I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Tim 2:8 NKJV)
These words come from Paul’s heart, expressing not a theologically laid out strategy but rather a personal longing. It is good to have a balanced and biblical theology, but this verse reads more like Paul setting aside the mantle of prophet, apostle, theologian, and scholar and speaking simply from his heart. Here it is man to man, Christian to Christian, and Paul the teacher disappears into the background and Paul the Christian Brother steps to the foreground.
It is as though he simply said, “You know what I really want is this – for men to pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without anger or fighting.” Paul had seen his share of church squabbles, and debates in the public forum. He had seen the futility of human anger and wrath, the planting of doubts and innuendoes to weaken the opposition, the attacks against character, the damaging of reputations. He had seen how men when they forget God turn on one another and often ruin the entire testimony of the church.
If grace is the foundation of the church, then grace should color everything in the church. We should not destroy our brother or sister since Christ died to save them and redeem them. Writing to the Christians in Rome and dealing specifically with the issue of eating food offered to pagan idols, Paul said, “By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15 ESV). This calls us to see each believer as God sees him, as a precious treasure, purchased with the blood of Christ. This truth applies to everything we do, that we should be careful not to harm our fellow Christian, rather do all we can to lift one another up.
The priority of prayer: The first concern on his heart was the prayer habit of the church. He wanted men to know God personally, to know that they could call on Him at all times and in all places. They did not need to only pray in the temple, or at the synagogue, or at the church building, or only in some ideal peaceful setting. They could speak to their God everywhere and at any time of the day.
One of the perspectives that every Christian needs to have in his life is the awareness that he lives under the watchful eyes of God in all places all day long. The psalmist asked, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psa. 139:7 NKJV). We can go nowhere where God is not, or where God cannot find us. Some settings help us think of God more than others, and we are wise if we use these places and atmospheres for our spiritual times of devotion. But we should not imagine that God is only found in peaceful repose, for He also has made His presence known in places of warfare (Psalm 18:29), in the midst of storms (Mark 4:39), and in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5).
Let us seek to fulfill this desire of Paul, for it is also the desire of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that we would know Him and speak to Him constantly. Let our lives be lived in conversation with Him at all times and in every situation.
Holy hands: Here is a desire that our walk would match our talk, that our actions would match our faith, that what we say and do rises not from our old sinful nature but from the presence of Christ in our lives and from the new nature God has given us that is created for good works (Eph. 2:10). Many of the things that our hands of become engaged in are unholy. Many places our feet take us are places where we ought not to be. Man of the things that our eyes see are sinful and will lead to our spiritual failure.
There is an element in today’s world that suggests that it does not matter what we say or do so long as our hearts are right. But this is utter nonsense, a deception of the devil, for if our hearts are right then we will seek to do the right thing. How we handle our choices, what we do with our leisure, what we say to the stranger, these things reveal how strong we are.
Without wrath or disputing: We ought to live in the power and presence of the Spirit at all times, letting Him determine our hearts and our words. We ought to seek to build one another up, not tear one another down. The words may be translated also “anger and doubt” but they seem to have the idea of upsetting the peace of the body of Christ rather than strengthening it. We should work with God in all settings, with all people, at all times.
Jeremy Taylor, in his classic book, The Return of Prayers, wrote:
For prayer is the peace of our spirit, the stillness of our thoughts, the evenness of recollection, the seat of meditation, the rest of our cares, and the calm of our tempest; prayer is the issue of a quiet mind, of untroubled thoughts; it is the daughter of charity and the sister of meekness… Anger is a perfect alienation of the mind from prayer, and therefore is contrary to that attention which presents our prayers in a right line to God.
The potential of prayer: Paul’s concerns were not merely that people would not fight with one another, but that prayer with all its potential would be realized in the body of Christ. Prayer is the reasonable application of the truth that God is our heavenly Father. A son should speak to his father, and we should converse with God constantly. Prayer acknowledges our dependence on God, God’s power and willingness to help us – both His omnipotence and His love, and is an expression of the love He has placed in our hearts. Where there is much faith in God, much celebration of our relationship with Him, and much compassion for the people on this earth, there will be much prayer. When these are lacking, however, there will be little prayer.