If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach
by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Text: 1 Thessalonians 1
If I had only one sermon to preach
Many years ago, I remember reading a book called “If I had only one sermon to preach”. The photos of the ministers on the front cover or dust jacket made me think twice about reading it, though, because these men had some of the most sour expressions I’ve ever seen! It reminded me of a bit of testimony from Hudson Taylor, who observed that he went to a church where, as he put it, the members were known for taking their Christianity seriously. He went on to say that, after looking at them, they were indeed serious in expression, and probably everything else, too!
Oddly enough, I don’t remember one word or even a topic of any sermon in that entire collection! And what a collection it was, having messages (?) from conservatives and liberals alike, but I have never forgotten the book itself. There are times when I think, could this be the only time our Lord allows me to give a message to the congregation here? Or, might this be my last sermon, the only sermon I’ll get to preach?
A classic example of a situation like this is in the book of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1. The text is from the New American Standard Version:
1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, 4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
Worship the Lord
The first thing we can see, from verse 9, is the fact that these believers had turned to God from idols. We could make this the first point and say that the WORSHIPED the Lord God, the True and the Living God. Was it easy for them to make that radical change? We’ll never know, down here, but refer back to Acts chapter 17. It’s there we can find the brief sketch, as Luke recorded it, of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica. Paul went to the synagogue first, as was his pattern of preaching the Gospel to Jews first and then the Gentiles. He preached God’s message and many people believed.
To me, this is something that’s amazing. It's true, the Jewish people had prophets for many years, the aim being to restore Israel back to her proper relationship to God. After the last prophet, Malachi, delivered his messages, however, there was a four-century period of silence when the only message from God they had was the Law and the Prophets, our Old Testament scriptures. The Jews went to many places, bringing the synagogue and their belief in one God only but I have yet to find a reference that any of them actually preached or brought messages from God Himself. Paul and others preached God’s message, and God blessed!
I find one thing, also, that is remarkable: Thessalonica wasn’t too far from Mount Olympus, the so-called “home” of the Greek deities or pagan gods: Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Hermes, and all the rest. These Greeks had worshiped these pagan deities, and the images or idols of these so-called deities, for hundreds of years, maybe longer, and had built some of the most beautiful buildings in history as temples to these deities. They were thoroughly pagan, worshiping these idols and images; statues carved from wood and stone, perhaps made of metal, and as lost as could be in sin and separation from God.
But when the simple message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, came near they heard and believed! We’ll see these believers, and many more, in Heaven when we get there and may the Lord hasten the day when this happens.
Working for the Lord
Another thing we find from verse 9 is the concept of WORKING for the Lord. Paul used the word which, in the original, means to serve as a bond-slave. So, just as slaves did exactly as their master or overlord wanted them to do, so also should we as believers seek to do exactly as our Lord wants us to do. Paul would later give some very precise or concrete examples as to how these believers were supposed to live.
And yet there is another aspect of working for the Lord. Jesus Himself had said, before He was crucified and risen from the dead, that the disciples would do greater works than He did. Certainly He wasn’t speaking of salvation for none of us, as much as we desired, could ever provide this for anyone else. We are all born sinners because of Adam’s fall, but we can all experience the grace of God which brings salvation. What, then, was Jesus speaking of?
One thought is that after He went back to Heaven, the Holy Spirit began His ministry through what became the New Testament Church. Think about it: after Pentecost, instead of only Jesus Himself bringing healing and so on, there were the twelve apostles, hence, a 12-fold increase in manpower alone! Then, after other people became Christians, thousands and thousands more were able to exercise gifts in many capacities. That is one way in which we can do greater works than Jesus did on the earth.
But there is still another aspect. We have many ways to share Christ than ever before. Think about radio, TV, newspaper ads, correspondence courses, even the Internet. The apostles must have thought somebody was speaking about “science fiction”, if there was such a type of literature in those days!
There is still another meaning to this concept of working for the Lord and it involves any believer taking an active part in his or her local church. This could be in some of the more visible means, such as preaching, teaching, singing (some are better at these ministries than others!) or similar ventures. Others could find a way to serve in, for lack of a better term, some of the less-visible roles. Even so, don’t let that be a discouragement. If someone isn’t greeted warmly and sincerely at the door, don’t be surprised if they don’t enter that door again. Greeters, ushers, and any number of people can have a very positive influence in any church service. Need we say that the opposite is just as true, if not more so: been there, experienced it.
Please allow me to make one additional comment here before we explore the final point of this message. These works or deeds or whatever we do were never designed, never intended, to be a means of salvation. Far from it! Nobody can earn enough points, so to speak, to win salvation. I am reminded of an exercise we did in a Sunday school class several years ago. The teacher asked each one of us to draw a straight line, using chalk on a blackboard. Some had better lines on the board than others (hey, the air conditioner was on and that threw me off target!) but when the teacher measured each of our lines against a yardstick, all of us knew clearly that we just didn’t have it. The best we can do is still nowhere near God’s absolute perfection. Don’t trust in your deeds-trust Jesus ALONE for salvation. There is no other way.
Wait for the Lord
Now the final thing to consider in the text is in verse 10, where Paul gives us the phrase to WAIT for His (God’s) Son, Jesus, obviously. The word here doesn’t mean to wait and just wait, as if we’re waiting for the next call to the principal’s office or the next turn in traffic court or something to anticipate even less (!) The word has a preposition used as an intensifier, so we could say we are to eagerly wait for Jesus.
Let me share a very personal example. While I was serving in the Air Force, my aunt and mother came to visit us one Christmas. We arrived at my house and noticed the curtain being pulled back, and then my three children made it to the curb at lightning speed! My aunt and mother almost couldn’t get out of the car! But we had a very happy reunion once we got inside.
Now imagine this: we have the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ the Righteous, promising one day to take us home to be with Him forever. Wouldn’t that give us a reason to do what we can for our Lord here on this earth?
So let’s pull it all together. We can worship the Lord by turning to God from idols. And by idol we don’t have to restrict it to mean visible things we bow down to in “worship”—an idol can be anything. Then when we’ve become believers, we can begin working for our Lord and trust me, there is plenty to do for Jesus while we’re down here on this earth. Finally, and always, we have the promise that He is coming back. That, my friends, is worth waiting for and we always remember—God has never broken a promise in the past and He’s not going to start breaking any of these promised. He means it when He says it.
If I had only one sermon to preach, these would be the points: worship the Lord, work for the Lord, and wait (eagerly) for the Lord.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. http://www.lockman.org