Christ Loved the Church
October 31st, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-31-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Christ Loved the Church. These nine Sundays we are preaching, concluding the letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus. And the text is Ephesians 5:25-26:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it;
That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.
"Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it." An identical framework and an identical admonition, and the reason for it is also found in Acts 20:28. Paul, addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus, said, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood."
The words that Paul used in writing that verse are so beautiful. The Greek word for "flock" is poimnion; for "a shepherd" it’s poimen; and "to shepherd," poimainÃ³. He uses those words here. "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, poimainÃ³, to shepherd, to feed the flock, the church which He hath purchased with His own blood." He died for the church. That is the identical thing he says here, "Christ also loved the church, and died for it, gave Himself for it." Loved, agapao, the same word that John uses in describing God; "God is," and he uses this word agape, love." It is the same love that God manifested on Calvary: "God so loved, agapao, the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" [John 3:16]. It is the same word that describes the response in the heart of the yielded believer: "The fruit of the Spirit is," and it’s that word, agape, love [Galatians 5:22]. "Christ so loved the church that He gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25].
We shall speak first then of the church that Christ loved and died for. In the Bible, in the New Testament, there is the generic idea of the church. Such as, you would say, maybe in some beautiful peroration refer to the home, the government, the state, the school, the church, the idea, the generic nomenclature of the church. In the New Testament, you also have the presentation of the great redeemed assembly of God in heaven, the invisible and triumphant body of Christ, also called the church.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the author speaks of the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven [Hebrews 12:23]. But the only church that we know, and the only church with which we have to do, and the only church in which we share any experience of God is the church that we know as our local assembly and congregation. This is the way the word is used in the New Testament, referring to the churches of Judea, the churches of Syria, the churches, plural always, the churches of Galatia, the churches of Macedonia; "John to the seven churches of Asia" [Revelation 1:4]; and the message of our Lord speaking to the churches in the Revelation. This is the church that we know, the local congregation. And it is that church for which Jesus died and to which He gave his life.
The church, the ministry of our Lord in earth and in heaven, concerns that church. When He had done His earthly pilgrimage and ascended back to glory, the residuum, the residue of His life and ministry could be found in the church at Jerusalem; that was it. After He had done and had ascended back to glory, what He left was a church. It had the ordinances. It had the commission. It had the discipline. It had all of the accouterments of His church, lacking just one thing: the moving, quickening breath of the Spirit of God.
And in accordance with the promise of the Father, when the Savior ascended back to glory [Luke 24:; Acts 1:4]; He poured out upon that church the ascension gift of the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4]. And the guiding ministry of our Lord from heaven, beginning at Pentecost when He poured out the breath of God upon that church in Jerusalem, the guiding ministry of our Lord thereafter was the calling out of the His disciples and the scattering of them abroad. And wherever they went, their work and testimony fruited and resulted in the organization of churches. All through the civilized world did those disciples, did those apostles go. And wherever they preached, Christ’s Spirit worked with them, and they resulted in the organization of churches.
In the Revelation, John, "hearing the great voice like a trumpet behind him, turned to see the voice that spake. And being turned, he saw One like unto the Son of Man walking in the midst of a seven branched lampstand" [Revelation 1:10, 12-13]. And then the chapter says that the seven lamps are the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 1:20], representing all the churches of all time; a sublime and beautiful picture of the Lord walking among His churches.
This is the church that we know in our experience, the local church, the local assembly, as it is in the New Testament so it is in our lives. It is the only church that we know. This is the church for which Christ died, and gave His life. "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25], the local church, the assembly of God’s people.
The first one I knew was housed in a little white crackerbox of a church house, with a little cupola and a bell in it. That’s where I went to Sunday school as a little boy. That’s where I was converted in a revival meeting. And that’s where I was baptized. And my childhood memories mostly center around our family in that little church. The church, the local church, the assembly of God that I know today in which my life, and love, and prayer, and intercession, and labor, and ministry centers today is this beloved, sweet, and precious First Baptist Church in Dallas. Everything about the church is dear to me. Its walls, the old building, the visions and the hopes that we entertain and dream for it, the assembly of God’s people, the services, the worship and praise of the Lord, it is so meaningful to me, and I have found just that around this world; the church, that local congregation that Christ loved and gave Himself for it.
