Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WORK . . . TO EVANGELIZE”

First Thessalonians 1.3

 

I was converted a few months shy of my 24th birthday. At the time of my conversion, I was a young professional who had never given a second thought to ever trying to change anyone’s mind about anything. Other people’s opinions about religion, politics, or eternity were of no interest to me whatsoever. However, within a few weeks of my conversion I had been baptized, was faithfully attending every service at my new church home, was tithing on my income, and was involved in my church’s organized evangelistic outreaches twice a week, on Saturday morning and Thursday night. Had anyone asked me specifically why I was spending two to three hours on Saturday morning and two to three hours on Thursday night trying to get people saved and endeavoring to get folks into the church house, I do not know what I would have said. I am not sure I had a well-formulated line of reasoning that led up to that behavior. However, others in the church were so engaged, and I suppose that I imitated their activities. I do know the pastor encouraged people to get involved in the effort to reach the lost. How, then, is my behavior to be explained?

Why did I begin a lifetime habit of working in my church to reach the lost? Turn to First Thessalonians chapter one. When you find First Thessalonians chapter one, I would like you to stand for the reading of God’s Word:

 

1      Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, 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.

2      We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;

3      Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;

4      Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

 

Please turn, now, to Acts chapter 17:

 

1      Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

2      And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

3      Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

4      And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

5      But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

6      And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

7      Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

8      And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

9      And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

10     And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea

 

From Acts 17.2, the reference to “three sabbath days,” we see that Paul left Thessalonica after being in the city somewhat more than three weeks. It is accepted that it was shortly after his departure from Thessalonica that he wrote his first epistle to them, the first of those New Testament books written by the Apostle Paul.

Back to our text for today, First Thessalonians 1.3: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” Paul is looking back on, remembering, several convincing and impressive patterns of behavior exhibited by those new Christians in Thessalonica.

It is established, from Paul’s first Thessalonian letter (which is the closest thing we find in the Bible to a new converts course), that those new believers were already engaged in vigorous and aggressive evangelistic activities by the time the Apostle Paul wrote to them. We know this to be true from a careful consideration of the entire first chapter of First Thessalonians, where we discover that “the work of faith” referred to in verse 3 is explained by Paul in verse 8: “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.”

Notice that the phrase “work of faith” in verse 3 is properly linked to “in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad” in verse 8. Thus, “work of faith” refers to spreading your faith abroad. However, what does spreading the faith refer to? It obviously refers to evangelistic efforts, getting the gospel out, working to get folks under the sound of the gospel.

Consider what this means, beloved. We find these Gentile Christians in Thessalonica already committed to evangelizing their community within a matter of weeks after their entrance into the Christian life. Why do so many churchgoers so rarely duplicate that conduct these days? Should involvement in your church’s evangelistic outreach be a rare occurrence among professing Christians? I do not think so.

To be sure, we all know the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28.19-20 applies to everyone. However, in our text we see newborn babes in Christ taking those steps of obedience that we find missing from the lives of so many who claim to be longtime members of the family of God.

What are we to conclude from this great disparity in behavior? How are we to explain the difference between those Thessalonian new converts’ evangelistic efforts and so many who claim to be Christians today who will not lift so much as a finger to reach the lost and dying world around them? My friends, I have no difficulty at all explaining myself, since my own behavior as a new convert ran parallel in so many ways with that of the Thessalonians. What troubles me are so many others, who claim to be Christians, but who not only do not now work to seek the lost, they never have worked to seek the lost.

Four truths related to this important issue are worthy of your consideration:

 

First, SALVATION IS BY FAITH, APART FROM WORKS

 

In Ephesians 2.8-9, we find Paul asserting a truth which is so much a part of God’s message concerning salvation found throughout the Bible: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

I have dealt with this entire subject very thoroughly throughout my ministry, but it is so important a feature of the Christian religion that it bears repeating: Salvation comes to the sinner who comes to Jesus by faith. Jesus is the only Savior of sinful men’s souls and He only saves sinners who trust Him.

