Men Moved by the Spirit
June 26th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
MEN MOVED BY THE SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-26-77 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Men Moved by the Holy Spirit. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to chapter 6. And as you turn to the passage, which I hope you will, the sermon is an exposition of the first seven verses of the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 6:1-7]. The passage of Scripture, sixth chapter of the Book of Acts:
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Then the twelve apostles called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.
And that will be the sermon tonight; it is entitled The Smiting of God’s Glory. God smote his face with glory; shined like the sun. That will be the sermon tonight:
And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
A consecration ordination service.
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; so much so that even a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
First, the occasion that gave rise to the choice of these men. What was it? It was trouble in the church. And in this church, of all churches, the mother church in Jerusalem, it is troubled by human frailty and infirmity and altercation. Are you not surprised? These are the men who had been taught by the Lord Himself. This is the church upon which God had poured out the ascension gift of the Holy Spirit [Acts 2:1-4]. And this is the church where the preaching of the Word was confirmed by signs and wonders [Acts 14:3]. And yet now, it is racked and torn by human infirmity. Isn’t that an amazing thing? Why would God allow such a thing as that? And why would the Holy Spirit not gloss over such altercation and difficulty as is exhibited here on these holy pages?
It gives rise to two questions that we must face: one, how is it that God writes this on the holy page? Why doesn’t God hide it away? Why doesn’t God gloss over it? The reason lies in the character of the Word. The Word of God is true and infallible, and God writes it down just as it is. For example, here in this story in the beginning of the church, the New Testament writes it just as it happened, faithfully and true; hides nothing of it.
The first chapter, for example, describes the suicide of one of the twelve apostles [Acts 1:16-19]. And in the fifth chapter, there opens up to us the dissimulation and the hypocrisy and the lying of Ananias and Sapphira in their jealousy of Barnabas, the “son of consolation” [Acts 4:36-5:10]. And then, I turn to the next chapter, chapter 6, and here is the story of the trouble in the church arising between the Hellenists, the Greek-speaking Jews, and the Hebraists, the Aramaic-speaking Jews [Acts 6:1]—surfacing in the house of the Lord, that eternal conflict between Hellenistic culture and philosophy and Hebrew revelation.
And as I look at the New Testament, the whole thing is like that. The dissimulation of Simon Peter is meticulously outlined [Matthew 26:69-74]. This chief apostle, quailing before a little maid, cursing and swearing that he did not even know the Lord; had not ever seen Him [Mark 14:66-71]—that is in the Bible! As I turn the page, here is recorded the fierce confrontation between Paul and Barnabas, arguing over John Mark, a kinsmen of Barnabas [Acts 15:36-40]. And so violent was the altercation between them—the Greek word is “paroxysm”—there was a paroxysm between Paul and Barnabas, so much so that they parted asunder, and one went one way and one went another way [Acts 15:39-40]. That is in the Bible.
And as though that were not enough, there is delineated here in the Word of God that fierce confrontation between Paul and Simon Peter in Antioch. In the second chapter of the Book of Galatians, Paul accosts Simon Peter “to his face” and calls him a hypocrite, a dissimulator [Galatians 2:11-14]. That’s in the Bible. That’s because God writes it down, faithfully and truly and glosses over none of it; the infallible Word of God.
You have the same thing in the Old Testament. No patriarch is glossed over. The lie of Abraham is written on the pages; and all of the supplanting and hypocrisy of Jacob, called Israel; and the story of Samson, and of Judah, and of David; all here in the Word of God.
There was an organization of atheists called the free thinkers, and they published a book called The Bible Exposed. And they wrote all of those things in their book as though they were discrediting the Word of God. That is the mentality of an atheist. He thinks just that far and that much. What the book actually did was to authenticate the truth of the Revelation of the Almighty. This is the infallible Word of God. It does not gloss over anything. God writes it down just as it is, and with infinite confidence can I open this sacred Book and read these Holy Words.
