Public Prayer: Its Importance and Scope
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Public Prayer: Its Importance and Scope

1 Timothy 2:1–8  (ID: 1956)

Criticizing those in positions of leadership is common, even among Christians. Alistair Begg reminds us that because Christ died so that all may be saved, we should pray for all, including our leaders. Rather than complain, we should accept God’s providence and seek to please Him in our conversations.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Timothy, Volume 1

God’s Household of Faith 1 Timothy 1:1–4:16 Series ID: 15401

Sermon Transcript: Print

Can I encourage you to take your Bibles and turn to 1 Timothy chapter 2, where we continue our studies? And we’re going to read the first eight verses. Paul is writing to Timothy as a young pastor facing the potential confusion and controversy of some within his church who are raising their ugly heads and causing trouble:

“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I[’m] telling the truth, I[’m] not lying—and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.

“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”

Father, before we turn to the Word of the Lord, we turn to you, the Lord of the Word, and acknowledge that without your help, we can do nothing as we ought. And so we pray that you would help in speaking and hearing, in understanding and in obeying. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

I have just two main headings this morning, with three subpoints under each. But I want first of all to fly across the passage, as it were, at thirty-five thousand feet and tell you what’s here, so that if you get stumbled along the journey in some of the detail, you might be able to remember the overview. So, with your eyes on the first eight verses—and you might want just to follow down—let me summarize what’s being said by Paul.

Paul is urging prayer for all kinds of individuals, and specifically those in authority, with a view to civil peace in which godly living may flourish. The grounds for such prayer is that it is good and acceptable to God, and particularly so as we contemplate him as the Savior who desires all sorts of people to be saved. That God would have all sorts of people to be saved is a necessary corollary to the truth of monotheism; and of the provision of only one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus; and of the extent of the provision of the Mediator’s ransom, which is for all sorts of people. Paul’s own career in proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles, not just to the Jews, beats out of the “all,” encompasses all sorts of people. Since all these things are true, people in every place should pray with a godliness in accord with the gospel. Can’t even read my own writing there; that should be “bears out”: that Paul’s own career in proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles bears out that the “all” which you find in verse 1, verse 4, and verse 6 encompasses all sorts of people. And since all these things are true, people in every place should pray with a godliness in accord with the gospel.

Now, that’s it. That’s the whole thing right there. So we could have the benediction and go. But I can tell that that wasn’t particularly impressive to many of you, and so there’s probably good reason for me to pause for a moment or two and see if I can’t work it out a little better than that.

Remember that Paul’s concern is with these people who are confusing the believers in Ephesus as they introduce controversy of various kinds. Timothy must be clear, according to 3:15, “how people … conduct themselves [with]in God’s household.” And there are several issues to which Paul is now about to give his attention concerning the organization of the church, to which Timothy needs to pay the most careful attention—for example, the issue of women, to which we will come next time (proves to be a very exciting Sunday in the offing), and the order of leadership in the church: who the deacons are and so on. All of these pressing and practical matters are to be, for Timothy, a concern that stirs both his heart and his mind.

Now, the two words under which I want to gather my thoughts this morning are these: first of all, exhortation, and then explanation.

Paul’s Exhortation

Exhortation: Paul exhorts Timothy. And the phrase that gives the key to that is the opening phrase there in verse 1, “I urge, then…”

You will notice that it’s the same phrase as he used in 1:3, and there is a rightful sense in which we might say that he is picking up the emphasis with which he has begun the letter. Because he was urging him, as he had urged him while he was there in Macedonia, to engage in this certain activity. He then gets on to the issue of the law, then from there on to the matter of the gospel, and now he comes back; he says, “Now, let me urge you in relationship to all that I’ve been saying.” So this is his exhortation. It’s a strong word, parakaleō—the same word that is used, for example, in Romans 12, where Paul says, “I beseech you,” or “I entreat you to present your body as a living sacrifice to God.”[1] That is the word that he is using here.

And so we note first under this word exhortation, we note the priority. The priority. Why do we know it’s a priority? Well, because it says so. It says, “First of all…” And when a mother says, “Now, there are a number of things I want you to do, and the first one is these,” the child knows, “This is a priority”—not necessarily sequentially but in terms of emphasis. And it’s probably not a reference to time here, but it is to the primacy of the importance of praying in this particular way.

