The Crown Worth Seeking

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  2 : 17-20
Subject: Soul Winning; Witnessing
Series: Ready to Live - Ready to Leave
Introduction

There are some things that you are not likely to hear said in a Baptist church. Here are a few of them:

     Hey! It's my time to sit in the front pew.

     I was so enthralled; I never noticed that your sermon went 25 minutes over time.

     I've decided to give our Church the $500 a month I have been giving to TV evangelists.

     I volunteer to be the permanent teacher for the Junior High Sunday School class.

     Pastor, we'd like to send you to this Bible Seminar in the Bahamas.

     Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment like our annual stewardship campaign.

     Personally I find witnessing and going visiting for the church far more enjoyable than golfing, fishing or going shopping.

The last of these is the least likely to be heard in our churches. In our passage today, Paul tells us that one of his greatest joys was not just witnessing, but the results which that witnessing produced. Our theme today is the responsibility, results, rejoicing, and rewards of soul winning. And certainly we can agree that the need for us to reach people is as great or greater than any generation which has ever existed. Consider some facts with me.
William Bennett noted the decline in America with some disturbing statistics. For example, "...there has been a 560% increase in violent crime, a 419% increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorce rates; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate; and a drop of almost 80 points in SAT scores."[i]

There are many other statistics I could share, but sharing them will only serve to depress us. What we need to hear is the hope for people in our generation, and that hope is Jesus!

Paul had witnessed the saving power of Christ while he was in Thessalonica. People had been saved and a church was started. Paul subsequently went on to Corinth and wrote back to the people of Thessalonica. In this letter he shared the words in our text today. He speaks of the wonderful blessing of being used to bring people to faith in Jesus. He shows that the joy of soul winning is not temporal but eternal! In fact, Paul states that soul winning will produce a crown - a crown of rejoicing! So, I want you to think with me today our this great subject, "A Crown Worth Seeking."

Now lets set the context for our text lest we have a pretext. Paul is writing to a church that he had been forced to leave. Some enemies of Paul had told the people in Thessalonica that Paul did not really care for them because he had deserted them. Paul wrote to let the people know that he was absent in body but not in his heart and that the reason he was not with them was because of the work of Satan. Satan is always seeking to hinder God’s people from doing his work and this was just as true in Paul’s ministry.

Paul went on to tell the Christians at Thessalonica that he cared deeply for them and that they were his joy, his crown of rejoicing and that he would one day rejoice in the presence of God because of their conversion to Christ.

In this passage I see four great truths about soul winning or witnessing. Note these with me.

I. The Responsibility of Soul Winning

Some people think that soul winning is only for the theologically trained and extremely gifted people. Actually, Paul was a great soul winner but possessed few tools to make him effective. He admits that he lacked the gift of exceptional speaking ability. He admits in more than one place that he did not have a forceful philosophy working for him either. He was, we understand, not handsome. He was short, bent with physical problems and had very poor eyesight. Some students of the Bible and medicine claim that Paul probably had an eye problem that caused pus to form around his eyes. It would have looked horrible and would not have smelled to all that good either. Yet, everywhere he went, he led people to Christ and started churches. Paul is a good example that soul winning is not just for those who appear to be blessed with great gifts.

Actually, each of us has a sphere of influence which belongs to no other person. It could be called our witnessing circle. Paul’s greatest circle was found in Synagogues. He was a Jew and knew their language. He understood the Old Testament and great expertise in the matter of applying Old Testament Scripture to New Testament truth. So, when he came to a new town, he would go immediately to a Synagogue to share his witness. He shared within his witnessing circle. We need to understand that every single believer has a witnessing circle. The witnessing circle consists of people who have some confidence in us and, therefore, with whom we have an opening opportunity to speak about Christ. We do not have to be trained preachers or theologians. In fact, there are millions of people who will never listen to so-called professional clergy but will listen to a trusted friend. Let me give you a couple examples.

I am sure you have read that Jane Fonda accepted Christ. Cal Thomas, the commentator and writer, has talked with people close to her and he believes it is true. In an article, Thomas states that she was influenced to trust Christ through two people. One, she listened to the testimony of her chauffeur. Second, she listened to a friend who is married to someone who works for Turner Broadcasting. In both cases, these were just friends who knew the Lord and shared what Jesus meant to them. She was not saved through the work of a great evangelist. She was not saved through the witness of a TV preacher. According to Thomas, she came to Christ through the loving witness of friends. That is exactly what I am talking about today when I speak of your witnessing circle.