A second question: why would God allow trouble in the church, of all places? Why? Why doesn’t God keep the world out of the church? And why doesn’t God keep the church away from the world? Why doesn’t God separate it? Why place the church in a position where all kinds of the troubles that afflict this world also afflict the congregation of God? Why? Well, if men were running it, the church would be carefully kept away from the world and all of its sin and shame and iniquity. Men have tried it. They have built high, high walls, and on the inside of those walls they have built their monasteries, and on the inside of those monasteries, they have placed priests and monks and nuns in order to separate them from the world. That’s man, but not God. God never built any high walls around His church. God placed that church right next door to hell itself! And wherever there is sin, and wrong, and shame, and violence, and corruption, and blood, there ought to be the church of the living God, in the middle of it, in the very thick of it.
I think of how Paul began that letter to the church at Corinth, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ…to the church in Corinth” [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]. Why man, that was the wickedest city that ever lived! The corruption, and the vice, and the promiscuity, and the filth, and the dirt, and the wrong, and the sin in Corinth reached to heaven like that of Sodom and Gomorrah [Genesis 18:20]. And yet, in the very midst of the town, of the city, there is the church—the church of God in Corinth [1 Corinthians 1:1-2].
Or just take once again in the second chapter of the Apocalypse, the Lord is addressing the church at Pergamos. And He says, Pergamos, “Unto the angel of the church in Pergamos [Revelation 2:12] . . . I know where thou dwellest” [Revelation 2:13] Now look at it: “I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is” [Revelation 2:13]. In the very heart of the political, cultural debauchery and corruption of the Attalid kingdom of the Pergameans—there is the church.
Where should the church be? Right down where Satan has his throne; right in the heart and in the thick of human life, that is where it ought to be! A thousand times a thousand times have people said to me, “When are you going to sell your property downtown and move out to the green pastures, in the salubrious clime where it is easy, and people attend the services just because it is convenient? When are you going to move out?” And for forty-seven years my great predecessor Dr. George W. Truett said, “We [are] never moving out! We are staying right here.” And for thirty-three years, I have avowed the same thing.
There ought to be, where Satan has his throne, in the very heart and life of the city—there ought to be the lighthouse for Jesus Christ, the church of the living God. And that is why God doesn’t shield it away. The only thing the Lord did was, in the high priestly prayer of John 17, verse 15, He said, “Dear Lord God in heaven, My Father, I pray not that You take them out of the world, I just pray that You keep them from evil” [John 17:15]. That‘s God—right in the heart, where Satan has oversown God’s field, where the tares are growing up, where the leaven is hid, and where corruption works, there ought to be the church of the living God.
Now we are going to look at the wisdom of these apostles. There was brought to them this confrontation between the Hellenists, and the Hebraists—those Aramaic-speaking Palestinian Jews and these Hellenistic Greek-speaking Jews who were strangers, foreigners; they were born outside of Palestine [Acts 6:1]. Now those apostles were wise with the wisdom of God. They saw that in that division there was possibility of infinite hurt, of anger and bitterness and succession and rupture. What did they do? Hide their eyes from it? No! Whenever trouble begins to rise in the church, the man of God ought to sense it, and he ought to see it, and he ought to meet it head on right then settle it [Acts 6:2]. It is a whole lot better to settle any kind of a proposition or problem or difficulty that you have in the church, than to let it breed and to fester and to ruin and finally to destroy so many.
And that is what these apostles did. Seeing the possibility of ruin and rupture in the church, they courageously and boldly faced it. And what did they do? They called together the multitude of the people [Acts 6:2]. We have the half-persuasion that people are stupid. They are ignorant; they don’t know; not that at all! It will amaze you how right and how just the verdict of a people will be. They have sensitivities that we don’t give them credit, for and they have wisdom that comes from God.
