Sermon preached on June 5, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
In late September 1770 George Whitefield was on a preaching tour of New England. On Saturday, Sept. 29, 1770 he arrived in Exeter, NH, and, although not planning on preaching there, did so because a large crowd had gathered to hear him. As he made his way toward the congregation, an elderly bystander said to him,
"Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach."
Mr. Whitefield answered,
Then he turned and looking up said,
"Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for thee once more in the field, seal thy truth, and come home and die."
He then preached what some reported as one of his best sermons. Then he immediately journeyed to Newburyport, Ma. When he arrived he was tired and wanted to retire early. But people had heard that he was there, so he went half way up the stairs and preached to them until the candle he was holding went out. He then went to bed. At about two that night he woke his companion, Mr. Smith and complained that he could not breathe. Mr. Smith said to him that he wished that he would not preach so often. He replied,
"I had rather wear out than rust out."
Whitefield died shortly afterwards. (From Arnold Dallimore. George Whitefield, Vol. 2, p. 503-505)
Whitefield wore himself out in the Lord's service. Whitefield was not alone. My favorite theologian, John Calvin, died at the age of 54 in 1564. His life was one of great activity. It's unbelievable what he accomplished. Today many know him as a great writer. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Bible and they are still used extensively today because, even after 500 years, they are still useful. He wrote the, "Institutes of the Christian Religion", which is considered one of the greatest theological books ever written. William Cunningham wrote,
"The 'Institutio' of Calvin is the most important work in the history of theological science…"
It's production was a monumental achievement. Over the first 1500 years of the Christian era there were many efforts to present the truths of Scripture in a systematic form and arrangement, but they had all failed miserably and were full of defects and imperfections—mixing much error with truth. Calvin's Institutes changed everything. It was a masterpiece which illustrated Biblical truth and showed how it all fits together. The Institutes was not perfect, but it was an inestimable gift to the church.
But Calvin's Commentaries and His Institutes are not all that Calvin wrote. He was engaged in many of the theological battles of the day and that compelled him to write many other books. He was the theologian of the Reformation. When Roman Catholic Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto wrote a letter to the city Geneva giving reasons why they should return to the Roman Catholic Church, the leaders of Geneva turned to Calvin, whom they had recently kicked out of Geneva, to answer him. Calvin's reply to Sadoleto was a classic that demolished Sadoleto's arguments showed the biblical basis for the Reformation. That's just one example of his many polemic works that he was compelled to produce year after year. Not only that, but he had a vast correspondence with people of high and low rank, giving advice and counsel in response to their requests. His correspondence make up four volumes. Besides all that, Theodore Beza tells us that every two weeks he preached once a day, and
"thrice every week he delivered lectures; on the Thursdays he presided in the meetings of the Presbytery; on the Fridays he collated and expounded the Holy Scriptures to what we term the congregation."
Besides that he visited the sick, and was advisor and comforter to his flock. Not only that, but Geneva was a haven for Christians who had to flee their own countries. Calvin was in much demand to meet with them and give them counsel. John Knox, who later led the Reformation in Scotland, was one of them. He said of Calvin's Geneva, (Thomas M'Crie, John Knox. p. 100)
"I neither fear nor eshame to say is the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth, since the days of the apostles. In other places, I confess Christ to be truly preached; but manners and religion so sincerely reformed, I have not yet seen in any other place."
Calvin's work ethic was incredible. He was rarely idle. He slept little. His food was very ordinary. One gets the impression that he didn't take care of himself like he should have—that he should have been more concerned about his health and rested more, exercised, and ate better. But we can't blame him too much—in those days they didn't know the benefits of exercise and didn't know much about a good diet. Indeed, Calvin didn't want the life that was thrust upon him. He really wanted a life of study and writing, being pastor and preacher was almost forced upon him by necessity.
But it's easy for us to look back on Whitefield and Calvin and think that they were ill advised for basically working themselves into an early grave. I would not advise any of you to work yourselves to death. God has given us the Sabbath principle showing us that we need rest. He has also commended to us the advice that Jethro, Moses' father-in-law gave him when he saw that Moses was wearying himself by doing all the judging of Israel himself. Moses sat from morning to evening hearing the Israelites. He said to Moses, (Exodus 18:17–18)
"What you are doing is not good.
You and these people who come to you
will only wear yourselves out.
The work is too heavy for you;
you cannot handle it alone."
Jethro then advised Moses to select capable men as judges under him and only bring the difficult cases to Moses. Moses listen to his father-in-law and his burden was lightened.
So we have reason to conclude that Whitefield, Calvin, and many others like them, worked so hard for the Lord that, from a certain perspective, they ended up in an early grave.
Yet, I suspect that none of us have to worry about that. Most of us in the church today have the exact opposite problem—we don't work hard enough for the Lord. We don't do a tenth, a quarter or even a half of what the Lord wants them to do. We know we're way behind in our work for the Lord. We'll even admit it to each other—as if that makes it okay. There's even a joke about it. I believe it was made up by Bill Watterson, the author of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. In the comic strip one of the characters said,
"God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die."