Jesus saves no one who tries to help Him work out his salvation. Jesus saves only those sinners who recognize that “Salvation is of the LORD,”[1] and who cast themselves upon Him as the Sufficient Savior Who has already paid for the sinner’s salvation by His substitutionary death on Calvary’s cruel cross, by His burial in a rich man’s tomb for three days and nights, and by His glorious bodily resurrection from dead.

Thus, we recognize that faith is not the cause for which Jesus saves a sinner, as though Jesus saves anyone because he believes in Him. Oh, no. Faith is the means by which Jesus saves the sinner, with Jesus saving a sinner through the means of faith in Christ on the part of that sinner. “For by grace are ye saved through faith,” not because of faith.

To look at this from the other side, salvation is not by works. You will remember Titus 3.5 from last week: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” But couple that verse with this one from the Old Testament, Isaiah 64.6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Therefore, we rightly see that salvation cannot be the result of works that any sinner does, for two reasons: First, because salvation is by grace through faith, as we have seen. Second, because even our best deeds, our righteousnesses if you will, are as filthy rags in the sight of the thrice-holy God.

 

Next, SALVATION IS BY FAITH, UNTO WORKS

 

Though salvation is by faith apart from works, this does not mean that there is no connection between real salvation and works after the sinner is come to Christ. We have read Ephesians 2.8-9, so it is only proper that we should now read Ephesians 2.10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

So you see, though Paul denies that works plays a part in any sinner getting saved, he most assuredly declares that what sinners are saved to do, what we are created in Jesus Christ for, and what God has ordained for real Christians, is good works . . . “that we should walk in them.” Which is to say that good works should be a part of every Christian’s normal spiritual style of life. In other words, “Works do not justify, but the justified man works.”[2] This is born out in James 2.17-18:

 

17     Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

18     Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

 

So we see, quite apart from the antinomianism[3] of the contemporary evangelical crowd, who think there is no connection between genuine faith in Christ and a Christian’s works, both the Apostle Paul and James clearly show that though faith alone saves, the faith that saves is not alone. Faith that is not accompanied by works is not saving faith at all.

 

Third, THE WORKS RESULTING FROM SALVATION INVOLVES EVANGELISM

 

We know from Ephesians 2.10 that believers are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. However, are we left to our imaginations what those good works are to be? Some Christians think good works are the result of a believer’s natural inclinations, so that the child of God is supposedly created in Christ Jesus unto Red Cross volunteer work, or that the child of God is supposedly created in Christ Jesus unto Habitat For Humanity volunteer work, or that the child of God is supposedly created in Christ Jesus unto some other type of social welfare, or safety, or crime prevention occupation. No so!

We are not left to our own devices to invent some good works that we suppose satisfies God’s eternal plan for the redeemed. God has clearly shown us in His Word what good works we are to be about in our remaining days here on earth until we die, or until Jesus comes to take us from here.

Whatever the work is that each and every Christian has been saved from his sins to immerse himself in, to expend himself for, and to mark himself by, there are several characteristics to keep in mind:

First, the work of the Christian must always involve the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ to preach the gospel, to baptize converts, and to teach disciples all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. On what basis is this claim to be made? Two, actually: First, it is the most obvious characteristic of Bible-based Christianity. The rulers in Thessalonica said of Paul and his co-laborers, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.”[4]

As well, the Christian’s entire life is properly centered around the local church, the body of Christ, that temple of God that has been set upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.[5] My friends, Christians are baptized into the congregation, they observe the communion of the Lord’s Supper as a congregation, and they shall someday be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ for their efforts to build their congregation.

To me it seems so very clear. Whereas the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ shows what Christians are to do en mass, our text for today reveals what a congregation of individuals did at ground level to accomplish the same task, and to fulfill that work for which each Christian has been created in Christ Jesus.

