Some of the most specific biblical instructions about prayer appear in 1 Timothy 2. Here, the Holy Spirit not only gives us direction about the various “types” of prayers we may employ, he also points us toward some of the “objects” for whom our spirits and voices should be raised in prayer. While Paul does not give an exhaustive list of “prayer topics” in this context, the words of verses 1-2 show that the prayers we offer to our Father will vary according to our circumstances. In other words, supplications – prayers of “deep and urgent need” – are not the same as intercessions – prayers on behalf of another – and these are distinct from giving of thanks – expressions of gratitude for blessings received. Likewise, the mention of kings and “those in authority” (governor, mayor, police officer, dogcatcher, etc.) is not merely for their benefit, but shows that we may prosper as a result of praying for them, too! Notice that Paul goes on in verses 3-4 to point out that a diligent prayer life is pleasing to God (one might say that He “likes to hear from His children”)! We should also not miss the point (vs. 4) that the “all” for whom God desires salvation would include these rulers; even a king or a congressman needs to be a Christian to go to heaven.
Another important point (vs. 5) is that Jesus Christ is the EXCLUSIVE “mediator” between God and men. A “mediator” is one who stands between two adversaries – a “go-between,” whose purpose is to reconcile the differences that separate them. This statement is important because of doctrines in Christendom – such as the Roman Catholic church’s teachings about Mary and about saints – that lead people to believe that someone other than Jesus Himself can act in this role. There is no biblical example of this, nor any biblical authorization for anyone else to act in Jesus’ place between God and man. A fundamental requirement to be qualified to act as a mediator, and a principle recognized even in our own civil laws, is that the mediator must be “equally” related to both adversaries (in civil law, this is called being “neutral and disinterested”), and only Jesus – God in the flesh (John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-8; 1 Timothy 3:16) – meets this qualification. To suggest that anyone else could fill this role; whether Mary, someone designated as a “saint” by some denomination, or a self-proclaimed “prophet” such as Mohammed, implies that sin is “not that big a deal,” and it diminishes the Father’s gift in giving Jesus to die for us.
Many people also misread verse 8, as a prescription that we should “raise our hands” when we pray. If we simply read on, however, to the end of the sentence (to the end of verse 10), we find that Paul is actually comparing the moral character of Christian men (e.g., those who lead the saints in praying), and the general behavior of Christian women. The point is that both men (those authorized by God to occupy public leadership roles in the church) and women are to maintain the same high standard of Christian conduct! Grammatically, the word “holy” is an adjective which describes the “character” of the hands; it has nothing to do with posture or elevation of the hands. To suggest that Paul is saying “you should hold your hands up when you pray” is to fundamentally misunderstand the point here (a comparison of the moral character and faithfulness of men in prayer with that of women who dress modestly and exhibit self control). We should also note there that “men” in verse 8 and “women” in verse 9 are genderspecific words (males vs. females); they are not generically-inclusive terms (“people”). This is what provides the contrast Paul uses to make his point.