In the apostle Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy we hear many great and practical teachings. Very often however we read certain portions of Scripture or the New Testament and we pass right over them without giving them a second thought. Today’s passage gives us one such verse that seems rather unimportant at first, while in reality it hides the mysterious kingdom of God.
Listen to this “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, Who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” It just so happened that this verse was part of our discussion this week at Bible study and in a minute I’m going to explain why.
Lets reflect on the meaning of this: “The living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” What St. Paul is telling Timothy is that in some way, in a manner that we don’t quite understand, God has saved all of mankind. In our Orthodox understanding we could go even further and say that God has saved and redeemed all of creation, all of the universe. How is this possible?
How could God be the Savior of all men? Does this mean that all men will die and go to heaven and enjoy eternal paradise with God and the saints? I don’t think so. There have been certain Church figures who suspected that everyone would be saved in this way, but this is what we call universalism. The idea that everyone will be saved by God, no matter what. I don’t believe that St. Paul is saying that. What I believe St. Paul is doing is demonstrating the importance of the incarnation and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. When I say incarnation I mean the fact that God took flesh and was born of the Virgin.
God became man and suffered and was crucified. He died for us. He didn’t simply die for those who are Christians. The Lord Jesus died for everyone who has ever lived or will ever live on the planet earth. He died for every man, woman and child. He died for every Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and even for atheists. He died for the addicts, the murderers, the brawlers, the thieves, the liars, the adulterers. He came and died for those who practice witchcraft, those who practice astrology, those who put their faith in silly horoscopes and those who believe in mediums. He died for drug dealers and harlots and gamblers. He even died for politicians. God became man and died for all of us and the power of the death of Jesus Christ is something we just barely comprehend.
St. Paul taught that we are saved by grace. Many have taken this to mean that on the day of judgment when we stand before God, He will save us simply as a free gift regardless of what we have done in life. That is a pleasant thought but it doesn’t really work well with the other 90% of the Bible that tells us that we will be judged according to our works, words and thoughts. So what does “grace” mean? Think back to what we already said. God chose to become a man and live a human life and feel pain and suffering. God chose to die for us. He didn’t do this because we deserved it. He didn’t act this way because we had done anything good. Humans didn’t do anything to convince God to become a man or die. It was a free gift. The liturgy of St. John Chrysostom says “He was given up, or rather, gave Himself up for the life of the world.” The grace of God is a reference to the cross.
In this way, whether one chooses it or not, he is saved by the act of the crucifixion. We don’t choose God. God chooses us, all of us. He doesn’t do it for a chosen few. He shares His life, His flesh, His blood, His divinity and His humanity with all of us. St. Paul writes that “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth.”
St. Paul continues in today’s epistle by saying that God is the Savior of all men but “especially those who believe.” The door is open for all because Jesus Christ has opened it. The door is open for all, but Our Lord can’t force us to enter. God wants to embrace us, but we have to want it. We have to turn from our old ways and turn back to Him. We have to obey Him because obedience is a sign of our love for God. The Lord Jesus teaches “If you love me, obey my commandments.”
Yes, salvation is a gift that is free. It is shared with all men, but the way we respond to the gift is critical. Belief is a firm, life changing conviction. This is what separates those who are potentially saved from those who are actually saved. This is true because salvation is the natural result of a relationship with the living God. When we draw closer to the source of life…we gain life!
Let’s imitate the apostles and embrace this news and share it with others. Glory be to God forever AMEN.