“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 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 people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:1-5).
The apostle begins his instruction with the words “I urge, then, first of all…” and if we are studying Paul’s writings carefully we see that he does not follow with a “second” or “third” exhortation – the “first” is not the first of many, but something he feels is first in importance. Paul tells us it is of primary importance that we are active in four forms or “dimensions” of prayer: “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving.” Although there is some overlap, each of these four aspects of our conversations with God carries a different nuance of meaning.
The word “petitions” (Greek deésis) indicates prayer for a particular need – simply asking for something. Although prayer should never be just a list of requests, God’s word shows he does want us to look to him for our needs, of course (Matthew 6:11, 1 Peter 5:7, etc.), and when we do ask for something it should be in the firm confidence that this word implies.
“Prayers” (proseuche) is a more general word for prayer, but it often carries the idea of worship and praise. The same word is found in Matthew 21:13 where Jesus said of the Temple, “My house will be called a house of prayer.”
“Intercessions” (enteuxis) represents what may often be an urgent request on the behalf of others. But this intercession with God can be either for or against someone or something. We see this in Romans 8:26, 34 “… the Spirit himself intercedes for us … Christ Jesus … is also interceding for us” and in Romans 11:2 “Elijah … appealed to God against Israel.” The word can mean to intervene or to interfere in a situation, and the central idea is one of strong pleading for justice, mercy, or some other aspect of God’s intervention.
“Thanksgiving” (eucharistia) conveys expressions of gratitude which are a vital dimension of fully effective prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It is also important to understand that our expressions of thankfulness should be for the good things that have been given not only to us personally, but also to others – as Paul stresses in telling us that all these forms of prayer are to be made “for all people.”
Paul then specifically mentions prayer for “kings and all those in authority” (vs. 2a) so that believers “may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (vs. 2b). But there is probably another reason Paul mentions kings in regard to prayer.
Although the Romans permitted the peoples of their empire to worship their own gods, they insisted that conquered peoples demonstrate their loyalty to Rome by also praying to the goddess Roma and the spirit of the emperor. Because the Jews worshiped only one God, the Romans allowed them to pray and sacrifice for the emperor rather than praying and sacrificing to him. When we remember this situation, Paul’s exhortation to pray for kings so that we “may live peaceful and quiet lives” takes on clearer significance and reminds us that we too should pray regarding the political and legal aspects of life that affect this world and God’s people in particular.
Finally, in these verses, Paul makes the point that our prayers should be offered through (or in the name of) the “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The pagan peoples of the ancient world believed in many intermediaries between humans and the gods, but Paul stresses the fallacy of this idea in presenting his guidelines for full and acceptable prayer.
In saying these things, Paul stresses the importance of both our right approach to God as well what we say in our prayers. And we should remember that the four aspects of prayer he enumerates show our prayers should never be “one dimensional” – they should often include all these forms of address for full communication with God.