The Reason for Evangelistic Prayer
This is good and 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 one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time. And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (2:3–7)
This powerful and dramatic passage answers the question “Why pray for the lost?” It is one of the most definitive statements in all of Scripture of the saving purpose of God. It contains several reasons for evangelistic prayer.
evangelistic prayer is morally right
This points back to the commandment to pray for the lost in verses 1–2. Kalon (good) refers to what is intrinsically, morally good. God defines prayer for the lost as the noble and spiritually proper thing to do, and our consciences agree. The lost suffer the agony of sin, shame, and meaninglessness in this life, and the eternal hell of unrelenting agony in the life to come. Knowing that, it is the most excellent task to pray for their salvation.
Some might argue that Jesus said in John 17:9, “I do not ask on behalf of the world.” But there Christ was praying as Great High Priest for God’s elect. Because He is sovereign, omniscient Deity, His prayer was specific in a way ours cannot be. It was a prayer exclusively for the salvation of those whom He loved and chose before the foundation of the world to be partakers of every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3–4). “The world” was specifically excluded from the saving design of this prayer.
Our prayers, however, are not the prayers of a high priest; we pray as ambassadors of Christ, whose task it is to beseech men and women on His behalf to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). We are therefore commanded to offer our entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings … on behalf of all men. Our earnest desire ought to be for the salvation of all sinners (cf. Rom. 9:3; 10:1). We are not to try to limit evangelism to the elect only.
There are two reasons for this. First, God’s decree of election is secret. We do not know who the elect are and have no way of knowing until they respond to the gospel. Second, the scope of God’s evangelistic purposes is broader than election. “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Even Jesus’ high priestly prayer does embrace the world in this important regard. Our Lord prayed for unity among the elect so that the truth of the gospel would be made clear to the world: “that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.… that the world may know that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:21, 23). God’s call to all sinners is a bona fide and sincere invitation to salvation: “ ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’ ” (Ezek. 33:11).
evangelistic prayer is consistent with god’s desire
Obviously, in some inscrutable sense, God’s desire for the world’s salvation is different from His eternal saving purpose. We can understand this to some degree from a human perspective; after all, our purposes frequently differ from our desires. We may desire, for example, to spend a day at leisure, yet a higher purpose compels us to go to work instead. Similarly, God’s saving purposes transcend His desires. (There is a crucial difference, of course: We might be compelled by circumstances beyond our control to choose what we do not desire. But God’s choices are determined by nothing other than His own sovereign, eternal purpose).
God genuinely desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Yet in “the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11), He chose only the elect “out of the world” (John 17:6), and passed over the rest, leaving them to the damning consequences of their sin (cf. Rom. 1:18–32). The culpability for their damnation rests entirely on them because of their sin and rejection of God. God is not to blame for their unbelief.
Since God desires all men to be saved, we are not required to ascertain that a person is elect before praying for that person’s salvation. God alone knows who all the elect are (2 Tim. 2:19). We may pray on behalf of all men with full assurance that such prayers are good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. After all, “the Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:8–9).
Apodektos (acceptable), is from apodechomai, which means “to receive gladly,” “to accept with satisfaction,” or “to heartily welcome.” The Lord eagerly accepts prayer for the lost because it is consistent with His desire for their salvation.
Such prayer is also consistent with His nature as Savior. The phrase God our Savior appears five other times in the Pastoral Epistles (1:1; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4), as well as in Jude 25. God is not only creator, sustainer, king, and judge, but also savior. His saving character is manifested through His Son, Jesus Christ (2:5–6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6). God is the “Savior of all men” in a temporal sense, but “especially of believers” in an eternal sense (1 Tim. 4:10b).
That truth of God’s saving nature is also taught in the Old Testament (cf. 2 Sam. 22:3; Ps. 106:21; Isa. 43:3, 11). The idea that the God of the Old Testament is a vengeful, wrathful ogre mollified by the gentle, loving, New Testament Christ is not at all accurate.