He uses four words that are virtually synonymous with one another, but they’re important. “Requests,” he says—the cries of those who recognize their need and the needs of others. “Prayers,” which is a generic word for any humble entreaty by which a man or a woman would approach God with their needs. “Intercession”—the kind of prayer that emerges from a sense of identification with these very needs of others. And then “thanksgiving,” which, interestingly, is the one aspect of prayer which we will still engage in when we get to heaven. When we get to heaven, there will be no more need for prayers and requests and intercession, because we will see and be known even as we are seen and known,[2] but there still will be plenty of scope for eucharistos, for thanksgiving.

“Now,” says Paul, “I want you to make sure—I urge you—that as a primary emphasis in your ministry, as a priority, that this kind of prayer will be being made.” Now, that’s so far, so good, till you come to the final two words in verse 1. This would be the staggering dimension that would hit not only Timothy but also the other readers. For whom are the believers to pray in this way? Answer: “For everyone.” “For everyone”! Now, again, remember that the background to this is that there are “certain men,” to whom he refers in 1:3, who have tied themselves in genealogical knots, and they have sought to tie other people up with them in the same intricacies. They have concerns about the law which are misguided. They are in error in relationship to the approach that they bring to bear upon this issue of the gospel. And more than anything else, they are insisting upon the exclusiveness of the gospel. And therefore, they would have been prepared to say, “Yes, we must issue requests and prayers and intercessions and thanksgiving, but we only do it for our inner circle. We’re only going to pray for the people that we think it’s right to pray for. And we know who they are because of our particular genealogical charts, etc. Therefore, our prayers are focused in this exclusive way.”

So Paul writes, and he says, “Timothy, it is a matter of primary importance that you understand and teach that we are to pray for all people—not simply those who belong to our domain, but that the heart of God is way beyond that, and if we are to have the heart of God for his creatures, then we must go beyond our own particularities.” And he illustrates what he’s saying. He says, “Let me give you a couple of groups, for example. Thanksgiving and prayer should be made for everyone. For example,” he says, “for kings and for those in authority.”

It’s interesting why he would mention “kings and … those in authority,” is it not? If you think about it for a moment or two, perhaps you would conclude, as did I, that it is for these people… These are the kind of people that we are most tempted to despise, to reject, to dismiss, and to abandon: those who are in authority. Certainly, I’m not going around with my eyes closed or my ears closed, and I don’t want to take to myself the higher ground and play the resident alien trip. But it is staggering to me to listen to American Christians despise, reject, criticize, abuse, and abandon the president, the vice president, and those in authority. Where did we get the idea that we can pray for who we like, and for the people we don’t like, we just don’t pray for them? That was what was going on in Ephesus: “You don’t like the king? Don’t pray for him. You don’t like the queen? The emperor? You don’t need to pray for them.” Paul says, “You’d better understand something: you’ve got to pray for the whole lot of them!” You might not like Prince Charles. Neither may I. Pray for him.

Now, you see, this is in direct accord with the ministry to which Paul himself had been called. If you go back to Acts 9 at your leisure, you will discover that when Paul was set apart to the ministry of the gospel, he was told that he would bear the name of Christ before kings and before the gentiles[3]—which is a most unlikely thing for this little Jewish man to do. You may anticipate that he would go to the Jews because he liked Jews, but he hated these gentiles, and he particularly hated the ones who named the name of Christ. Now he’s been arrested by the risen Christ, and he’s given a job, and he says, “This is who I want you to go to: I want you to go to the gentiles.” The gentiles! “I don’t like gentiles! They’re not in my ballpark. They’ve never been. They wear different uniforms. They look different. They don’t have the right kind of facial structure. I don’t like those people.” God says, “You’re my man, Paul.” Now Paul says, “Listen, let me tell you: don’t draw your circle too tight. Pray for these people.”

