Exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Tim. 2:1-6)
It is easier to pray for what we want or what we think we need than for God's will to be done "in earth as it is in heaven." As sinners we often have difficulty praying for God's kingdom to come to fruition because we cannot imagine what it would be like. We even have trouble understanding God's will when we see it done. But God never expects complete understanding of us, only faith and obedience.
One way we show our faith in God's providence is by our prayers. Here Paul exhorts us to prayer for "all men," particularly those in authority. Now to a first century Christian the thought of praying for princes and leaders would have been especially repugnant, just as we could probably name any number of leaders we would have a hard time praying for. Of course, we could view this as part of the fourth commandment's injunction to honor authority. Human sin does not diminish their roles as the ordained of God. We must honor wicked leaders just as a righteous son must honor a wicked father. Rebellion against God's ministers is no solution.
But Paul is talking about more than obedience or civil honor. He is telling us to pray earnestly for them in very clear terms. Of course there is the expedient reason — that they might allow us to live in peace and quiet and serve our God (v. 2). This is always our wish even of the most ungodly.
A more important reason, however, is that prayer for all men is "good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior." This is to be the criteria for all our thought and action. Our prayers, as all else, should be regulated by conformity to the revealed Word. Even our Lord prayed to the Father that "not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk. 22:42).
He reinforces the exhortation to prayer by telling us that God "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." This is a powerful reason for us to pray, but it does not mean God wills every single individual to be saved, for we know that God's will is determinative and that many are not saved. The "all men" God wills (v. 4) is to be equated with the "all men" for whom we pray (v. 1). It refers to all sorts of men, those of every race and status. It cannot refer to every single individual on earth. We cannot pray for men as individuals whom we do not know as individuals. Moreover, we do not pray for all the dead men in heaven or hell and Paul had just said he had delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan (1:20).
God wills all sorts of men to be saved — rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, young and old, black and white. We therefore pray that his will be done and obey the great commission's charge to go into all the earth to preach the gospel.
The command to pray for all men reflects the will of God that we preach and teach to all the world. We therefore pray that God's will be done. The command to pray for all men is really just a consistent extension of the requirement to take the gospel to all nations and the prayer that "Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." The gospel is light and life. God has decreed that all men and nations are to be reached with the gospel.
It is easy for churchmen to be exclusive and to set artificial limits on God's kingdom and grace or even to decide who is worthy of the gospel. When I was very young I remember being told why it was wrong to say "Go to hell" or "damn you." I was told (I wish I could remember by whom for they deserve to be honored for the impression they left with me) that "Only God has the right to damn anyone to hell."
We do not have the right to decide who is beyond God's mercy and grace. It is appropriate to pray for justice and for judgment on the wicked, but sometimes this might reflect our own desires rather than God's glory. It is hard to pray for God to change the heart of those whose judgment would give us a sense of personal satisfaction. What would have been more productive of God's glory — Saul's conversion or his condemnation — on the road to Damascus? When it comes to "kings, and for all that are in authority" personal judgment often brings dire social consequences. Prayer for their conversion or at least that God would cause them to do right is more productive.
It is easy to only see what men and nations are (or what their leaders project them to be). We must see them as what God wills them to be. If we care that God's will be done we should care enough to pray that He change men's hearts to do it.
God could have ended creation with death and eternal damnation after the first sin in the garden. Instead he has and continues to show his grace to untold multitudes. We must pray that these numbers increase among men and nations we know nothing about. God showed us grace rather than judgment. God may display his grace in kings and magistrates and the most ungodly of men. This only resounds to his eternal praise and glory and to the furtherance of his kingdom. This must be our preference.
Paul continues by reminding us that we have one God and one Mediator. The first refers to his sovereignty over all Creation. We must not presume in our politics, economics, or theology to exclude any group or class of men from the hope of God's grace. Because there is one Mediator for all men we must not limit Christ to any race, geography, culture, or historic period. We must not limit Christ or his salvation to how we envision his kingdom. At the time Paul wrote, most men and nations were alienated from the truth of God. The prayers of first century believers and the obedience of many to the great commission has, with the blessing of God, produced much progress. We must pray for and work for more. We do a wrong to Jesus Christ to exclude any from our prayers for regeneration. We advance the kingdom by preaching and teaching. We pray for God's Spirit to do great things. Retreat and exclusion is nowhere in view.
Paul concludes with a view of Christ as Redeemer. The two aspects of Christ's priestly office are his sacrifice and his continual intercession for us. Now what is Paul asking us to do? He is asking us to pray that "all men" would know Christ as Savior and to pray this to God through our Redeemer and Mediator, Jesus Christ. No wonder Paul says such prayer is "good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior." It honors Christ as Redeemer and Intercessor before the throne of God.
The only hope for men personally before God and in social relations is to know Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Mediator and serve him in obedience all the days of their life. Not only is it not a burden to pray for "all men" but it is at the same time the most selfless and selfish prayer we can pray for nations, friends, family, and enemies. It is for their eternal salvation and our temporal joy and gladness in seeing the blessings of God's grace and enjoying its fruit. Pray for all men.