Men Moved by the Spirit
June 26th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
MEN MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-26-77 8:15 a.m.
Once again welcome, the throngs who are listening to this service on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas 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 the reading of the text is as follows:
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 Spirit 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 Ghost…
Tonight at seven o’clock I am preaching on The Smiting of the Glory of God, and it will be on the first Christian martyr, Stephen.
And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of 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.
And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
First of all we speak concerning the occasion for the selection of these seven laymen. It came out of trouble in the church. And are you not of all things astonished at this church? This is the church whose apostles, whose pastors, were taught by Christ Himself. This is the church upon whom God poured out the ascension gift of the Holy Spirit, beginning a new dispensation, a new epoch, a new era [Acts 2:1-4]. And this is the church that witnessed the confirmation of the gospel message with signs and wonders. And yet it is torn and racked by human infirmity. Why, the story begins in the first chapter of this Book of Acts with the traitorous defection of one of the twelve, and delineates his suicide [Acts 1:16-19]. Then in chapter 5 we are told of the envy of Ananias and Sapphira, and their dissimulation, and deception, and hypocrisy, and ultimate death [Acts 5:1-11]. And now we are in chapter 6, and there is trouble and murmuring in the church between the hellenistōn, the Greek-speaking Jews, and the hebraious, the Aramaic Palestinian Jews [Acts 6:1]. Just a surfacing in the church of that ancient conflict between the polyistic culture of the Greek world and the great monotheistic dedication of the people of Jehovah God. Trouble in the church. Just read the letter of Paul to the church at Corinth: it seems that they had nothing but difficulty and altercation [1 Corinthians 3:3, 11:18]. Somebody said, “These must be Baptist churches: they’re filled with so many problems and difficulties and troubles.”
Well, when we look at this church, now rent and torn asunder by trouble, there are several things that come to our minds. One is this: why does not the Bible gloss over these stories of difficulty and altercation? The answer is this: the Bible is the true and infallible Word of God, and it tells the story exactly as it is. The Bible does not gloss over anything. It is a pure and holy record of the truth of Almighty God.
I’m frank to tell you that I am surprised when I read the New Testament, for example, of how the Holy Word of God presents this situation exactly as it is; delineates the defection and dissimulation [Matthew 26:14-16] and finally suicide of one of the twelve, the treasurer of the company serving Jesus [Matthew 27:3-5]. I am surprised at the presentation of Simon Peter quailing before a little maid, and cursing as he denies that he even knows the Lord [Mark 14:66-71]. I am surprised at the viciousness by which the Bible presents the discussion between Paul and Barnabas over the nephew of Barnabas, John Mark [Acts 15:36-41]. And the Greek word to describe that altercation is a paroxysm—developed between Paul and Barnabas—and they separated themselves asunder. The Bible presents that. I am surprised at the way the Bible presents the confrontation between Peter and Paul in the second chapter of the Book of Galatians. Paul challenges Peter, as he says, “to his face” [Galatians 2:11-14]. All of it here in the Bible, presented exactly as it is; the true and infallible record of God.
The same thing obtains in the Old Testament. There’s no glossing over those patriarchs of the faith. Abraham’s life is presented exactly as Abraham lived it, with all of his lying and hypocrisy. The life of Israel, of Jacob, is told exactly as it happened; so with Judah, and so with David, and so with Samson, and all of the ancient heroes of the faith. Their infirmities are presented as faithfully and as honestly as their virtues.
There was a group called the Free Thinkers who published a volume entitled The Bible Exposed; then they recounted all of these things that are written in the Bible concerning the heroes of God, as though they were doing an unusual thing in exposing the Word of God. Not so. That’s the thinking ridiculous of atheism. The Bible is honest and true, and the inspired Word of God, infallible [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Therefore it glosses over nothing; it tells the story exactly as it is.
