And Say To Archippus
January 25th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
AND SAY TO ARCHIPPUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-25-59 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message in Philemon. In our preaching through the Bible, last Sunday we concluded with the third chapter of Titus. And we now begin with Paul’s letter to Philemon. The message this morning is mostly introductory; I could not encompass it within even an hour were it allotted to me. I have a full forty minutes; and that is wonderful. I feel so good. And I have noticed that, if I have fifty minutes, I preach fifty minutes; if I have forty minutes, I preach forty minutes; if I have thirty minutes, I still preach about forty minutes. It’s a good feeling, that clock in front of me, to feel not rushed.
There is so much to say. I am like a man dipping out the Pacific Ocean. You would wonder how could a preacher, any preacher, give thirty years of his life and be in his prime, and he hadn’t run out. Looks like by now after thirty years – and I have been a pastor thirty years – it would seem as, if by now, he would have come to the end of the tether, nothing more to say. It is the opposite: the riches of the veins of gold, the mines, the treasures in the Word of God become increasingly apparent as you dig them, as you follow through them. It’s like a man walking through God’s whole created universe: there are so many stars to visit, so many constellations to look at, so many depths of the grace, and glory, and mercy, and goodness of God, you are appalled. I barely touch the hem of the garment as I go through this Book. For every word that I say, there are a thousand words I haven’t time to say. For every message that I preach, there are a hundred other messages just as, if I could make them, a thousand times better, the clamor to be uttered, all in the wealth of the riches of this Book. So, all of prompting that, I intended to preach one sermon on Philemon; I could not encompass it. So this message is somewhat introductory.
We are going to begin with a look at the churches in the Lycus Valley. In a modern day map, that side, the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, you call it Turkey today; in the days of the Roman Empire, the shoreline, most of the shoreline, the central shoreline of what you know as Turkey today was the shoreline of the Roman province of Asia. And the Roman province gave its name to the whole vast continental expanse beyond. But whenever the word "Asia" is used in the ancient literature, it always refers to that province, the Roman province which occupied the central part of that Aegean coast. Now, there’s an island called Samos, and right across from Samos there is a river that pours into the Aegean Sea; it is called the Meander River. When you go up the Meander River, which pours into the sea south of ancient Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, when you go up the Meander River, there’s another river about halfway up into the Asian province that pours into the Meander from the southeast, running northwest. And that river is called the Lycus River.
In the Lycus Valley were some of the famous cities of antiquity. Just a little way up the Lycus River on one side the sacred city of Hierapolis; seven miles across on the other side of the Lycus Valley, the ancient city of Laodicea. Then ten miles up on the south side, the same side of the Lycus River, the ancient city of Colosse; and then a little further away, the city of Athamia. The city of Hierapolis was called that, it means in Greek "sacred city," "hierapolis, hiera-polis"; and it was called that because of the location of the great temple of Apollo in the city. Laodicea was named, had the name of a mother of Seleucus. When Alexander’s empire was divided among his four generals, Cassander took ancient Greece, Lysimachus took what you know as Turkey, Asia Minor, Seleucus took Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt.
No prince of antiquity ever had the passion for building cities as Seleucus. His father was named Antiochus, Antioch; and all over the ancient world you will find many Antiochs. His mother was named Laodicea; and all over the ancient world you will find Laodiceas. His wife’s name was Apama; and again, you will find many Apamia. Laodicea was named after the mother of this prince Seleucus, general in Alexander’s army. Colosse was a famous city for its dyed wool, purple wool. It was called colossinus, that kind of dyed wool raiment, the cloth. I could not find where the name came from; I did my best, I could name all the rest of them, but I cannot name how Colosse got its name. But those churches were all located there in the Lycus Valley.
