The Lord’s Day Morning
September 12, 2004
I Timothy 4:9-10
“Savior of The World”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Turn with me to I Timothy, chapter four. We’ve been
working our way through these so-called “pastoral letters,” these three small
letters to two faithful pastors, Timothy and Titus, and to their congregations
in Asia Minor. Some Jewish Christians, some Gentile Christians are part of
these little folds of sheep faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ. These people are
persecuted; they are marginalized to some extent. They are facing great
obstacles, and Paul, an apostle, an elder, a pastor, a veteran
missionary/evangelist/church planter, writes under the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit to give divine direction for the priorities of these local congregations.
And so in I and II Timothy and in Titus, he sets forth for us a picture of what
local church life and ministry ought to be.
Now, we’re going to be concentrating on verses nine
and ten of I Timothy 4, but allow your eyes to sneak a peek at verses one
through eight, because they set the table for what Paul is doing here. In I
Timothy 4:1-5, we saw a couple of weeks ago Paul giving a warning to Timothy.
Even though Paul had planted this local congregation, even though he was the
pastor, the first pastor, the founding pastor, the planting pastor of this local
congregation; even though a faithful man like Timothy had been set over this
congregation as a minister, Paul is warning Timothy that even in his very midst
there are those and will be those who will teach false doctrine and will lead
some of his flock astray.
We don’t know how large this church was. Was it 30
members? Was it 50 members, 70 members? We don’t know. It was probably a small
group somewhere in Ephesus, and Paul is saying to Timothy in the first five
verses of I Timothy 4, ‘Timothy, be on the lookout. There are false teachers
prowling. There are people who are going to lead your flock astray. You need
to be vigilant.’
And then, if you allow your eyes to look at verses
six through eight, Paul gives Timothy a bracing exhortation. Not only does he
tell him to be on the lookout for false teaching and to be nourished himself in
the truth of sound, biblical doctrine and teaching, he tells Timothy that he
needs to pursue godliness, that he needs to strive for godliness.
We were reminded last week of Robert Murray
M’Cheyne’s great saying, that “my people’s greatest need is my own holiness.”
And so what Paul is telling Timothy, “Your people need your holiness, Timothy,
so you strive after godliness; exert yourself, work out in order to grow in
grace. Value godliness,” he says to Timothy in verse eight.
Now, these are two bracing exhortations. One, to
say to a man who is ministering to a marginalized community under persecution,
“Timothy, take courage. There’s going to be division in your flock. Some of
them are going to reject your ministry; they’re going to follow your enemies,
and they’re going to follow your enemies right to hell, because they will follow
And then to say to Timothy in the midst of this, “I
want you to be prepared yourself to strive after godliness. Fight all of those
temptations, the discouragements, and the pressures and the stresses, and strive
after godliness.” Those are two fairly rigorous words of exhortation to give to
a pastor in a setting that already could be discouraging. And Paul knows that,
and that’s why he’s waiting for us with verses nine and ten of I Timothy,
He wants to give a word of encouragement to Timothy,
and his word of encouragement is drawn from theology. In fact, he points
Timothy to a piece of theology that everybody in the early church knew. You
remember that in the days that Timothy was a minister, there was no single
Christian church that could open up all of the New Testament and read from it.
Every Christian had a Bible: that Bible was the Old Testament, and most
Christians had parts of the New Testament read to them from time to time. But
in Timothy’s day, most Christian churches did not have the privilege of having
the whole of the New Testament to be read to them.
But there were parts of the theology of the New
Testament that every Christian knew, and Paul is going to quote one in verses
nine and ten. They’re called “faithful sayings.” He quotes five of them in
these pastoral letters. These faithful sayings were divine truths inspired by
God, eventually written down and in the New Testament of every Christian, that
Christians knew all over the Mediterranean world. Whether you were in
Jerusalem, or whether you were up in Samaria, or on the way to Syria, or over in
Asia Minor, or in Rome or North Africa or Egypt–you knew these faithful
sayings. Perhaps you had memorized them like our children memorize the
Catechism from youth.
