Years ago, I was struck by a particular way that the phrase “one thing” was occasionally used in Scripture. Here are a few examples:
One thing have I asked 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 gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
One thing I ask… one thing is necessary… one thing I do. Ultimately, it seems to me, the “one thing” asked for, needed, and aimed at in those passages is God Himself. Of course, any time I make an observation like that it has an immediately humbling effect on me. Is God Himself—His presence, His glory—the only thing that I really desire and long for? In a sermon on christian zeal, J.C. Ryle draws out in a little more detail what it means to be a person of one thing.
Zeal in Christianity is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire, which is not natural to men or women. It is a desire which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when they are converted to Christ, however, a desire which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called “zealous” men and women.
This desire is so strong, when it really reigns in a person, that it impels them to make any sacrifice-to go through any trouble-to deny themselves anything-to suffer, to work, to labor, to toil, to spend themselves and be spent, and even to die-if only they can please God and honor Christ.
A zealous person in Christianity is preeminently a person of one thing. It is not enough to say that they are earnest, strong, uncompromising, meticulous, wholehearted, and fervent in spirit. They only see one thing, they care for one thing, they live for one thing, they are swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether they live, or whether they die-whether they are healthy, or whether they are sick-whether they are rich, or whether they are poor-whether they please man, or whether they give offense-whether the are thought wise, or whether they are thought foolish-whether they are accused, or whether they are praised-whether they get honor, or whether they get shame-for all this the zealous person cares nothing at all. They have a passion for one thing, and that one thing is to please God and to advance God’s glory. If they are consumed in the very burning of their passion for God, they don’t care-they are content. They feel that, like a candle, they were made to burn; and if they are consumed in the burning, then they have only done the work for which God has appointed them. Such a person will always find a sphere for their zeal. If they cannot work, or give money, or a man cannot preach, then they will cry out and sigh, and pray. Yes: if they are extremely poor, on a perpetual bed of sickness, they will make the activity of sin around him slow to a standstill, by continually interceding against it. If they cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, they will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill. (Exodus 17:9-13) If they are cut off from working themselves, they will give the Lord no rest until help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of zeal in Christianity.
I think sometimes we pride ourselves on being broad minded and having broad interests. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. Perhaps, though, some of us need a more singular focus in life. May God help us become men and women of one thing.