WEAVING THE PATTERNS OF LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-25-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing a morning message dedicated to young families. It is entitled The Weaving of the Patterns of Life. In the passage of Scripture that we read of the childhood of Jesus are these two verses at the first, at the end, of the passage: "And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him" [Luke 2:40]. Then we concluded it: "And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them . . . and Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" [Luke 2: 51-52]. It pleased God when His Son was born incarnate into this earth to place Him in the heart of a family [Luke 2:1-16]. I suppose God could have chosen that He be miraculously brought up alone in a desert, that He live a life of a hermit, that He appear like Elijah just out of nowhere with great pronouncements and judgments of God, and then as He came, suddenly to disappear. But no; when God chose and elected the life incarnate for His Son, He placed Him in the heart of a family. And He grew up as any other child grows up, and He was taught and trained with the loving heart and the guiding dedicated hand of a wonderful mother.
Now the training of this Child becomes apparent in the patterns that were woven into His life, or you could call them the habits that finally and ultimately formed His character. There were things in the life of our Lord that He knew as a child. They were commonplace to Him in the home. And you see them appear in His after and public life. Now this is by no means exhaustive: in the little brief while that we have in this worship moment, I can just say a few of the things. But here are some. There must have been in His life as a child a constant habit of praying before breaking bread. For in the story of His life, wherever you find Him breaking bread, sharing in a meal, you find Him first bowing His head or lifting up His eyes to heaven in giving thanks. In the ninth chapter, for example, of this Book of Luke, you have the story of the feeding of the five thousand; and it begins with five loaves placed in His hand and two small fishes [Luke 9:13-14]. And then the Scriptures say, "And lifting up His eyes to heaven, He gave thanks; then break, and they did eat" [Luke 9:16-17]. In the twenty-second chapter of this same Gospel of Luke, you have the story of the Passover and of the institution of the Lord’s Supper [Luke 22:13-22]. And the Scriptures say, "And He took bread and blessed it, and then they shared it together. Then in like manner, He took the cup and blessed it" [Luke 22:17-20]. And that’s why you call it a Eucharist because the Greek word for blessing is eucharis. The communion itself, the Lord’s Supper itself, is called the Eucharist; that is, He blessed it, He gave thanks as the Scriptures say in other passages [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 15:23-26]. He took bread and He gave thanks; and He took the cup and He gave thanks, and they shared it together [Luke 22:17-19].
Well, let’s take just one other incident. In the last chapter of this Third Gospel, the twenty-fourth, is what the French critic Renan calls "the most beautiful story in the world." It’s the story of the two walking dejected from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And as they walk and are sad, a third companion joins them. And He asks them why they are sad [Luke 24:13-17]. And they tell Him why: the great Prophet, whom they had counted on and looked forward to, had been crucified. And every hope is lost [Luke 24:18-21]. And as they walk along, that stranger talks to them about the Bible, shows them how the Christ must suffer and die and be raised again, according to Moses and all of the Prophets [Luke 24:25-27]. And in eventide, walking that journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, why, they turned to go home, and He made as though He would walk on down the road. And they constrained Him, "Abide with us. It is late, toward evening" [Luke 24:28-29]. And He accepted their invitation; He always does. I never heard of His refusing one. He accepted their invitation and sat down. And the Scriptures say, "And He took bread, and gave thanks; and as they shared it, their eyes were opened," and they knew Him, they recognized Him in the way that He gave thanks" [Luke 24:30-31]. Our Lord had a habit, He had a turn, He had a way of saying grace, a blessing at the table. And when He said that blessing, their eyes were opened, and they knew Him. It is the Lord. What a wonderful way to be known: by the way that you pray.
Well, another habit in His life: He had a devotional life that went along with the busiest of activities. You know, however a man might think about that rough reformer, Martin Luther, he was a tremendous man of God. And when he was busy and busier and busiest in his life with the reformation of the whole civilized Christian world on his heart and on his soul, he said, "I am so busy and burdened, I cannot do my work without at least three hours a day in prayer" – like our Lord. When Mark, the second evangelist, begins the story of the life of Jesus, in the first chapter, he says, after describing the busy, busy, busy day with the throngs around Him, Mark says, "And He arose a great while before morning, and went out to a solitary place to pray" [Mark 1:35], a habit in His life; and that’s all the way through His life, all the way through.
