The Saving Gospel
November 10th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 1:3-5
THE SAVING GOSPEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:3-5
11-10-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the second morning hour’s message entitled: The Saving Gospel. It is an exposition of the third, the fourth, and the fifth verses of the first chapter of the first letter to the church of Thessalonica.
In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to these Thessalonian epistles. For the last two Sundays, the sermons have been introductory as we have introduced these people, these Christians, to us and as we’ve become acquainted with their problems and what other inspiration Paul wrote to them in that first Christian century.
Now, we begin an exposition of the text itself, and you can follow it easily if, in your Bible, you turn to the first Thessalonian letter:
Paul, and Silas, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.
[1 Thessalonians 1:1-6]
We shall speak first, then, as he does, of the Christians in Thessalonica:
We give thanks to God for you, making mention of you in our prayers;
Remembering without ceasing, your work of faith, your labor of love, your patience of hope . . .
[1 Thessalonians 1:2-3]
So in his description of the Christians at Thessalonica, he mentions, as being a benedictory blessing upon them – a characterization of them – the three cardinal Christian graces: faith, "your work of faith"; hope, "your patience of hope"; and love, "your labor of love" [1 Thessalonians 1:2].
"Your work of faith." The pastor of the church at Jerusalem when this book was written was James, the Lord’s brother. And after his experience as pastor of the church, and under the inspiration of God, he wrote that "faith without works is dead" [James 2:20]. "Your work of faith": If we have great faith, we are capable of a great work.
If we have a great commitment in our heart, we are able to do a prodigious labor for Christ. I think our church will meet that in the not too distant future. Do we have faith enough to believe that we can teach God’s Word to thousands who are not in anybody’s Sunday School? People who crowd into this teeming and growing city, do we have the faith to believe we can reach them for God? If we do, it will call of us and demand of us an illimitable ministry, a prodigious labor, a vast work.
"Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and your labor of love . . . " [1 Thessalonians 1:3]. At faith’s right hand is that other grace, that other sister – that of love binding all together.
The most pitiful sight in the world is to see a family fall apart in its heart and in its spirit. There’s only one thing more pitiful, and that is to see a church fall apart in its heart and in its spirit. All of us ought to be bound together in labors of love – a common dedication. They loved the Lord, waited for His coming, and they loved one another.
And, then, this third cardinal grace – this third sister standing by the side of the other two: "and your patience of hope" [1 Thessalonians 1:3]. That’s the bright-eyed grace that looks within the veil and that sees things that are yet to come and possesses them as though they were already ours: "Your patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Then, he speaks of the preachers, of the messengers, of the Gospel: "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:5]. "Our gospel": that’s an unusual way to describe it. We say the Gospel of the Son of God, the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of heaven, but he describes it as "our gospel," and he refers to himself, Paul, and his two companions, Silas and Timothy: "Our gospel."
What he means by that is that he’s preaching a message that he himself has experienced. He’s committed himself to it. It is his message. It is his preaching, his persuasion, his committal, his knowledge. He’s not speaking of things that are ethereal, or ephemeral, or that belong to another age, or that concern the planets and whoever might inhabit them in some other world, but he’s talking about a gospel that he himself has experienced and felt and known. And he refers to it as "his."
Sometimes, Paul will use that exact phrase: "my gospel." "According to my gospel," he says in Romans [Romans 2:16]. And here he includes his fellow ministers with him – "for our gospel" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:5]. By that, he means we are not appointed to stand as lifeless signposts pointing the way with the impersonal accuracy and cold, unsympathetic bearing to these who are pilgrimaging to another world and another time. We are not to be impersonal and immobile and mechanical and robot as we show the road to others but ourselves moved not one inch on it ourselves; but it is to be our message. We have experienced it: "our gospel." We have heard it and known it and loved it. Our preaching: something we have felt ourselves. It’s in our souls. It’s in our hearts. It is our Gospel.
When the priest was sanctified in the old day, he was touched by the blood on the ear, on the thumb, and on the toe [Exodus 29:20]. An unusual thing, but it signified the whole committal of the man to God – all of him, every part of him. Before God sent Ezekiel to preach, He said, "Son of man, eat this roll," and he ate the roll which is the message and the Gospel of God [Ezekiel 3:3]. The psalmist said, "I believed, therefore have I spoken" [Psalm 116:10]. A message we know, we have experienced, we have felt: it is "our gospel."
Then he describes these who have listened – to whom it came: "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance" [1 Thessalonians 1:5]. So it can be, then, that the power of the Gospel, the whole declaration of the love and mercy and revelation of God, can come to men in word only. That’s all: just sound, syllable, sentence, noise – in word only – like those on the Damascus Road who stood by Paul. The Bible says they heard a sound, but to them it was nothing at all. He heard the message [Acts 9:3-6]. He saw the Christ. But to them, it was just a sound – just word only [Acts 9:7] – like Jonathan shooting the arrows. To the lad, it meant nothing [1 Samuel 20:34-39]. To David, it was a message from God.
