Christ Loved the Church


Christ Loved the Church

September 22nd, 1968 @ 7:30 PM

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ephesians 5:25

9-22-68     7:30 p.m.


On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled Christ Loved the Church.  Now we shall read a background passage, Acts chapter 20, and all of us turn to it, the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts.  And we are going to read out loud a part of Paul’s address to the pastors, the presbyters, the elders, the bishops of the church at Ephesus.  Beginning at verse 17, reading through verse 28, Acts chapter 20, we begin at verse 17 and all of us reading together through verse 28.  Now let us begin, all of us out loud together:

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:

And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,

Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:

Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.

But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.

Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.

For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.

[Acts 20:17-28]

Now a background text, then my actual text; “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and unto all the flock,” isn’t that a beautiful word for a church?  “And to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you episkopoi, overseers, bishops, pastors, elders, to feed, to shepherd, to pastor the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].

In a course in theology you will sometimes discuss whether the Bible calls Jesus God or not.  Well, this among other passages is a very plain nomenclature, “to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].  There the apostle calls Jesus our Lord God, like John does; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” [John 1:1]; “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].

Now, the actual text Ephesians 5:25: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”  I told you this morning that we were changing the sermons. The sermon that I usually preach at night I preached this morning.  It is a sermon out of the life of Christ, and for the years of this ministry I have preached at night, many years now, following the life of our Lord.  And unless there is an exigency, which is unusual and rare, always when you come to church Sunday night there will be a message concerning, out of adoring, praising, loving, the blessed Jesus.

Well, I preached that sermon this morning.  We are in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Luke now.  And I preached out of that chapter this morning, and tonight I said I am going to preach a sermon as I do when I am on a mission field.  I just felt that you would like to know, “How does our pastor preach?  And what does he say when he is in a far away land and preaching in a church?”

Now, when I am preaching on a street corner or on the curb or out in a park or in an auditorium or in an assembly somewhere else, I will be preaching an evangelistic sermon.  And some evening I will preach an evangelistic sermon as I do when I am abroad.  But I thought tonight I would preach a sermon as I do in the church.  How do I do it and what do I say?

Well, all that I shall preach tonight will be very familiar to you, very much so.  All of it you know so well.  It will be a summary, for I will try to place in that message everything I can concerning the doctrinal truth, the teaching truth, the biblical truth of God’s church.  So, it will be familiar to you.  But it will be good for your souls just to listen to a summary, a recounting, a putting together of these things that Christ has taught us concerning His church.

“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].  First, her place: in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Revelation and the ninth verse, in the [twenty-first] chapter of the Book of Revelation and the ninth verse, the apostle John is invited to look upon the bride, the Lamb’s wife [Revelation 21:9].  So her place is near and dear to the heart of God, as the bride is close to her husband, as she lays in his heart, as she is loved and adored and reverenced by her husband: so the church is near to the heart of Christ.  She is His bride.  She is His wife.  And her place is one of love and reverence and adoration.  As the husband seeks to please the wife that he loves, so the church seeks to please her Lord.  She is His bride, near and dear to the heart of God.  The ministry of Christ issued in a church.  “Upon this rock I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18].  He never said, “My child.”  He had no children.  He never said, “My home.”  He never had a place to lay His head [Matthew 8:20].  But He did say, “My church.”  And the ministry of Christ issued in a church.

The ascension gift at Pentecost empowered a church [Luke 24:49; Acts 2:1-4].  The fruit of the labors of the apostles resulted in the churches scattered around the Mediterranean world [Acts 17:6].  The last message of our Lord was addressed to the churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22].  The last invitation in the Bible: “The Spirit and the bride, the church, say, Come” [Revelation 22:17].  “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].  She is His bride, His wife.

And as such, we love God’s church, the house of God’s people, the assembly of the Lord’s saints.

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of Thine abode,

The church our blessed Redeemer

Bought with His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God.

Her walls before Thee stand,

Here is the apple of Thine eye

And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,

For her my prayers ascend.

To her my toil and cares be given,

‘Till toils and cares shall end.

[from “Love Thy Church,” Timothy Dwight]

“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25], her place near to the heart of God, His bride that lies in His bosom.

Now her ordinances: there are two and only two.  They are not five; they are not seven.  There are two ordinances that Christ has placed in the church.  The first, the initial ordinance, is the ordinance of baptism.  We are buried with our Lord in the likeness of His death; buried.  And we are raised with our Lord in the likeness of His glorious resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].