Now, I don’t have time to work this out this morning in terms of the Christian in relationship to the state. And you know me well enough to know that I think that we have got this, by and large, in evangelical America, completely by the wrong end of the stick. And everybody everywhere I go has me bend over so they can kick the seat of my pants for ever saying so, but that’s okay. I’m well used to it now. But listen here—Romans 13:1: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

I don’t think we’ve thought this out. I don’t think we have come close to thinking it out. Every time I get an interview on the radio and someone calls me up—they asked me just this week, Thursday, from Sacramento: “Well, how do you explain the fact that this man did this and infected all these people with AIDS, and this happened, and that happened, and the next thing happened?” I said, “Because we are under the judgment of God”—Romans chapter 1. We’re bringing judgment on ourselves. And the very thing that we’re being told is the answer to reversing the drift may be the very dimension which makes the judgment all the deeper. Because instead of doing what 1 Timothy 2 says to do—namely, to pray for these people—we just think we can criticize them, malign them, slander them, tell jokes about them, listen to our particular little radio stations, which pull the carpet out from underneath them. I’m not pointing the finger at anybody except myself. It was a priority in the context of Ephesus. I suggest to you, loved ones, it is a priority in the context of Cleveland. So I am called onto the carpet by the Word of God. And I have a funny feeling that if I look around, there may be some others standing beside me.

So the exhortation is to face the priority. The purpose—which is the second subpoint; there’s the priority and the purpose. What is the purpose of doing this? Well, we’re told at the end of verse 2. You don’t have to be brilliant to work this out; you just need to understand the English language: “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Paul says there is a benefit that attaches to the common life of God’s people when we live in peace and quiet—when we live with a proper sense of God and of our responsibility to him for what he wants to do with our lives. And these are distinct benefits: that peace may be established and that piety may flourish. Piety is not a word that is popular in our day, but godliness and holiness is simply an extrapolation of the old-fashioned notion of piety.

So, instead of believers taking it as a mandate from somewhere that we exist in order to create a disturbance, that we exist to make a general nuisance of ourselves, that we exist to be disobedient—civilly disobedient, with a passionate commitment—instead of that, look at what it says: “I actually want you,” he says, “to be involved in praying so that as a result of praying”—and, of course, we’ve never seen the result of our praying, ’cause we’ve never really done this—“so that as a result of praying, there may be the experience of peace, and in that arena of peace there may flourish the establishment of godliness and holiness and the practical expressions of the same.”

Now, where are we in relationship to this? Paul says in 2 Corinthians [10]:3—“We live in the world,” he says. “We do[n’t] wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” What is this? It is prayer and the preaching of the Word of God. That’s why he urges Timothy in the way that he does. That’s why he’s going to say in his second letter, “Preach the Word of God in season and out of season.”[4] People say, “Oh, you don’t think that preaching the Word of God makes a difference, do you? You don’t think that somewhere away in a back room in the corner of some building, that people crying to God in prayer for the president and for kings and for authorities is going to make a difference?” Absolutely we do! Why? Because God’s Word says it does. Do you think the Berlin Wall came down as a result of Ronald Reagan’s ingenuity? The Berlin Wall came down as a result of the prayers of the people of God crying out to him. He may have used Reagan, Thatcher, and some of the others. God sets them up; God brings them down—and in answer to prayer.

You see, we’re pointing over here: “This is the reason we’re in chaos. This is the reason we’re in confusion. This is the reason for this, and those bad people, and this bad—and everything else.” And we’re staring the Bible straight in the face that says, “I urge you, as a priority, to get down on your knees and pray for these people.” I am so much up on my feet talking about them that I don’t have time to get down on my knees and pray for them.

We have yet to see what genuine, believing prayer will do. And I’m not talking about the World Day of Prayer, where you go down on Public Square, and one guy chants to an Indian god, and another guy chants to a Buddhist god, and somebody else chants to something else. Forget that nonsense! We’ll come to that later on. There is only one way to pray, there is only one God to whom we can pray, and there is only one way of access to that one God. We’re about to see that. So you can’t say that prayer is whatever you want it to be, speaking to whoever you want to talk to, and getting whatever your little mind desires. And to speak like that, of course, people say, “Oh, you’re just as bad as that lady in the Plain Dealer said you were.”

Persecution—read your Bibles and check and see; you’re sensible people—persecution should be the result of righteous living, not the result of civil disobedience. When the church is persecuted, it is because it did the right thing, not because it did the wrong thing. You’re not supposed to be persecuted for shooting people in abortion clinics. You’re not supposed to be persecuted for gumming up the traffic as a result of sitting in the road. You’re supposed to be persecuted because you uphold a standard of righteousness and that the people cannot find anything to say about your behavior because you put to silence the foolish talk of men who hate you because of the quality of your life.[5] And what they hate is purity. What they hate is obedience. What they hate is clarity. What they hate is loving your wife passionately—that kind of thing.

