This is the final part of a 4-part series looking at issues of freedom and authority from 1 Timothy 2:1–7 (read part 1, part 2, and part 3). This passage teaches us a theology of God and humanity, and so it teaches us to live as humans among humans and human authorities.
In the previous posts, we saw from 1 Timothy 2:1–4 that God rules over all humans, and that God wills for all humans to be saved. This gives us a reason to pray for humanity and for the human authorities, for peace and security, and that we might live quiet and godly lives.
At this point, you might think that Paul is just being pragmatic. After all, God doesn’t care directly about a peaceful society, does he? Isn’t Paul just saying that a peaceful human society is useful for his purposes because it will give us more opportunities to share the gospel and so for people to be saved? Isn’t Paul just being driven here by missional pragmatism?
No, Paul’s reason for praying for all humanity and governments is not simply pragmatic. It’s not just about the effective preaching of the gospel. It’s about the content of the gospel itself:
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all. (1 Timothy 2:5–6a)
Our prayer and concern for all humanity, says Paul, arises from the nature of God, and the nature of Christ, and indeed the atoning work of Christ. There is only one God (see Deuteronomy 6:5). And God’s one-ness means that he is the God of every-one. That is, God is not just the God of you and me and our special group (however you want to define it). He is the God of everyone.
Intimately connected to this truth about God is the fact that there is only one mediator between that one God and human beings. Christ is the only way to God. Why? Not only because he is God (which he is!), but because he is human. It’s the humanity of Christ that’s emphasised here. The only mediator who can bring us to God is this one human being, Jesus Christ. And that’s important for us as we consider our fellow human beings.
When you see your fellow human being, what is the first thing you see? An enemy? A threat? A stranger? An outsider? If you believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, your fellow human being is human, like you. When you become a Christian, you don’t give up being a member of the human race. Your fellow human is very much like you: subject to sin, and in need of salvation. And your fellow human is also like Jesus. The humanity that Christ took on is not just your humanity or my humanity. It is the humanity that is common to all. And that should lead us to pray for all humanity.
The fact that Jesus is the one mediator is, in one sense, “exclusive”. It’s exclusive because this particular man Jesus Christ is indeed the only way to God, and there’s no other way to God. But that fact should never make us inward-focused or arrogant. As we praise God for his atoning work in Christ and explore its riches for us, we need to remember that it’s about God’s grace for us as human beings, unworthy as we are. We must never turn Christ’s blood into an excuse to narrow our focus or to isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity. According to this passage, as human beings, we’re in this together. This should lead us to pray for, and long for the salvation of, all humanity. Because Jesus is a human being, Jesus’ coming into the world was for us as human beings. He gave himself for us as human beings. He gave himself as a ransom, a substitute, for sinners, who are human beings. So Christ’s death is deeply relevant for all humanity.
This prayer for and concern for all human beings arises directly from the gospel message. If we forget this truth about God’s concern for all humanity, we’re not just jeapordising our missional effectiveness. We’re actually denying the reality of God, the nature of Christ’s humanity and his atoning work. This isn’t just about missional pragmatics. It’s about the truth of the gospel.
And yet because of that, it’s also about mission. Because the message of the gospel is for all humans, the mission of the gospel is for all humans. This truth about Jesus:
is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:6b–7)
God wants all humans to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. And Paul is a teacher of the nations in faith and truth. Paul heralds the gospel, and he teaches it. In fact, the gospel message not only saves individuals, it also transforms societies and governments. Never perfectly, but truly. So we should care about all the nations—all humans—that they hear this gospel. We should pray for humanity and for our human authorities, and also seek to be the answer to our own prayers, through sharing that gospel word.
There is more to say, of course. 1 Timothy 2:1–7 doesn’t tell us everything that is relevant to questions of freedom and authority in lockdown. It doesn’t mention Jesus’ resurrection, for example, nor does it go into any detail about the new creation that we look forward to when God’s rule will be unopposed. However, this passage does teach us some very important things about God’s heart for all humanity. God rules over all humans. God wills for all humans to be saved. And there is one human mediator for all humans. This gives us a reason to pray for our governments, to live as human beings in solidarity with humanity, to long for the salvation of all humanity, and to proclaim that saving gospel message to all humanity.