For the Good of Society
One night last week Melissa and I went out to dinner at one of favorite restaurants, and we went out a little later than usual, thinking that we would dodge the crowd, but it didn’t really matter. The restaurant was packed. We walked up and there were people standing by the doorway; everybody shoulder to shoulder, right in front of the hostess; we had to squeeze our way in through crowd to put our name on the wait list. And there was a 25-minute wait, which was fine.
And so as we were waiting, to kind of pass the time, Melissa and I started checking out the different tables, guessing when they would be available — we were trying to guess which one of these tables would be offered to us. And as we were looking, we had our preferences. We didn’t want the table too close to the door. We didn’t want the table in the middle of all the other tables. But still we just needed a table and so that’s what we were asking: “Where is our place in here?
This was a crowded room. People were everywhere; there was the rumbling of a hundred conversations happening at one time, and we wanted to know: where is our place in that?
It’s the same question that the church has to ask in relation to society. When it comes to the church as an institution — I’m talking about the corporate body of a local church — where is the church’s place in the crowded room of modern society?
Where is our place, and what do we do there?
Well, I think the apostle Paul answers that question in today’s passage, 1 Timothy Chapter 2, verses 1–4, and if I had to summarize “our place” in one, simple sentence, it would be this: The church is meant to be the agency of good in society. And Paul gives us three practical ways in this passage for how the church does this. And I want to just tell you what they are right away. As the church:
We seek the good of all people by prayer
We aim for the kind of society that allows us to thrive in godliness
We live ultimately for the pleasure of God
We’re going to look at each of these, but first let’s pray and then we’ll get started.
Father, again, in this moment, we come to you and ask for your help. Open our hearts to receive what you have for us today in your Word. Feed us, we pray, in Jesus’s name, amen.
So the church is meant to be the agency of good in society, and how we do that starts with:
1) We seek the good of all people by prayer
And I want to show you where I’m getting this. It has to do with how this passage is working in the context. Remember that Paul is writing to Timothy, and we’ve already seen in Chapter 1 the things that Paul is saying directly to and for Timothy.
in Chapter 1, verse 3, Paul urged Timothy to stay in Ephesus and stop the false teachers.
in Chapter 1, verse 18, Paul entrusted Timothy with the charge to wage the good warfare.
So this is Paul talking to Timothy about things Timothy must do, but then a change happens in Chapter 2, verse 1, because now Paul is starting to talk more about the church.
Beginning in Chapter 2, Paul is actually writing about the church and what the church is supposed to do, and that’s this whole section here from Chapter 2, verse 1 to Chapter 3, verse 13 — and Paul is going to talk about corporate worship, and Paul is going to talk about the offices of elder and deacon — but first Paul talks about the church’s place in the context of her surrounding society. That’s what Chapter 2, verses 1–7 are about, and Paul really just tells us to do one thing.
First Things First
Basically, there is one command for the church in this passage. It’s verse 1. Paul says,
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people …
This is the first thing that Paul says about the church before he gets into anything else, which means this is important. This is top-of-the-list stuff when it comes to how Timothy leads this local church. It’s kind of like Paul is saying,
Hey, Timothy, before we get into the nuts and bolts of how we behave within the church, let me tell you about the church’s posture toward the outside world. The first thing I urge the church to do is pray. Make all kinds of prayers for all kinds of people.
When Paul mentions in verse 1 “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving” he’s talking about the total package of what prayer is. Paul uses these same words for prayer interchangeably all throughout his letters. The only real difference in this list is thanksgiving, which means to give thanks. All the other words are basically synonyms. They all mean to pray, as in petition, request, intercede, come to God on behalf of someone else, and then also give thanks.
In this list, Paul is trying to be comprehensive on the subject of prayer. He is talking about every type of prayer, and he says they should be made for every type of person. Eugene Peterson paraphrases verse 1, “Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know” (MSG).
Praying Is Positive
And this means, if we just step back for a minute, Paul is telling the church to seek the good of everyone around her. To pray this way for others is to seek their good. These are positive prayers that are meant to be helpful. Paul is showing us that the church should have a giving/serving/loving stance toward her neighbors.
We know this much from Jesus. In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we, the church, are the light of the world, and therefore we must let our light shine. We want others to see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:13–16).