John the Baptist was given that ordinance from God, from heaven [John 1:24-25, 33].  I do not think that John understood what it meant.  To John it was a purification, a washing, a cleansing, a sanctification.  I know that because in the third chapter of the Gospel of John when John’s disciples and the disciples of the Lord Jesus were arguing about purification, a few sentences later I find that they were arguing about baptism [John 3:25-27].  To John the Baptist, when God gave him that ordinance, John thought it was a purification, it was a washing, a cleansing, a getting ready for the kingdom of heaven and the Messiah, who at that time, he said, was standing unknown among them [John 1:26].

But when finally we came to know what God meant by that holy ordinance, we were taught that it is a burial as our Lord was buried.  And it is a resurrection as our Lord was resurrected [Romans 6:3-5].  That is why sprinkling or pouring a little water on someone’s head could never mean baptism.  For, the significance of baptism lies in its form, in its mode.  It is a burial, and it is a resurrection [Matthew 27:57-28:7].  That is the heavenly divine meaning that God has given to that holy first ordinance [Romans 6:3-5].

Now, if you are saved, if you are a child of God, the first thing you want to do is to be baptized.  You just will.  When the Ethiopian eunuch heard the gospel from the lips of Philip the evangelist [Acts 8:27-35], they came to a certain water.  And he said, “Here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized?”  And Philip said, “Thou mayest if thou believest with all thine heart.”  And the eunuch said, “I believe, I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God” [Acts 8:36-37].  And they went down, both, immediately.  And they went down both into the water—both Philip and the eunuch—and he baptized him.  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch saw him no more; and that Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing [Acts 8:38-39].

The first thing a child of God who has been saved wants to do is to be baptized.  Down into the water in the likeness of our Lord’s death, and raised out of the water in the likeness of His glorious resurrection, dead to the world, dead to sin; the old life buried, and raised to a new life in Jesus [Matthew 27:57-28:7; Romans 6:3-11].

The second ordinance is a recurring ordinance.  We are to be baptized really one time in our lives as we are born again one time [John 3:3, 7].  As God writes our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life one time and it stays there forever [Revelation 3:5; 20:12, 15], so we are baptized one time [Romans 6:3-5; Acts 8:36-39].

The second ordinance is a recurring ordinance.  For the Lord said, “As oft as you do this you show forth the Lord’s death” [1 Corinthians 11:26].  You portray it.  You dramatize it until He come.  I know from the sense of that, the feeling of that, that the Lord is pleased by a dramatic portrayal of the gospel message.  I have never felt that we honored God in stilted, dull, wearisome, boring services.  My, my!

If out there in Hollywood they think up ways to dramatize fiction, and stories, and tales, and narratives, and lives, and what all, and if they do it successfully, there ought to be ten times as much drama and as much life in portraying the truth!  We just turn it around.  They portray a lie as though it were the truth.  And in the church of God you portray the truth as though it were a lie.

Now, I don’t preach any of this out there on that field.  I don’t know why I am telling you that I preach this out there.  I ought never to make an announcement like that, period.  I don’t ever get up here and preach what I am supposed to do.  But it says in the Book—going back to the sermon, and I need to go back to it—it says in this Book that you dramatize, you portray, the Lord’s death “‘till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].  And to do it effectively is a glory to God [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].

Now, the Master said, “This is My body, and this is My blood.  Eat in remembrance of Me, and drink in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].  Almost everywhere in the civilized world, almost everywhere that I will be preaching on a mission field, it will have a Roman background.  And the people who listen to me will have that unconscious attitude that there is a mustērion, there is a deep mystery, a hoc est corpus meum that these kids turn into hocus-pocus.  There is a mystery in that bread and in that cup.  So I always take time to say, “Is that the actual body of Jesus, and are they eating it?  And is that the actual blood of our Lord, and are they drinking it?”  The Lord said “This is My body, eat!  This is My blood, drink!” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].  Do I actually eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lord?  No.  And I know that because when the Lord instituted that memorial, He was standing there before them, and His blood was coursing through His veins.  They were not eating Him actually.

I also know that it is representative because the Lord said it is a memorial.  I am to do this in memory of Him.  And it brings back to my mind the memory of my Lord [1 Corinthians 11:24-25].  I am not actually eating His flesh or drinking His blood, but the dramatization of the Lord’s Supper brings back to my mind the memory of His sacrifice for me.  It is a memorial.  And when I look upon it and share in it, I call to mind my Lord and His death for me on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3].  And I illustrate it.

