A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:1-2. a). The church’s prayers should concern all
Paul mentions four different kinds of worship (*requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving*), three of which he has already brought together in an earlier letter (Phil.4:6). Most commentators suggest that the first three are almost synonymous and cannot be neatly distinguished from one another. ‘I admit’, wrote Calvin with humility, ‘that I do not completely understand the difference’ between them. Then, after mentioning one attempt to do so, he continued: ‘But I myself do not go in for subtle distinctions of that kind’. Indeed, he is content with the broad distinction between ‘genus and species’, *prayers (proseuche)* being a generic word for every kind of prayer, while *requests (*deesis*), and *intercession (enteuxis)* are specific. Some modern commentators are prepared to go a bit further, suggesting that *deesis* expresses profound personal need, while *enteuxis* came to mean ‘to enter into a king’s presence and to submit a petition to him’. Perhaps G.W.Knight offers the most succinct statement to the effect that all four terms should delineate our prayers: ‘*deesis*, making requests for specific needs; *proseuchas*, bringing those in view before God; *enteuxeis*, appealing boldly on their behalf; and *eucharistias*, thankfulness for them’.
Although Paul uses this cluster of four words, they all focus on a single theme, namely that they should *be made for everyone* (1). This immediately rebukes the narrow parochialism of many churches’ prayers. Some years ago I attended public worship in a certain church. The pastor was absent on holiday, and a lay elder led the pastoral prayer. He prayed that the pastor might enjoy a good vacation (which was fine), and that two lady members of the congregation might be healed (which was also fine; we should pray for the sick). But that was all. The intercession can hardly have lasted thirty seconds. I came away saddened, sensing that this church worshipped a little village god of their own devising. There was no recognition of the needs of the world, and no attempt to embrace the world in prayer.
The Grand Rapids report (1982), by contrast, which summarized the findings of the Consultation on the Relationship between Evangelism and Social Responsibility, included this commitment:
We resolve ourselves, and call upon our churches, to take much more seriously the period of intercession in public worship; to think in terms of ten or fifteen minutes rather than five; to invite lay people to share in the leading, since they often have deep insight into the world’s needs; and to focus our prayers, both on the evangelization of the world (closed lands, resistant peoples, missionaries, national churches etc.) and on the quest for peace and justice in the world (places of tension and conflict, deliverance from the nuclear horror, rulers and governments, the poor and needy etc.). We long to see every Christian congregation bowing down in humble and expectant faith before our sovereign Lord.
I sometimes wonder whether the comparatively slow progress towards peace and justice in the world, and towards world evangelization, is due more than anything else to the prayerlessness of the people of God. When President Marcos was toppled in 1986, Filipino Christians attributed his downfall ‘not to people power but to prayer power’. What might not happen if God’s people throughout the world learned to wait upon him in believing, persevering prayer?
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy. 2:1-2. a). The church’s prayers should concern all people (continued).
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.