Christmas Season is a good time to ponder an interesting verse.
“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” – 1 Timothy 4:9-10
The Christian tradition I know puts great emphasis on how God saves all who believe. It’s as clear as the best-known verse of the Bible (John 3:16): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
But the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that there is more to God’s saving work than that, as important as that is. In some sense, God saves everyone.
Let’s call this sense “The Savior—Basic Version.” John 3:16, then, gives us “The Savior—Enhanced Version.”
In what sense does God save everyone? First, we reject universal salvation (eternal life for all) as being as thoroughly unbiblical as it is appealing to our emotions. It just isn’t “there” as numerous Bible verses indicate (Daniel 12:2-3; John 5:28-29; Romans 6:23among many others).
My New Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Homer A. Kent, Jr., gave an explanation to 1 Timothy 4:9-10 in his book The Pastoral Epistles that still sounds best to me.
As applied to unbelievers [God’s salvation] includes preservation and deliverance from various evils and the bestowal of many blessings during this life. To believers, however, this salvation does not end with earthly life but goes on for all eternity.
Similarly, the reformer John Calvin said this “salvation for all” refers to God’s kindness and goodness to everyone. This is the working of “common grace” whereby God cares for all people with numerous blessings from creation and providence, and from the social institutions God establishes.*
With this thought in mind, I encourage every church to teach and every Christian to practice both evangelism (sharing the message of forgiveness through Jesus) and social activism (supporting all in secular life that is for the common good). — by Donald Shoemaker, chair, Social Concerns Committee, Charis Fellowship
* John Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Timothy. See Common Grace.