Teaching series from 1 Timothy

The Corporate Prayer Ministry of the Church

1 Timothy 2:1-10

Teaching t14015

Introduction

Brief reminder of the setting and purpose (read 3:14,15) – to explain how we can contribute to our church’s health.

Let’s look at another way we can do this – read 2:1-10.  It’s easy to get so focused on 2:4-6 (important soteriology) or on 2:8,9 (men have to lift their hands?; women not allowed to wear jewelry?) that we miss the main point here.  The main point is about the corporate prayer ministry of the church – Christians gathering together for the specific purpose of praying (out loud) together. 

2:1 uses four different words to refer to prayer.  2:8 shows that Paul is thinking about the men praying (does “in every place” refer to different home churches in Ephesus?) together, and 2:9 (“likewise”) assumes that the women will also pray in a group setting.

Yes, the Bible also emphasizes the importance of private individual prayer (e.g., Matt. 6:6) – but that’s not what this passage is about.  No, Paul is not referring to some kind of worship service, of which prayer is a part.  Such a meeting is neither described nor prescribed in the New Testament.

Let’s see what Paul teaches here about why this kind of prayer is so important, for whom we are to pray, and how we are to pray together.

WHY is this so important?

When Paul says “first of all,” he means not first in order (i.e., begin a meeting with prayer); he means first in importance.[1]  Whether he is saying that corporate prayer is always the number one priority for every church’s health, or that Timothy should prioritize corporate prayer in leading the Ephesian church back to health, this phrase emphasizes that this kind of prayer is crucially important for church health.  Why is this?

Jesus Himself emphasized that He will answer prayers offered in this context (read Matt. 18:19,20).  “Agree” (symphoneo) in context refers to Christians agreeing (out loud) together in their requests in response to the living Jesus’ presence and guidance.  We can more effectively discern His will and ask for it together.

Jesus promised His disciples that He would give them whatever provision of the Holy Spirit they needed to accomplish their mission (read Lk. 11:9-11,13).  The same author (Luke) narrates the beginning of the fulfillment of this promise in his sequel (Acts) – almost exclusively as answers to group prayer (e.g., Acts 1:14 >> 2:1ff.; 4:24-31; 12:5ff.; corporate prayer mentioned 12 times in first 13 chapters).

This is why we often say: “All genuine ministry is birthed, sustained, and advanced by prayer – especially corporate prayer.”   In addition, group prayer has several other wonderful benefits.  We experience deeper unity (personally and missionally) when we pray together.  We participate as a team when we pray together.  We see more glimpses of what God is doing among and through as we pray together.  God sometimes works in our hearts in a special way in this context (MY FIRST TIME; UNRELATED INSIGHTS).  We will tend to be more consistent in our private prayers when we pray with others regularly.  And we get refreshed and built up spiritually as we pray together (“limp in – dance out”).

No wonder Spurgeon said to church leaders: “Prayer meetings are the throbbing machinery of the church . . . Keep up the prayer-meeting, whatever else flags . . . If I were you, I would make the prayer-meeting a special feature of my ministry . . .”[2]  (Describe his “engine room” meetings.)  This is why it shouldn’t surprise us that powerful movements (missions; church-planting; evangelism; etc.) commonly begin with a few people committed to praying together (e.g. HAY-STACK MOVEMENT).

For WHOM should we pray?

Re-read 2:1.  Our corporate prayer should not be primarily for/about ourselves (private prayer is more for this), but for others (“on behalf of”).  And our group prayer should not be narrow, be wide-ranging (“for all people”).

Elsewhere, Paul emphasizes praying for other Christians (read Eph. 6:18).

But here he emphasizes praying for people who do not yet know Jesus as Lord (re-read 2:3-6 and explain the implication).  God wants them to come to know Him, and our prayers unleash His drawing and convicting influence toward them.  He also answers our prayer for opportunities to share Christ with others (Col. 4:3,4).

GOSPEL: God wants you to be saved; He wants you to come to the knowledge of the truth; Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for you; He is speaking to you right now!  Don’t miss this – there is an offer on the table for you!  And when you do respond, one of the great things that happens is that relating to God becomes personal.

Paul gives a specific exhortation to pray for civil authorities (re-read 2:2).  Why?  Because this will help them to do their job of preserving social peace and order (Rom. 13:1ff.).  And because when they do their jobs effectively, the gospel can spread more easily (“Pax Romana” as a key factor in 1st-century expansion; contra “the gospel spreads faster when the church is under persecution”).  When Paul gave this exhortation, pagan Rome was in power, Nero was emperor – and Roman officials had just kept him in four years of unjust imprisonment!  This is not some super-spiritual slogan – Paul believed that our prayers for civil authorities make a difference in the advance of the gospel!

How do you think Paul would respond to American evangelical Christians who are so passionate about their political views and who is in office?  I think he would ask: “Do you pray for them as often as you criticize them?  Are you as passionate about your neighbor’s salvation as you are your political views?”

HOW should we pray together?

Having considered why praying together is important and for whom we should pray, let’s consider what this passage teaches about how we are to pray together . . .

