Gratitude of the Preacher for His Congregation
November 24th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14
GRATITUDE OF THE PREACHER FOR HIS CONGREGATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14
11-24-57 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message from the second chapter of the first letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. Now, this morning, a sermon of thanksgiving and a different kind of a one. The sermon this morning is from this text, and it is entitled The Minister Thanks God for His Congregation: the Gratitude of the Pastor for His Church, for his people.
Now, it’s in the thirteenth and the first half of the fourteenth verses of First Thessalonians:
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus.
[1 Thessalonians 2:13-14]
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing for you" [from 1 Thessalonians 2:13]. Now, how many of them are there thanking God? "For this cause also thank we God" – the ministers there, giving praise to God. Well, there are three of them: Paul and Silas and Timothy [1 Thessalonians 1:1]. But that’s a quorum, don’t you think? Jesus Himself said: "Where two or three are gathered together . . . " [Matthew 18:20]. That’s a quorum, and there the ministers are.
And isn’t that a wonderful sight? The ministers are thanking God. They are holding a holy eucharistic service. That’s the word here: "For this cause also, eucharisteo." That’s why they sometimes call the Lord’s Supper the "Eucharistic Service" or the "Eucharist" because our Lord gave thanks and break bread. He gave thanks, and they shared the cup [Luke 22:17-20]. And the Greek word for giving thanks is eucharisteo; so they call it a eucharistic service, a eucharist.
Well, these preachers, three of them, God’s quorum, are holding a eucharistic service [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. Could I pause to say, it’s a wonderful sight to see men anywhere, any kind, any time, pausing to thank God? The air is always so heavily laden with murmuring and discouragement, but just to see anyone pausing to give thanks to God is a blessed and a wonderful sight. Well, how much more so these particular preachers, Paul and Silas and Timothy, giving thanks to God and thanking God for the people, for the church, for the congregation, for these saints in the Lord.
Now, I want you to notice from this blessed book, precious epistle of Paul to the church, under what conditions these preachers are giving thanks. First, they are giving thanks in the face of and under the burden of a sore trial and a bitter persecution. Paul says that when he wrote to them, they received the word in much affliction [1 Thessalonians 1:6]. In sore trial, and heartache, and bereavement, and confiscation, and imprisonment, and scourgings, and stripes, there those preachers are giving thanks to God.
Dear people, I want you to know I have come to believe that one of the signs of the Christian faith is that exact and identical thing: the ableness to praise God in affliction and in suffering, the ableness to sing through your tears, the ableness to lift up and see God and God’s promise in the darkness of the night. That’s what it is to be a Christian.
I suppose anybody can sing. Even the rock-and-rollers can sing. Even the nightclub courtesans sing. But everything’s fine, and everything’s all right, and everything is full of health and joy and gladness and happiness. But that’s not it. That doesn’t approach it. The Christian faith is found in the heart of one who can bless God in tribulation and in trial and in distress and in heartache and disappointment and tears – these preachers thanking God under what burden and what sore trial.
I do not think that in the Bible there is a more interesting story than this one when Satan appeared before God. When the sons of the morning and the sons of heaven appeared before the Lord, he was there with them [Job 1:6]. He’s called our adversary [1 Peter 5:8], and our enemy [Matthew 13:39], and our accuser [Revelation 12:9-11]. He was there, and the Lord said to him: "Have you observed My servant, the best man in all the earth?" [from Job 1:8]
And Satan said, "Why, certainly, he’s the best man in all the earth. It pays him to be good. He gets a dividend from it. Why, You’ve hedged him about with every rich, affluent blessing that heaven could afford, and he serves You thereby. But You take away everything that he has, and he’ll curse You to Your face" [from Job 1:9-11].
The Lord said, "That’s a lie, Satan. That’s not so."
Satan said, "You let me take away what he has, and I’ll show You."
The Lord God said, "All right, Satan. Take everything that he has only don’t touch him" [from Job 1:12].
So Satan went down and he took away by storm and by fire and by flood and by death everything that that good man had [Job 1:13-19]. Bereft of his children, who were slain, and bereft of his property, he sat down in his poverty and in his misery, and he said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" [Job 1:21].
Well, when Satan appeared before God after that, the Lord said to him, "Have you observed My servant? You’ve taken away everything that he has and brought him down to grief and to poverty, and he still blesses My name" [from Job 2:1-3].
