Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. 1 Timothy 2:8
Wrath and Dissension – We know that prayer is the operating power of God’s redemptive plan. We know that prayer is deeper, more powerful, more courageous and more demanding than any other spiritual discipline. We know that prayer is absolutely essential, but knowing all of this doesn’t make it any easier. Most of us are not like Epaphras. We want to be, but we just don’t know how to become prayer warriors. So, we do the best we can, bumping along in the morning, trying our best to get the right words, to stay awake, to trust God. I would guess that for most of us prayer is generally frustrating. We try and try but we aren’t lifted to heights of glory. We muddle through.
Paul tells Timothy something about prayer that might help all of us. He starts by focusing on the mixture that we bring to God’s throne. In particular, Paul tells us that prayer needs to be devoid of wrath and dissension. “Of course,” you might say. “Who can imagine that God will listen to prayers filled with anger?” Obviously, this isn’t quite what Paul has in mind.
The first Greek word here is orge (wrath). Aristotle called it desire with grief. In other words, it is not simply anger. It is the combination of the frustration that I do not have what you have with the feeling of revenge. In Greek tragic plays, orge describes the explosive moment when revenge bursts forth bringing disaster. It is parallel to the Hebrew concepts of heated passion, rage and indignation. Clearly such feelings do not belong in prayer. So, why does Paul bother to mention it at all? Because Paul has just exhorted believers to pray for those who have the power to oppress. When we are most inclined to curse, when the objects of our fury deserve punishment for what they have done to us, we are to lay aside orge. This is no different than Jesus’ instruction to bless those who curse you. Perhaps the first requirement for deeper prayer is to examine ourselves to see if we are carrying a list of hated enemies under our prayer requests.
The second word is dialogismos. In one context, this word might be translated doubt. In this context, it means dispute. Orge is the internal state of mind that desires revenge. Dialogismos is the external action that carries out this hostile attitude. Neither one benefits. It is not sufficient to simply think blessed thoughts toward previous or potential enemies. I must put aside my internal hostility and turn my blessings into real actions. It’s no good to come to prayer after asking forgiveness for desires for revenge if I have not altered the real circumstances of life. Followers of the Way manifest redemption in both thought and deed. One without the other is either pointless or pathetic.
It seems so obvious. Why does Paul bother with it? Because there is no greater threat to prayer, and no more vulnerable place of opposition, than with our enemies, real or perceived. If prayer doesn’t work here, it won’t work anywhere else. If you want to lift up holy hands, first look under your fingernails. A bit of anger or contentious behavior left unwashed makes prayer impossible. Scrub before kneeling.
Topical Index: Understanding