Christ Loved the Church
October 31st, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-31-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message from the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians. For about nine Sundays now we shall be concluding this long series of sermons on the letter of Paul to the church at Ephesus.
One of my assistants pointed out to me that it was five years ago that I began preaching in the Book of Ephesians, all of which shows how many times the series is broken into by exigencies, and church activities, and preaching through other books, and publishing them – which will be the third volume on Daniel that will come out this – ought to be out right now. There is just so much in the Bible it is very difficult even to touch a part of its unfathomable, illimitable truth in a Sunday by sermon, Sunday message. The title, Christ Loved The Church, is also in the text, 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
This admonition, "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it," is also an identical pattern, though couched in different language, that Paul spoke to the same church leaders at Miletus. Talking to the pastors of the church, at Ephesus, he said in Acts 20:28:
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.
An identical thought expressed in the passage in Ephesians 5:25; to shepherd, translated here "feed," poimainÃ³. The Greek word for "flock" is poimnion. The Greek word for "shepherd" is poimen. I have a member of the church here who calls me poimen, "shepherd." The flock, the shepherd, and then "to feed," poimainÃ³, "to shepherd" the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood [Acts 20:28]; the same word that he wrote to the church, "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25].
What kind of a church is it for which Christ died? And what is he talking about when he speaks of "Christ loving the church, and dying for it?" There is in the Bible, as you would expect, the generic idea of "the church," such as a man in a peroration will speak of "the state," "the home," "the school," "the church." The idea of the church, that’s in the Bible and in the passage that you read, "Upon this rock I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18], the idea of the institution, the reality of the church.
There is also in the New Testament the word used to refer to the redeemed of all ages. In the [twelfth] chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, the author will say, "But ye are come unto the general assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven" [Hebrews 12:22-23], the church, invisible and triumphant, the great congregation of the redeemed who shall worship the Lamb, the Lord in glory.
But the church that we know, and the only church with which we have anything to do, and the church as it is in the New Testament, is always that local congregation. "Christ loved the church," that church, "and He gave Himself for it." He died for it – that church. This church in the New Testament – where we touch it, have anything to do with it – it is always the local congregation, the assembly of Christ.
The Bible, the New Testament, will speak of the churches – – plural – – of Judea, the churches of Syria (plural), the churches of Galatia, the churches of Macedonia. John addressed his Revelation to the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 1:4]. Always, the church, in our life and experience, in the New Testament life and presentation, always it is the local congregation – this church.
The ministry of Christ ensued in a church. When He ascended back up into heaven, there was left as a residuum, a residue, a corollary of the ministry of Christ, there was a left a church. That was what was left; there was no New Testament, there was no writing. There was nothing except the church. It had its ordinances; Christ gave it the ordinances, the discipline, the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20]. When He went to heaven, the ministry of our Christ was seen only in a church that He left.
Then at Pentecost, He poured out upon it the ascension gift; the Promise of the Father, the breath, the Holy Spirit of God [Acts 2:1-4]. It already had the ordinances; it had the discipline, it had the Commission. It had the teaching, the didasko; it had everything except the breathing, empowering, enabling Spirit of God. And upon the ascension of the Lord into heaven, the ministry of Christ continued, pouring out of His Spirit upon the church, "the church," the local church – a church you could see and visit, enjoy – the church at Jerusalem.
Then under the guidance, the surveillance, the direction of the Lord from heaven, the apostle Paul was called openly, personally by the Lord [Acts 9:1-18]. And through him and the apostles, their ministries resulted in the founding of churches over the empire. These are the churches Christ loved, and gave Himself for them.
In the Revelation, John says that he heard a great voice back of him; sounded like a trumpet [Revelation 1:10]. And being turned, he saw a seven-branched lampstand. The lampstands, John said, are the churches of Christ [Revelation 1:20]. And when John turned to look, he saw the Son of God, the Savior, walking in the midst of the seven-branched lampstand [Revelation 1:12-13], that is, the Lord walking among His churches; "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it."
