THE MATCHLESS MINISTRY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-17-77 7:30 p.m.
Not only do we here in this great auditorium, but the thousands and thousands who listen on radio, would thank our choir for the glorious way they praise God. We welcome you on KRLD and KCBI. You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Matchless Ministry.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are tonight going to speak of a text. It is a beautiful one. It is a meaningful one. In the story of the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, holding out his right hand, seeking a gift, “Simon Peter says, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee . . . And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up saying, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” [Acts 3:6-7]. Now, as a background for that, the matchless gift, we are going to read a story in the seventh chapter of the Book of Luke.
So all of us turn to Luke chapter 7, and we shall read it out loud together. The matchless service, Luke chapter 7, beginning at verse 36, and reading to the end of the chapter. Luke chapter 7, beginning at verse 36 and share your Bible with your neighbor and all of us read this beautiful story together; Luke chapter 7, beginning at verse 36, and on the radio, if you have a Bible, turn to this passage and read it out loud with us; Luke 7:36 to the end of the chapter. Now together:
And one of the Pharisees desired Him that He would eat with him. And He went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat at the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment.
And stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee which had bidden Him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner.
And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: one owed him five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And He said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet: but she hath washed My feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Thou gavest Me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss My feet.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment.
Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
And they that sat at meat with Him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
And He said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
The background of the message tonight, “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee” [Acts 3:6]. You could not help but notice the poverty of the apostles. The man had his hand extended, not for a great sum of money, he was a beggar, all of his life, he was born lame, forty years of age he is now. All of his life, he had been brought to that Beautiful Gate of the temple, begging [Acts 3:2]. No one placed vast sums into his hand. It was a pittance. It was a pence. It was a small coin that he expected. And holding out his hand, he thought of nothing else except that small gift from these two, unknown to him, men, Peter and John. And when Peter replied, “Silver and gold have I none,” it accentuates the extreme poverty of these apostles. Not only were they poor financially, they were hardly commendable in any other way.
When I turn the page of the Book of Acts, as these men arrested, Peter and John, stand before the Sanhedrin, the council of the Jews, looking upon their boldness, they perceived that they were agrammatoi kai idiōtai men; translated in the King James Version, “they were unlearned and ignorant men,” agrammatoi [Acts 4:13]. They were not men of the schools. They were not educated. They were not professionals. They’d never been to the seminary. They’d never known what it was to sit at the feet of Gamaliel as did Saul of Tarsus [Acts 22:3]. They were rude, crude, brash, bold, unlearned, untaught Galilean fishermen, agrammatoi kai idiōtai.
Our word “idiot” comes from that, though in the Greek it doesn’t mean idiot. It means a man without status, without standing, not a professional man, much less a man of leadership in any community. These apostles were poverty-stricken in the extreme. They had nothing, nor did they have social standing or public acceptance. “Silver and gold, have I none”—nor anything else that the world would prize—but he adds a word: “but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth stand up and walk.” And he lifted him by his right hand: and immediately his feet and ankle bones were strengthened [Acts 3:6-7]. He was whole and well again.
And in exuberance, and buoyancy, and exultation, and indescribable joy, and ecstasy, he stood up, leaping, praising God [Acts 3:8]. What a gift did these men of poverty possess? “Silver and gold have I none; but what I do have”—a consecrated life, a dedicated heart, and an illimitable, immeasurable faith in Jesus Christ—”what I do have I share with thee” [Acts 3:6]. Now you tell me, and when I speak of it, it’s rhetorical. The answer is evident. The man expected a pittance, a pence, a penny, and instead received the most marvelous thing that his heart could ever have asked for. He was whole and well and sound [Acts 3:7-8]; the matchless gift, the matchless service, the matchless ministry!
