The Dedicated Life
March 16th, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
THE DEDICATED LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:23‑24
3-16-58 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn to the first Thessalonian letter, the first Thessalonian letter; this is the last message on the first Thessalonian epistle. And the message is entitled The Life of Dedication. Now let us read the last chapter, do you have it? First Thessalonians, the last chapter; this is the last message, we ready? First Thessalonians 5, reading the whole chapter. Now let us begin, 1 Thessalonians 5, the whole chapter:
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor 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 every thing 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 a 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 5:1-28]
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
[1 Thessalonians 5:23-24]
And the title of the message is The Life Of Dedication. It is first of all—and this message is a summary of this first epistle—the life of dedication is first of all one that begins in an experience of conversion, of conviction in the Holy Spirit, of listening to the Word of God, of receiving that Word as it is in truth, the very Word of God; even in affliction, even in persecution, receiving God’s message without shame, without reserve, and showing forth to others that same commitment of life.
In the first chapter is described the conversion of these Thessalonian Christians:
Our gospel came not unto you in word only—
not just sound and sentence—
But as it is in truth the word of God; in power, in the Holy Spiri, and in much assurance . . .
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Spirit . . .
For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad.
[1 Thessalonians 1:5-8]
The Christian life of dedication begins in a conversion commitment, in an experience of grace, receiving the word of God . . . giving our lives to the truth of the Lord. And if it is in affliction, if it is in persecution, our commitment still stands. We have given our lives in faith to the Lord, however anyone may say, however they may do, whichever way others may go, however they may choose, we are receiving the gift of life in Christ by faith. And the dedicated life begins in that conversion experience.
In the second chapter, the dedicated life is one that is founded on the word of God; second chapter, thirteenth verse:
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God . . . 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]
That is, their conversion experience is not tied on to some pronouncement or somebody’s opinion, or to an ecclesiastical bull, or promulgation, or dogma, or set-up theological opinions; but their conversion and their experience and their assurance is founded upon the word of God. Nor is the life of dedication in its experience founded upon emotional feeling that may rise, that may fall, that may come, that may go, that may do as it pleases; but our assurance of salvation is never based on feeling.
I may feel like I’m in heaven one day. I may feel like I’m walking on the very brink of perdition the next day. I may feel like I’m attended by angels one day. I may feel like I’m beset by devils the next. I may be up in the air like a kite, like a Fourth of July flag one day. I may be down in the bottom of the well the next day. If you are a normal person, you’ll doubtless feel those fluctuations of feeling, of emotion; all of life is like that. If you tie your salvation onto your feelings, it will drag you to death. Our conversion experience and our life of dedication is to be based upon the immutable and unchanging Word of God.
In the middle of the night, at two o’clock in the morning, tomorrow afternoon, tomorrow at midnight, early in the morning, any time, the great promises of God are everlastingly the same. “As many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become the children of God, even to them that trust on His name” [John 1:12].
And when you base your salvation on the word and promise of Jesus—“He said it, I believe it, that settles it”—then you can know a life of peace and joy and commitment, however you feel, however the thing is, however it turns. I believe God, and I’m basing my soul and my life and my salvation on the word and promise of God. And the flower fades and the grass withers, but the word and promise of God stand forever [Isaiah 40:8]. Heaven and earth may pass away; but His Word shall never pass away [Luke 21:33].
I’m a Christian. How? Because I believe Jesus; that settles it. Don’t need anything else, don’t want anything else; not looking for anything else. I don’t expect to see an angel. If I could, it would be fine. I don’t expect to see a light from heaven, if I could, it would be fine. But I’m not looking for it—don’t need it, don’t want it, except in the providence of God. And someday He might vouchsafe me a vision of heaven, but I’m not basing my salvation on a light from heaven. And I’m not basing my salvation on the vision of an angel. God says it, I trust it, I believe it, that’s enough. Don’t need anything else. The life of dedication is built upon the immutable and unchanging Word of God [Matthew 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:13].
All right, in the third chapter, the life of dedication is one of love and fellowship in the communion of the saints among the people of the Lord. “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love to one another, and toward all men, even as also we love you” [1 Thessalonians 3:12].
