The above phrase appears seventeen times in sixteen verses in Scripture. Two of these occurrences concern the one thing Christ demanded of the rabbis as a condition of his answering their questions: whether the baptism of John was of God (Mat:21:24; Lk 20:3-4), and whether it was lawful to do good on the sabbath (Lk 6:9). If they were not willing to be honest in such basic matters, He would be wasting His time trying to reason with them. He knew the rabbis were not sincere but were only trying to find something for which they could accuse him.
We would save much time and effort if we were to follow Christ's example. Yes, Peter exhorts us to "be ready always to give an answer to every man" who asks a reason for our faith (1 Pt 3:15). Paul, however, admonishes, "But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle..., apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;..." (2 Tim:2:23-25). We must distinguish between those who have a genuine hunger for truth and those who only want to argue and would waste our time.
There is also one thing that every Christian, no matter how young in the faith, must know and to which he must bear witness. The man born blind, to whom Christ gave sight, told the critical rabbis simply, "...one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (Jn:9:25). This physical healing was followed by a spiritual healing of the darkness of sin when Christ revealed himself to him: "Jesus...said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said...it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him" (Jn:9:35-39).
Testifying to the one thing, the new believer grows in appreciation of Christ and what He has done. Appreciation begets worship, and the Lord responds by revealing Himself in ever greater measure in a fellowship of love that overflows in fruitful witnessing. Sadly, some believers are still babes after many years. Their first simple faith has scarcely grown, and their appreciation of Christ is so meager that they have little of Him to share with others. For them witnessing is painful rather than the overflow of a heart filled with Christ's love.
The temporal physical healings Christ performed speak of that which is spiritual and eternal. Commissioning Paul to bring spiritual sight and life through the gospel, Christ sent him to both Jews and Gentiles, "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts:26:18). Every Christian has the same high calling, yet how few fulfill it!
Could it be that the great lack in our lives is a deeper appreciation and love for Christ expressed in continual true worship from the heart? We can be so busy serving others in the name of Christ that we have no time to commune with and worship Him. That was Martha's problem, who we are told was "cumbered about much serving...." In contrast, her sister Mary "sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word." When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary not helping her, our Lord replied, "...one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her" (Lk 10:38-42). Unquestionably, Christ puts worship ahead of service.
Surely what Christ calls the one thing needful must still be of paramount importance to each of us today. In contrast, the one thing Peter mentions seems a bit puzzling: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pt 3:8). Why does Peter (inspired of the Holy Spirit) attach such importance to this particular information?
Some have tried to tie Peter's exhortation to the rather mysterious prophecy for Israel, "After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight" (Hos:6:2). Equating one day with a thousand years, and counting from Israel's rejection and crucifixion of Christ, some have suggested that the Second Coming, when Israel is raised up from apostasy to faith and Christ's thousand-year millennial reign on David's throne begins, would occur around A.D. 2032 (and thus the Rapture around 2025). That may be—but there is no proof. Such an interpretation seems rather like the very date-setting against which we are warned!
What Peter says sounds profoundly like that which Moses declared: "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night" (Ps:90:4). This statement seems to negate the above speculative interpretation of Hosea:6:2. Instead, it says something of which we can be absolutely certain and which agrees with Peter's declaration. Surely one thing that every person who would know the true God (Jer:9:23-24) must realize is the fact that the Creator exists outside of time.
What is to us a day—or a thousand years, yesterday when it is past, or a fleeting watch in the night—is all the same to God. Time is part of the physical universe, while the God who created all from nothing is no part of creation. Nor is the universe (as Eastern mysticism and most occult systems teach) an extension of or part of God. Time is meaningless in eternity. It did not exist prior to "the beginning" in Genesis:1:1, and will not exist in the new heavens and new earth.
Peter is saying that understanding this one thing is foundational to our faith. Why? Because it tells us that God's foreknowledge leaves man free to make genuine choices. The fact that God has known from eternity past what each person who would ever exist would ever think, say or do is in no way the cause of these things. To suggest (as some have) that foreknowledge and predestination/ election (Rom:8:29; 1 Pt 1:2) are identical (i.e., that God only knows what will happen in the future because He has willed it) is to deny His omniscience. We have dealt with this subject in the past (see Q&A, Feb and Apr 2001) and do so in more depth in my new book, What Love Is This?, so we won't deal with it further here.