And so Paul brings to bear this faithful saying as a
way of encouraging Timothy. Now isn’t that interesting? Paul gives a bit of
theology, and he says, “Timothy, you want to be encouraged? You want to have
hope in this setting? Let me take you to the truth of God’s word. Let me take
you to His glorious theological truth and encourage you by it.”
Before we hear this word of Paul’s–of God’s–to you,
let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth
of Your word. We thank You that it is not only profitable for our correction,
but also for our training in righteousness. We acknowledge, O God, that by Your
truth we are sanctified, we are made holy; but we also acknowledge that by Your
truth we are comforted and encouraged, and strengthened. So, by Your Spirit, do
these things, we pray, in the reading and hearing of Your word. We ask it in
Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is the word of God.
“(9) It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for
this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who
is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I. We need to ask ourselves
about the source of our motivation and assurance in the Christian life: Why am I
What do you think kept
Timothy going in the kind of setting that he found himself in? Here he is:
pastoring a church founded by an apostle, and he’s still dealing with false
teaching. I mean, if you’re pastoring a church that was founded by an apostle,
and you’re having to deal with false teaching, it doesn’t give a whole lot of
hope for the rest of us, does it? And here he is, ministering to people who are
persecuted. They have been persecuted, they are being persecuted, and very
frankly, there’s worse persecution to come. And here he is, faithfully
ministering God’s word, and up against obstacles and discouragements. What do
you think kept a man like Timothy going? How would you like to follow Paul?
You know, we sometimes feel sorry for coaches who have to follow very successful
coaches. How would you like to follow Paul? It could have been discouraging.
How about ministers? How
do you think ministers go on in the ministry, despite discouragements? Most of
the conservative, Bible-believing churches in the United States have less than
75 people attending, and you have faithful men preaching the Bible, teaching the
word of God, and very often they feel as if somehow the world is passing them
by. They’re faithful in pastoring, they’re faithful in shepherding, they’re
faithful in teaching and preaching and praying for their people; and yet they
don’t see the multitudes flocking to the truth. They don’t necessarily have the
“movers and shakers,” the societal and cultural influencers in their midst.
What do you think keeps them going? What’s the source of their hope?
And what about you? What
keeps you going when you are facing the pressures and distresses, and the
disappointments of the Christian life, what’s the source of your hope? Where do
you turn when friends have let you down; when your marriage is troubled; when
your children are having difficulties; when you are facing health issues with
yourself or with a loved one, that are beyond your ability to remedy and are
perhaps beyond assurance of the doctors’ remedy? Where is your hope? Where do
Well, Paul comes to
Timothy armed with an answer from the third of five faithful sayings. We’ve
already mentioned two of these faithful sayings. If you were to look at I
Timothy 1:15, Paul there states his first faithful saying: that Christ Jesus
came into the world to save sinners. And then he adds, “…of whom I am the
chief.” And then, in I Timothy 3:1, he says “it’s a faithful saying that the
one who desires the work of an elder desires a good thing.”
And now, armed with this
third faithful saying, the saying that “…we have fixed our hope on the
living God who is the Saviors of all men, especially of believers,” he comes
with that faithful saying to encourage Timothy, and to encourage ministers, and
to encourage you. And I want to say that this is a classical example of how
theology is important for the practical living of the Christian life. When this
minister feels hopeless, when ministers in general feel hopeless, when you feel
hopeless, where do you turn? You turn to the theology that God has given to us
in His word. This is yet another reason why Paul will have said to Timothy in I
Timothy 4:6-8 that you need to be nourished in sound doctrine, because when the
pressures and trials of life come, God says the great encouragements that He
gives come from His promises in the theology of His word.
And I’d like
to point your attention to two or three things in this great passage today. The
first thing I want you to see is the answer that Paul gives to the question,
“What keeps us going? Where is our hope? Where do you turn in the midst of the
disappointments and the stresses and the pressures and the trials of life?”
