Timothy 4:9&10 “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.”
God is the Saviour of every person whose trust is in him alone. He is an involved God, a compassionate God, a saving God. God is love, and never has his love been displayed more extravagantly than when he saved all who believe in him. If one were asked to say what was the heart of the good news of Christianity it would be to these words that one could point: God is the Saviour of all who believe.
1. This Great Truth Anticipated.
There is some difference of opinion as to whether in fact the trustworthy saying does not actually precede verse 9 and is the phrase, “godliness has value for all things…” (v.8). There is much to be said in favour of that. The strongest argument against it is the greater weightiness of the saying found in verse 10. Surely that would be more likely to be included amongst these trustworthy sayings, “God who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of all who believe.” That is the reason that the NIV has come down on the side of that interpretation.
There is a frame in which this trustworthy saying is set. Let us break it down into its constituent elements.
i] Here is a saying from the beginnings of Christianity. “This is a …saying.” Paul has repeated a number of such sayings in this letter so far, and here is another of them. They were amongst the most repeated and loved phrases of this new religion. They were often on the lips of the early church, and every new Christian memorised them. They were part of his first education in Christianity and the foundation of his evangelism. When they met a desperately messed-up person, who had almost abandoned hope – “God is the Saviour of all who believe” they said. When they were asked who this new God was and what help did he give his followers – “God is the Saviour of all who believe” they said. When they prayed for unbelieving husbands, sons, daughters and friends then these words were often on their lips, “God you are the Saviour of all who believe, so save my son.”
If you want to know what Christianity is then you must come with us to the Bible. The New Testament is a collection of 27 books that were all written within a generation of the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. They teach us what Christianity is. They are very lucidly written, winsome and compelling to read. It is upon these sayings every generation must build its life. The church must teach these sayings, and individual Christians must know them today as readily as the first generation of followers of the Saviour.
People show me family Bibles that they have had from their great-grandparents. Some have given them to me so that I have two or three at home. They are heirlooms and museum pieces. Obviously no one ever uses them. I have lots of respect for old Bibles. I have often told you of a friend of mine, Chris Baxter, in the Stanton Lees church whose awakenings to Christianity began in an antique shop as he thumbed the pages of one such Bible and then got gripped by what he was reading, and bought that Bible. But you go to the Christian Book Shop, and buy for yourself a Bible you can hold in your hand. I was delighted when two little girls in the congregation came excitedly to me last Sunday to show me their own Bibles that their aunt had given them for Christmas present. Those are the books that you will be able to handle and read. In them you will find these great sayings.
It is obvious that there are parts of the Bible more difficult to understand than this saying. I met a wonderful Christian family in a conference in Brazil, ranching hundreds of square miles of the country. When a farmer in that country goes into virgin scrubland he pulls up the bushes by their roots and bulldozes the rocks away and then begins to plough the field. He will often find in the early years that his ploughshares hit a rock. What does he do? Abandon the whole field, or dynamite the rock? No. He passes by the obstacle for a time and ploughs on as best he can. It is not a perfect field but after he has sowed the land he gets a harvest in the autumn. The next year he removes more rocks, and uproots more stumps and ploughs again. That year there is a better harvest. He repeats the process year after year, and all the time he is expanding his farmland. That is what should be your response to the Bible. You come here on the first occasion and you understand some of the things I talk about, and then you come back and understand a little more, and then a little more. That is how we advance in our knowledge of God. So it is with reading the word of God. It does not exclusively contain brief memorable aphorisms like “God is the Saviour of all who believe.” It is not ‘The Sayings of Chairman Jesus’ – a Christian ‘Little Red Book.’ There are histories and law books and a book of praise and apocalyptic images in this library. Keep going. The rocks of ignorance will go the more you work on it. This is a delightful undertaking.
ii] Here is a trustworthy saying.
