June 20 Evening Verse of The Day

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2:3, 4 — God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The Lord does not celebrate the need to judge wicked people and send them to hell, but the opportunity to redeem repentant people and bring them to heaven. He opens wide the doors to His home.[1]

2:3 Good (Gk. kalos) means “useful,” “excellent,” or “suitable” (compare 1:8). The prayer is good because it is in accordance with the will of God. In the sight of God our Savior indicates the saving power of God (1:15).

2:4 Who desires all men to be saved does not mean that God has willed that everyone should come to salvation, for elsewhere Paul clearly teaches that only those who believe in Christ will receive salvation (Rom. 1:16, 17; 3:21–26; 5:17). This is also the clear teaching of Jesus (John 3:15–18). Thus, universal salvation is not the determinative will of God, by which He sovereignly rules the world. Instead what Paul might be saying here is that the Savior God extends the offer of salvation to all. Christ died for the sins of all, but only those who believe receive the benefits of that sacrifice (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15). The knowledge of the truth refers to Christian growth after being saved. God’s desire is not only our salvation (justification) but also our growth in the truth (sanctification), so that we will not be led astray by false teachers (1:3, 4).[2]

2:3–4. The expression For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior looks back to vv 1–2 and corporate prayer for those in authority. The expression God our Savior could refer to Jesus or to God the Father. In light of v 5 (where Jesus is called Mediator and Man in contrast to the Father who is called God), it seems that the Father is specifically in view here.

What does Paul mean when he says that God desires all men to be saved? Typically this is understood as a statement of God’s desire that all men have eternal life. Those who believe in limited atonement suggest that all men here refers to all types of men. However, such a view is foreign to the context.

Nowhere else in First Timothy does sōzein (“to save”) refer to gaining eternal life. See the discussion on 2:15 and 4:16. The coordinating clause, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, helps explain the meaning. That is then followed by a discussion of the mediatorial work of Christ. This suggests that the salvation in 2:4 is spiritual well-being. It certainly includes having eternal life for no one can have spiritual well-being without having God’s life, but in addition it probably means that God’s desire for all is to be in fellowship with Him and to know the truth.[3]

2:3 That we should pray for all men, including kings and those in authority, is good and acceptable in the sight of God. It is good in itself and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. The title which Paul gives to God here is significant. God’s desire is for the salvation of all men. Therefore, to pray for all men is to promote the will of God in this regard.

2:4 This explains further what we have already pointed out in verse 3. God desires all men to be saved (Ezek. 33:11; John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9). Therefore, we should pray for all men everywhere.

This verse sets forth clearly the divine and the human aspects of salvation. The first half of the verse indicates that man must be saved. The verb here is passive; man cannot save himself but must be saved by God. This is the divine side of salvation.

In order to be saved, man must come to the knowledge of the truth. God does not save men against their will. He does not populate heaven with rebellious subjects. Man must come to Him who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is the human side.

From this, it should be clear that this verse does not teach universal salvation. Although God desires that all men should be saved, yet not all men will be saved. It was not initially God’s will that the children of Israel should wander for thirty-eight years in the wilderness; yet they did it just the same. He permitted it, but it was not the pathway of blessing which He had planned for them.[4]

2:3. As in modern times, some in the Ephesian church were prepared to question the validity of a prayer for the salvation of all men. Thus Paul defended his instructions by pointing out that such a prayer is good, and pleases God our Savior (cf. 1:1). Literally, the Greek says that such a prayer is “acceptable before” (in the presence of) God. Many prayers are unacceptable to God, but not this one.

2:4. The reason this prayer is acceptable to God is that it is a prayer “according to His will” (1 John 5:14). God, who is by nature a Savior, wants all men to be saved. Paul repeated the words “everyone” (1 Tim. 2:1) and “all men” (vv. 3, 6). The same Greek word (pas, “all”) is used in each case, referring all three times to the same group (cf. 4:10). God desires that no one perish (2 Peter 3:9), that the entire human race come to know the truth through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the Truth (John 14:6). (Of course not all do come to salvation; Paul was not teaching universalism.)[5]

2:3–4. The full expression of our transformed lives and faith in God is good, and pleases God our Savior. God is not silent about what pleases him and glorifies his name. Such lives are used by God who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

God’s desire is for everyone to be saved. But this is not an issue of sovereign will. It is not an edict handed down regardless of what people think, believe, or do. God’s desire may be one thing, but he has subjected it to our willful responses. The second half of God’s desire for all people is the universal availability of the truth. This shows the expansive nature of the church’s mission. God’s plan is for the evangelization of all nations and peoples.[6]

2:3 “this is good and acceptable” Godliness is God’s will for all humanity. This is a way of referring to the restoration of the marred “image of God” in humanity from Gen. 1:26–27. God has always wanted a people who reflect His character. The question has always been “how?” The OT showed that fallen humanity could not produce obedience or righteousness by their own efforts. Therefore, the NT is based on God’s actions and faithfulness, not mankind’s (cf. Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:22–38). God restores and motivates followers through His Son and His Spirit. We are not right with God based on our performance, but once we know Him in salvation, the goal of our lives is holiness (cf. Matt. 5:20, 48; Rom. 8:29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4; 2:10).

© “God our Savior” See note at 1:1.

2:4 “who desires all men to be saved” Believers are to pray for all people because God wants all people saved. This was a shocking statement to the exclusivistic false teachers, whether gnostic or Jewish or more probably in the pastoral letters, a combination. This is the great truth about God’s love for all mankind (cf. Ezek. 18:23, 32; John 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:9). This verse shows the imbalance of dogmatic, super-lapsarian double-edged predestination which emphasizes God’s sovereignty to the exclusion of any needed human response. The stated truths of “five point” Calvinism, especially “irresistible grace” and “limited atonement” violate the covenant aspect of biblical faith. It is improper to reduce God to a puppet of human free will, as it is also improper to reduce mankind to a puppet of divine will. God in His sovereignty has chosen to deal with fallen mankind by means of covenant. He always initiates and structures the covenant (cf. John 6:44; 65), but He has mandated that humans must respond and continue to respond in repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, 19; 20:21).

Often the theological discussion of God’s sovereignty (predestination) and human free will deteriorates into a proof-texting contest. The Bible clearly reveals the sovereignty of YHWH. However, it also reveals that His highest creation, mankind, made in His image had been given the awesome personal quality of moral decision making. Humans must co-operate with God in every area of life.

The term “many” has been used to assert that God has chosen some (the elect) but not all; that Jesus died for some, not all. A careful reading of the following texts shows that these are used in a parallel sense!

Isaiah 53  Romans 5  
1. “all” (v. 6)  1. “all” (v. 18)  
2. “many” (vv. 11–12)  2. “many” (v. 19)  

© “to be saved” This is an AORIST PASSIVE INFINITIVE. This implies fallen humans cannot save themselves, (PASSIVE VOICE) but God is ready, willing, and able to do so through Christ.

© “and to come to the knowledge” This is the intensified Greek form epi + gnōsis, which implies “full and experiential knowledge.” This inclusivism was a real jolt to the false teachers’ emphasis on elitism and special knowledge. The exact relationship between the Jewish and Greek elements in the false teachers is uncertain. They obviously have a Jewish element which magnified “myths,” “genealogies,” and “the law” (see note at 1:6–7). There has been much speculation related to the Greek element. There was surely an element of immorality which was more characteristic of Greek false teachers than Judaism. How much of the later gnostic system of angelic levels is involved in the heresies of the Pastoral Letters is simply uncertain. In Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 4, p. 567, A. T. Robertson identifies the false teachers as “Gnostics.”

With the archeological discovery at Nag Hammadi in Egypt we now know much more about the gnostic speculations and theology. There is an English translation of these texts entitled The Nag Hammadi Library edited by James M. Robinson and Richard Smith. There is also an interesting interpretation of these texts in Elaine Pagel’s book The Gnostic Gospels.

