The Most Beautiful Text in the Bible
February 17th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TEXT IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-17-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Most Beautiful Text in the Bible.
Last Sunday night, we left off at the thirtieth verse in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. Now we begin at the thirty-first verse, and this is the reading of the Word. Ephesians 4:31-5:2:
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
I say, somebody else, of course, would pick out possibly another verse. But I say, to me, the most beautiful verse in the Bible, the most beautiful text, is Ephesians 4:32: "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you."
Now, I read the whole passage, for, you see, the chapter division comes right in the midst of his argument, and the chapter division divides the argument from the conclusion.
The whole passage:
Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Be ye therefore –
yet that begins a new chapter. It ought to be together. It’s all one sentence –
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children.
Isn’t that a sweet way to write: "As dear children," tekna agapēta, "as children," tekna agapēta, "beloved"? We have a Father beloved. His children are beloved. We have a dear Father. We are dear children.
"Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children" [Ephesians 5:1]. He speaks to us as though we were little children, and the word that he uses is a word that you would use with children. "Be ye therefore mimētai of God." We have taken the Greek word and made "mimic" out of it: to pattern, to imitate. "Be ye therefore imitators, mimētai, mimics of God, as dear children."
Well, I can easily see how a man of the world would be greatly affronted by that. Why, he’s not going to mimic anybody. He’s not going to imitate anybody, but he’s going to be an original. He’s going to think his own thoughts. He’s going to find his own way, and there is to be an all-sufficiency in himself. And as for his dependence upon God or seeking to copy after the Word of the Lord, why, it would be an insult to his superior intelligence and to his intellectual acumen and to his philosophical insight. He’s smarter than God, and he knows more than the Book, and he’s going to be an original in himself.
You know, those fellows are funny to me. They are sort of inane. They’re sort of ridiculous. They just downright silly because if a man could be that way and substantiate it, oh, he’d be somebody to look at. He’d be somebody to admire. And I wouldn’t at all chide with young people as they might pattern their lives after him. But the trouble with him is, he just turns to dust like everybody else. He gets old and senile, and he caves in, and he collapses down, and they put him away.
Ah, how much better is it for a man to face all of the truth of life? How much better? "I am mortal, made out of the dust. My days are limited. I am weak and feeble." How much better is it for a mortal man to own himself as a child? "Lord, Lord, there’s no strength in me, nor am I equal to the tasks and fortunes and exigencies and vicissitudes of life. I am not able to cope with them. Death is too much for me, and the meaning of life, and immortality, and the hereafter – Lord, I’m but a child, just a child. Before these vast truths and realities and facts, Lord, I’m but a child, just a child – so much I don’t understand, so much I cannot grasp, in how many things so weak – Lord, just a child."
Well, that’s the way Paul – that’s his spirit, that’s his attitude. "Be ye therefore imitators of God as dear children" [Ephesians 5:1]. Same thing as I have seen children and did it myself when I learned to write: I took a copy and I tried to make those letters like the copy learning to write. That’s the spirit of Paul in the text about our lives – learning to live our lives copying God.
"But I want to be an original."
No. I could not imagine a greater compliment to God than for His people to try to be like Him, nor could I imagine a greater achievement for His children than to be like God. "And His name shall be called Wonderful" [Isaiah 9:6].
Even the imitation of a great, wonderful father is a worthy thing. Absalom did not imitate David [1 Samuel 24:1-22; 2 Samuel 15:1-14], and the sons of Eli did not imitate their wonderful father [1 Samuel 1:12-18, 2:12-17], and the sons of Samuel were not like him [1 Samuel 8:3]. But oh, had they been, how noble a pattern to follow and what a great achievement had they attained it.
"Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32]. "Be ye therefore mimētai of God, as dear children" [Ephesians 5:1]. Well, like God, as kind as the Lord is kind:
For the love of God is greater
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
["There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy," by Frederick W. Faber, 1854]
I could easily sympathize with David when he had sinned against Israel and the Lord sent His prophet to him and said, "David, of three things choose one. Shall there be seven years drought and famine? Shall you flee before the face of your enemies for three months? Or shall there be three days pestilence in the land?" [2 Samuel 24:13]
And David said, "It is a hard choice. It is a hard choice. But," he said, "Let me fall into the hands of God and not into the hands of man" [from 2 Samuel 24:14]. So he chose the pestilence, and he was wise for he knew the spirit and the kindness of God. And when the angel stood over Jerusalem to destroy it, God said, "It is enough. It is enough. Lay not thy hand, destroying hand, longer upon the people" [from 2 Samuel 24:16].
Then you have one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible when God says to David, "Go up" – for the angel stood, the destroying angel stood – "go up and there build an altar" [2 Samuel 24:16, 18-19]. And that altar was built where the destroying angel stood [2 Samuel 24:20-25]. That altar was built on Mount Moriah, and there the great sacrificial brazen altar was placed and there the temple was built [2 Chronicles 3:1]. Oh, how much did it mean.
Kind as the heart of God: that’s an explanation to me why God does not destroy the wicked. "Lord, why don’t You send bolts from heaven and lightning from the skies and destroy these? Why not, Lord? Why not?" The reason why lies in the heart of God. Second Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." The reason God doesn’t destroy the unbeliever and the un-Christian is because He waits, hoping, praying, maybe they will repent.
Ezekiel 33:11: ‘"As I live,’ saith the Lord, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: O turn ye, turn ye . . . for why will ye die?" I think that is a reason why the Lord lays upon us things sometimes hard to bear and why He doesn’t answer our prayers as we would ask and why sometimes we go through valleys that are long and dark and filled with the terror of death. Why does God lead His children through some of the most heart-breaking experiences that mind could imagine?
I learn, as the years roll onward
And I leave the past behind,
That much I had counted sorrow
But proves that God is kind;
That many a flower I’d longed for
Had a hidden thorn of pain,
And many a rugged by-path
Led to fields of ripened grain.
]"From Shadow-Sun," by Agnes L. Pratt]
In Paul’s ministry, almost all of the years of his Christian service were spent in jail. He was in somebody’s dungeon. He was in somebody’s prison almost all the years of his ministry. You don’t realize that. But almost all of it, the years were in jail. And you wonder why, wonder why.
I can see why now. Out of those years of solitude, and silence, and meditation, and wrestling with God, came those prison epistles [Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon] – this Bible here out of which I am preaching. This very Book that I am preaching out of today, the Book to the Ephesians, Paul refers to himself as an apostle in bonds [Ephesians 3:1, 6:20]. Out of that imprisonment came those great passages of Scripture, one of which we’re preaching about today. Out of the Patmos vision [Revelation 1:9], came the Revelation. Out of the slavery of Joseph came the saving of Israel [Genesis 37:36, 39:20, 41:9-57, 47:1-6, 27]. Out of the shepherd experience of Moses, came the Decalogue and the revelation of God [Exodus 3:1-10, 20:1-17].
Lord, help me to learn that. When the blow of life falls and the heavy hand of providence, like an iron heel, grinds my soul into the dust of the ground, help me, Lord, to remember that beyond that providence is an inscrutable wisdom and there’s a kindness of God in the choice that I cannot understand. But as dear children, as a child, I receive it from a Father that I know loved me and, in Christ, gave Himself for me: the kindness of God. "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore mimētai of God" [Ephesians 4:32- 5:1].
Now, may I speak a moment of the kindness of Christ? "Love suffereth long, and is kind" [1 Corinthians 13:4]. Jesus, moved with compassion, is, as ever, an endearing name. When the multitudes surrounded Him and faint with hunger [Mark 6:35], the disciples said, "Send them away" – anything to get rid of them – "send them away." Anything to be done with the burden of them, "Send them away" [Mark 6:36]. Jesus said, "No, feed them" [from Mark 6:37].
When the mothers brought little children to the Lord, the disciples said, "Trouble not the Master" [Luke 18:15]. Jesus said, "Suffer them to come unto me" [Luke 18:16].
When He stood at the tomb [of Lazarus], He burst into tears [John 11:34-35]. In the King James Version, the shortest verse in the Book: "Jesus wept" [John 11:35]. How much is in those two little words standing before a tomb.
We share our mutual woes,
our mutual burdens bear,
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.
[From "Blest Be the Tie that Binds," by John Fawcett, 1782]
Tenderhearted. I still don’t see why some men boast they haven’t cried in twenty years. Tenderhearted – the tenderhearted compassionate Jesus: "Be ye therefore mimics of Him" [Ephesians 5:1].
You know, preparing this sermon, I began to think if I had my choice and could go back through the vistas of history, where would I like to see and to be. There’s Washington [George Washington, 1732-1799] crossing the Delaware [December 25-26, 1776] – what a moment! There’s the Iron Duke of Wellington [Arthur Wellesley, 1769-1852] victorious over Napoleon [Napoleon Bonaparte, 1769-1821] at Waterloo [June 18, 1815] – what a moment! There’s Caesar [Julius Caesar, 100-44 BCE] crossing the Rubicon [ BCE] – what a moment! Or there’s Alexander the Great [Alexendar III of Macedon, 356-323 BCE] victorious over Darius the Persian [Darius III, 380-330 BCE] – what a moment! Oh, you could go through them endlessly.
You know what I’d like if I could choose to go back? I would like to be present at any of those times, just any of them, where the Savior was doing some humble thing such as holding a little baby in His arms and blessing it, or washing the disciples’ feet, or telling Simon the Pharisee when he was so bitterly criticizing the sinful woman who washed His feet with her hair and dried them with the hairs of her head – when the Lord said, "She has loved much; she’s been forgiven much" [Luke 7:37-48] – just any of the humble ministries of the Lord. I had rather had been there, just any one of them, than to have been present at the victorious moment of the greatest battle that was ever fought in the earth. It has more meaning. It has more meaning. "Be ye therefore kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32].