And you’ll see his answer in verse ten: “For it is for this we labor and
strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God….” Paul is saying in
the first place that the one life-sustaining hope that we can always count on is
God Himself. Paul is saying that the source of our ability to labor and strive
in the face of formidable opposition is only in God Himself, and in nothing less
than God. In saying the words, “Timothy, it is for this we labor and strive,”
Paul is pressing Timothy to ask himself the question: “Why am I doing what I’m
doing? Why am I doing this? What motivates me to get up in the morning and keep
on doing this? What motivates me to get up in the morning and minister to a
congregation that Paul once pastored, and which is now riddled by doctrinal,
deceitful teaching, and which is persecuted by the world? It’s got problems
inside, it’s got problems outside; and what keeps me going?” And Paul gives him
the answer: “Timothy, this is what keeps you going: your hope is in the living
God. That’s what keeps you going. Your hope is firmly on God Himself, and
therefore nothing in this life can take that hope away, but nothing short of Him
can give you that hope.”
And I want to say to you
that we are often in our lives looking for our hope in something else other than
God, and very often it is our prayer that God would help us to get the other
thing in which our hope ultimately is. And I want to tell you that God will
never answer that prayer for His people. When you pray, “Lord, help me to have
the circumstance in which I will find my ultimate hope apart from You,” God will
always answer that prayer to his children: No. Because God doesn’t want you to
have your ultimate hope in something else other than Him. He wants you to have
your ultimate hope in Him. You will not have a sure and certain hope until it
is in Him.
Oftentimes we pray, in
difficult circumstances, “Lord God, we would have You change these circumstances
so that we can have circumstances that would be productive of a living,
sustained hope.” And God’s answer to that is going to be, “NO!” Because living
hope doesn’t come from circumstances! It comes from God!
Very often we are right
to pray that the Lord would be working in the midst of our circumstances, and
it’s certainly not wrong to pray for God to change some of those circumstances,
but it will not be the change of the circumstances that begets real living,
sustained, hope. That’s found only in God, and it doesn’t matter what the
And so, if we view God as
the great means to give us some other hope which is certain and secure, we’ll
never, ever, have a certain and a secure hope: because He’s not the means, He’s
the end. He’s not the instrument to get us to another hope which is not Him, He
IS the other hope; He’s the object; He’s the focus; He’s the goal. And Paul
says to Timothy, ‘Timothy, look. This is why you’re able to get up in the
morning. This is why you’re able to toil and exert yourself, because your
confidence is in the living God. That’s where your hope comes from.’
You know, ministers are
often tempted to look for something else to put their hope in, in ministry,
because ministry is difficult. It’s for the long haul, and you rarely see the
results of your ministry in the short term. And that’s why ministers are such
suckers for programs, because we want the program that is going to fulfill our
hope! We want the model of ministry that’s going to fulfill our hope! We want
the secret strategy that’s going to fulfill our hope, and it never works!
Because God is the only source of living hope, sure hope, certain hope.
Paul is saying to Timothy, “The one
life-sustaining hope we have is God Himself. And Timothy, that’s why we do what
we do. That’s why we can go on, when we get up in the morning. That’s why we
can put one foot in front of the other and keep on going, because God Himself is
our hope. And there’s no opposition in the world that can thwart Him.”
grand Christian hope in God realizes that He is the only Savior, for all
humanity, and that He will save a multitude from every tribe, tongue, people,
But Paul doesn’t
stop there. He goes on to say something else, and you also see it in verse ten.
He says that this living God is “the Savior of all men.” What Paul is
saying there is that there is one Savior God, and there is one way of salvation
for all of humanity, and Timothy, you’ve been put in the world to proclaim
that. And that is very encouraging. Paul is saying to Timothy, ‘The grand
Christian hope in God realizes that He is the only Savior for all humanity, and
that He will save a multitude from every tribe and tongue, and people and
nation.’ Paul is fixing Timothy’s hope and ours on who God is. This living
God, in whom our hope is — not in circumstances, but in this living God–this
living God is like this, Paul is saying. He’s saying, think about who it is
that you serve: He’s the Savior of all men.
Now, what in the world
does Paul mean by that? I wish I could spend a whole sermon to tell you what he
doesn’t mean by that, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to do that, so I’ve
written about it in The First Epistle1this week, and you can read it on the website2,
too! I did that last night, because I knew I wouldn’t get through this sermon.
