The content of this chapter, and much of this letter, is not aimed at Timothy’s personal devotions or private worship, but the public gatherings of God’s people, and other matters related to the organisation of the church.
This Paul makes clear in Chapter 3 of this letter. In 3:14, Paul says, ‘ These things I write … so that you might know how to conduct (yourself) in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.’
So, first at all, Paul urges the church to pray for all sorts of people. Here he means that Timothy, or some other appropriate person, is to lead the congregation in prayer. One person will say the prayer aloud, and the gathered people will prayer along in their hearts and minds. This is the sort of practice implied by Paul in his discussion of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14. E.g., How can anyone other than the speaker say ‘Amen’ if the prayer is spoken in an unknown language? The point here is that all the congregation will be praying, but they will be praying the same things, as they are led by the one who leads the prayer. Why this is an important distinction will, I hope, become clear a little later.
In praying for the king (at that time, for Nero) and those with eminent positions in society, there seems to be at least two motivations. The first is so that the church might do its quiet and peaceful work of spreading the message of Jesus Christ. The aim is that they might live in all Godliness and modesty, undisturbed by the authorities. Paul knew by personal experience the trouble that can come to Christians and to churches if those is authority want to prevent the spread of the gospel. In Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus and almost in Corinth, Paul had trouble with authorities who gave attention to unfounded complaints against him or the Christians in those areas.
But in praying for authorities, we are not only to seek the good of the Church. Paul’s intention seems to be that these eminent people might come to faith themselves. This is the force of the statement that God ‘desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ I don’t believe that Paul is speaking about every single human being saved, since it is clear from the words of Jesus that not everyone will be saved. But Paul says it is God’s desire that all sorts of people be saved – Jew, Greek, rich, poor, slave, free, male, female, young and old. This includes those who have been causing trouble for Paul and the church.
This is why Paul makes a point of stating again the basis upon which anyone becomes a Christian. It is the work of Jesus. His saving work is applied to sinful people on the basis of God’s gracious choice. Therefore, when we pray for our leaders and for those with influence, we are not to pray with angry words asking for their fall. Christians are to pray without dissension, without bitterness, knowing that God desires all sorts of people to come to the knowledge of the truth — even those who might now be our enemies. Remember how Paul started out (as an enemy of the church), and what he became because of God’s mercy in Christ. This perhaps is why he explicitly refers to his own situation as a preacher of the Gospel as he urges Timothy to lead his congregation in prayer for the king, for those in authority and for all sorts of other people.
One last point. Paul says we are to be led in prayer for all people (anthropoi), meaning for all human beings without distinction. Even our Lord Jesus is referred to as the human being (anthropos) who acts as mediator for anthropoi. But when Paul refers to those who in everyplace are to lead in prayer, Paul uses a different word (andres), which refers to adult males. It seems that, in the public gatherings of the church, men — not women, not children — are to lead in prayer, to speak the words which the rest of the Congregation are to pray and say ‘Amen’ to. This clear verbal indication is supported by Paul’s direct statement that women are to learn in silence and are not to teach or exercise authority over a man in the public gatherings of the Church. Why? Paul’s reason is not drawn from the culture of his day, as he draws this principle from the very beginning of humanity. He simply says that there are circumstances where female leadership is not appropriate.