Where the Christian Lives
September 21st, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
WHERE THE CHRISTIAN LIVES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-21-69 10:50 a.m.
You who are looking at this service on television and you who are listening to it on radio are sharing with us the service 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. It is the first and the introductory message from a series that the pastor will be preaching at the morning hours from the Book of Ephesians. We no longer are going to drink milk from a bottle as babes in Christ. We are going to eat meat, strong meat, at the table of the Lord. And if you are interested in things inconsequential and ephemeral, you will not like to come, but if you are interested in the deep things of God, you will love attending these morning hours.
Now a word about the epistle as a whole: you will be very surprised in reading the letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus that it is barren of personal references, an astonishing thing in a letter because he spent more time in his ministry at Ephesus than at any other place. Twice as long did he work at Ephesus as he did in, say, Corinth. The greatest ministry the world has ever seen was Paul’s ministry in the capital of the Roman province of Asia in Ephesus. On the second missionary journey, coming back from Macedonia and Greece to Syria, he stopped at Ephesus with Aquila and Priscilla. After speaking in the synagogue there, he left Aquila and Priscilla and went on his way with the promise that in God’s grace he would return.
On the third missionary journey, after visiting the churches of the interior in Phrygia and Galatia, he went to Ephesus, and practically all of the time of that third missionary journey is involved in that ministry in Ephesus. When he left Ephesus after three years, he was run out of town. His preaching created a riot, and he left with his life as a prey. He went to Macedonia, and coming back by, stopped at Miletus, which is about eighteen miles away, and there sat for elders, the pastors of the church at Ephesus; and there he delivered that address, pathetic, moving, that you read in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts.
Now, why is it, with all of these intimate, close, heartwarming and God-blessed contacts with the people and with the church at Ephesus – why is it that there are no personal references? It’s an astonishing thing. The ministry that Paul had at Ephesus spread throughout all Asia. The seven churches of Asia were organized out of Paul’s great preaching in Ephesus, the people that he knew there and loved there; yet there’s no reference to them.
Well, the answer is this: the letter to the church at Ephesus is encyclical. It is a general letter. It is a circular letter. Paul wrote it to the churches, to all the churches, to the churches in that day and to the churches in our day. The epistle is addressed to the churches of all time. And when Paul dictated the letter, there were copies made of it, and he placed those copies in the hands of Tychicus, a fellow worker, a fellow minister, and Tychicus took the letters and wrote in the name of the church to which he delivered it.
When he brought the manuscript to Ephesus, he wrote in, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are” – and he wrote, “in Ephesus.” Then when he took the manuscript, another copy, to Laodicea, he wrote in there, “In Laodicia.” When he took the manuscript, another copy, to Hierapolis, he wrote in there, “To the saints which are in Hierapolis.” And that is why that you do not have any personal references to Ephesus. The manuscript that came down to us was the one that was addressed to the church at Ephesus.
If you’ll look at the last verses in the letter of Paul to Colosse, to the Colossians, he’ll say, Now, I want you to read the letter I have written to Colosse to Laodicea, and I want you to read the letter to Laodicea there in Colosse [Colosians 4:16]. Well, where is any letter to Laodicea? The letter to Laodicea is this one, but the manuscript that was sent to Laodicea had written in it, “To the Laodiceans,” as this is “to the Ephesians” [Ephesians 1:1]. So it is a general letter addressed to all the churches. And you have here some of the finest of all of the doctrinal revelations, the truth of God, to be found in the whole Word.
Now let’s begin. The sermon this morning is the first verse: “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]. Now, this is the environment of the Christian life. It is lived in three places. Environment: to circle around; we are encircled by three things.
Let me illustrate it first. If you were in a ship, you would be circled around by the ship. Second, you would be circled around by the passengers on the ship, and third, you would be circled around by the expanse of the wide, wide ocean. Now, that is seen here. We are in Christ. Our Christian life is lived in Christ. Second, our life is lived in the fellowship of the saints. Third, our life is lived in Ephesus, in the world around us. That is our inexorable and inescapable lot. We’re not saints in heaven. We are saints in Ephesus. We’re in this world with all of its evils and trials and with its challenges, in its paganism and secularism. Now our life is lived in those three categories. We’re going to speak of them as we have time.
First, in Christ: the Christian life is lived in Christ. “We don’t use that nomenclature. It’s strange to us. We hardly know what you mean.” That’s because we are materialistic in all of our outlook in life. If I go up to a man and ask him, “Are you in business?” he knows immediately what I’m talking about, and he will answer in kind. “Are you in business?” If I go up to a man and ask him, “Are you in one of the professions?” He’ll know immediately what I say. “Are you in law? Are you in medicine? Are you in one of the professions?” Immediately he would know. If I go up to Rich Liner, my young compatriot here, and ask him, “Are you in love?” He may blush, but he’ll know exactly what I mean, and he will tell me about that sweet girl that joined the church last Sunday that he’s going to get married to. And I changed your wedding date on my book yesterday. He’s upped it some. “Are you in love?” See, our life flows in those directions.