And now if we combine what Jesus says with what Paul says here we understand that a central part of our good works is our praying.
And this is actually a theme in the Bible that goes back to Abraham in Genesis 12.
Priests Meant to Bless
Remember that in Genesis 12 God chooses Abraham, and he says, I will bless you to be a blessing to others. Abraham and his offspring are chosen by God to be a blessing to all people. We remember that from the Book of Genesis.
Now fast-forward a little bit in the Book of Exodus, in Exodus Chapter 19. This is after God has rescued Israel from Egypt, and he’s about to give them the law, and God tells Israel that as his people they shall be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6).
Now of course, we know Israel doesn’t do a very good job of that. The rest of the Old Testament basically shows us the failure of Israel to be that kingdom of priests for the good of the world, but that doesn’t mean God’s purpose is lost.
Because in the Book of Isaiah, Isaiah looks ahead to the future and he envisions a day when indeed God’s people will be a kingdom of priests. Isaiah 61, verse 6, Isaiah is talking about the whole people of God, he says, “But you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God…”
And then in the New Testament the apostle Peter is all over this theme in 1 Peter Chapter 2. Peter is talking about the church in 1 Peter 2:9, and he says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession…”
And we can hear the echoes of the Old Testament in Peter’s words. He says we are priests. In this moment, right now, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the church together, as a corporate body — we are a royal priesthood in this world.
And what do priests do? They pray to God on behalf of others. Priestly duty means coming to God for an effect on someone else. And that effect, connecting back to Genesis 12, is meant to be a blessing for all people.
We as the church are to seek the good of all people by prayer.
Like What You Do
And my guess is that you know this. There’s even a good chance that many unbelievers know this. I wonder if this has ever happened to you. Maybe you have a co-worker who knows you’re a Christian. They know you’re part of a church but they’re not really interested themselves — but then some kind of crisis comes into their life. Something starts going wrong for them, and since they know you’re a Christian, they come to you, and what do they ask you to do? [They ask you to pray.]
And you should pray. And you should let your Community Group know so that they can pray. And then tell more people in the church so that they can pray. The church should pray.
We are to seek the good of all people by prayer.
That’s the first way the church is the agency of good in society. Here’s the second:
2) We aim for the kind of society that allows us to thrive in godliness.
So I have just mentioned again “society” and before I do anything else, I should probably explain what I mean. How do church and society relate?
And I just want to go ahead and tell you, I need you to hang with me for a minute here — I’m going to try to channel my inner Joe Rigney.
Well, when I use the word “society” I mean the conglomerate realities of life in a certain time and place that cooperate with some form of order. I’m using society in a broad sense that includes values and institutions. So society includes both culture and government, and the church. And when I say “church” I’m talking about visible, local churches.
Local churches are part of society. They help make up what a society is. And this doesn’t mean that Jesus is over one and not over the other. Jesus is over everything. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (see Matthew 28:18–20), which means, Jesus is sovereign over society — it’s just that the church is the only part of society that recognizes that … right now. One day every part all of society will recognize that — every knee will bow, every tongue will confess (see Philippians 2:9–11).
But right now, Jesus rules over the Twin Cities, and we are the institution in the Twin Cities that recognizes his rule — and we live like it’s true.
That’s how all this works. That’s what we’re doing here.
For the Governing Authorities
Now notice verse 2. Paul continues the sentence from verse 1: Make all kinds of prayer for all kinds of people, verse 2, “for kings and all who are in high positions.”
Paul is talking here about government authorities, and those authorities are an example of the “all people” in verse 1. There is an implied connection between the two clauses. Paul is saying “pray for all people, such as kings and all who are in high positions.” Pray for everybody, including kings and governors and presidents and so on. That’s what Paul us saying.
And pray for them for a purpose. These governing authorities are part of society, and they have a big influence on society, and so we should pray for them for this purpose, verse 2: “… so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
And this is a deep move by the apostle Paul.
Paul is saying, in summary: Pray for government leaders so that we, the church, can live in peace.
And this means that Paul is simultaneously doing two things: On the one hand, Paul is affirming the reality that the government impacts the church’s life. The state matters. Decisions of the government have an influence in society that affects our church. Paul shows us that here. That’s one hand.
