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Let’s pray. Oh, gracious heavenly Father, we love You. We love You because You first loved us. We come to You now as your children, children eager to hear your voice. Speak to us, we pray. Give us ears to hear. Help us to pay attention. We’re so easily distracted. We have so many other things we are thinking about; lunch, and this afternoon, and the coming week. Renew our minds. Revive our spirits. In the Name of Jesus we pray and for His sake. Amen.
I invite you to turn in your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians Chapter 2. 1 Thessalonians, way at the back of your Bibles, one of Paul’s letters. I’ll be reading verses 13 through 16 of 1 Thessalonians Chapter 2.
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!”
I’ve entitled this short series “A Church to be Thankful For,” or if you want to put it more elegantly, “A Church for which to be Thankful.” One of you reminded me last week after the service of the quotation attributed to Winston Churchill. Don’t know if he really said it or not, but supposedly an editor was chiding him for something he had written and he was ending a sentence with a preposition, and his editor said “tsk, tsk, you’re not supposed to do that,” and he replied “that is a rule up with which I will not put.” So there. “A Church to be Thankful For.”
The idea is that by looking at Paul’s prayers, and specifically what he gives thanks for, we can try to answer some very fundamental questions. What does a good church look like? What’s the blueprint? What’s the DNA? Is there some kind of secret sauce that we should be concocting? What is it that makes up a good, a healthy, a vibrant church?
I remember hearing several years ago of a church. It was experiencing good growth and good things seemed to be happening and good ministries, and people coming, and people, you know, growing, and people being changed by the gospel and some church leaders from outside the church, denominational leaders, not the PCA, came and they met with that church. And they said, “Now what’s going on here? Why are things going effective?” And as they met with the pastors and the elders, to a man every one of them just kept saying, “Well, the Word,” “Well, the Word.”
“Okay, yes,” they said. “We know. But what else? What are you really doing?” And they said, “Well, we put an emphasis on the Word.” “Okay, okay. The Word. You said that already.” And person after person just kept saying, “That’s what we’re doing.” They wanted something else. They wanted to know, you know, how you turn up the guitar amp to 11, or they wanted to know what you do with the lighting, or how to set the mist to come just rolling over the congregants. I don’t know what they wanted to know. What is the secret that you’re doing?
Now, of course, there are all sorts of things that we want to be thoughtful about and be organized and, you know, have put our first foot forward, but really something in their minds seemed to be saying “there must be something else than the Word.”
I have long thought, and I’ve thought this only because God needs to constantly be reminding me, because I’m tempted to other things, long thought, if you and I know how to accomplish what we want to accomplish in the church apart from the Word of God and prayer, then we’re not really accomplishing what God wants to accomplish. Because I look out and I know there is a lot of capable people here, a lot of smart people. A few good-looking people, a few here and there. And we may be tempted to think if we just roll up our sleeves, if we just put our heads together, we’re going to really be able to figure this thing out. And you know what? We can. And you know what? Churches do that all the time. But if a church’s supposed success is ultimately coming from something other than the Word of God and prayer, then it’s not Christ Jesus building the church, it’s a bunch of us just trying to be smart and hardworking and build something else.
You can have a big church in this country that does not focus on the Word. You can have a church that is very appreciated in the community without focusing on the Word. They can say “look at all the nice things you do” and “you’re very sweet people,” and “you’re doing a lot of kind things for us.” You can have a church with a big building, a big budget, with name recognition, and still not focus on the Word.
But if you want to find a church and be a church where people are genuinely converted, not just made from slightly mean people to slightly nice people, if you want people to be genuinely converted, they leave behind the old life of darkness and they give themselves unreservedly to Christ. If you want that kind of church, and you want a church where men and women and children are growing into Christ’s likeness, that only happens in a church that is focused on the Word of God and I know and love that that is a characteristic, perhaps the defining characteristic, of this church. We want to be a church that teaches and treasures and transfers the Word of God.
