by John Samson
God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 1 Timothy 2:4
I have often times heard people quote 1 Timothy 2:4 to dismiss, out of hand, the biblical teaching on Sovereign grace or Divine election. In quoting the verse they have told me that God has no interest in electing certain people to salvation but that His desire is for every person to be saved. Yet, we must remember that the word "all" always has a context. It can sometimes mean all people everywhere - many times it does - but it sometimes means "all" in the sense of "all kinds" or "all classes, types" of people or at other times it refers to all within a certain type or class.. For instance, we do the same thing in our English language when a school teacher in a classroom may ask the question, "are we ALL here?" or "is EVERYONE here?" She is not asking if everyone on planet earth is in the classroom, but because of the context in which the question is framed (the school teacher's classroom) we understand she is referring to all within a certain class or type - in this case, all the students signed up for the class.
I believe 1 Tim 2:4 is speaking of all in this sense of "all types."
What is my biblical basis for saying this?
The context. Lets read the passage:
1 Timothy 2:1-4 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Who are the "all people" of verse 1? I believe the "all people" of verse 1 are the same "all people" of verse 4, as the subject matter does not change in any way at all in the intervening verses.
When Paul wrote "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.." was he asking Timothy to get the equivalent of the local phone book and starting with the alphas and going all the way through to the omegas (the Greek alphabet) make supplication, pray, intercede and make thanksgiving for each individual in the city... or more than that, the whole world?
I don't think so. Why do I say this? Because Paul qualifies verse 1 with verse 2 when he speaks of "kings" (kings are types of people) and "those in high positions" (again "those in high positions" are types of people).
Why should we pray for them?
One of the reasons we should pray for them is because these people (kings and those in high positions of authority) make decisions which affect society at large. If these people have their eyes opened, they will not be persecutors of Christians but will enact laws that will actually restrain sin so "that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." So one of the reasons to pray for them is because good government can mean a measure of peace in a society, and it is a lot easier to spread the Gospel when there is no civil unrest.
The passage also points us to another reason to pray, namely that God desires all (all who?) .. all types of people.. including these influential people with authority in society.. to be saved.
His message to Timothy was this: Do not just pray for the peasants, the farmers and the uneducated (the people who seem to be coming to Christ in great numbers right now), but remember to pray for kings and the very rulers in society who are at this moment persecuting Christians. Make prayer of this kind a priority - do it "first of all" - pray for these people Timothy - make sure the Church is praying for these people - because God desires all kinds of people - even kings (or Emperors like Caesar) and the elete in society - people of every kind, to be saved.
We must remember that the earliest Christians were almost all from the lower class of society, so this would be BIG news to them. As Paul wrote elsewhere..
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
Turning to another Scripture in Revelation chapter 5, we are given prophetic insight into the future, revealing to us what Jesus the Lamb actually achieved in His atoning work on the cross. He did not save everybody or make a mere potential atonement available for everyone, but he made an effectual atonement - a powerful one that achieved its desired end or goal of saving certain specific people. What exactly did He achieve?
In Revelation 5:9, the heavenly anthems ring out in praise of the Lamb saying, "...for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed (specific, actual) people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation..."
Note the words, for they are very specific. It does not say that Jesus ransomed the people OF but people FROM every tribe and language and nation. The Greek word for "from" is ek meaning "out of" - He redeemed people out of every tribe, language, people group and nation.. NOT all without exception, but all without distinction.
I mention this verse in Revelation 5 because this is in perfect harmony with 1 Timothy 2:4 which teaches very clearly that God desires all (all kinds of people) to be saved. God will have every tribe, tongue, people group and nation represented around the throne as the heavenly hosts sing of the Lamb who was slain to redeem them.