Grace Presbyterian Church
September 18, 2022, Pentecost 15C
Kind of a definitive word, isn’t it?
I mean, how do you put up an argument against something being for or about “everyone” without sounding like an idiot (“you really mean everyone?“) or a hatemonger (“surely you can’t mean them???“) or worse?
So it had to be a bit bracing for the readers of this letter, whoever they were, to see in this brief passage “everyone” invoked three times, in idea if not in exact word. In a time when the persecution of those identified as “Christians” or “followers of the Way” was beginning to intensify, around the end of the first century, this was going to be a hard pill to swallow.
So what exactly is being applied to “everyone“?
1. Right away, in verse 1, we see the instruction begin: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone…“.
In case it wasn’t clear the author continues, “for kings and all who are in high positions…“. Exactly the folks who would be in charge, the emperors claiming divine authority and moving to squelch small, nonconforming movements like the church; pray for them. Even if you do so with gritted teeth, pray for them.
An attempt to sweeten the medicine follows: “…so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.” This is frankly a strange phrase; those last two words – “godliness” and “dignity” – do not appear at all in the New Testament aside from this letter and the two following, 2 Timothy and Titus. This is not Paul-like language at all, for that matter; “dignity” in particular is about as antithetical to Paul’s body of writing as anything can be. Outside of these three so-called “pastoral epistles,” so named because of their evident direction toward those in charge in the local body, New Testament writers simply don’t talk like this. Paul in particular isn’t all that interested in the followers of Christ living quiet, peaceable lives.
No, the real kicker here is in the second invocation of “everyone,” that follows next.
2. “This is right and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Let’s strip this down and clarify this: God wants everyone to be saved. Everybody. To put it in good Southern terms, “all y’all.” The most elemental, basic reason Christians would be called to play for everyone is simply that God wants everyone to be saved. God wants everyone to know that truth. God has zero interest in the lines we draw between ourselves and others. God wants everybody to be God’s.
When we’re most honest with ourselves, can we really say this? Can we really desire the salvation of those who torment us? And we’re not talking in some sarcastic kind of “I really wish God would call this one home already…” wish, but truly desiring God’s truth and salvation for them? Do we have that within us, wishing for the salvation – wishing the good – for those who harm us? That’s what’s being asked of these readers here, let’s not miss that.
The word “everyone” doesn’t appear again in this passage, but the meaning certainly does when the author adds this:
3. “…there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all (which is to say, everyone).”
That’s pretty complete. We are called to pray for it, God wants it, and Christ gave himself for it: the salvation of “everyone.”
This passage isn’t the entire Bible, though, and we do have to remember that other passages of scripture offer words that caution us from getting too excited about this. Take Matthew 7:21, for example, in which Jesus cautions his disciples that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my father in Heaven.” No matter how much God may want it, it takes a response, and a response that is more than words at that. Being saved involves a changed life, one given to doing God’s will more than to big empty words. To put it most bluntly, it’s entirely possible that the biggest talkers out there, the ones who have the most to say about who is and who isn’t saved, are themselves nowhere near being saved.
To put it bluntly, not everyone says “yes.”
That doesn’t make it any less what God desires for all of humanity, for “everyone.”
That doesn’t make Christ any less a ransom for “everyone.”
That doesn’t make it any less our call to pray for “everyone.”
That’s our job. That’s what God calls us to do.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal): #42, Your Faithfulness, O Lord, Is Sure; #708, We Give Thee But Thine Own; #697, Take My Life