The reason many people hate us is because we’re hateful. The reason they don’t want to talk to us is because I don’t want to talk to half of these people. Why would you ever talk to that person? Ugly-looking, angry, cantankerous rascal, standing there with a big sign to explain the compassionate love of God for those who don’t feel the same way that they feel. Doesn’t work. Can’t have a gun in the one hand and a Bible in the other hand. It’s total hypocrisy.

Persecution should be the result of righteous living, not the result of civil disobedience.

So the exhortation has a priority: “Pray for these people.” The priority has a purpose: “so that you might be able to live in peace and, in the experience of peace, so that piety may flourish.” And who are the personnel that are to lead this charge? Allow your eye to go forward to verse 8. Men are given the responsibility of leading the prayers: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands.” The word for “men” here does not mean people. He’s not saying, “I want people to do this.” He says, “I want men to do this,” in the same way that in verse 9, he says, “I want women…” He doesn’t mean “people”; he means “women.” So he’s very, very clear about what he wants men to do and what he wants women to do.

Remember, we said at the very beginning that the authority of Paul was the authority of Jesus—that you cannot say, “Well, I like the words of Jesus, but I don’t like the words of Paul”? You can’t say, “Well, I accept what Jesus said, but I don’t accept what Paul said,” because the authority of Paul is the authority of the risen Christ given to his apostles, and given in Scripture, it carries the same authority. So here’s the deal: Who has the responsibility of leading the people in these prayers? The men do.

Now, this would be no surprise to the folks who had come from the synagogue. They understood it perfectly. But some of them, and others, would have wondered whether Paul’s emancipation—that is, his spiritual emancipation of women—might have implied some kind of change in their position in public worship. I’m referring to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, says Paul, a man or a woman comes to faith in the Lord Jesus in the exact same way. It is the same grace that is poured out on one as is poured out on the other. It is the same welcome that is given to the one as to the other. The son becomes a son of God. The man becomes a son, the lady becomes a daughter. There is equal standing. There is equal access. There is equal privilege. There is no inferiority within the framework of the experience of salvation.

Okay, so the people say, “Well, in light of that, does that mean that anybody can do anything in the church?” “No,” says Paul. “I’m glad you asked.” Because in the same way that equality of standing in grace before God does not invert the role relationships within the family and remove the husband’s position of leadership or remove the woman’s position in submission—in the same way within the church. So the men, he says, are to take the lead. The presence of women is assumed. He’s going to address it in verse 9 and following. But in terms of the expression of public worship, probably the key illustration (and this will not be liked by all) is that of Hannah, who, in 1 Samuel 1:13, it says of her, “She sp[o]ke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard.”[6] Now, throughout the summer, I’ve been gone from here. I’ve gone to all different churches. With frequency, I’ve sat down in the church; the first person on their feet is a lady. Nice lady. She’s now the leader. She’s telling what’s going on. Next person’s up, does the prayers—is a lady. The offering is a lady. The preacher is a lady. Nice ladies! Shouldn’t be there. Shouldn’t be there. Who says? God’s Word says.

Now, if we want simply to capitulate to the spirit of the age, then anything goes. But he says, “I want these men to have hands that are representative of purity. Because who can ascend the hill of the Lord, and who can stand in his holy place, but only he who has clean hands and a pure heart?”[7] So the hands are expressive of the heart that is pure. And we don’t make this as a standard approach in prayer—as a result of discovering this—then all of a sudden, everybody that stands up’s supposed to hold their hands up and do this. No. This is only one of the postures of prayer. It legitimizes the fact that if you want to stand and pray like this, that’s fine, but you don’t have to. Because you also find in the Bible people lying on their faces praying, people sitting down and praying, people standing with their hands like this. There’s all kinds of ways that you can do it. The issue is not the posture externally; the issue is the heart. And he says, “I want that these men will be the men who lift up holy hands in prayer and, unlike the errorists, who are causing all this confusion and controversy, that they would do so without anger and without disputing.”

