Not far from my home in Port Chalmers, New Zealand is the seaside settlement of Karitane. Karitane is a beautifully significant place. On May 17, 1840, the Wesleyan missionary, Rev. James Watkin, stood on this lovely stretch of land and preached the very first Christian sermon in the Otago region. Watkin was born in Manchester, England, on September 9, 1805. Early in his life he sensed a call to Christian ministry. Watkin was a brilliant man with a flair for languages. A wealthy acquaintance spotted his unique ability and urged him to attend Oxford University and take orders in the Church of England, offering to pay all fees and expenses involved. But Watkin felt a strong desire to train within his own tradition and to do so with a view to foreign mission work. On August 30, 1830, Watkin sailed for Tonga. He was just shy of his twenty-fifth birthday and just celebrating his two-month wedding anniversary. For Mr. and Mrs. Watkin, this was a final farewell; they were not privileged to see their beloved England again.
For over six years the Watkins toiled for the Tongan people. They battled against hazardous weather, sickness, and tribal wars. James Watkin quickly became an expert speaker of the Tongan language, and his friends often said of him, “In Lufuka and Haabai, the chief scene of his labors, many thousands of natives were won for Christ and his church.” The gospel was advancing and converts were erecting places of worship. In one particular Tongan church, the pulpit and communion table were formed of clubs and other weapons that had once been used in tribal wars. A gracious work of God was taking place in Tonga.
In 1837, Mr. and Mrs. Watkin were transferred to Sydney for medical care. James’ body appeared to be failing him. But after a brief rest, and although still feeble in health, Watkin started preaching in Sydney. He ministered there until 1840, when the Mission Board appointed him to Waikouaiti, New Zealand. On May 17, 1840, Watkin preached the first Christian sermon in Otago. He reported to the Mission Board in London that he opened his commission in New Zealand by preaching from 1 Timothy—“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “The attention of the crowd was great,” he said. And he concluded his report to the Mission Board with a simple yet powerful prayer: “May the Word spoken not have been in vain.” Watkin understood that God’s redemptive plan includes all peoples.
In 1 Tim 2:1-7, Paul summarizes God the Savior’s plan in the world. The passage can be divided into four sections. In vv. 1-2, Paul calls believers to pray for the salvation of all people. In vv. 3-4, Paul focuses on God’s desire for all people to be saved. Paul then locates the means of salvation for all in a single person (vv. 5-6). Finally, the apostle emphasizes the proclamation of the one gospel.
The Priority of Prayer: The church must pray for the progress of the gospel (vv. 1-2). Paul begins by calling believers to pray for all people. He uses four different words—“supplications,” “prayers,” “intercessions,” and “thanksgivings”—to indicate the full spectrum of communication. The following verses (vv. 3-7) will make clear the fact that Paul chiefly has in mind prayers for conversion. The basic thrust of v. 1, then, is that all the believer’s prayer efforts should have an evangelistic emphasis. In v. 2a, the apostle indicates that those in positions of authority constitute special prayer concerns. Believers are called to pray for all people, and this includes rulers and all who are in authoritative positions. The purpose of these prayers for the powerful, Paul says, is so that believers might exist peaceably and purposefully in the world (v. 2b). His notion of prayer cannot be severed from his conception of Christian existence as witness and service in society. Paul knows that civic authorities have the power to either initiate hostile behavior toward Christians or to maintain an environment conducive to Christian witness. Paul encourages believers to pray for legislation that will set them free for missionary service, but at the same time he affirms that all followers of Christ will experience persecution (2 Tim 3:12). The idea is that, irrespective of the environment, Christians must model right belief and right behavior (“godly”); they must live the devout life that wins respect from the watching world (“dignified”).
The Universal Offer of Salvation: God desires for all people to be saved (vv. 3-4). The church must pray for all people because the gospel is universal in scope. Paul wants to clarify for his readers that God’s saving purposes have moved beyond the ethnic boundaries of Israel. Use of the title “Savior” for God the Father is characteristic of 1 Timothy (1:1; 2:3; 4:10). The title emphasizes the Father as the Great Architect of the redemptive arrangement. From before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), the Father planned to send the Son to purchase a people for himself “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).
The Particular Provider of Salvation: Christ is the one hope for humanity (vv. 5-6). Paul explains that the salvific scheme of God is marked by both inclusivity (“all people,” v. 4) and exclusivity (“one God and one Mediator,” v. 5). The apostle echoes Deut 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The one true God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has sent his Son—Christ Jesus—to restore the relationship between God and humanity, the relationship that was severed in the Garden of Eden. Though Christ is fully God and fully man, Paul here emphasizes the humanity of the Son. Elsewhere Paul writes: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4). In short, the Son identified himself with us so that we might be able to become identified with him in his relationship with the Father. Paul declares that the man Christ Jesus came as “the one mediator” and as “the ransom for all.” The God-man stands between the fractured parties (a holy God and sinful humanity) and restores the relationship. This reconciliation comes at a great price. God’s anger burns white-hot against sinners. As Calvin puts it, his holy hand is armed for our destruction (Inst. 2.16.2). But Christ offered himself to the Father on behalf of sinners; the Son’s death on the cross completely satisfied the Father’s wrath, thereby securing the captive’s release.
The Continuation of Ministry: The church must carry the gospel to the world (v. 7). Paul concludes the section by highlighting the fact that he was appointed by God to proclaim this message of the person and work of Christ Jesus. While Paul’s apostolic commission is especially in view in v. 7, there is an important implication here for the entire church. As Paul clearly explains in 2 Cor 5:18-20, the church has been entrusted with the ministry and the message of reconciliation. God the Savior announces his redemptive arrangement through the church.
In 1 Tim 2:1-7, Paul outlines the redemptive arrangement of God the Savior. The apostle affirms that Christ alone provides salvation. Christ restored the relationship between God and man by offering himself as the payment that completely satisfied the wrath of the Father. What was accomplished at the cross is received by faith in the Son (e.g., Rom 3:25). Paul also declares that the gospel—the good news of the person and work of Christ—is universal in scope. As he says elsewhere, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (Rom 10:12-13). Finally, Paul emphasizes that, because the gospel is universal in scope, the church must pray for the conversion of all people, model the message of Christ for the watching world and, like Paul, carry this message to the nations. This type of Christian existence in the world is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.