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If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach: Worship, Work and Wait

By Jonathan Spurlock
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 sourest 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 of any sermon in that entire collection—and a collection it was, having messages from conservatives and liberals alike, but I never have 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 such as this is in 1 Thessalonians 1. The text is from the New American Standard Version, with footnotes at the end of the text itself:

"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. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and [fn1] steadfastness of hope [fn2] in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; 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 [fn3] proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 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. For they themselves report about us what kind of a [fn4] reception we had [fn5] with you, and how you turned to God from [fn6] idols to serve [fn7] a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from [fn8] heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come."

Footnotes:

1:3 Or, perseverance

1:3 Literally: of

1:5 Or, became

1:9 Literally: entrance

1:9 Literally: to

1:9 Or, the idols

1:9 Or, the

1:10 Literally: the heavens

The first thing we can see from 1 Thessalonians 1:9 is the fact these believers had turned to God from idols. We could make this the first point and say they 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 17, where we can find the brief sketch, as Luke recorded, of Paul's ministry in Thessalonica. Paul went to the synagogue first, as was his pattern of preaching the gospel to Jews first, then the Gentiles. He preached God's message, and many people believed.

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