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The following sermon, preached on September 18th, 2016, explores how God’s word is truly radical—the Gospel is a shocking and offensive thing. We are told to pray for our enemies, and our leaders: this means we should pray for our enemy leaders! After all, if our enemies put Christ first, things would be very different! Please click the play button on the audio widget below to listen to the sermon. (The audio can also be downloaded below, as a podcast.)
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The text follows below.
(Note concerning the sermon text: the sermon text reflects the actual manuscript and was written to be spoken colloquially, not academically. It may contain grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, or special notation like the asterisk, etc. Thank you for your understanding.)
1 Timothy 2:1-7.
“1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.”
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
OK, so here we are reading in 1st Timothy, chapter 2. And the books of First and Second Timothy are books written by the Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy, sometime around 63 A. D. Paul is behind the first person perspective which we read in our passage—and, in this passage, like the book as a whole, we see Paul urging Timothy (verse 1) to care for the affairs in the Church, and, in particular, we see that the message here is really focused on the urge to include all people in prayer, especially leaders, (verses 1 and 2), because, the logic is, there is only one God, v.5. And, because this one God really wants—He really desires—like the Scripture here says, v.4, all people to be saved, we should be praying for all people. That’s what Paul is saying here—and so that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning. Essentially, again, because there is only one God, who died for us, even us, verses 5-6, this God, therefore, is the God of all people, even the Gentiles, v.7, even the sinners, which is why Paul wants even the kings to be prayed for. Like I said, we’re going to be talking about all of this—how God wants all people to be saved—and why that means we should pray for all people, especially the leaders, as Paul mentions here.
OK. So I want to ask a question to all of us this morning. I am going to ask the question very carefully because of the nature of the question. My intent is not to offend anyone, well, maybe a little bit of offense is OK. But really, I am just trying to get us to think about this passage critically, because I believe it is what God’s Word is obviously telling us to do, but it is a difficult thing. So here’s the question: In your life, have you ever had trouble praying for certain people? Or a certain someone? You know, have you ever had trouble praying for the enemies in our lives, for example, or, on a grander scale, have you had trouble praying for people in charge of enemy countries, (on an international level now). How about this question: Have we ever had any trouble praying for the people in charge of this country, (ha), and I think you all begin to see what I am getting at. Paul says here, that, after we should be praying for all people, he goes out of his way to specifically name, “kings and all those in authority,” verse 2. So, if you, like me, are reminded of Jesus’ similar saying, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Matthew 5:44, we should put them both together, the words of Paul and of Jesus, to go out of our way to pray first for our leaders, even our enemies, as Jesus says, leaders included, as Paul says, who persecute us. From both Paul and Jesus, we are being told in God’s Word to pray for the most unlikely of people, and this is actually quite the shocking thing, as I am sure we all understand. It is hard to pray for enemies in our lives.
Well, despite the shocking nature of praying for the opposition, there is a logic to it here, but it is not what most people think it is—I believe. Verse 2, says, pray for the kings and the leaders, quote “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness,” verse 2. What does Paul mean by “that we may live … quiet lives”? Does he mean that we are supposed to just be praying like this so that we can live sheltered lives, quiet lives, never hurtin’ nobody? Well, no, it is not saying that we are supposed to live quiet lives, or that we are supposed to, for example, blindly support our leaders, or enemies, no matter what the wicked things they do. Great, great harm has been done, because people think that this, and other passages, mean that we are supposed to, like I said, supposed to (keyword) be quiet and support whatever the government or other-non-government evil actions occur, maybe even in Church Leadership, or people in our lives who take advantage of us. Well, no, we are not supposed to let evil prevail—yes, we are supposed to turn the other cheek, but like the book of James says, “whoever knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin” James 4:17. We do not sit idly by when evil occurs.
The message of the Gospel, and here in our Scripture, is that we are supposed to live a certain way, yes, as Christians, and that way is not in a quiet way, but in a way that expends all energy, and all effort, in Christ, to shine the light of the Gospel to those people that need it most. God does this through us. Why is this the case, and not just that so we can be quiet? Well, because, Paul says, there is one mediator … this is the logic… one mediator between God and human beings, the one Savior, Jesus Christ. This one and only Jesus Christ gave himself as a ransom for all people. Because there is only One God, this One God necessarily has to be the only God for all people. And because this One and Only God died for us, desires all people to be saved, Christ died for all people, which is the very reason why we should be praying for all people—not so that we can live quiet comfortable lives, but so that they may be saved by the power of God’s Gospel. God wants to save those enemy people too. Quote: “God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11). In fact, the difficult truth, but the truth even for you and for me, personally, is that God wants to save even the wickedest, most disgusting person, we can all possibly think of. We should be offended by this, like I am, like Jonah was, and we need to take it to God in prayer, because, this is simply the truth, and the very reason that God saved even us, ourselves, we who call ourselves Christians. God quote “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4.
