For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially those who believe.
Here is an example of a seemingly unclear Bible verse—often used as a defeater verse—which seems to teach many things which clearer verses utterly reject. Some have seen it as a verse that teaches general atonement (that Jesus’s work in His life, death and resurrection made salvation possible for all but certain for none), whilst others go even further to see it as supporting some form of universalism (that Jesus died so that all people are or will eventually be saved). What does this verse actually mean? As ever we need to understand less clear verses in light of clear verses and also to remember CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT (historical, literary and theological).
Paul is writing to Timothy to persevere in being a good servant of Jesus Christ (v. 6); not to get side-tracked but to focus on the mission. What fuels personal perseverance for Paul and Timothy and also their going to such great lengths to preach the Gospel, but their saving hope in the living God (If all could be saved but none choose to be, or if all will eventually be saved regardless, it doesn’t exactly inspire missions!).
Central to this verses literary context is understanding words such as “all” and “especially.” “All” mustn’t convey that Jesus saves all people but rather that He is available to save anyone. Much the same as a garage might advertise it fixes all makes, it doesn’t mean all makes will be fixed (you have to go to the garage first!). “Especially” is perhaps a misleading translation here when ‘namely’ better reflects in English the original word sense. As such it is saying Jesus stands ready to save anyone, namely, those who believe.
This verse cannot teach universalism when the bulk of Scripture clearly does not teach this view. Consider just two basic examples:
- Two verses after the famous verse of Jn 3:16 it says, Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (v. 18).
- But to all who did receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. (Ro 1:12)
What 1 Timothy 4:10 is making clear is that the Gospel call (or offer) of salvation is universal but salvation itself is limited to those who believe in Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
 A verse taken out of context to categorically strike down an opponents view.
 This contradicts verses such as “Christ died to save His own” (Jn 6:37, 10:14–5) and other verses which affirm limited atonement, that Jesus died for the elect (Eph 1), all those who would come to faith in Him. The folly of general atonement is that if Jesus died for all but not all are saved than His sacrifice was either insufficient or He is not powerful enough to keep those He died to save.