Being A Defensive Christian ( 11am)
Topic: Prayer Scripture: Psalm 113–113, 1 Timothy 2:1–2:7
How many of you went through Drivers-Ed? I remember doing it when I was in high school. Twice a week my sister and I would go to the school in the evening for class. My dad loved it because it gave us an insurance discount. I have to be honest though. I don’t remember most of that class, BUT there are two things that still are ingrained in my head. The first is what the most dangerous road condition is when driving. Some might try answers like snow or ice or even a downpour. But according to my instructor all those years ago, the most dangerous road condition is wet leaves. You better believe that for my first few years of driving that I crawled around back roads with trees on all sides. That’s one thing I remember. The second, and this is a much more common piece of info, is that I am supposed to be a defensive driver.
Most of us have heard this. It’s a simple principle that encourages drivers to try and anticipate the actions of other drivers and potentially dangerous situations in all conditions. It takes an awareness of surroundings, self-control, and an intentionality to not allow our own personal circumstances to supersede our safety and the safety of others. I’m sure most of us try to be defensive drivers and only occasionally slip up.
When it comes to driving, being defensive is the best practice. You can say the same thing about some sports. There’s a reason a triple play in baseball is so much more impressive than a home run. Or why we love defensive struggles in a football game or watching a hot goalie in hockey. But driving and sports aren’t the only places we’re supposed to be defensive. I believe the apostle Paul gives us instruction to be defensive in the way we live out our faith.
We’re in the second week of our study in 1 Timothy and this week we’ll be looking at the opening verses of chapter two. In it, Paul lays out some powerful realities about our faith and a pretty lofty challenge to us. Let’s read.
Read 1 Timothy 2:1-7.
Alright, we can break this passage down into two parts. Verses 1-4 and verses 5-7. Our first section is a call to action for Paul. He’s trying to help our young pastor, Timothy, know how to lead in his church. Prayer seems like a pretty important element to encourage when caring for a church. And so Paul says it clearly in verse one: Make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanks for all people. The church should be filled with people who pray. And Paul is careful with his words here. Petitions – that’s a request you make. Prayers – a conversation and sharing with God. Intercessions – this is praying for someone else or acting on behalf of another person. Thanksgiving – we give thanks for any and everything we have been given.
Truth be told, Paul sets up a pretty simple yet powerful model for prayer here. Imagine if every time we spoke to God we took intentional time and care to 1) simply speak with God and tell Him how we felt [prayer], 2) thank Him for everything we enjoy in this life, 3) ask God to be with and help those who we know are having a tough time, and 4) ask God for the things we need or that are on our heart. I’d call that a pretty meaningful time of prayer. And Paul goes even further. He doesn’t say to simply do these things but to do them for all people.
Paul always had a meta point of view. Always looking further and beyond the ordinary or immediately available. Even in this letter Paul has specifics in front of him. He’s writing to a specific leader – Timothy – about a specific church – Ephesus. A person and a people that Paul dearly loved. And he reaches beyond that. He says all people deserve the prayerful attention and energy of God’s people. This is a statement not only of a pastor telling his people to pray but a statement about the value of every life. Every life is deserving of prayerful intervention. And one of the ways we become defensive Christians is by being Christians that pray.
I want to make sure I clarify what I mean by “defensive” Christian. I don’t mean someone who immediately holds up excuses to defend actions. I don’t mean someone who can never admit when their wrong. What I mean is a Christian who genuinely seeks to protect and defend in any situation. I mean someone who recognizes the value of a person or ideal and is willing to sacrifice for that person or belief. Someone who seeks to edify and lift up others as opposed to simply looking out for themselves.
Paul’s encouragement of prayer here calls us to be Christians that recognize the value of each life and defend it through the power of prayer. And this means those inside our clubs and those outside. It means the people beside us in the pews and those who haven’t graced a church in months or years. It means the friend who just got laid off and, at the same time, the boss or supervisor who had to make that tough call. It’s an action and choice that links us to Christ. Thomas Oden, a commentator and professor, says, “The church’s prayers are lifted up for all because the Son’s sacrifice was offered for all.” When we pray for all we reflect the heart of Christ. Keep that in mind as we hit the next part of our text.