© “of the truth” The term “truth” is used in several ways in the New Testament: (1) for the person of Jesus (cf. John 8:31, 32, 14:6); (2) to describe the Spirit (cf. John 16:13); and (3) to describe the “Word” (cf. John 17:17). God’s truth is ultimately seen in Jesus Christ, the Living Word, which is adequately recorded in the Bible, the written Word; both are brought to light to us through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The truth referred to here is parallel to “the sound teaching” of 1:9 and “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” of 1:10. It refers to the good news of Jesus Christ (cf. 4:3; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1).[7]

3, 4. How such prayers are viewed by God is now stated: This is excellent (or beautiful, admirable) and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the acknowledgment of the truth.

To the eye of God such praying is excellent or admirable. To his heart it is acceptable, most welcome. This stands to reason, for his name is “God, our Savior” (see on 1 Tim: 1:1). Though men may at times feel inclined to skip prayer for kings and those who are in authority, especially when the co-operation from the side of princes is not what it should be, in God’s sight the matter looks differently. He does not see things as we see them (1 Sam. 16:7). In more ways than one, conditions of tranquility and calm promote the spread of the gospel of salvation. And it is he “who desires all men to be saved.” The expression “all men” here in verse 4 must have the same meaning as in verse 1; see the discussion there. In a sense, salvation is universal, that is, it is not limited to any one group. Churches must not begin to think that prayers must be made for subjects, not for rulers; for Jews, not for Gentiles. No, it is the intention of God our Savior that “all men without distinction of rank, race, or nationality” be saved. What this “being saved” implies has been shown in connection with 1 Tim. 1:15.

Now in the process of being saved (taken as a whole) men are not passive. On the contrary, they become active. It is God’s will that they come to the acknowledgment of the truth, that is, of the way of salvation which is revealed in the Word. Such acknowledgment is more than intellectual knowledge (γνῶσις). It is joyful recognition (ἐπίγνωσις), deep, spiritual discernment. See its use in Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9; 2:2; 3:10. Thus we can also understand the expression “repentance unto the acknowledgment of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). It is possible for a person to learn a good many things in a merely intellectual fashion, and yet never really come to a recognition or appropriation of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). There is a “knowing” which is different from a “knowing fully” (see the related verb in 1 Cor. 13:12). The purpose of prayer for all men, without distinction of rank, race, and nationality, is that they may be saved, and may come to “full knowledge,” a knowledge in which not only the mind but also the heart partakes. The purpose of such praying corresponds with God’s own sovereign desire.[8]

Vers. 3, 4. In the sight of God our Saviour.

The Saviour God:—Prayer is not everything, but it is “good.” Effort is not everything, but it is “good.” Fervent prayer and earnest work, blended in a good man’s experience, become means of grace in no small degree.

I. Let us think, by way of preparing our minds for this broad truth, of the title chosen by our apostle—“God our Saviour,” or “our Saviour God.” It is the good pleasure of God as the Saviour, that is uppermost in his mind. The intercessions of the Church as well as the intercessions of the Christ, are but the outgrowth of a Divine purpose, a saving purpose. Surely here is abundant proof, that whatever may be said of mediation, it cannot be an intervention by a third party between a guilty world and a holy Creator. Surely, also, we ought to look upon redemption as having its spring and source in an unsolicited love of the Divine heart. It would have been well had there been more use made of this beautiful phrase, “God our Saviour,” and less of “God the Sovereign,” which is not a Scriptural one. When the lost are found, they are found through the mercy of God our Saviour.

II. Then let us observe, that if there be any meaning in words, here is also a Divine preference disclosed to us; yes, and more than a preference, an energy going forth in order to attain the object of that preference “who willeth that all men should be saved.” It is not that, of the two, He would rather men should be saved than that they should be lost. This would be a poor and pitiful rendering of the teaching here conveyed to us. Nor is it that there is a sentimental preference; this again might be very unpractical in its results. Many people are conscious of decided preferences, but the preferences are not thrown into their wills. “God willeth.” Oh that is a strong will of God. He willeth, and lo, the creation became a fact. Are you afraid to allow that there is a strong will—the will of God our Saviour, behind all the acts and processes of Redemption? You say that a purpose may be thwarted and a preference crossed. Yes, yes, but don’t let this beguile you into any loss of comfort which these words ought to bring you. Especially let them not rob you of any conviction about the absolute and irreversible favourableness of God to your personal, your present, and your future salvation.

III. The breadth and grandeur of this statement may startle us. But what will familiarity with it do for us? “Oh,” says one, “it will not do to speak it out too boldly. Men will grow daring in their sins; and they will come to believe that if love be indeed almighty and all-embracing, they may do just as they like, and all will be right at last.” Do you not see, however, that, though our apostle entertained this conviction, he saw that all men needed to be prayed for and laboured for? He who is our Saviour God wills that all should be saved; therefore it is good and acceptable in His sight that we should pray for all without distinction. A true prayer becomes a purpose. He who prays for what God loves and wishes, must come to love what God loves; else his prayer is not a true prayer. Why was the Cross planted? Not that the good might be strengthened in their goodness, but that the bad might be assured there was a means whereby they might be recovered. The salvation of Christ is not simply a protection of virtuous men, but a recovery of the vicious; not simply an incentive to continuance in well-doing, but a restoration from evil-doing. What that salvation is, at which our apostle glances, you must look elsewhere to find. If he says, “knowledge of the truth,” do not think that this requires a vast deal of learning to reach. Do not suppose that mere opinion, or Scripture knowledge even, is what he means. He means, that associated with salvation is a true knowledge, a true recognition of God as the Saviour. The false lie gives place to the true knowledge: there is nothing more than this in the phrase. You have believed Satan’s lie, now believe God’s truth. Salvation, again—do you ask what it is? It is a renewed moral energy—the power to do right, the strength to overcome evil. It is safety when the enemy may tempt or taunt. It is eternal life in Christ. It is to have God dwelling with, in us—the assurance of victory. (G. J. Proctor.)

The Saviour—God:—The first name by which the great infinite Being was known to His creatures was that of the Maker of the world; but unless sin had entered into the creation, He could not have been known by the name of God the Saviour. The text says, it is His will, even our salvation. The good, the wise, the gracious will of our God and Maker is our salvation, and His will is the motive of all His actions.

I. The apostle remarks, that there is one God. It has been said that the idea of eternity and the idea of a God are too much for us to meddle with. It is not too much to meddle with, but too much fully to understand. One God, one eternal Jehovah, who is above all, and over all, and in all, the only One depending upon none, and derived nor proceeding from none.

II. The second thing in the text is, that there is one Mediator. Here an interesting scene presents itself to our view. Three parties, God on the one hand, man on the other, and a Mediator, coming, mediating and acting between these two parties at difference, to bring them into union. Now, in order to be qualified to act between both, he must be acquainted with the nature, sentiments, and feelings of both. Agreeably to this, Jesus is revealed as truly and properly God, and therefore He has the same names given to Him, the same attributes ascribed to Him. Nor are we to confine His mediation to the days after His appearance in the flesh; He was the one Mediator from the beginning of the Creation. It was through faith in the seed of the woman who was to appear in the fulness of time to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself that Adam and Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and all the fathers, entered into glory. He, as the alone Mediator, does and will continue to mediate until the whole scheme of mercy be completed. There is one God and one Mediator, the man Christ Jesus. “Who will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.” This implies, that the truth must be revealed, or made known. But how is the truth to be made known for its acknowledgment and belief? God does not, as it is asserted in the Apocrypha, take a prophet by the hair of the head, and place him where his work awaits him; the truth is made known by the use of ordinary means. Now, let us consider the present state of human means. The progress of science and the perfection of navigation have opened up the possibility of sending the truth to every land to be acknowledged and received. Many motives might be urged. What Christ has done for you calls upon you to do something for promoting His interest in the world. The value that you yourselves put upon the salvation of your souls should induce you to send the truth to others. (A. Clarke, D.D.)

