The Church's Worship (preaching resource for 9/18/22)

This post exegetes 1 Timothy 2:1-7 (the RCL Epistles reading for 9/18/22), drawing on multiple sources including commentary from Thomas F. Torrance and John Stott.

The church at worship (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Introduction

We begin by reading 1 Timothy 2:1-7:

1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And 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.

As followers of Jesus we take seriously our Lord's commands to worship God, and to make disciples. In the second chapter of 1Timothy, Paul links these commands by showing how the church's public worship spills over into the church's disciplemaking mission. 

Paul gets right to the point: *I urge, then, first of all, that... prayers...be made for all people* (1). 'First of all' refers to order in priority. Above all else, the church is to be a worshipping community. Why? Because God *wants all people to be saved* (4a). In worship the church ministers to the Lord, who then fills the church to overflowing in order that it might reach out through evangelism. The evangelized then become worshippers of God and the cycle continues.  

In order to combat the insipid Gnostic heresy making in-roads in the church in Ephesus--a heresy that says salvation is restricted to the elite few--Paul makes four related points, stressing that God's plan and therefore our worship as the church, should be concerned about everyone.  

1. The church's public prayers should concern all people

Note that Paul advocates a sequence or content for prayer in public worship: *petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving* (1b). Such prayer addresses specific needs; brings those needs before God; appeals boldly to God with regard to those needs, then offers God thanksgiving for both the needy ones and for his provision on their behalf. Such prayer is to *be made for all people* (1c), not merely for ourselves or some elite class. In short, the prayers of the church are to reflect God's global-universal concern.  

In that regard, Paul urges prayer *even for kings and all those in authority* (2a, NET). This was truly remarkable instruction at a time when no Christian ruler existed anywhere in the world. Nero was emperor in Rome--a despot known for vanity, cruelty and hostility to the Christian faith. Yet Paul says to pray for even for him, just as Jeremiah had told the Jewish exiles to pray for Babylon (Jer. 29:7). 

Early church leaders followed Paul's command. For example, Clement of Rome, towards the end of the first century, included a prayer in his first letter to the Corinthian church for rulers and governors:  "Grant them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, so that they may give no offence in administering the government you have given them." Tertullian in his *Apology*, wrote: "We pray also for the emperors, for their ministers and those in power, that their reign may continue, that the state may be at peace, and that the end of the world may be postponed."

Why pray for leaders of governments around the globe? Paul is quite specific: so *that we [believers] may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness* (2b). Godliness involves the exercise of religious duty and holiness involves moral living. We pray for leaders that we might be personally benefited in these ways. However, our concern goes beyond ourselves, for as Paul notes, such prayer is  *good and pleases God our Savior who wants all people to be saved* (3-4). We pray for peaceful conditions so that the church's disciplemaking, evangelistic mission to a lost world may advance. The benefit of such peace was experienced in Paul's day where the *Pax Romana* (peace of Rome) was a major factor in the church's rapid spread throughout the Roman Empire.  

2. God's desire concerns all people  

The reason the church should reach out and embrace and intercede for all people in its public worship is because this is the scope of God's deep desire. Though it is true that God is *our Savior* (3b), we note that he *wants all people to be saved* (4a). Our worship as the church must, therefore, express God's heart for the lost. In that regard, Paul teaches a universal offer of salvation in a carefully constructed theological argument. First he notes that *there is one God* (5a). Second he notes that this one God wants *all people to be saved* (4). 

The implication is that God is concerned for the salvation of all people  precisely because there is no other God to save them. In response, we have an *exclusive* faith (*there is one God*, and no other) and that leads us to not an exclusive, but an *inclusive* mission (the one God is Savior of all and *wants all people to be saved*). 

3. Christ's death concerns all people 

Paul then goes on to anticipate a possible objection, namely, why should not this one God who wants all people to be saved, save them in different ways, some through Hinduism or Buddhism, others through Judaism or Islam, and yet others through New Age and other contemporary cults? Why should he insist that all people be saved in the same way and *come to a knowledge of the (same) truth?*' Paul's answer is that there is not only one Savior God, but also one Mediator between him and us, and therefore only one way of salvation.

It should be noted here that the Greek word mesit─ôs rendered here as mediator, in our culture might convey a wrong impression. Jesus was not a mediator, for example, who worked for compromise between opposing parties. Instead, he was the only one able to go between man and God to enable them to have a relationship, but entirely on God’s terms. For that reason the New English Translation has intermediary rather than mediator. However it is translated, the biblical teaching is that Jesus was (and still is) uniquely both God (divine) and man (huuman)--two natures in one person. Jesus as God mediates from God to humankind; and as human, Jesus mediates from humankind to God. There is no other person, who does this (or could do this)--Jesus as this unique mediator/intermediator is the sold Savior of all humankind. Thus salvation is exclusive (via one single person, Jesus) but also inclusive (Jesus is Savior of all humankind, no exclusions).

Of course, the exclusivity of the way of salvation is debated in our day. Three main positions are held: 

  • Exclusivism. This position has been held until recently by the great majority of Christians. It states that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and that salvation is only through explicit faith in him. The term 'exclusivism' is unfortunate in that it sounds negative and elitist, and because it says nothing about the inclusivism implicit in the universal scope of what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf. 
  • Inclusivism. This position also affirms that Jesus Christ is the Savior, but adds that he saves different people in different ways, especially through their own religion. 
  • Pluralism. This position is gaining ground in our post-modern, post-Christian world. It not only tolerates the different religions, but actively affirms their independent saving validity, and therefore denies uniqueness and finality to Jesus. 