So what does a good, healthy church look like? We saw last week these Christian virtues that we’re to cultivate. Faith, love, hope. That’s the order he gave in 1 Thessalonians Chapter 1. This week the focus shifts to the Word of God. In a healthy church, in a good church, in a church that we can be thankful for, we see three things relative to the Word of God.
Number one, the Word is preached.
Number two, the Word is received.
And number three, the Word is not hindered.
Number one, the Word is preached. Now you’ll notice, the emphasis in these verses that I read is on the word “received,” not so much on the word “preached.” But Paul’s preaching is certainly implied.
Look at verse 13. “And we also thank God constantly for this, this when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us.” So this was not an angelic megaphone just booming from heaven, heaven, heaven. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Come. It wasn’t that. They were human beings, fallible, frail humans. Paul, his associates, they preached the Word. Some preaching, then, is bound to be through the agency of man. That’s most preaching.
Now there’s extremes. You go to some places and preaching seems to be so bound up in the personality of the man, that’s really what’s driving it, is this person’s just a big, huge personality and the text takes the back seat.
On the other extreme there can be men that are faithful preachers and they think faithful means to be as boring as possible. I look out and I see very bored Calvinists. Yes! Full steam ahead. Well, that’s not the goal either.
If God did not choose to drop down leaflets from heaven in Times New Roman 12-point font, which is what I always use, just drop them down, here it is. He chose to use people. He chose to use parents to pass it on to children. He chose to use preachers to preach to a congregation. And there must be something in the ministerial method and pastoral conduct that are not irrelevant to ministry effectiveness. He’s chosen to use men. You hear the Word not from robots or angels or voices from heaven, but from imperfect men.
So this sermon, we’ll get to your part but we have to start with my part, pastors, what we need to do. That’s the great things about preaching through verses of the Bible. You come and sometimes the sermon is for you and then there are parts you say, okay, now you need to hear what I need to do, because we both need to hear something. So before we’re going to get to you receiving the Word, we need to hear what it means for the preacher to preach the Word.
Look at the beginning of 1 Thessalonians Chapter 2. Let me read these verses.
“For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: We worked night and day that we might not be a burden to any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct towards your believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
I love these verses. I need to be reminded of these verses. You need to know these verses. All of your pastors need to know these verses.
What we have here is a blueprint for anyone teaching the Word, but especially pastors, and especially those whose main task is to preach God’s Word week after week.
Let me give you 12 commitments I ought to have as a preacher and a pastor. Now, see I’m smuggling this in. I said at the beginning three points, because if I said I have 12 points under point 1, end of story. Okay, these are going to go quickly, and the other points will go faster.
Let me give you from these verses, you see verses 1 through 12? Let me give you 12 commitments that I need to make and all your pastors need to make under God before you.
Number 1: I will not shrink back from suffering for the Gospel. That’s verse 2. The pastor cannot call you to carry a cross if he is not willing to also carry his. This doesn’t mean pastors are, you know, especially glutton for punishment. There’s nothing very tough about us, as you know. Some pastors get this messiah complex, they think everything depends upon them, or they get a martyr complex and they think everyone is always after them. Those are two dangers in pastoral ministry. I’m not interested in either one. But as a pastor, as a preacher, we have to be willing that if are to stand for something, there will come a time when people want us to sit down. And we have to be willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.
Second commitment: I will preach boldly. Verse 2. It’s no coincidence that this is the next in Paul’s set of instructions and his personal experience because the two go hand in hand. You can read sometimes Acts Chapter 20 when Paul is recalling his ministry there to the Ephesian elders and he uses this verb “shrink” twice. He says “I did not shrink from suffering for the Gospel” and later he says “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Because that’s one of the ways that you can get out from under some of the uncomfortable parts and maybe not suffer so much, if you do not preach the whole counsel of God. We must preach boldly.
