NATHANAEL was a clerk in the African court near one of our mission stations. When Nathanael accepted the Sabbath truth he was confronted with some very real problems. He was given the choice of either working half a day Sabbath or losing his position. In the face of opposition and persecution, Nathanael handed in his resignation rather than continue to break God's commandments. He stood firm for God in the face of a major test. God blessed him, and the judge soon called him back to take an even more responsible position in the court that did not require his presence on the Sabbath.
I wish Nathanael's story ended on this high note of loyalty. Unfortunately it does not. Later this man who had stood so nobly for the Sabbath truth left the message—a victim of a more subtle approach of the evil one. On the side he began buying and selling property and grain. This new side line later caused him not only to lose his job in the court but to grasp for more and more of this world's goods. His love for the message was choked out.
Two centuries ago the apostle Paul was well acquainted with the perils of a divided allegiance. He made his own course of action clear in the Epistle to the Philippians. "This one thing I do," the man of God declared, "forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13, 14).
In Paul's ministry there was no place for side lines, no time for activities that might detract from his first work—that of proclaiming the gospel of Christ to a needy world. The divine imperative rested heavily upon him; it was the all-consuming passion of his life. There was no question in his mind whether he was "serving man's interests or God's" (Gal. 1:10, Phillips).*
Paul's Inspired View of the Ministry
Paul considered himself one of "God's consecrated messengers" (Eph. 3:6, Phillips). He was "appointed and commissioned . . . not by man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father" (Gal. 1:1, Phillips). The apostle declared that ministers were "called to be Christ's men" (Rom. 1:7, Phillips.) They were to be "cooperators with God himself" (2 Cor. 6:1, Phillips). Paul knew rightly that the ministry is no business—it is a calling, a divine calling, the highest calling to which man can aspire. There is a great difference between a business and a calling.
Pastor Haddon, the first Christian minister among the Maori people in New Zealand, knew the difference between a business and a calling. After he had spent twenty years in the ministry, some local politicians decided he was an ideal candidate to stand for the Lower House of Parliament. They presented their proposal. Back came a telegram posthaste: "Appreciate flattering offer to become member of Lower House. Regret unable to accept as I am already a member of the Upper House." A minister of the gospel is indeed a member of the Upper House. This high calling permits of no division of time for lesser activities. Today, as in Paul's day, it must be "This one thing I do."
Gospel Ministry a Full-time Calling
When a man accepts a call to the ministry he is responding to a full-time responsibility. In explaining the various duties falling upon young Pastor Timothy, the grand old man, Paul, admonished his son in the gospel, "Give thyself wholly to them" (1 Tim. 4:15). Dr. Phillips makes Paul's words even more demanding, "Give your whole attention, all your energies, to these things."
The Lord's messenger underscores the fact that the Advent ministry permits of no outside interests: "Ministers should have no engrossing interests aside from the great work of leading souls to the Saviour." —The Acts of the Apostles, p. 365. For God's ambassadors there is no such thing as an eight-hour day or a forty-hour week.
I knew a young man who was just starting out in the ministry. It was during the days of depression, when openings in the work were few, salaries low, and expenses high. This young pastor-teacher was struggling along on $65 a month, $35 of which his wife earned helping to teach the local church school. There was a new home to furnish, a car to purchase, and clothes were needed after a financial struggle to earn his way through college.
Bill—we'll call him—had a daily broadcast on a local radio station in addition to his other duties. The officials at the station kept their eyes on the young preacher, and one day approached him with an offer. "Why not come and join our staff?" they pressed.
Bill thought of mounting expenses, the thin shoes, the patched trousers.
"You have heard me speaking over the air," he objected, "and know that I do not work on Saturdays."
"Yes, we know all about that," was the reply, "and we know you would not give up your work as a pastor. But you come and work for us half time and you can go right ahead and do your other work." Then an attractive figure was suggested to close the agreement.
Bill wavered only a moment. In his heart he well knew that God would not permit him to divide his time as a gospel worker. It was "This one thing I do" with this young man. God has blessed him through the years for his stand.