Now their evangelization came about in the days when Paul was in Ephesus. Paul’s ministry was never outside of Ephesus. He stayed in the central metropolitan capital city all of his ministry, but from Ephesus, sounded out the ministry, the Word of God, throughout all Asia, all the Roman province of Asia. And these churches were the product of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. Converts who made journeys to the capital city went back to these cities in the Lycus Valley, and evangelized the people in the Lycus. For example, Paul writes to the Colossians, in verse 4 of chapter 1, "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love you have to the saints," he heard about them, that is he had never seen them [Colossians 1:4]. Then in the second chapter of Colossians, Paul says, "For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh" [Colossians 2:1]. You see he says to those churches there, they had never seen his face in the flesh; they were converts of Paul’s converts.
Now the evangelist of the Lycus Valley was named Epaphras. In the seventh verse of the first chapter, he says, "As ye learned of Epaphras our fellow servant, a faithful minister of Christ; who has declared unto us your love" [Colossians 1:7-8]; then in the last chapter of Colossians he speaks of Epaphras, "Who is one of you, a servant of Christ, always laboring fervently for you in prayers . . . I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis" [Colossians 4:12-13]. So the evangelist of the Lycus Valley was a fellow soldier, a fellow minister of the apostle Paul, by the name of Epaphras.
Now the history of those churches – and here I wish we had another hour – the history of these churches in Asia and of the Lycus Valley, is far beyond what you would ever think for or imagine. They had a tremendous part in that desperate struggle when the religion of Christ, the faith of Jesus, was being founded and grounded and rooted in the Roman Empire. They had a large part, a determining part in that vital, pivotal struggle. Now let me illustrate it before I leave it. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, all of the Christian community of Jerusalem and of Judea was scattered abroad. And John, the sainted apostle John, fixed his abode in Ephesus. And out of Ephesus doubtless came the Gospel of John, and certainly the Book of the Revelation. That’s the capital city of Asia. Then Philip of Bethsaida was one of the apostles who accompanied John to Asia. We do not know how many multitudes of others followed the great sainted John to the Roman province of Asia. We know that many of them did out of the community in Jerusalem and in Judea, when the Romans destroyed the Jewish nation. There accompanied John many of those early followers of Christ.
One of them was Philip of Bethsaida; a disciple, one of the twelve [Matthew 10:3]. He settled in Hierapolis, right across the river from Laodicea, right up and across from Colosse. Philip settled in Hierapolis. He lived to an advanced age and died there. He had three daughters. One of the daughters married and settled in Ephesus. Two of his daughters remained maiden, virgin, and lived to a ripe old age. One of the pastors, illustrious pastors, one of the first fathers of the church is named Papias. Papias was doubtless born in Hierapolis; but in any event, he was pastor of the church at Hierapolis. And he listened to the stories of those aged daughters of Philip of Bethsaida. And Eusebius, the great church historian, quotes from Papias. Now there’s a tragedy here, and one that is beyond any way that I could describe it. Practically all of the history of Eusebius, which tells what Papias heard from those daughters of Philip and from John the apostle, and all the other early fathers, practically all of their writings were destroyed when the Mohammedans burned the library in Alexandria and destroyed all the other great libraries of the ancient Levant, the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Consequently, we know just fragments of the story of these churches and of these apostles. The Mohammedans burned it and razed it to the ground. Had it not been for the onslaught of the Muslim, you would have had as full a story of all of the apostles, and all of the churches that they founded, as you read here in the New Testament. But the terrible scourge of Islam cut the story off; and we have just a little piece of it, and a little fragment, and a little notice of it here and there where a piece of a manuscript escaped the fire. Now, a part of that I have described to you in these churches of the Lycus Valley.
The occasion of Paul’s writing to these churches was this: first, he wrote a general letter to all of the churches of Asia; just like John did. You have John’s letter; it’s called the Revelation. That was a general letter to the churches of Asia. Paul also wrote a general letter to the churches of Asia, and you call it the Book of Ephesians. In Colossians he writes, "When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea" [Colossians 4:16]. The epistle of Laodicea is what you call Ephesians; it was a general letter and the name of the church was left vacant, and it was filled in as Tychicus, coming from Rome, delivered a copy of the letter to Ephesus, a copy of the letter to Laodicea, a copy of the letter to the rest of the churches. Ephesians is a general letter referred to as here the epistle to the Laodiceans [Colossians 4:16].