Do you remember in Acts at the very beginning when the disciples are being persecuted and they come back and they tell about how they had been beaten up and they had been persecuted for the Name and then the church prays? Do you remember what they pray for? Honestly, if I were leading the prayer meeting, my first thing would be let’s pray that we get some new Roman officials around here. Let’s pray that we could change some of these laws. Let’s pray that some of our circumstances can change. And all of that would be fine to pray for. But do you remember their very first thing? “Lord, send your Spirit that we may proclaim the Name boldly.” Boldly.
Boldness is not a personality type. Some of you’d say “well, that’s just not me. I’m very quiet and shy and retiring.” That’s fine. Boldness is to be clear in the face of fear, and to say what you know the Word of God says even when the whole world doesn’t want you to say it. Boldness. I will preach boldly.
Here’s the third thing I commit: I will not deceive. You see verse 3? He says “I did not come to you with error, my motives were not from impurity or any attempt to deceive. I’m not trying to get something. No ulterior motives.” John Calvin said “teachers are in their turn admonished to beware of bringing forward anything but the pure Word of God for if this was allowable for Paul, it will not be so for anyone in the present day.” Paul himself said “I only bring you what is pure, I am not trying to trick you, I am not trying to flatter you.” That’s coming up next.
Number 4: I will work to please God, not men. You see that in verse 4. That’s what your pastors must commit to you. I will work to please God, not men. Now, you’re probably out there and you’re thinking “yes, that’s right. I want my pastor, he’s not here to please anybody, he’s here to please God, not people.” Most of us think that until it comes to not pleasing us, and that’s a little hard. And a lot of us have that ability to listen to sermons and think, “man, wow, that was a really good one. I’ve really gotta download that for some friends of mine, they really need to hear that,” yeah, pastor was really giving it to us,” by which you mean other people. But the pastor is not here to please men, but to please God. Now I think it’s important for the preacher to be careful, to be nuanced, to be winsome wherever possible. We’re not just looking to make as many enemies as we can. But the preacher who dodges a text, or changes a text, because he knows there are men and women out there who don’t want to hear it, that man ought not to be a preacher.
Number 5: I will not flatter. You see that in verse 5. The pastor should encourage, yes. Point out evidences of grace, I hope so. That’s not flattery. Flattery is not the same as saying something nice about someone, or being polite. Flattery is saying what they want you to say so that you get from them what you want to get. That’s flattery. I know what you want me to say about you because there’s something I want to get from you. The pastor must not flatter.
Number 6: I commit I will not be greedy for selfish gain. Paul says that in verse 6. He’s not in this for the money, not going to make ministry decisions based on personal finances.
Number 7: I will not seek my own glory. You see in verse 6.
Number 8: I will be gentle, like a mother. Verse 7.
Number 9: Paul says “I will share my own self.” You see that at the end of verse 8. Oh, how every young man training for ministry, every pastor who’s been at it for 40 years, needs to be reminded of this verse. Because sometimes you find pastors that are eager to share with you the gospel, the truth, the Word, but they’re not going to give you their own self. That’s what makes this different from just a preaching station, just a pulpit. We’re not just having a pastor, hopefully, who just kind of goes away, gets a word, comes back, speaks, disappears. You can find better preaching online than you’re going to get from me. I can give you the names of all sorts of people that I’d rather listen to, a lot of people. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says he wouldn’t cross the street to hear himself preach. If he wouldn’t cross the street to hear himself preach, I certainly wouldn’t. So I can give you better preachers, but what your pastors here have to give you is not just the word from this pulpit, but their very selves, their lives.
The pastor must freely and openly give two things to his people: He must give the Gospel, and he must give himself.
I often think of that beautiful phrase in 2 Corinthians 6. Paul says there to the Corinthians, and they’re really ticked at him, they’re made at him, they didn’t like something he did, and that happens. And he said “Corinthians, my heart is wide open to you. Why is your heart closed to me?” Churches can endure almost anything if the people can keep their hearts open to one another. But if the people close their heart to the pastor and the pastor closes his heart to the people, then it’s just a matter of time before the lights turn out. That doesn’t mean the light’s turning out this morning, we’ve had some of that.
