The key verse to understanding the first Epistle to Timothy is "how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God" (3.15). Particularly in view is godly conduct in the holy exercise of prayer in a local assembly of believers.
The Importance of Prayer (v 1)
"First of all" commences the sentence, emphasising first in order of importance. If the house of God is to flourish spiritually, then great value must be placed on prayer. Today there is great activity but, at times, little prayer. If the saints are not at the prayer meeting, how can they expect God to bless their service? Prayer in the early church was supported by all the saints (Acts 2.42, 12.12). We are responsible to be at the prayer meeting, to take part in real, vital, urgent prayer.
The Modes of Prayer (v 1)
Four distinct words are used. They are not four different kinds of prayer, but four elements that may be found in any one prayer:
Supplications: asking for the fulfilment of specific needs which are keenly felt. This is prayer for things that are a burden at a particular time, for example, the illness of a brother or sister, or the salvation of a soul under the conviction of sin.
Prayers: the general word used for prayer, covering all forms of reverent address directed to God. As this word is part of a list of other words used for different aspects of prayer, I would suggest that it is asking for the fulfilment of needs that are always present, for example, blessing on the witness of the Gospel outreach of the assembly. That is why prayers and supplications are frequently placed together; "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit" (Eph 6.18).
Intercessions: involves the idea of freedom of approach and of going in, in order to plead on behalf of others. We should not be selfish in our praying, but should include other assemblies, other saints and other lands.
Giving of thanks: a deep feeling of thankfulness within, which is outwardly expressed. It should always be the accompaniment to prayer; "In every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving …" (Phil 4.6). Neglecting to give thanks is characteristic of those who are alienated from God; "neither were [they] thankful" (Rom 1.21).
The Subjects for Prayer (vv 1b, 2a)
Habitual prayer should be made "for all men" (v 1). There ought to be a wide scope to our prayers, but our prayers should also be specific; "for kings and for all that are in authority" (v 2). "The powers that be are ordained of God" (Rom 13.1). We do not vote them into power, but we should pray for them and be subject to them.
The Reasons for Prayer (v 2b)
"… that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." The decisions made by those in constituted authority affect us as subjects of the state and, in particular, our life and testimony as believers. We must ever remember that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men" (Dan 4.17) and "the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord" (Prov 21.1). So we pray for such, in order that we might lead a calm and tranquil life; "quiet" (tranquil), that is, freedom from outer worries, and "peaceable" (calm), that is, freedom from inner worries. The purpose of this is to leave us free to get on with the kind of life we ought to be living as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, "in all godliness and honesty".
"Godliness" is the Godward aspect; living one's life in the fear of God and seeking to bring pleasure to God, and "honesty" is the manward aspect; living a life of gravity and dignity before men – that dignity in the believer's walk which gains the respect and admiration of others.
The Motivation for Prayer (vv 3-7)
Praying for all men, resulting in freedom to live lives of godliness and dignity "is good … in the sight of God our Saviour" (v 3). The concept of "God our Saviour" is used three times in this epistle, but is particularly fitting here, because Paul is exhorting specific prayer that all men might see the saving character of God, "who will have (desireth, JND¹) all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (v 4). It is the desire of God's great heart of love that all men should be saved and brought into the realm of God's truth. If souls perish, the reason is not found in the sovereign will of God, but in the rejection by men of God's grace.
"For there is one God, and one mediator …" (v 5). "One" means one to the exclusion of all others. A "mediator" is one who stands between two parties with a view to making peace. Job's heartfelt lament, "Neither is there any daysman (mediator, LXX²) betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both" (Job 9.33), has been completely and finally answered in the Lord Jesus, "himself man" (1 Tim 2.5, RV³). The salvation of sinners necessitated that the mediator should himself possess the nature and attributes of Him towards whom he acts, but should likewise participate in the nature of those on whose behalf he acts; that is, be possessed of both absolute deity and perfect humanity. The Lord Jesus was thus able to bring both man and God together.
He "gave himself a ransom for all …" (v 6). The word "ransom" (Gr, antilutron) suggests a ransom equivalent in value to that which is procured by it. It was no token price that the Lord Jesus paid; He paid the price in full. "In Christ's finished work I see an ocean of merit; my plummet finds no bottom, my eye discovers no shore" (C H Spurgeon).
That ransom was "for all" (Gr, huper, 'on behalf of all'). It was not for a limited number. The blood of the Lord Jesus shed upon the cross is sufficient to cleanse every sinner of Adam's race. It is effective in the case of those who believe and appropriate its value, but "the many" referred to in Matthew 20.28 is limited to those availing themselves of the provision.
The Manner of Prayer (v 8)
"I will therefore." In view of all that Paul has set before them in verses 1-7, "I will" is an authoritative apostolic command.
Although Paul has already used the word "men" several times in this passage (vv 1, 4, 5), in all these cases the Greek word is anthropos (mankind; men and women). In verse 8, however, Paul uses a completely different word (Gr, aner), meaning the male gender. They should pray "every where" ("in every place", RV), that is, in every place where the assembly meets together. It is quite clear from this passage that it is only the males who publicly lead the company in prayer in a gathering of a local assembly. As is clear from verses 11-14, the sisters do not publicly take part in the gatherings. However, although every brother has the responsibility to pray, not every brother is qualified to pray. There are three qualifications a brother must have in order to rise and lead the company in prayer to God:
"Lifting up holy hands": Although the expression is used literally in the Old Testament, here it is not physical posture but spiritual conduct that is meant. Compare Psalm 24.3-4: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? … He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart". A life of purity with no unconfessed sin is required.
"Without wrath …": This suggests settled indignation against another which desires revenge; an unforgiving spirit.
"… and doubting" (reasoning, JND; disputing, RV): If this takes place within the saint, then 'reasoning' is in view. If it is external, the saint is then 'disputing' and an argument with others is the thought. If either of these characteristics mark a brother, he should stay on his seat, and not take any public part in the holy exercise of prayer.
¹ J N Darby, The Holy Scriptures - A New Translation from the Original Languages.
² The Septuagint – A Greek Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures.
³ Revised Version.