Paul has now thoroughly warned Timothy about the life of the false teachers, going so far as to specifically name two. Now, he turns his sights toward explaining proper Christian life (now that he knows what improper Christian life looks like).
“First of all”, Paul wants us to know, prayer stands as the foundation of the Christian life. It is the means by which God preserves us, allowing us to neither shipwreck our faith nor necessitating the need to turn us over to Satan. He tells Timothy that the community must practice “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving” for “all people”, not just those within the church.
We may not want to make too much out of the specific types of prayer that Paul mentions – much less waste time talking about types of prayer that Paul does NOT mention. But, the Spirit does not waste a single word in Scripture, so it does bear a short summary. Supplications appear in contexts relating to prayers about needing help (cf. I Tim 5:5; Phil 4:6; Ephesians 6:18). We must lift up supplications for “all people” because everybody does need help from Jesus. Secondly, prayers seem to be a generic catch-all: we must pray in general for their needs. Thirdly, we must lift up intercessions for them. Starting way back at Genesis, the term “intercession” carries a technical, prophetic weight. Abraham intercedes for Abimelech that God won’t carry out the punishment that he deserved for taking Sarah. Prophets intercede for others that God would have mercy on them and save them, so we must pray for the salvation of others. Finally, we lift up thanksgiving for them. The aim of our preaching is that the world would bring God his earned and deserved thanksgiving (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:15), but for now, we offer it ourselves as we wait for the salvation of “all people”. We should also just be thankful for other people in general, obviously.
It is interesting whom Paul calls us to pray for. Following a development in later New Testament writings (I Peter 2), Paul calls Timothy and the Ephesians to pray for “kings”. Keep in mind that this is one of Paul’s last letters, moving it well within a time frame of intense Christian persecution. This does not preclude Christians from praying for kings, though; instead, it becomes part of the apostolic commands. We remember that we are to love our enemies (cf. Matthew 5) and not turn against them when they act like, well, enemies. When we pray for our enemies, we work toward a world in which we can live quiet and peaceful lives (2:3-4).
It can be hard to pray for our enemies. I imagine it’s even harder to pray for enemies when they can legislate against you. (As a white, male, American Christian, I don’t have any idea of what that is like yet.) Thankfully, Paul grounds this commandment in the bedrock of the gospel as a motivation to not waver in prayer for the kings. “It is good and pleasing to God our Savior” (2:4). When we pray for the salvation of everybody, we are acting in accord with the heart of God, “who desires all to be saved” (1:4). In previous letters, Paul has explained that God has wanted all to be saved, discussing God’s heart through the lens of the Jew/Gentile relationship (cf. Philippians, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians). Now, he adds a different intersection: class. God wants everybody to come to the knowledge of truth despite their ethnicity or class (cf. 2:7, wherein Paul is an evangelist to the Gentiles).
If God’s heart is for all people, he has to provide one means by which we can come to him. Paul argues earlier in Romans (3:30) that because there is one God, there is only means by which we can be saved (faith). He argues similarly here: God wants all people to be saved through one, singular mean. This singular mean is Jesus, the one mediator between God and men. Though we intercede for others (2:1-2), ultimately, Jesus is the only one who brings it before the Father. He can do this for all people because he died for all people (2:6), not just a singular type of people (eg., a singular ethnic group, a singular class, etc.)
So, the first step in proper Christian living is developing our prayer life. Specifically here, our prayer life must have in mind “all people”, including those who exercise rule over us. (A critique on contemporary Christian practice, to be sure, but for different reasons that than of Paul or Timothy.) These prayers for all people develop Christlikeness in us as our hearts are transformed to be like God’s, who desires the salvation of all people. As we pray to that end, we will find ourselves hoping for and looking for those same aims. We remember Christ, the one mediator who lifts these prayers to the Father, who died for us and everybody else in the world in order that anybody who has faith, despite their race, class, or any other intersection, can be united to Christ through the Spirit to the praise of the Father.