THE AWESOME POWER OF ONE
I Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:16
June 10, 2007
Jay Lockhart put together a piece which illustrates the pivotal place that individuals have played in the history of our world. Oliver Cromwell won control of England in 1645 by one vote. King Charles I was beheaded on the basis of one vote. France changed from a monarchy to a republic in 1875 when the vote of the deputies was 353 to 352. And did you know this one? During the American Revolution, a bill was presented to the continental congress which would have changed the official language of the colonies from English to German. The bill was defeated by one vote. In 1845 the Senate voted 26 to 25 to admit Texas to the Union. Indiana Senator Hanagan changed his mind and voted in favor of that admission, and that Senator himself had won his election to office by only one vote. President Andrew Johnson escaped impeachment in 1868 by one vote. Rutherford B. Hayes was elected President of the United States in 1876 by an electoral vote of 185 to 184. On November 8, 1923, leaders of the tiny Nazi party met in Munich, Germany in a tavern and elected Adolph Hitler as their leader by a one vote margin. Almost thirty years ago in our country a young woman was slowly murdered in a New York City residential neighborhood while at least 38 neighbors watched from their windows. During the 30 minute assault, not one person telephoned the police. (“Old Paths,” Feb. 2006) One person has the dramatic ability, either by action or inaction, to have an impact upon the course of history.
The awesome power of one is also very clearly evident in God’s words, and especially in Paul’s two letters to Timothy, this point can be seen pretty easily. In 1 Timothy 2:4-5, we read that our God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who,” verse 6 says, “gave himself as a ransom for all.” There is one God who sends one Savior who makes one sacrifice for sins forever to purchase for himself one people who enjoy one great hope. There is an awesome power to one.
One the other hand, take a look at Paul’s last letter, 2 Timothy 4:16. The other side of the coin is evident here. Notice he says from his Roman prison, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!” Notice those sad words. No one took my part. The difference between the action of one and inaction of one is one of the most critical differences of human life.
The Spiritual Truth Demonstrated in Scripture
The awesome power of one is a spiritual truth that is demonstrated in some beautiful ways in the scriptures, and I call your attention to three points here for just a moment.
One person, for example, has the power to bring God running, not because we somehow have the ability on our part to tell him what he ought to do or to make him do it, but because we are so important, so valuable to him. His care causes him at times to come running to our aid. Jesus illustrated his Father’s heart in Luke 15:20 when it says that he saw that prodigal while he was a long way off, and being moved with compassion, he ran to meet the boy and fell on his neck and embraced him and kissed him. In Matthew 18:12-14, Jesus explained why he, even being so busy, would take the time for little ones. He said, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” The concern for one brought Jesus from heaven to earth, through a demanding ministry on earth, to the cross.
Not only does one person have the power to bring God running, but one person also has the power to set heaven to singing, and again, not because of our great ability but because of God’s great compassion. I Peter 1:12 mentions that you and I have been privileged to have announced to us in the gospel things into which angels long to look. And the sense in which angels long to look into these things may be illustrated in Luke 15 again. The story is told in verses 8 and following by Jesus to illustrate his concern for just one. It says, "Or what woman, having ten silver coins (you have to remember that one of these coins was a day’s pay in those days and that sometimes these coins were made into a crown that brides might wear at their wedding), if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Again, notice that ability to set heaven to singing.
Lanita Boyd told this story. “The dishwater gurgled down the drain and I dried my hands. Then with dismay I noticed the diamond from my engagement ring was missing. I panicked. Had it gone down the drain? Had it fallen out somewhere else? I felt sick. That diamond carried immense emotional and material value to me. Then I recalled Luke’s story about the woman’s lost coin. So, not knowing what else to do, I swept the kitchen carefully, and then holding my breath, I got down on my hands and knees to search the dust and crumbs. And there it was. I found my lost jewel. Joyously I told my husband the story and everyone I talked with for the next few days. But my happiness was nothing compared to God’s joy when he seeks and finds one of his wayward children.” (“Power For Today,” Nov. 20, 2006) He is anxious when we turn away. He holds his breath watching for us to come back. He yearns to find us when we are lost. He searches and sweeps. And heaven sings with joy when we return to him!
