THE GOSPEL CAME
One of the most frequently used words in the Christian church is the word ‘gospel’. It is of course the ‘Good News’ of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is the most important message that we can ever hear. George Whitefield was preaching and noticed an old man settling down for his accustomed sermon-time nap. Suddenly he paused. His cheerful expression changed, and changed again, until a thundercloud sat on his brow. ‘If,’ he said in measured, deliberate words, ‘I had come to speak to you in my own name you might rest your elbows upon your knees and your hands on your heads and go-to-sleep!’ (The old man in front dozed on.) ‘Once in a while,’ George continued, ominously quietly, ‘you would look up and mutter, “What does this babbler say?” But, I have come to you in the name of the Lord God of Hosts and’ Bang, he clapped his hands and stamped his foot, and the old man woke up – ‘I must and I will be heard.’ He looked at the old man. ‘Aye, aye, I have woken you up, have I? I meant to do it! I have not come hear to preach to socks and stones. I have come to you in the name of the Lord God of Hosts and I must and I will be heard!’
It’s the gospel that brought the church of God into being. Anything which is preached as less than that is what the apostle Paul would condemn as “another
gospel” (Gal 6:8). So:
WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
There’s a verse in I Thessalonians that stood out vividly when I was reading it one day “For our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1:5). It will be helpful to look at each phrase carefully. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he was referring to:
He wasn’t claiming proprietary rights as if it was his version. In many other references to the Gospel he calls it “the gospel of God” (2:2,8,9) because it was God who had revealed himself in it as a God of love, and it’s also referred to as “the gospel of Christ” (3:2) because the good news was focused on Him. It’s been said:
‘If our greatest need had been information,
God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money,
God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness,
So God sent us a Saviour!’
Paul could write that it was “our gospel” because he
and his companions faithfully proclaimed it. They were the primary agents in making the Good News known to mankind, and we, in our turn, are their successors in this great work. Paul had the Gospel, but it had been committed to him for the purpose of its transmission to others. That’s what he meant when he wrote “Our gospel …” and then he added: It …
“CAME TO YOU”
Something happened. The Gospel didn’t come by itself. It didn’t drop by parachute from heaven. No, Paul, Silas and Timothy brought it. Before they arrived in Thessalonica there was no church, perhaps no one in that city of Greece had even heard about Jesus, let alone believed in him. The world needs a Saviour and we who have a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ have been commissioned by Him to make the Gospel known to those around us.
One of the ways of doing this is to make available the Scriptures to as many people as possible. I wonder if, when you go to a foreign country on holiday, you’ve thought of taking a few copies of the New Testament to leave behind as a silent witness of the Gospel?
The planting of the church in Thessalonica, that is, the gathering together of a number of believers in Christ, was the direct result of the preaching of the Gospel.
SO HOW DID IT COME?
Paul goes on to explain the process. It came:
The Gospel didn’t come only with words far from it, because with words only it would have been something mechanical and without 1ife. But it did come to the Thessalonians “with words". The Gospel is a message, it has content, and it can only be made known by using words. Words can be used well or badly. We need to be careful in our choice of words if we are to get our message across successfully.
Words are a basic means of communication. They are a powerful means of putting across a message, whether it be good or bad. Think of the personalities of the last century - of Hitler and Churchill - how they used words in their causes. But even more powerful is “the word of the Lord”. How often we come across that phrase 1n the Scriptures.
Evangelical believers we have a firm belief that the Bible is the inspired, written Word of God, with the very words that are used being of great importance. It’s more than a religious book. It is the story of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. I like the words used in the Coronation ceremony in Britain when the Bible is presented to the monarch: ‘We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God.’
But having emphasized the value of words we must notice that Paul qualified his statement by saying that “the gospel came not simply with words" but "a1so":
Words by themselves are not enough. Eloquence and a fine turn of phrase are good, but will still fail to make an impact. The words used may be misheard or misunderstood. This is especially the case in Christian communication because blind eyes and hard hearts don’t appreciate the Gospel. What’s the reason for this? The apostle told the believers at Corinth, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (1 Cor 4:4). So the Gospel proclaimed in human weakness needs to be confirmed with divine power.
It is only by the power of God that the Word can penetrate people’s mind, heart, conscience and will. This was very much in Paul’s mind when he arrived in Corinth. “I came to you,” he wrote, “in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor 2:3). As Christians living in a largely unbelieving world we’re Christ’s representatives and we need the enabling of the Holy Spirit in our witness for the Lord both by lip and life. Yes, the Gospel needs to come With Words and With Power. But:
WHAT MORE IS NEEDED?
“WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT”
When Paul was instructing the Christians at Ephesus, he wrote: “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17). Someone said that ‘The Spirit without the Word is weaponless; the Word without the Spirit is powerless.’ It was the Holy Spirit who first inspired the writers of the various books that make up the Scriptures and there is no substitute for His continued anointing upon its ministry. It is the Holy Spirit who illuminates our minds so that we can bear witness effectively to the Gospel. So the Gospel comes With Words, With Power and With the Holy Spirit, and additionally:
“WITH DEEP CONVICTION”
The ‘Good News’ version translates these words as “with complete conviction of its truth.” Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel was not only powerful in its effect, but confident in its presentation. He was sure of his message, of its truth and its relevance, and in consequence he was bold in making it known. It was because of this conviction that he could write to the church at Rome, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
So what does the Word of God mean to you? Children can be embarrassingly frank. I read of a minister who was visiting one of his members. The lady of the house was trying to impress him about how devout she was by pointing out the large Bible on the bookshelf and talking in a very reverential way of it as "the Word of God". Her young son interrupted the conversation, "Well, if that’s God’s book we better send it back to him because we never read it!" Perish the thought that it could apply to anyone here! - but we must never be complacent.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, (3:14-17), we have a superb summary of what the Word Of God should mean to us and so:
WHAT WE SHOULD DO WITH IT?
We see first of all the need to:
LEARN THE WORD THOROUGHLY
Paul had been warning Timothy of the effects of a godless society, the breakdown of relationships, the infiltration of error in the church and the persecution this would bring to a faithful servant of Christ. He then addresses Timothy personally: "But as for you" - you, he says, must be different from this; you must "continue in what you have learned".
It’s as if a captain of a ship has issued a command to his navigating officer on the bridge; there must be no deviation from the course the captain has set or disaster will hit the ship. Timothy has begun well - he had learned the truth but he still had to persevere, to continue with no compromise.
Paul’s letter has a delightful reference to Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, devout believers who ensured that he had been taught the Scriptures when he was a young lad. Thank God for Christian mothers! It’s been said, ‘The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’ An exaggeration perhaps, but undoubtedly Timothy had received the best foundation for life. There’s a proverb which encourages Christian parents and teachers in their patient work: “Teach a child how he should live, and he will remember it all his life” (22:6).
We must pray for our young people that they might be kept from error and drifting away from the central message of the Scriptures. It’s important that they, and we, should think through our faith, because it’s the shallow thinkers who can so easily be swayed by the fast-talking impostors of the Gospel.
In our Lord’s Day the scrolls on which the Scriptures were written we read regularly in the synagogues and the children were taught to memorize important passages. You can never tell how the thorough learning of Scripture will be used in later life. Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Romania and was imprisoned and tortured for his faith by the communist authorities. He testified that it was the passages of Scripture that he had memorized as a youth, which sustained him in his years of captivity.
The years go by, the Christian leaders we knew in our youth are now with the Lord. Soon it will be the turn of our young people to be the leaders, but are we helping them to be prepared for the task? Are we giving them the opportunity to be taught the value and truth of Scripture? The early church placed a great emphasis on the public reading of Scripture and when it’s well done, it brings the anointing of God upon the service – it’s the Word of the Lord. It’s reflected in our prayers, hymns and songs, but there’s no substitute for the public and private reading of God’s Word.
Paul reminded Timothy to Learn The Word Thoroughly, and then went on to emphasize the need to:
USE THE WORD EFFECTIVELY
To do this we must be convinced in our own minds as to what the Bible is in reality. “All Scripture”, writes Paul, “is inspired by God” - that is the key to a correct understanding of the Bible. It’s a small library of 66 books, written by about 40 authors who lived in different countries, spoke different languages, came from different backgrounds, and was written over a period of 1,600 years. And yet its unity is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the writers. Of course it must be understood properly by comparing scripture with scripture, recognizing that it contains different forms of literature - history, legal codes, poetry, parables and doctrine. Other religions have their holy books, so what is it that sets the Bible apart from all others?