Our Saviour:—God is our Saviour. 1. He is a seeking Saviour. Were a king to enter a city he would expect and receive honour and applause. But the world would be astonished if instead of asking to be shown the principal buildings of the city, the king were to say to the mayor, “Now let me go to your poor men and women who need my kingly help and sympathy: it gives me no pleasure to look on your splendour while I know your back slums are crowded with the miserable and degraded.” Ah, no king ever did this except the One who was crowned with thorns, and whose throne was a cross. 2. God is a gracious Saviour. He not only loves His friends, but He dies to save His enemies. 3. God is a truthful Saviour. His word may be relied on. No man yet, so far as I have been able to learn, ever trusted God and was lost. 4. He is a loving Saviour. A mother who has a crippled child, from whom all other people draw away and shudder because of its distorted face, will hug her babe to her breast and rejoice because she has love for it. Now, like a mother, God is our loving Saviour, not because there is anything good in us, but because His heart contains love for us. 5. The Lord is a powerful Saviour. 6. God is our present Saviour. He saves now. 7. God is our everlasting Saviour. If He were not able to “keep us” I should doubt, and you would fear; but we rejoice to know that God is our ever lasting Saviour. (W. Birch.) Who will have all men to be saved.

God would have all men to be saved:—Benevolence is a distinguishing feature of the gospel, which bears an aspect of mildness and compassion to every man. And it transfuses its spirit into the hearts of all who understand it, and submit to its influence. This disposition is founded upon two great principles which are recognized by Christianity—that we are all the children of an equal, creating love; and all redeemed by the same Divine sacrifice.

I. To the appellation given by the apostle to gospel—it is “the truth.” The unhesitating manner in which the founders of Christianity apply this epithet to the religious system they were charged to unfold to the world is a circumstance not to be passed over in silence. Had they been conscious of the absence of inspiration, and that the Christian code of doctrine had been an invention of their own, it would have been insufferable arrogance in them to have dignified it with the appellation of “the truth.” They knew that this system was “the truth,” because they knew that it came from God. The heathen sages had reason which was dark and beclouded, because it was only the reason of fallen creatures. The apostles had revelation, the mind of the Spirit, who searches the deep things of God. The gospel which they preached had the evidence of the old revelation of the law; for its principles were seen pictured in the hieroglyphics of the tabernacle. It had the evidence of the prophets; for they had jointly testified of Christ, His sufferings, His glory, His doctrines, in language of easy interpretation. They had the evidence of miracles wrought by Jesus Himself, in confirmation of His mission, and which they themselves had seen. But by designating the gospel “the truth,” the apostle not only proclaims its divinity, and consequent in fallibility, but also calls the attention of men to it as a system of the utmost importance to them, and bound up with their best interests. It is represented in the text as truth which relates to salvation. God willeth all men to be saved by coming to the knowledge of the truth. It is this circumstance which strikes so deep an interest into our religion, and distinguishes it as “the truth,” by way of eminence. All truth is not interesting to man; or, at least, every other truth is but partially so. It shows us the true propitiation—the blood of a Divine sacrifice. It exhibits the terms of man’s acceptance—his deep humiliation of soul, and his faith in the merits and intercession of the appointed Redeemer. It has promises for man’s encouragement, warnings for his caution, precepts for his direction. It proclaims him immortal; teaches him that he is on his trial; sets before him the solemnities of the general judgment; and carries his hopes and fears into their highest exercise, and renders them of the best possible service to him, by opening to him the penalties of eternal destruction, and the glories of endless felicity.

II. We observe in the text, that the knowledge of this truth is connected with salvation, as a means to an end; and connected, too, by no less an authority than the will of God. He that willeth “all men to be saved” willeth them also “to come to the knowledge of the truth”; and from this the inference is irresistible, that the knowledge of the truth is essential to salvation. This subject deserves our serious attention; and there are two questions which arise out of it—What degree of that truth is necessary to be known in order to salvation; and how it must be known. The first question presents a point of necessary discussion; because if it were meant that, before a person could be saved, he should have a complete and accurate knowledge of all the truths of the gospel, every one would be excluded from the benefit. The truths revealed are the revelations of an infinite mind, and partake of its infinity. They relate to spiritual operations, of which we know little; and to a future state, of which we practically know nothing. For this reason the gospel must ever present something more to be known, as well as to be experienced; and it is to be the subject of development for ever. This is its perfection. But there are considerations which prove that a perfect knowledge of every part of the truth is not essential to mere salvation. Hence it is that divines have divided the truths of the gospel into two classes—those which are essential, and those which are nonessential. The distinction is just. There are truths which it is necessary we should know in order that we may be saved. The best way of determining what is essential for us to know, is to consider what is essential to faith. It is said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Whatever, therefore, is essential for us to know, in order that we may believe, must be essential for us to know, in order that we may be saved. In order to faith we must know the purity of the Divine law in such a degree as shall convince us that we have violated it, and incurred the penalty of its maledictory sanction. We must know our inability to make atonement; for without this the undertaking of Christ is vain in respect to us. We must know so much of the evidence of Christ’s mission as to receive Him as the divinely appointed Redeemer. We must know His meritorious death to be so satisfactory to the offended Deity, that for the sake of that He will impute our faith for justification. We must know the provisions made in the promises for supplying us with the help of the Holy Spirit for the renewing of our nature, and the support and comfort of our minds; and we must know the precepts of the gospel law, by which our minds and lives may be regulated according to the will of God. This knowledge is necessary for mere salvation: but we are far from saying that a higher degree of knowledge is useless. A higher degree of knowledge is, indeed, necessary in order to a confirmed faith; to enable us to meet and answer the objections by which we may be assailed; to qualify us to instruct the ignorant; to be a means of carrying us up to high attainments in religion; and to prepare us for extensive usefulness in the Church. The second question, how the truth must be known, in order that we may be saved, seems to be answered in the phrase, “come to the knowledge of the truth.” This knowledge supposes curiosity to know the truth. It is lamentable that there is so little of this amongst men. In many instances truth is never thought of. This knowledge supposes the admission of truth into the understanding, and its influence upon the practice. Some men shrink back from this knowledge. They will not come to the light lest their deeds should be reproved. Whatever it cost us, we must know the truth, that we may walk by it, and be saved by its instrumentality.

