Where the Christian Lives
September 21st, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
WHERE THE CHRISTIAN LIVES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-21-69 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Where the Christian Lives – The Environment of the Christian Life. This begins a new departure for us in these morning services.
Every morning I shall be preaching in the Book of Ephesians. This is one of the great epistles of Paul. And if you like things insignificant and meaningless, then you will not be interested in coming. You might rather stay at home and look at a cheap show on the television. But if you are interested in the deep things of God, if you would like real meat set at the table of the Lord, then you will delight in coming to these morning services and listening to the messages from the Book of Ephesians because we are going with the Lord out where the water is deep, where God’s mercy is great, and where the revelations of the Lord to us who love His name are meaningful and significant.
So it begins, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are in Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus” [Ephesians 1:1]. This is his opening word; then the letter follows. One of the things that you will be surprised at when you read these chapters––not many, six––in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, you will be surprised at the scarcity, the paucity of personal references because it was in this city that he had his most extended and by far his most effective ministry. Yet there are no personal references at all.
Well, there’s a reason for that, and it is most obvious after you study the background of the letter. Paul, as I said, spent his longest ministry in Ephesus, the great coastal city of the Roman province of Asia which was Rome’s richest province, and Ephesus one of the great Greek cities of the world. On the second missionary journey, coming back to Syria, to Antioch from Macedonia and Greece, he had Aquila and Priscilla with him [Acts 18:18]; and he stopped at Ephesus. He spoke for a while in the synagogue [Acts 18:19].
He left Aquila and Priscilla there, and he went on his way, but he promised to return [Acts 18:20-21]. On the third missionary journey, practically all of it is at Ephesus. On the third missionary journey, after he had visited the churches in the interior such as in Phrygia and Galatia [Acts 18:23], he came to Ephesus, and he stayed there more than three years [Acts 20:31], twice as long as he stayed in Corinth. And it was in that ministry in Ephesus that the word spread through all of Asia [Acts 19:10-20]. The seven churches of Asia were organized out of that ministry in Ephesus [Revelation 2:1-3:22].
Now, when you read the letter knowing so many of the things in which Paul was personally involved with the saints, the church there, then why are there no personal references in it? Well, the reason can be found in a study of the ancient manuscripts of this Ephesian letter. It is not a letter to Ephesus alone. It is an encyclical. It is a general epistle. It was written to the churches, plural. In some of those manuscripts, for example, in this first verse that I read, “in Ephesus” is left out, it’s just blank [Ephesians 1:1].
Paul wrote the letter as a general letter, an encyclical, to all of the churches. And then as the manuscripts were copied, they filled in the name of the church to which it was addressed. For example, the Book of Colossians, the letter to the church at Colosse, closes with these words: “Now you read the letter that I have written to Colosse to Laodicea; and you read at Colosse the letter that I have written to Laodicea” [Colossians 4:16].
Well, where is the letter to Laodicea? This is the letter to Laodicea; for when the manuscript was written, Paul left out the name of the church, and it was put in by the messenger, Tychicus, who carried the letter, the encyclical, from one church to another. So the manuscript that came to our hands had Ephesus written in it; but there was another manuscript that Paul wrote, just like that, that had Laodicea in it. And there were others that had “To the church at Hierapolis,” in it.
So the letter is not personal. It is a great doctrinal epistle. And it is meant for all the churches of all time. And that’s why it has such tremendous significance for us; for Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was revealing to his people all of these marvelous things that pertain to the kingdom of God and to the fellowship in the church.
Now, I have entitled this introductory message Where the Christian Lives – The Environment of the Christian Life. If you’ve been on a ship out at sea, the circle around you, the environment––which means the circle around you––the circle around you is first the ship, that’s around you. Second, the passengers, the people, they are around you. And third, the ocean, that is around you. And those are the three things that Paul mentions here in this introductory word.
Where the Christian lives: first, in Christ; in Christ, he is in Christ [Ephesians 1:1]. He’s in the ark. He’s in the covenant. He’s in the Lord like that passenger is in the ship. Second: he speaks here of the saints [Ephesians 1:1], our fellow passengers, God’s people with whom we share God’s grace and mercy. Then he says “in Ephesus” [Ephesians 1:1], as the ocean upon which the ship moves. It can be an instrument of approach, of arrival. It can also be a dreaded and a fearful thing.