So, there’s his word of exhortation. The priority is prayer, especially for those whom we might like to leave off the list. The purpose is the establishment of peace so that piety may flourish. And that piety is expressed in godliness, which is a reverence for God that comes from a knowledge of God, and holiness, which is a moral expression of that internal relationship with God. The personnel that are involved in leading this are the men of verse 8.

Paul’s Explanation

Now, let me come to my last word—second and last. That is the word explanation.

What is the explanation that Paul gives? Well, you’ll find it in verse 3: “Why have I given you this exhortation?” he says. Well, first of all, because of God’s pleasure. Verse 3: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” Interestingly, this, it should be the standard criterion by which we gauge all of our public worship. The real question is “Is this good, and does it please God our Savior?” Not “Does this please me, or please him, or please the next person?” but “Is this good and pleases God our Savior?” He said, “Let me tell you, this is good and pleases God our Savior. Because,” he says, “there is point in praying on behalf of all men to one whose nature it is to save.” That’s what he’s saying there in verse 3. Rather than falling into the trap of thinking that it’s just our own little group, Paul says, “I want you to understand that this God, our Savior, wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And he comes back to this in verse 6 when he talks about what Jesus has done.

Now, loved ones, I just need to say quickly in passing that the great temptation here is to use these verses for a big excursus on the merits and demerits of your particular systematic theology—particularly any predilections that you have towards Calvinism and Reformed theology. And you can stay up for three nights in a row arguing back and forward about these issues. And I’ll tell you how to avoid it. And that is, remember that you need a big T and a small f. You need a big T and a small f. F stands for framework. T stands for text. All of us have some kind of framework with which we come to the Bible. We have to have some kind of system of theology. We understand it in a Trinitarian fashion; therefore, we know that there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That helps us to read our Bibles. We understand that Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament and was discovered in the Gospels, and that helps us to understand our Bibles. But when we move beyond that to systems of theology, which are the extrapolations of the best of men, and we then seek to make our big F squeeze this T into submission, we put ourselves in real danger. That’s why any time you come to something like this, you’ve got to say to yourself, “Big T, wee f. Big T, wee f.” In other words, “Got to bring my framework underneath the text rather than press my f down on the text.”

Now, I can take you up the stairs, line up all my commentaries. We’ll put all on the left-hand side the people who all say it one way, the people who all say it the other way, and they can come in here; they can argue till we die, banging, banging, banging, banging. Well, I’ll tell you what the answer is: get the Scriptures out, and let the Scriptures speak. And take the Scriptures for what they say when they say it.

What is the context? The context is there are a group of people who are exclusivists—who are trying to argue that God is concerned only for a certain rarefied group of people who toe the line in a certain way. Paul says, “I’m going to have none of that.” He says, “I want you to understand that the issue of the gospel is for all kinds of people.” And I use the word kind, I insert it, because I think that is the accurate way to understand this: that this expression here is of the magnanimity of God towards some of the most unlikely people. Rather than bowing to the errorists, who thought that God wished the destruction of sinners and the salvation of the righteous or that salvation was the province of a small number of spiritual elite, Paul says, “Let me underscore the universal scope of God’s appeal.” Because there is tremendous universal appeal in this, is there not?

Now, what do you bear in mind? You bear this in mind: that Paul was not contradicting himself in Ephesians 1, nor was he contradicting himself in Romans chapter 8, or 9, 10, and 11 for that matter. There is no contradiction! Any and all confusion emerges from the dullness of our minds and from the fact that God has allowed us to “see through a glass, darkly.”[8] So instead of coming to the text and trying to squeeze it into subjection to my f or accommodate it over here, I’m going to allow the Bible to say what the Bible says. Then there’s freedom.

Says Donald Guthrie, my late professor of New Testament theology, “Even if it is difficult to reconcile this statement with Paul’s teaching elsewhere [on] the sovereignty of God, no one would deny that these words fairly represent the magnanimity of the divine benevolence.”[9] That God would have all men to be saved is shown, as we shall see, by his provision of a ransom that is sufficient for all men. Look at verse 6: he “gave himself as a ransom for all men.” So, says Wilson, the church must “never hug the gospel to itself, but must always seek to fulfil its commission to preach the good news to every creature.”[10] To every creature!