III. The text presents us with an interesting view of the connection of the Divine will with the salvation of man. “Who will have all men to be saved.” 1. The object of this will is the salvation of man. This has already been alluded to, but deserves a more distinct consideration. It is this which so gloriously displays the benevolence of God by the gospel. 2. That in the same sense He willeth all men to be saved. That this is Scripture doctrine, and that the word “all” is to be taken in its most extensive sense, scarcely any other argument is necessary to prove than that of the apostle in the context. It is a feeble criticism to say that the apostle meant by the expression, “all men,” all ranks of men; for that is the same thing. “All ranks of men” are “all men” (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). Here the remedy is declared to be as extensive as the disease. 3. The mode in which the Divine will is connected with human salvation remains to be considered. It is a natural question, “If God willeth all men to be saved, why is it that any perish?” The answer is, If God willeth to save men by overcoming their wills by His omnipotent influence, all men must be saved; but He wills to save them according to the nature which He has given them; and we have the evidence of His Word, and of our own consciousness, that His will is a resistible will, and that His willing us to be saved does not effect our salvation without a corresponding determination of our own will. The principal opinions on this subject are these. Some persons have considered man, when under the gracious influence of God exerted upon him in order to his salvation, as wholly passive, and carried by irresistible force into a new condition. But if this be the case, then man is a machine. Another opinion therefore is, that the will is necessarily influenced in its determinations by motives of good and evil discovered to the understanding; and that in the case of those who are saved, such motives as must command the assent of the will are impressed by God upon the mind; and thus it is supposed that the person so operated upon is infallibly brought into a state of salvation without any violence to his free agency. If, however, God willeth all men to be saved, and proceeded in this way to the execution of His purpose, their salvation would be as certain as if they were machines. The doctrine is the same, though cloaked with a metaphysical garb. The opposite extreme to these opinions is, that man has a natural power to discern the right, and to choose it, independent of a Divine agency exerted upon his mind. Had man been left without any supernatural aids, he must have been as blind to discern what is good as he was unable to choose it. The plain facts before us, then, are, God willeth our salvation; He has appointed effectual means to this end; He has given us all the power to use these means; and to the use of them He has promised His blessing. Whether we will actually “come to the knowledge of the truth,” or not, is left ultimately with ourselves; but whether we will hear the voice of God, or whether we will forbear, we have motives, exhortations, promises; all that can move upon our fear, our love, our interest. To apply these motives is a part of our ministry. We are made ambassadors for Christ to persuade you to be reconciled to God. (R. Watson.)

All men to be saved:—This large thought comes in primarily as an argument and a measure of intercessory prayer. It is one of the reasons that St. Paul gives why, “first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks, should be made for all men.” The first reason is his own individual case—he himself was the monument of the power of intercession, when, with his dying lips, St. Stephen prayed for him as one of his murderers. The text is the second reason—Pray for all, for God loves all. Pray for persecuting kings—pray for Nero—for God wills the salvation of all. We are never so safe as when we are taking great views of God. Most of our sins and troubles are from having narrow previsions, which limit the Holy One of Israel. It is not a merely future tense, but it is the expression of the Divine wish and intention, which are to be the same for ever, whatever man may do to frustrate it—“who wills that all men should be saved.” But the great point to which I wish to draw your consideration is, the Catholicity of the salvation which God wills and presents to man. That magnificent “all”—who can reduce it?—“all” to be saved. Has not God plainly shown you that He wishes you to be saved? Has not He so drawn, chastened, so converted, so held, so protected, so borne with you, so blessed you, that He has given the most unmistakable evidence that He would have you to be saved? And did you ever meet with the man who could tell you the contrary, of his own experience? It is remarkable, in the Old Testament, how often God is called, “the God of the whole earth.” And David, probably in prophecy, loves the expression, “The King of all the earth.” But if you ask me, more logically, Why it is that I believe that God wills the salvation of all His creatures? I answer—I find it in the congruity of all things. I find it in the law which must regulate the mind of a great Creator. I find it in the Fatherly character of God, and the “tender mercies that are over all His works.” I find it in the immensity of the gift of His own Son, that blood is an equivalent, and much more to the sins of the whole world. I find it in the imagery of the Bible, which suits every land, and in those provisions of His grace, which are accommodated to the minds of the inhabitants of every clime. I find it in the free flowings of that Spirit, like the four winds of heaven, “I will pour it upon all flesh.” “If God wills the salvation of all men, why are not all saved? For who can resist His will?” If God willed the salvation of all His creatures, He willed also that the world which He had made should be a world of discipline and probation. Therefore He willed that the will of every living man should be free—for this is an essential condition of probation. But what shall we say respecting the heathen? They have not even “the knowledge.” But why? God willed them to have it, and made the most express provision that they might have it; for He laid it upon every soul that should ever know Him, and made it almost a condition of His presence in that soul, that it should impart again that knowledge to another. And this commission He gave to His whole Church. Am I to say then that, because, through my neglect, and selfishness, all men are not saved, and brought to the knowledge of the truth, therefore God did not will it? (J. Vaughan, M.A.)

Redemption universal:—Let us go simply into these two investigations, what is pre-supposed of all men when we are bidden, as we are, in our text to pray for all men? and, secondly, when we are bidden, as we equally are, in our text to give thanks for all men.

I. Now it can scarcely have escaped your attention that there is in our text an accumulation of phrase which must prevent our thinking that any prayer, except the largest and most urgent, will come up to the scope of the apostle’s exhortation. These words forbid our thinking that St. Paul simply requires that we should be, in general terms, the well-wishers of mankind. Had his discourse referred exclusively to the household of faith, he could not have used more unrestricted language, nor sent us to our knees with a broader view of the blessings to be sought for in our wrestlings with God. We just wish by these means to show at the outset the wrongness of the opinion that we are only bidden to solicit for the mass of our fellow-men the common mercies of existence, that we may reserve petitions which have to do with God’s nobler gifts for our pleadings on behalf of a select company of mankind. If you consider prayer attentively, whether it be for ourselves or for others, you must regard it as the most wonderful act which can ever be attempted by a fallen creature. We shall not hesitate to say that so long as the scheme of our redemption is kept out of sight, prayer is nothing but a great proof of human ignorance. There is a great deal taken for granted in prayer. When I pray, I assume that an access has been opened for me to the Father; I assume, that in spite of my apostasy, born though I have been in sin and cradled in corruption, God’s compassions towards me may not be shut up nor alienated. I assume that some amazing corrective, as it were, must have been applied to human guiltiness, so that the pollution which naturally and necessarily clings to the fallen, is no hindrance to free admission to an audience of Him who is of purer eyes than to look unmoved upon iniquity. And how can I assume all this, unless I bring within my contemplations the mysteries of redemption, and, making my appeal to the wondrous achievement which Christ hath effected on my behalf, fetch from that an assurance that there lies no barrier between myself and the Lord? The whole work of human reconciliation is gathered into God’s permitting prayer. The globe was convulsed and shaken to its very centre before it could become a platform on which man might kneel. It is a truth sufficiently simple to commend itself to every capacity, that if prayer is literally based upon redemption, then all who can be rightly the subjects of prayer must be strictly the subjects of redemption. I cannot pray for a man whom I know to have never been redeemed—a man for whom Christ Jesus did not die. Can I ask God to have mercy on that man’s soul? Such is the use that we would make of the exhortation of our text. We infer from it the grand doctrine of Christianity, even that of Christ’s having died for the whole world; and lest it should be thought that this inference is in any degree far fetched, we will just show you how St. Paul supports or authorizes his exhortation. You observe that the announced reason that all should be prayed for is that God is willing that all should be saved; and if God wills that all should be saved, assuredly all must have been put into a salvable state; in other words, all must have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. It does not fall within the scope of our argument to examine into the mystery of God’s willing the salvation of all, when it is certain that nothing more than a remnant shall be saved. The character given to the living God—and who doubts that at the root of true religion lies the character of God?—the character given by St. Paul of the living God is that He is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe. In this same sense—for He is not spoken of as a different kind of Saviour, in the different senses, but as the same in kind though different in degree—in the same sense that God is especially the Saviour of believers, He is generally the Saviour of all men. This is St. Paul’s statement; and if the living God is the Saviour generally of all in that very sense in which He is especially the Saviour of believers, then beyond question all must have been redeemed by Him; for redemption is that incipient form of salvation which may be common to all, and yet applied effectually only to some. O blessed Saviour, Thou didst take upon Thyself our nature, and didst ransom that nature, and therefore didst place within the reach of all who are born of this nature the choice things of forgiveness and acceptance; therefore is it that our prayers may, and must, go up to the mercy-seat on behalf of all; all shall be the subjects of our petition, for all are the objects of redemption; and we may now acknowledge and appreciate the justice of the ample terms in which the text is expressed: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.”