One person also has the power and the ability to accomplish so much good in the Lord’s service, not because of our talent but because of what the Lord can do with us. The story of what God has done throughout history is told in the Bible, not just in records of historical events, but in descriptions of individual actions. I mentioned Jay Lockhart’s piece a moment ago. He said it this way, “We know the names of people like Moses and Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Paul and Jesus because one person makes a difference. You can too. It takes perception and preparation, observation, persistence and fortitude, but people who want to make a difference can have an impact on their world.”
I was interested in reading something that Flavil Nichols wrote. Flavil Nichols was the son of the renowned Bro. Gus Nichols, a long time preacher in Jasper, Alabama. Think about this piece. “During the war between the states, a young woman learned the truth and obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Her sweetheart, J.H. Holbrook, was a confederate soldier. He was captured by the Union Army and kept as a prisoner in Michigan until the war was over. At that point, he was given a ticket to Nashville, TN and $2.50. From there he returned to Centerville, TN and found what was left of his home and family. He was reunited with his girlfriend and they were married. Mr. Holbrook’s new wife studied the Bible with him and he soon became a Christian. He thought the truth was so good and so simple that he began to teach and baptize many of his friends and neighbors. Some of them began to preach. He began to preach, but he recognized the need for more training so he enrolled in Mars Hill Bible School where at the time T.B. Larimore taught. Upon completing his studies at Mars Hill, Mr. Holbrook and his wife chose to move farther south rather than going back to Tennessee, and they went into the counties of Walker, Marion, Fayette and Lamar in Alabama. Of his many converts were Charlie Alexander Wheeler and his wife. Mr. Wheeler, after obeying the gospel, soon began preaching to others. He started more than 100 congregations and he baptized more than 6,000 people over the rest of his life. The story still doesn’t end there. One of those 6,000 people was my father, the late Gus Nichols. And under my father’s preaching, 12,000 people were converted to Christ. And how many of those 12,000 began to preach the glorious gospel of Christ? No one can know the exact number, but I know personally of some who did. I am one whom he baptized and whom he encouraged to preach. Under my preaching about 3,000 have obeyed the gospel, and among that number a few of them have gone on to preach the gospel to others.” And then he makes this point, “Only eternity will reveal the total results of the teaching of that one girl 150 years ago, but at least 21,000 persons have already become Christians through this single thread and the fabric of her influence.” (“Old Paths,” April 2007) One person can bring God running, set heaven to singing and get to work and accomplish so much good.
The Practical Application in Life
Now, what is the practical application of those facts in our lives now? What should we learn just from thinking about the power of one person? Here are a few of the applications that I see.
First, because one person matters, it matters how one lives. We do ourselves a disservice nowadays in our society by insisting that we as individuals are most important and what we want matters more than anything else, but nobody has a right to describe how life should be lived. That is judgmental. Friends, you can’t matter as a person and then it not matter how you live your life! Romans 14:12 mentions that each of us will give an account of himself to God. We will do that because we are important to him, because our lives matter, our lives have power. And because we are important to God, he cares what we do with our lives. There are some kinds of things that are destructive to us as persons and are not to become ways of life. Some of those things are mentioned in the works of the flesh as described in Galatians 5:19-21. Verse 21 mentions especially that those who do, that is who make this their lifestyle, will not inherit the kingdom of God. There are some things that keep us from being able to live in God’s presence. Our lives can’t matter without our moral choices being important. I just remind us all of that.
Secondly, we should learn from this that a congregation comes alive through the interest in just one person. We probably need pretty badly to reflect on this. If we think that great productions, either our building or programs we might develop, can light a spark of fire in our hearts and lives, that we can have someone come and do something to us or for us that will do that, then we need to rethink matters. We need the same concern for one person’s value that our father has. The father who ran down the road to meet the one boy coming home also went outside in the dark to entreat the other boy to come on in and join in the celebration (Lk. 15:28).
This heart for one person can be so clearly observed in Acts 8 with the work of Philip. Philip had been scattered by the persecution in Jerusalem and had gone to Samaria. Verse 6 says that when Philip went there and proclaimed unto them the Christ, “the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.” Look at that – the crowds!
A little farther we read in verse 12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Notice again the implication of crowds of people. But then look at verse 26-27. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was (not a crowd, not men and women) an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship.” This is one fellow. He has been to worship. But God said, “Leave the crowd and go pay attention to that one individual.”