And on the other hand, when Paul tells us to pray for the government, he is showing us that although the government has an impact on us, we have a higher authority than the government. We don’t pray to the government; we pray to God about the government.
So yes, church, the government is important. And yes, church, you answer to a higher authority. And you should pray to the higher authority about the lower authority for your benefit.
Again, this is verse 2: the purpose of these prayers is “so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in everyday.” Now what exactly does that mean?
Find Our Beach?
I don’t know about you, but when I hear “peaceful and quiet life” I imagine one of those Corona commercials where the guy is just sitting on the beach staring out into the ocean. He’s just kicked back. He’s got no worries. I love those commercials. I don’t actually know what that’s like in real life, but it seems peaceful and quiet. … And warm … and relaxing … and the sunshine is on your face and there’s a nice breeze in the air and there’s the sound of birds singing in the distance. It seems really nice.
Is that what we’re aiming for here? Is that the goal of our prayers? Is Paul telling us to find our own beach?
The answer is no. That’s not what Paul has in mind.
And the rest of verse 2 gives us more of his vision. We want to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Which means the peace and quiet are for being godly and dignified.
Those words are important. Paul uses the word “godly” over and over again in his two letters to Timothy, and it carries the idea of straightforward Christian conduct (see 1 Tim 3:16; 4:7–8; 6:3, 5–6, 11; 2 Tim 3:5). Godliness is the most basic way to talk about living a life that is congruent with the gospel.
And as for the word for dignity, it’s only used three times in the New Testament — twice here in 1 Timothy, and then once in Titus — and it simply means respect … which implies a context where other people are looking at you and making some type of valuation.
And that means that a peaceful and quiet life is not secluded on a beach somewhere. Paul is not saying that the church is supposed to be an isolated community, tucked away from the surrounding world. Instead, Paul is talking about the church within this world. The church is part of society, and the church has a mission to society. And that mission, in summary, is our godliness.
Our Mission of Godliness
Now what does our godliness entail? Well, godliness includes the priestly work of prayer, but then it goes far beyond that. Our godliness “in every way” means that we are completely surrendered to the lordship of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. It means …
your bank account
— it all belongs to Jesus. Godliness in every way means you know that Jesus is Lord …
in your home
in your family
with your friends
in your car
at your work
in what you say
what you hear
what you think
what you do
where you go
who you love
It all belongs to Jesus. And when we live this way, empowered by the Holy Spirit, of course we’re sharing the gospel and making disciples and caring for the needy and bearing burdens and loving one another and helping the weak and investing our time — that’s what it means to be godly.
And a lot of people want to call this sort of thing radical Christianity, but really, this is just godliness. This is simply faithful Christian living. This is life that is congruent to the gospel — and without a doubt, this kind of life means good for all people. The church’s godliness is good for society.
And we should pray for our government so that it’s influence in our society does not get in the way of our godliness.
That is Paul’s point.
We pray “for kings and all who are in high positions” so that they don’t interfere with our calling to live under the lordship of Jesus. We aim for the kind of society that allows us to thrive in godliness. We want the kind of society that allows the church to be agency of good to that society.
That’s what Paul is saying here, led by the Holy Spirit, although, for a lot of church history, this has not been the case. In just a couple years after Paul wrote these words, he was killed for his faith. Paul was leading the church to do good in the Roman Empire, and the Romans took his head. And getting beheaded is not a peaceful and quiet life. So what do we do with that?
But Then Suffering
Well, this gets into the topic of suffering and persecution, which Paul says is guaranteed in the Christian life, and it’s really fascinating because suffering has a direct connection to godliness.
In 2 Timothy Chapter 3, verse 12, Paul says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” They will suffer affliction.
Whether it’s from the government or somewhere else, suffering will happen, but by definition, suffering is never something that we want. What makes it suffering is that we did not ask for it. What we are asking for is wide open space for the sake of our mission. We don’t want trouble. We don’t want hardship. We just want to follow Jesus as truly as we can in our society — Paul says pray for that! We want the kind of society and the kind of setting where we can thrive in godliness.
We want obstacles to get out of our way so that people can see Jesus, but then sometimes God puts obstacles in our way so that people can see Jesus.