To have the people together and to let the people enter into that ultimate and final decision is from heaven itself. And that is what the apostles did; they appointed the men, but it was upon the counsel and admonition of the people. So they settled the problem beautifully in the wisdom of the people. They divided it up, and this was the division they made of it: the apostles said, “We will give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry, the preaching of the Word, and these laymen and laywomen will take care of all of the business of the church, while we pray, and study God’s Word, and deliver God’s message” [Acts 6:2-4]. Now what do you think about that?
Well, we are going to look at it for just a moment. First, those apostles—they never divided up that work among them[selves]: now some of the apostles will do this, and some of the apostles will do that, and some of the apostles will do the other. No, all of the apostles are going to give themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word [Acts 6:4]. And then these businesses of the church will lie in the responsibility and purview and assignment of the lay members of the church [Acts 6:3-4].
Well, let’s look at those apostles first; they say that they are going to give themselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word [Acts 6:4]. Well, we have heard them pray. Their prayers are written here on the holy page. We have heard them pray—and what praying! The very place was shaken where those men of God were praying and talking to the Almighty [Acts 4:31]. And then we have here on the sacred page their sermons—and what sermons! They were filled with the convicting power of the Spirit, and people were saved by the thousands under the preaching of those men [Acts 4:31-32]. Now, you know, when I read that, that is a rebuke to me and to my fellow ministers—our praying. Ah, how many times is it peripheral and mechanical? Why, you could write about and sleep over them, and some of us apparently do. No power in it, or feeling in it, or passion in it—just words and syllables.
And their preaching—ah, what a rebuke! The power, the unction from heaven in their delivery of the message of God—dear me! I heard a definition of preachers and preaching, and it was this; “Preaching is a mild-mannered man, speaking to a mild-mannered congregation, upon how to be more mild-mannered.” That is what I heard. We have in our Bible Institute a distinguished theologian by the name of Dr. Leo Eddleman. And I heard him one time, at an evangelistic conference, describe a preacher who was so sissy that standing at the backdoor, shaking hands with the people as they went out, one visitor shook his hand and asked the preacher what was his maiden name. Ah! The preacher praying in the power of God; and the preacher delivering the message of God with unction from heaven and with conviction of the Holy Spirit; then these laymen and these laypeople chosen to help the preacher; to help him deliver his message in power, to do his God-given work with the blessing and the benedictory remembrance of heaven upon him [Acts 6:2-5]. Like Aaron and like Hur, on either side, holding up the hands of Moses [Exodus 17:11-12], to have laymen and laywomen in the church, helping the preacher do a great and mighty work for God, that is glorious! That is heavenly!
For the preacher to stand up, and he preaches out of all of the frustrations of life and all of the businesses of life, and all of the worryings of the church, is to have a weak message and a weak ministry of the Word. When the preacher stands up, what he ought to do is preach out of the presence of the Lord a message from heaven itself; having prayed and having studied and having listened to the voice and mind of the Lord.
A thousand times, literally, do young ministers come to me and say, “If you had just one thing to say to a young preacher, what would you say?” Immediately; and always have I answered the same sentence, “If I have just one thing to say to you it is this: keep the morning for God. Keep it for God. Whatever the assignment and the business of the church, or the day of the life of the town, or the civic; whatever it is, keep that time for God. And out of the praying, and out of the Bible studying, and out of the meditation, and out of the baring and nakedness of your soul before Him in heaven, stand up there with unction and with power, having come before the people with a message from heaven. And the people will grow in grace if you will do that. It will be like manna to their hungry souls, it will be like drinking at the fountain of the water of life, and the people are blessed, and they are saved, and they come to know God, because you know Him and have spent time in His presence.”
And then as for the laypeople, they ought to assume the responsibility for all of the business of the church—all of it; all of it. Is there financial need? That is a wonderful way for them to serve Jesus. Are there buildings to be built? Are there maintenance crews to be hired? Are there a thousand things that enter into the life of the church? They have that assignment to care for it, to see to it that it runs beautifully and well, that it is adequately provided for.