May I broaden that for the whole world? You look at our world. It seeks after what? The whole world pants after wealth, after money, after success, after fame, after fortune. There are a thousand things that you can see every day of your life that men work for, search for, seek for, grasp for, reach out for. And when they have them, they are dust and ashes in their hands. These are the things that don’t satisfy the soul. They don’t bless the life. A man can’t feed himself on fame or upon fortune or upon riches; they are dry husks. What we need is not what these things could bring us when we achieve them in the world. But the matchless gift is mediated to us through the goodness, and the grace, and the healing, and the blessing, and the forgiveness of God. And oh that the Lord would bestow us with such ableness and power to mediate that blessing to the world.
It is not seldom that you see churches grow in affluence. They become socially conscious, and they rise in the esteem of the community. I read an article here—in one of these magazines that is published in Dallas. And it gave the qualifications for those that would rise in social standing in the city. You can’t live in that part of town, you have to live in this part of the town; you remember that article? And you can’t do this, you have to do that. And you have to belong to certain churches, and it named them, in order to rise in social status in this community. Why, I thought that was blasphemy. In order to have a certain acceptability in the city of Dallas, there are about three churches. One of the three you must belong to, if you achieve that position in the world that the world acclaims. Oh! That is blasphemy! And how often is that true.
I remember a story about Duns Scotus, a great, mighty theologian who lived in the 1200s, died in about 1305; a tremendous man of God. He was with the pope in Rome. And the pope was showing Duns Scotus the vast treasures of the Vatican, and—running his hands through the silver and the gold—turned to the theologian and said, “No longer does the church have to say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” And Duns Scotus replied, “But also no longer can she say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk’” [Acts 3:6].
Our need is never monetary—not ultimately, not fundamentally. Our need is never any of the rewards or achievements acclaimed by the world. Our need is always inward; godly, spiritual, heavenward, Christ-ward. We need the healing presence of the Lord. The matchless service, the matchless ministry, the matchless gift is always that. It comes from God! “Silver and gold have I none; but what I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up,” stand up, forgiven, healed, strengthened, blessed of heaven! [Acts 3:6-8].
So we are going to follow that just for this moment. “Silver and gold have I none; but what I have give I thee: In the name of God…” [Acts 3:6]. First: there are golden givers and there are silver givers. There are people among us who are affluent, and we praise the Lord for them—golden givers; there are people among us who are well-to-do—silver givers; the matchless gift.
The Lord sat there in the court of the women and beheld how the people gave. And there came by those who were affluent, rich, wealthy, well-to-do, and out of their superfluity, out of their abundance, they cast into the treasury. And the Lord said to the disciples, See that woman there? She cast in two pence; two pence in that Greek language, describing that little tiny mite. Two mites, both of them together made about an eighth of a penny. And the Lord pointed her out and said, “See that woman? She hath given more than they all.” Why, Master, more than they all? These that were rich cast in much, and she cast into the treasure of the Lord an eighth of a penny. “Yes,” said the Lord, “For they out of their abundance did give to the work of the Lord; but she, she hath given all that she had, her entire living” [Mark 12:41-44].
Was she a washerwoman? Was she a scrubwoman? Whatever she was, her salary was infinitesimal. She lived herself on a pittance. But what she did have, she gave all to the Lord. And the Lord said, “That is the matchless gift.” It’s what we have left over, that the Lord looks at. It’s how much sacrifice in it that the Lord weighs and judges. It is how much of us is in the gift, the cost of it to us—the matchless gift [Mark 12:43-44].
The matchless teacher; there are golden teachers. We have some of them here in this church. They are almost incomparable. You can walk the length and breadth of the land, and there are teachers in this church that are unexcelled—golden teachers. They are gifted. They are able. They know. And when they mediate the Word of the Lord to the class, it’s a benediction; golden teachers. There are silver teachers. Maybe not as gifted, not as able, but they are blessed in their teaching ministries. Then there are others who are in nowise endowed with a special pedagogical gift from heaven, but in a humble and sweet and precious way, they offer themselves to take care of a little class of boys or to teach a little class of girls—precious people, humble people. You never see them. You never know them. They are in these departments that we never visit. They are up here tucked away in one of these little children’s divisions, but Sunday by Sunday, faithfully meeting, and they take care, and love, and minister to, and call, and visit, and teach those little children. Men and women, there in the ministries of the Lord—they are matchless teachers, marvelous teachers, wonderful teachers. Yet if you put one of them before one of our fine adult classes, you’d say, “What in the world is that stammering man doing up there?” But he is doing in his place the best that he can, and God honors it.
