When you use the word “all,” what do you typically mean? It’s an interesting term, because a little child at dinner might say, “All done!” with her plate still filled with food. We shrug our shoulders and say, “I gave it my all,” knowing we could have done more or tried harder. In some churches the hymn, “I Surrender All,” is commonly sung – but how many are really doing that?
The literal meaning of all, of course, is “everything” or “all things.” If you have a party and say to everyone in the room, “You’re all invited,” that means no exceptions. On election day, when we hear that “all the votes are in,” that means every precinct, every vote. At least it should mean that.
In the Bible, however, when it says “all,” what it really means is…ALL. My Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible lists every verse that includes “all” – more than 17 pages for that word alone. All is used nearly 6,000 times in Old and New testaments combined!
Unlike our common practice, the biblical use of “all” doesn’t imply “sometimes” or even “most of the time.” This is why my friend, Gib, says “all” is his favorite word in the Bible.
Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything [all things], by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Gib’s been going through serious health issues, so knowing he can take everything – including his illness – to God is a promise he clings to with confidence. That assurance, along with the prayer support of many friends, is enabling him to experience God’s peace that truly passes all understanding.
Then there’s 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says we’re to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” When we’re confronted with pain, hardships and all manner of adversities, it’s difficult to feel grateful for those circumstances. We don’t desire such things. But trusting in God and His sovereign control over our lives enables us to give thanks even when emotions say we can’t.
When Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the multitude with five loaves of bread and two fish, the account says, “About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!” (Matthew 14:21). Not a single person was overlooked, even in that remote area without fast-food restaurants or quick-stop markets.
But the use of “all” in the Scriptures isn’t just for God’s involvement. He expects our engagement as well. Proverbs 3:5-6, for example, tells us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” To me this is saying, “Do all you can, and God will do all He can.”
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is where we see a contrast between people willing to give their all and others who are less than fully committed: “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it [all] at the apostles’ feet…. Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-5:2).
The passage then tells how the attempted deception cost Ananias and Sapphira their lives. It seemed like harsh judgment, but God was making clear He doesn’t equivocate on His promise of “all,” and He expects us to be equally sincere in fulfilling our commitments.
As the New Living Translation of 2 Corinthians 1:20 assures us, “For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ and through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.”
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, He used the word several times to demonstrate His promises are all-inclusive, no exceptions: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). So, as my friend Gib says, when we read “all,” we should hold onto it tightly. Sometimes, it’s all we’ve got.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.