1 Timothy 4:9-11 Strength to Strive


I can remember as a child wondering why my dad kept getting up and going to work every day. It didn't seem like fun. I thought it would be a lot more entertaining to stay home and watch TV. Little did I realize then that a large amount of the fan mail my dad seemed to get on a regular occasion was at least a partial reason for his strong desire to head off to work in the mornings. To put it briefly, he worked hard because I ate a lot and needed new clothes.

Why do we work hard for the kingdom?

When you begin reading with verse nine you the last of three "trustworthy statements" which are found in 1 Timothy (1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 3:8). It refers to the last portion1 of the tenth verse "We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." This is an axiomatic statement which is meant to shrink a significant Christian doctrine down to a bite sized chunk.

In verses 9-11 Paul addresses the question "why do we need to work hard for the kingdom?" The trustworthy statement of verse 10 answers that question with three motivations for focussed labor and intense spiritual struggle.

This, says the apostle, is what we labor and strive for.

Labor means to work hard physically. Strive indicates the intense struggle of an athletic contest. It is used in Colossians 4:12 of Epaphras who is always "striving" in his prayers. Labor may symbolize the hard physical work of ministry but striving refers to the hard spiritual struggle of ministry. Satan is relentless in his attacks upon Christ's servants. But we continue to fight against him through prayers and spiritual struggle.

The hard work of ministry is described here. We cannot dally at the gospel we must push it forward with all our might. People are dying. Their souls are the prize. It is worth any physical or spiritual hardship and struggle in order to reach a solitary soul.

Because God is the Security of our Hope

But from where does the Power to work hard come from? First it comes from hope.

Hope is one of the most powerful forces in human nature. With the slightest bit of hope someone will continue to fight against impossible odds. But without hope someone who has everything going for them will give up and walk away.

As Christians we have an eternal hope. This is what Paul says when he writes, because we have fixed our hope on the living God. We labor because we hope in God. We don't labor because we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We don't labor because it's the right thing to do. We don't labor because we're trying to work our way into the kingdom. We labor because we hope in God.

Hope does not mean that our salvation may or may not come to pass but rather means our "confident anticipation". We have a confident anticipation in eternity. We know that because of redemption and forgiveness in Christ that we are going to see and be with God!

Moreover it is the fact that God is alive, which further helps Paul to labor with such intensity. A dead god is no god at all. But the knowledge that our God is truly alive means that he is a rewarder of those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). This is the essence of faith. and prepares us for the salvation saying which follows.

God is a living God and what follows is a dual description of Him. (1) He is the savior of all men and (2) He is especially the savior of believers.

Because God is the Sustainer of all men.

The first description can cause quite a bit of confusion. There are a few different ways of looking at this.

  1. It cannot mean all people are saved. The term for this is Universalism. But the Bible is very clear that not everyone is saved. For instance Revelation 14:11 is one passage among many that deals with the lost in hell.

  2. Some tend to claim that the word "especially" could be translated as "that is" (IOW: savior of all men, that is, believers.) However there doesn't appear to be any strong evidence for such a rendering.

  3. Not Immediately Judging.
    The most likely and most natural interpretation means taking the term Savior in a dual sense which is hinted at with the word "Especially" The word "Savior"means "saviour, deliverer, preserver." In the first century it was applied to all sorts of people to describe anything from protection to provision.2

In this instance it means that God is preserving or saving all people from immediate judgement. 2 Peter 3:9 alludes to God's temporary withholding of judgement. "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. "

We all deserve to die at every instance but God in his mercy maintains the lives of men upon this earth for a time. He withholds judgement as Peter tells us so that more may come to know him. In the temporary sense then, God is the savior of all men.

We labor hard because of God's great mercy in delaying the judgement. His patience is meant for more to come to repentance.

Because God is Especially the Savior of believers:

The Salvation of all men from immediate judgment is one thing. God is the savior of all men, but he is especially the savior of believers. There is no true lasting salvation without faith. Faith and faith alone is the channel through which God's grace brings us salvation.

Picture a group of people clinging to a lifeboat in the water and you are the captain of a ship coming to their aid. You are their "rescuer" who can save them from dying in the deadly churning waters. But when you pull alongside the lifeboat, only a few take the rope you toss to them and are hauled onto your ship. The others, remain in the water to die.

Whose Rescuer were you? Those left behind or the ones who you actually saved? You were the Rescuer of both groups but only the ones who let you lift them out of the water took advantage of your offer of deliverance.3

The fact that Jesus is the savior of all men is a very powerful statement for Paul and Timothy. Remember that Paul is the apostle to the gentiles. For generations the Jews had widely assumed that God cared only for them and would save only them. If anyone else wanted to reap the benefits they had to become Jewish prosy lites. But Jesus came that he might save everyone. Remember back in the second chapter that Paul tells timothy that it is for God's desire to save people that God called Paul as a preacher and an apostle. Paul then invokes a promise saying, "I am telling the truth I am not lying…" Why would Paul insist he was telling the truth unless his detractors were teaching that God would not save gentiles?

But God does save gentiles and God has indeed offered salvation to the world. The death of Christ was sufficient for every one to ever walk the planet he stands ready to be the savior of everyone; but he is specifically the savior only of believers.

The salvation granted to believers is of a much greater kind than that which is given to unbelievers. That alone should motivate us to work for the kingdom.

Leonard Ravenhill tells the story of A notorious British criminal named Charlie Peace. Having committed a capital offense he was going to his death. In front of him a minister was reading from the Bible but doing so rather blandly. Charlie asked him, "Do you really believe in such a place called hell?" The minister replied, "Yes." Charlie responded, "Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees, and think it worth while living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!"4

My friends it's time to get to work for the kingdom. Our hope is fixed upon the living God. We are not laboring for a lost cause but for an already victorious one. We are straining from a position of strength rather than for strength. Our God is a living God, the gods of the nations are just dead sticks and fables. The God of Israel is the one true God and he alone is a living God. There is no other. The gods of Islam, Evolution (time and chance), and the whole lot simply do not have life which also means they are powerless. But our God is the savior of all men and especially of believers.

Let's get to work.

1I am well aware of the possible interpretations of the faithful saying referring to all or portions of vv 8 or 10. Having familiarized myself with the arguments in favor of each I find the most likely candidate for the faithful saying being v10b.

2Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997, c1984), 1 Ti 4:9.

3Tyndale Theological Seminary, Conservative Theological Journal Volume 4 (Tyndale Theological Seminary, 2000; 2003), 4:205

4Indelible Ink: 22 Prominent Christian Leaders Discuss the Books That Shape Their Faith, edited by Scott Larsen (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2003). Ravi Zacharias Reading: the Fingerprints on your soul. http://www.rzim.org/resources/jttran.php?seqid=87 He is quoting Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany Fellowship, 1959. p 19.