BRETHREN, PRAY FOR US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
2-9-58 7:30 p.m.
We turn to the last chapter of the first Thessalonian letter, Thessalonians 5. Now, let’s read the end of that chapter beginning at the twelfth verse to the end: the first Thessalonian letter, the fifth chapter, beginning at the twelfth verse and reading to the end. We all have it? First Thessalonians 5. If your neighbor doesn’t have his Bible, share it with him. First Thessalonians, almost toward the end of your Bible – almost through your New Testament. First Thessalonians, the fifth chapter – the last chapter – beginning at the twelfth verse. I left off this morning at the eleventh verse. Now beginning at the twelfth verse, let’s all of us read it together:
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
See that none render evil for evil unto any man, but ever follow that which is good both among yourselves and to all men.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
Quench not the Spirit.
Despise not prophesyings.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
Brethren, pray for us.
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
[1 Thessalonians 5:12-28]
And the sermon tonight is in that twenty-fifth verse Brethren, Pray for Us, and it arises out of this past week – things that are on my heart that arise as I go and preach at these state evangelistic conferences: Brethren, Pray For Us.
This is not a new appeal on the part of the apostle Paul as though it were unique or strange or unusual. He wrote that many times. For example, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Romans and the thirtieth verse, he says: "Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that you sunagōnizo – that you strive, that you agonize – with me in your prayers to God for me" [Romans 15:30].
"I beseech you, brethren." Could you say it more emphatically or more preciously or appealingly than that? "I beg of you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye agonize together with me in your praying to God for me" [Romans 15:30].
I say that is not a unique appeal on his part. Listen here to the sixth chapter of the Ephesian letter which was a circular letter. It was an encyclical. It was sent to all the churches of Asia:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching with all perseverance and supplication for all saints–
And for me –
praying for all the people and for me –
that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel,
For which I am an ambassador in bonds; that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
You’ll find the same spirit of appeal in the last chapter of the letter to the church at Colossae:
Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving;
Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds, That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.
Praying,and then repeats it: "praying for us." Then in this passage that you read: "Pray without ceasing" [1 Thessalonians 5:17]; "Brethren, pray for us" [1 Thessalonians 5:25].
There is a way of God for His saints, for His people, for us. God has a way for us – a chosen way.
I could hardly illustrate it better than in something the Lord tells His people in the thirty-sixth chapter of Ezekiel and the thirty-seventh verse: "Thus saith the Lord God: ‘I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them’" [Ezekiel 36:37]. Why doesn’t He just go ahead and do it? Why pray? Why, God, have them ask and beseech and adjure and importune and knock and seek? Why?
He says here: "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them" [Ezekiel 36:37]. And you – in that context, which I haven’t time to read, He tells there all that He’s going to do for Israel: great and wonderful things – and things, by the way, which are not yet fulfilled [Ezekiel 36:5-15, 24-38]. They are yet in the future. God says: "I’m going to do all this." And then He says: "But I want to be inquired of it. I want to be asked about it. I want to be talked to about it. I want to be prayed to about it. Yet for this will I be inquired of the house of Israel to do it for them" [Ezekiel 36:37].
Now, I cannot understand that. Why doesn’t God just go ahead and do it before we ask? He knows all about us. Before we delineate or define a single need, God knows all of our needs. Well then why bother Him with our importunity? Why knock at the door? Why say it? God knows it all, and whether He’s going to do it or not and whether He’s going to answer or not and everything. Why bother with knocking at the door? All I know is this: that that is the chosen way for the people of God, and like all other things of God, they are inexplicable. This also is a chosen way of God, and to us is inexplicable, I suppose.
God has His way in the macrocosms up there. In that vast infinitude, there are solar systems and Milky Ways and constellations and stars and suns in their courses and orbits and planets. Why does God do it all that way? I don’t know. That’s just God. Every one of them obeys a mandate and a law of the Lord, and each one in his course, there swinging through the infinitude of God’s spaciousness, there they are doing exactly what God has told them to do.
And God has this same infinite, inscrutable will in the microcosms around us – all of those little electrons and protons and neutrons swirling around in their universes that we call atoms. Why does God do all that just like He does it? I don’t know. That’s God. He made the law, and it is unbreakable, and all of the manifestations of that little, tiny, infinitesimal world that cannot be seen obeys the law of the Almighty.
And that’s the same thing that I see in this world around me. All of it is obedient to the will and purposes of God: these seasons, summer and winter and spring and fall, all of them according to the will of God; and the tide that ebb and flow; and all of the storms and the rains and everything in this world obeying a mandate of almighty God. That’s the world that I see in life all around me: God’s little seeds and their buds and their stalks and their blooms and their flowers and their leaves – all of it according to the will and work of God. And the world of life around me: the birds in the air and the beasts of the field and the fish of the sea – all of it according to the commandment and work of God.