Years ago, Dr. Duke McCall, who was then executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention of our people, and I, the two of us, made a four month preaching tour around the world. And I wish I had eloquence and language to describe how in those forgotten and underprivileged, poor and undeveloped places of the earth, that those little churches stood out, shined like stars and diamonds in the sky, like lighthouses in a dark night.
In darkest humanity, where the people are helpless and sodden, there would you find a little church, sometimes made out of mud, sometimes made out of thatch, but a little church, and usually with some kind of a little steeple, or spire, or cupola pointing up in hope toward heaven. And as I would go through Africa, or India, or South America, or Borneo, or Indonesia, or into the Philippines, just to see the little church standing there in the center of a jungle, or sometimes on desert sands, and the very sight of it was a sermon, it was a hope, it was a dream, it was a vision, it was a message, it was an appeal, it was a revelation of the presence and love of God.
And the people that I met in those little churches, and the ministers and missionaries who were there guiding those souls to God and to heaven, oh, the impression they made upon me. Look, if you were searching for a man to go down into the Amazon jungle and bury his life among Stone Age Indian tribes, or if you were looking for a man to run a hospital under the Arctic Circle on the barren tundra next to the Arctic Sea, if you were looking for a man to teach in a school in the heart of the jungles of Africa, if you were looking for somebody to work in the slums of New York City, and you were seeking a man of great heritage and culture and education, and you were looking for a man to work without thought of earthly remuneration, and you were searching for a man to give his life in an inhospitable environment without thought of pay or reward, where would you find him? Where would you seek for him? I can tell you where. You will find him in the church. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it."
Now, the second verse: "That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" [Ephesians 5:26]. And the message here centers around the word that Paul used for "washing, washing." In the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, there was first a brazen altar. Then there was the laver where the priests washed, where the priest must be cleaned. He must be washed as he goes into the presence of the Lord.
And the Hebrew word for that laver is kiyyor, kiyyor. And the Greek for it is loutron. And Paul uses that word twice here in the New Testament. Once is in Titus 3:5, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His grace, His mercy, has He saved us; by the loutron, the kiyyor, the washing of the Holy Spirit." This is the word that he uses here with regard to His church, "That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the loutron, the laver of water by the word, the laver of the word." Christ not only loved the church, and gave Himself for it, but He also cleanses it and sanctifies it by the "laver of the word."
So, I am to look for the doctrinal truth and the moral rectitude and the spiritual effectiveness of the church of Christ in the laver of the Word. Now I am taking that would mean that the church of Christ is not something that my speculative mind might seek to guide, and it is not an assembly that is guided by human wisdom or ingenuity; but it is a congregation of the Lord whose thoughts and deeds and commitments are all according to the laver of the word, the washing by the word.
Well, let us look at some of those things. First: if the church that Christ loved and died for is sanctified, dedicated, and washed by the laver of the word, then first of all I would think that it would be – – and this is the sermon I preached a few Sundays ago – – it would be a teaching church. It would be a church gathered around the Word of God, not the speculations of men, not even ecclesiastical metaphysics, but it would be a church gathered around the laver of the Word. It would be a teaching church. We are learning of God as God reveals Himself in the Word, in this revelation. And oh, how desperately we need that teaching scriptural ministry, washed in the laver of the Word; God’s people, His saved congregation.
Last Friday night, I was in a class and for a long time sat there, stood there, as they asked questions about the Bible. And it came up how many things they would yet like to ask and how many things arise in their hearts that need answering. And I replied, "I can understand that, for we so desperately need to be taught, washed in the laver of the Word." And I gave an illustration of it.
I was in a crusade holding a revival meeting in the auditorium of a schoolhouse. And nearby was possibly, I suppose, the largest air base in the world. And the head chaplain at the air base was a Southern Baptist. And I was with him many times during that week. And upon a day, he said to me, "I cannot understand our Southern Baptist pastors and our Southern Baptist churches." He said, "They don’t teach their people. They don’t know the Word of God." Then he gave me an illustration. He said, "This week, this week there is a couple on the air base. And in the sorrow of life, they faced the tragedy of having a stillborn baby; the child when it was born was born dead. So they came to me and said, ‘Chaplain, we are asking you to baptize our stillborn baby.’"
