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THE POWERFUL GOSPEL
‘Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power.’
1 Thessalonians 1:5
The preaching of St. Paul was exceptionally successful at Thessalonica, and there too the good results of his work were less marred by later evil influences than in many other centres of his apostolic labours. With the Thessalonians most decidedly the gospel is seen as no mere charm of word-jugglery, but as a living, powerful influence.
I. The world needs a powerful gospel.—The great want of men in all ages and climes is some mighty impulse to carry them out of spiritual lethargy into the fresh experience of a new life.
II. The gospel of Christ is full of power.—Christianity is not merely a specific religious system which takes its place among other systems—Egyptian, Indian, Grecian, etc. It is not only a better system than all others—superlatively better in dignity, purity, etc. It is more than any scheme of divinity. It is not simply the incomparably noblest solution ever offered to the great riddle of the universe. Its striking peculiarity is that it is alive while other systems of religion and philosophy are dead.
III. Christ is the source of the power of the gospel.—The gospel comes in power, and not as a mere word, because Christ Himself is with His gospel.
‘There is much truth in the Vedastic ideas of God, in the Zoroastrian teaching about sin, in the Egyptian theories of future judgment, in the Greek dramatist’s views of moral government, and in the Greek philosopher’s thoughts concerning the chief good. But all these great and often noble conceptions lack power to change the heart and character of men. Christianity does this. Christ struck the keynote when He wrought miracles—“mighty signs.” His physical miracles were signs of His spiritual work.’
WAITING FOR THE SON FROM HEAVEN
‘Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead.’
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
These conditions marked the life of those to whom the Apostle wrote:
( a) The turning from idols.
( b) The service of the living and true God.
( c) The waiting for the Son from heaven as they who expect the return of a King.
Are these conditions graven deeply into the life of the people of this land; do they hold an acknowledged sway over the hearts of young and old, rich and poor? Or shall we say—making every allowance for great and blessed exceptions—that shallowness in religion, a tendency to presume upon the patience of God are among the foremost of the characteristics of our time?
I. ‘To wait for His Son from heaven.’—Momentary expectation, and calm and patient preparation, marked that waiting in days of old. The faces once upturned on Olivet must often have scanned the sky to see if there were any signs of the return of Him of Whom it was said, ‘He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.’ The early Christians lived as the servants of One Whose coming, if promised at no moment, was possible at any, as those whose existence pledged them to prepare both themselves and those around them for the return of a King, Whose kingdom on earth should show some marks of preparedness to anticipate and welcome His coming.
II. And so into the heathen debauchery and iniquity around them these men strove to carry the ennobling message of the liberty of Christ. Into the Christian wickedness and darkness around us, too, we must carry that same message, if we would be faithful soldiers of the Cross of Christ. And can the need be exaggerated; can the horrors be too deeply painted; can the inarticulate cries for help be too strongly accentuated? There is much to be seen now that ought to make us hopeful and most thankful.
And yet the need is great and terrible and pressing, in regard to the social evils of our time.
III. What are we doing in these matters?—We too often look out helplessly over masses. God individualises. We say, ‘ We, what can we do?’ God says, ‘Thou—what art thou doing?’ Art thou using thy Christian liberty, and by precept and example seeking to gladden the lives of others with the message which has made thy life free with the yoke of Christ? For Christian liberty is not license to live to ourselves, but power to live unto God. There is nothing that will unite conflicting interests, that will join heart to heart, that will knit together class and class like common work for God—like mutual, helpful preparation, as we wait for the return of the Son from heaven, turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
IV. In such a preparation heaven and earth meet.—As we lift up our hands to the work, other hands there are which seem to meet and clasp our own. Lift up your eyes to heaven, and mark the preparations ever going forward there when you are tempted to despond. There,’midst the increasing activities that surround the throne of God; there, where arises the deathless song of praise; there, until the fulness of time shall have come, goes forward ever the gathering preparations for the triumphant return of Christ, the King of kings. Within the veil He represents, He pleads, He intercedes. O lift up your eyes unto the hills, whence cometh your help, ye lowly followers of God—ye who, in a strength which is not your own, and drawn by the strange attraction of the Cross, are seeking to keep both your own heart, whence are the issues of life and death, and diligently to tend that part of the vineyard which the Lord hath committed to your charge. It is the very work of Christ which is laid upon you. It must burden your heart and tax your energies, and make itself felt in your life. Fear not this; he who follows Christ must bear a cross, and he who bears a cross will find it mark his shoulders. Yet if your cause be Christ’s, it is the one which has writ large upon it the promise and potency of ultimate and assured success. Unite then yet more perfectly your waiting for the Son from heaven with His Who now waits within the veil; and let the same mark of active and unwearying preparation, of large sympathy, of unfailing love, of unwearied patience that characterise all Christ’s work, also distinguish in their measure your earnest efforts in the Master’s cause.
—Bishop E. R. Wilberforce.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany