So far in this series we have looked at John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10. Today we will look at both I Timothy 2:3-4 and II Peter 3:9. I want to look at these passages together because they are similar in nature.
Why examine these verses in particular? The reason is because many people use these verses as evidence for saying, "God's will is that all people be saved."
However, is that what both Paul and Peter were saying? We need to closely examine the texts to see what is being said and what is not being said. Let's begin with I Timothy 2:3-4.
Let's keep in mind that Paul is writing the first of his two letters to Timothy. In 2:3, Paul refers to "God our Savior." Then, in what is critical to what we are discussing, Paul describes this "God our Savior" in 2:4. So verse 4 is telling us information about God.
What do we learn? Paul tells us that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." No one can argue with this statement because it is biblical.
The question is, "What did Paul mean by this?"
There is little argument over the phrase, "and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Therefore, we will not deal with this here. We need to focus our attention on, "desires all people to be saved." What meaning should we derive from this?
Let's work our way backward through it. First, "to be saved" must mean to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I see no one arguing over this.
Next, what does "all people" refer to? Some say this means everyone in the world. Others say that the original language points more to all people groups, not to all individuals. When in doubt, I think we need to go with the most straightforward reading; therefore, I will assume that Paul was referring to all individuals.
Finally, and here is the crux of the matter, what does "desires" mean? Some interpret "desire" to be synonymous with "will". In other words, they say that it is the will of God that all people be saved. Two obvious problems arise from this interpretation. First, "desire" does not mean the same thing as "will". Second, we know that some people go to Hell. If it is really God's will that all people go to Heaven, then that means that there are many, many times when God's will does not occur. In fact, since the "wide road" leads to destruction, this means that the vast majority of the time, God's will does not occur related to salvation. In the bible, I just cannot find a God who is this weak.
So what else can "desire" mean? Well, it can simply mean "desire" or "want." In this interpretation, the verse simply means what it says - that God wants every person to be saved. The key to this interpretation is that God's desire is a different thing than His will. This seems to be the fairer interpretation for two reasons. First, it allows "desire" to mean "desire." Second, it explains how people can go to Hell, and God's will can still occur.
So what we see in I Timothy 2:3-4 is both a loving and omnipotent God. We read of a God whose desire is that all individual people be saved. This shows His love, mercy and compassion. However, we also see a God who retains His omnipotence. Nowhere does this verse indicate that God's will does not occur. In fact, it is quiet to this topic. We simply learn that God wants (not wills) all people to be saved.
Moving on, what about II Peter 3:9?
What is Peter talking about here? The promise that Peter is talking about is the second coming of Christ and His judgment on the wicked of the earth.
The common argument has been over the phrase, "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." This has mainly been interpreted in two different ways.
First, some people say that Peter means that God is not willing that any people on the earth should perish, but that all of those people should be saved. In other words, it is God's will that everyone on the earth be saved. I see two problems with this interpretation. First, the wording of the verse says "wishing." This is similar to the "desiring" we saw in I Timothy. II Peter 3:9 does not speak to the will of God. Second, like in I Timothy, if it is really God's will that all individual people reach repentance, then the vast majority of the time God's will does not occur.
A second interpretation is the following: "wishes" means "desires" or "wants." So much like in I Timothy, we get a picture of what God desires, but we do not see into His will. These are two different things. This seems to be a better interpretation because, again, it allows the wording to mean what it says, and also does not suggest that the will of God does not happen.
One other key factor in II Peter helps us to further come to a conclusion about Peter's meaning. Remember, Peter is writing to saved people! In II Peter 1:1, Peter writes in his greeting, "to those who have obtained like precious faith with us." Why is this so important? It is key because this tells us the real meaning of 3:9. We learn that God is being merciful in delaying the return of Christ so that none of the elect (those who are saved or will be saved) will perish eternally. God is giving people more time to reach salvation.
So what does all this mean? What did the two apostles teach us? Is it God's will that all individuals reach salvation? After looking at these texts, here is what we learn:
-God desires that all individuals be saved. This shows His love and compassion.
-God is delaying the coming of Christ (at least from the human perspective) in order to give the elect more time to reach salvation. This also shows us a loving and compassionate God.
-Implied in these verses is that God's will is a different thing from His desire.
Both passages seem to be quiet to the will of God; rather, the focus is His desire.