"A Quiet Life"

In today’s passage Paul advises Timothy to pray particular prayers for specific people in order that those under his care might live a “quiet and peaceable life.” His words are carefully chosen.

The disciples examine the fresh wounds on Jesus's body after the resurrection
[1] “Prayer in Church” by Gerard Sekoto

1 Timothy 2:1-7

September 18, 2022

Dr. Todd Wright I’d like to share with you three quotes – see which one best summarizes your philosophy: “The good and the wise lead quiet lives.”[2] “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”[3] “Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.”[4] I’ve got to admit that I’m torn. Part of what I like about serving in this church is that you are a noisy, colorful, and lively congregation. You are full of creativity and laughter, generosity and faith. Most of the time it is exhilarating, but there are times when I just want to sit, read a bit, and enjoy the setting sun as it paints the sky. I guess what I am saying is that there is something in me that needs an occasional taste of the quiet life. Maybe you do too.

 

In today’s passage Paul advises Timothy to pray particular prayers for specific people in order that those under his care might live a “quiet and peaceable life.” His words are carefully chosen. Not, “work diligently, or invest wisely, or live moderately, or retreat to the countryside, so you might have a quiet life;” not, “pray so you might have a fulfilling life, an exciting life, a luxurious life, a long life; but rather, pray “for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that you might lead a quiet and peaceable life.” Paul lays it out as if it were a simple formula – do this, get that – but it seems like ironic advice considering the life that Paul lived: He was no stranger to praying, but quiet is not the word to describe Paul’s life. He was constantly on the go, journeying from one trading hub to the next, preaching to crowds, planting churches, settling disputes, handing out advice to battle-hardened colleagues and fledgling disciples alike. It seemed like the only thing that slowed him down were arrests and prisons and punishments. But even the beatings did not stop him; and even in prison he was not still – he sang praises, and shared the gospel, and wrote all those letters! No, Paul knew very little outward peace and quiet, but who can blame him for wanting for Timothy what he had never enjoyed himself, in the same way that parents who grew up poor or uneducated want better for their children.

 

The world in which Paul carried out his ministry was nothing like the one we know. Jews had a long history of being scattered to the four winds and suffering under persecution and unjust rulers. They had always resorted to prayer – pleading to God to overthrow the oppressive tyrants and give them freedom, as he had done with Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. But something changed when they went into exile. God called on them to settle in, to build homes and plant fields and pray for Babylon. Imagine that! For Timothy’s congregation, former Jews or Gentiles alike, life was no different – they lived in a hostile environment where political authorities would always be suspicious of little house churches and would always be ready to act against them with little warning or excuse. But they had a choice which historical thread to follow. Pray for God to free them from oppressive leaders or pray for leaders that would keep them safe. After 500 years, Rome didn’t seem to be going anywhere. So you can understand the passion with which Timothy’s congregation might have prayed for those who had the power to keep the peace and enforce laws that would protect their assemblies; the power to give them room to evangelize and the freedom to travel; the power to ignore them or stamp them out on a whim. That same passion caused Tertullian, 100 years later, to pray for the Emperor, “long life, secure dominion, a safe home, a faithful senate, a righteous people, and a world at peace.”[5]

 

But let’s be clear, while Paul was counseling praying for kings and those in high position, he was aware that the Emperor expected his subjects to pray to him as if he were god![6] Paul is drawing a line. He is saying that rulers depend on the guidance and mercy of God, like everyone else. They are not to be worshipped. That’s why he goes on to remind Timothy, and all his people, “The is one God; [and] one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus...”

 

So where does that leave us, two thousand years later? Our church is not in danger of being closed by the authorities. We do not live in fear of a knock at the door in the middle of the night. Should we still be praying passionately for our leaders, so we might know peace and quiet? Is Paul’s advice to pray for “kings and all in high position” hopelessly outdated? Are such prayers blind patriotism, a slippery slope toward putting the state before God? Do these prayers sound like a dangerous accommodation of the status quo? Have the last few years made praying for President Biden or Governor Justice partisan acts? I don’t think so. I believe there’s still value in praying for our leaders and seeking peace. But maybe in our current context, praying for leaders is informed by … A war in Ukraine, or gang violence in Central America, or flooding in Pakistan that are half a world away, but whose ripple effects still wash ashore here. And by brothers and sisters marching in the streets calling for justice we take for granted. Or the brokenhearted setting up memorials next to schools and stores and movie theaters – crime scenes all. Maybe we make our prayers hoping that all will know peace and quiet. Maybe we make them yearning that all leaders would be guided by God’s love. Maybe we make them boldly, so that our neighbors can overhear. Maybe we make them faithfully no matter the shifting winds of culture or politics. Or maybe we make them because that is what God’s people have always done. Amen.

[1] “Prayer in Church” by Gerard Sekoto [2] Euripides (Greek playwright, c. 480-406 BC) [3] Anne Frank (Dutch, Jewish, diarist, 1929-1945) [4] Mel Brooks (American Actor, Writer, Producer and Film Director. b.1926 Brooklyn, New York, USA) [5] Tertullian (Early Christian Church leader and prolific author, ca. 155–230 AD), from Apology 30 [6] For this insight I am thankful to Christian Eberhart’s reflections on this text for workingpreacher.com, 9/22/13
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