II. We turn now to the second question—what is pre-supposed in regard of all men, when we are bidden, as we further are, to give thanks for all men? You will observe at once that thanksgiving must assume the existence of benefit. If I am to give thanks for all men, it is clear that I must be acquainted with some manifestation of kindness towards all, which may justly summon forth my praise on their account. But if we were guilty of an exaggeration in designating prayer as a giant act, we fall into no over-wrought statement if we apply such an epithet to the thanking God for our creation. Conscious to myself of the struggles within me of a principle which can never be extinguished, never be mastered by any process of decay, knowing that the present scene, whatever its cares or its joys, is but the first stage of an unlimited career along which I am appointed to pass—shall I praise God for having endowed me with existence, unless I have assurance that it is not impossible for me to secure myself happiness throughout the infinity of my being? Shall I thank God for the capacity of being miserable, unspeakably miserable, throughout unnumbered ages? I cannot do this. I cannot praise God for the bright sunshine that must light me to the dungeon; I cannot praise God for the breeze that must waft me to the whirlpool; I cannot praise God for the food that must nourish me for the rack! Life, the present life, that single throb, that lonely beat—can I praise God for this, if it must unavoidably usher me into a sphere of wretchedness whose circumference cannot be reached, or turn me adrift on an ocean of fire without a shore, or consign me to that mysterious death which consists in the being for ever dying, that wondrous immortality of being restored as fast as consumed and consumed as fast as restored? Better, oh! infinitely better for me if I had never been born, I cannot praise God for this. Creation can be no more a blessing than annihilation if I am not a redeemed man; it is this, and this alone, for which you require me to praise God. If I am a redeemed man it is possible that I may be saved; if I am not a redeemed man, then, so far as is revealed, it is impossible. As far as we know from the Bible it is impossible that any man shall be saved for whom Christ did not die. And how then can I give God thanks for all men, unless I believe that Christ died for all men? Shall I praise Him for the creation of others though I cannot praise Him for my own? Shall I sweep the harp strings, and bring out the melodies of gratitude, because God has so dealt with tens of thousands of my fellow-men; that if He had dealt in like manner with myself, I should have worn sackcloth and gone all my days in inconsolable mourning? No! I cannot thank God for all men except on the noble principle that Christ has redeemed all men. Creation is a blessing if connected with redemption, but not dissociated from it. Thus, as we trust, we have sufficiently shown you that the universal redemption of mankind is pre-supposed when we are bidden to pray for all, and when we are bidden to give thanks for all. Our two topics may, therefore, be considered as sufficiently discussed, and it only remains to bid you strive to obey in your practice the exhortation of which we have shown you the propriety. (H. Melvill, B.D.) Knowledge of the truth.

Salvation by knowing the truth:

I. It is by a knowledge of the truth that men are saved. Observe that stress is laid upon the article: it is the truth and not every truth. Though it is a good thing to know the truth about anything, and we ought not to be satisfied to take up with a falsehood upon any point, yet it is not every truth that will save us. We are not saved by knowing any one theological truth we may choose to think of, for there are some theological truths which are comparatively of inferior value. They are not vital or essential, and a man may know them and yet may not be saved. It is the truth which saves. Jesus Christ is the Truth: the whole testimony of God about Christ is the truth. This knowledge of the grand facts which are here called the truth saves men, and we will notice its mode of operation. 1. Very often it begins its work in a man by arousing him, and thus it saves him from carelessness. Perhaps he heard a sermon, or read a tract, or had a practical word addressed to him by some Christian friend, and he found out enough to know that “he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed on the Son of God.” That startled him. “God is angry with the wicked every day”—that amazed him. He had not thought of it, perhaps had not known it, but when he did know it, he could rest no longer. 2. The truth is useful to a man in another way: it saves him from prejudice. Often when men are awakened to know something about the wrath of God, they begin to plunge about to discover divers methods by which they may escape from that wrath. Consulting, first of all, with themselves, they think that if they reform—give up their grosser sins, and if they can join with religious people, they will make it all right. They have done all that they judged right and attended to all that they were told. Suddenly, by God’s grace, they come to a knowledge of another truth, and that is that by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God. They discover that salvation is not by works of the law or by ceremonies, and that if any man be under the law he is also under the curse. 3. Moreover, it often happens that a knowledge of the truth stands a man in good stead for another purpose: it saves him from despair. 4. A knowledge of the truth shows a man his personal need of being saved. 5. A knowledge of the truth reveals the atonement by which we are saved: a knowledge of the truth shows us what that faith is by which the atonement becomes avail able for us: a knowledge of the truth teaches us that faith is the simple act of trusting, that it is not an action of which man may boast.

II. A mere notional knowledge or a dry doctrinal knowledge is of no avail. We must know the truth in a very different way from that. How are we to know it, then? 1. Well, we are to know it by a believing knowledge. You do not know a thing unless you believe it to be really so. 2. In addition to this, your knowledge, if it becomes believing knowledge, must be a personal knowledge—a persuasion that it is true in reference to yourself. 3. But this must be a powerful knowledge, by which I mean that it must operate in and upon your mind. A man is told that his house is on fire. I will suppose that standing here I held up a telegram, and said, “My friend, is your name so-and-so?” “Yes.” “Well, your house is on fire.” He knows the fact, does he not? Yes, but he sits quite still. Now, my impression is about that good brother, that he does not know, for he does not believe it. 4. This knowledge when it comes really to save the soul is what we call experimental knowledge—knowledge acquired according to the exhortation of the Psalmist, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good”—acquired by tasting. I am now going to draw two inferences which are to be practical. The first one is this: in regard to you that are seeking salvation. Does not the text show you that it is very possible that the reason why you have not found salvation is because you do not know the truth? Hence, I do most earnestly entreat the many of you young people who cannot get rest to be very diligent searchers of your Bibles. The last inference is for you who desire to save sinners. You must bring the truth before them when you want to bring them to Jesus Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)[9]

God’s desire concerns all people (2:3–4)

The reason the church should reach out and embrace all people in its prayers is that this is the compass of God’s desire. True, he is accurately named God our Saviour (3b), but we must not attempt to monopolize him, since he wants not only us but all men to be saved (4a). In affirming this, Paul may have had in mind those nationalistic Jews who believed themselves to be God’s privileged favourites and forgot God’s original promise to bless all earth’s families through Abraham. Alternatively, Paul may have been thinking of élitist Gnostics who reserved initiation into gnosis (knowledge) for a select few. In our day there are other versions of the monopoly spirit of which we need to repent, e.g. racism, nationalism, tribalism, classism and parochialism, together with the pride and prejudice which are the cause of these narrow horizons. The truth is that God loves the whole world, desires all people to be saved, and so commands us to preach the gospel to all the nations and to pray for their conversion.

Does this emphasis on ‘all people’ lead us out of élitism (only some will be saved) into its opposite extreme of universalism (everybody will be saved)? No. That Paul was not a universalist is evident, not only from his other letters but from this one too. If he was shown mercy because of his ignorant unbelief, presumably others who are defiant in their unbelief will not receive mercy (1:13). Some will ‘fall under the same judgment as the devil’ (3:6), and sooner or later all sin will be judged (5:24), while the covetous will fall into harmful desires ‘that plunge men into ruin and destruction’ (6:9).

How then can we avoid both opposite extremes of élitism and universalism? Besides, is not the doctrine of election itself a form of élitism? And is it not incompatible with Paul’s statement here that God wants all people to be saved? We begin our response by stating that Scripture indubitably teaches divine election both in the Old Testament (e.g. ‘he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them’), and in the New Testament (e.g. ‘you did not choose me, but I chose you’), although different churches formulate the doctrine differently. Yet this truth must never be expressed in such a way as to deny the complementary truth that God wants all people to be saved. Election is usually introduced in Scripture to humble us (reminding us that the credit for our salvation belongs to God alone), or to reassure us (promising us that God’s love will never let us go), or to stir us to mission (recalling that God chose Abraham and his family in order through him to bless all the families of the earth). Election is never introduced in order to contradict the universal offer of the gospel or to provide us with an excuse for opting out of world evangelization. If some are excluded, it is because they exclude themselves by rejecting the gospel offer. As for God, he wants all men to be saved.