Would you keep your hearts open to one another? I know you want to keep your hearts open to us and our hearts are wide open to you, to know you, to love you, to receive love from you. That’s what a pastor does. He freely and openly gives the Gospel and his very self.
Number 10: I commit to work hard. You see that in verse 9. “Our labor and toil…night and day.” Now this is not an excuse for the pastor to neglect his family or personal discipline or the need for rest. I’ve often heard it said pastoral ministry is a great profession for either workaholics or very lazy people, and it’s true. Because for the most part you kind of set your schedule. You do have to come in and you meet with the elders and people kind of keep an eye on you, but you can do all sorts of things people don’t what you’re doing. And it is a great place for those two types of people to hide. Workaholics who are just neglecting everything, no kind of balance in their life, and they’re just going, going, going, never stop because no one’s telling them to. Or the sort of lazy pastor that’s just waiting for everything to kind of come to him. How many times have I heard people say, tongue-in-cheek, “must be nice to just work one day a week, Pastor.” I said “well, hopefully for your sake, it’s on Sunday.”
But it’s true. Some pastors can, you know, you can get away with it. I mean, over time you will tell, immediately you won’t tell. Because once you do this enough times, and you preach, and you learn how to put sentences together, and you’ve been in the text before, and you could wing it if you wanted to. And people might not be able to see “well, he only spent an hour that week, and 45 minutes that week,” and they might be able to tell, but over time they’ll tell that there’s not the same unction there, there’s not the same vibrancy, there’s not the same personal communion with the Lord, he seems to be just going on auto-pilot here. Pastoral ministry requires hard work, and I want to commit to you to labor hard.
11: I will pursue personal holiness. You see that in verse 10. “You are witnesses,” he said. “You can all see our life, holy, righteous, blameless towards you.” Not perfect, but an example. How often have I thought of the line from Robert Murray M’Cheyne and I’ve given it to others in the ministry: “What my people need from me most,” he said, “is my own personal holiness. It is hard to take people to places you have not been.”
And then finally, Paul commits and so I commit: I will give instruction like a father. You see that in verses 11 and 12. Only a few of you am I old enough to be your father. I understand that. Some of you, I’m young enough to be your son, maybe grandson for some. So that’s a change, that’s a change. But here Paul says in verse 11 “you know how like a father with his children.” And isn’t it interesting that up in verse 7 he says he was like a nursing mother, and here he says he’s like a father? This is really fascinating because it means that we should not be so rigid with gender stereotypes, that Paul, Paul can say, “hey, that was kind of maternal of me, and here this was kind of paternal of me.” You know? Mother, father.
So he’s not so rigid that, you know, you just put everything in a box. If you’re gentle, then somehow you’re being a woman. No, Paul says that’s what you should be. And at the same time, do you notice, and this is pushing against some of our cultural narratives, you see Paul actually thinks that there’s a difference between a mother and a father. He actually thinks that male and female are not interchangeable. So he does say that to be gentle is, in the main, that’s to be like a nursing mother. That’s what he thinks of with motherhood. Now he wants to aspire to that, but that’s what he thinks of.
And then when he comes to fatherhood in verses 11 and 12, he says “what’s it like to be a father?” Well, it’s to exhort, it’s to teach, it’s to reprove, it’s to charge. It’s not that a father is never gentle, it’s not that a mother never gives instruction, but these are the ways in which mothers and fathers are different. Incidentally, that’s a whole different sermon, but mom and dad, how are you doing? How am I doing in those categories?
The preacher is not a hothead but he’s not a softie. He’s not trying to make everyone happy, and he’s not trying to make everyone mad. Gentle like a mother, instructing, exhorting, charging like a father. Those are my commitments to you.
Those are my commitments because that’s what God’s Word calls us to, and all of your pastors to. And if you ever think “well, what do I pray for you, Pastor?” Well, there will be specifics, but if you ever need something, go back to 1 Thessalonians 2 and you can read those 12 verses and even if you don’t remember all 12 points, you’ll pick out a few of them. Remember, that’s how you can pray for me. That’s how you can pray for us because this is who we want to be, who we need to be. This is the sort of pastor. It doesn’t say anything about what he looks like. It doesn’t say anything about whether he can sing, can run, can hunt, can fish. What it says is the sort of man that he is and the sort of work that he does. So pray for us.
