The Christian Community
February 27th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-27-77 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Christian Community, the koinonia, the fellowship of the communion of the people of God. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we have come to the middle of the second chapter, and the reading of the context is this, beginning at verse 36, Simon Peter closes his Pentecostal message:
Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Now when they heard this, they were cut in their heart, and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, turn, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ (eis, e-i-s) because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
With many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourself from this skolias, this untoward, this lost, this deviating generation.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
. . .
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
When I read the passage, the first and most wonderful impression that comes from the inspired description of this first Christian community is one of infinite gladness, of rejoicing and praise. Is it not written thus in the text?
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple. . .did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God. . .
And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
[Acts 2:41, 46-47]
To be glad in the Lord is a part of what it is to be saved, to belong to the Christian community.
I am happy in Him.
My soul with delight
He fills day and night,
For I am happy in Him.
[from "I Am Happy in Him," Edwin O. Excell]
One of the most tremendously meaningful sermons I ever read in my life was delivered by B. H. Carroll, the giant, gargantuan man who was founder and first president of our Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary located in Fort Worth. The sermon is entitled "My Infidelity and What Became of It."
In the days of the Civil War, he was a blatant and an outspoken and a rude, crude infidel. And he had a violent reaction against those who believed in God and in His Christ. When the days of the war were over, crippled, he came home. And in those days, living at home, there was a tremendous outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the community where he lived. And one night after the revival service, he came home hobbling on his crutches, walked throughout the kitchen of the house and up to his room and lay down. A little nephew in the kitchen watched him, and went to B. H. Carroll’s mother and said, "Uncle B. H. is acting so strangely. He’s crying and singing at the same time."
His mother, a godly praying woman, went upstairs and into the room where her boy was lying on the bed with his hands over his face. She took her hands and pulled his hands away from his face, and looked long and searchingly into his eyes. And exclaimed, "Son, you have found the Lord. You have been saved." "My Infidelity and What Became of It." She saw it, and the little boy heard it in the gladness of his song, even in the midst of his tears. Isn’t that a strange thing? You’re so happy, you cry: just the overflowing of the saved heart. To be a Christian is to be glad in song. It’s to sing. It’s to praise God. It’s to be like this first Christian community.
You know, I don’t know of anything more unhappy, or anything more sad or tragic, than for one to have just enough religion to make him unhappy. There’s always a war going on in his heart. There’s a struggle and a strife on the inside of him between his loyalty to Christ and maybe a shady business practice, or maybe a worldly amusement, or maybe a selfish covetousness. And he has just enough religion to make him miserable and unhappy. Ah, how sad!
And how wonderfully glad could that somebody be if he would just let God have all of his heart and all of his life. That, I think, is one of the secrets of this first Christian community in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. They just gave everything, themselves, all that they had, all that they did, they just gave it all to the Lord. It says here, "And all they that believed were together, and had all things in common" [Acts 2:44]. And it says, "Neither said any of them that all of the things that he possessed was his own" [Acts 4:32]. They just gave everything, everything to the Lord, themselves, what they possessed, the work of their hands, the dreams and visions of their souls, all of it, they just gave to the Lord. And they were happy in Him.
I heard of a very devout, fine, godly, and affluent couple: faithful in the church, faithful in their devotion, faithful in their gifts. They prayed; they gave to missions; they supported the work. They were a godly and exemplary Christian couple. They had one daughter, one child, who upon a day came back home from school, from college, and announced to her father and mother that she had felt God’s call to be a missionary, and was now preparing her heart and her education to go out on a foreign field and represent our Lord as a missionary.
The father and the mother at first took it so hard. "We have given our money," they said, "We have given our prayers," they said. "We have given our time," they said, "our love and devotion," they said. "But you, child, you’re the only child we have. And to see you leave and go on a foreign field is just almost too much." The father and the mother resolved that they would take it to God and tell the Lord in prayer all about it. And when they finished their praying, they had found an infinite peace and rest in Him. "Lord, not only the money we have, not only the prayers of our hearts, not only the devotion of our lives, but Lord, also we give to Thee this only child."
That’s a marvelous thing, if we could ever achieve it. Everything we give back to Him. This is God’s air that I breathe. This is God’s world in which I live. These are God’s hands and God’s feet that He created and gave to me. This is God’s heart and God’s soul that lives within this physical frame that is God’s holy temple and house and home [1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Galatians 2:20]. And heart and life and vision and dream and work; all of it God’s. And when we come to the place in our lives when we can just say, "It’s His," ah, how happy we are!
One other thing in this, in this exceptional description of this first Christian community, "And they continuing steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" [Acts 2:42].
Tonight, I’m going to speak of those four things that the Holy Scriptures avow characterized that first church. This morning in the second part of the message, I choose one of them. It says doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread, our Lord’s Supper. Wherever that phrase, "breaking of bread," is used in the New Testament, always it refers to the Lord’s Supper.
"And in the prayers": there is private prayer; there is public prayer. God has purposed that His people gather together, publicly to share in the prayers. But the one I speak of this morning is that second one, "And in the fellowship" [Acts 2:42]. What a beautiful word that is. In Greek it is koinonia. Sometimes it is translated "communion." I have never objected why some of our Baptist people object to calling the memorial service the communion service Did not Paul by inspiration say: "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? And the cup which we drink, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" [1 Corinthians 10:16].
It is that word koinonia. It is the common fellowship, the common bond between our Lord and us, the communion service. It’s also translated and it is here in this text. The word koinonia is also translated "fellowship" [Acts 2:42], the fellowship of the saints.
It is the purpose of God from the eternal ages that there be a church, a body of Christ, an ekklēsia, an assembly of the saints which is in the New Testament also called a koinonia, "a fellowship." It is a precious thing that God hath done for us. That He places us together in the body of our Lord where we belong to Him and to each other. We’re not saved ever in the plan of God and left alone, forsaken. But always in the purpose of the Lord, it is that we are joined to the koinonia, to the body, to the fellowship, to the assembly, to the family of God. One of the most beautiful and meaningful of all of the verses in the Psalms is this, Psalm 68:6, "God sitteth the solitary in families."
Thus does He rear His little children in the circle of a home. There’s not anything that would bring tears to your eyes more than to see a forsaken child. God never meant it that way. "He sitteth the solitary in families" [Psalm 68:6]. And thus He does when we are born into the family of God. We are added to the church, added to the body of Christ. We become fellow members of the ekklēsia, the assembly of God’s saints.
Last month, as some of you know, I was in southern Florida preaching through the week at a national Bible conference. And while I was there, there was a couple who sang a song. Ah, it just moved my heart! And after it was over, I asked the music director if he would make a Xerox copy of that song and bring it back to me. He did. I have it in my hands. He made a copy of it. And I brought it and asked the Froese family, the Froese family, one of God’s sweetest little families in our church and choir. I asked them to sing it for us and they did. It is called "The Family of God."
You will notice we say "brother and sister" round here,
It’s because we’re a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory in the family so dear.
From the door of the orphanage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast, a new song I sing;
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God, I belong!
I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.
["The Family of God," by Gloria Gaither and William J. Gaither]
No wonder I would ask for a copy of the song. I’m a part of the family of God, the koinonia, the fellowship, the communion of the saints [Acts 2:42].
Now, I have kind of a little philosophical thing that I want to say about that now; in a little different world, but ah, so true. You see, one time, just a-sittin’ down, possibly on a plane, you know, going across this country, and just sit and sit and sit, and just think and think and think; well, I was just a-sittin’ and a-thinkin’ somewhere. Just a-thinkin’ and a-sittin’, and a-sittin’ and a-thinkin’; you know, just like that. Well, you know what I got to thinking about? I started thinking about who owns the mutual funds and who owns mutual companies.
For example, these tremendous mutual insurance companies; by far, by far the greatest financial enterprises we have in the world are these vast mutual insurance companies. They have billions and billions and billions of dollars, such as the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; billions of dollars. But they are mutual companies, you know, nobody owns them; they are mutual companies.
Well, I just got to thinking, who owns the money the billions of dollars in a mutual company such as like the Connecticut Mutual or Metropolitan Life Insurance? Just got to thinking about that. So I stumbled into an insurance executive of one of those companies. And I said to him, "I just want to know, who owns the billions and billions of dollars in your company? Your mutual life insurance company, who owns it?"
He said, "Well, of course all of the people who have policies in it do." But he said, "Actually, all of those billions of dollars will ultimately belong to the last surviving policyholder, the last surviving policyholder." All of those billions of the companies.