And this is the church of our experience and of our life. We know no other. A man couldn’t join the invisible church or belong to the invisible, redeemed, triumphant, glorified congregation of the Lord. It isn’t here, nor do we ever see it or know it. The only church that we know is the church that is presented to us in the New Testament, which without exception is the local congregation, the assembly of Christ’s believers. This is the church that we know. This is the church of my experience.
When I was a boy, I went to a little church in a small village. I went to Sunday school there as a child. I was converted there as a little boy. I was baptized there in that little church. It was white, had a little cupola on top, and a bell that they rang at Sunday school time; the local church; "Christ loved the church."
This church, this is the church of my life and my heart now. I love this church, its walls, just the way it looks. Someday, because of its age, we shall have to build another house, but I don’t look forward to that with gladness. When the day comes to tear these old walls down, there will be a whole lot of my heart that will crumble with it. I love this church.
In the song we shall sing for an invitation, whoever wrote that song had the same feeling:
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
– where the people assembly –
the church our Blessed Redeemer bought,
With His own precious blood.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand."
["I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord"; Timothy Dwight, 1800]
I love this church, this is the church that I know, this is the church that I attend; this is the church for which Christ died, this is the church for me. And what I see here in its meaning, in its message, it’s a sermon in stone. It’s very spire points to God in heaven. What I see here and feel here, I also feel and see when I visit the churches of the earth.
In 1950, Dr. Duke McCall, who was then executive secretary of our Southern Baptist Convention, and I made a four month preaching tour through the mission fields of the world. We went all the way around the world – gone four months. Mostly, we were in the darkened places of the earth, where humanity is sodden and helpless and largely hopeless. And yet, in those darkest places- – in a jungle, in a forgotten underprivileged country where the flotsam and jetsam of people are just poured out in waste, there and there and there – we would find a little church and a dedicated missionary and a little flock of the Lord. Sometimes made out of mud, sometimes made out of thatch, sometimes made of the poorest of materials, but I never saw it anywhere in the earth but that as I looked upon it, my spirit was raised in what it meant and what it means. And to look upon the dedicated people there brought joy and gladness in my heart, that I also knew the Lord and was their brother in Christ.
Tell me, tell me, if you were looking for a man to go to a Stone Age tribe in the Amazon jungle; if you were looking for a man to run a hospital under the Arctic Circle; if you were looking for a man to teach in a school in the jungles of Africa; if you were looking for a man to work in the slums of a great city like Calcutta, where would you find him? I mean a man of high heritage and noble culture and splendid education; a man who would go and bury his life, without any thought of earthly recompense or reward; a man who labored in an inhospitable environment, and yet keep his spirit bright; tell me, where would you find a man like that? I can tell you. You’ll find him in the church!
"Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it," and wherever it is in the earth, it is there a colony of heaven, pointing the way to glory. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it: that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" [Ephesians 5:25-26].
Now, the word, the term that Paul uses there, is an astonishing one to me, to me at least. He loved it, gave Himself for it, presides over it today from heaven, walks in our midst. Sometimes I feel the presence of the Lord in the church until I cannot hide or keep back the tears. I just feel God’s presence. Don’t you sing that in the song?
There is a sweet, sweet, Spirit in this place,
And I know that it’s the Presence of the Lord.
["There’s a Sweet, Sweet Spirit"; Doris Mae Akers, 1962]
"Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it," talking about this church, our church, that He might "sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word."
Now, the term that is astonishing to me is the word translated here, "washing," a lutron, lutron. In the old Hebrew Testament, kiyyor, kiyyor is the name for the bath, the big laver. First in the tabernacle and the temple would be the brazen altar, then the laver where the priest washed before he entered into the sanctuary of God. Now, that is the word that Paul uses here, the "laver" of the Word. Our Lord washes His church with the laver of the Word. Now the rest of the sermon – and we could go on for hours now – will speak of what that is: Christ loving the church, dying for it, giving Himself for it, and He washes it in the laver of the Word.
Therefore, I can know that when the church pleases Christ, when it is sanctified and cleansed in His will, then I know that the church that is blessed of Christ and pleases Christ is one that is washed in the laver of the Word. It is, therefore, a teaching church, a studying church, a learning church. It is one who is washed in the laver of the Word.
