1 Thessalonians 1:7-10
So that you were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.…
I. IT WAS THE WORD OF THE LORD THAT WAS SPREAD (ver. 5).
1. Paul did not despise the power of words; he was a master of them; but he contrasted words with power. Words — the air is stirred by them, as it is by raindrops, but they pass away, perhaps not forgotten, the memory lives forever, stinging like a serpent or ministering like an angel, blasting as the lightning or refreshing as the dew. "The words of the wise are as nails fastened." Paul did not despise the marvellous Greek language as a vehicle of thought and feeling, but he said there was something more. The word is the organism which contains the life, the body that holds the soul, the frame that surrounds the picture. Knowledge is power, and truth, and love.
2. We have the Word of God in power. Have we an infallible interpretation of it? Rome says she has, but we say that she has tampered with it, and reject her forgery. In order to the right understanding of the Word, we need —
(1) A correct version.
(2) The exercise of our own powers in its study. Christ demands not a blind credulity, but says, "Come and see."(3) The help of those who are able to throw light on it.
(4) Prayer for the help of the Holy Spirit.
II. THEY WHO RECEIVE THE WORD ARE TO SPREAD IT ABROAD.
1. Power always carries responsibility. The learned are to teach the ignorant, the strong to help the weak, the brave the timid. This may not be according to the law of "natural selection," by which the weak go to the wall, but it is according to the law of love, of Sinai, of Christ, which says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour," etc. God's disapproval of selfishness is seen in this, that it is only by using His gifts that we can retain and improve them. Hoarded wealth is useless; stored grain is mildewed; the buried talent is forfeited. We get by giving and learn by teaching. God speaks to us that we may speak to others.
2. The gospel had been in this case conveyed through the land and other lands. The same joyful sound has been heard in this country. All that is happy in the condition and noble in the character of our people is owing to this. Let England be true to her vocation, and pass the blessing on.
III. HOW ARE WE TO SPREAD IT ABROAD?
(1) Not by force. When the knights of Germany offered their swords to Luther, he replied, "No, the Word shall do it." You cannot destroy error or propagate spiritual truth by swords or Acts of Parliament. You may make rules of music, but you cannot impose them on the songsters of the wood. You may guide the little brook that comes chattering through the fields, but who can cut channels for the dew? Men's thoughts are as free; they cannot be prevented by violence.
(2) Not by ceremonies. An attempt is being made to undo the Reformation, and send back the dial on English civilization and freedom. All forms are mischievous which come between us and Christ. As some foolish people covered grand pictures and frescoes on church walls with plaster, superstition has covered over the faith which is "placarded before our eyes" with Roman cement. It was the work of Luther and others to chip off the crust and reveal the work of the Divine Artist; and it is our work to protest against all that would bind the Word or hide the Saviour.
(3) Not by sensational worship or teaching. A truly earnest man will be ready to welcome almost anything that will arouse the indifferent and win attention to the truth. Paul was ready to be all things to all men; but I do not think he included absurdities in the means he would employ. There are two dangers attending religious excitement: one, that while the surface of the nature is affected men will be satisfied with that; the other, that when the excitement is over there will be a hurtful reaction. The crowds that cried "Hosanna" also cried "Crucify."
(1) With a spontaneity that will be of itself a presage of success. "From you sounded forth," etc., as a natural effect of reception.
(a) It is difficult to hide truth, for it naturally tends to show itself. When a scientific discovery has been made it is unnatural for the discoverer to keep it to himself, the strong conviction being that truth is not the property of an individual, society, nation, but of the race. It is as difficult to hide truth as to hide light; if there is a crevice anywhere it will dart forth. It may be buried like seed, and the storms of a long winter may pass over it until it is almost forgotten; but the elements go in search of the seed; the dew asks, "Where is it?" The rain says, "I will find it"; and the sun stretches forth his long fingers of light to feel it, and the seed is vitalized, and comes forth; so truth rises again, perhaps in a new form, but with multiplied power.
(b) This is especially illustrated in the history of spiritual truth. When the truth has free course in a man's nature it will sound forth spontaneously as fragrance from a June rose, as heat from the fire, as lustre from a diamond, as music from an AEolian harp.
(c) There are some who receive and never give. They are like a blank object that absorbs the light and never reflects it. They are not like that little spring upon the hill slope, that receives from the cloud, and then gives refreshment and beauty to moss and nodding fern, gives itself for the use of the world, singing as it gives. But they are like the stagnant pool, that receives the showers, and remains in the same place, to poison the atmosphere, until at length the hot summer sun dries it up. There are others who give, but never cheerfully, with a bad grace that spoils the gift. There are others again who give so readily that it is like breathing the balmy air of May to ask them for a contribution.
(2) By a holy life. "Ye were ensamples." A holy life is the best transcript of the Word. Gibbon attributes the early success of Christianity to "the pure and austere morals of the Christians." And Christian life is the most powerful argument the Church can use today. It may be that of a friendless young man in London who, in the midst of temptations, dares to live a pure life; or that of a domestic servant who "sweeps under the mats" because she acknowledges a Master in heaven. To pray in the sanctuary and cheat on the Exchange is what the world regards with disgust.
(3) By active effort. From the seaport of Thessalonica merchants and sailors would carry with them the good tidings. The news of their faith was so widespread that the apostle had no need to speak of it. What a commendation! There are some whose faith is so small that you are obliged to advertise it if you want it known. Our names too frequently, not our faith, are spread abroad. The message of the Church has often failed because there has been so little of living faith in it. The earnestness of our piety is the best answer to the worldliness and scepticism of the day.
Parallel VersesKJV: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.