And the preacher, when he stands up to preach, he is not up there trying to get blood out of a turnip. He is not trying to squeeze money out of miserly and stingy people; they have taken care of all of that! And when the preacher stands up to preach, what he is to do is to take the Bible and open it, and where he leaves off Sunday morning, begin Sunday night, and minister to us the living Word of the living God. That’s just glorious!
Now I am going to give you a Criswellian translation of a Greek text just like this. I received a call, and in fact, the young fellow came to see me—Dr. Bill Reynolds. And he said, “I want you to translate out of the original Greek in your own way. I want you to translate about ten or twelve passages that at the Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee, our Century Men can write the melody for it. And you write the lyric out of the Greek New Testament, and then we will put music to it and then we will sing those songs in the church services over the nation.” So I wrote about a dozen of those texts out of the Greek New Testament, that they could put music to and then sing them. Just like Handel’s “Messiah”—all of the text is from the Bible. Well, these songs are texts from the Greek New Testament.
Now, I am going to give you one of my translations, now you listen to it. This is the Criswellian translation of 1 Corinthians, chapter 16, verse 2: “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no ding-donging for money when I stand up to preach” [1 Corinthians 16:2]. Now that is exactly what that text means—exactly what it means. And when you have your preacher stand up here, and every time he is trying to get money, trying to squeeze blood out of that turnip, the people come to church and they say, “All they are interested in is just money. All they are interested in is what they can get out of me.” Oh, that’s not pleasing to God, and that’s what the apostles did here, “We will give ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word, and then we will let the laymen ding-dong for the money” [Acts 6:3-4]. And they do it well, they do it marvelously well.
You know what? This church gives right now, just right along, about seven million dollars a year to the work of the Lord; every year; all together about seven million dollars a year. And I am asked endlessly, “What do you do there in the First Baptist Church in Dallas? Do you preach about money all of the time?” And I say, “I rarely mention it. I rarely mention it, rarely mention it.” So much so, that these deacons come up to me and they said, “Now pastor, please, in the fall time, won’t you preach one sermon on stewardship?”
Listen, that is the way God will build a great church. It is the way that God will put together a marvelous congregation—that preacher up there in the pulpit, a man who knows God and calls Him by name, and they talk face to face as friends. And then, those laymen and those laywomen out there doing the work of the Lord: they are building Sunday schools and Training Unions; they are carrying through the stewardship program; they are erecting buildings; they are finding out how to carry the financial program of the indebtedness. They are doing everything, and that pleases God and makes for a wonderful church.
I only have one little thing to remind myself about the team of the deacon and a preacher—the pastor and the laymen. And it is, and I remind myself of it—it is in Joshua 1:16-17. The men of Israel come before Joshua, who now is standing in the stead of Moses, just like that was the text I preached on when I came here to stand behind this sacred pulpit where Dr. Truett had preached for forty-seven years:
And the men of Israel came and stood before Joshua and said, Joshua, All that you command us, we will do, and whithersoever you send us, we will go . . . Only the Lord God be with thee, as he was with Moses.
“Pastor, we will follow you. You tell us the program, where to go. You tell us the achievements and the aims—what to do. We only ask, pastor, this one thing, that the Spirit of God dwell in your soul; that when you come before us you are in presence with the unction of heaven upon you. And we will do it, God giving us strength and wisdom for the way.” That‘s what I call the unbeatable team!