There is no other reason for us to spend some time looking at these words. Dr Lloyd-Jones made his last visit to preach for us in Aberystwyth in May 1980. It was the last time he preached in Wales, and one of our members named Ron Goodfellow was telling a man in his village that he was going to hear the Doctor and what a great preacher he was. “Yes…” the old Cardiganshire man said suspiciously, “but can you trust him?” It was an incredible statement to Mr Goodfellow, and he repeated it to me shaking his head in wonder and sadness. Who had got at that man, and how many years earlier, to sow in that man’s mind the seeds of a suspicion that there was cause to question the integrity of Dr Lloyd-Jones? He thought he had some insider knowledge that resulted in his keeping away from those meetings held every two years where he might have found life, because this man, he had been informed, was somehow – he knew not where – untrustworthy.
There is no more fundamental question about any religion in any of its statements and any of its spokesmen than this – how trustworthy is this? We can tell you that the New Testament documents are reliable. We can affirm with scientific factuality that no discoveries have been made during the 20th century which have demonstrated their falsehood. The Lord Jesus Christ himself said, “I am the truth.” He made a most extraordinary statement on one occasion. “You believe in God,” he said to his disciples, that is “you trust God?” Of course they did. God is the absolute. God is trust. “Then trust in me,” he added (John 14:1ff). The very same trust you have in God you can have in Jesus of Nazareth. He is not saying put similar trust in me as you have placed in God. It is identical trust.
Jesus said, “Before Abraham was I am,” and it is trustworthy. He said, “I came to give my life a ransom for many,” and it is trustworthy. On the third day he rose again, and it is trustworthy. He is the Saviour of all who believe, and it is trustworthy. Once Wilhem Busch was challenging a crowd of young people. “I will give a million marks’ reward to anyone who can bring me a single man or woman who regrets having trusted in Jesus Christ” he said. Obviously he did not have such a large sum of money, but he could make the offer without hesitation for no such person could be found. Every one of his people says, “The Lord is trustworthy.” How many regret not having trusted him sooner!
iii] This Saying Deserves Full Acceptance.
I was listening to and speaking with Laban Mwashekele of Namibia this past week at the Carey Conference. He has had extraordinary opportunities to preach the gospel in that land during the last few months. He is the pastor of a church which, like ours, adheres to the 1689 Confession of Faith and has a regular radio broadcast. His straightforward courageous preaching brought him to the attention of the nation. Namibia has the third highest incidence of AIDS in the world, and few can afford the expensive drugs that are needed to keep the disease in check. Laban was asked by ‘the powers that be’ if he would speak to the people in a stadium on the theme of the Christian teaching on sexuality. During the first week unprecedented numbers of up to 10 thousand people came night after night to hear him. The following week was announced as being strictly a week of Bible teaching, but that week also was characterised by thousands attentively hearing the Word of God. There were no appeals to come to the front but 75 people have gathered together since those meetings and are under an elder from the church being taught the Word of God.
Authorities feeling their impotence at the spread of sexually transmitted diseases can speak of the importance of the ten commandments and the Christian faith. But will they themselves fully accept the Lord Christ? To accept the real benefits in this world that come from a submission to the law of God is one thing. I say, to accept such benefits which the world has received from the Christian religion in the form of education, liberty, family life and the care of the sick – that is one thing. But to fully accept the Lord Jesus Christ into our own lives as he is freely offered to us in the gospel is another.
Pastor Wilhelm Busch got to know an industrialist in the city of Essen. He was one of those people who are always good-humoured. He used to say to Wilhelm Busch, “Pastor, you are right to encourage the young people to live decently. Here is a gift of 100 marks for your work.” But when the pastor asked him had he fully trusted in God he would quickly reply, “Don’t trouble me, Pastor. I’ve come to my own conclusions about the world.” He was a decent and conscientious man but as far from God as the east is from the west.