Here in the city of Dallas there belonged to our church a wonderful man who is now in heaven, a fine man, a very wealthy man.  And he had a mansion here in our city, and in his beautiful home was a lovely paneled library.  And upon a day when I was with him visiting in the home, we were standing in that library together looking at a picture on the wall.  It was an old fashioned girl.  She looked to eighteen or nineteen years of age, and you could tell by the way her hair was done and the high lace collar around her neck and the dress she wore, you could tell she was an old fashioned girl.

So as I stood by his side and we looked at that picture, he said to me, “Pastor, this is my mother.  I never saw her.  She died when I was born.”  Then he added, “One of the hopes and joys that I have in heaven someday is to look on the face of my mother.  This is my mother.”  And as he talked to me, tears fell from his face.  “Someday in heaven I hope to see her.  This is my mother.”

I could have said, “Why, sir, that is your mother?  What do you mean?  That is cardboard and paper and ink.  That is not your mother!”  But I understood well; “This is my mother”; that is, “This picture represents my sainted mother.  It brings back to my heart and memory my mother whom someday I hope to see in glory.”

That is what our Savior meant when He said, “This is My body and this is My blood” [1 Corinthians 11:23-25].  That is, this represents My body and My blood, and it brings back to my heart the sacrifice He made for me [Matthew 27:32-50], and the memorial closes, “For as oft as you eat the bread, and drink the cup, you portray,” you dramatize, you show forth, “the Lord’s death till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].  That is, we are to remember what Jesus has done for us until some triumphant and glorious day we look upon His blessed face, “till He come.”

It’s a precious moment when the church gathers to break bread together.  Like that old spiritual song we sing once in awhile, “Let us break bread together on our knees, on our knees.”  These are the two ordinances of the church: baptism [Romans 6:3-5] and the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].

Now the church has two officers.  There are two God appointed orders in the church.  The first is the ministry; the ministry of the word of preaching and teaching and overseeing.  There are three words in the Bible that describe that ministry.  Sometimes the word presbuteros is used, translated in our English version, elder, presbuteros, elder.  Sometimes the word episkopos is used, translated in our Bible, bishop.  Sometimes the word poimēn is used, translated in our Bible, pastor.  But in the Bible all three words refer to the same officer, the same man.  Your pastor is a poimēn, he is a shepherd.  Your pastor is an episkopos, he is an overseer.  Your pastor is a presbuteros, he’s an elder.  That is, he is to be received with dignity and with reverence.

Now, did you hear that?  Did you notice that?  In the Book the word elder refers to the reverence and the deference by which the church is enjoined to look upon its pastor.  I know churches that look upon their pastors as hirelings.  They just pay him and there he is.  And I’ve never seen that, and I’ve seen it many times, I have never seen that in a church but that it degraded the house of God, and the worship of the Lord, and the high and holy office to which the minister has been called under God.  To look upon your pastor in loving, prayerful, reverential remembrance honors God, honors the church, and blesses the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Lord Jesus—the pastor, the elder, the episkopos, the undershepherd [1 Timothy 3:1-7].

Now the other ordained ministry in the church is that of the deacon [1 Timothy 3:8-13].  The deacon represents the great laity that undergirds, and upholds, and supports the ministry of the Word.  As you had Aaron and Hur on either side of Moses, holding up his hands [Exodus 17:12], so you have the deacon, the laity, the laymen and the lay women of the church, holding up the hands of the pastor.  And when they are together they are an unbeatable team.  Wherever they pull apart you have a weak, anemic, faltering, staggering, hesitating congregation.  But when the deacon, the laity, and the minister, the ordained preacher, when they stand together they are an unbeatable team.  There is strength that God can bless.

That’s why you have the deacon, and that is why you have the laymen and the lay women in the church.  The preacher cannot do it all, nor could he begin to carry out God’s Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20].  It is the people supporting their pastor that makes a great church.

Leave it to the minister

And soon the church will die.

Leave it to the women folk

And the young will pass it by.

For the church is all that lifts us

From the coarse and selfish mob,

But a church that is to prosper

Needs a layman on the job.

Now a layman has his business

And a layman has his joys,

But he also has the rearing

Of his little girls and boys.

And I wonder how he’d like it

If there were no churches here

And he had to raise his children

In a godless atmosphere.

When you see a church that’s empty,

Though its doors are open wide,

It’s not the church that’s dying,

It’s the laymen who have died.

For it’s not by song or sermon

That the church’s work is done.

It’s the laymen of the country

Who for God must carry on.