And now, in this third section of this message, may I speak of ourselves? "Imitators of God as dear children [Ephesians 5:1], be ye kind one to another" [Ephesians 4:32]. First, how we need it; how we need it. I can’t remember the sermon – I heard it on a record long time ago – but the great pastor in this pulpit one time preached a sermon entitled "The Need for Encouragement." What a magnificent thing to preach about and what a magnificent way to state it: "The Need for Encouragement."
Frank Rutherford wrote in his autobiography of his first charge, his first pastorate. The truth that he’d prepared meant so much to him, and he delivered the message with all of his young heart. And when it was over, not a soul spoke to him. Everybody left, and he was alone. The janitor only was there, and he remarked that it was raining and he went about his business to close up the building. Rutherford had no umbrella, and he walked to his lodging in the rain. And the aftermath of that was tragic. He lost his hold on himself, and he collapsed, and he forsook the ministry. And you have that sad story in his autobiography. Oh, just for somebody, just for anybody, to have gone up to the young preacher and to have shaken his hand and said a word of encouragement. But the only one there to speak was the janitor, and he merely remarked that it was raining.
It takes so little to make us sad:
Just a slighting word or a doubtful sneer,
Just a scornful smile on some lips held dear;
And our footsteps lag, though the goal seemed near,
And we lost the joy and hope we had –
So little it takes to make us sad.
So little it takes to make us glad:
Just the cheering clasp of some friendly hand,
Just a word from one who can understand:
And we finish the task we so long had planned,
And we lose the fear and doubt we had –
So little it takes to make us glad.
["It Takes So Little," author unknown]
The need for encouragement. Ah, but the Lord would make us kind and sympathetic and understanding – just the smile, just the clasp of a hand, just a pat on the back. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore mimētai of God . . . " [Ephesians 4:32-5:1].
Now may I speak of the church? Oh, to have a church like that. There’s a curse in the city, and we all know it. There are great advantages in the city – tremendous opportunities – but there’s a curse in it. The curse of the city is its impersonal, careless, forgetful attitude toward the teeming population that’s all around us. And I can understand why. You live in a whole sea of humanity, and you want to be alone and have privacy and, oh, I know. I understand. But, I say, that’s a curse. That’s not a blessing.
Whenever I become impervious to people around me and their needs, whenever I come hardened to their sorrows and tears, when I could pass a million of them by if they all were to fall into hell and never pray or never care or never weep over the lost, when I become that, I become that much far and away from God. How I could pray that in the heart of this city that seems to grow and grow and grow – that in the heart of this city, there might always be this great, beautiful, precious island of love and warm-hearted friendship. How I’d love to think it would always be just that way and more and more and more.
I told you one time about what I thought was the best compliment ever paid to our church. Dr. Feaser was somewhere, and a country preacher was talking to him. And he told our executive leader, "Dr. Feaser, I’m pastor of the second biggest country church in the world." And Dr. Feaser said, "Is that so? Who’s got the biggest country church?" And he said, "Criswell’s church in Dallas, Texas." That’s what he said. And I thought when I heard it, "That’s the best compliment we’ve ever had" – that is, I think we’ve ever had in our lives.
For the life of me, I have never been able to understand how stiffness and aloofness glorified God. I don’t see it. I could not imagine Jesus being untouchable and unapproachable and stiff and aloof. "Touch Me not. Come not near Me." The Book says: "And they pressed Him on every side" [from Mark 5:24] – got close to Him. And the Book says and there was a woman who’d been sick for all of those years and years and years, and she touched the hem, one of the tassels, on the edge of His garment [Mark 5:24-34]. That was Jesus. "Be ye therefore mimētai of the Lord . . ." [Ephesians 5:1]. Ah, to have a church that way; to be that way.
And in this little brief moment remaining, may I say this – this last? And that is God’s way of reaching the hearts of the lost. There’s a great theology here in this text that we haven’t had time even to mention. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32]. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy did He save us" [Titus 3:5].
Not by our good works, not because we were lovely, not because we were worthy, but God saved us because of the compassion of His heart, of the mercy of His goodness. He loved us when we were unlovely [Romans 5:8], and for Christ’s sake, He hath saved us.
"Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath gave Himself for us an offering, and a sacrifice to God" [Ephesians 5:2]. We are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, and God, for Christ’s sake, doth forgive us. "Now therefore be ye kind one to another" [Ephesians 4:32]. God hath forgiven us, and loved us, and was kind to us and gracious to us. Now, therefore, be ye thus gracious and kind and forgiving and tenderhearted and compassionate to one another. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? That’s the Christian faith: God did love me, and God did spare me, and God did save me, and now, for His sake, we shall love and minister to and bless and encourage one another.
