At the beginning of chapter 2 of 1 Timothy, Paul seems to shift his focus from rebuking the false teachers to prescribing the conduct of those in the church. As in all biblical passages, however, context is the driver of meaning, and the issue of the false teachers cannot be far from Paul’s mind as he instructs Timothy on order in the Church. His opening phrase tells us as much, as he begins with the phrase parakalō oun, literally something like “Please, therefore...,” tying the injunction that follows to the ongoing discussion.
What does Paul ask of Timothy? “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (2:1-2). This is sound advice to be sure—Christians should always be engaged in prayer for others, both inside and outside the Church, and praying for peace and safety from government (particularly where believers are persecuted) ought to be a regular part of our communion with God.
The context bids us to look beyond this principle to the surrounding issues as well, and sheds light on the precise nature of the false teaching spread by the straying leaders at Ephesus. There are two prongs to Paul’s command here: 1) that prayers are to be made for “all men,” and 2) that the prayer for governing authorities be focused on their allowing the work of the Gospel to go on unhindered.
The deduction we make from this is that the false teachers were proclaiming some exclusionary ideas, whether teaching that the whole Jewish Law must be kept by Christians (inferred by 1:6-8) or a legalistic asceticism (inferred by 4:1-3), which claimed that salvation was not a free gift for all but the special privilege of some earned by human action. Whatever their teachings, their misrepresentation of the true faith and the discord they were sowing in the Body apparently raised the ire of the local authorities, prompting Paul’s concern for the reputation of the Lord and His Church (reflected also in his qualifications for elders in 3:7 and his instructions to slaves in 6:1).
In light of the situation there, Paul reminds Timothy and the Ephesian believers of the Gospel which they have believed and the actions that should flow from their salvation. Even so, the nature of his instruction reflects his pastoral heart—he confronts the false teaching through exhorting believers to deeper obedience to the true faith through fervent prayer. Too often, we fail to recognize, as Paul did, that our first reaction to pressure should be to bring our concerns to God, entrusting him with the outcome before we undertake any other actions.
Paul bolsters his statement by appealing to God’s eternal plan: “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2:3-4). Again, he points out that salvation is available to all men, based on their “knowledge of the truth.” God is the author of our salvation and gives it freely by His grace through faith; no one of us deserves this, nor can we earn it in any way. To distort the grace of God by demanding religious works is Satan’s oldest ploy to deceive men and lead them to death, and the false teaching at Ephesus most likely was part of a long line of mendacity from father of lies. This line of reasoning supports Paul’s opening command: if God desires all men to be saved, then clearly it is pleasing to Him that the Church prays for all men according to this desire.
Continuing on, Paul delivers one of the most eloquent summations of the Gospel in all of Scripture: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time” (2:5-6). His formulation here again drives home the point that there is one salvation for all men at all times, and that Christ Jesus is its source and security. Our ransom was paid by His blood, and His resurrection and reign serve as witnesses to the gift He has given.
The phrase “at the proper time”, in Greek kairos idiois (lit. the perfect or set apart moment), occurs several times in Paul’s writings, always in reference to the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the “grand scheme of things.” It seems to be for him something of an intensifier, furthering his point that God is in control of the whole work of saving men and women and calling them together as His Church. At just the right time, when God knew the world was ripe for it, Christ came into the world to complete His ransom.
More than that, however, it appears that Paul is evoking the full measure of God’s grace in salvation. As he says elsewhere, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8). The “proper time” for Christ to come give His life for us is while we are still sinners, when we completely do not deserve it, not when we have “cleaned up our act” or begun to follow the Law. In using this terminology, Paul shows that Christ’s sacrifice is something wholly different from the message of the false teachers and that they, consequently, are outside of God’s will and subverting the Gospel.
Paul concludes his declaration here by reaffirming his own calling to the ministry of this Gospel for all: “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth” (2:7). By appealing to his God-given ministry to the nations (ethnōn), he shows once again that the work of Christ is for all men, not just Jews or those who live by the Law. In this, he is drawing a clear contrast between the message he is bringing (“faith and truth”) and the divisive, demoralizing religion of the false teachers. He hearkens back to his statement in 1:5 that “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
Through all this, Paul is using the occasion of confronting and refuting the false teachers to exhort the Church to return to the “main thing”—the proclamation of the true Gospel of Christ for all mankind. He calls Timothy to remind the Church of the reason for their existence, urging them to preserve their focus, and giving them tools to be proper witnesses to this truth to the world at large. His charge begins with prayer and sound doctrine, and continues (as we will see in coming months) with many practical guidelines for a God-honoring church life and ministry. Throughout 1 and 2 Timothy, he is unequivocal that everything about the Church flows from this foundation.
Justin Lonas is editor of Disciple Magazine for AMG International in Chattanooga, Tennessee.