Sweetest Verse in the Bible
February 21st, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
THE SWEETEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-71 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 The Sweetest Verse in the Bible. I am sure that each one of you reading God’s Word would pick out a different verse; but this, as I read the Holy Word for the years and the years that I have considered it, this is to me the sweetest sentence in the Bible. In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians, we are in the fourth chapter. And the chapter concludes with this dearest of all verses: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:32].
There is, in our Sunday school, a men’s Bible class called the BYKOTA class. I had never heard the word “BYKOTA.” I asked them where they got it and what it meant. To my delight, the men replied, “BYKOTA: Be ye kind one to another [Ephesians 4:32]; the first letter of each one of those words, BYKOTA.” When we look at the actual text, there is a chapter division at the end of the verse. Actually the chapter division is at the wrong place, for the whole passage concludes with the second verse of the fifth chapter. Now, let me read all of the passage:
And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Be ye therefore—
the “therefore” refers to what he has just said—
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor.
The altar of incense, coming up to God, beautiful, precious, adored, acceptable. “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children, tekna agapēta.” When the Bible says, “God is love” [1 John 4:8], he uses that word, John does, agapē, God is love, agapē. And here Paul refers to us as the dear children, tekna agapēta [Ephesians 5:1], of God [Ephesians 5:1]. We are the agapēta, children; we are the loved children of God [Ephesians 5:1].
There are homes where children are not wanted. Isn’t that sad? They don’t want them; sometimes they leave them as foundlings on a doorstep, sometimes they ask the Buckner Home to take them, sometimes they do things to rid themselves of them. But he uses the word here, God is agapē, we are agapēta children. We are loved, we are wanted, we are precious, we are prayed for, we are desired, we are welcomed; God wants us. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? As unlovely as we are and as fallen as we are, yet we are agapēta children [Ephesians 5:1-2], we are loved, and wanted, and prayed for; desired of the Lord. Then he also said, “Be ye therefore mimētai of God, as dear children”; mimētai , translated here “followers” [Ephesians 5:1]. That’s fine, mimic, mimeograph, imitators; the word imitator is from this also. If I were to take the word and translate it exactly into this language we speak: “Be ye therefore imitators of God,” copyists of God, mimics of God; “Be ye therefore mimētai of God, imitators of God” [Ephesians 5:1].
One time I was in the international airport in New York waiting for the plane to go across the ocean to Europe. And while I was standing there, I happened to meet the governor of Maryland. He was in the airport getting his daughter on the plane to go to Europe; she was going with another airline and another flight from what we were going. And that plane was delayed also, so I spent about an hour talking with that wonderfully gifted man. He’s the one who delivered the keynote address at the last Republican Convention that nominated President Richard Nixon. Well, because I was a minister he just began to open his heart to me. And one of the things that he began to describe to me was his godly mother. They were all Methodists, he and his family, his mother and her family. And he said, “You know, my mother, when she took the Lord’s Supper, the Communion service,” in their church they come down and they kneel, and they take the Lord’s Supper on their knees. He said, “You know, my mother had a habit, all of her life”; and he said, “I would watch her through the years and the years. When she came down to kneel to take the Lord’s Supper, she would take off all of her jewelry, put it in her purse, take off all of her jewelry, all of her jewelry.” He said, “There was no reason for it at all, she just did that. When she came before the Lord and knelt before Him, she took off all her adornments.” And he said, “You know, as time passed and I grew up,” he said, “did you know, I found myself taking off all my jewelry? My rings, my watch, all my jewelry, I take it off, and go down there and kneel.” And he said, “Pastor, did you know, last Sunday, my teenage boy knelt by my side, and I happened to watch as we knelt there together, and I saw that boy take off all of his jewelry, kneeling before the Lord?”
Mimētai , copyists, imitators, there’s no reason for that at all; that is imitating. And that’s the word the apostle uses here: we are to be imitators of the Lord [Ephesians 5:1]. And the most wonderful originality in the world is to be like God; for His name is called “Wonderful” [Isaiah 9:6]. Oh, dear! Imitating God, mimētai . The sons of Eli did not imitate their father; the sons of Samuel did not imitate the prophet, their father; Absalom did not imitate David his father; but our Lord Jesus imitated His Father so beautifully, gloriously, delicately, kindly, sweetly, sympathetically, that when you look at Jesus you see the Father [John 14:9]. Imitating God…what is He like? He is kind, He is tenderhearted, He is forgiving; that’s what that beautiful text says. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as” ho theos en Christo,” even as God seen in Christ has been kind, and tenderhearted, and forgiving toward us [Ephesians 4:32].
