Striving According to His Working
September 8th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
STRIVING ACCORDING TO HIS WORKING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-8-57 10:50 a.m.
Now, in our preaching through the Word, the last time I was here, we left off with the twenty-eighth verse of the first chapter of Colossians. And this morning, we’re going to pick up where I left off. And there’s one verse left in the first chapter of Colossians, and that’s going to be our text for this morning hour – the first chapter of Colossians. Now, let me read the text of the last Sunday I was here, then the text of this Sunday. I begin reading at the twenty-fifth verse of the first chapter of Colossians:
I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the Word of God;
Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints:
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
Now, the text of the morning: "Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29]. Even in a translation, that is an intense sentence: "Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." And, I say, if it is intense in a translation, you just ought to read that sentence as Paul wrote it: "Whereunto I also labour" – agōnizomai, striving, agonizing – "according to His" energeia, energeia, "according to His working, which," energeō, "worketh in me in," dunamin, "mightily, in dynamic power."
I say it is one of the intensest sentences to be found in all the Holy Scriptures. And in just humility and yet in all truth, the apostle who wrote that sentence did a work, and truthfully he describes it in labor and in agony, mighty under God, the Holy Spirit working in him.
When the Spirit of the Lord came upon the disciples, all of them were filled with ardor, with zealous endowments, clothed like a cloak with God’s moving and quickening power [Acts 2:14]. The whole world was committed to their care [Acts 1:8] – the evangelization of all the peoples in all the nations – and each one in his sphere wrought mightily and wonderfully for God [Galatians 2:9].
But this apostle to the Gentiles wrought more abundantly and more wonderfully than they all. Into how many countries and provinces and to how many people did he introduce the unsearchable riches of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Crossing seas, over mountains, fording rivers, by day and by night spreading abroad the glad tidings of the good news in Jesus Christ. And the fruit of His work, the fruit of the Spirit, he wrought in struggle, in agony, in toil of spirit and in labor [2 Corinthians 11:24-28]. He never preached a sermon, he never wrote an epistle, he never attempted a work without zealous prayer and committing himself to the Holy Spirit of God.
And the fruit of his labors and the results of his ministry, he did not take unto himself honor or glory, but he gave it to whom it belonged [1 Corinthians 2:1-5]. He laid it as trophies of grace at the feet of Jesus Christ. All the things that God had wrought in him, he avows, were wrought through him by the power of the Holy Spirit in him. When he speaks of himself as having wrought more abundantly than they all, he adds: " . . . yet not I, but the grace of God which labored in me, the grace of God which was upon me and in me" [from 1 Corinthians 15:10]. So he speaks of the fruit of his ministry, of his toil and of his labor, as being the fruit of the Spirit of the Lord working in his soul. "Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29].
And that is the meaning of the text. The works that we do are the fruit of the Spirit, but they are always in conjunction with our striving and with our toil and with our working. The sign of the presence of the Spirit of God is the energy in the soul and life of God’s people. He never leaves us barren or fruitless, but His moving, quickening power in us is found in our striving, in our saving acts, in our devoted service, in the dedication of our life to the work and ministry of Christ. "Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29].
So this shall be the sermon of the morning hour. The fruit of our labor and of our ministry is always the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit of God, but it is won and it comes through our striving and our toil and our work [Philippians 2:12-13]. That is true in our salvation. If a man is ever saved, this is true. He is saved by the work of the Holy Spirit of God. The work on the inside of a man’s soul by which he is regenerated is altogether the work of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5].
The Bible describes us as being "dead in trespasses and in sins" [Ephesians 2:1], and no man can raise himself from the dead. Resurrection, whether physical or spiritual, is a prerogative of God. We must be born again [John 3:3], and no man could born himself again. That is the work of the moving, quickening power of God [John 3:4-8].
That is true. But this, also, is true: though we are quickened and though we are resurrected and though we are regenerated by the Spirit of God, it is always in conjunction with the saving acts of men. Faith is a gift of God [Romans 12:3], but the Holy Spirit cannot have faith for us. A man must have faith for himself. He must believe for himself [Acts 16:31]. He may be inspired. He may be encouraged by the Holy Spirit, but the man himself must believe. Repentance is a gift of God [1 Timothy 2:25]. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, no man would repent, but the Holy Spirit cannot repent for a man. Every man must repent for himself [Acts 3:19].