Now we must hasten to our close. I want you to look just for a moment at the men who were chosen—these seven men; their qualifications—“men of honest report” [Acts 6:3]. That was first; honest report, you could trust them. They are not one way one day and another way another day. They are not one way to your face and they are one way behind your back. These are men that you can trust, men of honesty and integrity. Why, you could entrust your souls to them. You could entrust the destiny of the church to them—good men, honest men, men of good report. And then the third one was, men of sophia, the Latin would be prudentia—men of, translated here “wisdom” [Acts 6:3]. That beautiful, famous, the most famous church ever built, St. Sophia. We think that is the name of a saint, no; St. Sophia—sophia, “wisdom.” That is, men who combine love and zeal with good, common sense. And the Lord is pleased for the church to be run by men who have good common sense. They are men of the world who understand things in the world. Our Lord one time said, “The children of this generation are wiser than children of light” [Luke 16:8]. Why, these men out here in these tremendous skyscrapers running these big corporations; how gifted they are! And how smart they are and astute they are! There ought to be the same gifts, the same astuteness, and shrewdness, and smartness in running the church, and the house of God and the institutions of the Lord. That’s exactly what the Bible says, “Men of good judgment and good sense.”
Now do you notice the middle one? There was one at the front, “fine men of integrity, honest men.” There’s one at the back, “men of good judgment and common sense”; now the central one—the middle one, “men who are full of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 6:3].
“Now wait a minute, preacher! And now you wait on that one; we thought that the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles, and He is a gift for the preacher and the pastor, but the Holy Spirit is not to be expectedly poured out upon the laymen and the laywomen of the church, they’re not to be full of the Holy Spirit.” My brother, it is the opposite of that in the Bible!
In the great Pentecostal chapter of Acts number 2 [Acts 2], when Simon Peter stands up to speak his great Pentecostal message, he says, “This is that which was prophesied— spoken of—by Joel, the prophet” [Acts 2:16]. Then he quotes the second chapter of Joel, “in that day” —the day in which we now live—“In that day,” says the Lord God of heaven, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh: and your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall prophesy” [Acts 2:16-18; Joel 2:28-29].
The whole world and every man and woman in it can be filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Just think of that; there is a way for a man to open a door that will glorify God; there is a way that a man can seek a visitor that will open his heart to the message of the Lord, or chill his soul. There is a word that we can say when we shake somebody’s hand that just magnifies Jesus. There’s a way we can park the car for somebody that would make them glad they’ve come into the house of the Lord. Why, my brother, the whole part of it is to be filled with the moving of the Spirit of the Lord: and time would fail me to speak of these who teach, filled with the Spirit; and these who train, filled with the Spirit; and these who sing, filled with the Spirit; and these who play, filled with the Spirit. Everything we have done, the preacher, the car parker, the door opener, the visitor, the greeter, the player, the singer, the teacher—all of us filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
And now do you see the conclusion? “And the word of God increased.” No wonder! “And the number of the disciples multiplied greatly” [Acts 6:7]. Praise God! It will always be that way, always. When the people are filled with the Spirit of the Lord and when what we do is of the unction of heaven and the blessing of the remembrance of God upon it, you’ll see people come to Jesus. You’ll see them walk down these aisles; you’ll see them in that baptistery, baptized; you’ll see them out witnessing; you’ll see them out testifying; you’ll see their homes and families. It is a glory when the people are filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
I must close; may I say one thing more? We’ll never win the world to Jesus by a paid preacher, and a paid missionary, never. What God intended was all of His people saying good things about Jesus. All of the people magnifying and praising the Lord; all of us soulwinning, inviting, teaching, training, coming, praying; all of us sharing in the ministry alike. And when that comes to pass, O the glory, the shekinah presence of the Lord that moves in the house of the congregation!
Why, I just—when our people are burdened in prayer and come with great expectation, I stand up here in this pulpit, and I just feel the presence of God in our hearts and in our souls. And the Lord always crowns us with a sweet and precious harvest; and may He do it again this hour.
In a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, a family you to come to the Lord and to us; a couple you; or just one somebody you, “Today I take Jesus as my Savior [Romans 10:8-13], and I am coming,” or “Today I am putting my life in the church. I am following Him in baptism” [Matthew 3:13-16], or “I am putting my letter in the church.” As God shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand, walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor. I have decided for God and I am on the way” [Romans 10:8-13]. May angels attend you as you come. Do it now. Make it now. Come now. God bless you in the way as you come, while we stand and as we sing.