The Perfect Fellowship
February 27th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
THE PERFECT FELLOWSHIP
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-27-77 7:30 p.m.
And thank you who are taking time out of a multitude of things to which you could be listening and are sharing this hour with us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Heavenly Fellowship, The Perfect Fellowship. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are coming toward the latter part of the second chapter. And the text out of the passage that we read together just a moment ago is verse 42, Acts 2:42, "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." This is a beautiful fourfold characterization of the first mother church and the paragon church in Jerusalem, four fellowships: a fellowship with the apostles and all of the great teachers of the truth of God in the doctrine; a fellowship with one another in the koinōnia; a fellowship with our Lord in the breaking of bread; and the fellowship we have with God our Father in the prayers.
It is not without symbolic significance that the holy and beautiful and heavenly Jerusalem is foursquare. "He that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city . . . And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth . . . and the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal" [Revelation 21:15-16]. This is a picture of the beautiful and heavenly fellowship of the saints of the Lord. In their communion, in their ekklēsia, in their assembly, in their coming together as the body of Christ, they are full, and complete, and perfect, a foursquare; the height, the length, the breadth, and the depth are all alike. So there is a fourfold beauty here in this characterization of our first church in Jerusalem.
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine" [Acts 2:42]. There is a word in Greek, didaskō, "teach," and there is the substantive of the verbal form, didachē, "the teaching." This is the word that is used here: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine," in the apostles’ teaching. And through the years and the millennia, there has always been that body of the revelation of the truth of Christ that has been mediated to those who were the prophets, and the apostles, and the martyrs, and the witnesses of God. And in that line and in that train we also belong, and we have a fellowship with them as we also preach and teach and witness the truth of the Lord.
One of the tremendous chapters in the Bible is the chapter of the heroes of faith in the eleventh of Hebrews. Starting with Abel and continuing through Noah; and then Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; then David and the prophets; then finally having called that glorious roll of those who witnessed to the grace of God [Hebrews 11:4-40], he begins the next chapter, chapter , with this word:
Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us also run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and the finisher of our faith.
We belong to a great company, and they surround us as we in our lot, and in our generation, and in our time, also witness to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
I sometimes think of these who have stood here in this pulpit and preached the gospel of the Son of God: B. H. Carroll, the greatest theologian in our southwestern part of America; J. B. Gambrell, the architect of the missionary denominational thrust of our Baptist people in Texas; R. C. Buckner, who founded the great Buckner Orphan’s Home and its many benevolent enterprises; George W. Truett, who stood here behind this very desk and preached the gospel of Christ for forty and seven years. In what a glorious train do we follow, and what a marvelous fellowship is it to which we belong, "steadfastly continuing in the didachē, the teaching, the doctrine of the faith" [Acts 2:42].
A fellowship with one another in the koinōnia; it is a communion, it is a fellowship that God hath given us who have been added to the body of Christ and who belong to the church of our Lord. A fellowship with one another, a communion, a commonness of love, and sympathy, and encouragement, forgiveness, patience, and understanding; our Lord said in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, "A new commandment I give you; That ye love one another. Hereby shall all men know that ye are My disciples: if ye have love for one another" [John 13:34-35]. That ought to be the cement that binds together all of the hearts, and souls, and lives, and families that belong to the body of Christ: a fellowship, a communion of love, sympathy, care, and understanding.
You know, it is an unusual thing when you open the Bible and turn to the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians; in this Authorized King James Version, it reads like this, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,Charity never faileth" [1 Corinthians 13:1-8]. All through that thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the word is "charity," "Though I give my body to be burned, and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity" [1 Corinthians 13:3]. Why "charity?" It goes back to a deep and profound meaning; you see, in that Greek language there were some words for "love." One is philos, another is agape; they are often used in the New Testament – philos, agape – and they characterize the people of the Lord. But there was a word in the Greek language far more common than either philos or agape, and that is the word eros. But not one time will you find the word eros in the Bible, not once.