But if I come up to a man and I ask him, “Are you in Christ?” he will be mystified and possibly embarrassed. That’s the difference between us and these first-century Christians, for they lived with that language, and to them it was most familiar: “In Christ,” “rooted and grounded in Him,” “in His faithfulness.” As a vine is anchored to the bosom of the earth from which it receives its strength and life, so those early Christians were familiar with the phrase “in Christ.”
Paul will use the expression one hundred and sixty-four times: in Christ for forgiveness, in Christ for salvation, in Christ for assurance, in Christ for holiness, in Christ for direction, in Christ for service, in Christ forever. It is so familiar an expression as Paul will use it and as the Christians used it. For example, the wonderful 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.” If a man is in Christ, there is a new love, there’s a new vision, a new dream, a new life, a new hope, a new dedication. Everything is different when a man is in Christ.
So Paul addresses the saints who are in Christ, and he says that we are in Christ. He uses himself in this introduction: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” in Christ, “by the will of God” [Ephesians 1:1]. So his place, his apostleship, his ministry, are not in himself, but they are in the Lord. That’s not some of his choosing or some of his work or some of his dedication even, but it’s in the sovereign and elective purpose of God that he is where he is, doing what he’s doing.
Now, this – and if we can see it, and we can, because it’s here in the book – this is the source of the illimitable, immeasurable strength of those who do good for God. Paul says, “If by the will of God” [Ephesians 1:1], and in the first verse of his letter to the churches of Galatia, he will emphasize that: not by the will of man, but by the will of God [Galatians 1:1].
Now, in himself Paul will refer to himself as – oh, he uses words of such abject humility and self-effacement. In the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, he will say, I am an apostle, but “I am the least of the apostles; I am not meet,” I am not worthy “to be called an apostle” [1 Corinthians 15:9]. In the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians here, he will refer to himself as the least of all saints [Ephesians 3:8]. In 1 Timothy 1:15, he will say that “Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” His words of deprecation, of self-effacement, are all through his letters. But where he is and what he is he says is by the sovereign choice and will of God. He did not put himself in Christ and in the ministry of the apostolic work of the Lord, nor was he chosen by those who were apostles before him, but it was by an act God. God did it [Ephesians 1:1].
Now when we apply that to ourselves, we find an immeasurable, unfathomable, illimitable source of strength in our lives for what we do, and what we are attempting to do is not because we have chosen it, but our place and our message and our work and our assignment is from heaven. And we are in it and we are at it by the will of God. And I say that is a source of illimitable, immeasurable encouragement, for if you’re like I am and you’re human, as you face your tasks and assignments from God, ah! All the feelings of inadequacy that overwhelm you, and the feelings of unworthiness that seize you, and the discouragement that you face because you are not strong as you’d like to be or not able as you would choose to be: but our work for God is not in our weakness, and it’s not in our self-choice, but we are in the thing because God put us in it. And however weak, or however frail, or however faulty, or however unable or ungifted, these things, to the child of God, do not enter into it. I may not be as gifted as I’d like to be, but God has assigned me the task. I may not be as holy and as strong as I’d like to be, but God put me in the task.
And the result of such a doctrine in the Bible is this: that in our work and in our place, we take our minds and our eyes off of ourselves. We’re not looking on ourselves, but we’re looking to God, and it is He that gives us strength, and it is He that makes us adequate. It is He that makes us equal to what God has assigned us to do. It’s God’s work, and we’re God’s people, and it is God that sees us through. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing, “Paul, in Christ, an apostle by the will of God” [Ephesians 1:1].
Now, we’re not all apostles, we’re not even all pastors or preachers, but we all have an assignment. We have a calling. There’s a divine pattern for every life, and in that divinity, in that calling, it is God that makes us able and equal, and it is God that blesses us. And if my task and assignment is to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, that’s fine. Lord, help me to be God’s doorkeeper, or a teacher, or a singer, or a worker with children, or whatever God has called us to in life. We are in Christ and in his dear will.