Paul says we are to pray for all people. And he includes kings, leaders, and those in authority in that. It doesn’t take long for us to see how this could relate to us. I’m really lucky to have a great boss. Larry is a gentle, thoughtful leader who has been nothing but an encouragement to me. Not all of us are always blessed with great bosses. And yet, that “all” that Paul hits us with includes the boss we sometimes duck into another office to avoid.
This is where being defensive vs. offensive can hit home. What would happen, what would it look like, if the next time we became frustrated with our boss or a teacher or another authority figure in our life, what would happen if we prayed for that person instead of going to our families or friends and bad-mouthing that person? Immediately? Probably not much right? But if we take this posture of being a defensive Christian, of being one who chooses (even if we don’t want to) to see the value of a person, and made an intercession for that person – what could happen? Well, it might keep us from saying something we regret? It also very well may help remove that film of anger we might have on our hearts.
Alright, I hit you with the boss. Now I want to follow Paul and go one step higher. I’m going somewhere we as pastors rarely go – you ready? – let’s talk about political leaders. Kind of an apt subject these days, don’t you think? I’m convinced that there are fewer times where Christians have the opportunity to display grace and self-control than during election periods. If there is ever a time where being a defensive Christian is vitally important, it’s times like right now. We are bombarded with narratives concerning the candidates we will shortly have the choice to vote for. And the sad thing is how increasingly negative those narratives are. For every one slogan or ad about the values of a candidate we can find three or four slandering the other. We all have issues and platforms we’re passionate about. Most of us may have already decided on who will receive our vote in the coming election. But let me say one thing I believe that needs to be said. Barack Obama deserves to be prayed for. Both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton deserve to be prayed for.
Despite what the media might say about how terrible one leader is over the other, none of them come close to what Paul and Timothy had to deal with. The leader of the time when this letter was written was a man named Nero. Maybe you’ve heard of him. If you have, it certainly isn’t for a good reason. Nero was the most ruthless, despicable, gruesome persecutor of Christians that has held leadership. His acts were heinous and sickening. Under Nero was the first time that persecution of Christians became law of the land. It was under Nero’s rule that Peter was executed by being crucified upside down and Paul himself was beheaded. And this is the setting from which Paul tells his audience to pray for kings and authorities. Paul could have easily taken the offensive and called for an uprising or, at the very least, made a public declaration that the church was to not acknowledge the leadership of such a monster. But Paul instead encouraged the church to be defensive. Just as Christ encouraged the turning of the other cheek when slapped on one side of the face, so too does Paul encourage the people of God to pray for Nero even as Nero pursues them to end their lives.
Paul’s message in our text this morning is not one of naive weakness. It was one of profound strength and trust in God. It was one that reflects great humility and that truly, unequivocally believes that every life has value. And the final lines of our passage show us where Paul receives the inspiration for such a difficult message. It makes up what I called earlier the second part of our passage.
Starting at verse 5: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” The reason Paul believes Christians should pray for and intercede for all people, including political leaders, is because Jesus Christ interceded for us. Christ made himself a ransom for all people. He gave His life so that all might have the chance to know the love and grace of God.
You see, we are called to be defensive Christians because we are called to model after our Savior. Christ was the ultimate defense for the lost cause that was humanity. Inevitably coming face-to-face with the holiness and justice of the one true God we didn’t stand a chance. And it was Christ who stepped in front of us, who offered His own life for us, so that we might know true life, both in this world and in eternity.
And so I want to encourage all of us here this morning to be a church of defensive Christians. To be a church made up of people who pray. Not only for our own needs. Not only for those we love. But for all. To pray for our enemies. To pray for those who frustrate us. To pray for those in leadership we both celebrate and those we may whole-heartedly disagree with. Paul wanted Timothy to pastor a church that looked beyond its own opinions and perceptions and instead tried to grasp the absurd and crazy inclusion of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice. We can’t do that by being offensive. We can’t do that by taking shots on Facebook. Or slandering others in our community. When we set no limits on who receives our prayers we reflect the saving work of Christ and our own redemption and when we do that we truly learn the value of being a defensive Christian.