Now I shall speak of that kindness: first, the kindness of God. Sometimes we wonder why doesn’t God destroy the wicked and do it now. Oh, this world is bathed in violence and drowned in blood; we see it and we read it. Evil men, wicked men, vile and villainous, violent—why doesn’t God destroy the wicked?
The love of God is greater
than the measure of man’s mind
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
[from “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” Frederick Faber, 1854]
Oh! Beyond anything we could ever feel or know is the outflowing of God’s heart toward evil people. He makes His sun shine on the just, as He does on the unjust; He makes the vernal showers to fall on a bad man’s field as He would on a good man’s field [Matthew 5:45]. He loves us all alike, good and bad.
Simon Peter said:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise,
as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward,
not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
[2 Peter 3:9]
The prophet Ezekiel said:
As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live;
turn ye, turn ye. . .for why will ye die?
The kindness of God; not only in that tenderhearted, loving, shepherdly care of the Lord for all of us, including the wicked; but that also answers why sometimes grievous burdens are laid upon those whom He loves the most. It is the goodness and the kindness of God that we bear sometimes heavy burdens and insuperable difficulties we face, such as the slavery of Joseph [Genesis 37:26-28, 36]. Oh, how grievous that! Jacob cried, “All of these things are against me!” [Genesis 42:36]. And, “. . . this gray head of mine shall go to the grave in grief for my son” [Genesis 37:35, 42:38, ]. Oh, how grievous! But God intended it for the saving of the Israel family [Genesis 50:18-20].
The exile of Moses [Exodus 2:15-3:1], heir apparent to the throne, but those forty years in the desert, how God prepared him as the great lawgiver [Exodus 2:16-31]. Ah, the kindness of God! The incarceration of Paul [Acts 28:16], those epistles, one of which—a prison epistle I’m preaching out of now [Ephesians ]—could never have been written except by a man who had suffered. The exile of John, the sainted apostle on the isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], there looking at the visions that are written down in the Apocalypse [Revelation 1:1-22:21]. All of these burdens and trials that God allows His children to face are a part of the goodness and the kindness of God.
Sometimes I see parents, and sometimes in our own house—oh! it seems to me we’re so hard on that child—he doesn’t want to study, he wants to play, he wants to look at television; we get him by the nape of the neck and sit him down there at that desk, and put that book before him and say, “Learn!”
“But I don’t want to learn, I want to play!”
And you know, “You learn, you study.”
Is that being bad and evil? That’s kindness, that’s because we love the little fellow. Our Father is like that. We learn as the years roll onward, and we leave the past behind.
That much we had counted sorrow,
But proves that God is kind;
That many a flower we’d longed for
Had a hidden thorn of pain;
And many a rugged bypath
Led to fields of ripened grain.
[from “The Shadow Sun,” Agnes L. Pratt, 1894]
Always remember, whatever problem or difficulty or sorrow you face, that God is good to you. He is kind and loving and sympathetic with you. He seeks the highest good and best for you. You are the tekna agapēta, the children of His love [Ephesians 5:1-2].
Now I speak of the kindness of Christ: “Even as God in Christ” [Ephesians 4:32], the kindness of Christ. Tell me, if you could go back through all of the centuries and could pick out a man in his greatest triumph and glory, what would you pick out? Oh, maybe Alexander the Great triumphing over Darius and looking upon the dissolution forever of the Persian Empire; what a day! Or you could stand at the Rubicon and see Julius Caesar crossing the river that changed the course of Roman history. Or you could stand at Waterloo and look at the “Iron Duke” of Wellington as he won the incomparable victory over Napoleon Bonaparte. Just pick out any of the tremendously significant moments in history and say, “I’d like to have stood there and to have seen that glorious victor.” And I would not blame you; it would be interesting to have looked upon his face.
