THE MINISTER’S PLEA FOR HIS CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-24-57 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 eleven o’clock message entitled The Minister’s Plea For His Church. In our preaching through the Bible, last Sunday night we closed with the eleventh verse of the first chapter of Philippians. Today, we begin at the twelfth verse, and the pericope, the passage cut out, taken for the message is Philippians 1:12-19. This is the reading of the text:
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, in all the praetorium, and in all other places;
And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Some indeed, I grant you, preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will:
The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds:
But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel.
What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.
For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
And of the passage, the title of the message is especially taken from the last verse that I read: "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" [Philippians 1:19]. And the title: The Minister’s Plea For His Church.
The assignment given to a true preacher of Christ is one beyond the pale and the region of human power. God has sent him to quicken the dead, to save the lost. And where is the mere man who could do it? Even when a little child is brought to me and I am asked by the parents to show the little fellow how to be saved, to show him how to become a Christian, I feel even before that assignment a great weakness and trembling.
The minister is sent of God to feed the multitudes with the loaves and the fishes [Matthew 14:14-21], to break to the people the Bread of Life [John 6:35]. And where is the mere man who could do it? That conversion is of the alchemy of heaven; it’s in the power of God. In fact, the more one would seek to delineate the task assigned the minister, the more is his work ridiculous unless it has in it the moving Spirit of the presence of God. It is a task, a work, an assignment, altogether beyond what in human power he could bring to pass. The minister, to do that of himself, had just as lived and as likely and with as much success seeked to fuse the sun and the moon together, or to light up new stars, or to speak and make Sahara a garden of flowers.
Paul himself one time cried, in the second Corinthian letter and the second chapter, when he spoke of the message that he brought as being "the savor of life unto life and of death unto death" [from 2 Corinthians 2:15-16], he ended the passage with the exclamation: "And who is sufficient for these things?" [2 Corinthians 2:16] Where is the man who, in his own strength and in his own power, could measure up to the mission upon which God hath sent him to the people?
But my text says, "I know that these providences that have come into my life, some of which have overwhelmed me, I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" [from Philippians 1:19]. He had, as he wrote this letter, and because of the little congregation at Philippi, he had a great optimism of the things that had overtaken him and the fortunes that had overwhelmed him. For example, in the first part of the passage that I read, he says, "These things which have happened unto me" – his arrest, his imprisonment, the trial for his very life – "These things have fallen out, rather, unto the furtherance of the gospel" [Philippians 1:12]. Chained to a Roman soldier, and they themselves changed four times in the course of a day, he says:
That the whole praetorian guard has heard the message of the Son of God. Yea, and in other places, because of my bondage and my imprisonment is the message known. These things, through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit, have turned out to the furtherance of the gospel.
[from Philippians 1:13, 19]
Not only that, but he says, "Because of the turn of this fortune, many of the brethren in the Lord have waxed confident by my bonds and are much more bold to speak the Word without fear" [from Philippians 1:14]. Then he says, "Through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [from Philippians 1:19], he says in 2 and 24, "and I trust that in the Lord I myself shall also come shortly to visit you" [from Philippians 2:24]. He is expecting through their prayers and the supply of the Holy Spirit to be liberated from his bondage and to begin again those great missionary journeys that brought the Roman Empire to the feet of Jesus.
But do you notice – as I read the Book and especially this text – that even Paul the apostle did not expect these marvelous things to come to pass except through the ordained ministries and instruments and methods of divine grace? "But I know that this shall turn to my salvation" [from Philippians 1:19]. He does not mean by the word "salvation" his deliverance from sin and the atoning grace that will present him some day before God, but he means the furtherance of his work, the safety of his life, the carrying out of the commission for which God had called him. "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" [Philippians 1:19].
Through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit, all of these evil fortunes God hath turned to good. Through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus, evil itself has been made to praise God and to further the gospel. Through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit, the fortunes of Paul himself shall be so turned that he can continue in his divine life: "Through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [from Philippians 1:19]. So that brought me to my subject: The Minister’s Plea For His Church.