You can’t build a church, you can’t build a church when people on the inside of it are envious of one another, when they’re critical of each other, when they stand and are all filled with jealousy of one another. You can’t have a great church unless there is in that church a great fellowship and a great spirit. I am surprised when I leave our loved and beloved and precious communion. I am surprised in how many churches that ugly thing raises its head, and men don’t like one another, and they divide in the fellowship of the saints, and they pull against each other, and the poor pastor is caught in the stream, and he doesn’t know where to turn. And it makes for a weak witness, and it makes for an infantile fellowship. Let me tell you something according to the Word of the Lord, the only way to learn—now listen—the only way to learn the full breadth, and length, and height, and the love of God is to do it in the fellowship of the saints. Listen to this:
For this cause I—Paul—bow my knees unto [God] the Father…
That you may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, length, depth, height, and the love of [God in] Christ [Jesus].
[Ephesians 3:14, 18-19]
You can never know it, the breadth, length, depth, height, and love of God in Christ Jesus. You can never know it apart from the fellowship of the saints.
Somehow the Christian religion is never individual, it is always social. It is always in koinōnia; it’s in a fellowship, it’s in a church, it’s among us! And when I stand apart and pull myself aside, and look on my brother or upon my brethren in contempt, or in superiority, or in supercilious scorn, or in contumacious egotism, there’s something happens on the inside of me. I die on the inside, and something happens on the inside of the church. The life of dedication is one of great love in the fellowship and communion of the saints. And if we’re ever going to build a great church here, it has to be built in a great confidence, and a great unity, and a great fellowship, and a great love.
Brother, that means a lot of overlooking—a lot of things in me you have to overlook—a lot of things in one another you have to overlook. A lot of things we have to forgive, forget, bury them out of sight, let God take care of them.
About nine-hundred and ninety‑nine times out of a thousand, if you’ll just commit somebody to God and love him for Jesus’ sake, God will give him a new way, and a new heart, and a new spirit, and a new attitude, and a new life. Let God have it, and let our part be to love them in Jesus’ name—preaching to myself, preaching to this old sinner up here in the pulpit, talking to me, talking to me, “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:32].
The life of dedication: it is one of expectancy and of comfort and of hope. In the fourth chapter, we have that immortal and incomparably, precious passage. Our citizenship is in heaven [Philippians 3:19], and when our beloved families break up—and father goes on and mother goes on and loved member goes on and friend dies—we’re not telling them good‑bye, not we who are Christians [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]. This grave is not the night, it’s not the end, it’s just the beginning of a glorious vista that reaches into the eternities beyond [Colossians 3:1]. Our Lord is in heaven, and we’re looking for Him some of these days [Titus 2:13]. And at His blessed feet will be gathered all of His children to love and worship in His name, world without end [1 Thessalonians 4:17]. The life of dedication is one of hope and expectancy and of comfort in the Lord Jesus Christ and His glorious appearing [Titus 2:13].
Now in the last chapter, the life of dedication is one of joy and of thanksgiving in prayer, “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks” [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18]. The life of dedication is one of gladness and of joy and of thanksgiving. I do not know of anything that dishonors our Lord more than a morose, moody, taciturn spirit. Oh, we magnify God as Mr. Souther said, Dr. Ryrie said, “We show Him forth. We glorify God in a spirit of holy gladness, and joy, and triumph, and thanksgiving.”
You know, these stories that I heard when I was a boy, as I look at them now, they’re so melodramatic and untrue to life in a way, yet those things that my pastor would say in his sermons, and he’d fill his sermons full of stories, as I’d listen to them, some of those stories have stayed in my mind for the years since my boyhood. This is a typical one he’d tell:
He said that a rich man, the banker, the richest man in the country and in that community, he dreamed and for several nights he dreamed that the richest man in town was dead. And as the dream came back and came back, it bothered him so that he couldn’t sleep. So he arose early one morning and went out walking, unable to sleep—see if he could quiet his heart. The richest man in town was dead, and that was he, that was he; he was the richest man in town. And the richest man in town is dead, he saw in his dream.
And as this rich banker walked along, he heard somebody talking around the bend of the road. And he quietly walked down the road and looked, and there in a cove was a poor beggar of a man, and he had a little can of cold water, and he had a crust of dry bread. And he was bowed in prayer before his can of cold water and a crust of dry bread, and he was thanking God for the blessings of life and for the gifts of the day. And when the rich banker turned around and walked back to his home, the preacher said he was a better and wiser man, knowing what God meant when God said the richest man in town is dead.
For, said that preacher, for in a few hours after the banker saw that poor bum thanking God over the crust and the cold [water], a car ran over him and killed him. And the banker saw the silent form that God said was the richest man in town.