Satan said, "Well, he’s still got his health and he has his life – skin for skin. Man will give everything for his skin. You let me touch him, and he’ll curse You to Your face" [from Job 2:4-5].
And the Lord said, "All right. Touch him, only spare his life" [from Job 2:6].
And Satan went down and afflicted him from the top of his head to the sole of his feet with boils and sores [Job 2:7].
And, in his pain and misery and distress, it felt good to him and comfort him when the dogs came and licked his sores. And as that good man sat in the ash heap, bewailing the loss of all that he had, he lifted up his voice and said, "Yea, but though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" [Job 13:15].
That’s what this is here. These three preachers, the quorum in God’s sight, giving thanks in tribulation and trial and heartache and distress. O Lord, to be able to do it. Notice again: "For this cause also thank we God" [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. They’re giving thanks after toil and tears and labor. No need to pause and say, "I shall thank God for a harvest" when you haven’t sowed and you haven’t toiled. You can’t reap from indifference and lethargy. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy" [Psalm 126:5]. Unless you sow – without tears, without labor, you can never, never reap. These men had poured into that ministry and that appeal their heart’s best, and God had given them a harvest, and they were grateful [1 Thessalonians 2:8-14]. They were glad.
So it is with us. I have always been persuaded that the reason God made it that children were born into this world in labor and travail, and the reason why they’re so helpless and you must care for them for so long in the hours of the night and through months and early years – I have always thought the reason for that was that was God’s way of making us to love and nurture and adore our children. If you could buy them at the Woolworth store, you wouldn’t appreciate them. Maybe they’d be a lot easier had that way, but you wouldn’t be like you are. They come in travail and in labor and there are years of care and affection, and, because of it, it does something to your heart. To a mother, there are no criminals and no bad men – not to the mother. The years of her ministry, the toil of her hands, the heart’s love of affection puts an aurora around every one of the children.
That’s why I think it is that God, always at a price, brings to pass great spiritual blessings in His congregation. If I could go over there to the light switch and turn it on and all of these blessings come, I suppose it would get to be so mechanical I wouldn’t even think about it nor would I pause to thank God for it. But no spiritual blessing ever comes without toil and tears and the sacrifice of life and the pouring of our very heart’s blood into this ministry. And, therefore, when the harvest comes, after toil and tears, ah, it is so meaningful, and we thank God.
So the preachers thank God in toil and in tears [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. May I say again from the Book? And they never thank God just by a presidential proclamation. They never thank God just by a special day in the year. You look at the text: "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing" [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. Every day was a Thanksgiving Day to the preachers. Every hour was a cause of rejoicing to the preachers, and it lasted as long as life did. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing."
Now, I know there are many discouragements to these of us, you and to me. There are many discouragements in the work of the ministry – always so, always. But we are to thank God for those who are faithful and true. When we hang our harps upon the willows for those who are barren and unfruitful, we are not to forget those who are true and faithful. That’s the praise of the preacher.
You know, a fellow would say, "How in the world could you pray very long? How could you do it?" Well, I have a very simple reply among many other things to say. Just get down on your knees and then start out. Then there, just think and pray for, "O Lord, there’s my church staff." And, every once in a while, I’ll run through every one of them, "Bless ________," and on and on and on – all the members of this church staff. Then, before my mind, there will be that board of deacons – the chairman and all of those men – and I pray for them. Then, there’s this vast Sunday school. There’s all of the work of this church, then our missionaries, and then the work of God in the earth. Why, you’d be all night long interceding. Not any of us prays enough, but that’s a marvelous way to talk to God.
And these preachers were doing just that: "Without ceasing, thank we God for you" [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. Now, may I make the comment that that encourages us and that inspirits us? Not anything will do for a man’s soul and a man’s heart like thanking God for people who are faithful and true and fellow helpers who work by our side for good and for God and for the blessings of heaven. It does something to you.
Why, bless your heart, instead of sighing to ourselves, let’s get in the habit more of praising unto God. We may not have seen Satan fall from heaven yet, and the devils may not be subject to us like we desire, but, then, we can rejoice that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Jesus said that [Luke 10:17-20].
Bring out the trumpets, my good men. Bring out the trumpets. The walls of Jericho may not fall the first time we go around or the second time, and maybe not the fifth time and the sixth time, but, beloved, the seventh time, God will give us the victory [Joshua 6:1-20]. Cheer up. Cheer up. Praise the Lord. God’s name be blessed forever. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing" [1 Thessalonians 2:13].