How many, many, many are there, who, when they hear, do not hear; when they see, they don’t see? When they come to church, they do it as an hour-and-a-half of penance. And, to them, the preacher lashes the air, or he whips the waves, or he woos the wind, or he invites the clouds. It makes no impressions. They are as insensible as iron hearing the Gospel of the Son of God in word only.
There are those who listen like that and understand it in theory and have a pretty good idea of what it is about, and they will appreciate some of its cultural beauty and its aesthetic values and its ethical content, but they listen in word only. To them, the Gospel is like an unloaded cannon mounted in a park somewhere, or like these battleships that we’re placing in mothballs, or like a barrel of gunpowder rolled into the magazine. It doesn’t have the fuse and the spark and the fire of the Holy Spirit in it. It is in word only.
Or, sometimes, it comes in word only to a man who’s deeply affected by it. He listens to the preacher. His heart feels the message, and in his soul is a call to God. But he doesn’t respond. He doesn’t come down that aisle. He doesn’t stand by the pastor. He doesn’t give the pastor his hand. He doesn’t give his heart to God. He goes home. He goes away. And the morning clouds are not more fleeting and the early dew does not vanish sooner than the moving of the Spirit of God in his heart. Listening, hearing in word only: that’s a pitiful thing.
What can save a man from hell, what can some day deliver him from the judgment and wrath of God among this world, what can open the gates of heaven to him, what can remake his life and save his soul, to him is nothing but sound and syllable: furor in preaching, the multiplication of words in word only.
But those Thessalonians: "our gospel" – which is the power of God and the salvation he described – "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also . . . " [1 Thessalonians 1:5]. Then he describes the three accompaniments of the preaching message they brought to Thessalonica. It came in power; it came in the Holy Spirit; and it came in much assurance [1 Thessalonians 1:5].
It came "in power." That’s the opposite of what Paul describes as "in word." It’s a pitiful thing when the Gospel is heard and received as just words, but, oh, what a meaningful thing when the Gospel is received in the power of God. Break a man’s heart, and he weeps. Break a man’s soul, and it’s healed listening to the message of the cross: there the Savior, lifted up, dying in my stead – a substitute for sinners, my own Savior – and receiving it as the very Word and Gospel and message of God to the saving of the soul.
Listening to it in power: "and the Word came in power and in the Holy Spirit" [1 Thessalonians 1:5]. Now, we shall pause for the minute. No man is ever saved just by preaching alone. If our power lies just in the ability of the preacher – what oratorical prowess he might have, what elegance he might be possessed with, what intellectual acumen he might be able to bring to bear upon any hour or subject – if it lies in him, nobody will ever be converted. If this work is of men, let’s dismiss it, close the door, turn our minds and hearts and energies to something else.
Preaching alone, words alone, sentences alone, will not convert a soul. There must be something else. There must be something other. In a service where a man is saved, there must be the quickening of the Holy Spirit of God. He is the great quickener. He touches the heart. He is the great illuminator [John 16:13-14]. He speaks to the mind. And He is the great exhorter. He appeals to the soul.
That’s the reason, dear people, that we must have, ever with us, the spirit of prayer and intercession. The work we are seeking to do is a work beyond the power and the measure of a man. No human can do it. We are shut up to God. The blessings we seek must come from heaven by prayer and by intercession. By God’s people pleading with God, the Holy Spirit is given and the Holy Spirit comes and the Holy Spirit moves in our midst.
I have been here in services when the sermon that was prepared and delivered was sometimes most stammering and most feeble – maybe the best I could do but still weak and human. But it had in it the power of God because of the intercession and prayers of the people, and souls were saved. I have stood here many times with a sermon, the best that I could prepare, after study and work and labor and toil, and it just be so much oratory, so much sound, so many sentences. There is a something other. There is a something else that must be in the sermon and in the service if people are to be saved, and that something other is the appeal of the Spirit of God that He come upon His people, that He quicken our hearts, and that He touch our souls.
In one of our mission stations in Africa, after the missionaries had labored and toiled and done all they knew to do, there was their hospital and here was their orphan’s home. And there was their school and this was the missionary work and ministry and church. After they had done all, there still was a dearth and a drought: nobody saved, nobody converted. And the last heartache came when the chieftain, who was a Christian, came and said to the missionaries, "I renounce my Christian faith. I’m going back to my old gods. I’m miserable as a Christian. I’m going back to my heathen ways."