Why didn’t He do it a different way? Why didn’t He do something else? I do not know. That is God. And it is the same in this spiritual world in which His children live and breathe and have their being [Acts 17:28]. There is no such thing as any channel of the power of God except through intercession and prayer: the agonizing with our fellow citizens in the household of faith to God for one another and for this great cause and purpose that He hathlaid on our hearts and to which He hath so solemnly commended us and called us and chosen us and commissioned us.
Now, why didn’t God just do it anyway? I’m not debating. I’m not arguing. All I know is the sun shines and God said, "Let it shine." All I know is the seasons come and God said, "Until the end, there shall be summer and winter."
Same thing about these great spiritual truths of the Almighty: a prayerless church is a weak church. A prayerless preacher is a weak preacher. A prayerless Christian is a feeble, anemic Christian. A service that is not baptized and bathed in intercession is a weak and feeble service. There is no avenue and no power from the throne of God for His church and for His people except in this intercession we call prayer. That’s the channel. That’s the way God reaches down to us and the way we knock at the gates of heaven and reach up to God.
Now, I say these things with several corollaries to be drawn therefrom, and the first is this: Without prayer and without intercession and without great appeal on the part of the people, a church can be correct and orthodox and fundamental and Bible loving and Bible believing and Bible preaching. It can be all of that and at the same time be weak and anemic, surrounded on every side, drowned and overwhelmed in the city or in the state or in the nation in which it lives.
I have simply been overwhelmed by that great truth as in these last several monthsI have preached in Canada. I have preached in the northeastern part of the United States; and now this last week preaching in Washington, Oregon to which in attendance were a great many people from Vancouver and other places in British Columbia and some of them from Alberta.
I am surprised. I am amazed at the development of the Christian life in different parts of this nation, and that is a development that overwhelms me. Here are a little band of faithful people. They are consecrated. They love the Lord. They are far more dedicated than we are.
Why, those people – it would be unthinkable for them that they’d go to a picture show, a theater, a vaudeville, an entertainment. They would never do such a thing. It’d be unthinkable for them that they’d have a member in their church that smoked a cigarette. It’d be unthinkable for those people that they would countenance many, many of the "worldly things" they call them that live and are rife in the membership of our church. They are consecrated. They love the Lord. Their services are holy, and their preachers are given to the Word of God.
And yet, and yet, all that I know of them are small. They are anemic. They are little. They’re on the defensive. They are overwhelmed and drowned in the vast, growing world of heathenism and paganism around them. Well, what’s the matter? What’s the matter?
I think one thing. I haven’t lived there, and if I lived there, maybe I’d change my mind – say something else. But as I look at it and upon it and compare our people with them, I think they lack this one thing. There is not in them that great outreach of evangelism, of intercession, of appeal to the lost, of doing all they can to knock at the door of heaven in behalf of the people who are not saved. They are glorious Christians, and they know it. And they have wonderful little churches, and they’re cognizant of it. But there is not that pulsating, agonizing, prayerful appeal that God will bless the message as Paul asked these people to pray for that he might speak boldly to the lost, that he might preach the gospel to the heathen, to the nations, to Gentiles [Ephesians 6:18-20].
I tell you that thing must be in our church day and night if the favor of God is to continue upon us: this prayerful intercession that God will use us and what we’re able to do in song or sermon or teaching or ministry of training that people might be saved!
I do not know of a finer sign of God’s moving among us than when people come to me and say, "Pastor, I noticed that out of a great throng who joined the church this last Sunday, there were very few who were saved." They’ll not just tell the preacher about it but labor in that ministry where you are in your Sunday school class as God shall give us an open door to intercede and to pray in behalf of the lost, thanking God for His blessings, never forgetful that He regenerated us and gave us a love for the Book and for the Word and for one another, but most of all praying God day and night that we might be instruments of salvation in His hands – evangelism, winning the lost.
All right another thing: this world, this world – we have no other choice, no other choice, but to beg and to pray and to importune and to intercede and to knock and to plead and to beseech at heaven’s door day and night in behalf of this lost world, God’s dead. In the second chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul refers to people who are lost as dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1] – dead, dead. What do you do in the presence of the dead? Dead. Preach to the dead. They are dead. Appeal to the dead. They are dead. Entice them, try to win them. They are dead: dead in trespasses and in sins – dead.
There’s not anything that a man can do to give life to the dead. Try it. Go to any cemetery or any mausoleum and speak to the dead. Preach to the dead. God has to do something or a man can never be saved! God has to do something or the appeal of the gospel of Christ is never effective. God has to do something before any man can come to Christ [John 6:44].