Paul was clearly an exclusivist. In his day there was an abundance of religions and ways of salvation--'many "gods" and many "lords"' (1 Cor. 8:5). For example there were the popular mystery religions from the East. Also the Gnostics postulated a whole succession of angelic emanations spanning the gulf between God and the world, of which Jesus was the greatest but not the only one. Paul insisted, however, that there is only one mediator--the one intermediary who effects reconciliation between God and humankind. Jesus, the go-between is unique in two ways: 

The uniqueness of Jesus' person

He is *the man Christ Jesus* (5b). Of course he is also God. In the previous chapter he was bracketed with the Father as the single source of grace, mercy and peace (1Tim. 1:2); he was three times designated 'our Lord' (1Tim. 1:2, 12, 14); and it was said that he 'came into the world to save sinners' (1Tim. 1:15), which assumes a pre-existent purpose and decision. What Paul now adds is that he became a human being. The juxtaposition of words in the Greek is striking: "...one mediator between God and men, man Christ Jesus." As both God and man, Jesus is uniquely able to mediate between us. He is God from the beginning, deriving his divine being from his Father eternally, and he became human in the womb of his mother Mary, deriving his human being from her. Thus the New Testament bears witness to him as the unique God-man.

The uniqueness of Jesus' work 

On the cross Jesus *gave himself as a ransom for all people* (6a). To say that he gave himself means that he offered himself deliberately and voluntarily. Moreover, he did so to be our ransom. In that day the word referred to the price paid for the release of a slave or captive. Applied to us, we are reminded that we were in bondage to sin and judgment, unable to save ourselves, and that the price (ransom) paid for our deliverance was the death of Christ, which he willingly gave for us, in our stead. Christ is the "exchange-price" on behalf of and in the place of all through which freedom may be granted to all.

Note that Paul uses three nouns to speak of Jesus: man, ransom and mediator. These three tell us of Jesus' saving career: his birth (by which he became *man*), his death (in which he gave himself as a *ransom*), and his exaltation (by resurrection and ascension to the Father's right hand, where he acts as our *mediator* today). 

These nouns relate to the three great doctrines of salvation: Jesus' incarnation, atonement and heavenly mediation. In no other person but Jesus has God first become man (taking our humanity to himself) and then given himself as a ransom (taking our sin and guilt upon himself) and Jesus is the one and only God-man in heaven (making intercession for us). There is no other.  

And so Paul was an exclusivist. But note that his exclusivity was related to Jesus. He does not claim any cultural expression or institution of Christianity as exclusively true. Such claims of exclusivity are reserved only for Christ himself as a historical person and as the uniquely qualified (exclusive) mediator between God and man.

4. Our proclamation must concern all people

There is, of course, an important question that arises when one discusses the uniqueness of Jesus' person and work: How much accurate and detailed information must a person know about the Man-Ransom-Mediator before they can call on God for salvation? The answer is that we do not know precisely.  What we do know, however, is that all human beings are sinful, guilty and perishing; that no human being can save himself or herself by good works, religious observances, beliefs or sincerity; that Jesus Christ, being God, man and a ransom, is the only competent mediator through whom God saves. 

We are convinced and convicted, therefore, that we must be active in obeying Jesus' command to make God's election and his universal offer of salvation known to as many people as possible. The proclamation of the gospel must, therefore, be a primary focus of our public worship, and, indeed, of our entire lives. Paul mentions this at the end of v6 where he refers to *the testimony given in its proper time*. Because he then goes on in v7 to discuss the  proclamation of the gospel, it's likely that the *testimony* Paul refers to is the one given by the church concerning the birth, death and resurrection-ascension of Jesus--the *proper time* to give this testimony is now. 

Speaking of his own calling to proclaim the gospel Paul says, *And for this purpose [to give testimony to the gospel] I was appointed a herald and an apostle - I am telling the truth, I am not lying - and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles* (7). Although no one today is an apostle with the authority and inspiration comparable to the writers of the New Testament like Paul, there are certainly 'heralds' and 'teachers' in the church today. The original apostles were responsible to formulate, defend and commend the gospel. It is the task of the heralds in the church today to proclaim that apostolic gospel (faith), and it is the task of the teachers in the church today to give systematic instruction in  that gospel's doctrines.

And so in the church today, including in our public worship, we proclaim and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ who, alone is the God-man, the ransom and the mediator. And we proclaim all that is implied by those truths. To whom do we make this proclamation? Like Paul we do so *to the Gentiles*--that is to all people everywhere, in all cultures, of all races, genders and age groups. How do we do that? We do so like Paul 'in faith and truth' (see NRSV). 

There is an urgent need to proclaim the gospel. It is not enough that the Son of God was born, died and was raised, or that he is the uniquely qualified God-man, ransom and mediator; this great good news must be made known, both heralded and taught, throughout the world and that begins in our public worship as the church.

Conclusion

What is the proper scope of our public worship? In two words (quoting Chrysostom) it is this: 'Imitate God!' The scope of our worship must reflect the universal concern of the heart of God which is for all people everywhere. Because there is one God and one mediator for all people, all people must be included in the church's prayers and its proclamation of the universal gospel. God's desire and Christ's death concern all people; therefore the church's duty concerns all people too, reaching out to them both in earnest prayer and in urgent witness. This is our mission, this is the concern of our hearts, this is the focus of our worship together. Amen.