So where the Christian lives: he’s in Christ. He’s with his fellow Christians, and inexorably and inalterably, he’s in Ephesus. He’s in this world. He is in a city of gross iniquity and trial but an incomparable challenge, a place to shine for God. Now those are three things that he speaks of our lives, we who love the Lord. Now I shall take them in that order.
First: the Christian lives in Christ. He’s in Christ [Ephesians 1:1]. If you go to a man today and ask him, “Are you in business?” Why, he’ll understand, and he’ll answer intelligently. Or if you ask him, “Are you in one of the professions? Are you in law or medicine?” He’ll understand and he’ll reply. Or if you were to ask a young fellow like Rich Liner, “Are you in love?” He will just glow, and immediately he will reply. You understand it immediately.
The language is very familiar because we live in that kind of a world. But if you go up to a man and ask him, “Are you in Christ?” He will be mystified and maybe embarrassed. That’s because of the secularization of our lives. But these early Christians were not that way. They were familiar with the nomenclature, and they were familiar with the life. “Are you in Christ?” They would immediately understand.
“In Christ,” grounded and rooted in His faithfulness, as the vine receives its strength from the bosom of the earth. “In Christ,” that’s an expression that Paul uses one hundred sixty-four times, “In Christ”; in Christ for forgiveness, in Christ for salvation, in Christ for assurance, in Christ for holiness, in Christ for sanctification, in Christ for service, in Christ for blessing, in Christ forever.
For example, do you not remember the beautiful verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17? “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” In Christ, the Christian lives in Christ. Now, he does that by the will of God, by the will of God. And Paul will repeat that, such as his introductory words to the churches of Galatia, “by the will of God” [Galatians 1:4].
Now I want to pause and let us review the greatest strength of our lives in Christ. How is it that Paul is in the ministry? How is it he’s an apostle? How is it he’s a preacher to the Gentiles? How is it that he works for the Lord? Is it something of his own choosing and election? Oh, how emphatic he is as he speaks of that, “In Christ, and in the ministry, and an apostle by the will of God” [Ephesians 1:1]. For, when Paul begins speaking of himself, oh what words of humility and deprecation does he use!
For example, he will say in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, “I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle” [1 Corinthians 15:9]. Or he will say here in the third chapter of Ephesians, “I am the least of the saints” [Ephesians 3:8]. Or he will say in 1 Timothy 1:15: “It is a great saying that Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” So, Paul avows that he’s in the Lord, and he’s in God’s work not by the election of a church, nor by the appointment of men who were apostles before him, but he is there by the elective expressed will and purpose and sovereign grace of God [Ephesians 1:1].
Now I want to point out the strength of that. When we elect ourselves and when we choose ourselves, in whatever capacity we’re proposing to work or to do, all kinds of things afflict you. There’ll be times when you will feel so unworthy. And there’ll be other times when you will feel incapable. And there will be times when discouragement overwhelms you. But the greatest strength you will ever know in your life is if you are like this, “I am in the Lord, by God’s grace. And I am in this task by His sovereign purpose and election. What I am doing, I am doing not in my strength or in my choice or in my will, but this is God’s purpose for me.”
And I want you to know my brethren, when you are in the Lord and in God’s work with that persuasion, all the devils in hell and all the discouragements in human life cannot deter you. “God wants me to do this; God has called me to do this. This is my assignment in the kingdom. And as His sovereign grace saved me and put me in Jesus, so the same blessed will of God assigned me for this task; and here I am, God help me, doing it the best I can for Him.”
Well, we must hasten. “In Christ, and with the saints” [Ephesians 1:1]; it is impossible today to rescue that word. That’s one of the noblest words used in this New Testament, the word “saint, saints.” But the word has been destroyed for us. It has come to have a technical and an artificial meaning referring to somebody who is supposed to be elevated to a certain degree of holiness. But there was nothing of the meaning of that in the New Testament and in that first Christian century.
Hagiazō, the Greek form of the word, hagiazō means “something God sets apart for Himself.” It belongs to the Lord. It is holy. It is consecrated. It is dedicated, hagiazō, set apart for God, something God does, set apart for Him. Now, from that verbal form hagiazō, you have many, many forms. Hieron is the Greek word for “the temple.” The temple, it is holy, and it is set apart for God, ta Hieron, the temple of the Lord. Ta hagia, the sanctuary, the Holy Place in the Lord, the sanctuary of God is set apart for Him. Hagia hagiōn, the Holy of Holies; the Latin is sanctum sanctorum. Pneuma hagiōn, the Holy Spirit.