So with all of the acts that bring us into communion with God. They may be encouraged and inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the acts themselves are the acts of the man himself. In prayer, the Spirit of God may help our infirmities and help us to pray [Romans 8:26], but we must pray [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. The intercession of our Savior in glory may be prevalent and omnipotent [Romans 8:34], but even Christ cannot save us except we pray for ourselves [Romans 10:13].
Divine choices must be our choices. Divine selections must be our selections. All of these things that bring us in conjunction with God may be the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit, but they also are our choices and our desires and our wills. If that is not true, then a man is nothing but an automaton. He is nothing but a robot, and he’s not responsible for his works.
Many of you have been in Venice [Venice, Italy]. Of course, the center of that unusual city is St. Mark’s Square. On this side of the square is the [Campanile]. Here is the unusually wrought cathedral, St. Mark’s, and right there on the other side is a tall tower. And when you look up at that tower at the time for the hour to be struck, there’s an unusual thing that happens – a world-famous thing. There are two bronze men up there, each with a hammer – big hammer. And when the time for the hours come to be struck, those bronze men, lifelike, big as life, strike the hours.
Now, nobody ever thought of passing a resolution to thank those men for their diligence in striking the hours. They’re wrought upon by machinery. They strike the hours of necessity. They have no other choice. In fact, some years ago I read that a stranger was on top of that tower and the time came for the hours to be struck. And one of those bronze men knocked that stranger off the tower and he fell down and was killed. But they never hanged one of those bronzed men for doing that, nor did I read that anybody said they were guilty of moral turpitude or of willful murder. They are automatons. They are robots. They are acted upon by machinery.
If all of the work that is done in our salvation were wrought by the Holy Spirit, then we are nothing other than automatons in the hands of God, and He pulls strings and we act thus and so. We beat the hour, or we do other things. No. These great fruits of the Spirit wrought in our lives are always wrought in conjunction with a man’s heart and a man’s choice and a man’s will. "Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29].
Now, if it is true that in a man’s salvation the Holy Spirit must work and it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and if it is also true – the corollary – that our work for the Lord is wrought by the Holy Spirit, if that is true, and it is, we could not persevere were it not for the grace that keeps us from falling. We could never hope to be presented faultless and without blemish in His presence were it not for the Spirit of God that sanctifies us [Jude 1:24-25]. We could never hope to be meet for the inheritance God shall give to the saints were it not for the wonderful regenerating power of the Holy Spirit within us [Colossians 1:12; Titus 3:5].
It is true, we could never convert a soul without the Holy Spirit of God working with us. Creation, again, is a prerogative of God. In the beginning, our great Lord made this world, and the only thing He is creating now is the recreation of a man. So "’not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ saith the Lord" [Zechariah 4:6]. No man can ever be saved except God works in him [John 6:44], nor can we ever win a soul except the Holy Spirit shall convert that soul through us [John 16:7-8]. But that also is true: if a man is to be won, then God wins that soul and converts that man through the toil and efforts and dedicated life of Christian men [Romans 10:13-15]. The Holy Spirit of God never leaves us barren or fruitless, but He strives within us and His energy worketh on the inside of our souls and our hearts mightily and unto God [Phlippians 2:13].
When the thief was saved, he became a Christian with his hands nailed to the cross and his feet nailed to the wood. But he did what he could. He turned to the reviling malefactor on the other side and rebuked him, and he gave testimony to the worth and the excellence of the Lord Jesus, and he asked when the Lord came into His kingdom that he also might have a part [Luke 23:32-33, 39-43]. Though nailed to the tree, he did what he could.
So with the energy and the power of the Holy Spirit in Christian men: the work is the work of God; the conversion is the fruit of the Spirit of the Lord; and all that we bring to pass under His name and in His will, all of it is the working of God. But God does not work and those wonderful fruits are not born without the toil and effort and dedication of men. "Whereunto I also labor, agonizing according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29]. And the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God will be the agonizing and the striving and the working of God’s Christian men. That is the way God converts souls.