When God desires all men to be saved, He is being consistent with who He is. In Isaiah 45:22 God said, “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 55:1 invites “every one who thirsts” to “come to the waters” of salvation. Again, in Ezekiel 18:23, 32 God states very clearly that He does not desire that the wicked should perish, but that they would sincerely repent (cf. Ezek. 33:11). In the New Testament, Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
No true biblical theology can teach that God takes pleasure in the damnation of the wicked. Yet though it does not please Him, God will receive glory even in the damnation of unbelievers (cf. Rom. 9:22–23). How His electing grace and predestined purpose can stand beside His love for the world and desire that the gospel be preached to all people, still holding them responsible for their own rejection and condemnation, is a mystery of the divine mind. The Scriptures teach God’s love for the world, His displeasure in judging sinners, His desire for all to hear the gospel and be saved. They also teach that every sinner is incapable yet responsible to believe and will be damned if he does not. Crowning the Scripture’s teaching on this matter is the great truth that God has elected who will believe and saved them before the world began. What mystery!
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33–36)
To come to the knowledge of the truth is to be saved. Epignōsis (knowledge) is used three other times in the Pastoral Epistles (2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1). In all four occurrences, it refers to the true knowledge that brings about salvation. Far from desiring their damnation, God desires the lost to come to a saving knowledge of the truth.
Some have argued that this passage teaches universalism. If God desires the salvation of all men, they argue, then all will be saved, or God won’t get what He wants. Others argue that what God wills comes to pass, because all men means all classes of men, not every individual. Neither of those positions is necessary, however. We must distinguish between God’s will of decree (His eternal purpose), and His will expressed as desire. Desire is not from boulomai, which would be more likely to express God’s will of decree, but from thelō, which can refer to God’s will of desire. This is precisely the distinction theologians often make between God’s secret will and His revealed will.
God desires many things that He does not decree. It was never God’s desire that sin exist, yet the undeniable existence of sin proves that even sin fulfills His eternal purposes (Isa. 46:10)—though in no sense is He the author of sin (James 1:13).
Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37). John Murray and Ned B. Stonehouse wrote, “We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfillment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass” (The Free Offer of the Gospel [Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presb. & Ref., 1979], 26). God desires all men to be saved. It is their willful rejection of Him that sends them to hell. The biblical truths of election and predestination do not cancel man’s moral responsibility.
evangelistic prayer reflects the uniqueness of god
One of the most fundamental teachings of Scripture is that there is one God (cf. Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 45:5–6, 21–22; 46:9; 1 Cor. 8:4, 6). That runs counter to the pluralistic religiosity of our world, which rejects the concept of any exclusive religious truth. We are taught by the spirit of our age that the gods of the Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, and Hindus are to be charitably considered equally valid. If that were true, there would be many ways of salvation, and hence no need for evangelism. But since there is only one true God, then He is the One in whom all must believe to be saved. There is no other name under heaven by which sinners may be saved (Acts 4:12). Evangelistic prayer recognizes that all must come to the one true God.
evangelistic prayer is consistent with the person of christ
Not only is there only one God, but one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.Mesitēs (mediator) refers to one who intervenes between two individuals to restore peace, or ratify a covenant. The concept of a mediator is seen in Job’s lament, “There is no umpire between us, who may lay his hand upon us both” (Job 9:33). Because Christ is the only mediator, all must come to God through Him (Acts 4:12). There isn’t an endless series of aeons, or subgods, as the Gnostics taught. We do not approach God through the intercession of angels, saints, or Mary. Only through the man Christ Jesus can men draw near to God. The absence of the article before anthrōpos (man) suggests the translation, “Christ Jesus, Himself man.” As the perfect God-man, he brings God and man together. Hebrews 8:6 calls Him “the mediator of a better covenant,” while Hebrews 9:15 and 12:24 describe Him as the mediator of the new covenant. All men who come to God must come through Him.
evangelistic prayer reflects the fullness of christ’s atonement
Our Lord freely gave His life when He died for our sins. In John 10:17–18 He said,
For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.
He voluntarily went to the cross and gave all of Himself, not merely something He possessed.
Ransom is a rich theological term, describing Christ’s substitutionary death for us. It is not the simple word for ransom, lutron, but antilutron, the added preposition intensifying the meaning. Christ did not merely pay a ransom to free us; He became the victim in our place. He died our death, and bore our sin. He gave Himself.
The phrase gave Himself as a ransom for all is a comment on the sufficiency of the atonement, not its design. To apply a well-known epigram, the ransom paid by Christ to God for the satisfaction of His justice is sufficient for all, but efficacious for the elect only. Christ’s atonement is therefore unlimited as to its sufficiency, but limited as to its application.
