It happens all the time. We become so familiar with a passage in the Bible or the storyline in a movie or lines in our favorite poem that we miss other parts of the story. For instance, I say, “First Corinthians 13,” you say, “the Love Chapter; read it at weddings; put it on a plaque.” But, did you know that the “Love Chapter” has important teaching on sanctification and growing in our walk with God and what happens when we see Jesus?
Psalm 23? The funeral psalm that we read as caskets go into the ground. Actually, it’s much more about life and about the abiding presence of God in good times and hard times than about death or the afterlife.
So, that brings us to First Timothy 2. This part of Paul’s letter is most often quoted regarding the office of mediator that Jesus holds due to his redeeming work on the cross or the teaching on the wardrobe and demeanor of women and their place in God’s hierarchy. But there is one pivotal verse that is often overlooked. It’s verse 8 and here’s what it says, “Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.” Wow. We could unpack this for weeks. And, yet, we often miss this critical teaching.
So, immediately, this is how I respond to this pivotal sentence.
- Pray – Come to God and share how you feel about what is going on in your life. Ask for his help. Cry out to God with your anxieties, pains, fears, joys, hopes and desires. Pray for those in your community and your community of faith. Ask God to open the hearts of those around you to hear the Good News that Jesus is the mediator between God and man.
- Lift up holy hands – what an amazing picture of our reaching out for God’s help. Coming to him with empty hands is very difficult for most of us. Sometimes God has to take away those things and people that we rely upon so that we can have holy hands to raise. They are holy because we raise them with singularity of purpose. We are lifting up our hands to God and God alone. We are saying that Jesus is our only hope for connecting to our Creator and Heavenly Father.
- Without anger or argument – I’m pretty much assuming that Paul’s talking about not being angry with those who around us and not while we are in the midst of an argument. It seems to be way too common that the people of God manifest anger and resentment within the church. Whether it is the attack of evil or our hiding behind our false selves, Paul says that we must shed those feelings and positions to raise our hands in prayer. Certainly, this would follow that if we are to come to God lifting our holy hands that we cannot come grasping to our hatred, disrespect or unwillingness to forgive, forget and move forward.
Won’t you join me in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument?
Over the past several weeks, I have been spending regular time following Jesus as he is portrayed and revealed in the Gospel of St. Matthew. I’m continually brought back to the core of his ministry. Jesus lived on earth by every word that came from the mouth of his Father.
Our friend and elder brother Henri Nouwen observed in his book Making All Things New (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), “We will never understand the full meaning of Jesus’ richly varied ministry unless we see how the many things are rooted in the one thing: listening to the Father in the intimacy of perfect love.”
Again and again, in Matthew, I get the sense that as Jesus begins or ends his days with a time of solitude with his Father that it is his life blood. Like manna in the wilderness, Jesus is fed by his Father with the food of love and wisdom.
What is the nature of the local Christian church? I’ve been thinking much about that question lately as my local or visible church of over 25 years is going through some rough times. This is not new as we readily see the ancient churches in Corinth and Galatia had struggles within 10-20 years after they were started.
A church is a community that is to be growing as a body of individuals who have “the mind of Christ” and who are led with that mind to care for others. But it is easy to lose sight of Jesus and be consumed with developing our minds about what the church is and be focused upon the needs of others. And if you are successful in helping others one gains a reputation as being a good Christian. Yet, we may have more and more the “mind of the community” rather than the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 1-2).
Another challenge we face is that we develop the mind of R.C. Sproul, or John Piper or Andy Stanley, etc. And I could easily be accused of cultivating the mind of Henri Nouwen. If we allow others to mold our thinking through their persuasive speech or insightful teaching, we risk losing our focus on the work of Jesus Christ. As Paul reminds us, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?… For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:13,17).
So, why is prayer the language of the church? Because prayer, as a dialogue, is our conversation and connection with the head of the church. The church is sometimes identified as the “bride of Christ” and as such we have only one husband. We are monogamous. And our love language is directed to our husband. And with a common husband, we are brought into community as we relate to him together. Jesus creates this community and there is no greater acknowledgement of his being the creator of this community than by talking to him together.
God said through Isaiah that “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) And the context of this declaration is in a discussion about eunuchs and foreigners. The Lord says that there are no strangers in his community. There are no handicapped and no outsiders. All are made insiders by his calling. And how will they experience their “insiderness”? Through prayer all will speak the same language. The language of a community following Jesus is a praying fellowship. Jesus famously repeats the declaration about his house (and remember the church is people, not a building) being a house of prayer when, in contrast with the mind of Christ, his house has become filled with the minds of men.
Prayer is the recognition that God is in our midst and it is recognition that the community exists at all. Without the language of prayer, we are a social club or clan or clique that exists for itself and has it’s origin in the mind of man. But we have the mind of Christ. We do not instruct or advise him. He instructs and guides and calls us. And we respond to him in thanksgiving and amazement.
Speak to our hearts, Lord. May we only look to you for wisdom and knowledge.