I remember—oh, this is a long time ago—I remember, in one of my little churches, having baptized a man and his whole family, and all of the people up there where he lived, uneducated, never went to school, just up there in the generations that lived up there in that hollow, and I baptized him and all of his people, whole family and all of their kinspeople. Some years later, I went back and was visiting in that country community, and I said to him, “How are you doing?”
“Oh,” he said, “just fine. Just fine.”
“Yeah, just fine, blessed of God.”
And, “How are you doing in the church?”
Oh, he said, “Just fine. I am the Sunday school superintendent.”
Now, I have a weakness. How I think shows in my face, and that is terrible. It’s awful. And I could not help but show surprise in my face. I didn’t intend to; I just couldn’t help it. When he said, “I’m the Sunday school superintendent,” I showed surprise, and I was so ashamed of myself, but I couldn’t help it. It just showed in my face. I was amazed when he said, “I am the Sunday school superintendent,” and then he hastened to explain.
He said, “You know, they got in trouble down there at our little church, and they wouldn’t speak to each other, and they got in all kinds of trouble in the church, and they didn’t have anybody to take care of the children.” And he said, “I volunteered to be Sunday school superintendent. So,” he said, “all through these years now, I am the Sunday school superintendent, and I have about sixty down there in our little church, and I am the superintendent.”
Why, I thought that is the finest thing! That is a great servant of God. While they don’t speak to each other, he still loves the Lord just the same. While they’re in are all kind of altercations and forensic difficulties in business meetings and all out with one another, he loving Jesus just the same. And his heart is remembering those children and those families. So he volunteered, “If nobody will be Sunday school superintendent, I will be Sunday school superintendent”; the matchless service; a wonderful man of God, though agrammatoi kai idiōtai, “unlearned and ignorant,” but a matchless servant of Jesus.
There are golden soulwinners, and there are silver soulwinners. Dear me. We have some of those, some of the most incomparably evangelists in America today. Their names are household words. Some of those evangelists that I could name for you are as well known and as much seen as the president of the United States or the speaker of the House of Representatives or the governor of Texas. Golden soulwinners; and when they preach, people come forward by the thousands. They are emblazoned on the headlines of our newspapers—golden soulwinners.
And there are silver soulwinners—men who preach in our churches, belong to our fellowship; do a wonderful task in their assignment of evangelizing the lost—golden and silver soulwinners. And there are thousands of humble, God-fearing, Christ-honoring men and women, who in the open doors that are set before them, say a good word for Jesus and bring the lost to the knowledge of the Lord—the matchless service. You never heard their names. They are known but to God in heaven. They are never appearing before great throngs, but in a sweet, and precious, and gentle, and humble, and Christlike way, they are telling others about the Lord, and praying for them, sometimes weeping over them, and winning them to Jesus—the matchless soulwinner.
Why, I have in my mind right now, a man in one of my churches. Oh, that fellow! He was no brilliant anybody. He would have walked by, and you’d say, “That is the most ordinary man you ever saw and looked on in your life.” Do you know what he did every day? He had a job with the postal service. So he wasn’t employed twenty-four hours a day like some of the rest of us. He had time and he had hours. And what he did was, he would take a street and he would go down that street and he would knock at every door. And he would inquire if the people who lived on the inside of that house, if they were Christians, and if they loved the Lord. And as he went up and down those streets every day, go up and down a street, knock at the door and ask them if they were Christians and if they loved the Lord. He found people who were outside of Christ. He found them who needed praying for, comforting, strengthening. And he would go in with an open Bible and pray with them, sometimes weep with them, and time without number bring them down to me to the front. “Pastor, this is a man I have found who himself has found the Lord,” a sweet and precious ministry; the matchless service. “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I consecrate to God” [Acts 3:6].