God wants us to be simple and plain in our witness. Let me tell you a story about trying to be too cute in witnessing. A minister decided he would use his CB radio as a witnessing tool. He, therefore, decided that he would give himself the handle of Ichthus. He reasoned that when someone would ask him for the meaning of his handle, he would explain that Ichthus is the Greek word for fish. Each of the Greek letters form an acrostic which means, Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior. At the end of his first conversation on his first night out on the new CB, the minister signed off by saying, "This is Ichthus, and I'll be 10-10 on the side."

A trucker's nasal voice came back, "Good buddy, what did you say your handle was?"

The preacher said, "Ichthus."

The trucker said, "Ichthus? What in the world is an Ichthus?"

The preacher replied, "Well, Ichthus is the Greek word for fish and the Greek word for fish forms an acrostic which means Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior.

There was a long pause and then the trucker came back and said, "Did you say Ichthus was the Greek word for fish?" The preacher answered in the affirmative. The trucker asked, "Good Buddy, why don't you just call yourself Fish?"

Good witnessing just requires us to be ourselves. We must be simple and plain in our sharing. Let me share another simple example. Years ago, in a small town in Texas, a German merchant and his entire family came forward at the close of a service to receive Christ as Savior and Lord. When the pastor asked him to tell his experience, this is what he said. "Yesterday I closed my store early and went for a ride with my family. We were crossing the railroad tracks when a train struck the back of our car. We went home and got out, all frightened. There was just one member of our family, little Mary, a member of your church who was not frightened. We talked about it and Mary said, 'Daddy, if we had been one second later in crossing that track, all the family would have been in Hell now but me.' As soon as Mary said that, I called the family to prayer and asked Mary to lead us to heaven."

What a great illustration of our witnessing circle. Little Mary influenced her entire family for Christ. A little child led her mother and father to Jesus.

Some years ago I pastored in the town of Hartsville, South Carolina. There was a family there known as the Blackwell family. I was told that it would do me absolutely no good to go witness to them because they would not let a preacher in their house. My wife, sweet Jayne, said, I will go out and visit with the wife. Well, she went out and visited with her and was received warmly. I later went back with a deacon from the church and we led the entire family to Christ except the mother - who said she was already a Christian. That next Sunday in our church, the Blackwell family, mom, dad, and all 5 children came forward in our service. Listen to me, Jayne was instrumental in winning that family to Jesus. She opened a door no one else had opened. She was visiting in her witnessing circle! Because of it, an entire family was saved.

May God help us to look out on life and ask, "What is my witnessing circle?" If we do not, some people will perish whom no one else on earth may ever reach for Christ!

II. The Rejoicing in Soul Winning

God has ordained a special joy for soul winning. This is true throughout the Scripture. I want to show you that it is true in both Old and New Testament with a simple example, and then I want to show you why it is true.

In Psalm 126:6 we read that those who go forth bearing precious seed with weeping, will no doubt come back rejoicing bringing their sheaves with them. This is a perfect picture of the soul winner. The work of soul winning is like weeping. It is difficult work. It is plow work. It is seed planting, back breaking work. But when the harvest comes in, it is a time of joy, song and happiness.

In our text today we see a New Testament example of the joy of soul winning. Paul told the Thessalonians that they were a crown of rejoicing for him. He was filled with gladness because of their salvation. What joy it brings into a church when people are being saved. What gladness would fill this place this morning if one person would confess Christ as Savior.

Why is this so? Because this is the heart of God. Look at Luke 15. A sheep is returned and their is rejoicing. Look at what Jesus says about it. "Likewise, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repents." There is joy in soul winning because this is the Father’s joy, this is the Sons’ joy, this is the Spirit’s joy - this is the joy of the Godhead. God will add a special joy to the church that places a priority on winning souls to Christ. That in turn becomes contagious. People are drawn to joy in the Lord. That leads more people to Christ. That creates more joy. That leads more people to Christ. I don’t know about you, but I like the way that goes. It just gets better and better, bigger and bigger, happier and happier.

III. The Reward of Soul Winning

As if joy and a great sense of fulfillment were not enough, there is yet more reward for the soul winner. Paul tells us about it here. In the New Testament there is the discussion of crowns which believers earn in this life. Now understand something with me. You cannot earn salvation. That was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. You receive eternal life as a gift from God when you put your faith in Him. But, once you are saved, you have the opportunity to serve Him. As you serve the Lord faithfully, Christ credits your account for heavenly rewards on that day when He shall come for His Church. There are five such crowns. I am not going to discuss all five today because of the time required. But there is one which must concern us today, it is called the Crown of Rejoicing - or The Soul Winner’s Crown.

Be assured of this, everyone is seeking some crown. The worldly person is seeking the crown of pleasure. Much of the world is seeking the crown of money or possessions. The athlete is seeking the crown of athletic accomplishment. It has always been like this. Even in the days of Paul, people were seeking crowns.