That was the word that characterized all of those unbelievable promiscuities of the gods who lived on Mount Olympus, and it was never used in the Bible. You’d call it actually, in Christian denomination, "lust," eros. It was never used; always the word agape or philos, a God kind of love. So it was when Jerome translated the Vulgate, which is a great basic document that lies back of the translation of the King James Version. There is a word in Latin, amāre; and it also was used in the Latin word, in the same way that eros was used in the Greek word. And when Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate, sat down to translate that word agape, he had before him, of course, the Latin word amāre; but looking at it, Jerome felt that there was far more of the depth and the meaning of God in the word agape than just amāre. So he chose another Latin word, caritas, which means "dear, precious, in high and heavenly esteem"; and translated agape into the Latin Vulgate caritas. And it comes out in our English language from caritas, "charity," and refers to the endearment, the high esteem and loving regard, the infinite preciousness in which we hold and value each other. That is the koinōnia, the fellowship of God’s people in the church. And this is the way the apostle said, this is the way the Lord said as John wrote it down, that the world would know us: that we love one another [John 13:34-35].
There is an ancient, ancient story; I have read it so many times, but I have never read it but that again it brought a beautiful and precious remembrance to me. Aged John is now beyond a hundred years of age, and is yet pastor of the church in Ephesus. And upon this Lord’s Day, with an elder holding him up on one side, and an elder holding him up on the other side, they bring the aged apostle to the pulpit, for a message to his people. And John, the sainted disciple of the Lord, stands there beyond a hundred years of age – upheld by those two godly men on either side – and they are listening for a word from the old pastor. And upheld he says, "Little children, love one another." Then he repeated it, "Little children, love one another." Then repeated it yet again, and one of the men who sustained him said, "John, we have heard you say that. Is there not some word more?" And the aged pastor replied, "It is enough; little children, love one another." And if there is in the congregation of the Lord and in the household of God that charitas, that high esteem, that heavenly preciousness, that love of God in our hearts for each other, you find the koinōnia, the fellowship of the saints, heaven come down.
You know, there was a group to which the preacher joined himself, and they happened to be talking about a church. And one of the men in the group turned to the pastor who came up and joined the group and said, "Preacher, do you have to join a church in order to go to heaven?" And just like that the preacher replied, "No." And the fellow patted him on the back because of his broad-mindedness and congratulated him for a good answer. Then the preacher turned to the man who had congratulated him for saying, "No, you don’t have to belong to the church to go to heaven," and said to him, "Sir, may I ask you a question, and will you answer me as quickly?"
"Yes," he said. Then he asked him, "Why would you want to go to heaven that way? Why? Why?" Why would a man want to go to heaven when he doesn’t like to associate himself with the people of God in this world? For that’s going to be heaven: to be with each other, to be with our Lord, to sing the songs of praise, to magnify God with our worshipping, adoring souls and love forever and forever. Why would you want to go to heaven and leave out of your life the koinōnia, the fellowship, the association with, identification with the saints of the Lord?
Master, when You write it in the Book of God in heaven that I’ve been saved and redeemed by the blood of the Crucified One, write it also down here that I belong to the congregation of the Lord, with us here in our dear First Baptist Church. It is a fellowship with one another.
Third: it is a fellowship with our Lord, "And they continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread" [Acts 2:42], this is a communion, a koinōnia, with our Savior. The bread which we break, is it not the koinōnia, the communion, of the body of Christ? And the cup which we drink, is it not the koinōnia, the communion, of the blood of our Lord? [1 Corinthians 10:16]. In the Lord’s Supper we have a koinōnia, a fellowship with our Savior. We identify ourselves with Him; He figuratively becomes a part of us, and we are a part of Him. When we eat the bread, when we drink the cup, we are dramatizing the sufferings of our Lord that identify us with Him [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17]. And this is also our fellow suffering with the Lord; for did not Paul say, in Philippians 3:10, "That I might know Him. . .and the koinōnia, the fellowship of His sufferings?" And in Colossians 1:24, he wrote one of the most unusual verses in the Bible, "that I might fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ; for His body’s sake, which is the church."
To look at that is an astonishing thing; knowing that the sufferings of Christ were all adequate for us, what could be lacking in the atonement of our Savior? What is there behind in what Christ has suffered for us? And yet Paul writes in this twenty-fourth verse of the first chapter of Colossians, "that I might fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings of our Lord for His body’s sake, which is the church" [1 Colossians 1:24]. The explanation of that is something deep and spiritually profound. Not only did Christ suffer for us, and in that atonement, once for all there is all-sufficient grace; He paid for all of our sins, yesterday, and today, and forever [1 John 1:7, 9]. Nothing need be added to what Christ has done to save us. But the apostle says that there are also sufferings that we are to dedicate to Christ in order to mediate that love and that grace to the world [Colossians 1:24]. There are prices we must pay. There are works that we must do [1 Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 6:10], as our Lord provided for us the glory, and the beauty, and the wonder of a new life, a new day, a regeneration, a new birth [1 Peter 1:3]; so we must also with Him suffer, that others might too know His name, be saved by His grace, be won to His loving care. I also have a part in the sufferings of my Lord – a koinōnia, a fellowship in His sufferings [Colossians 1:24] – I must also offer to God what I can do, that His grace might be mediated to the world.