And the chaplain said, "Oh, oh, you want me to baptize the stillborn child? Why?" And they said, "Oh, the child’s soul will be burned in hell forever if you don’t baptize the stillborn child." And the chaplain said, "What church do you belong to?" And they said, "We are Southern Baptists." And the chaplain said, "Well, what makes you think that if I do not baptize this stillborn child the soul of the child will be lost in hell forever?" And they replied, "Our neighbors have told us so." And the chaplain said to me, "We need to teach our people. They don’t know, and they don’t understand, and they are a prey to everything and anything."
That is exactly what the Lord was referring to: that He might sanctify and cleanse it, that it might be free from doctrinal error and aberration by the laver of the Word, that our people might be bathed, might literally be baptized, washed in the Word. Our ordinances, according to the Word of God, not according to superstition and a thousand other things that are invested in them and are wrested concerning them; but the ordinances according to the laver of the word.
In the eleventh chapter of 1 Corinthians, the second verse, Paul says, "My brethren, I praise you because you keep the ordinances, as I delivered them unto you," very simple, but very meaningful and significant. The ordinances do not belong to the congress, nor the council, nor the courts, nor the chamber of commerce; the ordinances belong to the church of Jesus Christ.
"And I praise you, brethren, that you keep the ordinances, as I delivered them unto you." Here it is, one, two, three. In the mandate of our Lord from heaven, "Go ye therefore, and make disciples," win to Christ, that’s first; "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," that’s second; and third, "Keeping the things that I have ordained for you" [Matthew 28:19-20], as the Lord’s Supper. It is that simple, and it is nothing else.
One: I am to be saved first, to give my heart to Jesus first. Second: I am to be buried with our Lord and raised with our Lord; I am to be baptized. And third: I am to break bread with my brethren. One, two, three; and there’s nothing else. That is it. That is it. There is nothing else to be said. I am to be saved first. I’m to give my heart to Christ first. Second: I am to be baptized, buried with my Lord and raised with my Lord. And third: in remembrance of His atonement, I am to eat bread with my brethren, and I am to drink of the cup with my brothers and sisters in Jesus. The laver of the Word, taught in the Word, keeping the ordinances according to the Word.
The same about supporting the church; the laver of the Word, doing it according to the Word of God, again, it is the essence, the quintessence of simplicity. First Corinthians 16:2, "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." Sunday by Sunday, as God gives us, we take a proportion, any proportion; sometimes I run across people who take a half; sometimes I find people, once in a while, who take ninety percent, give it to the Lord; a proportion. The Scriptures would say start with a tenth; but every Sunday that proportion, "This is God’s, not mine," doing it not grudgingly or of necessity, but out of gratitude and thanksgiving to God for all that He means to us; the laver of the Word.
And last, and I must close, the laver of the Word, the church assembling together in obedience to the spoken word of our Lord; this is God’s congregation, and before the congregation, I am to stand. In the second chapter of Acts, "And the Lord added to His church, added to His assembly, those who were being saved" [Acts 2:47].
"Forsaking not the assembling of yourselves together" [Hebrews 10:25]; in the presence of the church and in the presence of the saints will I praise God, sing praises to Him, worship the Lord. "In the presence of His people will I pay my vows before God" [Psalm 116:14]. Why that? Why can we not serve God and forget His church, go out here on some hillside somewhere and worship the Lord and pay no attention to the assembly of His people? Why do I have to come down here? It lies in the providences of God, in the wisdom of the Almighty. He chose it that way and somehow without you my spirit dies. I need the encouragement of the assembly. I need to go to church, like God commands us in the Bible [Hebrews 10:25]. And I need to witness and to testify publicly of my faith in the Lord as I join the assembly of God’s redeemed.
Briefly, may I say two reasons for that? One: it does something to me when I do it. In the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" [Revelation 12:11]; it does something to me when I join myself to the people of God. And, it does something to somebody else, to others who see it and witness it. It must be that. When the Lord said, "Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father in heaven. Whosoever therefore shall deny Me before men, him will I deny before My Father in heaven" [Matthew 10:32-33].