What, then, is this work that Paul speaks of in our text, this work Paul says in Ephesians 2.10 that we were saved to perform? It is the work of spreading the Christian faith. It is the spreading of our faith abroad by sounding out the word of the Lord, so that Paul no longer felt the need to do anything there. Since Paul was totally committed to preaching Christ with every ounce of his being, the only thing what would convince him that he no longer needed to preach Christ in Thessalonica was if the Thessalonians were doing the job themselves.

So you see, the work we have been called to, the work that is God’s will for every Christian, is not the work of prayer (though prayer is important and necessary), or the work of teaching a Sunday School class, or the work of doing much needed repairs around the church house, or the work of maximizing your earning power at the expense of Christian ministry. The work of faith, the work associated with the Christian’s salvation, is the work that is directly related to getting lost folks saved; it is the nuts and bolts and sweaty work of evangelism.

 

Finally, SALVATION WITHOUT EVANGELISTIC WORK IS NOT SALVATION AT ALL

 

Let me begin this line of reasoning from Ephesians 2.10. Clearly talking to Christians about their salvation, Paul makes a statement here that is extremely narrow and without any apparent wiggle room. Notice, again, what he has written: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” The preposition “for” indicates goal or purpose.[6] The word “ordained” has to do with preparing beforehand.[7]

My friends, there is no doubt whatsoever what Paul intends with this statement. His intention is to convey to the Ephesian Christians that they were saved through faith in Christ for the express purpose of doing good works, and that God’s eternal design for blood washed and blood bought saints of God is for them to walk in them, which is to say that God’s intended manner and habit of life for Christians is to work at evangelizing the lost.

Now, please, return your attention to our text for today, First Thessalonians 1.3: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” You will notice that I have confined my message to the first of the three phrases found in this verse, because that phrase by itself is a large enough mouthful for anyone to swallow. “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith. . . .”

Paul continually thought about their work of faith. Paul was always mindful of their work of faith. Paul kept going back to their work of faith. Paul’s mind was fixed upon their work of faith. That is, Paul was profoundly impressed by their commitment to and involvement in working to spread the Christian faith. They were not content to sound out the word in their city only, but also in the San Gabriel Valley, and throughout the vast Los Angeles County, and around the world. We learn that from verse 8.

However, what did their willingness to work hard at evangelism accomplish with Paul? Never mind, for the moment, what their hard work did for them, or what their hard work did for those they were struggling to reach with the good news that Jesus saves. What did their work of faith accomplish for Paul?

Verse 4: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” Their work of faith was one of the factors that comprised Paul’s confidence that those people were chosen by God, that they were saved, that they were real Christians. To state it another way, their individual involvement in their church’s corporate efforts to get sinners saved helped to persuade Paul that they were genuine Christians.

This gives rise to a question, quite a reasonable question, I think. If God saves a sinner to work, which is to say that God has ordained that sinners who are saved will engage in the work of bringing other sinners to Christ, what is to be said for the supposed Christian who does none of that? What am I to think of the fellow who professes to be a child of God, yet he does not participate in the congregation’s efforts to bring the lost to the Savior?

What do you think the Apostle Paul’s considered opinion would have been regarding someone who supposedly had been deeply convicted of his sins, became convinced that his sins rightly condemned him to a Christless eternity of punishment, and that his deliverance from God’s wrath was brought about by the salvation that can only be found in Jesus Christ? Do you think Paul was of a mind that real Christians work to make real Christians? Do you think that the same Paul who described himself as a debtor to all who were lost, Romans 1.14, would expect others truly born again to feel the same holy obligation he felt?

I do.

 

This is the fourth, and final, in a series of messages about work. Work has to do with toil, with purposeful activity designed to accomplish something, with effort that is expended.

In the first sermon in this series of messages, I dealt with the issue of work as it applies to employment, as it applies to a job, as it applies to what we normally think of as work. We saw that God’s Word is very clear. Quite aside from whether it is economically advantageous, God’s will is for His creatures to work, and when His creatures work they derive greater benefit from working than from not working. In other words, God wants His people to work, and there is no justifiable reason apart from injury or illness for not working. In all labor there is benefit, and not working is an indication of laziness.