One day Wilhelm Busch had to take a wedding in one of the big empty churches of Germany. The young couple arrived with about ten other people. They were rattling like peas in a pod in that building. The industrialist was one of those men and Busch felt sorry for him in his elegant morning suit and top hat uncertain of how to behave himself in church. The first hymn was announced and he pretended to join in the singing with the others. Just picture him…but he was perfectly at ease in any fashionable company.
Then a sweet event took place. The bride was a Sunday School teacher, and her Sunday School class had been asked to sing a hymn. Thirty little children began to sing this hymn:
Saviour, like a shepherd lead us;
Much we need Thy tenderest care;
From Thy pleasant pastures feed us;
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
Past Busch glanced at his friend and wondered for a moment if something was wrong. He was swaying, his head down, a large handkerchief was in his hand. Was he ill? Should they get a doctor? Then he noticed his tears and shaking shoulders. The children continued to sing
Thou hast promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou hast mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse and power to free.
Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee.
There was this man, a big businessman, crying his eyes out. The hymn had opened up memories of long ago when he had almost received the Lord but then he had closed the door to Christ and given his heart to business – what the Lord Jesus called ‘mammon.’ But there was a huge vacuum at the centre of his life. His tears were saying, “I am just a poor lonely man, a lost sinner.” Pastor Busch was given fresh confidence to speak to this man about fully accepting the Lord Jesus Christ. The living God is the Saviour of all who believe, and he is worthy of full acceptance.
iv] For this the first Christians laboured and strove.
“For this we labour and strive” (v.10). The translators of the NIV have chosen to put this in parenthesis, and that gives it a kind of prominence. The Lord Jesus told his disciples that the fields were white unto harvest, and that they should pray that the Lord of the harvest would send ‘labourers’ into the harvest field. He didn’t say that we should pray for photographers to take pictures of the grain, or artists to paint scenes of golden corn, or composers to be inspired by the scene, or children to play hide and seek amongst the corn, or poets to wax eloquent about the cycle of the seasons, or practical jokers to create corn circles to fool people into thinking space invaders had landed in the corn. Jesus said, “Pray for workmen. Pray for men who will labour and strive, men in love with work, men who will bring in the harvest.”
In the light of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ his followers are exhorted to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” In the great day of judgment when Christ will gather his sheep to himself it will be for their labouring and striving that he will signal them out as really his own. They were the ones giving something to eat to Christ’s hungry ones, drink to his thirsty ones, inviting into their homes strangers, clothing those too poor to clothe themselves, looking after the sick and visiting the prisoner. What labours of love! What made them do it? It was their belief in the living God who had become their Saviour. They could not help it. Something was pulling them along. Here were people beloved by Jesus Christ, members of his body, in different needs. That love urged them on. If a man, the God-man, went up the hill of Calvary and died for them, to save them from going to hell for ever and to redeem them from sin in the world, surely they must be concerned to know how they can serve him? Am I not to live for him, yea, and to die for him if necessary, and to die in my living ever, only, all for him. It is a great deal better to live a busy life for Jesus than only to talk about him. We are told of the Lord Jesus that he went about doing good. As a boy he said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” In the middle of his life he said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and finish the work.” At the end of his life he said, “I have finished the work thou gavest me to do.” Michaelangelo once said, “Art is jealous. She requires the whole and entire man.” The apostles believed that God was the Saviour of all believers and because of this their whole lives were changed. They worked for the Lord until they dropped.
v] Through it They Put Their Hope in the Living God.
“We have put our hope in the living God” (v.10). Many alive today are living without hope. They have decided that there is no purpose in life, and that it is unacceptable even to ask that question. They find their own purpose, and modify that as they live. Death is inescapable and final and they believe that at it you are extinguished like the bursting of a bubble, and that is that. They are without hope, because they are without God. Then an encounter with the living God makes all the difference between hope and despair. What a glorious phrase, “the living God.” Think of how the wonder of that dawned on John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan when after three years of ‘dreary atheism’ he discovered with delight that ‘there is a God, there is a God; Jehovah he is the God, Jehovah he is the God.’ Let us look at these words, ‘the living God.’
