God’s Desire

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

I hope you all had a good Christmas season and a good New Year as well. The years are flying past for me. We have closed the books on 2015 and we will have new opportunities in 2016, new opportunities to put away those things that are not pleasing to our Lord and to replace them with what we know is pleasing to Him. Maybe, by God’s grace and in His strength, maybe this will be the year of dramatic change for you and for me as we seek to live for Him. Maybe our lives will better line up with what we read in Colossians 3…

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

Today, we return to the book of 1 Timothy and we look at chapter 2 verses 3 and 4. We will, as we look together at this book, come across a few passages that may seem difficult. This may be one of them, especially verse 4 which says, speaking of God, “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We will look at that verse in a few minutes, but first let’s start with verse 3: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,”

This verse is a great one for us as Christians! Here is why I say that. This verse tells us what is good and what is pleasing to God. Or what we can do that is good and pleasing to God. God tells us right here how we can please Him. Have you ever known someone that just couldn’t be pleased? Maybe you tried to do things that would please them but no matter what you did it was met with some negative comment or maybe just with indifference? And you would think harder and try harder only to once again get the same results. If we can’t, at times, figure out how to please other humans, then how would we ever figure out how to please a transcendent God who is so unlike us? How would we know how to please Him, how to do what is pleasing in His sight if He didn’t just tell us? He has told us here.

Now maybe a question is not, “How do I please Him?” but, “Do I even want to do what is pleasing to Him?” If we want to please Him, well then, here you go. But do you, do I want to? This is a place that we have to come to. Do we want to do what is pleasing to Him? Or do we just want to do what we want to do, I mean in our flesh? Do we want to do what feels good, what makes us look good, what extends our comforts, what feeds our egos, what enriches us more in this world? Or are we those who want to do what is pleasing to our Lord no matter what? Do we want to live life with a temporal view of living big in this world, or do we have a long-range look at life, all the way into eternity, with Christ at the center? Is it all about the feel-good of the here and now, or about the perfection of living with Christ forever? 

Are we so living in Romans chapter 8 that we are fully convinced of our place with Christ and His abiding love for us and His forever commitment to us and our good that we stand ready, anxiously ready to do what is pleasing to Him? Or rather than that, are we so consumed with ourselves that we will do whatever it takes to gratify our feelings and such that we stand down from what God has called us to?

We can get so off-track when life is about ourselves. But if life is really about living for the one who died for us and has saved us from God’s wrath then we are in a place ripe for obedience, we are in a new life to be lived for Him. We will be more like the disciples who quickly gave up their fishing nets, with lives dedicated to walk with Christ, we will be more like them than like the rich young ruler who walked away sad because he loved his stuff more than he loved the one who would die for him.

Where are we in this New Year? What are we going to do? How are we going to live? Will we live with a new desire to follow Christ and please Him?

Paul wrote: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,” Okay, so what is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior? “This” is. What is “this?” What is it that will be pleasing to our God? Well, it is prayer. That is what “This” refers to and we can see that back in verses 1 and 2…

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Paul is urging the church to be in prayer, in prayer for all kinds of people, for all people and for kings and those in high positions. It pleases God when we have compassion on people of all kinds, enough compassion to spend time in prayer for their salvation. I say salvation because of verse 4 that we will look at in a minute. We need this reminder to look outside of ourselves and our own selfish desires and to pray for other people. We are beginning a new year, how about each of us spending time in prayer, more than perhaps we ever have, praying for our leaders and beyond.

Our nation needs Christ, He is our only hope. Donald Trump will not save us, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson will not save us. Hillary Clinton will not save us. Barrack Obama has not saved us. Jesus Christ is the door to salvation, He is the only way, we should pray that He will be embraced and that He will save many in our land in 2016! What is the solution to the plights of our country and even our world? The answer is Jesus Christ. And as those who belong to Him we have access to the Father through prayer. It pleases our Lord that we bow before Him and acknowledge that He is the only way to salvation and that He can save and does save many. So, if you want to do what is pleasing to God, then pray for the lost, spend time praying for many!

How do we know that God has compassion for the lost? He must because He wants us praying for them, and our praying for them, as we will see, reflects His desires as well. In the next verse we see God’s desire, God’s feelings toward the lost.

who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)

This verse is really interesting and maybe even difficult for us to grasp. The simple truth of the words are not hard. It simply says that God desires all people to be saved and know truth, that is what it says. The problem comes in the fact that this describes God, God who is sovereign and all powerful and who is able to work all things according to His will. We may read this and say, “Okay, if that is what He desires then why doesn’t He just make it happen?” Maybe when you read this a certain person comes to your mind. Maybe a parent, a spouse, a child, or a good friend. Maybe there is someone you have been praying for for many, many years. Maybe one that you have repeatedly shed tears for, you so want them to come to Christ, you long for that to happen, and yet, they seem hard toward the gospel. I think of missionaries who leave all their worldly goods behind and go to a new place, a place where the gospel has never been taught before. They go and you read about them, they have been there for years without a single convert.