Then a second question arises: why does not God keep trouble out of the church? Why allow difficulties and confrontations and altercations and secessions out of the church? Why doesn’t God keep trouble out of the church, keep the world out of it, keep the problems out of it? Well, if we were doing it, we’d try. That’s one of the first things we would do would be to shelter the church from the world, and all of its problems and all of its sin and all of its darkness and all of its iniquity. We would keep it out. That’s the way men would do. So in order to achieve that purpose, they have built high walls around the church, keeping the world out—the world of sin and shame—keeping it out. And there on the inside of those high walls you would find the church of the monastery, and the monks and the nuns who live in it, sheltered from the world. Or you would find them out in the desert, separated from culture that is so worldly and compromised. Is that God? No, that’s men! God places His church in the very heart of its life, of its weakness, of its sin, of its shame, of its degradation and iniquity.
Look at this: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the church that is in Corinth” [2 Corinthians 1:1]. Corinth was the most vile and wicked of all of the cities in a vile and wicked world. And yet in the heart of it is the church, in Corinth. Or take again, in the second chapter of the Apocalypse, the letter of the living Lord to the church at Pergamos: “I know where thou livest, where Satan’s seat is” [Revelation 2:13]. What an amazing thing that God should put His church in the very heart of a great cultural and political center where Satan has his throne. But that’s God. It was never the purpose of the Lord that the church be kept away or shielded; it is thrust into the very life of the people. Wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, there does God plant His congregation, the lighthouse of the Lord.
Do you remember the seventeenth chapter of the Book of John? Fifteenth verse, in the prayer of our Savior Lord, “I ask not that You take them out of the world, only that You keep from evil” [John 17:15]. This is where the church ought to be: right down in the center of this city. A thousand times a thousand times am I asked, I was asked that a day ago, “Do you plan to move out? Are you planning to take the First Baptist Church and move out where the pastures are green, and the life is salubrious, and the way is easy, and people attend because it is convenient? Is that what you’re planning to do?” In the days of the great pastor Dr. Truett, he said, “We’re staying downtown.” And in the thirty-three years I’ve been undershepherd, the answer is always the same: where Satan has his throne, we’re staying in the heart of this great city, right where the church ought to be. Thus it is in the program and province and persuasion of the Lord. Right next to the door of hell, that’s where the church ought to be.
That’s one reason, Commander, that I admire so much the Salvation Army. Right where the people fall into every kind of sorrow and tragedy known to the human heart, there you’ll find your people witnessing to the grace and glory of God.
Now in the trouble that they faced, I want us to look for a moment at the wisdom of these apostles. Did they hide their faces from this human frailty and infirmity? No! They met it boldly and honestly and courageously and immediately, which ought to be done. When trouble arises, when trouble arises, face it, face it. It’s a lot better to get over with it then carry on, than to fool with it and play with it for the days and the years that lie ahead. Any time you see trouble arising in the church, face it right then, and on the spot; and do it boldly and courageously. And that’s what these apostles did. They called the multitude of the people together. You see, when trouble arises in the church, there is always the latent possibility of anger and rupture and secession; it is always there. And these apostles, seeing the possibility of great hurt, called the people together [Acts 6:1-2].
Now there is wisdom in that. We think that the people don’t have any sense; they’re stupid and dull and dumb. It’ll surprise you how much the humblest member of this church knows, and it will surprise you how people will always bring forth a verdict that is wise and just and good. People know how to govern themselves, if you’ll let them. And especially is that true in the house of the Lord. That’s one reason I so deeply dislike government telling us what to do and guiding and shaping our every day lives. I wish they’d stay out of it. Our people will know what to do, and they’ll make just and wise decisions in doing it. They just will. So they called the multitude of the people together, and said, “It is not right, it is not wise that we should leave the ministry of the word, and our intercessions before God, and our shepherding of the flocks in order to give ourselves to this business of the daily ministrations” [Acts 6:2]. So, led by the Spirit of the Lord, they divided the work. Now how did they divide it? Did they say, “Now some of you apostles do this, and some of the apostles will do that, and some of the other apostles will do the other”? No, it was divided like this: the apostles give themselves, the preachers give themselves to the ministry of the word, and to prayer and to intercession; and the laymen of the church, and the laywomen of the church, give themselves to the business of the church [Acts 6:3-4].