Now, another thing was, Tychicus brought with him a letter to the church at Colosse:
All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a faithful beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellow servant of the Lord: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.
They’re in the family and congregation of the Colossians. "They shall make known unto you all things which are done here" [Colossians 4:9]. So Tychicus comes to the churches of the Lycus Valley with two letters in his hands: he has what you call the Ephesians, letter to the Ephesians; he has in his hand a letter to the church at Colosse, what you call Paul’s letter to the Colossians. And he is accompanied by a runaway slave named Onesimus. And Onesimus is being returned to his master in Colosse, with a letter from Paul in his hand.
Now I read, and we have opportunity this morning to take the first two verses – I read from Paul’s letter to Philemon:
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer,
And to our beloved Apphia, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house:
Grace to you, and peace,
Then he continues.
Now, he writes a letter to Philemon, who lives in Colosse, who is a well-to-do man, has a household and slaves. Philemon is a common name, a common Phrygian name. Ancient Phrygia is now incorporated in the Roman province of Asia. So he writes to Philemon, and he calls him "my fellow laborer" [Philemon 1:1]. Now Philemon was converted by Paul himself [Philemon 1:19]. Evidently Philemon had gone to Ephesus, and while he was there, he himself became a convert of Paul. And then he says, "And to our beloved Apphia"; that is a common Phrygian name for a woman. And she was Philemon’s wife. He greets Philemon; he greets Apphia, Philemon’s wife. "And to Archippus our fellow soldier" [Philemon 1:2]; Archippus was their son. And Archippus was pastor of the church in Laodicea. Now, it was only ten miles from Colosse, down the river, to Laodicea. So when Paul writes to Philemon and Apphia, it was natural for him to salute also their pastor preacher son; because being so close he was in constant communication with his parents and their home.
Now, I’m going to pause and preach a little bit:
When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. And say to Archippus –
and this is the last part of Colossians, he greets Archippus here –
And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it.
Evidently, there was a tendency on the part of this son, this young minister and pastor, to slacken in his zeal and in his efforts. He grew up in a well-to-do home; his father was a famous man, the head of a large household, with slaves. And Archippus grew up soft, and rich, and indulgent. And when he was pastor of the church, that same softness, and indulgence, and love for luxury, and riches was in his life also. That’s why I think God almost always chooses his ministers from the very, very poor; they haven’t got any more sense than to toil and to work, that’s all they’ve known. This boy was a rich man’s son. And Paul says, "Say to Archippus, pastor at Laodicea, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it" [Colossians 4:17]. And that admonition of Paul, "Take heed," is the same as from John as he writes for Christ in the Revelation to Laodicea: "Be zealous, and turn," writing to the pastor at Laodicea [Revelation 3:19]. "Say to Archippus, Be zealous. Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it" [Colossians 4:17].
Now, my little sermon here, before I go on. I could not help but pause; I couldn’t help it. "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it." This ministry, our forethought, our afterthought, our present thought, "Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received of the Lord, that thou fulfill it" [Colossians 4:17]. I want to take one little piece of it, just one little part of it.
I lived in the days of the Depression, all the way through it, and pastored my little churches. They were difficult days. I’d visit those farmers, tenant farmers; they’d toil all summer long, take their cotton into the market, sell it for five cents a pound. And when they took all the money that their cotton would bring, they went to the grocery store, and still did not pay the bills they owed for the living of the previous year. It was discouraging. I learned by bitter experience that in the days of a depression it is difficult for a church to do much. It’s hard to buy anything, to build anything, to expand anything; in the days of a depression it is difficult. The hearts of the people are down. They struggle to live. And rather than enter a great program of expansion, you kind of feel like we ought to take our services and pool our abilities to feed the poor and to help the weary.