Well, that was a little introduction about the preachers and I wasn’t – I wasn’t intending to preach about that. This is what I’ve come to preach about – is about you. The preacher giving thanks for his people – that’s what I was to preach about. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing." That’s just introduction.
Now, this is why he’s thanking God: "Because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. He’s thanking God for the way the people listened to the Word, to the message, to the Gospel sermon.
You know, when I read that, I thought, "Oh, Paul, you just ought to have lived to preach to the people of the First Baptist Church in Dallas." What people to preach to! What prayerful, attentive, open-hearted listening! There’s nothing like you in the earth. So he’s thanking God.
Now, look at the text. He uses two words there for receive: "For this cause thank we . . . because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men" [1 Thessalonians 2:13].
Now, in English, you’ve got "received" twice. But, in that text, he uses altogether two different words. The first word is paralambanō and then the second word is dechomai. Now, the first word "received," paralambanō, means "you just take it alongside. You accept it. You receive it." But that second word, dechomai, means "to embrace, to welcome, to take it to heart, to admit it." And that’s what those Thessalonians did. They listened to the Word of God attentively. Then they received it in their souls. They opened their hearts to it. They welcomed it like a thirsty man would a drink of cold water or a hungry man would sit down at your invitation to the table and eat. That’s what he says here about them in those two words "received."
To preach the gospel, to stand up and name the name of Christ, ah, how different people are when they listen. Some people, for example, will listen with philosophical incredulity. They have a turn of cynicism in their minds. And, if they have a little education, which is a dangerous thing – to go to school is a dangerous thing. You know just a little bit, but, ah, the little fellow thinks and he’s got an answer for all of it, and he knows more than God.
So there are those who listen, I say, with skepticism and philosophical polemicism. There they are, and, to them, why, truth may be error – might be. And error might be truth – could be. And there’s not any black. There’s not any white. White might be black, and black might be white. And, you know, there’s bound to be a grayish-brownish in-between. It’s better than either one of them.
And there they are – dupes of some philosophical limbo thinking that leads to nothing and nowhere. Ah, and then when you plead and speak of your actual experience in God, why, they say, "I don’t believe in your experience. I don’t believe you’ve had any experience. When you pray, you pray to nothing. When you went down the aisle and gave your heart to God, you did it under a hallucination. You just did that out of human emotion, and there’s no reality to it at all, and there’s no Holy Spirit, and there’s no – you don’t have a real experience."
Well, that just goes to prove that they don’t have an experience. They don’t know the Lord. They never felt the moving of the Holy Spirit. They’ve never been drawn to commit themselves to a great, high, holy Lord who reigns in heaven and who lives in our hearts. Like Paul said: "The natural man receiveth not the things of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Because he does not have that experience, because he looks with scorn upon our praying and our response to the moving of the Spirit in our hearts, because he doesn’t know of it doesn’t mean it’s not true.
Let me ask you lawyers a question. I read the craziest thing this week. It’s an old story, the fellow said, but I hadn’t read it before. There was an Irishman who was accused of murder, and they took him into court and accused him of murder. And the prosecuting attorney presented four witnesses who said, "We saw him commit murder."
And the Irishman stood up and said, "That’s nothing at all. Give me a little time."
And they did. And he produced forty witnesses who didn’t see him, and he said, "There. There."
Well, that story stayed in my head. I – you know, it’s kind of funny, kind of funny, screwy. Four said that he did it, and forty said, "We didn’t see him."
"Therefore," he said, "it’s not so."
Well, that is the same and identical thing about people who, with philosophical, metaphysical, polemical, forensic attitude, listen to you and say, "Why, that’s not so. I never saw that. Why, that’s not so. I never felt that."
Why, that doesn’t mean it’s not so. That doesn’t mean it’s not real because you didn’t see it and you didn’t know it. These people here listened and God spoke to their hearts, and Paul is thanking the Lord for them [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. Isn’t that a wonderful thing to have people who listen to you hungrily, who listen to you thirstingly, who listen to you as though every word you speak came from God Himself?
I was a preacher out in the country ten years. I do not know why I ever say that because everyone would know that without my saying it. Anyway, I was a preacher out in the country ten years. And most of that time I was not married, so I lived with the people. And now let me tell you the truth, and I don’t exaggerate. I might have made some friends preaching the Gospel. It was a poor preaching – just starting out. And I might have made other friends in other ways. But, I tell you, most of the real friends I made out there was eating – eating.