Now, in the biblical doctrine of that sanctity, that holiness, sainthood, it is not something that a man does. Always it is something that God does. For example, the temple is holy because God chose that place [2 Chronicles 6:6]. No man could go out and build a building and say, “This is the temple of God.” He couldn’t do it. God had to do it, “This is the temple of the Lord.”
No man could go out and consecrate another man to be a priest. Now we’re talking about in the Bible. You couldn’t consecrate a man to be a priest. God had to do it. He was a holy, set aside, consecrated man––and as you know it was the family of Aaron in the Old Testament [Numbers 3:10]. The tithe is holy to the Lord [Leviticus 27:30, 32]. Doesn’t belong to a man, it belongs to God. The tithe is holy unto the Lord. The altar is holy because that’s God’s. The sacrifice is holy because that’s God’s. Do you see what I’m driving at? Always in the Bible, the holiness, the hagiazō, the hagioi, the hagion, all of it is something God has chosen; it belongs to the Lord.
Now, when we apply that to us, you have the same use of that Hebrew word qadosh, “holy”; it belongs to God. Hagias, “holy,” it belongs to God. You have the same use of it in the New Testament. For example, in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is holy unto God, consecrated to the Lord. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, God says, “You shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy, a qadosh, nation” [Exodus 19:6]. That is, Israel was to receive from God’s hands the oracles of the Almighty, and they were to teach and to preach the miracle of the message of God to all the peoples of the earth. In them all the families of the earth were to be blessed. They were chosen of God to be a holy nation; to proclaim the oracles of the Almighty. And as you know, in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, God said that, “You are a kingdom of priests to Me. You are to represent Me to the people. And you are a holy nation; you are set aside for this task” [Exodus 19:6]; in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus. Then in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, He gave them the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17].
Now, all of that nomenclature is taken over in the New Testament to us. Peter, for example, will write, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, you are a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” [1Peter 2:9]. Oh dear, and our time goes and you just barely touch it.
We are a holy people to proclaim to the world the oracles of God. This is a temple of the Lord, a holy temple of God, this house I live in [1 Corinthians 6:19]; and I’m therefore, the Book says, I’m not to desecrate it. I am to keep it washed and clean and fit for the Master’s use. “For you are not your own, ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].
And our fellowship with one another is holy. The word “saints” in the New Testament is always plural, always, hoi hagioi, always plural. The saints fellowshipped with one another, and loved it. They were the ekklēsia, the called out of God; translated “the church,” the ekklēsia. They were the koinōnia, the fellowshipping ones”; sometimes translated “fellowship,” sometimes translated “communion.”
But in the Bible there was no such thing as the word “saint” applying to someone who was sitting on a pole all his life, or behind a high wall, or in a monastery in the middle of a desert, never! Always the word is plural and refers to those who fellowship in the Lord. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? If you love Christ, if you’re in Christ, you love to be with God’s people, you just do. That’s the way it was in the Bible. And that’s they way it is today. If you love Jesus, if you’re in the Lord, you are anxious to be in God’s house.
Was it last Sunday night, last Sunday night, there was a couple here from Atlanta, Georgia? After the service was over, he opened his purse; he had two tickets to the Cotton Bowl when the Cowboys were playing Baltimore. Was it, Baltimore? He had two tickets. But he said, “You know, when the evening came, and I got to thinking about you and God’s people down there at the house, at God’s house,” he said, “I couldn’t anymore go out to that Cotton Bowl than I could fly. So I came down here.” And he said, “How richly rewarded I am.”
You can’t help that. If there is a choice between going to the Cotton Bowl to see the most super game in the earth and coming down to church, if you’re in Christ [Ephesians 1:1], there’ll be a tug in your heart, going down there to the church. You’re just made that way. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new, different kind of a creation; old things are passed away; and all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. New love, new delight, new vision, new dreams, new hopes, new everything; it’s new in Jesus.