Then I lived in another phase of my pastoral ministry: I lived in the days of government interdiction. You can do nothing; we’re in a war, and all of the steel must go for the building of tanks and bombs, bullets. And all of the energies a government interdiction, you can do nothing except as it is prescribed by the government. Then after the war was over, we rose in this church to build. We needed a chapel, we needed room, we needed a prayer meeting hall, we needed so many things; and we rose to build. And in the midst of that drive to build, the government came with another fierce interdiction: we were plunged into the Korean War, and after the war, plunged into a terrible steel strike. And the days passed, and the months passed, and the years passed with that terrible interdiction, there is no opportunity to build, to expand, however we may rise to work. And the only reason we secured that building there in the day that we did was some of us went to Washington D. C., stayed there several days, went from one red tape agency to the other, and finally in desperation made a personal appeal to Senator Tom Connally, who made intercession in our behalf, and we were allocated enough steel for that building.
When I went through those days and those interdictions, I said in my soul, "I had a thousand times rather work and toil under the labor of a debt than to labor and toil under the labor of a governmental interdiction. We are in war, you cannot build! We’re in a war; you cannot expand your work." And you are helpless. The time to expand your work is not in a depression; I have lived through it. The time to expand your work is not in the days of a global conflict; it carries with it an absolute governmental interdiction. "There’s no other way; we have to win the war to live." I’m not criticizing the government; we are all in it then. When we begin a war, everything else is over; it’s a matter of survival. Shall we live or die? And this next war will be one into which we will pour everything we have; and if we do not win it, I don’t want to live through it. I’d rather perish in the conflict; I’d rather die fighting with my bare hands than to submit to the rigors, and the atheism, and the denial, and the horrors of communism; no church, no preacher, no religion, no worship, no anything but death and darkness and night. I’d rather perish battling against it. If we ever have another war, we shall fight like Churchill says, "On the beaches, in the streets, in the fields; we will never surrender." That’s no time to build. That’s no time to expand the work of this church.
Well, "Take heed unto thy ministry that thou hast received of the Lord, that thou fulfill it" [Colossians 4:17]. And purposely, carefully, prayerfully, seeking to do that, we have led our church into a great debt. We have bought a great building, having already been in debt. We have bought these lots, having already been in debt; and we’re now negotiating for another property. What about that? What about that? Just this comment and I must pass on to my other part of the message. I say to you, in the Lord, it is good for us to toil under a burden! It is bad for us to say, as Laodicea says, "I am rich, and have need of nothing" [Revelation 3:17]. It is easy to go soft in religion. It is easy to take all that God gives us and spend it on ourselves; a more luxurious vacation, a more luxurious house, a more luxurious living, a more luxurious everything. I don’t think God will take away from us our house. I don’t think God will take away from us anything if we will be honest and right and fair with Him. I think He is like Solomon: "Because thou hast given Me thy heart, and trusted Me, I will give to thee riches and honor and glory" [1 Kings 3:11-13]. I think God will give us more than we could ever have sought or worked for beside, if we will put Him first. But first, that’s got to be done. We have got, under God, we’ve got to demonstrate a wonderful willingness to put our shoulders to the wheel. There are lost people in this city; we’re going out after them. There are people who need to be taught the Word of God; we’re going to prepare for them. We are under a debt; I feel it, I never get away from it, I feel personally responsible for it. And before God shall take away from me this ministry, I hope long since and before to have paid every penny of it. I dread even the thought, the suggestion that I would leave my ministry and have a great debt upon a successor. When Dr. Truett finished his work here after forty-seven years, the last thing of his ministry was they burned the note that at one time amounted to $700,000 against this property. And when I came a few weeks, a few months after, the church was out of debt. However this expanded program, it is my prayer, in my ministry, that before it is done, and God says it is enough, that all of it is paid for, all of it; and my successor can come and assume this task and this ministry without any fetter or handicap whatsoever. But for us, now, it is good to be under the burden of it. It is good to have to pray about it. It is good to have to call ourselves in council and to make ways to achieve its liquidation. "Take heed to thy ministry. Say to Archippus, Be zealous [Revelation 3:19]. Say to Archippus, Take heed" [Colossians 4:17].