We laugh at that, but, that's not how it works. The Great Day of Judgment is coming and there will be no laughter about those who failed to do their duty. What a shame it will be for us to have our Lord say to us,
"But you could have done so much more!"
How devastating those words will be. To know that we squandered time and opportunities will cause us sorrow and shame.
With some, their lack of work for the church is going to show that they never did belong to Jesus. Remember what the master said in the Parable of the Talents to the servant who had not increased what was committed to him? He said,
"You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest
where I have not sown
and gather where I have not
scattered seed? Well then,
you should have put my money
on deposit with the bankers,
so that when I returned
I would have received it
back with interest."
He then said to the other servants,
"Take the talent from him
and give it to the one
who has the ten talents.
For everyone who has will be given more,
and he will have an abundance.
Whoever does not have,
even what he has will be taken from him.
And throw that worthless servant outside,
into the darkness,
where there will be weeping
and gnashing of teeth."
Others who don't work hard in the church will indeed be saved, but there will be a great deal of shame for them. As the apostle Paul wrote of Christians ministers in 1 Corinthians 3:12–15, who were supposed to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. He wrote,
"If any man builds on this foundation
using gold, silver, costly stones,
wood, hay or straw,
his work will be shown for what it is,
because the Day will bring it to light.
It will be revealed with fire,
and the fire will test the quality
of each man's work.
If what he has built survives,
he will receive his reward.
If it is burned up,
he will suffer loss;
he himself will be saved,
but only as one escaping
through the flames."
Those words of warning don't just apply to Christian ministers. Those words can apply to all Christians.
One of the great truths that the Bible teaches us is that
Jesus expects you to work hard for Him.
Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for the hard work they had done for him. We read,
"These are the words of him
who holds the seven stars
in his right hand and walks among
the seven golden lampstands:
I know your deeds,
your hard work and your perseverance…
You have persevered and have
endured hardships for my name,
and have not grown weary."
Jesus is very pleased with the work that those at Ephesus did for Him. He knew their works, their labor, how they persevered. The word that is translated, 'hard work' here means to (BDAG)
"to engage in activity that is burdensome,"
According to Trench, it refers to the,
"weariness… which follows on this straining of all his powers to the utmost."
You all know the phrase that's used in sports. In hockey it would be,
"I didn't leave anything out there on the ice."
In basketball it would be,
"I didn't leave anything out there on the court."
It means that you gave it your all. You exerted all your energy. You did your utmost—that you have no criticism of your effort and that no one else should criticize your effort because you gave it your all.
I was in a race once where I didn't give it my all. It was in the Red Mills Triathlon and I was in the race because Loni had challenged me. My whole goal in the race was not to post the best time I could, but to make sure I finished ahead of Loni. I remember in the swim portion of the race I was swimming as fast as I could and almost of the end of the swim I saw Loni swim past me. She got ahead of me. She was close enough to me so that I could see it was her. I sometimes wonder if she did that on purpose, just to make a statement. But I had a secret weapon. Someone had loaned me a high tech bike. It was really light and on the bike portion of the race I was able to get ahead of Loni. When I got to the run portion of the race I knew that I was well ahead of Loni. So I decided to run at a comfortable pace. My thinking was that if I ran really hard, I might get a pain in my side or hit the wall and feel really sick and then Loni would be able to catch up and pass me and win the race. That happened to one guy in the race. About a half mile from the finish line I came upon one of the racers who was stopped was bending over being sick. He had gone too hard and it brought him to a complete standstill. I didn't want that to happen to me and I figured that if I went at a comfortable pace that even if Loni caught up to me, that she would have used up so much energy catching up to me that I would be able to outrace her to the finish. So when I finished the race, I had some gas left in the tank. Afterwards I wondered if I had run faster, if my finishing time could have been a minute or two or three faster. But I wasn't in it to do my very best, I was in it to finish ahead of Loni.
In working hard for the Lord you are not to be like me in that race. In your working hard for the Lord, you're not to be comparing yourself to other people. I mean, the person you're comparing yourself to might be doing an absolutely horrible job of working for the Lord, and by comparing yourself to him you're thinking that you're doing okay when in fact you're not. He might be doing a lousy job, so if you compare yourself to him, you'll be thinking you're doing a good job when in fact you're not.
Jesus wants you to work hard for Him. You are to put all your effort into it, you are to strain all your powers to the utmost. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 the apostle Paul said to all the Christians at Corinth,
"Always give yourselves
fully to the work of the Lord,
because you know that
your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
You don't have to worry about wearing yourself out. Just like God provided for His people in the wilderness, even though they wore their clothes and sandals day after day, year after year, they didn't wear out. As Moses said to them in Deuteronomy 29:5,
"During the forty years
that I led you through the desert,
your clothes did not wear out,
nor did the sandals on your feet."
In Deuteronomy 8:4 God also mentioned how He kept their feet from swelling.
So, with too, with you, God will enable you to do all that He desires from you. Work hard for the Lord. At the end of verse 3 Jesus commends the Ephesian church for the fact that they have persevered and,
"have not grown weary."
Also remember the apostle Paul's words in Galatians 6:9,
"Let us not become weary in doing good,
for at the proper time
we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up."
