Praying to Saints
When Catholics pray to the saints in heaven they are sometimes accused of equating them with God. This of course is not true. This misconception stems in part from a misunderstanding of what it means to pray. When we pray to God we are doing one or both of two things; we ask Him to act in our behalf and / or we worship Him. When we pray to the saints we are asking them to pray for and with us. We are not worshiping them. Worship is due to God alone.
But why ask the saints for anything when we can ask God? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that we have but one Mediator between God and man and that is “Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)? That’s true, but let’s think about that for a moment. If this prohibits the intercession of the saints in heaven it also prohibits the intercession of the saints on earth. And we know that isn’t true, so what does Paul really mean? If we read the verse in context the meaning becomes clear. Let’s see what happens when we read verses 1-6:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:1-6).
So Paul begins by asking for intercessory prayers for all men. He then says that it is good and acceptable to God because He desires all men to be saved. Paul sees intercessory prayer as a way to bring men to Christ and ultimately to salvation. Once on the subject of salvation Paul expands on it by explaining how it was made possible in the first place. He does this by referring to Jesus’ unique act of mediation: “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
Hebrew 9:15 makes this last point even clearer. It says that Jesus "is the Mediator of a new covenant." When the saints in heaven pray for us they are no more mediating a new covenant than we are when we pray for each other. So what is the lesson from this passage in 1 Timothy?
1. Pray for
men that they might be saved.
2. Salvation comes from Jesus' unique mediation.
3. Jesus' unique mediation consists of His death on the cross.
There is no condemnation here of intercessory prayer. In fact you can plainly see that it is encouraged. The only question one might have at this point is can the saints in heaven intercede for us? Scripture indicates that they can. We know that "the prayer of a righteous person has great power" (James 5:16). Who could be more righteous or pray more fervently than those already perfected and in the Lord's presence? We know that they care for us, "There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:7). And finally we see that they present our prayers along with their own to Jesus: "The four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8). Also, "And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God" (Revelation 8:3-4). Note that incense represents our prayers, and that the angels and elders in heaven present our prayers to God.
Let’s look at another example. In Matthew 18:10 we read: "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." What do you suppose that the little ones' angels would be doing on their behalf before God? Praying for them is the only logical answer.
Demonstrating early Christian belief, Origen wrote in the year 233, "But not the High Priest [Christ] alone prays for those who pray sincerely, but also the angels…as also the souls of the saints who have already fallen asleep" (On Prayer 11).
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For Further Study
The Early Church Fathers on Intercession
of Saints in heaven (Free)
Books - Any Friend of God's is a Friend of Mine by Patrick Madrid
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