First, "through your prayer" that he might be able to do the work for which God hath called him and to which the Spirit hath sent him. I have been with my fellow ministers in school and now out in the work for thirty years. I have known them intimately by the thousands. Some of them are so disheartened and some of them are discouraged by their own people. They are disappointed. People that they counted on somehow let them down. They are weak; they’re not prayed for by their congregation. They’re unsuccessful; the words that they speak fall to the ground. They are unhappy; they’re not in the affections of their people. And they are sad; they never hear their names mentioned in the loving intercessions of their people. How much can a congregation do for their preacher, their pastor, their minister of Christ?
The other day, I read a speech that a Methodist bishop had made in Los Angeles, California. His name is Gerald Kennedy [Gerald Hamilton Kennedy, 1907-1980], and he’s the bishop of the Methodist church in the Los Angeles area. And in that address, he made a little talk: "How to Get Rid of Your Pastor."
Well, it attracted my attention, and I read it. And when I did, I was surprised at what he said. I was amazed. "How to Get Rid of Your Pastor" and he offers five suggestions. One: "Look the preacher straight in the eye when he is preaching and say ‘Amen!’ once in a while. He’ll preach himself to death in a few weeks." That’s the first one. Here’s his second one: "Pat him on the back and brag about his good points. He’ll work himself to death in a little while." Here’s the third: "Start paying him a living wage. He has probably been on starvation wages so long, he will eat himself to death in a little while." Here’s the fourth one: "Rededicate your life to Christ and ask the preacher to give you a job to do. He will be so surprised, he’ll probably die of heart failure." And the last one: "Get the church to unite in prayer for the preacher. He will become so effective, some larger church will take him off your hands." I don’t know this bishop, but bless his heart.
And, of course, I think about you. And when I think about you, I think of something that my illustrious predecessor [George Washington Truett, 1867-1944], the great, great, pastor, said about you. They were trying to persuade him to accept the pastorate of Rockefeller’s church, John D. Rockefeller Sr. [1839-1937], in Cleveland, Ohio; and they had offered him every inducement – money, anything.
Finally, the men asked him, "Dr. Truett, can you not be moved at all?" He said, "Yes, yes I can be." Then with a little hope, they said, "Well, what would move you? What would it take?" And he replied, "Just move my people. Take my church. You put it in Cleveland. I’ll go with them. Just move my people."
I know what he meant. What a difference, what a difference the people can make in the ministry of a pastor. "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation, through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [Philippians 1:19].
Paul here, even though he is the chiefest of the apostles, Paul here does not refrain from casting himself upon the humblest intercessions of the least of God’s saints. I have often thought that the prettiest sentence I ever heard of a preacher was Charles Haddon Spurgeon [1834-1892] talking to a humble friend one day and in leaving him said, "And, sir, sometime, when you get the ear of the great King, would you call my name?"
How Paul was like that. He counted on the prayers of these converts in the little church at Philippi like he did at the church at Thessalonica: "Brethren, pray for us" [2 Thessalonians 3:1]. There in the household of Lydia and her many servants, he counted on their prayers [Acts 16:14-15, 40]. And the family of the Philippian jailer [Acts 16:22-34], and he counted on their prayers. And Euodia, Syntyche and Clement [Philippians 4:2-3], and he counted on their prayers. Most of those, I would suppose, were people of no high social standing as the world would look upon them, but they knew God. And Paul says, "I know that these things shall turn to my salvation through your prayers" [from Philippians 1:19].
Oh, wouldn’t he be a rich preacher, and wouldn’t he be a tremendous soul winner – wouldn’t he be a mighty man of God if he could know all of his days that the little children prayed for his work? And the fathers and the mothers, and the strong men and the women, and the aged, and the infirm – all of them prayed for his ministry.
I’m preparing now my sermons for the Palace Theatre. This is the thirty-ninth year our church will be there conducting services: twelve o’clock, noonday, the week before Easter. This is the thirteenth year that I’ve done that myself. And every time I turn my face to that past, I remember a little incident. Why it should have stayed in my heart, I do not know, but a little incident that happened about the second time that I preached down there in the theater.
