One God and One Mediator
September 5, 2014 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:1–2:7
Synopsis: The news headlines are frightening as the world seems to lurch ever closer to chaos and disaster. What lies at the heart of the problems? And should our response be as the followers of Christ? The Apostle Paul also faced a world in chaos. In 1 Timothy 2:1-7, he offers some simple, “back to basics” instructions for believers, based on the abiding truth that there is One God and One Mediator.
It is painful and scary to watch the news, these days, isn’t it? Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Palestine and Israel, Nigeria, Somalia. Everywhere we turn, conflicts are heating up and spreading. Every week there are news reports of a new natural disaster; hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, wild-fires, global climate change. Ebola threatens many in West Africa. Economies struggle and the gap between rich and poor is growing. And Christians, God’s people, are not immune to these realities. In fact, in many places they are targeted. Studies show that in many countries, Christians are the most persecuted minority of all. In light of all of this, how are we as followers of Christ to think, feel, act and respond? What should we be doing?
With all these troubling thoughts and questions running through my mind, I was brought up short by a passage I read as part of my personal devotions this past week. It seemed like a good reminder, to quiet the alarm bells, and bring me back to basics. The passage is found in 1 Timothy 2:1-7. Let me read it:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 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.
At first glance, this may seem like a strange passage to address the kinds of concerns I raised in my introduction. But I want to just take a moment to remind us of the setting for Paul’s words. 1 Timothy is one of Paul’s Pastoral Epistles, written near the end of his life and ministry to his son in the faith, Timothy. He is giving Timothy instructions on how to conduct his ministry in the local church, and how to teach and equip his people for life and ministry. The letter was written after Paul had already spent over 2 years in Roman prisons. He is now free – but he will shortly be rearrested – an imprisonment that will end in his execution at the hand of the Roman government.
The emperor on the throne of Rome when Paul wrote was the notorious Nero. By the time Paul wrote, Nero had already been responsible for the burning of much of Rome, which he then blamed on the Christians. Major persecution of Christ’s followers was heating up.
Why do I point this out? There is always a tendency in times of trouble and crisis to think and feel as though we are experiencing something new, something unprecedented. But crisis and catastrophe are not new. War is not new. Persecution of Christ’s followers and the church are not new. Every era, every age, every civilization has its crises, its catastrophes, its wars.
One of the kinds of reading I enjoy doing in my leisure time is historical biographies. I am currently reading one about the friendship between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill during World War II – two men who faced some of the greatest crises in modern history. It helps put today’s current events in some perspective.
No, what we are facing today is not new or unique. But it is troubling nonetheless. What should our response be as God’s people? The passage in front of us provides three answers to that question. Three calls upon us.
The first one is A Call to Prayer. Troubled times should drive us to our knees.
As Paul pronounces in 1 Timothy 2:1: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.
Paul strings together synonyms, to heighten the sense of urgency and to reflect the many dimensions of prayer. “Supplications” are urgent pleas in a time of need. “Prayers” is a more generic word for requests addressed to God – indicating that God is the One to whom we go. “Intercessions” carries the idea of pleading on behalf of another – so it is prayer for others, not just ourselves.
Paul also throws in another word – almost out of tune with the others: “thanksgivings”. It is one of the characteristics of Christian prayer – to take time in all our praying to give thanks for what we do have, for what we have been spared, for the deliverances we have experienced. And above all, as Christ’s followers, for the eternal hope of salvation that we have in Christ.
Such praying is not to be limited only to our own families, our own people, our own nations, or even our own co-religionists. Such prayers are to be made “for all people.” May that be our response as we see news clips of refugees pouring across borders and fleeing into the mountains to escape the fighting. We can offer such prayers on the basis of a common humanity and the concern for human suffering, regardless of ethnic, racial or religious differences. Pray for them!
One way to pray for all people is expanded in the next verse: 2 for kings and all who are in high positions. People in authority, whether we call them kings, presidents or prime ministers; governors, mayors or cabinet ministers. Such people carry great responsibility. Their actions affect the lives of many. Their decisions, for good or for evil, affect us and many others in countless ways.
It is easy to criticize those in authority, and I do believe there is a place for that. But the call here is not to criticize them, but to pray for them. Many countries, my own among them, are increasingly polarized along political lines. While it is not wrong to hold political opinions and to express them – this does not relieve us of the responsibility to pray, even for those with whom we disagree! Remember, when Paul wrote these words, the king was Nero, one of the most notorious and capricious tyrants to ever sit on a throne. Yet Paul urged the Christians of his day to pray for him.
We are not only told whom to pray for, but also the outcome for which we are to pray: that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life. This is what we are to pray for as we pray for our rulers. That the decisions they make and the kind of governance they practice will give not only us, but all citizens the ability to lead a peaceful and quiet life. These two similar words point in different directions. “Peaceful” refers to outward circumstances, a lack of turmoil, and external conflict. The second word (“quiet”) describes an inner tranquility of life, an inner calm. The two go together, and it is the ultimate goal of good government and good governors, is it not? The peace and tranquility of the citizens.
Pray for that! For all people. That is what we are instructed to do in these verses. A Call to Prayer.
But there is more here. My next point is a little more subtle; a little less clear from the text. But I believe it is here and important for us to take note of.