Now, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, in Christ, by the will of God, to the saints” [Ephesians 1:1]. To the “saints”: well, there’s a word we’ll never retrieve. We’ll never recover it. It is gone. The idea of that word in the Bible is one of the sublimest to be found in revelation, yet it has been destroyed for us, and there’s no way in the world for us to get it back again. Hoi hagioi: the saints, and the very minute I say that word, you think, we think of some artificial technical designation of somebody who is being elevated in a certain category, and he is a saint. Well, there’s nothing of that, nor is there any approach to that in the Bible. And the word qadosh in the Old Testament in the Hebrew and the word hagios in the Greek in the New Testament are exactly alike and refer to the same thing. The verbal form of the word is hagiazō, and it refers to something that God takes out of common use and dedicates it, consecrates it, to heavenly use, to God’s use – hagiazō: to consecrate to God, to set aside for God. The forms of that verb are so many. To hagion is – in your Bible you’ll have it translated “temple,” the temple of the Lord. To hagion, one of the forms of hagiazō: the “consecrated to God,” “belongs to God”; not for common use, but for God’s use. To hagion, the Greek word for the temple, ta hagia, ta hagia: the holy place. Hagia hagiōn: the Holy of Holies, the Latin, sanctum sanctorum; pneuma hagion, the Holy Spirit. And the idea, whether it’s qadosh of the Old Testament or hagios of the New Testament, is that this is something God has set aside. God has set it apart for Him.
Now, let’s look at that just for a moment. A building: no man could build a building and say, “This is the ta hagia, the temple of God. God had to do that. God had to set aside and consecrate the building. God chose the place for His name to be there. Ta hagia, belonging to God; God did it.
Same thing about a priest. In the Bible, no man could take another man and ordain him to be a priest. God had to choose the man to be a priest. And he was a qadosh. He was a holy man. God chose him to be a priest. And, as you know, in the Old Testament, it was the household of Aaron. God did it [Exodus 28:41, 40:13-16].
The altar was hagios, qadosh. It belonged to God. The sacrifice was hagios, it was qadosh; it belonged to God. The tithe, the tithe is holy unto the Lord; the tithe is qadosh. It is hagios. It belongs to God. It is not to be used by me or by us. It belongs to God. “The tithe is holy unto the Lord” [Leviticus 27:30, 32]. And in the Bible the nation of Israel was set aside, sanctified, holy, qadosh [Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 14:2].
The nineteenth chapter of Exodus is before the twentieth chapter of Exodus. Doesn’t that sound reasonable? The nineteenth chapter, and then the twentieth chapter. Now, in the twentieth chapter, God gave to Israel the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], but in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, God said to the people, “You shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation [Exodus 19:6].” Set aside for what? They were to be a blessing to all of the families of the earth [Genesis 12:3]. God gave the oracles to them, that they might be the teacher to all the Gentiles of the earth [Isaiah :6]. That was God’s purpose in Israel: set aside, qadosh, hagios. Now, when you come to the New Testament, you will find that exact nomenclature and those exact revelations from heaven, for God is the same yesterday as He is today as He is through all eternity [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8], and this is how God does. God chooses for Himself and He sets for Himself certain things.
Now, if we had hours, we’d look at some of those things. One of them is you as such. “But ye are,” says Simon Peter, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” you are a peculiar people, “that ye should set forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” [1 Peter 2:9].
The house I live in is holy unto the Lord; it is His temple. It is the hagion of the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 6:19]. God dwells in this temple, this house. “You are not your own; you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. For a man to be drunk, to defile the body of Christ, for a man to take into his body things that destroy his health, it is a sin. Why? Not that it is a sin for a guy to drink. Not that it is a sin for a man to smoke. Not that it is a sin in itself for a man to dissipate his life by habits that are just debilitating and destroying. That’s not the point at all. What God says is that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is qadosh, it is hagios; it does not belong to me. God gave it to me to glorify Him, and it is the house in which He lives.
Now, that same thing pertains to the saints as such. When the word is used referring to us, it is always in the plural. Hoi hagioi: these saints, plural. Always in the Bible it is used plural, the saints. Well, as I say, that’s not somebody going out here sitting out here on a pole; for a thousand years, you had pole sitters all over Christendom. They were saints. They sat on poles. They were anchorites, sitting up there being holy. Nor somebody goes behind a high wall, and he’s holy back there; separated from mankind, he’s a saint, he’s holy. There’s nothing of that. Always the saints, plural, and they love to be together and were together in the Bible. They were called the ekklēsia, translated in the New Testament “church” [Acts 8:1]. They were the called-out people of God. These are the folks that belong to the Lord, and they were the koinonia, the ekklēsia. They were the called-out people of the Lord, and they were the koinonia, translated “fellowship,” translated “communion” [Acts 2:42]. They loved to be together. And if you are in Christ, that is a part of your makeup. You love to be with God’s people. And when time comes for that association, you’re there. You just are. You can’t help it.
Last Sunday there was a man and his wife from Atlanta, Georgia, who were here in our service Sunday night. After the service was over and I was visiting with him, why, he had in his purse two tickets to the Cotton Bowl. They were having a football game out there last Sunday night, and he had two tickets to it. And he said to me, “I’m from Atlanta. I don’t belong to the church here at all. I’m not even a Baptist.” They’re not Baptists. But he said, “When time came to go to that Cotton Bowl game, I thought about you and preaching the gospel down there in that church,” and he said, “I just couldn’t go,” and he came down here and attended the service. As you know, we had a heavenly Pentecostal meeting last Sunday night, and he said, “This is the greatest thing that I could have done.”