How desperately is that needed? And how earnestly should our church seek to achieve it? All of it is washed in the laver of the Word. It is a learning church, an understanding church, it is a studying church, it is a scripturally knowledgeable church, and how desperately it is needed.
For example, last Friday night I stood before one of our classes – people so gifted and earnestly desirous to know what God says – and they were talking to me. They were asking questions, and we were seeking answers in God’s Word, and came to discuss, to speak of how the Bible speaks of so many things that we ought to know and understand. And without them, our lives and mind are darkened; we fall into doctrinal aberration, and I gave an illustration of it.
I was holding a crusade in a large part of the northern part of a state here in the United States, in the Northeastern part of our world. And the city was located near the largest air base, I suppose, in the world. The chaplain at the air base was a Southern Baptist chaplain, the chief chaplain. The head chaplain there was a Southern Baptist, and in the crusade, I was with him upon many occasions.
So upon a time, he said to me, "Why don’t you Southern Baptist pastors teach your people the Word of God, the truth of the Lord? Why don’t you?"
"Well," I said, "I suppose we try, but don’t do it well."
"Well," he said, "That’s true, it is not done well. And I ought to give you an illustration of it," he said. He said, "This week there was a couple on the air base, there’s an Air Force man and his wife on the base." And he said, "They came to me and said, ‘Our child is stillborn, and we want you to come and to baptize our child,’ the stillborn baby."
And the chaplain looked in amazement and said, "Baptize your stillborn baby? Why?" And they replied, "Because the soul of the child will spend eternity in hell if you do not baptize this stillborn child." And the chaplain said to me, "I asked them, ‘What church do you belong to?’" And they replied, "We belong to a Southern Baptist church; we come from the South." Well, the chaplain said, "What makes you think that your stillborn baby will be bound forever in hell if I do not baptize it?" And the couple replied, "We have friends in the complex on the base where we live, and they have told us that if we do not baptize that baby," stillborn, "that its soul will spend eternity in damnation and hell." And the chaplain said, "Why don’t you teach your people the Word of the God?"
"Well," I said to him, "Chaplain, it grieves my heart that such a thing could ever be, but the tragic, sad point of hurt lies in its truthfulness. There are uncounted thousands and millions of our people who are not conversant with the Word of God."
That is our assignment! Christ loved the church. He gave Himself for it, that He might bathe it in the laver of the Word; that we might be knowledgeable and taught. And that what we believe, we have for it the revealed Word of God, an assurance that comes from heaven itself; washed by the Word, the laver of the Word.
The ordinances administered according to the Word of God. Ah! How much magic? For example, your hocus-pocus: hoc est corpus means hocus-pocus – the magic that’s so vast a part of the world see in the ordinances, bathed in the Word. The ordinances belong to the church; they do not belong to the congress, or to the court, or to the chamber of commerce, or to the civic club. They belong to the church, and to present them and to administer them according to the revelation of the Word of God is a part of this, "washed in the laver of the Word."
And they are so simple and so significantly meaningful according to the Book: one, two, three. And it follows that order, one: "Go ye therefore and make disciples," we are first to be saved, we are to be Christians first. Second: we’re to be baptized, buried with the Lord in the likeness of His death, and raised with the Lord in the likeness of His resurrection.
One: we’re to be saved. Second: we’re to be baptized. Third: we’re to take the Lord’s Supper, keeping the ordinances [Matthew 28:19-20]. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:2: "My brethren, I praise you that you keep the ordinances, as I have delivered them unto you." They’re great symbols of a tremendous spiritual fact. They portray the redemption and the resurrection of our Christ in baptism and the rapture, the coming again, "As long as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are to do it until I come [1 Corinthians 11:26]," the return of the Lord. As the dipper holds the water, these ordinances hold and shape the truth.
This last week at our convention in Houston, one of the men said to me, "You know, I have come to believe that heresy and aberration and doctrinal inexactitude always begins in a false interpretation and presentation and administration of the ordinances. If a church can keep them correct, as it is in the Bible, they’ll be correct, he said, in every other area of doctrinal life."