A last thing; a matchless service for our Lord and that is why I had us read concerning that sinful woman [Luke 7:36-50]. I would assume she was very poor. She never spread a banquet for the Lord like Simon the Pharisee. I would suppose that all of her life she had lived on the street. She was a woman of the street, but somehow, in some way, having fallen, she had found the Lord. She had been saved. She had been miraculously lifted out of a life of bummery, the street, prostitution. She had been raised out of it and had been gloriously cleansed, and healed, and washed, and saved [Luke 7:47-50].
Now, that Simon the Pharisee never had lived a life like that. He never had given himself to all the compromises of the world. He’d never been promiscuous. He’d never been out there; as the sinners lived. He was a Pharisee—strict in all of his life. And he was affluent. He made a great dinner; gave a great banquet for the Lord, and invited friends and neighbors. It was a very fine thing and a very beautiful thing, a very acceptable thing, such as you’d see in a great city honoring an unusual and conspicuous personality. So Simon the Pharisee is there with his great spread and his impressive banquet. And his guest of honor is the Prophet of Nazareth.
Now you know how people ate in that Oriental day? They ate at a low table, and they leaned on their left arm, and they ate with their right hand, and their feet extended out from the table like this. You have seen pictures of how they ate dinners in those days. Now another thing that was unusual, when a man had a great feast and a public dinner, anybody could come and watch and look. They could come into the very house and see. And that’s what happened when this affluent, and noted, and acceptable and righteous Pharisee had this big dinner for the Lord Jesus. Why, the Lord was seated there at the table of honor, and His feet extended out as He leaned on His left arm.
And while He was breaking bread in that illustrious company, there came this woman from the street, who had been wonderfully saved, and wonderfully healed, and wonderfully cleansed, and wonderfully forgiven [Luke 7:37, 47-50]. And out of the overflowing gratitude of her heart, coming up behind Him, she began to bathe His feet with her tears, and to dry them with the hairs of her head, and to anoint His feet with an alabaster box of perfume [Luke 7:37-38]. The indignant Pharisee said, “This man is no prophet. If He were a man of God who had been sent from the Lord in heaven, He would know the kind of a prostitute that is bathing His feet with her tears and anointing them with the alabaster box of ointment” [Luke 7:39].
And then you remember the story. “Simon, Simon, when I came, you did not wash My feet, not even with water: she has not ceased to bathe My feet with her tears and dry them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss of welcome when I came: she has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil; she has anointed My feet” [Luke 7:44-46]. This is the matchless service. That is, it’s of the heart. It’s of the Lord. It’s of God. It’s something on the inside of us that comes from heaven. And when we dedicate that something on the inside of us from heaven that loves God and praises the Lord and lifts up His marvelous name, He is pleased; He said so [Mark 12:41-44]. He is delighted; He said so. And He looks in loving favor upon us—not out of our abundance, but out of our necessity; not out of our superfluity, but out of our need; not out of our own righteousness, but out of His forgiveness. O God, I offer to Thee what I have and what I am—the matchless ministry [Romans 12:1-2].
We sing our hymn of appeal tonight. If God has done some wonderful thing for you, in infinite gratitude would you come and offer Him the praise of your life? “The Lord has spoken words of salvation to me, and I’m coming; words of forgiveness to me, and I’m here, pastor. I want in return to offer Him the gratitude of my soul. I’m coming publicly to avow my faith in Jesus as Savior, here I am.” A family you to put your life with us in the church, a couple you, or just one somebody you: “I make that decision now, pastor, and I am on the way.” Or, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming tonight.” Or just you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment, when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway or walking down this aisle: “I’m on the way, pastor.” May God bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and as we sing.