[from “Laypeople,” Edgar A. Guest]

The minister has his assignment, but by his side must be men, great hearted, tall, strong men of faith and commitment.  These are the two God-ordained offices in the church [1 Timothy 3:1-13].

Now I speak of her message.  Her message is one of infinite hope, the good news, the glad news, the heavenly proclamation, the kerugma from heaven [Romans 1:16].

I close.  Her commitment: her commitment is unto death, faithful to the Lord as long as life shall last.  When I went through that mission in Japan, missionary Jackson, my last assignment was in a, to them, little town—there was about forty or fifty thousand people—named Ijuin, down at the bottom of Kyushu, way down there.  I preached all through the islands and came to my last revival in Ijuin.  Oh, in those days, had our people arisen to the challenge given us, the open door set before us by General MacArthur, I don’t know what would have happened!  I think Japan could have become a Christian nation.

I never preached in Japan in those days but that I had from one hundred and fifty to three hundred converts, anywhere I preached.  Well, Ijuin was one.  I had a three-day revival there, and when the last meeting, the service was done, a group of the leaders of the church took me into the back of the church house into a Sunday school room, and we sat down together.  They wanted to talk to me.  And as the conversation went and followed, why, there was a young fellow who was superintendent of the Sunday school, he was one of the Odori boys; Odori.  There is a godly mother there, a saintly mother, and she had several boys.  All of them devout Christians, and this young fellow was the superintendent of the Sunday school.

Well, as I sat there in the chair with those Japanese leaders of that church, that young fellow began to talk to me.  And he didn’t stop for the high school teacher of English to interpret; he just poured out his heart to me—just like a flood.  And as he began to talk to me, he began to weep.  Just the most pouring out of soul that you could ever imagine, as that young fellow looking at me, seated in a chair across from me, just poured his soul out to me.  And as he talked, the tears falling on the floor, I had no idea what he was saying.  But when finally the overflow of his soul subsided, the teacher of English in the high school told me what he said, and it was this.  He was describing the terrible persecution that he and the little church suffered in the days of the war, World War II.  Because he was a Christian and because he and his family were the fruits of American missionaries, the people looked upon him as a traitor and as an accomplice of the hated Americans.  So he went through great persecution, and he described the trials of those heavy days when we were at war.  Then he said, “The war is over and we are at liberty and America is appreciated and loved, but,” he said, “we have another terrible enemy”—and at that time we did not know quite how Japan might ultimately turn—“we have another terrible enemy,” he said; “the enemy of communism,” that, at the time, was sweeping China and threatened Japan itself.

So the young fellow said to me, “If the day ever comes that communism sweeps over Japan, we in this little church, shall go through another great trial of suffering and persecution.  But I want you to know wherever you are in this world, in America or wherever, that if we have a terrible trial and persecution in Japan again, I want you to know that we will be true unto death.  And wherever you are and wherever you preach, remember that as you preach Christ in America, we shall be preaching Jesus in Japan; true to our Lord unto death” [Revelation 2:10].

That is the commitment of his church.  Lord, whatever the price, whatever the cost, we are committed unto Thee, unto death.  I am trying to think of the name of that author, Nee, Nee, who wrote those beautiful books about the Christian life.  What’s that man’s name?  Watchman Nee, Watchman Nee.  Some of those sainted Christians in South America told me that Watchman Nee, in China, now has his tongue cut out, that he might not speak anymore about that Lord; that he has hands cut off, that he might not write anymore about the Lord.  This is going on now, right now, and that is what the young Odori boy meant when he said, “We went through a great trial in the World War.  We may face it again, but I want you to know, wherever you are, remember we will be faithful to Jesus unto death” [Revelation 2:10].

That is the church that honors her Lord, and to belong to it and be a member of it and to praise God in it, is the sweetest fellowship communion that the heart could ever know.  To rear your family in it, to bring your children in the circle of its love and prayers, to be a part of God’s household is truly what angels would covet to share.  And it is ours for the asking, for the coming

And while we sing our hymn of appeal, our song of invitation, a family you to put your life in the church, a couple you to come, or one somebody you taking Jesus as Savior, opening your heart to the Lord or coming into the fellowship of His church, “Pastor, I want to put my life here.  I want to be baptized.”  Or, “I want to come by statement,” or, “I want to join by letter.”  “I want to join by promise of letter.”  Or, “I want to come just telling Jesus all over again how much I love Him.”  As the Spirit of God shall open the door, shall make the way, come. Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand, stand up coming.  Do it now.  Make it tonight, while all of us stand and sing our appeal.