Understanding 1 Timothy 4:10 by Pastor John Samson
"For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." 1 Timothy 4:10 (NKJ)
1 Tim. 4:10 is a verse that has had many interpretations. Here are the main three:
(1) The Universalist Interpretation - "God is the Savior of all men" means that all who have ever lived will be saved. This of course is contrary to all sound doctrine. If this was true, the rest of the verse would have no meaning whatsoever when it says "especially of those who believe."
(2) The Arminian Interpretation - God wants to save everyone but His desire is many times thwarted by the obsinate free will of man. God is able to save all men, but though all can be saved, only believers actually are. Certainly this is a popular view, but we must be clear that this is not what the text says. It does not say God wants to save, but that He actually saves: He is actually the Savior (in some sense) of all men.
(3) The Reformed Interpretation - God is the Savior of all men (in one sense) and especially of those who believe (in another sense). Let me be quick to say that this is not the only way reformed people have understood this verse, but I do believe this is the correct interpretation.
As we study the terms "salvation" and "Savior" we find many nuances - many different ways - God saves. The most important aspect of salvation is to be "saved" from the wrath of God (Romans 5:6-9; 1 Thess. 1:10), but salvation also includes the idea of rescue from enemy attack (Psalm 18:3); preservation (Matt. 8:25); physical healing (Matt. 9:22; James 5:15), etc. God "saved" not only Paul's life but everyone else on board ship with him in Acts 27:22, 31, 44. There are numerous ways that "salvation" takes place, but that's a complete Bible study all in itself.
When we study the word Savior (Greek: soter) in the LXX version (Greek translation of the Old Testament), we see the word used in a way that is far less grandiose than that which we generally think of the word. One example is Judge Othniel, who is called a Soter (Savior) or deliverer because he delivered the children of Israel from the hands of the king of Mesopotamia (Jud. 3:9). 2 Kings 13:5 talks of God giving Israel a "Savior" so that they were delivered from the hands of the Syrians. The judges of Israel were "saviors" as Nehemiah 9:27 states, "in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies." (see also Psalm 36:6)
A great deal more could be said to substantiate this idea of a savior, but I think the above would make the point. God provides food (Psalm 104:27, 28), sunlight and rainfall (Matt. 5:45), as well as life and breath and all things (Acts 17:25), for "in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God preserves, delivers and supplies the needs of all who live in this world, and it is in this sense that He extends grace to them, saving them from destruction every day they live.
God is also gracious in allowing many to hear the proclamation of the Gospel.
All of these mercies are refered to as "common grace." It is common only in the sense that every living person gets it. This grace should actually amaze us because God is under no obligation whatsoever to give it to anyone. It can never be demanded. God sustains the lives of His sworn enemies, often for many decades! However, as wonderful as it is, it is only a temporal grace because all unregenerate people eventually die and will face the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
I believe then that 1 Timothy 4:10 teaches that we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior (Soter - preserver, sustainer, deliverer) of all people (showing mercy to all, each and every day they live), especially of those who believe (who receive full salvation from His wrath and everlasting life).