After the service was over, I walked out toward the front, on Elm Street, and in the lobby, there was tarrying a little old lady dressed in solid black. When I walked through the lobby, she walked over where I was and spoke to me and said a little simple, humble thing. She said, "It is very hard for me to go to church." She said, "The day was so warm, I felt I could come down here." She said, "I am poor and nothing to give, and I’m old and can do nothing myself." She said, "All I can do is just pray for you."
I put my arm around her, and I said, "Listen here, if the preacher knew that the people in his church prayed for him, you wouldn’t have to worry about financing the institution; you wouldn’t have to worry about laborers for the harvest." "This shall come, and more beside, through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [from Philippians 1:19].
It’s a truism. It’s platitudinous to say it, but prayer is the most omnipotent power in this universe. It moves the Hand that moves the world. And that is the minister’s plea for his church: "through your prayers."
Then he says this second thing: "For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [Philippians 1:19] – called "the Spirit of Jesus" because of the text that we read together this morning. The Spirit of Jesus is the representative, the vicar, of Jesus in the earth [John 16:13-14].
A man may win souls without being learned [Acts 4:12-13]. To be learned is a help to a preacher, but it’s not vital. A man can win souls without having degrees, without being educated. A man can win souls without being eloquent. Sometimes stammering lips can tell the story of the gospel of the Son of God [1 Corinthians 2:1-5]. But no man can be a soulwinner and no man can perform the miracles of grace except the Spirit of God be in him and the Spirit of God work through him. And that’s the prayer that we have for our church and this ministry: that the gospel might be preached with great power, that the moving Spirit of God would rest upon the congregation, and that the message that the minister brings might reach to the soul and to the heart.
Oh, how much preaching is powerless! How much of it is like words and sentences! How much of it has the dryness of common thought and man’s language. The spirit of evangelism departs, and the church turns to other things.
Oh, that we might have a church where God moved! And when the people came and the service is done and they turn their separate ways, they could say to one another, "The Lord was there this morning. I felt Him speak to my soul."
As most of you know, I began as a pastor when I was a teenage boy. When I look at these children, they seem to me, in our church, it’s hard for me to realize that at their age, seventeen years of age, I was preaching and pastoring God’s flock. It was out in the country – stayed out there preaching ten years; grateful for it, wouldn’t change it.
On a hot summer day, I went to eat dinner – noonday meal – dinner with a country home, in a country home, with a country family. And seated on the porch in the shade, the mother in the home brought me an old, dilapidated book. I’ve forgotten what it was, but it was an ancient thing. And I looked through it, and in it I read a poem. On the porch there seated was an old grandfather – old grey-headed man. He was resting from the heat of the day, and I read this poem to him. And when I did, unashamed, the tears just fell off of his face while I read this poem. When I got through, the old gentleman said to me, he said, "Young Preacher, I used to go to church like that, and I used to be in services just like that."
May I read you that poem? I have no idea who wrote it – just an old-time poem. This is it:
Well, wife, I found the model church,
I worshiped there today;
It made me think of good old times,
Before my hair was gray.
The meeting house was fixed up more
Than they were years ago,
But then I felt when I went in,
It wasn’t built for show.
The usher didn’t seat me
Away back by the door;
He knew that I was old and deaf,
As well as old and poor;
He must have been a good man,
For he led me through
The long aisle of that crowded church,
To find a place and pew.
I wished you’d heard that singing,
It had the old-time ring;
The preacher said with trumpet voice,
"Let all the people sing."
The tune was "Coronation,"
And the music upward rolled,
Till I tho’t I heard the angels
Striking their harps of gold.
My deafness seemed to melt away,
My spirit caught the fire;
I joined my feeble, trembling voice
With that melodious choir;
I sang as in my youthful days,
"Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem
And crown Him Lord of all."
I tell you, wife, it did me good
To sing that hymn once more;
I felt like some wrecked mariner
Who gets a glimpse of shore;
I almost wanted to lay down
This weather-beaten form,
And anchor in the blessed port
Forever from the storm.
The preaching, well,
I can’t just tell all the preacher said.
I know it wasn’t written,
And I know it wasn’t read.