But let me say two things that Paul does not mean
here. Paul does not mean that every human is or will be saved. He is not
teaching universalism when he says that God is the Savior of all men. First
of all, that would contradict the rest of the New Testament. I mean, take a
look at what Jesus says in Matthew 26:41, sometime. Jesus certainly did not
believe that all humanity would be saved.
But secondly, it would contradict Paul for Paul to
say this. Remember what Paul has just said in verse one of this chapter? He
said, “Timothy, watch out. There are going to be people that are going to be led
astray into doctrines of demons.” Now, Paul did not experience a moment of
senile dementia from verses two to ten and forget what he had said in verse one!
Paul is not saying that every last human that is alive or will live is saved.
That’s not what he means by saying that God is the Savior of all men.
Nor does this passage
mean what some of our Arminian friends want it to mean: that God offers
salvation to all men, but that only some get it because only they exercise
faith. It may be true that only those who exercise faith are saved: we preach
that here. But that’s not what Paul is saying in this passage.
I would suggest to you that every time that Paul
or any other New Testament writer says that God is the Savior of all men, or
that He desires the salvation of all men, or that Christ is the Savior of the
world–and those things are repeated on several occasions in the New
Testament–three things are being asserted simultaneously. And in this passage
Paul is asserting these things in order to give Timothy hope, to remind him why
he gets up in the morning to do what he does, and he’s saying it so that you
will remember why you get up in the morning to do what you do.
Now, those three
things are as follows:
First of all, when
Paul says that God is the Savior of all men, he is saying that there is no
other Savior for the whole of humanity but the one true God of Israel, the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I want to say that
that would have been an incredibly encouraging thing to Timothy. Here Timothy
is, preaching to a small group of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians,
huddled in some house in Ephesus at the margins of society. This isn’t some
great, massive movement. It’s a tiny little blip on the screen in what’s going
on in the Roman world. And Paul says to Timothy, ‘Timothy, when you preach the
unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, you are telling humans the only way of
salvation. The only way humans will ever know what it means to be saved is if
they know the living God, who you proclaim.’ Now that’s a reason to get up in
Now I know that that is
not a very popular teaching in our own day and age, and the logic of today goes,
“Well, people who weren’t very smart, a long time ago, and who were
narrow-minded, they came up with this idea that there’s only one way of
salvation. But we’re smarter than they are now, we’re more enlightened. And we
realize that’s mean to say, that there’s only one way of salvation.” Well, let
me just remind you, my friends, that when this New Testament was put together,
and when Paul said these words ninety-eight percent of the world did not believe
that there was one way to salvation. He spoke these words in a culture that was
equally as offended by that truth as our own. Romans did not believe that there
was only one way of salvation. They would have had absolutely no problem with a
Christian offering a sacrifice to a Roman god in order to get along in his
society, and then going right back on Sunday and worshipping Jesus. They had no
problem with that. What they had a problem with was the claim that Jesus was the
only way of salvation, and that is precisely what Paul is proclaiming here. He’s
saying, ‘Timothy, I know the world doesn’t believe this. But you are a
proclaimer of the truth that there’s only one way into fellowship with God,
because there’s only one God of salvation for the whole of the human race: and
He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of Israel. And your
job is to proclaim Him. That’s a reason to get up in the morning.’
The second thing
he’s saying when he uses that phrase is this: that God is not only the Savior
of the Jews, but He is the Savior of the Gentiles–Gentiles from every tribe, and
tongue, and people and nation. You remember that we said earlier that in
the days when Paul was writing, most Christians simply had their Old Testaments,
and they rightly understood that the God of Israel was the same, one and the
same God as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; that the God of Israel
was the triune God that they worshipped as Christians. But there were some who
believed the God of Israel was, well, the God of Israel. And there was another
God for the Gentiles. And so that there was perhaps one way of salvation for
Israel, and another way of salvation for the rest of the world. And Paul is
saying here, ‘No, the God that you proclaim, Timothy, is not only the Savior of
the Jews, but also the Savior of Gentiles of every nation.’
And remember, too, that
Timothy was facing a teaching that said that there were only a select few that
understood secret things that really knew the one true and living God. This was
one of the things that the false teachers were saying. And so Paul is saying to
Timothy, God is not the Savior of some Gnostic or Judaising few: He is the
Savior of all men. Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, civilized
and barbaric, He is the one true God.