In our case, if you are having a get together, try to include one more person who hasn’t gotten to come. If you are attending a class, see if you can’t include or invite one more person. If you are planning an activity, whether you are young families or golden agers or whatever you are, include one more family. That is the heart that is needed. One of our Know Your Bible students had called in and gave this note, “Please continue to send her lessons. She thinks you have quit because she is too dumb to answer the questions.” Isn’t that sad? People form their pictures of how important they are by whether we treat them that way.
Third, one person doing what he can is actually how the work gets done. If you throw a gum wrapper on the floor, you know that some one person is going to have to pick it up. If there is somebody shut-in at home and needs a visit, you know what will have to happen. Somebody with a face will have to go and do it. You can’t program those things. The problem is that somebody has to do it.
This past week we observed the anniversary of D-Day. I read in working on this study this story. “When General Dwight Eisenhower visited the beaches of Normandy years after WWII, he was asked what he remembered most about the great invasion that became a turning point in the war. He responded that he remembered that shortly after the invasion, he began to get reports from his field commanders that things were not going very well and they felt they were losing the battle. After a while, when more reports started coming in and he was getting updated, the commander said that things had turned around. Eisenhower asked what the difference was and the reply was that the individual soldiers and squad leaders decided that they were going to win the battle.” (Tony Lalli, “The Beam of Light,” May 2005) The individual soldiers and squad leaders! The church has to realize that growth is not as much dependent on what the group is doing as it is on what individual Christians are doing. When we stand and sing “Who Will Follow Jesus,” we need to take that literally. Who?
Fourth, we should learn from this that the others around us are also “ones.” This is an important lesson. If I want to claim that Mark is important and I’m important, then I have to allow for the possibility that you might be too. When it comes time for class, it is not just whether I like it or what I want to get out of it. It is, “what about everybody else?” “What about everybody else’s kids?” “What about everybody else’s families?” It is a crucial question.
Someone wrote, “We could learn a lot from crayons. Some are sharp; some are pretty; some are dull. Some have weird names and all have different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.” It is that way with Christians, too.
In 1 Cor. 12, the apostle Paul is using the figure of a body to illustrate this point. He says in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Verse 14 says, “For the body does not consist of one member, but many.” We are getting more specific. It takes many “ones” to make a body. And then in Romans 12:5 on the same point, “So we who are many are one body in Christ.” So far, we understand that. Look at this last phrase, “and individually members one of another.”
We have down the member of Christ part of this, but individually members one of another seems to obligate us to be involved with each other, doesn’t it? Pay attention to how our lives affect each other.
I ran across this little poem. “The world is full of problems. There is much to cause distress. We are all bowed beneath the cares that daily round us press. There is only one solution. It is simply stated thus. A little less of I or you, a little more of us. The rule of each man for himself most foolish is to follow. It permits so little accomplishment and even that is hollow. But the other plan has never failed to bring satisfaction plus. A little less of I or you and a little more of us. United we can face the strife without distress or fuss. A little less of I or you; a little more of us.”
I think I need to complete the study by saying that we ought to remember that the power of one works the other way, too. The awesome power of one can sometimes be felt in the wrong direction. Eccl. 9:18 ends by saying “but one sinner destroys much good.” It’s a fact. You have influence. Be a good steward of it. Romans 14:7 says, “For none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself.”
There, folks, is the awesome power of one. The spiritual truth is illustrated in scripture, and the practical applications need to be applied in life. Someone wrote, “I am only one but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.” Let’s make that our way of looking at things. It comes down sooner or later to me, I. Christianity is a personal religion. It teaches personal accountability to the great God of heaven, personal obedience to the gospel, personal worship, personal work and personal growth.
You can see some of this as the apostle Paul tells the story of his own conversion to Christ some years after it had occurred. In Acts 22 when he met the Lord, he says in verse 10, “What shall I do, Lord?” What shall I do? I didn’t talk about the point about individual activity as much in this in terms of service, but each person bears his own burden, in a sense, Galatians 6:4-5 said. And the Lord wants us to pay attention to what we are suppose to do in his service (John 21:21-22). “But what shall I do, Lord?” The Lord told him to go on to Damascus and it would be told him. When Ananias came to tell him, he ended by saying, “And now, why do you wait? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on his name.” And Paul did that and got up from there and walked with the Lord in service and faithfulness till the end of his course. You and I need to think about the awesome power of one. Be one on the Lord’s side today. If we can help you in that way, won’t you come while we stand and sing together?