It’s resurrection. Resurrection in life and creation are a prerogative of God and not of man. I can create nothing. Just try it. Here is a piece of vacant space. Create something in that vacant space. Just try it. Create anything. It belongs to God alone to create. "And if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation" [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Resurrection belongs to God. Life belongs to God. And as it is in a man’s physical life – it can only be re-created by the fiat of the Word of God – so it is in a man’s spiritual life. He can only be raised, resurrected, by the quickening power of God, and we are dependent upon Him [John 6:63].
I could preach forever, and you could teach forever, and you could plead forever, but a man who is saved – God has to do something on the inside of him [John 3:3]. There has to be a regeneration. There has to be a re-creation. And that, I say, is the prerogative of God. We have to pray. We have to plead. We have to beg. We have to knock. We have to seek.There is no other way. God must do work and the Spirit of God must convict and win or a man can never be saved. And this world, I say, is dead. It is lost in trespasses and in sin [Ephesians 2:1].
Coming back yesterday afternoon on a big, big Continental liner, they assigned each one a seat. And because I was late, they gave me a seat, and I had one way back there in the back. And so after we found our altitude – plane coming from the Pacific over there a way – why, they mixed up all of those liquors like they do on these luxurious liners.
Seated at the back, I watched them mix them all. Then they start at the front and serve them. There was one little glass of orange juice in all of those multitudes of trays of liquor that they served, just one little glass of orange – uh one little glass of tomato juice. Well, it was interesting to me just to watch that one lonely, little glass of tomato juice. And I thought, "Well, you know, you know, this’ll be a good idea of how the ballots would be cast if we took a vote here about whether we’s going to vote out liquor or not, and I’d just see how many votes are for us and how many are for the liquor purveyors – sellers and manufacturers."
So I watched all the way up. And I want you to know when that tray which was filled several times got to me, that little thing of orange juice – of tomato juice – was still on there. Still on there. "Well, sir" – the fellow over here seated by me – she said, "What do you want, a Manhattan or a martini?" What is the difference between a Manhattan and a martini? She asked him, "Do you want a Manhattan or a martini?" One of them was white and one of them was brown. That’s the only difference I could see. And he said he wanted a Manhattan, and she gave him the brown one.
Well, he reached up with his hands and good night alive, I thought I must be sitting by a fellow with delirium tremens. He reached up with his hand and just like that, and he took it with both of his hands, and he couldn’t get his hands back down again. And that was over me. See, she was standing here, and he was sitting there and had his hands over here. And I thought, "Oh, my, what am I going to do? He’s going to spill that all over me, and Betty’s going to meet me at the plane, and what will she think about me? Oh!" So I reached up and I said, "Here, I will take it for you."
So I took it, and he got his hands back down again. And then I gave it to him, and he said, "Thank you so much."
I said, "Where have you been?"
He said, "I’ve been in Las Vegas."
"What you been doing in Las Vegas?"
Well, I can’t repeat it here in the pulpit. And after he drank that he said, "Now, I feel a lot better."
Then I just looked at that group. So far as I know, out of that big plane full of people – what does one of them hold, sixty-five? Out of that big plane full of people, I was the only one that refused to drink liquor. I was the only one. Now, I don’t go to these parties, and I’m not down here in this business world, and I don’t know about it. I don’t live in that kind of a world. But as I looked at that group which is a cross section of the business life of America, there was one person on that board that refused to drink liquor, and he was a Baptist preacher. Why, this world, this world!
Now, I want to continue with that: "dead in trespasses and in sins" [Ephesians 2:1] this world. And unless God does something, there is no regeneration, no salvation.
Now, I want to continue with that. I preached at the state evangelistic conference for the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho in the city of Portland. And when the evening came, before I went to the service, I went to the dining room of the hotel. And when I walked in the door, a group of people at a large, round table asked me if I wouldn’t come and eat dinner with them. So I sat down with them and ate dinner with them. They introduced themselves as Canadians. Some of them were from British Columbia and some of them were from Alberta. They were very devout and very consecrated, and they had come down there to attend the evangelistic conference. So as we talked, they began to tell me how they were saved.
The man to my left was a distinguished-looking man: iron-gray hair, splendidly dressed, fine speech – a wonderful man. And this is how he was saved. In the later years of his life, he went to live in Vancouver, the big city in British Columbia, and his mother lives in the same city. And his mother said to her son, who is now in the latter years of his life, she said, "Son, I want you to go with me to church." Upon her insistence, he went to church.
He said to me, "For three months, I went with my mother to church – sat down there by her side and wondered, ‘What is it all about? Why do these people come here?’" He said, "It was the most meaningless exercise I think I ever listened to or shared in."
I have been in church all my life. I have been a Christian all my life. As soon as I was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, I gave my heart to the Lord, and the services always have meant something to me, every part of them. Yet that man in the world: go to church, knew nothing of its meaning at all, and it meant nothing to him. Dead, like the Bible says, dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1].