The Lord expects us to join ourselves and to be numbered with His people. And Paul said it is a part of the very heart of our salvation: Romans 10:9-10:
If thou shalt confess openly, publicly, with thy mouth, Jesus is Lord,
and believe in thine heart God raised Him from the dead,
thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart we believe, and with the mouth open public confession is made unto salvation.
That blesses me when I do it, when I join myself to the assembly of Christ; and it blesses others.
There were two lawyers named Will and Tom. And in that little city where they were partners, attorneys at law, they had a big tabernacle revival. And upon a night, Will came down the aisle and gave his hand to the preacher and his heart to God, and stood there confessing his faith in the Lord Jesus. He got up early the next morning to go down to the office to take out everything that personally was his because Tom his partner was a bitter critic of God, and of Christ, and of the church. And Will knew that now, that he’d given his heart to Jesus and had become a Christian, that it’d be almost impossible for him as he went down and kept his office with his partner Tom.
So he was going down early that morning to take out the things from his office and dissolve the partnership. Guess whom he met on the street, walking toward his office, the last man in the earth he wanted to see. He met his partner Tom. And Tom looked at him and said, "Will, where you going so early in the morning?" And Will replied: "Tom, I’ll just tell you the whole thing. Last night I gave my heart to Jesus. I took the Lord as my Savior, and I know how bitter you are against religion, and against Christ, and against the church. And Tom I just don’t know whether I can stand it and take it or not, and I thought the best thing for me to do, now that I’m a Christian, is to go down and take my things away, and then Tom you can go your way; and I found the Lord, I’m going His way."
And then, guess what? Tom replied: "Will, you didn’t know it, nor did anybody else, but I was there last night. I was on the outside looking in. And when that preacher gave the invitation. I saw you go down the aisle. I saw you give your hand to that preacher, and I saw you stand up there confessing your faith in the Lord Jesus. Will, you and I have been standing together all these years, we’ve been partners, and we’ve been through a thousand things together, courts and decisions and trials. And Will," said Tom, "did you know, when you stood up there confessing your faith in God, I thought, I’ve been standing by your side all these years, I felt I ought to be up there standing by your side last night? And Will, the reason I’m going to the office early this morning, I thought maybe you’d tell me how I can find Christ as my Savior. I want to give my heart to Him."
There is nobody, not the humblest child, who openly, publicly, joins himself to the people of Christ, gives himself to the work of the Lord, identifies himself, submerges himself in the family of God but that it has a marvelous repercussion. There are members of the family, there are friends and neighbors who see it and know it. And God hallows and sanctifies it. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" [Revelation 12:11].
"Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That He might sanctify it and cleanse it with the laver of the word" [Ephesians 5:25-26]. And when we follow in the will and call of our Lord, oh, how infinitely and sweetly and preciously are we blessed!
And that’s our appeal this morning to you. In a moment when we stand to sing our word of appeal to come, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, a family, a couple, or just you; make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down one of these stairwells from the balcony, into the aisle on this lower floor, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am." Do it now. Make the decision now, and when we stand up in this moment, into that aisle, or down that stairway, and here to the front, we’re looking for you. God bless you as you come, while we stand and sing.
CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Ephesians 5:25-26, Acts 20:28
I. The church He loved and died for
A. Three ways "church" used
1. Generic idea of the church (Matthew 16:18)
2. The redeemed of all ages(Hebrews 12:22-23)
3. The local congregation(Revelation 1:4)
B. Ministry of Christ ensued in a church
2. At Pentecost poured out ascension gift of Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4)
3. He guides, directs from heaven(Acts 9:1-18, Revelation 1:10, 12-13, 20)
C. The church of our experience and life
1. Four-month mission tour around the world
II. His washing by the Word
A. Lutron – Our Lord washes His church with the laver of the Word
B. A teaching ministry
1. Friday night class
2. Chaplain in Caribou, Maine asked, "Why don’t you teach your people?"
C. Administering the correct ordinances(1 Corinthians 11:2, 26, Matthew 28:18-20)
D. Supporting the work, ministry(1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
E. Assembling together (Hebrews 10:25, Acts 2:47)
1. Public acknowledgment and association(Matthew 10:32, Romans 10:9-10, Revelation 12:11)
2. Two lawyers, Tom and Will