The second sermon dealt with the issue of working for salvation. In that sermon I pointed out that all religions except Christianity, and even many of the denominations within Christendom, erroneously believe that sinners stand themselves in good stead with God by doing good deeds, by obeying some type of religious or moral law, or by otherwise helping God get them good enough to deserve heaven. I spent time in that sermon pointing out that there is nothing sinful man can do to earn God’s favor, that there is nothing sinful man will do to earn God’s favor, and that the reason Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came to suffer, bleed, and die on behalf of sinners was because only He could satisfy God’s demands for the just punishment for sinner’s sins.

In my third sermon in this series, I once again raised the issue of the sinner working to prepare his own heart to become a Christian. There is no acceptable work that God will accept from a sinner to earn his way to heaven, but there is something Jesus commanded sinners to do that seems to be used by God to convince sinners of their desperate need for forgiveness. It seems to be the ignored command throughout much of the last two centuries, the command of Jesus Christ to “strive to enter in at the strait gate,” Luke 13.24. Yet as much as we focus on Christ’s command to “preach the gospel to every creature,” and on Christ’s command to “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” the command to “strive to enter in” is just as much neglected.[8] Yet there is evidence throughout the book of Acts, and in Christian history before these most recent times, that striving was not only common among sinners seeking the salvation of their souls, but also expected of sinners by those Christians who were praying for them and witnessing to them. Understand, if you refuse to strive you are simply yielding to the sinful impulses of your fallen nature and greatly endangering your soul.

Finally, today’s sermon dealt with the topic of Christians working to reach the lost with the gospel. Since the Bible does not teach freelance Christianity, such efforts on the part of Christians are rightly combined with the efforts of other Christians in a collaborative effort in their church. The motive for the work of faith should be strong in the life of each Christian, since the joy of sins forgiven, burdens being lifted at Calvary, and the expected outworking of the new nature in the child of God, should work together to overcome any obstacles to fulfilling the Great Commission. In addition, throughout history, we see that is precisely what has happened. Despite the efforts of our persecutors, despite the obstacles of circumstances in our path, and despite the inconveniences of our challenge, real Christians get the job done. Those who do not get the job done, who do not put forth the necessary effort to bring the lost under the sound of the gospel, and who do not join together with others to work in concert to sound out the word of the Lord, should be concerned.

I know that Paul would be concerned about the spiritual condition of any professing Christian in Thessalonica who was not actively engaged in that church’s efforts to spread their faith abroad. I know that I am concerned about the spiritual condition of every professing Christian I know who is not actively engaged in our church’s efforts to spread our faith abroad.

Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That is without doubt God’s truth. However, work surrounds the gospel. God’s plan is for you to work for a living, to put forth the effort to strive in preparation for a faith response to the gospel of God’s grace, and to then spend your lifetime working to advance the gospel after you are converted.

When do you get to rest? When you get to heaven. That’s God’s plan for His Own.



[1] Jonah 2.9

[2] See comment on Ephesians 2.10 in Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary, Vol 3, Part Two, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), page 404.

[3]antinomianism. An ethical system that denies the binding nature of any supposedly absolute or external laws on individual behavior. Some antinomianists argue that Christians need not preach or practice the laws of the OT because Christ’s merits have freed Christians from the law. Others, like the early Gnostics, teach that spiritual perfection comes about through the attainment of a special knowledge rather than by obedience to law. Generally, Christian theology has rejected antinomianism on the basis that although Christians are not saved through keeping the law, we still have a responsibility to live uprightly, that is, in obedience to God’s law of love in service to one another (Gal 5:13-14) as we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16) who continually works to transform us into the image of Christ the Creator (Col 3:1, 7-10).” Definition from Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 12.

[4] Acts 17.6

[5] 1 Corinthians 3.9-17

[6] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 525.

[7] Ibid., page 526.

[8] Mark 16.15 and Matthew 11.28

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org