Joshua presents one thing more that is equally instructive for us today. Among his last words to Israel is the comforting reminder that "not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you" (Jos:23:14; and Solomon in 1 Kings:8:56). Joshua goes on to warn Israel, however, that "as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things,..." (Jos:23:15). In this day of psychological seduction when everything must be "positive" and anything "negative" must be avoided, surely we need more than ever to be reminded that the God who brings promised blessings must be just as true to His Word in bringing the judgment upon sin which He has also promised. This fact is seen in the last two glimpses we have of Christ in Scripture: first on a "white horse" and finally on a "great white throne."
Astride the white horse He confronts, judges and destroys Antichrist and the world's armies at Armageddon. On the great white throne He judges the lost who have rejected His sacrifice for their sins and are all condemned by their own words and works. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war" (Rev:19:11); "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away;...and they were judged every man according to their works" (Rev:20:11-15). All before the great white throne are "dead" and have come from "hell." Thus the issue is not salvation but the punishment which they are to endure eternally. Their final judgment is inescapable and eternal because it flows from God's righteousness and integrity and is according to His immutable Word. Jesus warned those who heard Him, "the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge [you] in the last day" (Jn:12:48).
David, shepherd and sweet psalmist of Israel, prophet and king who offered priestly praise, is one of the clearest types of Christ in all of Scripture. He had so much to commend him. His great courage—even as a youth to grapple with and defeat a lion and bear (1 Sam:17:32-36) and to confront and kill a giant before whom the armies of Israel cowered in fear—was founded upon a proven and unshakable faith in the God of Israel: "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Ps:27:1).
David was a man of great wisdom and compassion, and his tremendous leadership ability was coupled with humility. Although David sinned grievously, God called him "a man after mine own heart" (Acts:13:22; 1 Sam:13:14). We understand why when we read his psalms. David's passion was that one thing which centuries later Mary of Bethany (Jn:11:1, Lk 10:42) would also desire: "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple" (Ps:27:4).
The beauty of the Lord! What intimacy David must have had with the infinite Creator to speak in such terms! Surely he was sitting at the feet of the God of Israel, the Lord of hosts, as surely as a simple worshiper named Mary centuries later would sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His word. We ought to do the same.
When have you and I last exulted in the beauty of our God who created beauty and gave us the capacity to appreciate it? But God is a Spirit (Jn:4:24); David was referring to a spiritual beauty more wonderful than anything seen with the human eye and which can only be appreciated with the eye of faith. Only then can the prayer expressed by the hymn be realized in our lives: "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me...."
Paul's passion was the same; nothing could compare with knowing Christ, nor could anything be allowed to stand in the way of reaching that goal: "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung..." (Philippians:3:8). His heart's cry was "That I may know him" (v. 10)!
But Paul takes us a bit further in his desire to experience "the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death...that I may apprehend [lay hold upon] that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." Paul expresses the overriding passion of his life: "...this one thing I do, 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" (Philippians:3:13-14).
We discussed this high calling in TBC's May 2001 article. As Peter explains, God has "called us unto his eternal glory" (1 Pt 5:10), the full restoration in Christ of all that was lost in Adam—and much more. Paul's one great desire was to attain to the fullness of all that God desired for him. That desire reflected David's passion. To spend time in Christ's presence meditating upon Him causes us to become more like Him in every way (2 Cor:3:18) until finally, when we meet Him in glory, "we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn:3:1-3).
There is one thing which was literally applicable to a particular man but which is only spiritually applicable to us today. To the rich young ruler who claimed he wanted to follow Christ, our Lord declared, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me" (Mk 10:21; Lk 18:22). Clearly, the issue was not the young man's salvation, but rather service to Christ. The gospel does not require selling anything, much less giving everything to the poor in order to be saved. Works have nothing whatsoever to do with salvation: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith;...not of works..." (Eph:2:8-9).
Nor was Christ pronouncing a rule which everyone must follow. He was exposing this young man's heart; and, sadly, his love for his riches kept him from following our Lord and from the heavenly reward he might have gained.
What would the Lord say to each of us today? Is there one thing standing in the way of true worship and serving Him fully? One thing, perhaps, that looms so large that it prevents Christ from having preeminence? (Col:1:18).
Does He say to us through His Word, "One thing thou lackest"? Perhaps we are not serving the Lord as we should, not spending as much time as we should in personal Bible study and prayer. There could be many ways in which we fall short. But what would the Lord point out as the one thing that might be the key to everything else?
May we be able to say with David and Mary and Paul, "One thing do I desire: to love You more, Lord, to know You better, to be able to present You and Your truth more clearly, to be all and only what You have planned for me from eternity past!"
Could any true Christian desire anything less? TBC