And I’ll tell you how I did it. When I’d go to a home and they’d marvel at me – I had a cast-iron stomach and still do. And I had a voracious appetite, and I’m not equal to what I used to be. But I once could – like they say, I lost my appetite and found a horse’s.
Now, I would go to those homes and sit down at the table. And you can know, if you’ve ever been there, how the country people feed the preacher.
I’d say, "Pass the ham," and eat the ham. Then, "Pass the chicken," and eat the chicken. Then, "Pass the sausage," and eat the sausage. Then, "Pass the roast beef," and eat the roast beef. Then, "Pass all the half a dozen vegetables." And, then, I’d start again. Now, "Pass the cherry pie," and I’d eat the cherry pie. Now, "Pass the apple pie," and I’d eat the apple pie. Now, "Pass the custard," and eat the custard. Now, let’s cap it off with about a crock full of ice cream. Oh, it was a glorious experience for me! And, listen, did those people who cooked like it? Amen. That mother and that wife who’d been toiling in the kitchen all day long would sit there and see me eat, and she’d just bubble over and say, "That’s the greatest preacher in the world!" I might not have been able to preach a lick, but, oh, when I ate what she prepared, it made her happy in her heart.
Now, that’s exactly what Paul is talking about here. These preachers, they had prayed and they had prepared the message from God. And when they delivered it, the people were like hungry men. They ate at the table of the Lord. It was bread for their souls. It was water of life to their thirsting hearts.
Ah, that’s the most wonderful thing in this world is when the preacher has prayed and he’s tried and he’s prepared his message, and he stands up in the pulpit to preach, and there are hungry-hearted people all attention to listen to the word of the Lord. Why, I’d tell any young preacher in this earth, "Young fellow, if you don’t have a congregation like that, pray God to give you one."
Well, now, let me close:
For this cause thank we God without ceasing . . . that when ye heard the word of the Lord, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God . . .
For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus.
[from 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14]
Those Thessalonians over there, idol worshipers, heathen, pagan Greeks when they were converted, Paul looked down and said, "My soul, and the amazing miracle here. They are exactly like those Christians over there in Judea, those Jews over there in Judea who had accepted the Lord and were saved." There was a family likeness in all of them.
Well, that’s the truth. That’s the truth. People who love the Word and who love God and who have been genuinely saved, who’ve been born again, they just all alike, all alike: hungry to be taught, anxious to learn, eager to listen.
When I was preaching in Japan, one of those men who was converted in a place where they had taken me, way out – and there wasn’t any church and there wasn’t any preacher and there wasn’t any pastor – he said to me when I gave him the little card just to fill out, he said to me, "Sensei" – that’s their word for teacher – "Sensei, after I sign this card, then what?" Oh, it left a heaviness in my heart. "Then what?" No preacher and no church and no pastor. "Sensei, after I sign this card, then what?" There had been awakened in his soul a thirsting and a hungering after God, and there was nobody there to mediate to him the truth of the Word of the Lord. Be just like you when you were saved – so interested, so eagerly attentive.
Friday of this last week, I spoke almost all day long – almost the entire day. In the morning, I preached to the seminary. At noon, I ate with them, and they had a called meeting and they asked me questions until the time for me to preach my last sermon and catch the plane and then come back here to Dallas. Ah, those hungry-hearted men. And they’re just like you – just like us all over the world. After you come to know the Lord and He’s touched your heart, why, bless you, if you were able, we could have services here every hour on the hour and there’d be some of you. There’d be a multitude of us if we had enough strength to do it. There’d be a multitude of us sitting right here with our Bibles listening to the Word of the Lord.
Well, I say, it’s a different kind of a thanksgiving service than any I ever heard of. But I just wanted not only to be true to the text here, but I wanted to thank God for you: the preacher, with gratitude in his soul to God for his congregation, for his praying people, for their attentive listening, for what they mean in the kingdom and patience of the Lord Jesus. I’ve been here over thirteen years: the fullness, richest years any man could ever hope or desire to receive from the precious hands of God.
While we sing our song this morning, somebody you, in faith, to give your heart to the Savior, would you come and stand by me? In this balcony around, down these stairwells – at the front of the church, at the back of the church – down these stairwells and to me. And on this lower floor, this press of people in God’s house, into the aisle and down here to the front: "Pastor, here I am. Here I come. I give you my hand. I give my heart to God." Would you today, a family of you to put your life in the church or one somebody you? As the Lord shall say the word, open the door, make the appeal, would you come? Would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?