That’s all under point one: A church for which to be thankful. A good church, a healthy church, a vibrant church is one where the Word is preached and you have preachers like this.
Here’s the second big point. Not only is the Word preached, but the Word is received. You see that again. We are focusing on verse 13. “You received the Word of God.” This is almost a technical word for the apostle Paul. He uses it in 1 Corinthians 11 and 15, Galatians 1, Philippians 4. It’s often used with reference to the official deposit of apostolic truth. It means you received it. It’s the Greek word that sometimes was used with a tutor who was instructing a child. And that child would accept, he would receive the teaching, not just in one ear and out the other. Not just listening, but “yes, I appropriate that,” “yes, I believe that,” “yes, the tradition that you are passing on now is mine. I own it.”
And incidentally, kids, young people, young is whatever is younger than me, young kids, college, teens, you do have to come to this point in your life where you receive it. Okay, is it good to go to church? Mom and dad make you go to church. You go happily, you go begrudgingly, you come. It’s all right for a time. There’s a period, though, where you need to decide, “Is this what I really believe? Have I really received it?” You’ve heard this saying before: God has no grandchildren. He has children, and you may have grandchildren, but God doesn’t have grandchildren. Each person has to stand before God on their own, and you come before Him.
Have you received this Word? This truth?
Paul commends the Thessalonians. They received the gospel. They received the truth of scripture. They received it at a cost. It was amid suffering. They received it in hope. They believed that Christ was coming again. That though they were persecuted now, they would be vindicated later. They received it. Not only did they receive it, but notice how they received it. They received a word that was taught by men. Okay, there’s no getting around it. It was taught by men and Paul made absolutely clear he was not God, he was just a man.
Remember in Acts 14? Paul and Barnabas, they healed this lame man at Lystra and all the people are amazed and they “the gods have come down to heaven” and they want to worship them. Paul quickly corrects them. “No, no, no, no, no. We are men of like nature with all of you.” Paul was under no delusion that he was any kind of deity, and neither is your pastor.
The instrumentation was thoroughly human, but the message is not. Look again at verse 13. It does not say “they took it to be the Word of God.” It does not say that when Paul preached to them, they treated it as the Word of God. It does not say that when the apostles gave a sermon, it became to them the Word of God. The text says “they accepted it as what it really was,” namely, the Word of God. They weren’t inventing a category, they weren’t pretending. They weren’t just, “Well, for our sake and because our community appreciates it, we’ll treat it as such.” No, that’s what it really was. The preaching of the Word of God was the Word of God. Have you ever thought of that? That’s what Paul seems to be saying here. And we know that this is the Word of God, but did you know when this is faithfully preached, it ought to come to you and land on you with all the weight and force and authority of God himself speaking.
Let me introduce you to the most important of the Reformed confessions that you’ve probably never heard of. It’s called the Second Helvetic Confession from 1566. It was written by a Reformer named Heinrich Bullinger. It was for the Swiss church but it was widely accepted throughout Europe and it has, in the very first chapter of this confession, just like you would have in the Westminster confession, these chapters or articles, it has a title: “The Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.”
And here’s what it says: “Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven: And that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches; for even if he be evil and a sinner, nevertheless the Word of God remains still and true.”
Did you hear that? That great Reformed confession says the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.
This is such a holy and mysterious thing. Preaching can feel so flat at times. Boring. Ordinary. I feel that honestly about almost all my sermons. Again, Martyn Lloyd-Jones says he only ever remembers really preaching two times, and both times he woke up.