Now I point out one more. In the Third Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, Luke begins the story of the public ministry of our Lord after the baptism [Luke 3:21-23], and temptation [Luke 4:1-13], then to Nazareth. Now, Luke says it like this: "And He came to Nazareth, where He was brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day" [Luke 4:16]. Now do you see that? To the place where He was brought up, "as His custom was," that is, from childhood, He had known no other thing than to go to the house of the Lord.
Now, that’s the background for two brief things that I have opportunity to speak of this morning. The first, our family life at home; when the door is shut. And the second, our church life; our public life before God. Now, I speak first of our family life, the family circle: the boy and his wife, and the boy and his wife and the first child, or the second child, and a whole family group. It is a wonderful thing for a family to anchor their life upon God. I could expatiate and elaborate upon that endlessly. Out of the pastoral experience of thirty years, there would be hardly any end to my speaking upon it. I say just one thing and that’s all. There is no family, and there is no couple, but that somewhere, sometime, will find themselves in desperate and agonizing need of God. It just does come. Sometimes it’s in disappointment. Sometimes it’s in despair. Sometimes it is in deep sorrow. But it comes; it always comes.
Last week before I went to the convention, I delayed my going to the convention until late in the evening because of the death of a precious little three-year-old beautiful girl, to one of the families, belonged to one of the precious couples in this church. It is not just in old age that we need God. We need Him all the time. But those especial times and those desperate times come to youth, as well as to age.
Do you remember the story of the Shunammite woman? She is never named; she is just called "a great woman" [2 Kings 4:8]. Elisha passed by, and she said to her husband, "This man of God, let us make for him a little chamber"; that is, build a room on the house, "Let us put in it a bed, and a table, and a chair, and a lamp: and it shall be, when he passes by, he will turn in and stay with us" [2 Kings 4:9-10]. And they were kind to the man of God. And because of that kindness, God heard a prayer of the prophet, placed in her arms a baby boy [2 Kings 4:14-17]. And when the child was growing up, out in the field with his father, "Oh, my head, my head." And the father said to the servant, "Take him to his mother" [2 Kings 4:18-19]. That’s like any father: "Take your little boy to his mother." And the mother received him in her arms, and he lay there in her lap until he died [2 Kings 4:20]. Then what? That’s the beauty part, I think, of the story: she knew the man of God, and she knew the God of the man. And immediately she made her way to the prophet and laid her broken heart before the man of God [2 Kings 4:22-28]. And the story ends as you would expect a story to end: Elisha the prophet raises to life the son of the Shunammite woman and gives him back into her arms [2 Kings 4:32-37]. There will come a time in your life, inevitably, when you desperately need God. And oh! How wonderful to be on speaking terms with Him, to call His name, to make it a matter of prayer, to ask the help and presence of the Lord.
May I say another thing about that home life? Pity the child that has to say, "I never heard my parents pray." A child ought to know no other thing than to talk to God. A little fellow, teach him to pray; and all through his life encourage him to pray. I saw a cartoon. On one side was a little family with their heads bowed; father, mother, children, heads bowed. And underneath the caption, "These give thanks." Now the other half of the cartoon: there was a bunch of hogs at a trough; and the caption underneath, "These don’t." It was a very crude way of saying it; but when I saw it, I thought, "How true, how true. Hogs don’t give thanks! Pigs don’t give thanks! And some human pigs and hogs, they don’t give thanks either! They eat like animals: get out of the way, let’s have at it." Ah, I can’t see it. How much better, better, better, infinitely better, to wait until the family can all be together and sit down and bow the head in thanks? Let the little fellow pray also. Father can lead the prayer; call on him first, call on all of them to pray. But teach the little fellow to remember it is God that gives us strength and breath and life, our daily bread.
Then to have a devotional life in your family is an infinite blessing, private for you, and if at all possible, where all can share in it. These things are of heaven. Then could I say a word about rearing our children? I came across a parable some days ago, and it made a great impression upon me. The story was that the baby sharks were teaching the baby crabs not to walk backward, but frontward. And the baby sharks were having a terrible time teaching the baby crabs to walk front and not back. And the parable said no matter how good the little baby sharks were teaching the baby crabs to walk front and not back, why, the next morning when they looked at the baby crabs again, there they were as they were before, walking backward, walking backward. And the baby sharks were having a hard time figuring out why it was that their teaching didn’t stick, and the baby crabs didn’t keep on walking frontward, until the baby sharks went home to spend the night with the baby crabs. And they found the reason why: mama crab and papa crab all were walking backwards, all were swimming backwards. Well, I submit to you: it is very, very difficult to overcome the example and the teaching that a child receives in the home. In the second chapter of the Book of [Judges], it says, "Joshua," in the second chapter of the Book of Judges, "Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died . . . And there arose another generation, which knew not the Lord . . . And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord . . . And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers" [Judges 2:8-12]. I wonder why? Joshua was a man that he quoted in his prayer, "And with Joshua we say, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" [Joshua 24:15]. But you can lose the very knowledge of God in one generation. Joshua died, God’s servant; and the generation that followed Joshua did not teach their children the name and the way of the Lord. "And there arose another generation which knew not God" [Judges 2:10].
Over here in the ninth chapter of the Book of Judges is a parable that all of us ought to remember. Says that the king of the forest, the trees of the forest were looking for a king to reign over them, and they came to the olive tree and said to the olive tree, "Reign over us." And the olive tree said, "Shall I leave my fatness to go reign over you?" Then the trees of the forest went to the fig tree and said, "Come, and reign over us." And the fig tree said, "Shall I turn from my sweetness, and my fruit, to reign over you?" Then they went to the vine and said to the vine, "Come, and reign over us." And the vine said, "Shall I leave my fruit and my wine in order to reign over you?" And then they went to the bramble and said, "Come, and reign over us." And the bramble accepted and said, "Come into my shadow" [Judges 9:8-15]. That’s life. Don’t you think any other thing but that somebody is going to teach that child. And if it’s not the vine or the fig tree or the olive, it’ll be the brier and the thorn and the thistle! I heard a man say out here that these streets of the city give no degrees, and they confer no citations and diplomas; but they educate with awful precision! However the child is taught is the way that finally he’ll be. Now I said, "finally, finally." I’m not saying he’d be that way all the way through. He may stumble, he may stagger, he may drift, he might even be prodigal, but when a child is taught in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4], finally he’ll never depart from it! "Teach up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, when he is old" [Proverbs 22:6], he may depart when he’s a teenager, he may bring sorrow to your heart by dereliction, but by and by, finally he’ll come back. He can’t get away from it: it’s a part of his soul, his life, his character, his very whatever it is that makes him.
When Moses was forty years of age, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, the next heir to the throne of the Pharaohs, he chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than enjoy the embellishments and stipends and rewards of the highest throne in the earth [Hebrews 11:24-25]. Why? Why, you know why: his mother had taught him. When Pharaoh’s daughter hired her as a nurse, she not only brought the child up physically nursing him, but she placed the love of God in his heart and in his soul! [Exodus 2:4-10]. And when he was a man, he couldn’t forget.
You know, I used to wonder, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews; Samson is named as a hero of the faith [Hebrews 11:32]. I used to wonder at that. Did you ever? Samson, of all of the animals who gave himself to carnality, he’s the worst! Samson. Yet he’s enrolled as a hero of faith. I used to wonder at that. Then I read the story a little more carefully. Why, it is apparent. It is true that Samson went down into the land of Philistia, and there did he waste his gifts before God [Judges 13:1-16:20]. And the Philistines put out his eyes, and they bound him, and he ground at the prison mill. But the story doesn’t end there. After they’d made sport of him, and fun of him, and ridiculed his God, they put him aside, tired of him for the moment [Judges 16:21-25]. And as Samson stood there, held and led by the hand of even a little boy, who was stronger now than Samson, with his eyes gone, Samson said to the lad that held him by the hand, "Lad, would you put one of my hands on one of the pillars that hold the temple? And would you put my other hand on the other pillar on which rests the temple?" And the little boy put one of the hands of Samson on one and his other hand on the other. And now do you remember? And Samson bowed his head and prayed to the God of his fathers. You don’t ever forget! You can’t. You don’t ever finally get away from it; you can’t. It’s in your soul; it’s in your heart! And though he had wasted his life in the most carnal way, he bowed his head and prayed, "O God, hear me, just this once, and let me die with the Philistines" [Judges 16:26-30].