Now when I look at that I think that is from God Himself. The preachers to pray, and how they could pray; we’ve just heard them praying, and the place was shaken where they were gathered together [Acts 4:31]. And the preachers give themselves to preaching, to the ministry of the Word [Acts 6:4]; and we’ve just heard their sermons, and the people were filled with conviction under the power of the message of Christ [Acts 4:31-33]. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Praying and preaching; but, oh! What a rebuke to us in our modern day. Our praying is so oft times mechanical and peripheral, dull and without passion and feeling. Well, you could sleep over your prayers—and some people do—and preaching, oh! How so many sermons are without power, and without content, and without great doctrinal meaning.
I one time heard a preacher’s message and delivery defined as “a mild-mannered man speaking to a mild-mannered congregation on how to be more mild-mannered.” We have a brilliant preacher and teacher in our Bible Institute named Dr. Eddleman, Leo Eddleman. And I heard him say one time, that when a certain preacher got through preaching, so sissy that when he stood at the door and the people were shaking hands with him, one of the men passing by took his hand, and asked what was his maiden name.
“We’ll give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word; and you men, you assume the responsibility for the business of the church” [Acts 6:3-4]. And that’s one of the most magnificent conceptions I think you will find in the Word of the Lord. The men, the laypeople, are to help the preacher; like Aaron and Hur, holding up the hand of Moses, help him to be strong in the Lord [Exodus 17:11-12]. The message of the preacher should never arise out of distraction and worrisome business, but the preacher’s message ought to arise out of a presence of God; meditating, praying, asking God’s understanding, and speaking out of a great study and a great spiritual understanding.
You know, here again without number do young ministers come up to me and say this, “If you had just one thing to say to a young preacher, what would you say?” From the beginning I have always answered the same answer: if there is just one thing I would say to a young minister it is this: keep your morning for God; keep it for God. Don’t preach out of business, socializing, back-slapping, carrying on, but preach out of a bended-knee study of God’s Book. And when you stand up to preach, let it be that you come before the people from the presence of the Lord, and they’ll be blessed, and you’ll be blessed, and God’s name will be honored and glorified in the earth. I don’t know of anything I’d rather experienced than to sit in an audience anywhere and listen to a man of God who knows the mind of the Lord. It’s like manna from heaven. It’s like drinking at the fountain of the water of life. That’s the preacher. And that’s the part of the laymen and the laywomen, the laity: to see that the preacher has that kind of an opportunity to pray and to minister the Word of the Lord.
Do you remember what Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in chapter 16, verse 2? That the men, that the people take care of all of the business of the church [1 Corinthians 16:1-2]. Now I’m going to give you a Criswellian translation. I had a visit from the man who heads the music division of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he wanted me to translate out of the Greek New Testament texts, about a dozen of them, that his century men could place in music, that they could write the melody for it. And he wanted me to choose about ten or a dozen texts out of the Greek New Testament to translate it as I would translate it, and then they would place music to it, and they would sing it in the church. It was a joy to do it. I’ve already mailed them to him. This also is a Criswellian translation. Now you listen to it: “As I gave order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. On 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-dongings for money when I stand up to preach” [1 Corinthians 16:1-2]. Now that’s exactly what that verse means. To impose upon your pastor, “Now, pastor, you must raise the money for the church, and you must raise the finances for the congregation, and you must raise the money for these buildings, and you must raise the money for all the things that the church has been called of God to do, you do it”; that is the exact opposite of what God wills for his congregation. So when the preacher stands up, instead of opening the Word of God and addressing our souls, and delivering a message that can save us from hell and damnation, why, he’s up there trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. And every time you go to church, that’s what you listen to, somebody up there trying to get a stingy, closed-fisted bunch of people to support the work of the Lord. That displeases God; it’s a dishonor to His name, and a disgrace to the house of the Lord.
What the preacher ought to do—God love you, brother—what the preacher ought to do when he stands up to preach, the laymen and the laywomen of the church have taken care of all of that. “Preacher, don’t worry your head about the debt.” But, I do, “Don’t worry your head about the debt. Don’t worry your head about the interest payments. And don’t worry your head about the financing of the church. You let us take care of those assignments. And when you stand up there, you just preach to us out of that Book. What does God say to us out of that Book?”