We pray for people, we desire that they be saved from their sin, from the wrath of God, and then we read this verse and we see that the sovereign, all powerful God has the same desire, desiring that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. So we are on board and God is on board with desire, so why aren’t all saved?

Does God fulfill all His desires? We have to be careful with the answer to this question. The first way to answer this is to acknowledge that He is able to. Nothing can thwart God’s actions. He is all powerful to do His will. He can do whatever He wants to do, this is a foundational principle about God. 

Job rightly confessed in Job 42:2: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” There are no external forces that can stop God from doing what God wills to do. So there is no one or no thing out there that can keep God from fulfilling all His desires, so if His desires are not all fulfilled, then they go unfulfilled by His own will, by His own hand. It is not a lack of power on His part and it is not a greater power outside of Himself, but it is by His own power that some of His desires do not get met.

You know, we may struggle with this truth, but from a human level we can somewhat relate. Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, if I were God, I would do such and such?” Or, “If I had a few billion dollars then I would..” And we start listing off all the things we would do or have. Maybe feed the poor or house the homeless, buy an island in the Caribbean, get that car that few can afford, retire from work, adopt more children, never clean house again, dress in the latest fashions, do that job you long to do but that pays so little you can’t afford to do it, become a missionary. We can all come up with a list of desires, that are, unlike God, out of our reach today, but that we would fulfill if money was no object. These are dreams that may swirl around in our heads. I mean what would it be like if we had the ability to fulfill all our desires? But what about closer to reality. Do we today try to fulfill all our desires, or are there some that we don’t because there is a higher purpose that comes with not fulfilling them?

For instance, when you get up early on Monday morning is it your greatest desire to go to the office and put in 8 to 10 hours after a full and exhausting weekend? Maybe not. Maybe you desire to stay in bed or do something relaxing. We know what it is like to set aside some desire and to do the principled thing in its place, like go to work, or take care of the kids. We don’t, or hopefully we don’t, try to fulfill all our desires, no we set them aside sometimes to do what is more important.

And so when we read this passage about God and His desire for the salvation of the lost, we can somewhat relate. And we have to conclude that in some way His desire for the world’s salvation is different than His eternal saving purpose. It must be true that God’s saving purpose transcends His stated desire in this passage. If that were not so, all people would be saved. That is universalism and it is not biblically accurate.

In Ephesians 3:11 Paul speaks of God’s eternal purposes in Jesus Christ: “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God has eternal purposes and they are being fulfilled, they will come about, they are good and they are holy and there are some that are above us and that we will not understand. But these eternal purposes or eternal decrees may be something different than desire. One stepping aside for the other.

If we struggle to understand how God can desire one thing, that is that all people be saved, and yet we know that all people will not be saved, for in that the Bible is clear, if we struggle with grasping such truths then let’s find peace and comfort from the truths of Romans 11…

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

He is God and we are obviously not. 

Paul goes further to say this: “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That last phrase in verse 4, He desires that all come to the knowledge of the truth. God is a gracious God! His desires are gracious. These words are consistent with other passages in Scripture… 

“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?…32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:23, 32)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

God is a gracious God with gracious desires toward people. We see over and over again in the Bible that He does not take pleasure in the damnation of the wicked. And yet many will face damnation. God desires things that He does not decree.

And yet we are called to pray, to pray according not just to our desires, but according to God’s desires. What is more beautiful than a person embracing truth, the truths of the gospel, the truths of our Savior who has come to wipe out our sinful record, to rescue us from ourselves, from our sins, from the wrath of God. Coming to a knowledge of the truth is understanding who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for us. There is nothing greater to know, nothing greater to embrace. The world can promise us many things but only Jesus can deliver us to paradise with Him forever! This is the truth that we can pray that many will understand. And by God’s gracious hand many will.

And so we pray! We don’t know who all will ultimately be saved, but we pray. We do not know who all are the elect, but we can pray. We don’t understand all of God’s purposes but He has called us to pray. And these prayers reflect in some measure the very desires of our Lord. Pray for kings and rulers, pray for family members, pray for neighbors and co-workers, pray for friends, that they will come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved.

We can trust God with the mysteries of His will, and while trusting Him we can do as He has directed us to do. In this case, pray for the lost, which is pleasing to Him.

3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)