The Hour Is Too Late
According to a story I once read in the Review and Herald, one of our veteran workers, after a long fruitful ministry, was filling in an application for sustentation. In those days there was a question to be answered: "Have you ever done any other work?" The elderly man of God filled in the blank—"I have only done the Lord's work!" What a beautiful testimony—"I have only done the Lord's work!"
Standing upon the threshold of the eternal world as we are today, ought this not to be the sincere testimony of every minister in the Advent Movement? Prophecy is fulfilling all about us at a breath-taking rate. We have but a few moments of time, as it were, to finish the important task the Lord has entrusted to us. It requires every moment of our attention. "The energies of the minister are all needed for his calling." —The Acts of the Apostles, p. 365.
"Necessity is laid upon me," Paul once wrote, "yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16). If the apostle felt this compulsion driving him on in his day, with what urgency should the messenger of the Advent view his responsibility two millenniums later? As I heard W. R. Beach once say, "The Christian ministry is a possession, not a profession." When the urgency of the hour fully possesses us there will be no time for side lines. With Paul we will declare with emphasis, "This one thing I do"!
Side Lines Cause Men to Neglect the Lord's Work
Many years ago as a young administrator I made a mistake—one of many through the years, no doubt. I was persuaded to permit a new appointee to bring a plane to the mission field. There were ample protective conditions, I thought, and, after all, contented workers were more effective workers. Brother Blank was certainly contented with his plane—in fact, contented to spend more time in the air than was good for his work program. In the end he asked to be released so that he could spend all his time with his plane.
A worker who is preoccupied with an outside interest—whether it is flying planes, selling cars, dealing in real estate, or any other side line—is bound to neglect the Lord's work. He simply cannot give Bible studies, make missionary visits, prepare sermons, administer his church, institution, or conference and have time left over to make a few dollars on the side. Something is bound to be neglected—something will suffer.
The prophet Jeremiah has a few words to say about anyone who neglects the work of God. "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully [negligently, margin]" (Jer. 48:10). These are not my words. They are God's words. They should make every minister who is tempted to divide his interests think several times before succumbing to such enticements. In God's work it must be "This one thing I do"!
Side Lines Rob God's Church of Needed Talent
The church of God needs capable men urgently. Many-talented men are required all over the world. The talent of business administration of church or institution is in constant demand in many fields at home and in foreign lands. Yet some men with these coveted talents leave the cause of God and seek more lucrative employment. True, some of them remain in the church and support the cause of God financially. But many times it is "not yours, but you" (2 Cor. 12:14) that God needs.
You and I both can think of talented men, men who at one time were capable workers in the ranks of God's army, but who became enmeshed in outside interests, and who later decided to devote their talents fully to nondenominational pursuits. Hunger for material prosperity devoured their zeal for the work. Side lines robbed the church of God of much-needed talent. It was unsafe to ignore the inspired words "This one thing I do."
"Let your eyes look straight ahead," the wise man urges, "gaze right in front of you; keep a clear path before you, and ever make your footing firm; never turn to right or left" (Prov. 4:25, Moffatt).1-
Here are the marching orders for the messengers of the Advent. Eyes straight ahead!
Gaze right in front of you! Never turn to the right or the left. There must be no side glances or deviations for material gain. We have a task to perform, one task, a tremendously urgent task. It is an all-consuming task! It is the Advent message to all the world in this generation.
Jesus set the example for His ministers for all time. Centuries before the Saviour's birth in Bethlehem's manger the gospel prophet foretold His singleness of purpose, "I set my face like a flint" (Isa. 50:7). Jesus fulfilled these words in a life of undivided service for God: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34). This was Christ's way of saying, "This one thing I do."
Thank God for the multiplied thousands of Christ-directed ministers who compose the ranks of the Advent ministry around the world. Only such single-minded men can finish the work in this generation. Would it not be a blessed resolution for all of us to voice in mighty chorus as we face the challenge before us, "This one thing I do," and press resolutely Zionward.
*The Bible texts in this article accredited to Phillips are from The New Testament in Modern English, © J. B. Phillips 1958. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.
+ From: The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt. Copyright James Moffatt 1954. Used by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated.