The Environment of the Christian Life
November 4th, 1956 @ 10:50 AM
THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Dr. W.A. Criswell
11-4-56 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Environment of the Christian Life.
Really, when you preach from Paul, you preach about the elective purposes of God. And if at all you reflect the truth of the passage of which you speak, you will be speaking much of that divine purpose, election, predestination, foreordination – the great purposes of God worked out in human history.
Last Sunday night, we concluded with the last chapter and the last verse of the letter to the Galatians. Today, in our preaching through the Bible, we begin with the Book to the Ephesians, and the message is in the first chapter and the first verse of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. And the text is this: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus" [Ephesians 1:1]. Then the rest of the chapter and the book will be our text in future services, but today at this hour, the first verse of the first chapter.
The word "environment" comes to us through the phrase from the Latin meaning "to be circled around" – environment: "to be surrounded." And in this little passage here, there are three of those environmental surroundings of every Christian: one, in Christ; second, among the saints, our fellow Christians; and third, in Ephesus.
You could liken it to a passenger on a ship. He is surrounded by the ship. He is also surrounded by his fellow passengers. He is also surrounded by the great expanse of the sea – a sea that it takes power to go through, a sea that could rise in turbulence as a terrible threat.
So the Christian life is surrounded first in Christ; second, by our fellow Christians; third, by this world – by Ephesus – a world through which we must travel in which our lot is inextricably cast, a world that can rise in terrible threat. So let’s take those three.
The environment of the Christian. First, he says: "Paul, an apostle . . . to the saints in Ephesus . . . in Christ Jesus" [Ephesians 1:1].
Now that’s a word, that’s a phrase that has fallen out of the Christian vocabulary, but the world has picked it up and constantly uses it. If you ask a man, "Sir, are you in business?" he’ll know exactly what you mean. You ask another man, "Sir, are you in one of the professions? Are you in law or in medicine?" he’ll know what you’re talking about. If you ask a gallant young brave, "Sir, are you in love?" he may wonderfully and glowingly reply. He’ll know what you mean. But if you ask a man, "Are you in Christ?" he’d be mystified and doubtless embarrassed.
Yet, I suppose, there is not a phrase more commonly used by Paul more frequently than this: "in Christ." Paul will use it at least 164 times. In Christ is our justification [Romans 5:1, 9]. In Christ is our redemption [Ephesians 1:7]. In Christ is our forgiveness [Colossians 1:14]; in Christ is our adoption [Ephesians 1:5]. In Christ is our sanctification [1 Corinthians 1:30]; in Christ is our perfection [Hebrews 10:14]. In Christ is our hope of glory [Romans 5:2; Colossians 1:27]. One of the great passages is Second Corinthians 5:17: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; all things are become new."
Very, very frequent in Paul but very infrequent in us this phrase: "to the saints in Christ Jesus" [Ephesians 1:1]. Now, this is what he means by that. He begins the epistle: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God – dia, through the will of God." He began the previous letter, the letter to the churches of Galatia, in the same vein: "Paul, an apostle (not of men, neither by men, but dia – but by, but through – Jesus Christ, and God the Father . . .)" [Galatians 1:1].
That is, Paul felt that his apostleship was in Christ not because of his merit or his work or his election or his surrender or his purpose or his choice, but he was, in Christ, an apostle by virtue of the choice of God, the elective purposes of God.
Now, Paul felt concerning himself that he was the least of all the saints. He said so in this Book in Ephesians in the third chapter [Ephesians 3:8]. In the fifteenth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, the same apostle said, "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not worthy, am not meet to be called an apostle" [from 1 Corinthians 15:9].
Paul’s judgment of himself was that he was not worthy, that he was the least of all God’s children, that he should not have been called into the ministry. He was not worthy to preach the unsearchable riches of the grace of God. But, Paul says, God chose me and God placed me in this ministry, and His grace was wonderful as it was exhibited toward Paul [1 Corinthians 15:10]. God chose him and placed him in the ministry.
Now, that is the same elective purpose by which God hath called us in Christ. The secret of a great and effective Christian life lies in that, and it is a secret that is hard to learn for when a man feels that he has promoted himself and propelled himself and pushed himself into the work of God, it’s a thing of his doing. It’s a thing of his choosing. It’s a thing of his surrender. It was his purpose.
When a man does God’s work impelled by personal motives and personal choices, then his work is always feeble. It is anemic. It is small. It is not great and large. It is not expansive and glorious. But if what a man does in God, in Christ, he is doing it by, through, the purposes of God, the will of God – "This is God’s call to me. This is God’s choice for me. This is God’s elective purpose for me. This is God’s will" – then when a man does his work like that, he’s not enervated and paralyzed by those terrible questionings and doubts that would take the strength away from the strongest man.
"Look at me. This is of me. This is of mine. This is of my choice. This is of my will." Why, the zeal of the most zealous would be quenched by such thoughts! But when what a fellow does – what a man does, what a Christian does – he does in Christ by the will of God, through the will of God, by the choice of God, then the man can be strong like Paul was strong [John 15:4-5; Galatians 2:20]. He can do a great work like Paul did his work.
And now, may I pause before going to the second to avow there is a choice and a will, a purpose, an elective program of God for every life – every one of us. Mine is this. Yours is that. Paul’s was another. But everyone has his place and his call and his choice: the elective purpose of God in Christ [1 Corinthians 12:4-25; Ephesians 4:11-12]. And when the man is in Christ, he’s in that place. He’s in that will. He is doing God’s great purpose for him.
Now, the second of these environments is among the saints. We are in Christ. We are among the people of God. We are among the saints: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God – through the choice of God – to the saints, which are in Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus" [Ephesians 1:1].
We can never recover that word. Never. That word is gone forever. I could preach here every hour on the hour, all the days of my life, but you would never be able to recover that word "saint." It’s one of the noblest and has in it one of the most glorious of all the doctrines of the Bible. But you’ll never see it. You’ll never find it. You’ll never be able to accept it because when you use the word "saint," it has come to us to mean a certain, peculiar, technical kind of colonist of a certain group. But in the Bible, there’s nothing like that in it – nothing at all. So this morning, we’re going to take time out for just a while to find out what Paul meant when he called those people "saints, a saint, saints."
The Greek word is hoi hagioi, "the saints," and it comes from the word hagiazō. And hagiazō means "to set aside for God." Not for common purposes, this is set aside for God. It is hagios. It is holy.
The Hebrew word qadosh: "holy, set aside for God." The Greek word hagios: "holy, set aside for God." Hoi hagioi: those that are holy, those that are set aside for God.
The temple was ton hagion. The sanctuary was to hagion. The holy of holies was hagia hagiōn. The Holy Spirit is to pneuma hagion – all from that word hagiazō: "to set aside."
Now, no man could ever make anything holy. No thing could be made hagios, could be made qadosh, could be made holy, except by God. The will of a man, the purpose of a man, the choice of a man could never make anything holy. It is only made holy by the choices of God.
Now, a man could build a house. He could erect a building, but he could never call it a temple. A man could set aside another man, in his zeal, for a priest, but he could never be God’s priest for God had to choose the priest. God had to set him aside. God had to elect the family. A man might set aside a day and call that day holy, but it would never be a Sabbath of God. God must choose the day; and that day God chooses is holy, set aside for Him.
That’s the reason the temple was holy – because God chose it and set it aside [2 Chronicles 7:12]. That’s the reason the altar was holy – because God chose it and set it aside [Exodus 30:1-6]. That’s the reason the fire was holy. Strange fire could not be burned before the Lord [Leviticus 10:1-3]. The fire was holy because God had set this fire apart for Him [Exodus 30:7-9]. That’s the reason the priest was holy – because God had elected him and set him apart [Exodus 30:30]. That was the reason the Jewish nation was holy. God had chosen them not for the great nationalistic ends by which other nations rose to meet their destiny, but God chose Israel, a holy nation [Exodus 30:6-8].
"Ye shall be" – Exodus 19: – "ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" – a qadosh nation, a hagios nation. They were to receive the oracles of God [Romans 3:1-2], and they were to mediate their truth to all of the families and all the nations of the world [Jonah 1:1; Acts 10:19-22]. Holiness is a matter of the consecration and the elective purposes of God.
Now, it is so here in the New Testament, and there’s no exception to it. Always, that word refers to those who are set aside for God. The Lord has chosen him. The Lord has elected them, and the Lord has called them into these special services and to these ministries.
Here in the second chapter of First Peter and the ninth verse, Peter says to the Christian people: "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" [1 Peter 2:9]. That is, we are a people that God has called, God has consecrated, God has set aside. Therefore, we are hoi hagioi. Therefore, we are the saints. It has nothing at all to do with our merit or with our choices or with our purposes, but it has to do with God’s choices and God’s purposes in us – hoi hagioi: the saints, the set aside for God, the consecrated for the Lord.
Now, that’s the reverse, I say, of what we think about a saint. And consequently, what we think about the saint is the reverse of the Scriptures’ divine truth. Our idea of the saint is this. It originates in a man’s will; therefore, the measure of a man’s holiness, of his sanctity, is the measure of his consecration to God. God is subordinate. God is in the position of accepting what a man brings. God is the suppliant, and the man makes the choice. And if a man gives himself fully and surrenders himself to God, why, then he is saintly; he is holy. But it depends upon the man. The man makes the choice. The man makes the surrender and the man becomes saintly, sanctified, holy, according as that impulse originates in his heart and he responds and gives himself to God.
But the Lord’s way is altogether different. The origination, the impulse, the elective purpose lies in the heart and the mind and the wisdom of God [John 15:16]. We are set aside not by our choice but by God’s [Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 1:5]. And the origination of the great elective purpose is not in us, but it’s in heaven [Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:4]. It’s in the heart of God.
Therefore, we are the saints. We are holy. We are sanctified not because we are above sin or above error or because we have chosen to give our lives to great abstinence or penance or holy deeds or any other thing, but we are the saints of God because God hath chosen us and the Lord hath elected us and the Lord hath consecrated us and the Lord hath set us aside for His great purposes [Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:4].
Now, it doesn’t do a bit of good in the world to say all that. All of us’ll think about a saint just as we always have. This is somebody peculiar, has a certain technical kind of goodness, has a certain qualification for certain people, and that’s a saint. That’s the way it’ll be to us, but it’s not according to God.
And we’ve lost the great and profounder meaning. Whenever you leave God out of history, out of the Bible, and out of the human heart, and make Him subservient, and whenever you enthrone man, his purposes and his choice, you have a weak faith and a weak religion. The strength of our religion lies in the reality and the purposes and the choices of God, and we are His servants and the sheep of His pasture [Psalm 100:2-3].
I am a preacher because God called me – not man, not my mother, not the church, not those who were before me. But I felt in my soul the moving of the Spirit of God and I felt it when I was a small, small child. It was of God. It was of God. Your religion is of God or it’s nothing at all. I felt in my heart the moving of the Spirit of God. I felt I was lost. I felt I was condemned. I felt I was alone in the world. I felt I needed a Savior. I needed God. Your conversion came from the moving of the Spirit of God [John 3:3-7]. All of this is His work or it is nothing at all.
Now, may I say another word that’ll be more applicable to our fellowship? "Surrounded by the saints" [based on Ephesians 1:1]: do you notice it is plural? I went through the Bible with my Greek Testament this week, looked up all those "saints." It is plural every place in the Bible, every place except just one, and there it is used plural. In the Philippians 4 – I think  – Paul will write an address, a note to every saint [Philippians 4:21]. But it’s plural there. I mean the meaning is plural though he uses the word in the singular. That’s the only place where the word is used in the singular, but it means plural there: to every saint, to all the saints. He could have said, "To all the saints, to every saint." That’s out of that one instance which itself is not an exception. Every place in the Bible that the word "saint" is used, it’s in a plural. It’s in a plural.
Now that’s the opposite of what humanity has done. Back in the Middle Ages, if a man wanted to be a saint, why, he pulled himself out of society and out of the social order and he went out in the desert somewhere or he lived in a cave somewhere or he lived on the top of a tall pole – an Anchorite, a Stylite – or he did something else. Maybe he put himself behind a great high wall and that was the way he became a saint.
Now, in the Bible, there is no such thing as that for in the Bible the word is always plural: "among the saints." Over here in Ephesians will be a typical word of Paul. In the third chapter, in the eighteenth verse: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height and the love of God that passeth understanding . . ." [from Ephesians 3:17-19].
All the time when God thinks about the saints, He doesn’t think of an isolated fellow over here who’s on a pole or in a cave or in a desert and he’s trying to mortify the human flesh and the desires of the body. Oh, the saints were a collective group! They were a koinōnia. You have it translated "a communion, a fellowship." They were an ekklēsia. They were a called-out group. They were a church. The saints were always plural. They were praying together. They were singin’ together. They were eating together. They were breaking bread together. They were preaching together. They were testifying together. They were witnessing together. It was a great colony of them. Wherever you found them, they were in the plural always.
Now, I have two words to say about that. First is this: you can’t live outside. That is, you can’t live a great Christian life outside of the fellowship of the saints. You can’t do it. The reason you can’t is ’cause God made you that way. You can’t breathe with – I mean you can’t live without air, without breathing. Just try it. Don’t try it very long; try it just a little while. God made you to breathe. He made you that way. So God made Christian people social. He made them gregarious. He made them to be together. And if we’re not together, we soon lose our zeal and our love and our dedication, and we soon die [1 Corinthians 12:13-18; Hebrews 10:24-25].
A man quit comin’ to church. His pastor went to see him. It was in the eventide. It was cold and the man was seated by the fire – the stones of the hearth in the fire beyond and the man seated before him. The pastor came in, sat down by his side. And without saying a word, he picked up the poker and he pulled out of the burning fire one ember and pushed it out on the hearth by itself. It smoked a little while then died. And the church member who’d ceased coming looked to the pastor and said, "Pastor, you don’t need to say a word. I’ll be there next Sunday."
You can’t go it by yourself. You can’t. Any man – and I hear it every once in a while, "Oh, I don’t need to go down to church! I don’t need to be there in the church. I can live just as good a Christian life out here by myself as I can down there in the church." All right, if you can, then you can live without breathing too! God made it that way. However God makes a thing, a man can’t overrule it. That’s a part of the elective purposes of God. I didn’t choose it that way. He did. It’s God’s choice. We live in communion with one another. And if you love God and if you are a saint, if you’re called of God, if you belong to Him, one of the first things you’ll want to do is to go down there where God’s people are and be in the church.
There is private prayer. There is also public prayer. There is all – there is private reading of the Word. There’s also public reading of the Word. There is private devotion. There’s also public devotion. We all share this great fellowship, this koinōnia together. God made it that way. The saints are always plural.
Now, another thing, hastily: the saints are human, and weak, and full of mistake, and full of error. They were in the Bible. You ever saw a people who had all kinds of difficulties and all kinds of troubles, you just read about these saints in the Bible. Over there in the Book in the Acts, the widows of the Hellenes and the widows of the Aramaics there in the church in Jerusalem, they had one big free‑for‑all church fuss [Acts 6:1-6]. You may have a little tiny fuss with just the men carrying it on. But brother, if you want to see a confrontation of a fuss, get the women. Boy, man, the whole roof comes off. The widows in the church, they got all off [Acts 6:1-6]. They had a time.
Even God’s preachers sometimes do that. Yes, sir. It says in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, Dr. Fowler, that when Barnabas and Paul started on their second missionary journey [from Acts 15:35-41], Barnabas said, "I want my kinsman, Mark, to go with me."
Paul said, "I’d rather have a toad, a bug. I’d have anything than that John Mark. I don’t want him around. He’s a mosquito that bites. He’s a flea. He’s nothing. I don’t want him."
And Barnabas said, "Don’t you call my kinsman a mosquito or a bug."
And Paul said, "But that’s what he is."
And the Bible says: "And there was such a paroxysmon" – that’s the Greek word – "there was such a paroxysmon between them that they separated the one from the other" [Acts 15:39]. They couldn’t even go together, those two preachers, Paul and Barnabas – says that in the Bible: the saints, the leaders.
All right, what about that? You just not going to live and not have those valleys and those troughs and those things that arise and get it out. If you are normal, if you have a personality, if you’re somebody that’s not browbeat and henpecked and scratched down, if you rise and live, there are going to be times in your life when you’re going to have conflict of personality. You just are, and you’re going to have it in the church among the saints. Well, what do you do? What do you do?
Well, this is what you do. You get over it. Yes, sir. You get over it. Paul said in the last letter: "Bring me John Mark, for he’s profitable to me in the ministry. Bring me John Mark" [from 2 Timothy 4:11]. You know, I can just see all kinds of repentance in that little sentence: "Bring me John Mark."
Barnabas, who then was dead – been dead a long time – "Barnabas, I can’t apologize to him. I can’t say anything to him, but I made a great mistake," says Paul. "And you bring me John Mark. He’s profitable to me in the ministry" [from 2 Timothy 4:11].
And it was Paul – and I think this is the sweetest sentence in the English language. Out of this book out of which I’m preaching, the Book of Ephesians, Paul concludes that fourth chapter with this: I say, is the prettiest, sweetest sentence in the English language. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32]. We not always going to get along. You not always going to get along, but there’s a way to get over it.
I ran across this. John Wesley [1703-1791] and George Whitefield [1714-1777], two of the greatest preachers of all time, they had a terrible altercation, and they did it literarily. They wrote letters that just burned each other up: George Whitefield and John Wesley. All right, this is how it ended. Here is a part of George Whitefield’s letter to John Wesley:
My honored friend and brother, for once, hearken to a child who is willing to wash your feet. I beseech you by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, write no more about the misrepresentations wherein we differ. Will it not in the end destroy brotherly love and insensibly take from us that cordial union and sweetness of soul which, I pray, God may always subsist between us? How glad would be the enemies of the Lord to see us divided. Honored Sir, let us offer salvation freely to all by the blood of Jesus. And whatever light God has communicated us, let us freely communicate it to others.
That’s the way. That’s the way to the saints: weak human, mortal, but chosen and loved of God, and in Him, learning to love one another.
Now, this third one I do not have time to elaborate upon: the saints in Christ with one another in Ephesus. They’re not in heaven. They’re in Ephesus. They’re not in some ivory tower far removed apart from the chilling winds of the world. They’re in Ephesus – in Ephesus.
And I can stand right here and preach an hour about Ephesus: wicked Ephesus, idolatrous Ephesus, sensual Ephesus, the capital of the richest province of the Roman Empire, the capital of Asia; Ephesus, where the temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the World; Ephesus, the great capital mercantile city beyond which the then fertile lands of Asia Minor stretched out endlessly beyond. Ephesus – in Ephesus, in an unideal world, and we’re in it.
"Preacher, what are those dark clouds rising over there among the satellites of Eastern Europe? Pastor, what are those clouds? Pastor, what are those clouds, dark and ominous, that lie in the Arab world and rise now around Egypt and Suez?"
Answer: that’s the unideal world in which God hath placed His saints. Daniel says: "And wars are determined to the end" [Daniel 9:26] – darkness, and disaster, and floods, and tribulation, and bloodshed, and war, and oppression.
When I got through preaching at this 8:15 hour, one of the dear, blessed women in our church – and her boys are in the service of the country – she came to me and said, "Oh, pastor, pray, pray, for if war comes, my boys are already in it." In Ephesus, in the Roman Empire, in the path of the Roman legionnaires: we live in that kind of a world where nations arm to the teeth, where they have in their hands increasing powers of bloodshed and destruction.
"Pastor, what are these clouds?"
All I can say is just lift up your eyes and look beyond, and you’ll see the Ancient of Days [Daniel 7:9-28]. You’ll see the Lord of Glory standing on the right hand of God [Acts 7:54-60], and you’ll see victory and conquest in one of His hands [Revelation 19:11-16] and the reward of the children of God in the other of His hands [Revelation 22:12].
Lord, in Thy goodness and in Thy mercies, grant peace to us in our day and our generation. And Lord, in Thy goodness, grant peace to our children and our children’s children, and grant prosperity to our families and our peoples. But we’re never to forget we still live in Ephesus – sensuous Ephesus, idolatrous Ephesus, war-torn Ephesus, in the Roman Empire, under the tyrant’s hand in Ephesus! The Christian doesn’t live in an ivory tower, and he’s not in heaven yet. He’s here in this world, in tension, where it’s an ideal. God, grant that we may find God’s purposes and His will for us even in Ephesus. The Lord be merciful to His people.
Now, we sing our song. And while we sing it, somebody you, give his heart to God; somebody you, put his life in the church. While we sing this song, while we make this appeal, as the Spirit of God shall lead and shall say, you come and stand by me. Give me your hand: "Pastor, I’ve given my heart to God." While we sing, anywhere, a family you, one somebody you – while we sing the song, you come and stand by me while our people stand and sing.
ENVIRONMENT OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
A. "Environment" – "to
be circled around, to be surrounded"
environmental surroundings of every Christian(Ephesians
In Christ – supported by His grace, guided by His Spirit
The saints – strengthened, inspired by each other
In Ephesus – this world, our inescapable lot
a passenger on a ship
II. The Christian life is lived in
A. Phrase fallen out of
Christian vocabulary, but used in the world
1. It is
understood when one says "in business", "in love", etc.
2. Paul used it
at least 164 times(2 Corinthians 5:17)
An apostle by virtue of the choice of God(Ephesians
1:1, Galatians 1:1)
says he is "the least of all the saints"(Ephesians
3:8, 1 Corinthians 15:9)
God’s grace exhibited toward Paul in his calling
Secret of a great and effective Christian life
III. The Christian life is lived in the
fellowship of the saints
A. Impossible to
restore the word "saints" to its ancient, noble use
– "to set aside for God"
divine will, election made a thing "holy"(Exodus
19:6, 1 Peter 2:9)
a. We are set aside not
by our choice, but by God’s
B. The word "saints" is
always plural(Philippians 4:19, Ephesians 3:18)
1. A collective
group, a koinonia
a. Cannot live a great
Christian life outside the fellowship of the saints
There are sometimes difficulties(Acts 6:1, 15:39,
i. George Whitefield
and John Wesley
IV. The Christian life must be lived in Ephesus
A. Not far removed in
an ivory tower
B. God has placed his
saints in this un-ideal world(Daniel 9:24-26)