Collective and Individual Prayer
T. Ernest Wilson, USA
In our key verse Paul says, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly", i Tim. 3.14. "These things" would naturally refer to the four great subjects of the first three chapters, namely the Gospel, ch. 1, prayer and the woman's place in the church, ch. 2, and church government, ch. 3. These are great pillars of assembly testimony as well as of behaviour in the house of God.
Collective prayer is one of the most important activities of the assembly, 2. 1-8. In chapter four the reference is to prayer in the home at the partaking of food, 4. 4-5. In chapter five the destitute widow, entirely dependent on God, continues in prayers and supplications night and day, 5. 5, while in 2 Timothy Paul prays for Timothy night and day, 1.3. It is interesting to note that these four aspects of prayer correspond to the four words that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 2.1. There is the prayer for government leaders, the supplication of the widow, thanksgiving for food, and Paul's intercession for Timothy.
Four Kinds of Prayer. The four words used in 1 Timothy 2. 1, "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks" are suggested by the four ingredients in the holy incense, which are stacte, onycha, galbanum and frankincense, Exod. 30. 34-38. Stacte was an aromatic gum which came from the pierced bark of a shrub growing in the desert. Onycha was the perfumed shell of a crab taken from the depths of the sea. Galbanum was a plant which grew above the snowline in Lebanon. Frankincense was pure white, used in the meal offering and put upon the shewbread. The ingredients were all of equal weight. The sweet incense was offered with the morning and evening sacrifice with fire from off the altar.
Supplication is a man upon his face, like our Lord in Gethsemane. Prayer is a man upon his knees like Daniel, Dan. 6. 10. Intercession is a man with his hands uplifted for others like Abraham outside the cities of the plain, or Aaron and Hur staying up Moses' hands on the mount. Gen. 18. 23-33; Exod. 17. 12. Thanksgiving is a man seated before the Lord with an overflowing cup like David., 2 Sam. 7. 18-29; Ps. 23. 5.
Collective Prayer, 2. 1-8. We shall notice here
The Four Requests, 2. 1-2. For all men. The phrase "all men" is linked with their salvation and the work of the gospel in verses 4-7. For kings. This is more specifically for heads of states with their heavy burden of responsibility. It should be remembered that Nero was emperor of the Roman empire at this time. We do not pray for them because they merit such interest! For all in authority. This embraces those responsible for the administration of law and justice, cf. Rom. 13. 1-7. That we might lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty. This four-fold prayer has in view the establishing of those outward circumstances which will enable the consistent quiet testimony of godly living to further the purpose of God in the gospel. In view of the anarchy, the breakdown of law and order and the increase of serious crime in these days, how necessary it is to seek grace to obey these exhortations.
The Four Conditions, 2. 8. / will therefore that the men pray everywhere, r.v. The word "men" is not the generic word embracing both sexes; rather it relates exclusively to the male as distinct from the female sex. In church meetings the women are to be silent, v. 12, but the men can pray everywhere. Lifting up holy hands. This indicates the necessity for a holy life in those who take part in public prayer. The lifting up of the hands was, of course, not a ritual but symbolic not only of the direction of the prayer but also of confidence in the answer to be received as a gift in the outstretched hand. Without wrath. Not like Jonah's angry prayer, or the oblique prayer, ostensibly addressed to God, but aimed at someone present. Doubting. We might compare Elijah who "prayed earnestly (i.e. "prayed in his prayer") that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit", James 5. 17-18.
The freedom of access that we enjoy in our prayers is ours because of the great Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, i Tim. 2. 5. We need neither angel nor virgin nor human priest, but we come directly to God through Him as our Great High Priest. We pray in His name.
Thanksgiving for Food, 4. 4-5. The Old Testament lays down a strict code of rules about foods which might be eaten and others which were prohibited. These had both a ceremonial and hygienic significance. But today the believer is not under law but under grace. 4. 3. What he eats or doesn't eat depends on personal preference and what he feels is good or isn't good for his body. The passage probably has reference to the seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, 4. 1, and the erroneous injunction that those who wish to have contact with the spirit world must abstain from eating flesh. It is a well-known fact that most spiritists are vegetarians. But Paul says, "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer". How thankful we should be in acknowledging the daily benefits with which He loads us.
The reading of the Word of God at the table and the giving of thanks for food, not only privately in the home, but also publicly and quietly in a restaurant or hotel is a simple testimony which God has often used to open a conversation on spiritual things. How often too this has been the means of identifying a true believer and establishing contacts of fellowship with those that love His name.
The Widow's Prayer, 5. 5. "Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day." How graphic these words are and how they have been exemplified in every age! God calls himself the God of the fatherless and the widow, Ps. 68. 5. Paul's travelling companion, Luke, mentions widows nine times in his Gospel and in this passage Paul uses the word seven times. Evidently he had a deep concern for those who were in real need in those days when there was no welfare state or social security benefits. We should be sensitive to the needs of others.
Paul's Prayers for Timothy, 2 Tim. 1. 3-4. In requesting Timothy to undertake this difficult task at Ephesus he says, "that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day . . . being mindful of thy tears". How this shows the bonds of affection and concern that the apostle had for his dear fellow-worker and son in the faith. Most preachers and missionaries would agree that the great need of the servant of God is the intercessory prayer support of God's people. How we should pray for one another!
These many references to prayer in its various forms in Paul's writings emphasise what was one of the basic exercises of the early apostolic church, for "they continued stedfastly ... in prayers", Acts 2. 42. May we ever be before our God, taking the dependent place, always thankful and exercised to intelligent prayer.