In fact, in Paul’s day, a great military leader could be crowned with a laurel wreath as a sign of military conquest. Also, an athlete in the Greek games could win a crown of laurel for his number one finish in some genre’ in the games. Paul was thinking of this when he said that he had the crown he wanted, and it was the crown of rejoicing which he would fully receive when the Lord returned for His Church and all those whom he, Paul, had influenced to faith in Christ stood before the Lord. Paul was indicating that there would be a crown for the soul winner on that day when Jesus comes back! That, my friend, is a crown worth seeking.

So, in Paul’s day people were seeking crowns.

Consumed by a passion for military conquest, Pompeii sought the crown of conquest.

Consumed by a passion for power, Julius Caesar sought the crown of political authority.

Consumed with a passion for praise, Cicero sought the crown of public opinion.

Consumed with a passion for tradition, Cato sought the crown of influence.

Consumed with a passion for pleasure, Mark Anthony sought the crown of personal indulgence.

All those crowns have faded into dust. But there was a man named Paul, consumed with a passion for souls. He got that passion from Christ who came to seek and to save that which is lost. That crown remains. That joy remains. That accomplishment can never be taken away. Oh, the reward of the soul winner!

Let me add, that the soul winner is not just rewarded for those he wins, but for those won to Christ by those he led to Christ. When Paul wrote to the Church at Thessalonica, he as writing to a church body that had increased significantly since his departure. Yet, he writes to all of them calling them his crown of rejoicing. Why? Because those he had won to faith in Christ had subsequently won others to faith in Christ, who had won others - and so on! All of them were part of the joy and reward of Paul. You cannot measure the results of soul winning. You cannot measure the rewards of soul winning. It is the greatest work in the world and the most productive.

IV. The Response to Soul Winning

I mean by this, what is your response and my response to the call to soul winning? What will we do, now that God has reminded us of this calling? Will we nod our heads in agreement but seek no souls for Christ? Will we go away thinking what a noble task is it, but leave it to others? What shall we do?

Remember how I began today? I began sharing some things you will never hear in a Baptist Church. No, it is not likely that you will ever hear many people say, "Witnessing is more fun to me than golfing, fishing, or shopping." The only way we witness is to overcome the obstacles which Satan will place in our way. William Booth was founder of the Salvation Army. He left a comfortable church position to go out into the streets of England and rescue the poor, downtrodden people around him. He led thousands to Christ and left behind a great army of people who minister in Jesus’ name to this day. In 1904, King Edward VII invited William Booth to Buckingham Palace. He said to Booth, you are doing a good work with the Salvation Army. He then asked him to write in his autograph album. Booth, now 75 years of age, bent forward, took the pen, and summed up his life’s work:

Your Majesty,

Some men’s ambition is art,

Some men’s ambition is fame,

Some men’s ambition is gold,

My ambition is souls of men. [ii]

It has to be our ambition to lead people to Jesus or it will never happen. It must be purposeful. It must be deliberate. It must be done in love and care. It may begin with a simple invitation to church. It can go on to being a friend to someone who needs you. Then, God will take your witnessing circle and open the opportunity for you to tell someone what Jesus means to you and to invite that person to turn to Christ just as you have.

Conclusion

We have to care enough to give it our all. Let me tell you a fascinating story from Vietnam that I read some where a number of years ago. There was an orphanage near an American Marine Base in Viet Nam. One day the Viet Cong fired mortar shells into the orphanage, killing dozens of children and wounding many more. A boy named Kai had a seriously wounded friend who needed a blood transfusion. Kai's friend had a rare blood type and only Kai's blood matched it. Little Kai had never heard of a blood transfusion but when the American doctors explained it would save his friend's life, little Kai volunteered. As the blood began to flow from Kai to his friend, Kai began to whimper. When the doctors asked if it hurt, he said that he was in no pain. A little later he whimpered again. Again he told the doctors it did not hurt. The doctors asked, "What's wrong, Kai?"

With tears coursing down his light brown, dusty cheeks, Kai asked, "When am I to die, sir, when am I to die?"

You see, little Kai didn't know that during a transfusion you only give a little of your blood. He thought he was giving all of his blood to his friend, and that to give that blood he, Kai, would have to die. He was willing to do so for his little friend.

Witnessing is like that. It is laying everything on the line for another to find Christ. After all, Jesus truly did lay it all on the line for us. His cross is a testimony of the price He paid that we might be saved. Now let us resolve to be ashamed of our Savior and His testimony. And let us resolve to trust the power of God to save those to whom we speak, those within our witnessing circle.

[i] William J. Bennett, The Wall Street Journal, Monday, March 15, 1993

[ii] Available from: http://www.salvationarmy.org/heritage.nsf/36c107e27b0ba7a98025692e0032abaa/b441f442281fed5e802569520052fd53!OpenDocument