So I don’t feel this about my preaching, but God says this about preaching. “When the Word of God is faithfully taught, it is God himself speaking to you.” Have you had that experience? I hope so. That by the end of the sermon you sort of, you forget what the pastor’s tie was like and you’re not thinking about lunch, your stomach’s not rumbling, you just know, through the Word, you know God is speaking to you. Have you had that experience? I hope you have. I hope you will. Some of you need to have it for the first time.
Just like Jesus said “the sheep will hear the good Shepherd’s voice.” And you have all week to hear from Facebook and to hear from blogs and to hear from political chatter and to hear from sports radio, and then you come here and you want to hear from God.
Again, I think it was Lloyd-Jones who said, he liked that by the end of the sermon, he wanted people to be done taking notes. Now, I’m not, you can take notes as long as you like, but what he meant was this. You know at the beginning of the sermon, you know, maybe there’s some background, there’s some information, there’s a lot that we’re learning, we’re learning, we’re learning. But he hoped that that there was a point, at some point in the sermon, where they would just instinctively put down the pencil, okay, this isn’t about getting a fact right now, this is about God Almighty is saying something to me and I need to listen. That’s what I pray for in the preaching experience.
Some of you have said before, I know I’ve heard it from people shaking hands out the door, “Pastor, it was like the Holy Spirit just had that sermon right for me” and so often it’s the experience as a pastor that what they heard the Holy Spirit saying to them was not anything you thought you had said, but still they heard it. You say, “well, praise God, the Holy Spirit’s preaching a better sermon that I am.”
Notice Paul did not thank the Thessalonians for this, though he could have. But he thanked God, and appropriately so. I don’t know if there’s a better gift that can be given a preacher than to have a congregation that will receive the preaching of the Word not as from a man, but as from God himself. You still need to be discerning, you need to test everything. It’s not my authority, it’s only this authority. But in so far as it’s from this book, the instrument, the messenger, fades and the Word becomes everything. They received the Word of God. They received the teaching of the Bible as it really is, not just a sermon, not just a little talk, not just the minister’s musing, but as a message from God himself. May it always be so from this pulpit and in your hearing.
And here’s the final point, quickly.
In a church to be thankful for the Word is preached, the Word is received, and the Word is not hindered. You see that in the remaining verses. We focus mostly on verse 13 but you see it now in verses 14, 15, and 16. Paul is relating their suffering to the suffering that others have had for the sake of the gospel. You may notice Paul has some hard words to say about his Jewish opposition. He says number one, they killed Jesus; number two, they killed the prophets; number three, they drove us out; number four, they displeased God; number five, they oppose all mankind. Wow, that seems almost over the top.
You can read the commentaries. Many people are disturbed by Paul’s language. They say this is a little harsh. Is this anti-Semitic? Why is he speaking so negatively about the Jews? But note carefully this is not an ethnic thing. There is no place in Christian character to be anti-Semitic. It’s not an ethnic thing, it’s a theological thing. He’s not anti-Semitic, he’s anti-sin. Gospel identity and gospel proclamation are at stake because they were hindering the gospel.
Look at verse 15. Have you ever noticed this verse before? This is really amazing. Verse 15 into verse 16. It says “they drove us out… They displeased God… They oppose all mankind.” You say, that’s a little over the top. They oppose all mankind.
Why did Paul say that? What did they do that was so heinous that he could describe it as opposing all of the human race?
Look at verse 16. “By hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be save.” Isn’t that amazing? Think of all the people in our world today who think they are loving or tolerant or open minded because they silence the preaching of God’s Word. Think of all the oppressive regimes around the world who think it is their duty to shut down and shut out the name of Jesus and some may have the mistaken notion that they are compassionate, that they are good for human flourishing and for the people. But do you see what the Word of God says? Nothing can be farther from the truth. There is nothing loving about that.
When you silence the Word of God, you are not just hostile to God, or to Christians, or to the church. You are hostile to all mankind because all men are sinners and there is only one name given among men whereby they must be saved, and that’s the name of Jesus. And so if you want to be a hater of all mankind, then just do your part so that Jesus is not known. And conversely, if you want to be a lover of all mankind, you want to love your neighbor as yourself, then part of what you will do and I will do is whatever is in our power that the gospel is preached, that missionaries are sent, that good books are published, that the Word gets out so that the nations may know that Christ is Lord.