One time in my, one of my little churches in Kentucky––I had two little churches that I pastored in Kentucky––one time there was a man who bought a big farm. They were country churches, village churches. And there was a man who came, having bought a big farm, very large farm with a big house, and he had a large family, and immediately they joined the church.
And that man would sit there in the congregation, and as I preached and as we’d sing, he’d just sit there and listen like a hungry man being fed, like a thirsting man drinking water; and would just weep. I was in his home for dinner upon a day, and I asked him, “I’ve never seen a man so attentive and so prayerfully listening like he was hungry and thirsty, and so moved.” I said, “Why?”
And this was his reply, he said, “For these years that have just passed, I have been in the mountains in Kentucky, in a large place there. But,” he said, “I was by myself. There were no Christians, and we had no church, so far away back up there in the mountains in Kentucky.” And he said, “My heart hungered, and my soul thirsted.” And he said, “Now that I’ve come here, oh,” he says, “it’s just like heaven. The Christian people in the church, and the Word of God that is preached, and the songs of Zion that are sung,” he says, “it’s just like heaven to me.”
Yet there are folks that would look upon going to church like going to jail. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: all things are passed away; all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Rather go to church, rather hear God’s man preach God’s message, rather sing with the saints than anything else in the world. That’s one reason I know I’m a Christian. I love God’s house, and I love God’s people.
I have to quit. My next point to discuss here was the frailties among us, and the differences among us, and the troubles we have. I love God’s people just the same. Paul did. The saints did. And if you’ve been in Christ, you do. There are great flaws, human frailties and shortcomings among God’s people, yes; but O dear Lord, we love them just the same. Because one of my children might fall into error or might have a colossal weakness, it would never occur to me to love the child any less, it would just not occur to me. Nor does it occur to me in the household of the faith. A weakness, yes; a flaw, yes; a human frailty, yes; but loving them in Christ just the same.
Oh dear, let me say just one sentence before I close! In Christ, in the household of the saints and in Ephesus, they’re not saints in heaven; they are saints in Ephesus [Ephesians 1:1]. Someday the church, the fellowship victorious, but now the church militant, down here in a dark earth, assailed, tried, O Lord, what a flood, what a flood tide. But we, if we’re in Christ, and if we’re in the fellowship of the saints, all the flood tides of trial and evil around us cannot affect us or seek us.
If I could use the illustration I started off with, if you’re in that ship, all the water in the ocean can’t sink it as long as it’s outside. It’s only when the water gets inside the boat that it starts going down. All the evil and iniquity of this world cannot separate us from God [Romans 8:31-39]. It’s only when we open our hearts and let it come in that we lose our fellowship with Him and one another; saints, in Christ, with one another in Ephesus [Ephesians 1:1].
Now, we must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you to come to the Lord and to us, a couple you, or one somebody you—it is later—on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now. And in a moment when we stand up, stand up coming. The balcony round, on this lower floor, and God’s blessings attend you in the way while you come, into that aisle, or down one of those stairways, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” While we stand and while we sing.
A. Letter to church at
Ephesus encyclical – written to all churches
B. “Environment” – “to
be circled around, to be surrounded”
environmental surroundings of every Christian(Ephesians
In Christ – supported by His grace, guided by His Spirit
The saints – strengthened, inspired by each other
In Ephesus – this world, our inescapable lot
a passenger on a ship
II. The Christian life is lived in
A. Phrase fallen out of
Christian vocabulary, but used in the world
1. It is
understood when one says “in business”, “in love”, etc.
2. Paul used it
at least 164 times(2 Corinthians 5:17)
An apostle by virtue of the choice of God(Ephesians
1:1, Galatians 1:1)
says he is “the least of all the saints”(Ephesians
3:8, 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:15)
God’s grace exhibited toward Paul in his calling
Secret of a great and effective Christian life
III. The Christian life is lived in the
fellowship of the saints
A. Impossible to
restore the word “saints” to its ancient, noble use
– “to set aside for God”
divine will, election made a thing “holy”(Exodus
19:6, 1 Peter 2:9, Leviticus 27:30, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
a. We are set aside not
by our choice, but by God’s
B. The word “saints” is
always plural(Philippians 4:19, Ephesians 3:18)
1. A collective
group, a koinonia
2. Cannot live a
great Christian life outside the fellowship of the saints
IV. The Christian life must be lived in Ephesus
A. Not far removed in
an ivory tower