Well, last week I preached on the Scripture, Psalm 51. In Psalm 51:5 and 6, Scripture teaches that each of us from birth requires the saving grace of God to be saved. However, from a simple common-sense perspective, all of us will agree, I think, that no one is born as a serial killer—in their mind. This can’t be, they simply have the mind of an infant at this point. No one is born, psychologically speaking, with extremely evil machinations. Sadly these human beings who become this way, well they grow up badly, they get hurt, they learn wicked things, and they then go and do wicked things, because they do not have the Lord. I’m not denying that we are sinful from birth; I am denying that someone is psychologically, purposely, a monster, from birth. Here’s why. It’s what Paul is talking about. Yes we all need salvation, but get this: What if, instead of being isolated and further hurt, these sorts of people had someone praying for them, long before they committed terrible deeds? What if these people—our personal enemies, the leaders of our enemy countries, the leader of ISIS, for example—what if all these people, because we prayed for them first, were utterly transformed by the grace and the love of God, putting Jesus first instead of their own wicked desires, or their own terrible intentions—and then every single thing that they did, was for the good instead, was for God instead. I have to say, that our world today, would look very, very, different. The message of the Gospel is that Christ saves, and the repentance of changed lives changes the world for good, so if.. our leaders, our enemy leaders, put Christ first, imagine the kind of good world we would have today because evil would dramatically decrease. So this is why Paul says here, to pray for the leaders, and why Jesus says to pray for our enemies. All of this is the work of God; it is oriented towards the goal of salvation for everyone, which is God’s desire.
Well. I mentioned that this letter, 1 Timothy, was written around 63 A. D. Some scholars say sometime around, 64, 65. OK. It’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly historically when. But here’s the deal. The first documented case, (documented case), of government supervised, and ordered, persecution of Christians, in the Roman Empire, or you might say, ever, begins with the Emperor Nero (who ruled from 37–68 AD in Rome). In 64 AD, right around the time of Paul writing of this letter, First Timothy, A great fire broke out in Rome, destroying whole portions of Rome and devastating the population. You may have heard about the popular legend claiming that Emperor Nero played the fiddle at the time of the fire, which is an anachronism actually, because the fiddle was not invented until the 10th century—But anyways, it was Nero himself who started this fire, and then blamed it on Christians, because they were a small group upsetting the social structure of the day—you know, because the wicked powerful are always trying to remain powerful, but Christians practice peace and true justice—he ordered the Christians to be thrown to the dogs, while others Christians were in fact ordered to be crucified or burned.
So imagine this. When Paul says, to pray for rulers—who was the ruler at the time Paul wrote this? It was Nero, who is persecuting, burning, and throwing us to the dogs (literally), to pray for him—and why? So that we can live, literally live, peacefully and quietly—in other words, not being targeted for execution, and for death—for being a Christian. We should pray for the leaders’ salvation, in fact, so that, instead of persecuting us, they actually do positive things for the Gospel, and of course, God desires their salvation, and so should we—then they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.
Paul says in verse 7 that he was “appointed a herald and an apostle,” verse 7, for this reason. His job is to declare this full truth, shocking as it is, of the Gospel. And, if you notice, Paul even says, pleading-like, “I am telling the truth, I am not lying,” I’m a true and faithful teacher of even these sorts of Gentiles. Paul says God wants all people to be saved, even Nero, and that Christ gave himself as a ransom for all people, even you and I. In his context, he means not only the Jews, the people of God, but even these sorts of evil ruling Gentiles. That’s why he says here, I’m a teacher of the Gentiles.
Well, this is simply the Gospel. It’s offensive by nature, because the darkness hates the light. The Gospel in a nutshell is that Christ died for all people, and not just Jewish people. It’s what Paul here is simply reiterating. The most radical thing of all, the thing that ties it all together, what we’ve been talking about, as it were, are verses 5 and 6. This is where again Paul reminds us that there is one God, and one Savior, but that this Savior gave himself as a ransom for all of us. The truth here is that Jesus came to die on that cross—the old story of the cross—to die for you, and for me. And this is offensive.
There are many people in the world, maybe even people who are in the room this morning, who believe that they are too far gone for God. In this room right now there could even be people who believe they are not deserving of God. And to them, and to you, I want to say, with Scripture, and with Paul who says to pray for Nero: God wants all people to be saved, and come to the truth, including you. I will not deny to you that you and I have done bad things. That we are sinners from birth. And also, God will not deny that you and I have done bad things. God acknowledges you, and acknowledges me, and our sin. God knows about the bad things we have done. Actually, because of the bad things that I have done, in my life, God sent the one mediator, the one ransom, the one and only Son, Jesus, so that, only in Him, and through only Him, by only his paying the price for what we did, we could be free to actually live a life for God, and in God, and through God, in all godliness and holiness. When Paul says God wants everybody to come to a knowledge of the truth, he is talking about God who loves us so much, that Christ laid down his life of his own accord, even when he could have summoned many legions of angels to save himself (he says in Matthew 26:53), but instead he laid down his life by his own choice, an act of love and grace, to save us from our own formerly bad selves.
God did this because, yes, He acknowledges that we are in need of help, that we are in fact sinful, but, He loves us… anyways! That’s why it says He wants us here. It would be bad if God simply pretended that we never sinned, or pretended we were never bad, because then it is as if God doesn’t care. But, instead, nothing could be farther from the truth. God loved the world, and you, and I, and us, all, so much, He sent his Son to save us, so that we might be more than simply sinners. That’s not the message. God came to sanctify us, to completely cleanse us from all unrighteous, 1 John 1:9, so that we might live our lives in Christ, freed from the power of sin and its slavery, Romans chapter 8, and live for God.
You, and I, and anyone—you are not too far gone from God because nothing is too hard for Him, and he desires all people to be saved. Place your hope in Christ as your Lord and Savior, and, even if we are saved already, by further placing all of our trust in Him, more & more of it, Christ can take over you more and more, He can completely sanctify you, and make you, as 1 John 4:12 says, perfect, and complete, in His perfect love. Why? Why, to all of this? As our passage says, God, “…..wants all people to be saved” , and He is not messing around, He will save you and save you completely. Amen.