The Word is not hindered.
Let me just say this in closing. We all want God to work in our lives. Right? You don’t want to come here to waste your time. You’ve got other things you could do. Like golf on TV, or something, or you’d go golf yourself. There’s all sorts of things you could do. There is no benefit in wasted religious activity. So you’re here, you’re not here by accident. You want God to work in your life. How does He work? He just works by seeing mountains and trees and lakes? Does he just work through friends and work through your own, just getting deeper into your own heart? How does God work in your life?
Well, we see here how God works. He may use all of those things. He uses people, he uses nature, he uses all of that. But here’s how he works. His saving, regenerating, equipping, edifying, sanctifying work is through the Word. You see it in verse 13: “The Word that is at work in you believers.” That’s what’s working.
Do you believe? Do I believe? Isaiah 55: “The Word does not return empty.” Every Sunday when the Word of God is preached something happens. Sinners may be hardened, but something happens. The Word goes forth. It does not come empty. It is not in vain. And so you just keep sowing. You just keep sowing. Just like Dory said, “just keep sowing, just keep sowing.” You just keep sowing.
You ever think about that parable Jesus told in Mark Chapter 4? You know, the seed falls on the, some on good soil, and some falls in the sandy ground, and some among the thorns, and some falls along the path. Have you ever thought, “This is a very profligate sower? His aim is not very good. Shouldn’t he be going, oh, that’s very good ground. We are going to plant it right there.” But you just get the picture he’s just walking around and “whoosh”, just “whoosh” wherever, just “Bricks? Why not? Stones? Let’s try. Thorns? Maybe. Beach sand? Okay.” Because that’s our job; just keep sowing, just keep sowing. The Word is not going to return empty. It will do something.
The most privileged and dangerous place you can be on Sunday morning is in church. Privileged because you, hopefully, hear the Word of God week after week. Dangerous because if you come in contact with that Word week after week and you are stirred but never changed, you just develop an immunity to the gospel, and you just get your little religious injection, just a little Jesus fix for the week, and you go on, that’s a dangerous place to be. Because the Word is working. Puritans used to say the same sun that can, you know, melt the butter can also harden the clay.
The Word’s at work. It springs up automatically. That’s what Jesus said in the parable of the farmer who goes to sleep and then he wakes up and there is a crop. Not because the farmer was so smart or so gifted but because there’s power in that germinating seed! You put it under and it grows. You bury any of us, you know, two feet underground and we’re goners. You put a seed this big deep into the soil and it finds a way to get out, and grows, and may become an oak that will last for 100 years. Such is the power of the seed. And so it is with God’s Word.
I don’t know what will work and what won’t work here. And we’ll try some things and some things will be successes and some things won’t. I don’t know what schedules or plans or programs are going to be the right fit. But I do know what works: The Word of God and prayer.
It is the gospel unto salvation. That’s what Paul said. “I gotta preach this gospel. It’s the only way people get saved.”
We’re not after moral improvement or a better life, but salvation from the wrath to come. And this kind of ministry takes faith. We can all be tempted, pastors as much as anyone, to go about trying to do all the things that we know how to do in our own strength and our own gifts. But we must be confident, the congregation and the pastor must be confident that the Word of God is utterly sufficient to accomplish the work of God.
And so let’s preach it, let’s receive it, and let’s get it out.
Our Father in heaven, our earnest prayer is that on this side of the pulpit there would always be a clear, authoritative, winsome, bold witness to the Word of God. And our prayer is that on the other side of the pulpit there would always be a people eager to hear it, to love it, to receive it, to be changed by it, to do it. Lord, we are imperfect people, full of all sorts of sins and doubts and struggles, and left to ourselves we could do nothing of ultimate eternal significance. But we have your Word, and we trust your Word has us. So use us, we pray, to do more than we could ask or imagine. In Jesus. Amen.