And thirdly, he is
emphasizing that there is a worldwide scope to the plan of God’s redemption.
You remember in the Old Testament, the dream of the prophets was that one day
all the nations would come to Jerusalem to worship the one true God. And they
said it in different ways. You remember the beautiful phrase, “One day the earth
will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” It’s
that dream that there will be a day when the world will know the one true and
living God. Well, in the New Testament when it is emphasized that God is the
Savior of all men, and that Christ is the Savior of the world, what is being
emphasized is that there is a worldwide scope to God’s redeeming plan. Not,
again, that every human being is saved or will be saved. Paul makes it clear
that that’s not what he’s saying with the very next phrase, which we’ll look at
in just a moment: “…especially believers.”
Whatever you make of that, Paul is reminding you
that God’s salvation is received only by faith. But when he says to Timothy,
“Timothy, the living God in whom you have put your hope is the only Savior of
all men,” he’s giving Timothy a reason for getting up in the morning. And he’s
giving you and me a reason for getting up in the morning, because if that truth
is true, then everything else in life has to be organized around it, because
there’s nothing more important than that: that He is the one true God, and the
only hope of salvation for all humanity.
God’s great and gracious salvation is received only by faith, only by those who
But Paul’s not
done, is he? Look at the end of verse ten. He has a third thing to say. He
not only points us to the life-giving, life-sustaining hope, which we have only
in God Himself; he not only points us to the reality of who God is: the one
Savior God, and the one way of salvation for all. But he points us to the
importance of saving faith in God, especially, he says, of believers.
What is Paul saying?
He’s saying that God’s great and gracious salvation is received only by faith,
only by those who believe. Now, there’s some debate over the precise
meaning of especially here. Does Paul use this word that we translate
especially to indicate that there is a general way in which God is the
Savior of all humankind, and a special way in which He is the Savior of
believers? Very imminent interpreters have taken that to be Paul’s meaning.
But I would like to
suggest to you another understanding. Paul uses this word especially
to mean that is.
Now you say, “Well, why
did the translator translate it especially?” Because that Greek word can
legitimately be translated especially, or it can legitimately be
translated that is. Let me give you an example. I’m not just making
this up. Turn to I Timothy 5:17, not but a few verses later. The same word is
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor,
especially those who work hard in the preaching and teaching….”
It’s the same Greek word, and it
could legitimately be translated “that is.” I could actually show you several
other times that Paul uses this term in this way. In other words, what he’s
saying is not that the elders who do well should be considered worthy of double
honor, but especially the subset of elders within that group who teach and
preach. No, he’s saying “the elders who rule well, that is, the same group of
elders who teach and preach faithfully.” He’s distinguishing their work; he’s
not distinguishing the group. So, the same elders.
Well, here in this
passage, Paul is saying especially in the sense of that is. He’s
clarifying the previous phrase. And so especially indicates that God’s
saving work is experienced by all and only those who believe. That is, God is
the Savior of all those and only those who have, do, and will believe.
What’s Paul’s point?
Well, it’s obvious. There can be no experience of God as our Savior except
through faith in Him, through faith in His promises, through faith in His Son.
We experience God as Savior, as our Savior, by faith. We trust in His promises.
We trust in His Son, Jesus, the Messiah. Salvation is by faith. You must
believe. It’s not enough to go through the motions, to belong to a church, to
attend services. We must believe.
And so Paul is giving
Timothy hope for his ministry, and he’s giving us hope for the difficulties of
life, because that hope is found in the living God, but it’s found only by those
who trust in the living God. Do you trust in Him? Paul is saying to you today,
‘Believer, if you do, then no matter what you’re facing today, you have every
reason to be full of hope.’
And he’s saying to you,
my friends who do not trust in Him, if you do not trust in Him, then no matter
how good everything else is in your life, you have no reason to hope. Because
the only reason to hope in this world is found in the living God, who is the
only Savior of humanity.
Our Lord and our God,
we would not walk through this world with misplaced hope, hoping in something in
this life to sustain us in this life and the life to come. Grant that we would
come to Christ, and find hope. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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