Those things are melodramatic I know, but they are illustrative of the great truths of the Almighty. We are to be thankful. We are to rejoice. I may have a can of cold water, I shall rejoice over that. I may have a dry crust of bread, we shall rejoice over that. I may have a hard time, we shall rejoice that in hardships and trials and tribulations, God sustains His own. We are always—in sickness and in health, in poverty and in riches, in age or in youth—we are always to be thankful [1 Thessalonians 5:18] and to rejoice evermore [1 Thessalonians 5:16]. And we are to pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17], that’s the life of dedication, not that we’re praying all the time.
I read—and brother, this was the best illustration of that I’d come across in my life—the great saint, the great man of God, they were talking about, “wonder what his prayer life was like?” And so the fellow got under the bed, and he slipped there under that bed so that he could see how the saint of God, the great man of God prayed. So he slipped underneath that bed and hid himself under the bed. And the great saint of God came in, disrobed, put on his night clothes—didn’t even kneel at the bedside, didn’t even pray for hours and hours and all night long—disrobed, put on his night clothes, lay down in bed, and calmly and sweetly said, “Good night, Lord. Thank Thee for every moment and every hour of the day.” He’d been praying all day long! The incense upon the altar of intercession had risen to God through every hour and every moment of the day. And when he came to the nighttime, he just said, “Good night, Lord. Thank Thee for the hours and moments of the day.”
Living a life of devotion; not “this is my prayer time,” and that’s all. And “this is my devotion” and that’s all. We need that, I know, but there ought to be the spirit of prayer, and intercession, and devotion, and asking God all through the day! The incense ever burning upon the altar, rising up to God; praying without ceasing, our heart is a life of devotion. And this last, the life of dedication is one:
The very God of peace sanctify you wholly . . . your whole spirit and soul and body preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.
[1 Thessalonians 5:23-24]
The life of dedication is one first where God sanctifies us in His will: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification” [1 Thessalonians 4:3], “And God Himself—translated here ‘the very God of peace’—sanctify you wholly” [1 Thessalonians 5:23]. It is the will of God, our sanctification. That is, He sets us apart, aside; we don’t belong to the world, we don’t belong out there. We belong in the will, and in the service, and in the ministry of Christ; He sets us apart. God does it, He does it; we don’t do it, He does it.
God sets us apart, and it involves three things. First, it involves a separation, a separation. What I cannot consecrate to God, I must yield, I must surrender. This belongs to God, and if I cannot consecrate it, dedicate it, give it to God, then I must yield it and give it up. Like Elisha, when Elijah called him. “Elisha, follow me,” Elisha took the oxen that he was plowing, and Elisha took the instruments by which he was plowing, and he cut up the plows and the instruments, and he slew the oxen, and he burnt them there for a sacrifice before God and went to follow Elijah [1 Kings 19:19-21]. That’s the way every man has to do who lives the dedicated life. Whatever holds you back, whatever ties you down, give it up, yield it, surrender it, and go follow the Lord. It is first a separation, it is a dedication, a commitment:
I beseech you by the mercies of God, that you yield your body and soul a living sacrifice unto the Lord…Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed, that you might prove, exhibit, what is that true will of God.
The dedication of which is your service, your spiritual service, translated “your reasonable service” [Romans 12:1]. And it is a divine in-filling—not an emptiness, not a yieldedness, not just a giving up—not a negative thing. If all the Christian religion is, is “I just don’t do that,” and “I give up,” and “I yield that,” and that’s all it is, then that’s nothing. But these things are asked of us of God in order that God might fill our souls with something better.
Give up the world, and God will fill your heart with heaven to take its place. Give up all of these things that separate between you and God, and God will give you ten times, a hundred times as much—a better time, a better friend, a better house, a better home, a better boyfriend, a better proposal, a better marriage, a better wife, a better husband, everything better! Nobody ever gave up for Jesus and emptied himself of the things that separated between him and God, but that God gave him ten times as much, ten times as much.
Oh, I could get on my knees to some of you who are listening to me here preach tonight, I could get on my knees and plead with you. There are some things in your life, if you’d just give them up, just give them up, just give them up, God would give you a hundred times as much if you would; if you would. Why don’t you give it up? Why don’t you give it up? Give it up, try it and see if God will not fill you heart, and your home, and your soul, and your life with a hundred times as much. Gladness, joy, fellowship, everything good—life is in His hands, health is in His hands, joy is in His hands, gladness is in His hands—everything is in God’s hands. Let God fill your life.
And this life of dedication He preserves moment by moment and day by day. He preserves it unblamable unto that final coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Faithful is He that calleth you, who will do it” [1 Thessalonians 5:24].