Now he’s in Christ. That’s just the way you are. Why, I’d be so miserable sitting in a picture show. I’d be so miserable in a Cotton Bowl looking at a football game when my church was having services. I couldn’t take it. I’d just be so miserable. That’s the way you get to be. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It’s a new life and a new love, a new dream, a new association, a new fellowship. It’s just something different.
In my little pastorate, one of my little pastorates while I was in the seminary in Kentucky, there came to the village where I was pastor a family. He’d bought a large, spacious farm, very large, with one of those beautiful Kentucky homes on it. He had a large family. They came and joined the church immediately, and I’d see him out there every time the doors opened. And he was like a man who was hungry as he listened, like a man who was thirsty as he listened. And as I’d preach, the tears would just fall off of his face. And as the people would sing, he was so moved. I was his guest one day for dinner, and, as I visited with him, I said, “I see you in the congregation and you’re so moved, like a man who’s hungry seated at the table of the Lord, like a man who’s thirsty drinking from the water of life, and you cry.” I said, “Why do you do that?”
And he said, “Young pastor, for these past years I have lived way up in the mountains in eastern Kentucky where there were few, if any, Christian people, and no church at all.” And he said, “Up there, away and alone, my heart was so hungry and my soul so thirsty.” and he said, “Now that we have moved here and we come to church, oh,” he said to me, “it’s just like heaven, and I just can’t help but cry as I sit there in the church and just thank God for the people of the Lord.”
That’s the way you are when you’re in Christ. While there might be a thousand country clubs, my heart would still be empty and sterile, putting my life in a country club. There might be a thousand other organizations, many of them very fine, but my soul would thirst to death just being fine in a wonderful organization. I want to be fed the bread of life. That song “Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me” does not refer to the Lord’s supper. It refers to this Book: “Beyond the sacred page I see Thee, Lord.” That’s what that Book is about. I want to be fed. I want somebody for me to open God’s Book and speak to me the words of heaven. I can’t help that.
A man may lecture beautifully, his so-called ethical sermon may be full of finest admonition, but Socrates could have said the same thing. Buddha, doubtless, would have said it better, and Zoroaster would have doubtless placed it in more beautiful language. But it’s not beauty of language, and it’s not ethical content, what I want to know is: does God say something? And my heart wants to hear, and my soul is thirsty to know. If you’re in Christ, you’re just that way, and you love to be with God’s people in God’s house listening to God’s Word; the hoi hagioi, the saints of the Lord.
Oh dear, I’ve done it again! The third, my time is already gone. The saints in Christ in Ephesus: not up there, [but] down here in Ephesus [Ephesians 1:1]. Like that ship illustration, we’re on the sea of this life. Like God said to the church at Pergamos, “I know where you are, where you live, where Satan’s seat is, where Satan has his throne” [Revelation 2:13]. We’re in that world. But don’t you be fearful or afraid. That ship may be on the biggest sea in this earth, on the Pacific Ocean itself, and the water may surround for millions and millions of square miles, but all the water in the Pacific Ocean cannot hurt that ship as long as it’s on the outside, though the ship is in the middle of the sea. And we’re that way: it’s only when the water gets in the ship that it begins to sink to the bottom of the sea. And we may live in a flood tide of iniquity, of blasphemy, of unbelief, of spiritual scorn and ridicule, and we may live in a veritable flood tide of secularism and materialism and darkness – it will never bother us as long as it doesn’t get on the inside of us. And if you’re in Christ, the Holy Spirit is in you [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]; there’s no room in there for that flood tide of evil, and violence, and darkness, and sin, and iniquity around you – like a light shining in a dark place, like a ship smoothly sailing even in troubled waters: in Christ, in Ephesus [Ephesians 1:1].
Well, I have to quit. I don’t want to. One of these days in glory, I say, God’s going to give me a planet. And anybody that will wing his way to that part of God’s universe, we’re just going to have services all day and all night, all year, all year out, forever and ever. “Well,” you say, “wouldn’t you run out of something to say?” Not as long as I’ve got that Book in my hand. You never plumb the depths of the Word of God. Never! When you think, “Well, I have exhausted it,” you just discover another mine, another vein of gold, more pearls to bring up from the depths of the sea.
Oh, dear! Have you got a good song to sing? While we sing it, a family you to come, a couple you to come, a one somebody you to come, do it this morning. Make that decision now, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, down to the pastor, “I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. I hear His call, and I’m answering with my life.” Do it now. Come now. On the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle or down one of those steps, come. Do it, while we stand and while we sing.