All right, it says he’s a man of faith: let me lead you to any temple, small or great that you will name, and let me put one of your hands on one side and one of your hands on the other side, and see if you have the faith to believe God will help you pull it down. Would you like to try? Would you like to try? They said he was a man of faith. And he bowed his head and prayed, "Lord, hear me just this once." And then, in faith he bowed his great shoulders. And when his father and his mother came, they found him there, dead among the Philistines; but a child of faith and a hero of the Book [Judges 16:30-31; Hebrews 11:32]. You don’t ever get away, you can’t. And when it is taught and inbred in the heart of a child, you have the promise that you can claim: that God will see that child through; "Sometimes through the valley, sometimes through the flood, sometimes through the fire, but all through the blood" [from "God Leads Us Along," G. A. Young]. Don’t you worry, you teach the child in the way he should go, and when he’s old, he’ll not depart from it; he’ll come back, he’ll be back [Proverbs 22:6].
Now, that’s just half of this sermon. The other half was our church life; our family life, our church life. Let me summarize in just a moment if I can. The worship of God is always social. It was in the Old Testament. The people of the Lord were divided into family groups; you call them tribes or clans, and to be cut off from the family group was to wither like a branch. They were family groups, the children of Israel, the twelve tribes, the twelve clans [Genesis :1-28]. It was so in the New Testament. In the New Testament, the church is called an ekklesia. That’s not a thing invented by the New Testament authors; an ekklesia was a common word used for "the calling out of the township or the state, the assembly of the people, an ekklesia, the called out." And it was so in the people of God. A church, what you have translated "church," a church, is the Greek word "ekklesia, the calling out, the gathering together of the people of the Lord." And in some of these days when we lift up our eyes to that great and final assize, it is called "the city of God, the New Jerusalem" [Revelation 21:2]. I’m just saying to you that it is always social in nature; we’re together. We’re together, that’s what it is, to love God and to love one another, is to be together with Him and one another.
Now you listen to me: there is no such thing as a normal person that does not find his very life in a social group. To live alone is to die. To be a hermit is to be abnormal and strange and peculiar. It is the most normal thing in this world when you see people you like to say, "Let’s get together sometime." All right, let’s get together sometime. Then what? Let’s get together sometime, and the kids are together. Let’s get together sometime, and the young folks are together. Let’s get together sometime, and the young adults are together. Let’s get together sometime, and the old folks are together. Then what? That’s where you go astray: you don’t go astray in your work; you go astray in your social life. And that’s why God said to center your life in the church [Hebrews 10:23-25]. Your social life, in God’s house and in God’s community, and not to put it out there in the world; you’re not to rear those children out there in the world. You’re to find the heart of your life for yourself and your children and the young folks in the church of God! This is a community. That’s what a church is: it’s a fellowship, it’s a koinonia, it’s God’s people together; the young folks, and the kids, and the babies, and the old folks, all of us together in the church. And we’re not to find our interests out there. We’re not to find our social satisfactions out there; but God says we’re to find them in the church: our young people to fall in love with one another, a Christian group in the church; to rear these families in the church; to marry in the church; to find friends in the church; to be of one heart and mind, loving God and serving God in the church; the family openly and publicly set apart for the Lord, the blood sprinkled on the lintels and the doorposts [Exodus 12:3-7]; not back there where nobody could see or hear or find, but publicly, openly, set apart for God, this house; on Sunday, all of us washed and bathed and dressed and going to church, with a Bible in your hand where everybody could see, and preach a sermon ten or fifteen miles long, coming down to God’s house; and rearing these children in the heart and love and nurture of God and God’s people, in His church [Ephesians 6:4].
I must close and with this appeal: in the great throng of people here this morning, somebody to give his heart to the Lord, would you come and stand by me? Somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church, would you come and stand by me? Coming by baptism, coming by letter, a family of you, or one somebody you, while we sing this hymn of invitation, on the first note of the first stanza, wouldn’t you come? "Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I’ve been thinking of it a long time, I’ve been considering it, I have decided for Christ this morning, and here I am, here I come." It is as simple as that. And let God open the way. You may have battles to fight; He will help you. Don’t war it alone. You may have decisions to make, He will see you through. Trust Him for it. See if He doesn’t give you a victory in every crisis and help in every decision. Make it for God, and make it now. If for any reason the Holy Spirit leads, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.