Oh! You know to have a wonderful relationship between a pastor and the deacon, between the minister and the laity of the congregation, is just like heaven itself. And I can say for my part, that I remember the word of those men of Israel, in Joshua 1:16-17, this is what the men of Israel said: they said, “Joshua, whatever thou commandest us, we will do, and wherever thou sendest us, we will go . . . Only that the Lord thy God be with thee as He was with Moses.”
“Preacher, pastor, we’ll stand back of you, and we’ll hold up your hands, and the program that God places in your heart we’ll try to do, and the places you send us we’ll try to go; only that there be in your heart and in your life and in your message and in your ministry the manifest presence of the Spirit of the Lord” [2 Timothy 4:2]. Isn’t that a great thing? It’s an unbeatable team: that preacher and that godly layman. That’s the way the Lord fitted it.
My, where does the time go? I have one more third of my sermon that I’ve prepared. Let me just summarize it. Then tonight, we’re going to speak about The Smiting of the Glory of God on the face of this man Stephen. Just to summarize: the seven that they chose, look at their qualification, “Brethren, look ye out among you seven men” [Acts 6:3]. And there are three qualifications: first, “of honest report,” that is, men you can trust. Well, you could give your souls to them, and they’d be responsible before God. Men that we can trust, “of honest report” [Acts 6:3]; that’s the first one. The third one is, “men full of wisdom,” sophia—Latin, prudentia—that is, combining love and zeal with good common sense. And my people, there is always a spacious area in the church for just plain good common sense. “Men filled with sophia,” worldly wisdom, common sense [Acts 6:3]; even the Lord said, “the children of this generation are smarter than the children of light” [Luke 16:8]. Sometimes God’s people can make the most egregious blunders that you could imagine: just common sense, worldly wisdom, prudentia, sophia.
Now the middle one, the center one: “men full of the Holy Spirit, men full of the Holy Spirit” [Acts 6:3]. Now wait a minute, pastor. I know that the preacher is to be full of the Holy Spiri, and we are to pray for him, that God’s Spirit will fall upon him, that when he speaks to us it will be with unction from heaven. But now you mean upon these men and women the Holy Spirit is also to move? I mean according to the Word of God exactly that. In the second chapter of the Book of Acts, when Peter begins his Pentecostal sermon, he says, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, which says, And in that day,” which is this hour, “and in that day will I pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh. Even the old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions,” upon all of us [Acts 2:16-17].
May I summarize that? The entire work of the Lord, all of it, is to be in the power and the moving of the Holy Spirit of God. There is a way to seat a visitor in this congregation that opens his heart to the message of the Lord. There is also a way to seat that visitor that chills his soul. There is a way to park a car that makes people glad they came down here to the church. There is a way to shake hands with someone coming in the door that magnifies the name of Jesus. Isn’t that just wonderful? The preachers, and the car parkers, and the hand shakers, and the ushers, and the greeters, all filled with the Holy Spirit of God; and what could I say about the deacons when they gather? And what could I say about the teachers when they teach? And what could I say about our people when they visit? All of us alike, filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
Now look at the conclusion, and I must close. “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” [Acts 6:7]. My dear people, you will find it exactly like that in your life and in this church. When all of us are filled with the Spirit of the Lord, what God does, it’s just wonderful to behold. You see, the world will never be won to Christ by paid preachers and paid missionaries. It’s when all of us are speaking good things about Jesus, and all of us exhibit a wonderful light in our hearts and in our faces; it’s the blessing of God upon our witness and our testimony that multiplies the people of the Lord. What a blessedness does God reveal to us in this beautiful addendum. God multiplied the disciples greatly when these preachers and these laypeople alike were witnessing for Jesus [Acts 6:7].
Now we’re going to stand in a moment and sing our appeal for the Savior. Somebody you to give himself to the Lord [Romans 10:9-13]; a family you coming into the fellowship of the church; as God shall open the door, as the Lord shall say the word, make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when you stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway or coming down this aisle. “Here I am, preacher, I’m on the way.” I’ll be right here. There’ll be room for you to come. Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” Taking Jesus as Savior [Acts 16:31], or coming into the fellowship of his dear church, do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.