A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:1-15. Public worship.
In this pastoral letter Paul is looking beyond Timothy, to whom it is addressed, to the local churches he has been called to supervise. The apostle is concerned through Timothy to regulate the life of the church. He began with doctrine (chapter 1), urging Timothy to counter false teaching and to remain himself loyal to the apostolic faith. He continues now with the conduct of public worship (chapter 2).
As he had ‘urged’ Timothy (*parakaleo*) to remain in Ephesus to combat error (1:3), so now he exhorts him to give priority to public worship: *I urge (parakaleo again), then, first of all, that…prayers…be made for everyone*. ‘First of all’ refers ‘not to primacy of time but primacy of importance’. For the church is essentially a worshipping, praying community. It is often said that the church’s priority task is evangelism. But this is really not so. Worship takes precedence over evangelism, partly because love for God is the first commandment and love for neighbour the second, partly because, long after the church’s evangelistic task has been completed, God’s people will continue to worship him eternally, and partly because evangelism is itself an aspect of worship, a ‘priestly service’ in which converts ‘become an offering acceptable to God’ (Rom.15:16).
The emphasis on the priority of worship has particular importance for us who are called ‘evangelical’ people. For whenever we fail to take public worship seriously, we are less than fully biblical Christians we claim to be. We go to church for the preaching, some of us say, not for praise. Evangelism is our speciality, not worship. In consequence either our worship services are slovenly, perfunctory, mechanical and dull or, in an attempt to remedy this, we go to the opposite extreme and become repetitive, unreflective and even flippant.
Paul alludes to two main aspects of the local church’s worship, which divide the chapter in half.First he considers its scope, and emphasizes the need for a global concern in public worship (1-7), and secondly he considers its conduct, and addresses the question of the respective roles of men and women in public worship (8-15).
1). Global concern in public worship (2:1-7).
What stands out in this paragraph is the universal range of the church’s responsibility. In contrast to the elitist notion of the Gnostic heretics, that salvation was restricted to those who had been initiated into it, Paul stresses that God’s plan and therefore our duty concern everybody. Four times the same truth is emphasized. First, prayers are to be offered *for everyone* (1). Secondly, God our Saviour *wants all men* (NRSV ‘desires everyone’) *to be saved* (3-4). Thirdly, Christ Jesus *gave himself as a ransom for all men* (6, NRSV ‘for all’). Fourthly, Paul was *a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles* (7), that is, to all nations or to everyone. There can be no doubt that this repetition is deliberate. These four truths belong together in Paul’s mind. It is because God’s desire and Christ’s death concern everybody that the church’s prayers and proclamation must concern everybody too.
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 2:1-2. a). The church’s prayers should concern all people.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.