnected with some old friends and found that one of them was going through a really tough time and he was able to pray with him and share the gospel with him!
Friends, God’s word is not bound! He hasn’t stopped working! I wonder how that goal - God’s goal of seeing people saved - might affect the way you rethink what life for you should look like in these restrictions? Lockdowns? Helping people see God’s truth!… Spending quality time at home in prayer is definitely not a waste of time! But possibly an opportunity God has given us! Prayer meeting…
Well, I don’t know what’s been keeping you busy at home — but one thing that’s been eating up my time is TV and social media! And it can be really tempting at the moment to get online or listen to the news and get caught up in the polarising ideas and issues of the day… As if one of them is going to be the solution to our present issues… We feel like we need to be on a side or choose a team or have a view and an opinion… Whatever the platform is the world is constantly telling us - come to my truth! See the world my way! Think like me! View the government, the vaccines, science, the media, the world a certain way - and then all your issues will be sorted…
And we can feel like - if we just get this thing sorted… if the government would just allow this or that… if everyone would just vaccinate - if I could just set up my home office in the right way.. If Centrelink would just provide enough supplement… everything will be ok…
We can get fooled into thinking there’s this ultimate solution to our present problems in a worldly scenario. Yes, we should pray that our government do their job well. Yes, we should pray that they come to know Jesus. Yes, we should pray for a greater moral state of our nation and our world — BUT ultimately that will not happen through having the right political party in place! Or through any other social endeavour! Paul says - as you pray for these things remember, Jesus is your only ultimate solution!
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. ~1 Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV)
Paul here raises our eyes from a worldly solution to a heavenly one! See what this verse is doing in the middle of this little passage about praying for people… especially our governments. There’s one God, there’s one ultimate place of rest and restoration! And freedom! With Him! And there’s one mediator between him and us, one person who can ultimately fix the problem between us, one person who can give us the kind of freedom we need and so desire!
One person who can move the hearts of people to come together rather than being polarised! Jesus Christ! God himself! Not Scott Morrison, not Donald Trump, not Biden, not Gladys, not even the Queen, nor any other political party or governing system… no business or social endeavour… God wants people to be saved and Jesus is how that comes about! The truth about him is what saves!
What did Jesus do for us, He gave Himself as a ransom! A ransom is a price paid to free someone from captivity! I wonder how much you’d pay to end this lockdown? What would your freedom be worth? Well, whatever that price, our freedom with God was far more costly - it cost God the life of his only son! He was willing to pay that for us to be freed from our eternal captivity!
Far more serious than the delta stream of the C-virus, our sin had put us in a state of eternal captivity away from God and we were essentially all heading down a road into an eternal lockdown! Away from God, away from anything good, away from loved ones, away from love, away from any signs of the goodness of life - but locked down in eternal death! But as it says in verse 4 - God wanted people to be saved - and he was even willing to pay the penalty for us!
So, he came into our world, into our sickness stricken, sinful and broken world, and he took up the cross. He was willing to take up death and in his death he experienced that separation from his father that we deserved - so that we don’t have to! He did that - So that for those who accept what he’s done, those who have put their faith in Jesus - whether we’re in a physical lockdown, whether we have others around us, whatever’s happening in our lives right now, we can know for sure that we’re never separated from our loving God!
We’ve been given a freedom that far surpasses whatever freedoms we had before covid or whatever’s coming after it! Freedom from judgement, freedom from sin and its reign, freedom from the fear of death, freedom from living in a hopeless state of expecting our government, or any other broken person to be the solution to our greatest needs!
Jesus is the ultimate solution to our need for freedom! This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. Free yourself from the trap of anxiety, fear and outrage, and turn to Jesus - who offers peace and freedom forever. This Jesus and the freedom he offers is what kept Paul praying and testifying as he waited for his chance to speak the gospel to Caesar - he was in jail, restricted under house arrest but confident of the un-chained power of God’s word.
As I said earlier, it’s like Paul wrote this letter this month, as he immediately applies his call to pray, to the men whose way of dealing with injustice and inaction can often be similar to what we saw in the freedom rally last week, hands raised in rage..
I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. ~1 Timothy 2:8 (NIV)
And I think it applies to our women too… My Advice - Take a break from the screens - read the word - watch some Olympics - pray for people - we pray because no matter the restrictions on us, our God is never in chains, He’s always at work!