The laver of the Word, the church is washed in the laver of the Word; administering the ordinances according to the revelation of God, supporting the church according to the Word of God, washed in the laver of the Word. Ah! Do you suppose that our Lord gave us such a commission and a vast assignment – it is for us in the city, in the state, in the nation, in the world – do you suppose the Lord gave us such a vast assignment and then left us without any knowledge of how we are to sustain it and to support it? That’s why the churches turn to so many different ways to support itself.
I listen on the radio as I go over the city, and here will be a man, and he will say, "This vial of oil I have blessed. I have seen it heal the sick. I have seen it make short legs," and I’m just quoting: "I’ve seen it make short legs come out and be just long as they ought to be. I’ve seen withered hands anointed with this oil, and I’ve seen withered hands straighten out. And I have seen cancers that were healed with this anointing oil. And I’ve seen blind eyes opened with this oil and deaf ears opened with this oil." And then he says, "You send me twelve dollars, and I’ll send you this bottle of holy ointment, and you put it on wherever you ache and wherever you’re sore, and it will heal you."
Ah! Don’t you wish twelve dollars – man, that would be a good investment for us, wouldn’t it? But just think of raising money for God like that. And I listen to them, and they will say, "I have here a little prayer cloth." Sometimes it’s red, sometimes it’s white, little prayer cloth, little prayer cloth, "I prayed over this cloth, and you put it wherever you are hurt, and it will heal you. Now, you send me a gift, and I’ll send you this prayer cloth, and it will make you well."
You know, sometimes as I listen to those things – I am just unholy and ungodly, and I bow my head and ask the Lord to forgive me of how I react sometimes – but I’ll listen to a woman as she testified what the prayer cloth did for her. And she bought the prayer cloth, and she said, "I put it where I hurt." And every day she sat down on it, so I knew she hurt in a certain place where she sat down. She sat down on that prayer cloth, and all this is a testimony in a holy service, and she sat down every day on that prayer cloth, and it healed her. "Now, you send me so much money, and I’ll send you the prayer cloth."
Oh dear! Is that what I ought to do? Is that what you would want me to do? We’re going to bless vials of oil, and we’re going to bless little pieces of red cloth and then a thousand other things? No! "He loved the church, and gave Himself for it, and He washed it in the laver of the Word" [Ephesians 5:25-26]. Does God say something – why He does – and so simple? Listen to Him; 1 Corinthians [16:1], "As I gave commandment, as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, even so do you." You do it like this, said the apostle Paul. "On the first day of the week, on the first day of the week, let every one of you," all of us, "lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him." Each one of us, on the first day of the week, on Sunday, "this belongs to God. A proportion belongs to God. It doesn’t belong to me, it’s not mine, it’s His." And a proportion of it belongs to God. "On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him," some of us more, some of us less. Some of us are able more, some of us are able less, but what God says in the Word is the way God will bless us; He will bless you, He will bless us.
A proportion; sometimes it’s a man who says, "I can give half of what I have." Sometimes, there will be a man who will say, "I can give ninety percent of what I have and live on the rest." Somebody one time said – and people are so funny, "You know, I might be able to give a fifth, but I’ll tell you, it would be hard for me to give a tenth." I’d settle for that. But this is God’s way: "On the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by Him in store, as God has prospered him." This is a proportion that I set aside for the Lord, and, of course our people, believing the Bible as they do, would always start with a tenth. "We will start with a tenth; this belongs to God." And then as the Lord would make me able, and as He would press upon my heart the need for other purposes in the kingdom, I would try to give to that also. But this is God’s proportion, and it is sacred for Him. "Christ loved the church, gave Himself for it; And He washed it in the laver of the word," doing it like God says.
And last: the assembly of Christ – my being a part of it, joining myself to it – this is a part of the commandment and the expectation and the call of God [Hebrews 10:25]. "And the Lord added to the church," publicly, openly, avowedly, statedly, "the Lord added to the church those who were being saved" [Acts 2:47]. And the Lord has commanded us openly, publicly, to be a part of that household of faith, and if I refuse, then the church dies for me and for Christ. It doesn’t live apart from my public, open, acknowledgment and association.
