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Monday, December 31, 2012

Unholy Prayer

Unholy Prayer

What has gone before...

Paul asserts his appointment by God, emphasizing that God did the placing, realizing that his life would be lain down for sacrificial service. He affirmed his honesty and sincerity, knowing that his reputation for violence and rigid religion still dogged his steps. Although still very much Jewish in pracice, Paul felt himself more and more drawn to ministry to the Gentiles, knowing that God had chosen for His own, people from every race, every ethnicity, every language.

Moving on...

Paul now returns to the theme with which he began this chapter:

"I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling." 1 Timothy 2:8 (ESV)

What led Paul to emphasize prayer without anger or quarreling?

Paul's initial motivation for prayer was that "we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." (1 Timothy 2:2)

Immediately following this exhortation Paul reminded the church that there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ. Christ gave His life to redeem all people, all who sought His redemption, both Jew and Gentile.

The context implies that the church in Ephesus had seen angry, quarrelsome conflict between Jew and Gentile. The fact that Timothy himself was of Greek ethnicity supports the need for Paul's concern.

Jew and Gentile had frequently clashed, long before the rise of Christianity. Babylonian, Mede-Persian and Roman empires, each in turn, had crushed Jewish independence, wrenching control away from the leaders of tiny Israel, quashing liberties and scorning their religion. Christianity was the latest in a long run of invaders.

The Jewish rulers feared the loss of their existence as a sovereign nation. Faced with rising popularity of Jesus, the Jewish Council desperately tried to agree to a plan to lessen the likelihood that Rome would react to the cult by taking away all religious freedom:

"The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, - What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." John 11:47-48 (ESV)

Even after his conversion, the apostle Peter struggled with feelings of animosity and disgust toward non-Jewish Gentiles. During prayer, Peter experienced a vision:

"He fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: - Rise, Peter; kill and eat. - But Peter said, - By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. - And the voice came to him again a second time, - What God has made clean, do not call common. - ...While Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, - Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them." Acts 10:10-15, 19-20 (ESV)

Peter realized that the vision meant God was commanding him to throw off his disdainful prejudice of Gentiles:

"You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean...Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." Acts 10:28, 34-35 (ESV)

Clashes between Jew and Gentile Christians are recorded:

"Some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, - It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." Acts 15:5 (ESV)

"You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. What then is to be done?" Acts 21:20-22 (ESV)

Paul often confronted the deeply instilled Jewish hatred and disgust for Gentiles:

"Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?" Romans 3:29 (ESV)

"He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles. As indeed he says in Hosea, - Those who were not my people I will call - my people, - and her who was not beloved I will call - beloved. - And in the very place where it was said to them, - You are not my people, - there they will be called - sons of the living God." Romans 9:24-26 (ESV)

"But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, - I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry." Romans 10:19 (ESV)

The Jews were angry with the Gentiles, and the anger persisted through conversion into Christianity. The preaching of the apostles drew together Christians from different languages and cultures, some Jews and many Gentiles.

Church became a place of cultural conflict.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What cultural conflicts divide today's Christian church? How does one distinguish between cultural differences and doctrinal heresy? How should the church respond to cultural differences? What cultural prejudices or stereotypes have you found difficult to discard? Is it helpful in any way to stereotype or generalize the characteristics of different groups of people?

Why does Paul focus on men's prayers, rather than those of women? Paul's answer to anger and quarreling in the church was prayer, holy prayer. And he directed his admonition to men.

PRAY: proseuchomai (to pray to God, to supplicate or worship); from pros (forward to, toward) and euchomai (to wish)

This word is the verb form of the word previously used in verse one, "prayers", translated from proseuche (worshipful prayer, an oratory in chapel). It implies regular, practiced prayer, not necessarily motivated by an immediate need, but part of a daily commitment for worship for, and dependendence upon, God.

There is only one biblical reason for Paul directing his exhortation to pray without anger to men, rather than to women: the leaders of the church were allowing anger and quarreling to divide the Christians.

HOLY: hosios (right, by intrinsic or divine character)

"Lifing holy hands" means praying with the right character, the right quality. "Holy" in this verse is not the same word used elsewhere, meaning equitable or innocent regarding human statues or relations (dikaios). Neither does it mean ceremonially sacred or consecration (hieros). It does not mean full of awe, pure or blameless (hagios). "Holy" here means right, conforming to justice, acting appropriately or proper.