The phrase, ‘living God’ means that he exists – not like the dead gods of the heathen. He made the heaven and the earth, and all that is in them. He is the same God who supports the whole universe by the power of his mighty arm. He is the God who rules and overrules in nature, providence, and grace. He is the true God, the living God.
The phrase means that he is self-existent and self-sufficient. He has no life support system to keep him going. Rather, we depend on him totally. We have no independent immortality. Our life is sustained by him: our breath is in his hands; we live and move and have our being in him. He is the great I AM. One day the Manse was chilly. The radiators were cold. At last we discovered the reason: all the oil in the tank had been used up. There is no way our boiler can maintain its own flame. It must be fed or it will go out. But our God is a consuming fire which burns without fuel, a sun which scatters light without itself diminishing.
Again, the phrase ‘living God’ means that he exists from eternity to eternity. He never had a beginning. He will not have an end. There was a time when you and I did not exist. There will be a time when we are numbered with the dead. But God always was, always is and always will be. Right back when the whole universe, earth, planets, sun and stars slept in the mind of God – as Spurgeon says, ‘as a forest sleeps in an acorn’, even then God was the living God. When no angel sang his praise and no human being worshipped him, he was the living God, just as glorious and great as he is now. And in the future too he will be alive as today. No funeral procession of cars will announce to us our great God is dead. There will be no weeping from the archangel Michael that his Lord has passed away. He will ever be the living God.
Eternity with all its years
Stand present in thy view;
To thee there’s nothing old appears,
Great God! There’s nothing new.
Again, the phrase ‘living God’ means that he is fully and comprehensively alive in every part of his being. Sometimes we meet a personality like the Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel who is able to fill the Great Hall with his presence. He makes that large building seem like a room. He is ‘all alive.’ We say that such a man has ‘presence.’ But one day he is mute: he has laryngitis or some sickness and he lies sadly and quietly in bed. Relatives call and they say, “We’ve never seen him like that.” Mere mortals are like grass, withering and perishing, but God is all life and only life. He’s never bowed down with age, never grows forgetful, never wearied with all his endeavours, never affected by suffering. What God is, that he is to the full measure, and for ever.
Again, the phrase ‘living God’ means that he is a personal God. He is not ‘the force,’ and he is not ‘nature’, and he is not ‘the ground of being,’ and he is not ‘the first cause.’ He is the living God. There are people who would be horrified if you accused them of being atheists. They say to you that they believe in God and that they are nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else in the world. So they wont come to church, and they don’t go to God by Jesus Christ. But I would not worship a garden with slugs and snails and dying leaves and weeds. If they mean the grass of the meadows I hardly think I should like to worship the food that cows and sheep eat. And if they mean the wind then I hardly will worship what blows its cold drafts through our bay windows, and brings the trees crashing down, and is totally capricious and unpredictable of what direction it will blow from one week to the next.
I should not like to be the child of a father who, the moment I was born, had me washed and changed and fed by computer. He put me in a cradle that was rocked by computer. He taught me by computer. I never saw him. I only knew that there was some mysterious force somewhere in the universe, but I never saw him or it, and never knew anything about his personality. That is the kind of dead impersonal power men call ‘God’ – like a wind, or like the stars, or like a computer. When I cry to it it doesn’t answer. I can’t say to it that I want to be in its embrace for ever and ever. It never tells me that it loves me, and that I matter to it. But our God, in whom we hope, is a God with a great loving heart, a thinking God, an active God, a working personal God, who comes into the midst of this world, and does not leave it to go on by itself.
The living God is in the world he has created. When I look at the daffodil I know it is God who painted it yellow. When I cut a rose it is the living God who made the colours pink and white and red, and I know God’s paintbrush has been at work. So I know I am near God, for there is nowhere I can escape from him in the whole of his creation. Only he could paint the sunset and light the evening star. So I am brought near to ‘the living God.’ What a joy to know that he is not a mere dead force who gave energy to the world and has now gone away but that I meet him when he speaks of his power and godhead in skies and rolling thunders, and scatters his blessings in the dew and the rain. In all these ways he is ‘the living God.’