"Ah! But, pastor, you don’t understand. I can worship God out here on a hill, and I can serve God out here in the fishing boat, and I can be just as much a part of the family of God in some mountain retreat somewhere." I would not argue. I’m just saying that it’s not that way in the Bible. From the beginning, there has always been that public association with the assembly of God’s people. It has never been otherwise. And without it, rationalizing reasonably, the thing would die, it would disappear. In the Old Testament, it was an open assembly, the blood of the Passover openly displayed. And in the New Testament, it is a part of the experience of salvation itself.
"If thou shalt confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father in heaven," said Jesus [Matthew 10:32]. The apostle Paul put it in the very heart of our experience of salvation. Romans 10:9-10:
If thou wilt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord,
– openly, publicly –
and believe in thine heart,thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart one believeth,
and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Now, I cannot understand the deep mysteries of the secrets of God, but some things I can easily see. I can easily see why it is that God would purpose for us openly and publicly to associate ourselves with the household of faith and with the church. I can understand that.
In the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, "And they overcame him, the great adversary, by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" [Revelation 12:11]. When a man comes forward and stands before men and angels, something happens to his own heart. And something happens to those who see it, and hear it, find it out, and know it. The man is an openly-avowed, a publicly-confessed believer in Christ, and he belongs to the church of the Lord. It blesses others also.
There were two lawyers, one was named Will and one was named Tom. In the little city where they lived, there was a tabernacle revival meeting. And upon a night, down the aisle went that lawyer, Will; gave his hand to the preacher and his heart to God, accepted Christ as his Savior, and stood there before the congregation under that tabernacle, confessing his faith in the Lord Jesus.
Early the next morning, that lawyer Will got up to go down to his office downtown to gather together his personal belongings in the office and to move out and to dissolve the partnership, for he said in his heart, "My partner, Tom, is such, is such a bitter critic of the church, and of Christ, and of God, I don’t think I could stand it – his ridicule and his sarcasm and all of those bitter things he says about God. I don’t believe I could stand it, and it’s just best for me to gather my things and move out and dissolve the partnership." So he got up early in the morning to go down to the office to gather his things and to move out. On the way down there on the street he met the last man in the world he wanted to see; he met his partner, Tom. And Tom looked at him and said, "Will, why are you up so early, and where are you going?"
And Will replied, he said, "Tom, last night I found God. I gave my heart to Christ, and I’m a Christian now. And Tom, I know how you feel about God and about Christ, and about the church and about the people of the Lord. You’re bitter and you’re sarcastic, and I just don’t think that I could live under the criticism. So Tom, I got up early this morning – I thought, before you’d be down – to gather my things and to dissolve the partnership. That’s why I’m on the way, this morning."
And Tom replied, he said, "Will, you didn’t know it, nor did anyone know it, but last night I went to that meeting, and I stood outside the tabernacle. I saw you go down that aisle and give your hand to the preacher. And I saw you stand there before the people, confessing your faith in God. Will," said Tom, "you and I have been partners all these years. We have always stood side-by-side. We have been through lot of things, lots of cases, lots of trials, lots of difficulties." And he said, "Will, when I saw you standing up there by yourself last night, it just seemed to me that I ought to be standing by your side. And Will, the reason I’ve come early in the morning, I thought maybe you’d teach me how to be a Christian and to believe in God and be saved."
"They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony" [Revelation 12:11]. There is no little child who publicly confesses his faith in Christ but that people are affected by it; the house, the home, the friends, the neighbors. God blesses the testimony, and it is according to the Word, "Christ loved the church, gave Himself for it," and washed it in the laver of His Word.
And that’s why, always this invitation: a family, a couple, or just you, openly, publicly, to give your life to Christ and to join with us in the worship of the Lord, to come and to stand by me; will you? Will you? In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; on the lower floor, into the aisle and here to the front, "Here I am, pastor. I offer you my hand, I have given my heart to Christ, and I’m coming." "Pastor, this is my wife, and these are our children, all of us are coming." Or just a couple you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, would you make it now? Decide in your heart now, and in a moment, when we stand up, stand up coming. You; that first step will be greatest step you will ever make in your life. The angels will attend your way as you come. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.