Ezekiel 33:11: God desires not the death and destruction of any but the welfare and salvation of all. He desires that. Has he decreed that? Clearly not. Because if he had decreed the salvation of all, all would be saved. But not all are saved. Therefore, there is a distinction between what he desires and what he decrees. How can that possibly be? I do not know. But I know that it is. And therefore, I put my hand over my mouth instead of trying to squeeze the Word of God into my framework. And I rise on the highest pinnacle of the earth, and I proclaim the gospel to everyone who has ears to hear. And I know that God will redeem those whom he has purposed to save, and I know that the magnanimity of his love extends to the whole world, and I do not yet understand how those two things—the secretive and the declarative will of God—coalesce. But that’s his problem, and it’s not a problem for him. It’s not my concern.

I listen to some of you guys out there, hyper-Reformed boys: you’re concerned if you preach the gospel to the wrong person, the wrong person might get saved. So you don’t want to let… “I don’t want to preach it to—whoa! Wait a minute! I don’t think you should have been getting saved. I’m not sure you’re in the group.” What do you mean, “in the group”? If you breathe, you’re in the group! If you have ears to hear, you’re in the group! And if you choose not to respond, it’s your own fault, not God’s.

Now, there is an antithesis: Christ himself before Jerusalem. “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou who stonest the prophets, how often would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not come!”[11] And that sits right beside “I thank you, Father, that there are none of those whom you have chosen that are not gathered in.” Just allow the Bible to say what the Bible says. God has a good will to the salvation of all men, but when men and women perish, it’s their own fault.

Incidentally—and I’ve got to wrap this up—in being saved, men and women “come to a knowledge of the truth.” Will you notice that? They “come to a knowledge of the truth.” He “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth,” not a knowledge of truth—some kind of truth. When we come tonight to deal with the matter of Communion, I’m going to tackle this in part and in passing: Can a person be truly brought to faith in Jesus Christ and then be led to a knowledge of the truth, and on the one hand believe that the sacrifice of the Mass continues to sacrifice, literally, Christ, and another person says, “Oh, no, that cannot possibly be”? Where is the truth? And if God, in saving, brings to a knowledge of the truth, then we anticipate that people would be brought to the same place.

Now, that’s why God’s pleasure is made clear, and his provision is made plain. In verse 6: he “gave himself as a ransom for all men.” “Who did?” The one God. “You mean there is only one God?” Yes, there is. And there is only one Mediator between man and God—not an angel, not an avatar, not a special lady. “There is one mediator between God and m[a]n, the man Christ Jesus.” For it is only man who is able to represent man to God. It is only God who can bring God to man. The only person who could ever bridge the gap between a holy God and sinful man is none other than the Lord Jesus himself. And the way in which this has been accomplished is by the paying of a price, the giving of a ransom, the offering of a substitution. And God has done this in its proper time. You can think about that in relation to Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21, and so on. God, at the right time, has provided this.[12] And Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man did[n’t] come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[13]

So, since the work of Christ is sufficient for all, the appeal of the gospel is universal. Since the work of Christ is sufficient for all, the appeal of the gospel is universal. This is the cliché that I’ve always learned: that the mediatorial work of Christ is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect. It is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect. This is my good friend MacArthur: “Because Christ’s expiation of sin is indivisible, inexhaustible, and sufficient to cover the guilt of all the sins that will ever be committed, God can clearly offer it to all. Yet only the elect will respond and be saved, according to His eternal purpose.”[14] But since we don’t know who the elect are, that is none of our business. And the offer of the gospel, the universal appeal of the gospel, is just that: “Come unto me and be saved all ye ends of the earth.”[15] And don’t you let anybody limit the appeal of the gospel by some big F that they keep producing from the flyleaf of their Bible.

Finally, God’s pleasure, God’s provision, and God’s preacher. Says Paul, “This is the amazing thing” (it’s the same amazement that you find in 1:11): “And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and … apostle.” He says, “I[’m] telling the truth, I[’m] not lying—and [I would become] a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.” “To the Gentiles.” Here’s the final proof that the church must pray for all men. Paul references his own appointment to the evangelizing of the gentiles. And here in the Ephesian church were these exclusivists, and their appeal to the gospel was largely ignoring the gentiles. Paul says, “We can’t do that.”