See, we want peace and quiet, and that’s right, but then the God who moves in mysterious ways sometimes gives us something different.
How many are there in this church who have asked for and hoped for something, but then God gives you something else? How many of us on the path of obedience have found ourselves at places we never wanted to be? We wanted a good thing, like a mission trip to Spain, but instead we got a painful thing, like a Roman sword?
I know that’s many of you, and I want you to know that we see Jesus in you. Although we didn’t want it this way, although it’s not what we asked for, people can see Jesus in your godliness in your suffering.
And when it comes to society, Paul tells us to aim for the kind of society that allows us to thrive in godliness. Paul says to pray for that, and so we should.
And this brings us to the third and final point. The church is meant to be the agency of good in society, and we do that when …
3) We live ultimately for the pleasure of God
You can see this in verse 3. Pauls says, verse 3, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”
And when he says “this” what is he talking about? Does he mean the praying? Does he mean a peaceful and quiet life? Does he mean our godliness? What is Paul talking about when he’s says this is good and pleasing in the sight of God?
Well, I think he’s talking about the whole thing. The whole scenario of the church praying for all people, for kings and those in high positions, so that we are allowed to thrive in godliness — all of that, Paul says, “is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”
And I think that tells us two things about God — the first thing is something Paul spells out in verse 4 and the second is an implication.
God Over All People
First, we see here that God is the God of over all people. This is verse 4. The reason that God is pleased with prayer for all people is because God, verse 4, “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” God cares about all kinds of people, and so God is pleased when we pray for all kinds of people.
Pastor Josh is going to talk about this next week, but because there is only one God, and because Jesus is the only way to God, that means God must be the God of all people. Which means, we must not belittle God by acting as if his supremacy does not apply to someone, or that his salvation cannot be extended to someone. God is the God of all people, Jew and Gentile, American and Russian, rich and poor, black and white, presidents and lunch ladies, ENFJs and ISTPs — God is the only God and he desires that every type of person be saved.
And so he is pleased when we pray for every type of person, including governing authorities, so that we thrive in godliness. All of that is pleasing to God, because God is the God over all people.
God Takes Pleasure
Second, we learn here in verse 3 that God takes pleasure in the things we do. And this is worth some thinking. You probably have a category that Christians should please God. We’ve heard that language before. Paul says that a lot in his letters. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:4,
Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9 that
Whether we are at home or away [whether by life or by death], we make it our aim to please [the Lord].
As Christians we want to please God. We get that, but let’s think about what that means.
Paul has already told us back in Chapter 1, verse 11 that God is happy. Remember it’s the “glorious gospel of the happy God.” God is happy in his essence as Father, Son, and Spirit. God is fundamentally full of joy in his trinitarian community that doesn’t need anything outside himself. The joy of God’s essence is matchless, eternal, wonderful joy, and yet, we can do things that please him. We can lead our lives in such a way that brings joy to the God who infinitely joyful. We can make decisions, and take actions, that delight the heart of God.
And isn’t that all that really matters? Isn’t that the main thing that sets the church apart from everyone else in society?
We live ultimately for the pleasure of God.
You have to imagine society is like this big crowded room. There are people standing by the doorway, everybody is shoulder to shoulder, and there are a hundred conversations happening at one time, and in that room, we’ve got a table. The church has a place. God is sovereign over the whole crowd, but we are the ones, from our place, who recognize that. And the most basic thing we want to do in our place is to live beneath and unto the joy of God. We are here to please God. And from that place, in that crowded room, God calls us to be the agency of good for everyone else around us, which means,
we seek the good of all people by prayer
we aim for the kind of room that allows us the thrive in godliness
because we live ultimately for the pleasure of God.
And that’s what brings us to the Table.
At this Table we are reminded that the only way we can bring joy to God is because of what Jesus has done — because Jesus, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross.
At the cross, Jesus took all of our sins and he died for us in our place so that now, by faith in him, we are forgiven and counted righteous. We can please God now because at the bottom line God is pleased with us because of Jesus. So we don’t work for God’s pleasure in our effort to please him; we work from God’s pleasure in our joy to please him. And that’s what we remember with the bread and cup.
So if you are here and you trust in Jesus, if you are united to him by faith, we invite you to eat and drink with us.