We are mortals, and I can see the procession of men who died this past century, at whose feet I sat, and who brought God to me. Edward J. Young, and John Thomas, and Cornelius Van Til, and John Murray, and W.J.Grier, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Douglas MacMillan, and Hugh Morgan and Robert Sheehan. They have gone by, while I have remained here, and I shall never see any of them again on this earth. They are a long array of my Master’s servants. But those of you who are before me now are also passing away, and how shall I ever have strength to bury you, who have been my backbone and my right arm and my left? But there are more coming on, and rising up. You will march on after my days in the service of the living God. This earth is not the land of the living. It is the land of the dying. The living lie beyond death’s cold river with the living God for evermore. He is the eternal one in whom all our hopes rest.
2. This Great Truth Declared.
He “is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe” (v.10). Now we know that the Bible does not teach anywhere that every single person who has ever lived is going to be saved and will be in heaven. It does not teach that all is well with everyone, with Judas, and Hitler, and Stalin, and the Yorkshire Ripper, and the many murderers and rapists and torturers who walk this world because, without their knowing, God is their Saviour. I heard a missionary called Mike Webb speaking this past week about the situation in Sierra Leone. There is the cruellest civil war going on in that country with 20% of Freetown destroyed and 90 % of its suburbs. In a country of 4.7 million people a million people are displaced. There are fearful barbarian atrocities being committed. Mike Webb asked us in a Prayer Meeting in Swanwick at the Carey Conference this week what would we say to two young women who shyly entered their church in Freetown a couple of months ago whose hands have all been chopped off and who are both pregnant through rape. Do you think that the men who have done that to those girls, and have never shown the slightest remorse, do you think that they are saved men and will go to heaven with everybody? And will there be murder and rape there too? Do you think that this verse is intending to mean that God has actually saved every single person in the world?
Doesn’t the whole of the Bible teach that there are two classes, that there are the saved and the lost, the sheep and the goats, that there are two ways, one that is narrow that leads to life and few find it, and one broad that leads to destruction, and many go along it? Doesn’t the Son of God himself teach that in the last day he will separate the world as a shepherd separates his sheep from his goats, that some will go to heaven and some will enter hell. He will say to some, “Depart from Me,” and to others he will say, “Come.” Is not the bifurcation of our destinies taught in the Bible? Why did the Son of God die if there were no hell? Why did Christ himself preach, “Repent,” and tell his servants to preach repentance in all nations, unless it was the fact that sinners needed to repent and believe in him in order to be saved from judgment?
Whatever this verse means – “the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe” – it does not mean that God is the personal Saviour of all men without exception. He is certainly the Saviour of all men without distinction. All kinds of men, more than the sands on the seashore, are saved by his grace. But to be eternally saved by him you must believe upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Considerable light is shed on this passage is you see a very similar grammatical construction in a number of places in the New Testament. The ‘all men’ is explained by the words ‘those who believe.’ Paul tells the Galatians, “let us do good to all men, especially to the family of believers” (Gals. 6:10). Paul ends the letter to the Philippians saying, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Phils.4:22). Paul says to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family” (I Tim.5:8). Again he says, “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Tim.4:13). So in our text what Paul is saying is that God is the Saviour of all kinds of people, “in particular,” or “I mean” those who believe (you know how often the word ‘all’ in Scripture does refer to believers and it is the context that determines this).