He says, “I urge that prayers be offered for everyone.” Why? Because there’s only one God, and everyone needs to know the one God. And since the one God has only revealed himself savingly and finally in one Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, then all men everywhere need to know about Jesus. It’s as simple as that. If all roads lead to heaven like they do to Timbuktu, then shut the door, and let’s get on with life. Let’s go somewhere for lunch for the rest of our lives. There is no concern. But if what the Bible says is true, then who will pray for Iran? Who will go to Iraq? Who will bear the burden of the Muslims in North Africa? Who will get up from their seat here and say, “You know what? I don’t care if nobody ever knows me again in all of my life. I want to give myself to see unbelieving people way beyond the pale of my understanding come to faith in Jesus Christ. And even if I labor for all of my life and just see one person come to faith, maybe that person will be the catalyst in their neighborhood or in their town or city for a generation yet to come.” That’s what stirred Hudson Taylor. That’s what charged Gladys Aylward. That’s what took Carey out there.

Since the work of Christ is sufficient for all, the appeal of the gospel is universal.

Why is there such a diminishing concern for the needs of the world? Because we’re preoccupied with the needs of America. We’re so ticked off that Little House on the Prairie isn’t on a prairie anymore, that it’s not all “Good night, John Boy” and everything, that the thing is unraveling at the fringes, that we said, “We’d better get together and get this all put back.” Well, where are we supposed to put it all back?

See, do you know what the problem is in my heart? I’m a Jonah. You can call me Jonah. Remember Jonah? God says, “Go to Nineveh.” He says, “I fancy Tarshish”; goes to Tarshish; gets thrown out the boat; lands up in the belly of the fish; in the belly of the fish, does one of the best prayers you’ve ever heard from a man in your life—hardly surprising—which could be summarized, in a phrase, “O God, get me out!” God gets him out and says, “Okay, let’s start back on plan A,” which is Nineveh. He goes to Nineveh, does what God says, and the people in Nineveh repent in sackcloth and ashes, and they turn to the living God. And he goes over in a corner, and he’s ticked off.

Why is he ticked off? Because the people, the foreigners—the people that he didn’t like, that he didn’t care about—got converted. He wanted a God who was compassionate enough to save him but not a God who was compassionate enough to save people that he didn’t have on his list. “O God, save the world, but don’t save the lady three houses up on the left-hand side, ’cause she absolutely ticks me off. O God, save everybody, but don’t save my boss. God, I know you…” We do it all the time: “Save people, Lord, but not…” Do you have anyone on your list? The history of the church is dreadful on this stuff, whether it’s the Southern States in the time of slavery, whether it’s South Africa pre-apartheid, whatever it is—the dreadful temptation to miss the point that God desires that the gospel would be universal in its appeal so that the medicine would be offered to all.

Sorry to go on. Let’s just pray:

O God our Father, we’re convicted by the Book. I know I am. Sometimes I’m more concerned just to get everything right so that it’s tidy and livable and okay for my kids and potential grandchildren. I think about Peter being martyred upside-down, Paul with his head chopped off, the apostles beaten from pillar to post, homosexual Roman emperors, prostitutes coming out of the church and roaming the streets at night, the temple of Diana—hell on earth. And I’m struck that Paul just continued to do what he urged Timothy to do: to proclaim the news that Jesus Christ is the only Savior for sin. Lord, I pray that you would keep us here at the point of simplicity and profundity as it relates to the issues of the gospel. Save us from pride, from wrongful exclusivism. Help us to put people back on our list that we’ve taken off. Stir our hearts for the needs of our world, we pray.

And may grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the triune God, be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] Romans 12:1 (paraphrased).

[2] See 1 Corinthians 13:12.

[3] See Acts 9:15.

[4] 2 Timothy 4:2 (paraphrased).

[5] See 1 Peter 2:15.

[6] 1 Samuel 1:13 (KJV).

[7] Psalm 24:3–4 (paraphrased).

[8] 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV).

[9] Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 71.

[10] Geoffrey B. Wilson, The Pastoral Epistles: A Digest of Reformed Commentary (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 39.

[11] Matthew 23:37 (paraphrased).

[12] See Romans 5:6.

[13] Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45 (NIV 1984).

[14] The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1863.

[15] Isaiah 45:22 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.