The apostle Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord. And listen to his agony; listen to his striving – Romans 9:: "I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Listen to the next chapter, Romans 10:1: "Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for my people is that that they might be saved." Importunate pleaders open the door of heaven. It is the importunate soul winner that brings lost men to Christ.
This week, I read the testimony of a wonderful Christian man, and he said, "The twenty-first time that my friend came to see me about Jesus, I took the Lord as my Savior." And he said, "Had he come just twenty times, I would have been lost." That’s this moving of the Spirit of God – a striving and an agonizing according to the Spirit that worketh in us mightily. And that toil and that labor and that agony can never be done through somebody else, but it is always and everlastingly personal. It is you.
I had the very unusual experience in my first church out of school – my first full-time church. I had the unusual experience of following a pastor who, in his ministry there, went around among the men, and he collected their delinquent pledges. So when I came to be pastor of the church, I went to see, in an afternoon, a wonderful, fine physician who belonged to the church, and he hadn’t come in years, a state senator who belonged to church, and he hadn’t come in years, and a fine, young insurance executive who belonged to the church, and he hadn’t come in years.
And the same thing happened in all three instances. When I sat down with the doctor and the lawyer and the insurance executive, in each instance, the fellow pulled out a drawer, took out his personal checkbook, and wrote out a check to the First Baptist Church, and pushed it across the table to me. And in each instance, I took the check and pushed it back to him, and I said, "Sir, I don’t want it, nor am I interested in it, nor will I take it. I have come for you, you, you! I want you. Not interested in what you have – I don’t care. God, our Father, is rich. All the world is in His hands, but He needs you. I want you."
Why, bless your hearts, you know what happened? When I stood in the pulpit to preach the next Sunday morning, there was that physician, and there was that lawyer, and there was that young insurance executive. That is God’s appeal to you today – not what you have, not "send somebody else," but it is a personal ministry and dedication of life – you! If you were to send, each one of you, $100,000 a Sunday down here to this church, they would say, "What a wealthy and rich church." But they would also say, "How Laodicean and dead" [Revelation 3:14-22].
What gives a church life and dynamic and power is the Spirit of God working through His people – you, you. Think what it means to the young people in our church when you’re with them and you’re back of them and you’re standing by their sides and you’re interested. If they need money, oh, we’ll get it. God will give it to us. But what can I do without you? These little children’s departments and all of the vast ministries of this church, it is given health and life and blood and color by you! And the corollary of the text carries with it and it is labor and it is striving and it is agonizing. "Whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily. I also labor" [from Colossians 1:29].
Listen to me. That is not labor when a man takes a spade and toys and plays with it like a child in the sand. That is labor when a man sweats as he digs and he digs and he toils and he strives. So it is down here at this church. I don’t say that a man at ease can be a blessing to these young people and these children and the lost of our city. I don’t say it. I do say that it’s at a cost. It’s at a dedicated effort that a great Sunday School class is built, that a great ministry is wrought, that people are won to Christ and the house of God is built up.
But, I say, at the same time, that’s what it is to be a Christian and to be filled with the Spirit of God. The sign of the presence of the Spirit of the Lord is His working in us mightily – our striving and our agony, our toil and our labor. It does cost a lot of time to minister to these children or to encourage those young people. A thousand places I’d rather be. Another thousand could I go to. I’m tired and I’m weary. I may be old and wore out, but they need me and here I am. I have a place, and here I am. Oh, how God blesses it, and how He blesses us! In my humble persuasion, I do not think we can really serve God without a cost and a price if you don’t feel it – if it costs you nothing.
Anton Lange [1875-1938], for thirty years, played the part of the Christus in the famous Oberammergau Passion Play. And upon a day, a silly American tourist with his camera and his wife went on stage. And the wife said to her hubby, "Go over there and pick up that cross, and I’ll take a picture of you." So he went over there to pick up the cross that she could take a picture of him. He couldn’t lift it. He couldn’t raise it. It is too heavy for him. And in astonishment the man turned to Anton Lange and said, "Sir, why is it so heavy?" This is just a play. This is just an act. Why so heavy a cross?" And Anton Lange replied, "Sir, if I don’t feel it, I can’t play my part." I feel the same way about the work of the Spirit of God in our lives. If you don’t feel it, if it isn’t at a price and at a cost, you can’t play your part.