How then can we affirm simultaneously God’s desire that all people be saved and God’s election of some to salvation? Christians have struggled with this question in every generation, and have tried to reinterpret the three words which form the backbone of the sentence in verse 4 (namely ‘wants’, ‘all’ and ‘saved’) in such a way as to affirm election and avoid both élitism and universalism. Some have translated ‘wants’ (thelei) as either ‘desires’ (nrsv) or ‘wishes’, and have emphasized the distinction between a desire and a purpose, between wishing and willing. This seems consistent with the similar scriptural statements that God takes ‘no pleasure in the death of the wicked’18 and that he is patient, ‘not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’. These three texts all declare that God’s ‘desire’ or ‘pleasure’ for everybody is salvation, not judgment. The linguistic experts tell us, however, that there is no difference between the two verbs thelō and boulomai, since both can mean either to ‘wish’ or to ‘will’. So all we can say is that the statement ‘God wants all people to be saved’ cannot be pressed into meaning that it is his fixed purpose and intention that everybody will be. For alas! it is possible to resist his will.

Secondly, others suggest that the verb to ‘be saved’ means here to ‘be preserved physically’ rather than ‘rescued spiritually and morally’, since some think it has this meaning elsewhere (e.g. 2:11 and 4:10), and since the immediate context is that of governments protecting and preserving their citizens. This proposal has not found wide acceptance, however, since Paul goes on to write about the death of Christ for our sins, and since the vocabulary of salvation in the Pastorals usually refers to a deliverance from sin.

Thirdly, a number of commentators insist that ‘all men’ cannot be taken in an absolute sense as signifying every single individual. Instead, ‘the apostle’s meaning here’, writes Calvin, following Augustine, ‘is simply that no nation of the earth and no rank of society is excluded from salvation, since God wills to offer the gospel to all without exception’. Paul is speaking rather of classes and not of individuals. Hendriksen argues similarly that the ‘all’ means ‘all men regardless of social, national and racial distinctions’ and not ‘one by one every member of the entire human race, past, present and future, including Judas and the antichrist’.23 G. W. Knight points out in addition that this is the natural interpretation of verse 1, for it is possible to pray for ‘all kinds of people’ (e.g. the rulers as well as the ruled), but not possible to pray for absolutely everybody. And in many other passages of Scripture ‘all’ is not absolute, but limited by the context. For example, when Jesus commissioned Paul to be his witness ‘to all men’, he meant not ‘absolutely everybody in the world’ but ‘Gentiles as well as Jews’.25

This is an important insight which needs to be affirmed. Nevertheless, it does not altogether solve the problem. However we interpret the words ‘want’, ‘saved’ and ‘all’ in verse 4, we are still left with an antinomy between the universal offer of the gospel and God’s purpose of election, between the ‘all’ and the ‘some’. Moreover, it is not a purely Pauline problem; we find it clearly within the teaching of Jesus himself. On the one hand he invited all to come to him;27 on the other he said that his ministry was limited to those whom the Father had given him out of the world. Again, on one occasion he said, ‘You refuse to come to me’, on another ‘No-one can come to me unless the Father … draws him.’29 So why is it that some people do not come to Christ? Is it that they will not or that they cannot? Jesus taught both.

Wherever we look in Scripture we see this antinomy: divine sovereignty and human responsibility, universal offer and electing purpose, the all and the some, the cannot and the will not. The right response to this phenomenon is neither to seek a superficial harmonization (by manipulating some part of the evidence), nor to declare that Jesus and Paul contradicted themselves, but to affirm both parts of the antinomy as true, while humbly confessing that at present our little minds are unable to resolve it.

The universality of the gospel invitation rests on a double foundation, namely the two truths that there is only one God and only one mediator. Paul states these facts about God and Christ with such an economy of words that some have wondered if he is quoting from an early credal statement. If so, he still endorses it with his own apostolic authority.

He begins: For there is one God (5a). The fundamental contrast in verses 4 and 5 is between the all men God wants to be saved and the one God who desires that they should be. The reason he wants all to be saved is that he is the one God, and there is no other.

Supposing there were not one God, but many, and that the truth about God were not monotheism but polytheism. Supposing there were, as the Greeks believed, a pantheon of many gods, or even, as popular Hinduism holds, millions of deities. Then presumably these many gods would either share out the human race between them, by some amicable comity arrangement, or engage in a fierce, competitive struggle with each other for the allegiance of human beings, as was represented in the grotesque mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome. But if there were many gods, no single deity would presume to claim a monopoly of the world’s worship—or not until he had defeated his rivals in some unseemly celestial battle!

Over against such ludicrous speculations Scripture insists on the unity of God. In the Old Testament the recited Shema began with the declaration, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.’ It was the basis of his demand for his people’s wholehearted and exclusive love.31 This fundamental truth found further expression in Isaiah: ‘I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.’ Hence the so-called ‘jealousy’ of God. Jealousy is the resentment of rivals. Whether it is good or evil depends on whether the rivals have any legitimacy. God’s rivals have not, because they are false gods, indeed ‘no-gods’. It is in the context of idolatry that he says, ‘I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God …’. He is intolerant of rivals; he refuses to share with any other the worship which is due to him alone. ‘I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.’ Hence too his invitation to the nations to believe in him: ‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.’35 So it is already plain in the Old Testament that it is the uniqueness of Yahweh as the only God which justifies his ‘jealousy’ and so his universal mission, calling on every knee to bow to him and every tongue to swear by his name.

Precisely the same reasoning is found in the New Testament. Indeed Paul keeps repeating it. ‘There is but one God, the Father,’ he writes, who is the creator and heir of all things. Again, ‘there is … one God and Father of all’.38 And here in 1 Timothy, there is one God (2:5; cf. 1:17; 6:15). Further, it is because ‘there is only one God’ that he is not the God of Jews only but the God of Gentiles too. Thus both Old and New Testaments affirm first that God is one and then that this monotheism is the fundamental basis of world mission. Our exclusive faith (there is one God, and no other) leads necessarily to our inclusive mission (the one God wants all men to be saved).[10]

3. This is good would appear to connect with verse 1‚ and to refer to the idea of universal prayer. The two parts of this verse should be taken separately: (a) universal prayer is good; (b) it pleases God. It is the latter proposition that presents the ultimate standard for all Christian worship.

The title God our Saviour‚ which has already been used in 1:1, has special significance here‚ as it relates prayer for all men to the saving character of God. There is point in praying on behalf of all men to One whose nature it is to save‚ a thought developed in the next verse.

4. The statement who wants all men to be saved became a centre of controversy between the Calvinists and the Arminians of the seventeenth century, owing to the implied universalism of the words. It has been suggested that the verb used (thelō, ‘desire’) represents the general purpose of God as distinct from a single volition (Bernard). If so it would speak of God’s mercy towards all types of people, without distinction of race, colour, condition or status. But many scholars, especially those who reject Pauline authorship (cf. Hanson), argue that the words imply salvation (i.e. that every single person will be saved). There may have been a tendency towards exclusiveness on the part of some, who were influenced perhaps by the same urge that drove the later Gnostics into their own exclusive circles of initiates‚ and Paul, to provide an antidote‚ may here be stressing God’s universal compassion. These words fairly represent the magnanimity of the divine benevolence. The words all men must be linked with the ‘all’ of verse 1. Intercession for all men could be justified only on the ground of God’s willingness to save all (cf. Jeremias).