So I got to thinking again. I started thinking again, and I just started thinking, you know, what if I were that last surviving policyholder? Dear me! And I would walk down the streets of say, New York City, and I’m the last surviving policyholder. Everybody else is gone. Everybody else is dead. And I alone survive and all of those billions and billions are mine.
And I walk through the streets of the city of New York, say, and I look at those tremendous skyscrapers, they’re all mine! And I look at those tremendous New York City banks, they’re mine! And I pass Tiffany’s and the rest of the beautiful jewelry shops, every diamond and jewel is mine! And as I walk through that great city, all of it is mine. I’m the last survivor, it is mine!
And then, I’m alone. I’m by myself. I’m the last survivor. These skyscrapers, these great banks, the wealth of these jewels, and I am alone. It’s the last thing in the world I’d want. For it’s you and you and we that make life sweet and dear and precious. And without you, it is trash and dust and ashes. The preciousness of God’s gift to us is one another, the koinonia, the fellowship [Acts 2:42], the assembly of the saints. I don’t want to be here when you’re gone. I want to be over there, if that’s where you are. And that’s why the Lord said: "I go to prepare a place for you…" [John 14:2]. And that’s why He leaves us here in Christian communities, to encourage each other in the faith, in the pilgrimage, until the day that He gathers us home [John 14:3].
I have one other brief comment. The Christian community is like an island in a vast and endless, secular world. The sea of worldliness surrounds us on every side. Their values are worldly. They’re material; they’re inevitably secular. And we live in that kind of a world. But we are an island in it. And to it, we can bring our hearts and our homes and our families. And in a world of secularity and materiality, we can live godly and spiritual and heavenly lives.
In one of the translations, Moffatt’s, he refers to a church as a "colony of heaven," described the church at Philippi, a "colony of heaven." Philippi was a Roman colony, and in the translation he referred to the saints there as a colony of heaven. I think that was inspired. In the midst of a dark world, we live together as a colony of heaven, a little island of the presence and preciousness of the Lord.
And I see our people as out on the streets and in the homes and in conversations, I see them as they invite others to come into this koinonia, this fellowship, this assembly of the Lord. And with joy unspeakable and full of glory I see from time to time these respond, who are thus encouraged and invited to come and to be with us in the family of God.
This week, as you know, we have had our School of the Prophets, about five to six hundred pastors and staff members from all over America, spending a week here, talking about the things of the Lord and of the church. One of those men, one of those men told me this: "In 1945," he said, "I was discharged from the Army, from the second World War. And I descended into the gutter. I was wretched and miserable and in the depths of sin." He said, "I happened to be one Sunday evening in Dallas, walking through one of those downtown streets, wretched and miserable."
And he said, "A godly couple saw me and they stopped me, and they said we are going to church, to the First Baptist Church. Would you go with us?" He said, "I told them I have nothing else to do. I will." And he said, "We came to the church that night, and I listened to you preach." And he told me, "That night I was wondrously saved. God came into my heart." And he said, "You know, I took my GI bill and went to school and to the seminary, and I am now pastor of a fine little church in northern Louisiana."
My brethren, if we never did anything in our lives but that, it’s been worth it, every step of the way, every part of the assignment. That’s just like heaven: "Come and walk with us. Come and be with us. Come and belong with us as a member of the family of God."
And that is the invitation the Spirit would press upon your heart this morning. We invite you in Christ’s stead, in the name of our heavenly Father; we invite you to belong to the household of faith, to the family of God, to the communion and the fellowship of the saints, to the church and general assembly of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven [Hebrews 12:23]. Come, come, come.
Make the decision now in your heart. And on the first note of this first stanza, stand up, walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle. "Here I am, pastor, I make it now." "This is my wife," or "this is my wife and these are our children. We are all coming today," or just one somebody you. On the first note of the first stanza come. I shall be here on this side of the table of our Lord’s Supper. Come and stand by me. "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to the Lord." With you and these dear pilgrims, we shall walk God’s glory road to heaven. Do it now. Come now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Gladness and singleness of heart
A. To be glad in the Lord
B. A tragedy to have just enough religion to make one miserable
C. Give all we have back to God
II. The fellowship of God’s people
A. Eternal purpose of God is for us to be together (1 Corinthians 10:16, Psalm 68:6)
B. We are members of the body of Christ
C. Preciousness of God’s gift to us is one another