You know what I’d like to do? A thousand times to me more meaningful than all of the armies that ever marched, and all of the victories the generals ever won, to me it is more meaningful, the simple, humble overtures of grace, and love, and kindness of the Lord Jesus. I would love to have been there when He said to the disciples, “Suffer these little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” and He took them in His arms, and blessed them [Mark 10:14, 16]. I’d love to have seen that, Jesus blessing little children.
You know, I’d love to have been there that day when the Book says, “And, behold, a leper walked up to Jesus” [Matthew 8:2]. He was surrounded by multitudes and throngs, the Book says so [Matthew 8:1]; well then how did a leper just walk up to Jesus? Why, you know how. By law he had to cover his mouth and to cry, “Unclean, unclean!” [Leviticus 13:44-45]. And wherever he walked, there was that circle falling away before him. And as the leper came, the crowd fell back and he walked right up to the Lord. Why didn’t the Lord fall back? That’s Jesus. The Book says, “And the Lord touched him” [Matthew 8:3]. I can just hear the crowd gasp. Why, that leper hadn’t felt the touch of a human hand in memory; it was half the cure, just the warmth of the Master’s hand when He touched him. I’d love to have been there when the Lord Jesus spoke to that weeping widow, gave her back her son [Luke 7:11-15]. I’d love to have been there when blind Bartimeus crying out, and the crowd said, “Hush, the Master is busy, no time for a wretched blind man.” The Lord stopped and said, “Bring him here to Me” [Mark 10:46-52]
The kindness of our Lord: the poor; the disciples said, “These hungry, send them away.” The Lord said, “No, We shall feed them” [Matthew 14:15-16]. He was no less so in death; up there on the cross, dying, He said to John, “John, behold thy mother; and He said to His mother, Behold your son” [John 19:26-27]. And John took her away and took care of her; that’s the Lord! [John 19:27]. And when the throngs railed on Him and blasphemed Him, and the thief on one side dying reviled Him [Luke 23:39], He prayed, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34].
The Lord Jesus: the kindness of our Savior—and up there in glory, He is still the same. For the great author of Hebrews says:
We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmity; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin. Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, and find mercy and grace to help in time of need.
He is still as dear and as tenderhearted; He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, now, as He was in the days of His flesh; the kindness of our Lord.
Now last: the kindness of His people, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:32]. We’re to be mimētai , mimics, imitators of the Lord. How we need it; encouragement, kindness, sympathy. As the prophet Isaiah said, “Each one said to his neighbor, Be of good cheer, be encouraged.” [Isaiah 41:6] Oh, how we need it!
In an autobiography by Frank Rutherford, he describes poignantly a day that he came to church, and he poured his heart into his message, the truth meant so much to him; it was so intensely delivered. And after the sermon was done in that church, he went to the vestry; not a soul spoke to him. Finally the janitor came in and made the remark, “It’s raining outside.” And he went out to close up the building. And the pastor, in that autobiography, describes his walking through the rain to his lodging—had no umbrella; and then the very dissolution of his mind, and his heart, and his ministry.
Oh, it takes so little to make us sad,
Just a slighting word or a doubtful sneer,
Just a scornful smile on some lips held dear;
And our footsteps lag, though the goal seemed near,
And we lost the joy and hope we had—
It takes so little to make us sad.
It takes so little to make us glad,
Just a cheering clasp of some friendly hand,
Just a word from one who can understand;
And we finish the task we so long had planned,
And we lose the fear and the doubt we had—
It takes so little to make us glad.
[“It Takes Just a Little,” Ida Goldsmith Morris]
“Kind, tenderhearted to one another” [Ephesians 4:32]. I read in literature where Sir Walter Scott was kind of a dullard, he was kind of stupid in his lessons. Sir Walter Scott? That was an amazing revelation to me! When he was a little boy, he didn’t like to study and he didn’t get along in school. And upon a day he met Bobby Burns. And the loved poet read to the little boy some of the lines that he’d written, and put his hand on his head and talked to the little lad, and Sir Walter Scott describes how he went home and wept for joy. And it was a new day in the life of the little boy.