A tip for God? No, a gift! And I can feel it. I could have used it and needed it, but I gave it to God. And time: and I’m weary and I’m tired and the time comes to meet that class or to be with that group, but I go just the same. It’s a part of the toil and the dedication and the striving of the Spirit of God that worketh in us mightily.
And I feel the same about my own ministry. If I don’t toil with it and work in it, and if it doesn’t cost me, I do not believe the favor of God would rest upon me. "Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29]. Like David: "I will not offer to the Lord that which doth cost me nothing" [from 2 Samuel 24:24] – at a price, at a cost.
Now, in just a moment, may I summarize two thousand years of confirmation of that truth? The unfolding history of the Christian church is, I say, a confirmation of this tremendous truth I have sought to unfold this morning that the Holy Spirit of God works through men who strive, who labor, who toil – that the sign of the Holy Spirit among us is His working mightily in us laboring and striving according to that working.
It was so at Pentecost. There were two signs at Pentecost: one, the sound of a rushing mighty wind [Acts 2:1-2], and the other, the flames of fire, lambent, burning over the head of each one as he spake the Word of God [Acts 2:3-4]. Had the Holy Spirit intended converting the world Himself, doing all the work Himself, the first emblem would have been stagnant air – stuffy, dead – and the second emblem would have been a mass of cold and frozen ice. But it wasn’t.
The first emblem was the sound of a wind, nay, a rushing wind [Acts 2:1-2] – nay, a rushing mighty wind as though the Spirit of God would fill every spiritual sail in the earth. And the second emblem was the flaming fire [Acts 2:3-4]. And those emblems but pictured the burning tempest, the zeal and the flame, in the hearts and souls of the apostles of God clothed like a cloak, imbued with Spirit of the moving power of the Lord. And so with those who have wrought mightily for God through the years. As the Spirit has moved, they have toiled and agonized.
I turn aside from following through that unfolding story and come to this last momentary appeal to our hearts. My brethren and my sisters, the sign of the presence of God among us will be this: the moving of the Spirit of the Lord in quickening, in energizing, in saving power [Acts 2:47]. And that is the call of our renewed dedication to the Lord – that the Lord is among us, that His Spirit is in us, and that the promise of victory under God is vouchsafed to us.
Gideon asked the token of a fleece wet with dew [Judges 6:36-37], and in the night he heard the Midianites recount the dream of the barley loaf tumbling down and overthrowing the tents of Midian [Judges 7:9-14]. He did not straightway renounce his purpose, turn aside from the enterprise because God was with him, because victory was promised him. No! But encouraged by it, he gathered his little band of three hundred, and in the darkness of the night, broke the pitchers, set the torches aflame, cried the cry of the watchword: "the sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" [Judges 7:15-23].
That’s we. The Holy Spirit is with us. God hath promised us an illimitable victory. That’s the sign. Arise, do what under God shall be an astonishment to the world and an immeasurable blessing to the kingdom of our Savior. "Whereunto I labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily" [Colossians 1:29].
God bless this appeal to the hearts of our people as in a new way we open our souls to the leadership of the Spirit of Jesus in the greatest year under God our church has ever known. And here am I, Lord, such as I am. Here am I, Lord. Use me. Send me.
Now, while we sing our invitation hymn, somebody you, this morning, quickened by the Spirit, give his heart to Jesus. You can’t be saved and stay where you are. You must do what you can. If you were nailed to the cross, speak of the excellence and worth of Jesus, looking to Him – looking to Him. Can you walk? Then step into that aisle and down here by my side. "Here I am, Pastor, and here I come. I have felt the call of the Lord in my heart. I come. I give Him the faith and trust of my deepest soul and here I am." Many of you this day to put your life in the fellowship of the church, as the Lord shall say the word, shall lead the way, as the Spirit shall open the door, come. In this balcony around, down these stairwells, stand by me. "Here I am, Preacher, and here I come." From side to side, into the aisle, and down here to the front, "Here I come, Pastor. Here we are a whole family of us." Or one somebody you, while we sing this hymn, come while we stand and while we sing.