Another line of interpretation is to understand the verb ‘save’ in its weaker sense of ‘preserve’ or ‘protect’. It is possible to understand the prayer as being a request that all should be preserved from lawless misrule (cf. Simpson). But the passage as a whole seems too theological to be taken in this sense‚ and the concluding part of the verse‚ to come to a knowledge of the truth‚ accords better with spiritual salvation than natural preservation‚ unless it means that peaceful conditions assist the propagation of the gospel.

The phrase knowledge of the truth is reminiscent of John and is not found in Paul outside the Pastorals. It should be understood as the whole revelation of God in Christ, to know which must be the climax of Christian salvation.[11]

3. For this is good and acceptable before God. After having taught that what he enjoined is useful, he now brings forward a stronger argument—that it pleases God; for when we know what is His will, this ought to have the force of all possible reasons. By good he means what is proper and lawful; and, since the will of God is the rule by which all our duties must be regulated, he proves that it is right because it pleases God.

This passage is highly worthy of observation; and, first, we draw from it the general doctrine, that the true rule for acting well and properly is to look to the will of God, and not to undertake anything but what he approves. Next, there is likewise laid down a rule for godly prayer, that we should follow God as our leader, and that all our prayers should be regulated by his will and command. If due force had been allowed to this argument, the prayers of Papists, in the present day, would not have abounded with so many corruptions. For how will they prove that they have the authority of God for having recourse to dead men as their intercessors, or for praying for the dead? In short, in all their form of prayer, what can they point out that is pleasing to God?

4. Who wishes that all men may be saved. Here follows a confirmation of the second argument; and what is more reasonable than that all our prayers should be in conformity with this decree of God?

And may come to the acknowledgment of the truth. Lastly, he demonstrates that God has at heart the salvation of all, because he invites all to the acknowledgment of his truth. This belongs to that kind of argument in which the cause is proved from the effect; for, if “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to every one that believeth,” (Rom. 1:16,) it is certain that all those to whom the gospel is addressed are invited to the hope of eternal life. In short, as the calling is a proof of the secret election, so they whom God makes partakers of his gospel are admitted by him to possess salvation; because the gospel reveals to us the righteousness of God, which is a sure entrance into life.

Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God,” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestinated by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men; although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the will of God ought not to be judged from his secret decrees, when he reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that he has not determined with himself what he intends to do as to every individual man.

But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations. That God wishes the doctrine of salvation to be enjoyed by them as well as others, is evident from the passages already quoted, and from other passages of a similar nature. Not without good reason was it said, “Now, kings, understand,” and again, in the same Psalm, “I will give thee the Gentiles for an inheritance, and the ends of the earth for a possession.” (Ps. 2:8, 10.)

In a word, Paul intended to shew that it is our duty to consider, not what kind of persons the princes at that time were, but what God wished them to be. Now the duty arising out of that love which we owe to our neighbour is, to be solicitous and to do our endeavour for the salvation of all whom God includes in his calling, and to testify this by godly prayers.

With the same view does he call God our Saviour; for whence do we obtain salvation but from the undeserved kindness of God? Now the same God who has already made us partakers of salvation may sometime extend his grace to them also. He who hath already drawn us to him may draw them along with us. The Apostle takes for granted that God will do so, because it had been thus foretold by the predictions of the prophets, concerning all ranks and all nations.[12]

2:3–4. This is good and acceptable to God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

In verses 3–4 we come to the main point of the present passage—namely, the salvation of ‘all people’. The phrase ‘all people’ in verse 4 picks up the same phrase in verse 1 and frames the current discussion for us. The thing that is ‘good and acceptable to God our Saviour’ is the prayer for ‘all people’ (2:1), not the peaceful and quiet life of verse 2. The meaning, furthermore, of ‘all people’ in verse 1 is determinative for the meaning of ‘all’ throughout this passage—namely, ‘all kinds of people’. God desires the salvation of all kinds of people—Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians, slaves and those in positions of authority. There is a universalistic tone in this passage which certainly fits with the biblical theme that God is the God of the nations. But clearly there is no universalism. Salvation comes only through ‘the knowledge of the truth’. Following Paul’s own example (2:7), the church is to declare this truth so that it can be known.

Thus a quiet and peaceful life (2:2) does not mean a life of solitude void of active involvement in the surrounding culture. There is an evangelistic and missionary thrust to Paul’s words here. The evangelistic activity of the church, furthermore, is aided by government authorities keeping the peace. A peaceful and orderly society provides the best possible conditions for the spread of the gospel. Church history has shown this to be true, though God, in his sovereignty, has often used troubled times to bring many people to Christ. But this highlights all the more the necessity for urgent prayer, not only for the salvation of all, but also for government leaders who are charged with the responsibility of keeping the peace.[13]

2:3–4 / Paul now returns to his main concern, prayers of all kinds “for all people.” The reason? Because God wants all [people] to be saved. That this is good, and pleases God might, of course, refer to the content of verse 2. But the relative clause in verse 4 indicates otherwise. This is good, Paul says; that is, prayers “for everyone” is good, and pleases God our Savior, precisely because the God who has saved us (our Savior) wants his salvation to reach all people.

The appellation God our Savior (see the note on 1:1) emphasizes that God is the originator of the saving event (cf. Phil. 1:28; 1 Thess. 5:9) and that Paul and the church have already experienced it. But neither our salvation, nor that of an elitist few, satisfies God, for God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. The point of the text is clear: The gospel, by its very nature, as Paul will argue in verses 5–6, is universal in its scope, and any narrowing of that scope by a truncated theology or by “novelties” that appeal to the intellectual curiosities of the few is not the gospel of Christ. And to say that God wants (not “wills,” and therefore it must come to pass) all people to be saved, implies neither that all (meaning everybody) will be saved (against 3:6; 4:2; or 4:10, e.g.) nor that God’s will is somehow frustrated since all, indeed, are not saved. The concern is simply with the universal scope of the gospel over against some form of heretical exclusivism or narrowness.

In this sentence salvation is closely tied to coming to a knowledge of the truth. That does not suggest that salvation is no longer a response of faith (see disc. on 1:15–16) but that, especially in the context of false teachings, salvation also has its cognitive side, to a knowledge of the truth, that is, to hear and grasp the gospel message (cf. 3:15; 4:3; 2 Tim. 3:8; 4:4; Titus 1:1).[14]

3–4 Paul proceeds directly to demonstrate that prayer for the salvation of all accords with God’s will. He does this in two stages. First (v. 3), he first places the church’s prayer into an OT cultic framework whereby prayer becomes the latter-day acceptable sacrifice. Second, in v. 4 he goes on to spell out God’s salvific will.

With only minor changes, the language of this assessment (“this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior”)28 reflects the statement found several times in Deuteronomy that affirms certain practices as in accordance with the law and thus pleasing to God: “Do what is pleasing and good in the Lord’s sight” (Deut 6:18). Against this background, the term “good” (kalos; 1:8) signifies “goodness” or “rightness” of behavior as the Lord measures it. The second term, “acceptable,” marks a slight word shift (from the term “pleasing”) as formula is accessed; it calls to mind the use of the word group in Leviticus to describe sacrifices as “acceptable” to God (see also Rom 15:16; Phil 4:18; 1 Pet 2:5). The effect of placing the activity of prayer into this OT legal and cultic framework is to underline its intrinsic importance to God and to his people by comparing it with the role of sacrifices in the old system. Prayer has replaced sacrifice for the Messianic people of God,30 another subtle reminder to the Torah-based opponents who resist the shape of the New Age.