Paul claims that Scripture is inspired, or literally, God-breathed. Let’s think of what it means. God’s Word is God’s revelation, but it came through human instruments. Although the writers were human they were powerfully guided and directed by the Holy Spirit. It’s not that they were like human typewriters - no, God used their personalities, backgrounds and training to convey his truth.
The Word of God is his breath, shaped by man’s gifts and qualities, in different styles, but still God’s voice, God’s message. Listen to the powerful witness of the apostle Peter: “Prophesy never had its origin in the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
J B Phillips, perhaps the most well known of Bible translators wrote of his experiences. He said its power overwhelmed him: ‘Translating the New Testament’, he said, ’was like rewiring a house with the mains left on.’ What a testimony to the use of the Bible! We must be careful how we handle the Scriptures.
If we use the Bible effectively it will not only inform, but has the power to reform and transform lives. The truth of Jesus must be worked out in daily living or it will be worthless to us. It’s the means of bringing a sure hope for the future and the peace and assurance of eternal life. Why? Because it’s God’s book of salvation. But the truth of Jesus must be worked out in daily living or it will be worthless to us.
Learn the Word thoroughly - Use it effectively - and finally:
TAKE THE WORD SERIOUSLY
Paul tells Timothy that the end result of having the Scriptures is “that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Paul took the Christian life seriously. God’s person was to be no amateur treating Christian service as a hobby.
The Bible is vital equipment for the believer and the church fellowship. It is the yardstick against which we must judge ourselves and life’s transactions; it is the architect’s drawing, the engineer’s blueprint on which we model our lives. It gives direction: as Paul says, it’s “profitable for teaching ... for training” and also “for correction; for rebuking.” It shows us what is wrong - the Word can often be uncomfortable reading - and then pointing us to the true way of living.
Do we treasure this vital equipment? It’s our food, our sword and our lamp. In the precious volume of the Bible we have a comprehensive supply for all the eventualities of life and service. But more than that, we should develop a love for the Scriptures. It’s our best source of knowledge of Jesus until we meet Him face to face in glory. For the time being here on earth, admittedly, we see through a glass darkly. But until that great day dawns, if we love the Lord Jesus we shall love the Bible because it speaks to us of him. It is His portrait.
One of the great privileges of our Christian experience is to have the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels for our enlightenment and enrichment. Though we can’t step back into the time when Jesus walked in Palestine, we can, through the miracle of His Word know and understand the timeless truths He taught that salvation is only found in Him.
The Bible is the source book of the Gospel. So:
WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH IT?
We’re called upon to receive it, to believe it and to use it and to live it. That’s how it’s spread.
Join with me in a prayer of thanksgiving for the Scriptures:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the priceless gift of your Word given to the world in the Bible. Here we have the story of God’s revelation of Himself to men and women telling us of your love and the provision you have made of a Saviour, your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We thank you for the privilege of having the Scriptures in our own language and for the power of God’s Word to speak in our lives. As we read it help us to receive your Word into our hearts that we might find light for our way in life, strength in our weakness, and comfort when in distress.
We ask these mercies in the name of Jesus.
THE GOSPEL CAME (1 Thessalonians 1 : 5)
WHAT IS IT?
‘OUR GOSPEL’ : The revelation of the God of love in Jesus.
‘CAME TO YOU’: The apostle Paul the agent of its transmission.
HOW DID IT COME?
‘WITH WORDS’ : God’s revelation of Himself in the Scriptures.
Words from the Coronation ceremony : ‘Here is
wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the
lively oracles of God.’
‘WITH POWER’ : Proclaimed ‘not with wise and persuasive words,
but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’
(1 Corinthians 2 : 3).
WHAT MORE IS NEEDED?
‘THE HOLY SPIRIT’ : ‘The Spirit without the Word is weaponless;
the Word without the Spirit is powerless.’
‘DEEP CONVICTION’ : We must be convinced of its truth.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH IT? (2 Timothy 3 : 14 – 17)
‘LEARN THE WORD THOROUGHLY’ : Helps to keep us from error and
‘USE THE WORD EFFECTIVELY’ : Its inspiration has the power to
reform and transform lives.
‘TAKE THE WORD SERIOUSLY’ : It is the yardstick to judge
ourselves and life’s transactions.
WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH THE GOSPEL?
RECEIVE IT … BELIEVE IT … BELIEVE IT … USE IT … LIVE IT