Real benefits accrue for all because of Christ’s all-sufficient atoning work. The gospel may be preached indiscriminately to all (Mark 16:15); the water of life and the offer of divine mercy are extended freely to all (Rev. 22:17); Christ is set forth as Savior for all to embrace (1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 4:14). Moreover, in a temporal sense, the entire race was spared from immediate destruction and judgment when Adam sinned (a privilege not afforded to the angels who fell—Heb. 2:16), and individual sinners experience delay in God’s judgment on their sins. Nineteenth-century theologian William G. T. Shedd wrote,
The atonement is sufficient in value to expiate the sin of all men indiscriminately; and this fact should be stated because it is a fact. There are no claims of justice not yet satisfied; there is no sin of man for which an infinite atonement has not been provided.… Therefore the call to ‘come’ is universal.” (Dogmatic Theology [reprint; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980], 2:482)
That does not mean that all will be saved. Again, “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Christ’s death was sufficient to cover the sins of all people, but it is applied to the elect alone. The price paid was infinite. If billions more had been added to the number of the elect, Christ would not have been required to suffer one more stroke of divine wrath to pay the price for their sin. On the other hand, “had there been but one sinner, Seth, elected of God, this whole divine sacrifice would have been needed to expiate His guilt” (R. L. Dabney, The Five Points of Calvinism [reprint; Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle, 1992], 61).
So the infinite price our Savior paid was certainly sufficient for all. “Christ’s expiation … is a divine act. It is indivisible, inexhaustible, sufficient in itself to cover the guilt of all the sins that will ever be committed on earth” (Dabney, 61). Therefore salvation can sincerely and legitimately be offered to all, though only the elect will respond. Shedd writes, “The extent to which a medicine is offered is not limited by the number of persons favorably disposed to buy it and use it. Its adaptation to disease is the sole consideration in selling it, and consequently it is offered to everybody” (Dogmatic Theology, 2:482).
It is crucial to understand that the atoning work of Christ fully accomplishes everything God declared He would accomplish in eternity past with regard to the salvation of sinners. God’s sovereign purposes are not thwarted in any degree by the unbelief of those who spurn Christ. “I am God,” He states, “and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’ ” (Isa. 46:9–10). The atonement of Christ does not represent a failed attempt to save anyone who will not be saved. All those whom God purposed to save from eternity past will be saved (cf. John 17:12).
Yet it is worth reiterating once more that while God’s saving purpose is limited to the elect, His desire for the salvation of sinners is as broad as the human race. He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And so Christ gave Himself as a ransom sufficient for all. How graphically the atoning work of Christ reveals to us the heart of God for the salvation of sinners!
That is why Paul refers to the atonement as the testimony borne by Christ at the proper time. This thought precisely parallels Galatians 4:4–5, “But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law.” Christ gave Himself as a ransom at exactly the proper time in God’s redemptive plan. His redemptive work is the most eloquent testimony ever borne to God’s saving desire for all sinners. Evangelistic prayer for all men therefore reflects the heart of God, and honors Christ’s work on the cross.
evangelistic prayer is in accord with paul’s divine commission
And for this, Paul writes in verse 7, I was appointed a preacher and an apostle. This refers to the great truths that God is our Savior, Christ is our mediator, and Christ gave Himself as a ransom, as discussed in the preceding verses. Paul’s divine commission was based on those truths. Preacher derives from the verb kērussō, which means to herald, proclaim, or speak publicly. The ancient world had no news media, so announcements were made in the city square. Paul was a public herald proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. An apostle was a messenger, sent on behalf of Christ. If the gospel message was exclusive, that would undercut Paul’s calling.
Paul reinforces the truthfulness of his calling as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth with the parenthetical statement in verse 7. He affirms I am telling the truth, I am not lying. In case some doubted his teaching in this passage, he insists that he is speaking the truth.
We, too, are called to proclaim the gospel to the lost world. That call, like Paul’s divine commission, is based on God’s desire that all be saved. Evangelistic prayer acknowledges our responsibility.
5 Paul now elaborates even further his command in vv. 1–2, this time by specifying the nature of the gospel that must be proclaimed. The following affirmation may draw on a Christian confession (“the testimony given in its proper time,” v. 6). The existence of “one God” was affirmed by monotheistic Judaism (Dt 6:4), with important implications also for Gentiles (cf. Ac 17:23–31; Ro 3:30; 1 Co 8:6). Unfortunately, first-century Jews frequently defined their salvation-historical privilege in narrow, nationalistic terms. This ethnic presumption is firmly opposed by both Jesus and the early church, including Peter (1 Pe 2), Paul (letter to the Romans), and John (e.g., Jn 10:16; 11:51–52; 12:32). Since there are other monotheistic religions besides Christianity, the apostle proceeds to stress that there is only “one mediator” between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, “who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (see comments at v. 6).