The physical act of lifting one's hands is an expression of the inner motivation or object of praying. The lifted hands should reflect an inner desire for God to bring about something right, something conforming to justice, something appropriate and proper.

ANGER: orge (desire, as reaching forth, exitement of the mind, violent passion, ire or abhorrence; punishment); from orego (to stretch oneself, to reach out after, to long for)

This word for anger does not necessarily imply sin. The same word is used to describe God's righteous wrath for sinful humanity (Matthew 3:7). Jesus looked with the same anger at the religious leaders who forbade healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5).

For God, and His Son Jesus Christ, the anger of "orge" is righteous and proper. For humans, however, expressing this anger is dishonoring and sinful.

"Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." Ephesians 4:30-31 (ESV)

"Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, - Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Romans 12:19 (ESV)

"The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." James 1:20 (ESV)

As leaders, men are given a great responsibility. The word for "pray" is a general term that includes all expressions of worship, thanksgiving and dependence towards God. Men especially will tend to corrupt their religion with desires for vengeance, feelings of bitterness or jealousy, fears and insecurities. Their inner desire and motive for prayer becomes crooked or hypocritical. Paul's exhortation does not imply that only men should pray, but that men should be aware that their prayer can easily be adulterated with injustice and anger.

The leaders of the church in Ephesus were not praying in worship and adoration. They were using religious behavior to stretch themselves out, intensely longing for the respect, power and awe that rightly belongs to God alone. Their desires were wrong, perversely inappropriate to that which God Himself desires. Their hearts were filled with injustice and perversion of things right and good.

The were praying AT, rather than FOR, those in the church.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What is the cure? What should a church leader do when made aware of their own desire for vengeance or superiority? What situations have you experienced that involved a church leader taking upon himself wrath that rightfully belongs to God alone?

QUARRELING: dialogismos (discussion, consideration, purpose or debate); from dialogizomai (to reckon thoroughly, to deliberate); from dia (through, as in the channel of an act) and logizomai (to take an inventory, to estimate); from logos (something said, including the though; topic, reasoning, motive, computation)

Looking only at the dictionary, the word translated as "quarreling" seems quite positive, describing something admirable and necessary.

However, the word occurs only 14 times in the Bible, and in every instance it is in a negative context. Several times it is paired with a word that describes evil or hurtful (Matthew 15:19 and others). The word describes the thoughts of the religious leaders in Jerusalem who watched Jesus to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, hoping to find a reason to accuse him of blasphemy and sin (Luke 6:8).

The disciples expressed "dialogismos" when they were arguing amongst themselves as to which of them was the greatest (Luke 9:46). Later, they again "quarreled" when Jesus suddenly stood among them, risen from the dead:

"They were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, - Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" Luke 24:37-38 (ESV)

"Doubts" is the same Greek word earlier translated as "quarreling".

Finally, James rebukes Christians who show favoritism, paying attention to those richly dressed and scorning those in shabby clothing:

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, - You sit here in a good place, - while you say to the poor man, - You stand over there, - or, - Sit down at my feet, - have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" James 2:1-4 (ESV)

"Thoughts" is, again, the same Greek word as that of "quarreling".

"Dialogismos", translated as quarreling, doubts or thoughts, means to express lack of faith or lack of love, disguised in words of prayer, debate, argumentation or malice.

It was malice that motivated the Pharisees to consider Jesus healing others on the Sabbath. It was selfish superiority that moved the disciples to argue about their own excellence. It was fearful faithlessness that caused them to doubt the reality of the risen Lord Jesus.

It was evil wickedness that spurred the snobs to spurn the man dressed in shabby clothing.

It was a desire for self-glorification that moved the men in Ephesus to pray AT their flock.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How have you experienced clever argument or debate that disguised a desire to hurt or offend someone? When have you listened to a prayer that was more a rebuke or lecture to others than a worshipful appeal to God? When have you seen the leaders of a church use public prayer as a platform for control and self-glorification? What can sinful humans do to avoid falling into the trap of using religion as a means to power and wealth?

Stare by Robert D. Brooks / Michelle Jones, Creative Commons License