It was more then the missionaries could bear. They stopped everything. They closed everything. They shut up everything, and they cried to God, and they prayed as they made intercession and they took it to heaven. And you know what happened? There came down a visitation from above, and it blessed the missionaries, and it blessed the orphan’s home, and it blessed the hospital, and it blessed the church, and it blessed the preaching of the Gospel, and the people were happy, and the lost were saved. And they had in their language a word I can’t pronounce, but it means to us – they were saying, "Joy is killing us." And the chieftain himself turned and began to preach the Gospel of the Son of God.
There is a difference. I can feel it and tell it in the services that I attend as I go over this country looking and sharing and preaching the message of Christ. Where people do not pray, the fountains dry up – the springs don’t run anymore. The heavens are brass, and the earth is iron, and nobody is saved.
But where the people pray, where there is intercession, where the Holy Spirit is invited, where people depend upon God, the preaching may be poor and the preacher may be stammering, but people are saved and brought to the Lord: the preaching of the Gospel in power and in the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 2:1-5].
Look how he describes those dear brethren there: "And ye, and ye received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:6] We read these things so casually. When we would just pause and look at them, oh, what a wealth of meaning.
They received the Word in much affliction. For them to be Christian was to have their property confiscated. It was to have their liberties taken away. And many times, it was to give their very life in martyrdom to be crucified, or to be placed in a dungeon forever, or to be thrown to the lions.
We do not enter into those things today. We’re too soft to realize. We’re too much at ease to enter into anything of sympathy and understanding with what Paul means in a thing like that. Those early first Christians: "in much affliction" [1 Thessalonians 1:6]. That meant blood and tears and separation and death: "in much affliction." But look: "You received the Word in much affliction." It meant to die, or it meant to be deprived of property and citizenship, or it meant to be placed in the dungeon, or it meant to be fed to the beasts. "You received the Word in much affliction."
Look: "with joy of the Holy Spirit" [1 Thessalonians 1:6]. Why, it’s hard to realize it. Here is a man who’s given his life to Christ. He’s a Christian, and the Roman government takes away his property and takes away his freedom, puts him in prison, or else nails him to a cross, or feeds him to the lions, and he faces that tribulation with a song in his heart and with praises on his lips. That’s an experience we don’t know anything about. But it was those Christians: "in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" [1 Thessalonians 1:6]. All I can do is witness to the moving of the Spirit as I have felt God’s presence in my own life and in my own heart and in the little church in which I grew up and in this blessed church today.
I can so well remember – remember, remember like that famous poem of Thomas Hood [1799-1845]. "I Remember, I Remember." Then he speaks of those joyful boyhood memories. "I Remember. I Remember." I remember, in the little services, in the little church where I grew up, I remember sometimes being so moved by the Spirit of God that I would bow between the benches and cry. I was a boy, and I was ashamed that anybody would see me cry, but I couldn’t help it. So to hide my tears, I would hide my face between the benches: the moving of the Spirit of God.
Dry, meaningless religion: oh, how, sometimes, your heart, when you see it, cries out for a visitation from heaven. O Lord, where is the Spirit of God? Where is the power of conviction? Where is the ableness to save? And where are those who pray for the quickening of the Holy Spirit of God? "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit" [1 Thessalonians 1:6].
Then he adds one other: "And in much assurance." They all go together. "And in much assurance": saved, but more, to know it; in Christ, but more, to rejoice in it – "And in much assurance" [1 Thessalonians 1:6].
Now, I’m going to talk about something here in this little moment remaining that you don’t hear much about anymore, but it’s what that assurance is. Paul described it in the verse above: "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God for our gospel" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:4]. What I say, now, is according to the Word of the Lord because Paul doesn’t use a "for" consequentially, for nothing. "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God, for our gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5].
The Gospel of Christ comes to all men alike: to the unregenerate as to the regenerate [Acts 17:32-34]. You don’t have one gospel you preach to a man that turns it down and another gospel you preach to a man that receives it. The Gospel of the Son of God comes to all men, everywhere, alike. It is the same message, the same Gospel.
The preacher is commanded to preach and, if he is a faithful servant, he will sow the seed of the Word on stony ground, among the thorns, by the wayside [Matthew 13:3-23]. In keeping with the parable of the Lord, the preacher will be out in the highways and the hedges with his people bidding all and everyone to the supper [Matthew 22:2-14]: "Come to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Come to the banquet table of the Lord. Come. Everybody, come." He bids the man with the withered hand to "stretch it forth, stretch forth your arm" [Matthew 12:13]. He bids the leper: "Be clean" [Matthew 8:3]. He bids the man with the palsy to rise, take up his bed and walk [Mark 2:3-12]. Like God spake to Ezekiel: "Preach to this valley of dry bones. The message of God, preach it." [from Ezekiel 37:4] The Old Testament prophet cried, "Wash you and make you clean" [Isaiah 1:16] whether they washed and made themselves clean or not. Simon Peter preached at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple: "Repent ye and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out" [Acts 3:19] whether they repented and whether they were converted or not.
