This morning’s reading from Paul’s letter to Timothy is a bit of a gift to a preacher, with all the things that are going on in our world at the moment, so you won’t be surprised to hear that we are going to be focussing on that this morning. For those of you perplexed at the parable in the gospel reading, join the club, exactly what Jesus meant by appearing to commend fraud is a question that has troubled Christian thinkers since it was written. The punchline, however, is the important point, rather than getting hung up on the details. Be trustworthy with the little things, such as money, and you will be entrusted with true heavenly riches. You can’t serve God and money, don’t try. Simple.
But, as I said, I am going to focus on this letter from Paul to Timothy. We read about the founding of the church in the city of Ephesus in Acts 19, and Paul’s tearful farewell to the leaders of the church he planted there in Acts 20. When Paul left Ephesus, he’d left his protege Timothy there to lead the church. It seems like things hadn’t been going that smoothly, so Paul wrote at least two letters to Timothy to give him some guidance and encouragement.
Having begun the letter with some words to Timothy, encouraging and urging him to continue teaching good doctrine with courage and perseverance, Paul goes on to give some instructions for the life of the church.
He begins with a section on prayer, indeed he says that prayer should be “first of all” – but actually only gets a sentence into it when he is distracted into a riff on what it means for God to be Saviour. We’ll get to that in a minute, but first lets spend a bit of time on this instruction to pray.
In this instruction we find these four different words for prayer. It’s possible that Paul uses this piling up of similar words to emphasise his point, but it’s more likely that as well as this, he is using different words to include different aspects of prayer. It’s not like “location, location, location” or “education, education, education”. Each word is different and carries slightly different meaning. To expand these a bit, Paul is saying, “Make requests for specific needs, bring these in view before God, appeal boldly on behalf of others, and be thankful.”
And who is it that Paul is particularly encouraging his readers to do this for? “For kings and all those in authority”. Over the last week, a lot of people have been going into church buildings, perhaps for the first time, to say a prayer for the Queen’s family. Tomorrow, many millions of people will watch her funeral service and will join in the prayers for the royal family. But, what about at other times, in more normal times, what might this look like?
Well, every week that we have Morning Prayer here at St Catherine’s, we pray for the royal family and the government. So we do this corporately, but I wonder how often we pray for the government, both national and local, in our private prayers? Maybe this is something we could do more?
I am grateful that Wellington Town Council invite me to pray with and for them before every Council Meeting, and in fact, I read the first three verses of this chapter as an introduction to that prayer time every month.
I am also encouraged by the profile that prayer has in our national life. I was struck that it was following a prayer breakfast in parliament that Sajid Javid felt compelled to resign from the government, triggering the events that led to the recent change in Prime Minister. I was also interested in the headlines on the BBC during King Charles’ visit to North Ireland, “King Charles III says Queen prayed for Northern Ireland”
It seems that the Queen led by example in this case. She prayed for the country she served, and for peace within it, just as we prayed for her. It is my hope and prayer that King Charles will follow her example and practice, as we will continue to pray for him, his family, and his government. And how much prayer is needed, as a new Prime Minister and Cabinet face some unprecedented challenges in the life of our country.
And why does Paul say that we should pray for our leaders? Well, there’s the pragmatic, self-interested motivation – so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This would have been a very live issue for the people in the church at Ephesus. The power of the authorities over the exercise of religion was absolute in that time and place, and persecution of unauthorised religions was harsh. But more than this. We pray for our leaders because it is food and pleases God our Saviour. That should be enough reason to do anything. We pray for our leaders because to do so pleases God. Whether we like them or not, agree with them or not, whatever we think of them and their policies, we pray for them because to do so pleases the God who saves us.
And it is in writing this that Paul gets caught up in this reflection on the saving work and power of God. But it’s not completely isolated from what has gone before. Paul believes that as God’s people live these lives of godliness and holiness, praying for their community, then people will be drawn to God, and this will help fulfil God’s desire that all people may be saved.
Because you see, God’s saving desire and power is universal. God wants all people to be saved. That means every single individual, and it also means people from every nation, class, ethnicity. Everyone, everywhere – all people. That’s who God wants to be saved.
And how are people saved? How are people rescued from the power of sin and shame and guilt? How are people freed from the captivity of death? By the work of the mediator, who paid the ransom. That is, by the death of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection. And the ransom that was given was enough for who? It was enough for all people. Jesus gave enough that everyone, everywhere might be saved.
God’s saving desire and power are universal.
However, within that universality is a particularity. There is something that is true, absolutely and universally true, regardless of perspective. This is not something that might be true for you but doesn’t have to be true for me. This is true for all – for everyone, everywhere. And that universal truth is that there is one God and one way to God – Jesus Christ. There isn’t a range of truths, or a variety of Gods, or many paths up the mountain. There is one God, and one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ. There is only one path to God – the path of the cross – opened up for us by Jesus. He was able to do this because he was both God and human. Both Creator and created.
As a human being himself, he represents every one of us, and as God his death was such a massively significant cosmic event that it dealt with all the consequences of our sin. As a human being he could die, and as God, death could not hold him – he defeated death and lives now, the resurrected human being on the throne of heaven.
And now, everyone, everywhere has a choice. God wants all of us to be saved. God has opened the way by which we can all be saved. Our choice is whether we want to go that way or not, God won’t force us to walk it. Do we want the salvation that we are offered? Saying yes to that does mean acknowledging that we have done wrong, that we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of that, and owning Jesus as our Lord and King. Over the last week or so, we’ve acknowledged a new earthly king in a variety of different ways, not least in singing the national anthem. But this is more significant than that. King Charles will only be our national king for the duration of his life span. Jesus will be King of our souls for all eternity. There will be no succession.
So, as we go into this week, with all it’s pageantry, let us be thankful for Queen Elizabeth’s live and witness. Let’s pray for our new King, and his government. But most of all, let us live lives worthy of our heavenly King, the one who rules our hearts and lives now and forever.