As I listened to him, I wondered about our services. People who are lost into the world coming in – does any of it mean anything to them? Do they wonder, "Why do these people gather together"? There was he sitting there just because of his mother – no meaning in the service at all: absolutely dead, dead, dead.
But he said, "I had an experience I cannot explain."
I guess it was an answer to his mother’s prayers or maybe the people who came to know him there in the church. I do not know. He said, "But I had an experience, an experience of grace." He said, "I got on my knees one night in my room, knelt by the side of my bed. And there," he said, "in my bedroom, I gave my heart to Jesus, and I became a Christian." And since that time, apparently, he is the pillar in the church. The whole church life, as I talked to him, seems to revolve around that wonderful, fine and consecrated businessman. Yet dead, dead: meant nothing to him at all, wondered why they gathered there. No meaning whatsoever – dead.
God has to do something. Somebody’s got to pray. Mother’s got to pray, or wife has to pray, or child has to pray, or the pastor has to pray, or the people have to pray. Somebody has to pray. God has to be moved to resurrect the dead.
Now, I must close, but not without one other thing. Do you remember this morning? What service was it – the first or the second service? That couple came with that precious little girl, and I saidI wanted to say something about that. I didn’t have time this morning. May I say it now? The man to my right – they all told me how they were saved. The man to my right, this is what he said. He said, "I was reared in a very austere home. My father was very rigid." He said, "When I was nine years of age – when I was nine years of age, I had a great conviction, a deep conviction in my soul, that I was lost. I was lost." And he said, "I went to my father in tears, weeping and crying, and I said to my father I was lost and I wanted to be saved. And my father said to me, ‘Son, you are too young to understand. You cannot be saved. You’re not old enough.’" He said for forty-two years that feeling never came back again – forty-two years that feeling never came back again and lost and out in the world and wayward, not attending church, not anything!
He married. And when the children got old enough, they took them to Sunday school, and he was converted going to the services with the children and his wife. But he said this to me, he said, "A month ago my mother died." And he said, "As I sat by my mother and she talked to me just before she died, she said, ‘Son, when your father died, he and I spoke about you. And your father said to me, ‘Wife, the greatest mistake we ever made in our lives was when that nine year-old boy came and we wouldn’t let him give his heart to Jesus. We said he’s too young."’
Forty-two years. I do not understand that. It is strange, but for forty-two years after that, out and away. When the time comes, at the troubling of the water [John 5:4], at the moving of the Spirit [John 16:7-11], that’s the day. That’s the day.
I’ve preached all my life that I did not think a man could be saved just when he took a notion to. I may be wrong in that. I think Esau cried and wept and begged, and the day of his opportunity was past [Genesis 25:21-34, 27:30-40; Hebrews 12:15-17]. I think there are times when God knocks at the door when a man says no, it may come or it may not come again.
I am not God. There is an inscrutable mystery of our salvation that I cannot understand. How is it that I am saved, and there and there and yonder they are not? The elective purpose and choice of God. Oh, how I want to thank Him for me. Oh, God, thank Thee for saving me.
If the Spirit calls, that’s the time to respond. A little child or a youth or you, when the Spirit is nigh and the Lord is near and the people are praying, that’s the time to be saved, to give your heart to God, to give your life to Jesus. And that’s the appeal that we make in this service tonight.
I wanted to change that song, changing the sermon. I want you to sing number 328, number 328, number 328. And while we sing that song – it’s a song of prayer – while we sing that song, is there someone tonight whom the Lord calls? Would you come and stand by me? Down that stairwell, front or back, from the side to side in this place, into that aisle down here to the front, would you come and give me your hand? "Preacher, I give tonight my heart to God. In token, I give you my hand." Would you come, or one, or a family you, while we sing? By letter, by confession of faith, by baptism, as God shall open the door and make the appeal, would you come while we stand and while we sing?
BRETHREN, PRAY FOR US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
A. Not an unusual request for Paul(Romans 15:30, Ephesians 6:18-20, Colossians 4:2-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:17)
B. God’s way for His people – the way of prayer(Ezekiel 36:37)
1. God has His way for His macrocosms and microcosms
2. God has His way for His world, for His plants and animals
C. Prayer the great power by which His church should do its work
II. Prayer and the soul-winning church
A. Without prayer, intercession and appeal, the church can be fundamental, orthodox, Bible-loving, but at same time anemic, weak
1. Not evangelistic – a group contained, surrounded, overwhelmed
2. Preaching in Canada, northeastern and northwestern U.S.
B. Resurrection of the "dead in trespasses and in sins" an act of God(Ephesians 2:11)
1. Dependent upon the breath of God
2. Resurrection, creation, the prerogatives of God(2 Corinthians 5:17)
3. The world spiritually dead
a. Airliner full – I the only one who refused liquor
b. The Canadians at the ’58 Oregon Evangelistic Conference
C. The prayerful watching over children