As small children we were all told or read stories that began with the phrase “Once upon a time.” This phrase was a catch-all statement that literally meant “this was the way things were back then.” As we look all across the brotherhood and note the numerous problems that are facing the church, we need to take this phrase and make a spiritual application, looking at what made the difference “Once upon a time.”
"Once upon a time” the Word of God was respected. People today no longer respect God's Word as the authority in all things spiritual. Most no longer accept it as “the inspired will of God” that was given to man for “doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.” A good example of how people felt about the Word is found in Nehemiah 8:1-12. We see a group of people that desired that the Word be brought and read to them; then while the reading was going on, they were attentive to the reading. As it was being read, they stood and remained standing for the entire reading, they bowed themselves and worshiped the Lord as the Word was read, they understood the reading, and then they went and did as instructed by the Word. Yes, “Once upon a time,” we had respect for God’s Word, but now we follow after the doctrines, creeds, and opinions of men.
“Once upon a time” the people had a mind to work. When the walls around Jerusalem were rebuilt by Nehemiah and the people, the job only took fifty-two days. We can read why in Nehemiah 4:6. “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof, for the people had a mind to work.” Our Lord, when He was just twelve years old, knew He had a job to do; “Know ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” When we do the Work of the Lord, the lost will be taught, the erring restored, the hungry fed, the sick visited, the down-trodden lifted up, and the brethren edified. “Once upon a time” the brethren had a mind to work, and all of these things were accomplished, and the church was the fastest growing religious organization on the earth.
“Once upon a time” the gospel was all that was preached. Jesus gave the command to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” Now, look at what the disciple did. Acts 5:42: “And daily in the temple and in every house, they ceased not to teach, and preach Jesus Christ.” Acts 8:4: “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the Word.” Look at the results. Acts 2:41: “And the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Acts 4:4: “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” Colossians 1:23: “if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.” Paul told the young man Timothy to “Preach the word.” But today we see anything but the gospel being preached from the pulpit and taught in our class rooms, and then we wonder why we have problems in the church. Yes, “Once upon a time” the gospel was all that was preached to a lost and dying world, and it was this gospel that produced precious fruit in the Lord's vineyard.
“Once upon a time” Christians did not forsake the assembly. The Psalmist had the right attitude about the assembly when he penned these words, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Hebrews 10:25 encourages us not to make a willful choice to miss the assembling of ourselves together with brethren of like precious faith. However, we now see congregations with 200 in attendance at Sunday morning Bible study, 600 for the morning worship service and maybe 250 back for the evening worship, and only about half that many for the Wednesday evening service. My question would be, why the difference? Don't we assemble to worship God? Isn’t it just as important to assemble at all the services designated by the leadership, as it is at only one or at most two a week? If not, why not? Yes, “Once upon a time,” Christians were glad to go up to the house of the Lord to worship Him.
“Once upon a time” pleasing God was placed above anything else. In Matthew 6:33 we are given this command, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Our primary purpose and goal in life is to serve God, and we can only do this if He is in His proper place in our life. But now-a-days we see Christians all across the brotherhood who are trying to serve God, as well as please man and from reading Matthew 6:24 we know this won’t work. We see brethren who love the world and the things of the world more than they love God, and 2 John 2:15 lets us know thatif this is the case, the love of the Father is not in us. The whole duty of man is to “fear God and keep His commandments,” and the only way we can do this, is if we put Him first in our life. “Once upon a time” men were willing to do this, but not any more.
As with every good story that started out “Once upon a time,” most all of them had a phrase that summed the story up that went like this, “And they all lived happily ever after.” If we will do as they did "Once upon a time,” then on the day of judgment we will hear “Well done thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”, and when we hear this, we will “Live happily ever after.”