“Now, preacher, just how does God do that?” Well, I’ll show you how—preserving us unblamable, unblamable until the great day of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Thessalonians 5:23]—and I’ll show you how. There is in the heart of every dedicated life, every consecrated life, there’s a wanting, there’s a wanting to honor God. That’s what it is to be a Christian, to serve the Lord Christ and to honor Him. That’s part of it. That’s the woof of it when you cut it and look at it, that’s it: a desire in your heart. We may be feeble, and staggering, and hesitant, and all kinds of weakness and frailty in us, but our hearts—if they belong to Christ, if we’re looking to Him, if we’re dedicated, if we have a dedicated life, that’s in our souls—there’s a goal there, there’s a wanting there, there’s a dedication there, there’s a reaching out there. Now, what does he mean by the Lord “will preserve us blameless until His coming”? [1 Thessalonians 5:23]. Well, I’ll show you.
How many of you have little children who have grown up in your home or you have them now? Did you ever watch them read, when they start to read? Such sorry reading, such sorry reading. Why, they mispronounce the words, and they spell them, and they back up, and they have a hard time reading. But with all of their frailty and ignorance and unlearnedness, we hold them unblamable as they’re trying to learn to read. You never think of them as culpable and to be denounced because they can’t read good. They’re trying, and they’re just trying and learning, and you encourage them and reward them when they do good at it. Or take your child again, and the child is trying to write, trying to learn to write; and oh, such crooked writing! “Goodness, what’d you say that was? I can’t even read that.” Such writing, such sorry, no account, crooked writing. But the little child is learning, and he’s reaching out, and he’s trying. And you don’t hold him blamable because he writes crooked and you can hardly read it, and you can hardly understand what he’s trying to write there.
You commend him and encourage him; that’s exactly what that means there. When the Lord holds us, keeps us unblamable unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Thessalonians 5:23], it may be a sorry effort, but brother, we’re trying. It may be a sorry following after, but brother, we’re trying. It may be a poor representation of the Christian faith, but brother, my heart’s in it. I’m on the way. I’m on the way. And God doesn’t judge us by the crookedness of our sorry writing, and by the frailties of our spelling and our reading, but God judges us by the thing we have in our hearts. We want to serve Him. And He holds us unblamable, unblamable [1 Thessalonians 5:23-24]. He just commends us and encourages us. “Come along, come along, come along.”
I have to close. While we sing this hymn tonight, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. Somebody to walk with us in the pilgrim way, would you come and stand by me? Somebody to start out on the glory road, would you come and walk with us? Somebody you, a family you, a youth or a child, a couple, a father and mother, a whole family, while we sing this hymn of invitation, somebody you, following in the steps of the Lord, “May be a very feeble faith, but here I come,” maybe hesitant, hardly spell it out, “But my heart’s that way, preacher, and I’m walking toward the Lord.”
I do not count that I have arrived, I have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those past failures and frailties, I press on toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,
“In His love, and in His grace, and in His forgiveness and patience, I’m on the way,” would you come with us? Would you come with us? In the pilgrimage to Zion, our citizenship in glory from which we expect our Lord and Savior [Philippians 3:20], would you march with us? Would you come?
Down those back stairwells, up here at the front, “Here I am, preacher, by the grace of God, trusting Jesus and looking unto Him, here I am, and here I come.” Into that aisle, down these stairwells, here to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart in trust to Jesus, He can have me, He can take me. I give my soul and life to Him, and here I am, here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.
THE LIFE OF DEDICATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
A. Not on a theological system, series of opinions or pronouncements
B. Not on the uncertainty of an emotional experience
C. But on the immutable and unchanging Word and promise of God (John 1:12, Isaiah 40:8, Luke 21:33)III. Living the life of love(1 Thessalonians 3:12)
A. Not cold, formal Christians; but affectionate children of one dear family
B. Only in fellowship “with all saints” can we know the depth of love of God in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:14, 18-19, 4:32)IV. Living the life of hope, expectancy(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
A. This life is but the beginning – our citizenship is in heavenV. Living the life of joy, prayer and thankfulness(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
A. Nothing makes our Christian influence as effective as the spirit of thankfulness, holy gladness
1. Banker’s dream – “richest man in town is dead”
B. Not prayer, but a life of prayer
1. The man who hid under the bed of the saint to see how he prayedVI. The life of dedication(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
A. Sanctification the will of God for us (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 5:23)
1. Separation – what I cannot consecrate to God, give up, surrender(1 Kings 19:21)
2. Dedication(Romans 12:1-2)
3. Infilling – not an empty vessel
B. The work of God(1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
1. He sets us apart to Himself
2. Preserved blameless in it