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. writes, (Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 54)
"Probably the most important lesson and certainly the most difficult lesson for us to learn is that ultimately spiritual gifts are… what God does through us in spite of ourselves and our weakness. 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness' (II Corinthians 12:9).'"
Work hard for the Lord. Of course I'm not just speaking to the elders and deacons here. The elders are to work hard at overseeing the flock, teaching and leading it. In the context here Jesus goes on to mention how the church could not tolerate wicked men and how they tested the false apostles and found them to be liars. That was part of their hard work of the whole church, but especially of the church leaders. The church members supported and encouraged their leaders as they led the church.
The deacons are to work hard at not only helping those in need, but in training them by their example and instruction. You are to work hard at personal witnessing, at showing love to other Christians and to the lost, at hospitality. We are to work hard at making our building and grounds attractive.
This is for all of you. The work of the church is not for elders and deacons alone. Ephesians 4:11–13 speaks of Jesus as says,
"It was he who gave some to be apostles,
some to be prophets,
some to be evangelists,
and some to be pastors and teachers,
to prepare God's people for works of service,
so that the body of Christ may be built up
until we all reach unity in the faith
and in the knowledge of the Son of God
and become mature,
attaining to the whole measure
of the fullness of Christ."
The idea there is that the work of the church is not done just by apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers—but by all Christians. The job of evangelists, pastors and teachers is to teach and train other Christians so that they can do the work of the church. The church then grows as each part does his work. Again from Ephesians 4, (verses15–16)
"From him the whole body,
joined and held together
by every supporting ligament,
grows and builds itself up in love,
as each part does its work."
You are to work hard at using the spiritual gifts that God has given you.
How do you work hard for the Lord?
First, make sure that you work for the Lord and not for the devil.
Philippians 2:14 says to do everything without complaining or arguing. Yet a lot of complaining goes on in the church. And it's not constructive criticism, it's backbiting, harmful and destructive. Those who engage in such behavior are not working for the Lord but for the devil. Not all criticism in the church is wrong. But when it doesn't go through proper channels, when, and the Greek word that is used there refers to criticism that is 'whispered' or 'spoken quietly'—you don't confront the person directly, but talk about him behind his back. That's not working for the Lord but for the devil.
Others in the church do not work for the Lord, but for themselves. 3 John tells us about Diotrephes, who loved to be first. He would have nothing to do with John and his associates. Instead, he gossiped maliciously about them. He refused to welcome some brothers and put out of the church those who wanted to. He was not working for God.
In working for Jesus in the church there is no place for pride, for self, for other agendas. It's all about Jesus and His glory. It's all about relying on His grace and using His power so that Jesus will be glorified and His people built up. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 the apostle Paul said,
"But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.
No, I worked harder than all of them—
yet not I, but the grace of God
that was with me."
Secondly, in working for God in the church
it's all about using your spiritual gifts.
There is so much work to do in the church. No one must think,
"Well, I'd like to do something in the church, but I don't know what to do."
No. No. Look around you. I'm not perfect. No one around you is perfect. We all need your help. We all need you to use your spiritual gifts to help us, love, to help us draw closer to God, to have greater faith in Him, to serve Him better.
I could understand someone saying, "I don't know what to do in the church," if we were all perfect. But we're all far from it. You need to work on us, with us, to make us more like Jesus. Hebrews 10:24–25 says,
"And let us consider how we may
spur one another on toward
love and good deeds.
Let us not give up meeting together,
as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another—
and all the more
as you see the Day approaching."
Spiritual gifts are all about serving others. (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 12:7) Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. writes, (Perspectives on Pentecost, p. 53)
"The way to determine our spiritual gifts is not to ask, 'What is my 'thing' spiritually, my spiritual specialty, that sets me apart from other believers and gives me a distinguishing niche in the church?' Rather… the question to ask is, 'What is the situation in which God has placed me are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word and deed… what are the specific needs confronting me that need to be ministered to?'"
This is not to say that spiritual gifts do not have to be confirmed by others. For example, when I was a kid I took piano lessons. But no one ever told me that I was really good at it and after awhile I gave it up. But a few years ago in the prison, after a guy who played the guitar while we sang left, I thought I would help their singing by playing the piano on some of the easy songs. One day I asked Marg for help and she wasn't impressed with what I was doing. But I said to her,
"But it's better than nothing, isn't it?"
I thought my playing was better than not having anything at all. And do you know what she did? She paused and didn't answer but thought about it! That kind of told me something. Your gifts do need to be confirmed by others.
But what Gaffin says is true. Serve those around you. Help them in with the Word. Work hard at showing love, at encouraging, at comforting, at admonishing, at improving your own life so that you will be a better example to others. Work hard at serving others, putting yourself last and them first.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,
our text should be a wake-up call to you.
If you were to stand before the Great Judge right now, how horrible it would be for you. What have you done for God? Nothing. He created you and put you here to serve Him and to help other people draw closer to Him. You're flunking in the most important test that you'll ever be measured on. Wake up before it's too late. Go to Jesus. Ask Him to save you. Ask Him to equip you to serve Him. Ask Him for mercy because it's the one thing you need more than anything else. May God give grace to you.