I heard Gypsy Smith one time—the older Gypsy Smith, the senior—I heard Gypsy Smith one time describe his going up to Ira D. Sankey, Moody’s singer in Great Britain, and Ira Sankey spoke to the little waif, the little Gypsy boy, and somehow by inspiration put his hand on the head of the little wayfaring Gypsy and said, “Son, someday you’re going to be a great preacher.” I heard Gypsy Smith say that. It takes so little to make us glad!
O Lord, kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, how we need it! [Ephesians 4:32]. And how the church is blessed by it. O dear Lord, to be nice, and gracious, and thoughtful, and loving, and kind; it remakes the church. Isn’t it a strange thing? The whole atmosphere is changed when we bring in our hearts the love of God. Why, there’s no feeling or atmosphere particularly in beams, and rafters, and windows, and carpets; it is we who bring the presence of God and the loving Spirit of Jesus into the church. When we have our Lord’s Supper we sing,
Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of Christian minds,
Is like to that of love.
But we never sing that next stanza:
We bear our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear
And often for each other flows,
The sympathizing tear.
[“Blest Be The Tie That Binds,” John Fawcett, 1782]
Weeping with those who weep, moved, tenderhearted. O Lord, how our church has been blessed by the open-hearted friendliness of its people!
Dr. Forest Fesser—he serves in our church still—was executive secretary for so many years here in Texas. Upon a day he came to me and he said, “Pastor, let me tell you something: I was way out,” and he told me where, “I was way out in an associational meeting, and there was a pastor that came up to me and introduced himself and said he was the pastor of the second largest country church in the world.” And Dr. Fesser said, “I never thought of it, and then I reviewed that.” And he said, “I went back to the man, and I said, “You know you intrigued me by what you said, ‘You’re the pastor of the second largest country church in the world.’ Who’s got the biggest country church in the world?” And that pastor said, “Criswell, in Dallas.”
That is the finest compliment I’ve ever heard on the First Baptist Church in this city. I’ve heard many, many others; people speaking about our growth, and our budget, and our Sunday school, and our baptisms, and a thousand other things, but that is the finest compliment I ever heard. I have the biggest country church in the world. I guess you would have to be raised out in the country to know all that that means. It means family, it means loving one another, it just means everything sweet and precious.
Now I must close. And that’s what wins the lost, did you know it? Once in a while there’ll be somebody come down that aisle and say, “I am convinced of the doctrinal truth that you preached there in that pulpit.” Once in a while, that happens. But most of the times, the man that comes down that aisle, his family and his children will say, “You know what? You have a member in your church,” and he’ll name him, “you have a family in your church,” and they’ll name them, “and we have come to love God and this church through them.”
I’m not decrying sound theology, nor would I deprecate those great doctrinal truths that even your pastor tries to deliver as he studies that Book; but I’m just pointing out that most of the times people are won by love and kindness. They get an idea of God through you. And somehow they come to feel that tugging at the heart when the Holy Spirit uses you. That’s why I think this is the sweetest text in the Bible: “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” [Ephesians 4:32].
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just a one somebody you, to give himself to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], or to come into the fellowship of His church, while we sing this hymn of appeal, come now, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision in your heart now, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it, while all of us stand and sing.
SWEETEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The complete passage is Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2
1. Chapter division separates the conclusion
B. He reminds us that we are the dear children of God(1 John 4:8)
C. Urges us to be like our Father
1. We are to be mimetai, imitators of God(Ephesians 5:1)
2. No greater achievement for child of God, than to be like HimII. The kindness of God
A. David’s wise choice(2 Samuel 24:13-17)
B. The answer why God does not destroy the wicked (2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 33:11)
C. The answer why the Lord lays upon us things hard to bearIII. The kindness of Christ
A. Jesus moved with compassion(Matthew 8:2, 14:15, 19:13-15, Mark 10:46-52, 15:39,1 Corinthians 13:4, Luke 23:34, John 11:34-36, 19:25-26, Hebrews 4:15-16)
B. Of all the men of all times in history, I’d like to see JesusIV. The kindness of His people(Ephesians 4:32)
A. How we need it
1. Truett’s sermon, “The Need for Encouragement”
2. Frank Rutherford’s autobiography
3. Sir Walter Scott and Bobby Burns
4. Gypsy Smith
B. How it blesses the church
C. How it wins the lost(Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:2)