God is the Saviour of all who believe. The week-end papers with their supplements are full of interviews and many of the people being intervie wed are actors and actresses. They are an especially needy group of people, believing little but willing to talk about everything. Last week my eye was caught by an interview with an actor whose name is Harvey Kietel. What struck me as interesting was a statement that the interviewer made about him. He wrote, “Keitel is the most fundamentally, explicitly moral actor working today” (Sunday Telegraph, January 9, 2000). That was quite a gripping statement and so I read on, and I was disappointed. This morality consisted of his willingness to explore the least palatable aspects of himself and to share them with the camera. Keitel then said this, “If you reveal what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you don’t, it will destroy you.” Then he told the interviewer that in those words he was quoting from the Gnostic Gospels. As I read to the end of the interview I discovered that he is embroiled in a custody battle with his ex-wife for their 13-year-old daughter. His conclusion was that he wanted to do work in which he could learn about his humanity, so that he could feel better about living.
There is little evidence there that he is a very moral man when weighed in God’s scales. He is formulating his own morality from inside himself, and looking for deliverance inside himself. The apostle Paul was surrounded by Gnostic beliefs in the mystery religions and cults of the ancient world. All of them urged people to look within and search for the hero inside themselves. Go in. Go in and in. Go in and in and in. Go in and in and in and in. Go in and in and in and in and in. The answer is inside you. That is what they said. Salvation is inside each one of you. That was their message. No, said Paul. It is not inside us. It is not inside us at all. Go to Jesus Christ. Go and go to Jesus Christ. Go and go and go to Jesus Christ. Go and go and go and go to Jesus Christ. Go and go and go and go and go to Jesus Christ. “And neither is there salvation in amy other. For there is none other name under heaven, given amongst men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) said the apostles.
The living God has come into the world to save sinners in the Son of God Jesus Christ. He calls you to come to himself, you who are weary and heavy laden with the burden of your sins. He points you to his wounded hands and feet and riven side. He points you to his outpoured blood. He tells you his saying is utterly sufficient to obtain your complete forgiveness and reconciliation with God There has been opened up an access to the Father and to the Father’s love and the Father’s help day by day. He is able to save you completely. He presses upon you the greatness of the opportunity, and the greatness of the peril. He urges you with the great promise. He who believes will be saved. He warns you tenderly that he who does not believe will be lost.
Will you neglect such a saying? A trustworthy saying? A saying that deserves full acceptance? A saying for which some of the finest men in the world have laboured and strived? A saying through which men have put their hope in the living God who is the Saviour of all who believe. There is no other way. What will a man give in exchange for his soul being safe and sound for eternity? Will you go in and explore everything that is in you? Those labyrinthine caverns of your own imagination? The dark phantom-filled terrors of your own heart, out of which such violence and ugliness can come? No one ever found salvation from that source, only a confirmation of what they wanted to believe. Has the world ever by wisdom known the living God? Where is the wise? Where is the disputer of this world? Locked in custody battles with their ex-partners. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
Then do not despise the word of the Saviour who died on the cross. On the peril of your souls I charge you to remember that the only Saviour is the living God who has come to this world once only in his incarnate Son Jesus the Messiah. He is the only way, the only truth and the only life. No man comes to the Father except by him. All the life that is in the world is in the living God. Listen to the apostle John’s solemn words, “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that confesseth the Son,” he, and he only, “hath the Father also.” Let it be clear to everyone here today that there is no access to God for sinners save in the name of Jesus Christ.
Many of you believe in him, then, as Warfield cries, ‘render to him the glory that is his due. For when there was no one in the heavens or on the earth or under the earth who was able to open the book of salvation or to break the seals thereof, this man was counted worthy; worthy to endure the pangs of death for the offences of men, worthy to rise from the dead for their justification, worthy to be exalted to the throne of God and to receive the power, and the riches, and wisdom, and might , and honour, and glory, and blessing” (B.B.Warfield, “The Saviour of the World,” Banner of Truth, p.65). He has accomplished redemption, and he too applies it, and he applies it to those who believe on him. He is the Lord of Salvation, and none other. Remember the honour due to Jesus Christ, the Saviour, the sole Saviour of all whose trust is in him.
16 January 2000 GEOFF THOMAS