Now, we have five little minutes remaining. Let me summarize the whole message in these few little minutes. Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved . . . And to our beloved Apphia, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house" [Philemon 1:1-2]. Now, just a moment, "The church in thy house." If I go down the street and ask you, "Where is the church?" Inevitably you will point to an edifice somewhere, "There is the church, see the spire, the steeple, or the cupola? There is the church." You had might as well point out to me a signpost if I ask for a man: the church is never an edifice, never. The church [is] the people of the Lord. And it is only by accommodation that any of us would ever refer to the church as a pile of brick and stone; the church is God’s people.
Now what makes a church in a house? A house is just a meeting place and ought to be called a meeting place; but we will never succeed in that, we’re always going to call it the sanctuary or the church or something. But actually, it’s the meeting house of God’s people, God’s church. Now this is a church: the church in the house. First of all: a church is an assembly of converted souls, of converted people. You’re born into the family, but you’re not born into the church; you must be born again to be in the family of the Lord in the church of Jesus. They are all converted, all of them, on a confession of their faith, receiving Jesus as Savior [John 3:3]. So it is an assembly of converted people.
Second: it has a bond of unity; there is something that holds them together. A load of bricks on a truck is not a house; the bricks have to be fitly framed and grown into a house. So it is with the people: they must be fitly framed as they grow into the temple of the Lord; there must be a bond of unity, one that holds us together. And that’s why I think our downtown First Baptist Church is so wonderful and so blessed of God: there is a tie here, a binding here, a cement here, that if it were not, you’d be some other place. But there’s something that pulls us together in the heart of the city and binds us close. So a church has a bond of unity.
All right, another thing, the church in the house: it meets together for worship and instruction; that I can be encouraged in the work of the Lord, that we can be encouraged. I need it; we all need it, that we might be taught the Word and way of Jesus. There is private reading of the Word; there is also public reading of the Word. There is private prayer; there’s also public prayer – private testimony; public testimony – we meet together for worship and for instruction.
What is the church in the house? It is always orderly and presided over by God’s men. There are pastors, there are deacons, and there are those who help in the pastoral ministry, and there are those who help in the deaconate. Mr. Dean Willis and the deacons have a great ministry in this church: its physical properties, the payment of its debt, and the payment of its salaries, and the taking care of all of the work of the church. The pastoral ministry is a heavy one: to pray, to study the Word, to guide the spiritual lives of the people. A church in a house has God’s ministry, taking care of it, presiding over it. It keeps the ordinances; they were not given to the senate or the chamber of commerce or the civic club; they were given to the church, to baptize God’s converts [Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3-5], and to share together in the breaking of bread [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29].
And a last characterization of the church in the house: it seeks to extend itself. "The love of Christ constraineth us [2 Corinthians 5:14]; yea, woe is me, if I preach not the gospel!" [1 Corinthians 9:16]. It seeks to extend itself across the sea and tell them the good news of Jesus; up and down the streets to invite to the worship of the Lord. It seeks to live again in other hearts, in other lives, in other continents, in other languages and tongues, the souls of all the people of the earth, "And to the church that is in thy house" [Philemon 1:2].
Now we must close. And as we sing our song this morning, somebody you to give his life to the Lord, would you come and stand by me? Somebody to put his life with us in the church, would you come and give me your hand? A great host of you in this balcony round, would you come? On this lower floor, if the Lord bids you here, would you make it now? "Today, I give my heart in trust to Jesus." Or, "Today, we’re coming into the fellowship of His church." While we sing, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.