I was in the home of our missionaries in Hiroshima, and while I was there, their Japanese tutor came in. Well, he was just about the most precise little fellow I’d ever seen. And he had such fine manners and beautiful way, and he impressed me very much. After he had gone, why, I asked the missionaries about him. Oh, they were delighted with him. He was their tutor to teach them how to preach in Japanese, how to teach in Japanese.
And so I said, "Well, has he always been a Christian?"
No, he was a high officer in the war, and he had become a Christian after the Japanese invasion of China.
And I said, "Well, that’s strange. How did that come about?"
And the missionary said, "He was converted by watching the Christian missionary in China. Being an army man and an officer, he knew of the brutality of those terrible ravaging armies. And wherever they went, there was pillage, and rape, and rapine, and destruction, and brutality, and hatred, and death – war. But wherever the missionary went, there was the orphan’s home, and the hospital, and the school, and the church with its spire pointing up to God in heaven. And the officer was greatly impressed. Then through the guidance of a humble missionary, he found Christ and gave his heart to Jesus."
Like one of the pastors I talked to over there – he said to me he had gone to a school to learn English. Being poor, had no fire in his little place and didn’t have any heavy coat to wear, and the missionary who was teaching him English invited him to come in and share his fire and took off his coat and gave it to the poor Japanese student. And he said, "I came to know Christ mostly through the kindness and love of the missionary even more so than through the theology that he taught me from the Book."
Oh, the Lord would open up doors to us, wide and great, if there were only in our hearts that spirit to love and to care. God bless and sanctify our testimony as we walk among the people, as we live before them, as we seek with God’s help to be mimētai of the love and Spirit of Jesus our Savior.
Now let’s pray. Our Lord in heaven, in these few moments, we’ve sought to speak of this beautiful, beautiful text which so reflects the life, the spirit of the gospel message of the apostle Paul. Our Lord, here in this great throng of people in God’s house this morning and listening over this radio, there are many, many people who ought to decide for Christ. "Pastor, by the Holy Spirit of God, I have come to see that I’m not to look to myself. I am to look to Jesus. Not by works of righteousness which I’ve done, but by God’s mercy, am I saved [from Titus 3:5]. Therefore, turning aside from all thought or hope of saving myself, I cast myself upon the mercies of God – that God for Christ’s sake will forgive and save me."
Oh, what a message! What a message – what a message of hope! Any man can look and live [Numbers 21:5-9; John 3:14-16]. What a message of salvation: God in Christ holding forever the least of His saints who place their trust in Him – saved forever, God keeping us [John 10:27-30; 1 Peter 1:3-5]. What a message! And then for us to turn and reflect in our lives, as God shall give us grace, the Spirit that is in the Lord Jesus.
Oh, God, help us Thy children. And our Lord, as we sing our song this morning, as the Spirit shall lead and open the way, send to us these whom God hath appointed for this day and this hour, and thank Thee for answered prayer and for all that Thou shalt give us, in the Spirit of Jesus, in His kindness, in His love and faith, in His name, amen.
Now, while we sing the song, somebody you to give his heart to the Lord or to put his life in the fellowship of a church – one somebody you or a family you – while we sing the song, would you come? Into the aisle, down here to the front, from the balcony, down these stairwells, down to the front, give your hand to the pastor: "Pastor, I’ve given my heart to God and here I come." By letter or baptism, by confession of faith, as the Lord shall lead the way, would you make it now while we stand and sing?
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TEXT IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The passage is Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2
1. Chapter division separates the conclusion
B. Treats us as children – teknaagapeta, "children beloved"
C. Urges us to a practical duty
1. We are to be mimetai, imitators of God(Ephesians 5:1)
2. No greater achievement for child of God, than to be like Him(Isaiah 9:6)
II. The kindness of God
A. David’s wise choice(2 Samuel 24:13-16)
B. The answer why God does not destroy the wicked (2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11)
C. The answer why the Lord lays upon us things hard to bear
III. The kindness of Christ
A. Jesus moved with compassion(1 Corinthians 13:4, Mark 6:35-37, Luke 18:16, John 11:34-36)
B. Of all the men of all times in history, I’d like to see Jesus
IV. The kindness of His people
A. How we need it
1. Truett’s sermon, "The Need for Encouragement"
2. Frank Rutherford’s autobiography
B. How it blesses the church
1. Curse of the city is its impersonal, careless attitude toward population
2. Could not imagine Jesus being untouchable and unapproachable (Mark 5:24)
C. How it wins the lost(Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:2)
1. Japanese tutor, why he was a Christian
2. Why a Japanese pastor became a Christian
3. Mostly by kindness, not by theology