Just as there is only one God, there is also only “one mediator” (mesitēs, GK 3542) between God and the human race, the man Christ Jesus (cf. Jn 14:6b). In Hebrews, Jesus is presented as the mediator of a new covenant, replacing the old covenant mediated by Moses (Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24; cf. Gal 3:19–20). No other intermediaries will do, be they angels (Col 2:18; Heb 2:2), Moses (Gal 3:19; Heb 3:1–6), Jewish high priests (Heb 8:6, 9, 13.; 9:13; 12:24), or other religious figures. Here the “mediator” concept is developed in terms of the “ransom” (v. 6; antilytron, GK 519; see apolytrōsis in Ro 3:24; 8:23; 1 Co 1:30; Col 1:14) offered through Jesus’ death (cf. Tit 2:14: lytroō, GK 3390, “redeem”). This presupposes universal human sinfulness (cf. Ro 1–3). The reference to Jesus’ humanity emphasizes both his identification with the human race and his status as the man par excellence, the one who alone was in a position to provide redemption from sin (cf. Paul’s Adam/Christ theology in Ro 5:12–21; 1 Co 15:21–22, 45–49).
2:5–6a / Paul will now offer as evidence for the contention that “God wants all people to be saved” some commonly held theological affirmations, probably from an early creedal formulation—although some of the present language may well be his own. The statement has three parts to it: the unity of God, Christ as mediator, and Christ’s death as securing redemption. It should be noted that all three parts support Paul’s insistence on the universal scope of salvation.
There is one God. This statement reflects the primary Jewish affirmation about God (see Deut. 6:4; cf. 1 Cor. 8:4). Its original intent in the ot was to stress God’s unity vis-à-vis the polytheism that surrounded Israel. Unfortunately, however, it often came to be used in an exclusivistic way: “He is our God and he looks out for his own.” But basic to the original intent, and what Paul is stressing here, was that the fact of one God not only meant that there were no other gods but that he is therefore the one God over all peoples.
And there is one mediator between God and men (lit., “One also is the mediator between God and mankind”). The presupposition of this line in relation to the first is the universal sinfulness of humanity, who needs outside help in order to be rightly related to the one God whom it has spurned. The point being made is not only that humankind needs mediation with God (the presupposition) but that God himself has provided it. The word “mediator” had sometimes been applied to Moses in Judaism (e.g., Philo, Moses 2.166), as the one who “mediated” the Law to God’s people, a notion Paul seems to allude to negatively in Galatians 3:19–20. Here, or in the creed itself before Paul used it, the background lies in the idea of a “negotiator” who “establishes a relation which would not otherwise exist” (TDNT, vol. 4, p. 601). Jesus Christ is the “go-between God,” who reconciles fallen humanity to the one God, that is who mediates between God and men.
The phrase the man Christ Jesus emphasizes both his full identification with all men and his being the one human being of whom it can be said, he is the Man (anthrōpos, the generic term, not anēr, expressing male gender). This seems to reflect Paul’s use of the Adam-Christ imagery, wherein Christ becomes the representative “man” for people of the New Age, as Adam was of the Old.
Who gave himself as a ransom for allpeople: This clause, of course, makes explicit what was only implicit in the first two clauses, revealing Paul’s reason for citing the whole. God’s desire for all to be saved is evidenced in the creed itself with its statement that Christ’s death was for allpeople. The gospel, therefore, potentially provides salvation for all people, because Christ’s atoning self-sacrifice was “in behalf of” (hyper) all people. Effectually, of course, it ends up being “especially [for] those who believe” (4:10).
The clause is very close in concept, but not so in its actual language, to Mark 10:45 and probably reflects a Hellenized form of that saying. To give himself up for us is a typically Pauline way of referring to Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross (Gal. 1:4; 2:20; Eph. 5:2). As a ransom translates a noun, antilytron, that can mean either a “ransom” (involving “payment”) or “redemption” (in the Exodus sense of delivery from bondage). In both Mark 10:45 and here, the latter is to be preferred (as well as in Titus 2:14).
As often happens, therefore, when describing the work of Christ (cf. Rom. 3:24–25; 1 Cor. 1:29; 6:11), a rich combination of metaphors is used, and this creedal statement is no exception. But the point throughout is its potentiality for allpeople.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (pp. 67–74). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 512). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 64–66). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.