First of all, we should pray together consistently.  2:1 implies this by using the present tense (“be made”).  Clearly, Paul is not exhorting them to have a special prayer day, but rather an ongoing corporate prayer ministry.  As we saw earlier, the church in the book of Acts modeled this.  Passages like Col. 4:2 (“devote yourselves to prayer”) refer (if not exclusively, then inclusively) to commitment to regular corporate prayer.

On a common sense level, anything that is truly a priority must be scheduled.  Indeed, our schedule reveals what our true priorities are.  If we truly believe that corporate prayer is as important as the Bible says it is, we will make regular time for it.

In our church, we facilitate this by having home church prayer meetings (usually before or after another meeting; 30 minutes – 1 hour).  Some of our spheres also have monthly prayer concerts (EXPLAIN FORMAT).  Other forms smaller “pockets of prayer” – 3-4 people who gather weekly for this purpose.  I suppose that even an egroup or text group (e.g., for mothers of young children) is good – if the members involved are committed to pray for people.  To those who don’t like any of these options, come up with one!  Otherwise, as Moody said about another spiritual priority (evangelism), “I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t do it.”

Secondly, we should pray together alertly (read Col. 4:2).  We should try to show up already in the Spirit, ready to pray.  We should ask God to help us to not drift off, but to concentrate.  We should listen carefully to what others pray, and pray silently with them, and verbally affirm those prayers that are biblical (“Amen” – see 1 Cor. 14:16).  As the Lord puts something or someone on hearts to pray for, we should utter this prayer out loud so that all can hear it.

Thirdly, we should pray together in unity with one another, rather than in alienation from one another.  Re-read 2:8.  The point is not that men should lift their hands when they pray, nor that they should merely not fight during the prayer meeting.  It is that they should pray with devout hearts – specifically, with hearts that are free from simmering resentments, gossip, and ugly quarrels.  It is hypocritical to pray together with people you hate (read Matt. 5:23,24) – better to get reconciled, and then come pray.  This grieves the Spirit from leading us in prayer (Eph. 4:30).  God may not answer our prayers until we change our attitude toward one another (1 Pet. 3:7).

Fourthly, we should make this time to pray to God and primarily about others, not to draw attention to ourselves.  Re-read 2:9,10.  The point is not that women can’t wear jewelry or decent clothes at prayer meetings.  It is that they shouldn’t turn the meeting into fashion show or to flirt with men.  Other applications of this principle include:

Don’t pray primarily about your own problems, needs, etc.  Pour all of this out freely in private with your Father, but remember that corporate prayer if for intercession and thanksgiving.

Don’t be distracting through talking, checking your phone, being “loudly” silent, etc.

Don’t pray long prayers.  Try to be concise as well as personal and spontaneous.  If you tend to be long-winded, err on being too brief.  Better many short prayers than a few long monologues!  We may even need to admonish one another on this, as Spurgeon advises: “Do not hesitate to tell good Mr. Snooks that, God helping you, he shall not pray for five-and-twenty minutes. Earnestly entreat him to cut it short, and if he does not, then stop him.  If a man came into my house intending to cut my wife's throat, I would reason with him as to the wrong of it, and then I would effectually prevent him from doing her any harm; and I love the church almost as much as I love my dear wife. So, if a man will pray long, he may pray long somewhere else, but not at the meeting over which I am presiding.”[3]

Conclusion

As we close, this is a good time to ask yourself a very practical question: “How can I take my corporate prayer participation up a notch?”  Consider the following possibilities:

Break the “corporate prayer barrier?”  When I was a kid, jets were regularly breaking the sound barrier by exceeding the speed of sound.  The planes would shudder and shake as they approached this speed.  But when they reached it, there was a “sonic boom,” after which they flew smoothly.  Most young Christians shudder and shake as they think about praying out loud with other Christians.  Part of this is just the nerves that come with any new step, but part of it is probably also spiritual opposition (“It’s not that important;” “you’ll make a fool of yourself;” etc.).  I can only say that this was a key step in my early Christian life – one that broke something loose inside of me and freed the Holy Spirit to assure and empower me more.  If God is speaking to you, do this today/this week!

Pray more frequently with my spouse and children and friends?  You might be amazed how much this can help your marriage!  You might be amazed what a powerful gift this is to your children!  You might be amazed at how this deepens your friendships!

Commit to my home church’s prayer meeting?  Almost every home church in Xenos has a regular (usually weekly) prayer meeting to pray for one another, non-Christian friends and family members, other ministries, etc.  Most are immediately before or after other scheduled meetings.  Can you commit to weekly/bi-weekly, all/part of the time, etc.?

Commit to our sphere’s prayer concert?  Some of our spheres have monthly meetings to hear from and pray for our sphere’s home churches, ministry teams, missions’ teams, etc.  Can you take turns if you’re married?

Help facilitate or lead a prayer meeting?  Maybe you could host (your or student home church; ministry team).  Maybe you can gather prayer requests, report answers, organize the schedule, etc.  Consider this especially if you have a prayer gift.

Champion corporate prayer with others?  Especially gifted intercessors/prayer-warriors have a key role here!

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS



[1] “πρῶτον πάντων, ‘above everything else,’ tells us that the instruction in 2:1–7 is the single most significant change Timothy can effect.” Mounce, W. D. (2000). Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 46, p. 78). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting and The Soul Winner

[3] C. H. Spurgeon, from The Soul Winner