It is A Call to Please God.
We find this in the next 2 verses: that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…
While a peaceful and quiet life may be a desirable outcome for every citizen, there is a special motive that should lie in the heart of those of us who follow Christ. It is a desire to live in a way that pleases God. We are to live godly and dignified in every way. Once again, these are similar words, pointing in different directions. The word “godly” describes life on the vertical dimension; a life that centers around God and his character and living in a way that reflects his values and his attributes. The word “dignified” describes how we are perceived on the horizontal dimension by those around us. The kind of life, character and behavior that demands respect from the people we live and work with. It is revealing to note how many times in Paul’s instructions in the Pastor Epistles, he talks about behaving in a way that earns the respect of outsiders. This kind of life is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God.
Let me back up and tie the first two points of my sermon together. In times of great crisis, great uncertainty on the world stage, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, powerless, paralyzed. What can I do that will make any difference? And in our despair, we may act out – I can’t fix things so it doesn’t matter what I do. The world is such a mess anyway!
Well, we can do something. We can pray, just as we are instructed to pray here. And we can live in a way that pleases God, in our own small corner and sphere of influence. Do what is pleasing in the sight of God. Be a person of godliness and dignity. Be an island of calm in the sea of chaos that may swirl around you.
I believe we can apply this not only to world events, but events in our work environments. Pray for your boss, your principal, your supervisor. Pray for just enough calm and quiet to enable you to live in a way that is both godly and dignified; to live in a way that pleases God.
For there is something much larger at stake here than simply personal calm and tranquility. That brings us to the final call.
A Call to Preach Christ.
This is where this whole passage has been headed. Let’s pick up the reading again in verse 3 and then read on to the end:
3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 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.
Now we are coming to the heart of the matter. It carries us back to the prayers we are asked to pray for “all people”. It carries us into the very heart of God. God is described here as “our Savior”. That is his character: One who saves. He is the only One who can save us from the dilemma we are in. And we are told that he wants to do just that. He desires “all people to be saved.” He isn’t just concerned for some. He is concerned for “all people.” But such salvation has a prerequisite. It is based on the knowledge of and belief in “the truth.”
What is that truth God wants everyone to know? It is beautifully summarized in verses 5-6: 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…
There it is. The Gospel in a nutshell. There is only one God, not many gods. Only one. He is one God for all people. And he wants all people to be saved. And he has provided a way for all men to be saved. But he has not provided many ways of salvation. He has only provided one. There is only one mediator between God and men. By the way, the word translated “men” in verse 5 is the same word that is translated “people” in verse 1 and verse 4. All the “people” God wants to be saved? There is only one mediator who is able to bring them into a right relationship with God and to “save” them. That mediator is “the man Christ Jesus.” The whole truth of the incarnation is bound up in that phrase. God became a man in the person of Jesus, precisely so he could become our mediator. A mediator is a go-between, a peace maker, one who can speak to both sides in an argument and bring them together.
But the Messiah, Jesus, did more than that. He is more than just an umpire or a referee or a go-between negotiator, although he is all of those things. He also gave himself as a ransom. A ransom is a price paid so that a debt can be settled and a prisoner or hostage can go free. We were alienated from God because of our sins. We owed God a debt that we could not pay. Jesus, as our representative, our mediator, paid our debt, so that we could be set free and so that we could be reconciled to God.
What is more, he didn’t just pay the ransom for our sins. He is the ransom for all. His death is the sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. That is the truth that God wants all men to know so that they can be saved. There is one God, not many. There is one mediator, not many. Because Jesus is the only mediator who gave himself as the ransom for our sins. No other religion or prophet or self-proclaimed “savior” has done that. Only Jesus.
That is why those of us who believe in Jesus and follow him are called to preach as Paul goes on to say: 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.
Now, I recognize that there is a sense in which Paul’s calling was unique to him – as an apostle and a teacher of the Gentiles. But elsewhere in Scripture, Paul makes it clear that if we have been reconciled to God, we too have been given the ministry of reconciliation and been entrusted with the message of reconciliation; to be Christ’s ambassadors and to plead with all men to be reconciled to God.
So, we live in troubled times. But that is not unique to us. In a very real sense, the whole history of the world is a chronicle of “troubled times.” We may be tempted to throw up our hands in despair or to retreat to bunkers in the mountains. But that is not our calling.
This is our calling. We are called to pray. We are called to please God by living in godliness and dignity. And we are called to preach Jesus, who is the only hope of the world.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all…
- Discuss the multiple international crises currently in the news. Which ones are particularly troubling to you? Reflecting on history, do you think what we are seeing today is something new, or that “there is nothing new under the sun”?
- In light of your discussion, read 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
- 3. In the sermon, Pastor Cam said “This may seem like a strange passage to address the kinds of concerns raised in my introduction.” Do you agree or disagree and why?
- What do we know about current events during the time Paul wrote these words?
- What is the significance of Paul’s emphasis on “all” in v. 1, 3 and 6?
- What lies at the heart of the world’s chaos? In what way does this passage address the real issue?
- Think through the 3 main points in the sermon (A Call to Prayer, A Call to Please God, and A Call to Preach Christ). In what ways do they address the problems in the world? Do you think they represent an adequate response?
- What practical applications can we take away from this passage?