He hadn’t time to read it,
For the lightning of his eye
Went flashing down from pew to pew
Nor passed a sinner by.
The sermon wasn’t flowery,
‘Twas simple gospel truth;
It fitted poor old men like me;
It fitted hopeful youth;
‘Twas filled with admonition
That he who runs may reap,
‘Twas full of consolation
For weary hearts that bleed.
I hope to meet that minister,
That congregation too,
In that dear home beyond the stars
That shine from heaven’s blue.
I doubt not I’ll remember
Beyond life’s evening gray,
That happy hour of worship
In that model church today.
[from "The Model Church," by John H. Yeats, 1877]
"For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [Philippians 1:19].
May I say one final word? "The supply of the Spirit of Jesus" – just what is that? Sometimes an old-time preacher will call it "unction" – unction. What is unction? A preacher preaches with unction. You couldn’t define it if you had to. You couldn’t say it in words. It’s the power of God, and it is indefinable. I can illustrate it.
Now, I’m not finding fault with what they did. I thought it was wonderful for them to do it. Last Friday night – Friday night of last week – Crossroads presented the life of Dr. Truett, and it was a gracious, gracious thing to do. And the actor did fine. He was a good actor, and he did fine.
I did not know Dr. Truett as the pastor of the church like you do. I’d just see him at a convention, and I’d hear him preach. And there’d be times when it seemed to me the angels of heaven were there and the Spirit of Jesus and the Lord Himself had His hand on the preacher’s shoulder.
And as I listened to the preacher as he would speak in the play, I could not help but think of the times when I’d heard Dr. Truett. And the difference was not that the actor didn’t say the words right or that he didn’t have the right inclination or that he didn’t look right or that he didn’t present it right because he did. He was a fine actor and was trained for the part and did it well. But the difference lies in that word unction. The Spirit of God was in the preacher, and the Spirit of God moved the hearts of the people: unction.
That’s what builds up the church of Christ. Life is needed. Where do we turn for life but [to] God? Light is needed, understanding. Where do we turn for light but to God? And love and zeal and spiritual refreshment, where do we turn but to God? The church is built up by the supply of the Spirit of Jesus [1 Corinthians 3:7].
Now, may I return to where I started? This assignment of the preacher, this task of the minister, Ezekiel had it. And there in this veil of tears was a valley of death. And God said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, stand on thy feet and preach" and there before him, the valley of death. But he had faith in God, and he stood, and he uttered the Word of the Lord. And then the Book describes the miracle that happened: bone to bone, and sinew to sinew, and muscle to muscle, and frame to frame, and then, breathed upon by the Spirit of the living God. And the Bible describes the whole living army that stood up in the presence of the Lord [from Ezekiel 37:1-14]. That’s it. Preacher, stand up and preach.
"But, O Lord, how is it in a man’s hand to save a lost soul or to resurrect a dead spirit or to change a man’s life? How is it in a man’s hand?" That is the work of God.
Preacher, stand up and preach! And lo, behold, look: there is a man whom God hath touched; and here is a family upon whose hearts the Spirit of God did move; and there they are, children of the Lord, children of the resurrection, touched by the hand of God, regenerated by the Spirit of Jesus. "This shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and through the supply of the Spirit of Jesus" [Philippians 1:19]: the minister’s plea for his church.
Now, if God is pleased with the message, and if the Holy Spirit hath cause to use it, may He place upon it the seal of divine favor. May somebody come today giving his life in trust and in faith to the Lord. And may somebody come today putting his life with us in this church and fellowship.
Somebody you, in the balcony around, coming down these stairwells and to me, from this lower floor, into the aisle: "Preacher, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to God trusting Him as Savior" or putting your life in the fellowship of the church. And as you’ve listened on the radio and have watched this service on television, if you’ve never trusted Jesus as your Savior, today, this holy, holy hour, would you bow your head and humble your heart? Would you let Jesus, our Lord, come into your soul, make heaven yours, the inheritance of God yours, through faith in His Son, our Lord? Would you?
And in this auditorium, while prayerfully our people sing this appeal, would you make it now? Into the aisle, down here to the front and stand by me while all of us stand and sing together.