Still in touch with the OT formula, the prepositional phrase concludes the first stage of assessment: “in the sight of God our Savior.” Although the local or visual sense of the term sometimes recedes, the thought of being in God’s presence and under his inspection is often attached in descriptions of behavior like this. The motivational force of the reminder of God’s proximity is obvious. The final shift from the OT formula is seen in the designation “God our Savior” (see discussion at 1:1). The title is apt, for the controlling theme of the passage is salvation, and “savior” depicts God as the source and architect of the plan to rescue humanity through Christ. It is worth noting that in such close proximity to the prayer for rulers (especially the emperor), both the attribution of salvation to God and worship of him as “savior” represent a direct challenge to the imperial cult’s claims to such things. Alongside worship of Artemis, the Imperial cult was a dominant religious-political fixture in Ephesus at this time.

Thus Paul explains that prayer for the salvation of all people, and specific prayer for the effectiveness of the civic powers, conforms to the will of God. It is not simply an optional church practice that pleases God, but a practice as integral to the church’s life with God as was sacrifice in the time before Christ.

But the enormity of what Paul calls for—a kind of prayer that encompasses the whole world—elicits a specific elaboration of the will of God concerning salvation (v. 4). The added relative clause not only describes the preceding “God our Savior” (v. 3), but also explains why the prayer for all people is good and acceptable to him. The reason is that God “wants [wills] all people to be saved.” There are several points to consider.

First, the verb “to will” should be understood in the strongest sense as indicating God’s will. In this statement of God’s purpose for humankind, however, the element of human response to the gospel is not minimized within the process. It is God’s universal intention, as opposed to some form of exclusivism, that is mainly in mind.

Second, the purpose of the reference to “all people,” which continues the theme of universality in this passage, is sometimes misconstrued. The reference is made mainly with the Pauline mission to the Gentiles in mind (v. 7). But the reason behind Paul’s justification of this universal mission is almost certainly the false teaching, with its Torah-centered approach to life that included either an exclusivist bent or a downplaying of the Gentile mission. This kind of corporate self-centeredness was at least latent in other Christian communities to which Paul addressed letters that argued for Jew-Gentile equality and the divine origin of his calling to the Gentiles (Galatia, Rome). Here the presence of an overly realized view of salvation may have encouraged the belief that Christians are not part of this world (see also 1 Corinthians; Introduction C.2.b.)

Third, the meaning of God’s will to save “all people” has been equally problematic. As a statement of the breadth of God’s will about salvation, this echoes Paul’s statements in Rom 3:27–31 and 11:26–32. There and here the chief concern is to clarify that God’s salvific intentions fully include the non-Jewish world, and that Paul’s unique mission to reach that world is indeed God’s means to fulfill his universal redemptive promises (v. 7). But this salvation statement is not simply about a life after death. As Johnson maintains, Paul’s statement “is less about future destiny (‘eternal life’), than about present location.”37 “Salvation” in its theological sense here (following “savior”) carries the full meaning of deliverance from sin (1:15; 1:1; Titus 2:14; 3:5–7). Yet Paul’s focus is on the building of a people of God that incorporates all people regardless of ethnic, social or economic backgrounds, and who are characterized by a manner of life that is qualitatively different from society at large (v. 2). In Pauline thought the presence of this combination of features (deliverance from personal and social sin) is present salvation. While the theological and eschatological elements of salvation persist, the primary concern in Ephesus is for a church that has tilted off this Pauline axis or is in danger of doing so.

From the human side, the process of salvation, of coming to faith, can be described in various ways. Paul explains the process here by means of the phrase “to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The term translated “knowledge” (or “recognition”) is frequent in Paul, and especially in this phrase with the verb “to come to” reflects the cognitive process of knowing (here the content is “truth”).40 In these letters to coworkers the term occurs only in the technical phrase “knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7; Titus 1:1), which, with appropriate verbs,42 expresses the idea of conversion as a rational decision to embrace “the truth.” It may also regard authentic Christianity from the perspective of one’s understanding of and commitment to “the truth” (so 1 Tim 4:3).

“Truth” language (2 Tim 2:15; Titus 1:1, 14), as used by Paul, is intentionally polemical, inviting the reader/hearer to distinguish between his assessment of the gospel (= the truth) and fallacious competing claims (cf. 6:20). The same standard of measure was employed in Qumran to determine genuine membership in the Sect on the basis of a commitment to “the truth” that separated the community from corrupt mainline Judaism. However much he was indebted to this tendency, Paul’s other letters suggest that he first deployed the “truth” category in Christian mission. He applied it, among other overlapping concepts, with various verbs of perception to emphasize the divine origin of his message over and against pagan falsehood.45 In these letters to coworkers, “truth” stands for God’s authoritative revelation (as represented in Paul’s gospel). The polemical intention is clear from the descriptions, which employ various key verbs, of the opponents’ departure from “the truth.” Consequently, “coming to the knowledge of the truth” combines a statement about the quality of the gospel message and commitment to it. In the Ephesian context of false teaching, Paul emphasizes that salvation and adherence to the apostolic message are inseparable. God’s will is that all people will commit themselves in faith to the truth about Christ.[15]

3 After exhorting Timothy to encourage prayer for the governing authorities for the purpose of gospel proclamation (vv. 1–2), Paul elaborates aspects of this command in vv. 3–7 before briefly returning to his original exhortation in v. 8. First he notes that it is good and pleasing to God to pray for those in authority. From v. 4 it may be inferred that the prayer in view includes the salvation of these individuals, though proper governance may also be in view in light of the purpose statement in v. 2 (cf. Lea, 88). Regarding things that are “good,” Paul affirms later that it is pleasing to God to care for one’s parents and grandparents (5:4). As in the opening verse, God is identified as “our Savior” (“our Savior-God”). In what follows, Paul elaborates his rationale for praying for those in authority (assumed to be unbelievers).

4 “All men” (i.e., “all people”) indicates that the scope of God’s redemptive activity is universal, including pagans as well as Jews (cf. Ac 22:15; Ro 11:32; 1 Co 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; though it is, of course, also true that God’s desire for all people is that they may be saved [see Calvin, 38–39]). As Augustine wrote (Corrept. 14.44), “the predestined” include “every kind of man.” Yet God’s awarding of responsible moral agency to every person precludes his overriding of a human decision not to believe (Ambrose, Prayer of Job and David 2.4: “He … does not compel the unwilling”).

Salvation (i.e., conversion; cf. Kelly, 62) is here equated with coming to a full “knowledge of the truth” (epignōsis alētheias [GK 2106, 237], 2 Ti 2:25; 3:7; Tit 1:1; cf. Jn 10:9; 14:6; 17:3; Heb 10:26); elsewhere the church is called “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Ti 3:15), and “truth” is contrasted with false doctrine (4:3; 2 Ti 3:7–8; 4:3–4). Such salvation requires repentance (2 Ti 2:25). The heretics and their followers, however, are “always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Ti 3:7), while Paul knows that his calling centers on “the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Tit 1:1).[16]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Ti 2:3–4). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[2] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (pp. 1596–1597). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[3] Wilkin, R. N. (2010). The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to Timothy. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (pp. 967–968). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2081–2082). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[5] Litfin, A. D. (1985). 1 Timothy. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 734). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 165). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Utley, R. J. (2000). Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey: I Timothy, Titus, II Timothy (Vol. Volume 9, pp. 25–26). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[8] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles (Vol. 4, pp. 95–97). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[9] Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: First Timothy (pp. 100–107). New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.

[10] Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (pp. 64–67). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[11] Guthrie, D. (1990). Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 14, p. 85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[12] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (pp. 53–55). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[13] Barcley, W. B. (2005). A Study Commentary on 1 and 2 Timothy (pp. 80–81). Darlington, England; Webster, NY: Evangelical Press.

[14] Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[15] Towner, P. H. (2006). The Letters to Timothy and Titus (pp. 175–179). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[16] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 1 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 511–512). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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