What does Paul mean in 1 Timothy 4:10 that God is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe? Isn’t He the Savior of ONLY those who believe?
The key here is to remember that there are many things we can be saved from. We most often think of salvation as being saved from eternal damnation, but Scripture talks about being saved from temporal things as well: enemies, disease, injury, famine, or any other kind of suffering. God frequently saves even the wicked from these temporal troubles:
- Pagans are healed of their diseases.
- Drunk drivers are spared from death.
- Criminals are shown mercy in their sentencing.
- The LORD “makes wars to cease to the end of the earth” (Psalm 46:9), which benefits everyone, even the ungodly.
These are all things that can and do happen in this life apart from eternal salvation of the soul. And yet they are still only from the hand of the sovereign Lord. In that sense, God is the Savior of all men. Part of the Apostle Paul’s point in this passage is that if God is so kind to all men, even the ungodly, how much more will He take care of His faithful children!
We should also think of a distinction that is often made in Scripture between those who believe and those who don’t believe among the people of God. Think about the Israelites, for example. God saved the entire nation from slavery in Egypt. Yet there were many among them who did not believe, and Jude gives us a sober warning: “The Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 1:5). The Lord saved, and then He destroyed. This is the fate of the “all men” in 1 Timothy 4:10 who do not believe. Still today, there are many among the people of God who daily benefit from the Lord’s gracious provision, but who, in the end, will be shown to be false sons of the kingdom and will not finally be saved from the wrath of God. But those who believe will be saved even from that end.
This same concept can also be applied to mankind as a whole. Though all of mankind fell in our federal head Adam, God saved the human race as a whole from instantaneous destruction. He has been graciously waiting for thousands of years to bring about the end of all things, so that more might come to believe and be saved from the wrath to come. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Right now, every person alive on the face of the earth is being saved from God’s judgment for at least a few more moments. Many will be spared that judgment for years or even decades to come. And not only are we all being saved from judgment, we are constantly being showered with God’s blessings. Our Father “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). “He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). In spite of this, many will still refuse to believe and will finally be destroyed.
Let us make sure that we overflow with gratitude to God our Father, and let us be sure that we place our trust in Him alone, the Giver of all good gifts.