The Gospel message of Christ comes to all men alike. The difference is some receive it and some reject it, and that’s what the Bible calls election. The elect of God turn and listen and receive it and are saved. The non-elect go out the door: "words, words, more words." The elect are the whosoever-wills: "Here I come, and here I am." The non-elect are the whosoever-won’ts: "I won’t. I will not."
And the reception of the preaching of the Word of God shows, points out, the elect and the non-elect. It makes a division among the people of the earth. These receive. They are the elect of God – the chosen. These refuse. They are the non-elects, the whosoever-won’ts. Like Paul describes in the second Thessalonian letter, the second chapter and the thirteenth verse: "We are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation" [2 Thessalonians 2:13].
How do you know? How do you know? God hath chosen you to salvation from the beginning [2 Thessalonians 2:13]. How do you know? Because they turned and listened. They received the Gospel message and power through the Holy Spirit and that was their assurance: "In much assurance" [1 Thessalonians 1:5]. They were the called of God, the elect of God, chosen of the Father, they, the Christians of Thessalonica [1 Thessalonians 1:4].
This little word to us, how full of debt, how all debtor we are to the sovereign grace of God who hath chosen us. "Lord, how is it I am a Christian with a hope in heaven and Jesus as my Savior? How did it come to pass, Lord, that God should have chosen me?" The sovereign grace of the Lord.
I don’t know. We are all alike. There is no difference between the Greek and the Jew. We have all sinned alike, even as others [Romans 3:23]. Paul says in the second chapter of Ephesians, we were "dead in trespasses and in sin" [Ephesians 2:1]. We were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel [Ephesians 2:12], strangers from the people God – we, even as others, we were lost and God chose us [Ephesians 1:4].
Back there, upon a day, I heard the Gospel. And I heard it, and the preacher made an appeal, and I felt it. And the choir and the congregation sang a song, and, in that song, I made my way down to the front and gave my heart to the Lord. How come it me to be there that day? And how come the little church there that day? And how come I was in that little town? Why wasn’t I in the interior of Mongolia? Why wasn’t I born in the heart of Kenya or Tanganyika or Nigeria? How is it that God chose that I should be under the Gospel of the Son of God, that I should hear it, that it should be presented in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that I should respond?
Oh, the goodness of God that reached even unto me, unto you. Here in this blessed land God hath placed you. Here in our queenly city God hath planted you. Here in this Spirit-filled church God hath brought you. And here in this hour of appeal, the Holy Spirit speaks to you. O blessed God, that His love should reach even to us. "Knowing, brethren, your election of God" [1 Thessalonians 1:4] – chosen of God because "the gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in that assurance" [from 1 Thessalonians 1:5] that God hath called even us, even us.
While we sing this song and make this appeal, one somebody you to respond to the appeal of the Gospel of the Son of God, would you come? A family you, to put your life in the church, would you come? Down these stairwells, down to the front, into the aisle, down to the side of the pastor: "I have felt in my heart the call of the Lord, and here I come. Here I am." As the Spirit shall take the message of the hour, or listening to the prayers of somebody who loves you, or to sanctify the witness of somebody who spoke to you, or to bless a tract that you read or an old gospel hymn that you heard – as the Spirit shall use whatever channel that might have reached your heart, would you come today? Mother’s prayers I can’t get away from; the teaching of that Sunday School teacher; the message of a pastor I heard years ago; or the appeal of this morning hour: as the Spirit shall bid, shall lead the way, would you come down here? "Pastor I give you my hand. I give my heart to God," while we stand and while we sing.
I. The Thessalonian Christians
cardinal graces(1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
"Work of faith"(James 2:20)
"Labor of love"
"Patience of hope"
II. The messengers of the gospel
"Our gospel" – one they themselves believed, experienced, shared(1 Thessalonians 1:1, 5)
appointed to stand as lifeless sign-posts
committed(Ezekiel 3:1-3, 10, Psalm 116:10)
III. The reception of the gospel(1 Thessalonians 1:5)
gospel came to some only in word
Never reaches the soul; never really know its meaning
understand it in theory
affected deeply by it – but do not respond
gospel came to some with three accompaniments
"In the Holy Spirit"
It is not enough just to preach – must have power and quickening of Holy Spirit
i. Why we need spirit
of prayer and intercession
b. "In much affliction
with the joy of the Holy Spirit"(1 Thessalonians
"In much assurance"
Their election was clear(1 Thessalonians 1:4, 2
Gospel comes to all alike
Faithful servant will preach to dead, living, all(Luke
14:23, Matthew 8:3, 12:13, John 5:8,Ezekiel 37:4, Isaiah 1:16, Acts 3:19)