You know, there was an unusual thing that happened to me. I had been in Nashville, Tennessee, at some kind of a Southern Baptist convocation, and I was standing in the airport, waiting for the plane to return to Dallas. While I was in the airport, there came up to me a man who was obviously most affluent. He was tall, gray-headed, beautifully dressed, and he called me by name and asked if he could just say a word to me. I said I would love to listen; he introduced himself. He was the Oldsmobile-Cadillac agent in one of the cities in Tennessee, and he said that five years before, I had been in that city of Nashville, preaching at an evangelistic conference.
And he said, "You did something that night that I never had seen or heard before. When you got through with your message that night, you made an appeal to the laymen who were there – not to the preachers but to the laymen who were there – you made an appeal to the laymen. And your appeal was this, ‘In behalf of a man that you know, would you consecrate your life, that he might be saved? If you would, out of your seat, down this aisle, and to the front, would you kneel and we pray together a prayer of consecration, we give ourselves that that man might come to know Christ as his Savior?’"
He said, "I was seated in the top balcony at the last row." He said, "I stood up out of my seat. I came down that stairway, and down that aisle, and I kneeled there before you. And I consecrated my life in behalf of a man, a businessman, in my city, who was not a Christian. And I gave myself that that man might be saved."
He said, "For four years, for four years, I talked to that man, and witnessed to that man, and asked that man in the most prayerful way that I knew how to come to Jesus. And for four years he was adamant, ‘No, no.’"
He said, "This year, five years now, this year," he said, "I went to him for the last time. And I said to him, ‘You know, I am afraid I have been a nuisance to you. Every time I’ve seen you, I’ve talked to you about the Lord, and have invited you to Christ. And I have made myself a nuisance to you. And I have come for the last time. I want to apologize to you. I didn’t mean to bother you, and I didn’t mean to be a worry or a nuisance to you. And I have come to ask your forgiveness, and I will not speak anymore in His name.’"
That man said to me, "When I told him that, he looked at me searchingly and said, ‘Oh, no, no, no!’ He said, ‘Pray for me, keep on. Ask me. Don’t stop. Talk to me about the Lord. Don’t give me up.’" And that fine man said, "Did you know, this year, down the aisle at our service he walked with me, and gave his heart to the Lord? And I saw him baptized, and his family." And he said, "He’s one of the finest members in our church."
That made my heart sing; that is what God meant when He says we are to "fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" [Colossians 1:24]. He died for our sins according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3], raised for our justification according to the Scriptures [Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:4]; but I must also mediate, witness, testify to the world that grace of God extended to us in our Lord Jesus; the fellowship of our Lord in the sufferings of Christ.
A fourth and a last that comprises the beauty, the heavenly perfection of the church, foursquare: not only fellowship with these who have preceded us, the prophets and the apostles in the didache, the teaching of the Lord; fellowshipping with one another in the koinōnia, the communion of the Lord; fellowshipping with our Savior in His sufferings – dramatized in broken bread and the crushed fruit of the vine – but a fourth; fellowshipping with God our Father in the prayers [Acts 2:42]. And in the Greek language it is that, "and in the prayers" [Acts 2:42], the prayers. There is private prayer, there is family prayer, there is stated and public prayer: when the congregation comes together, and we pray as an assembly of God’s people, "continuing steadfastly in the prayers." That is why these men who have come here and looked at our church; it is so dissimilar to the ordinary Baptist church. There is a prayer altar here, and we kneel here in prayer. And in the last few weeks, in the kindness of that good layman there, Bob Wallace, there is a way for us to pray in the congregation; there is also public praying, community praying, stated praying, when God’s people together join hands in intercession.
This is the way that God intends for His blessings to be mediated to us from heaven: in prayer, in supplication, in our asking, in our communion with God our Father [Acts 2:42]. It pleases Him that we bow, that we pray, that we ask, that we talk to God our Father. And we go further on our knees than in any other way; retreating to advance, falling to rise, stooping to conquer. O Lord, Thy people praying! The fellowship we have with God in intercession.
When they found Livingstone dead, he was by his bed on his knees. In the heart of Africa, those faithful natives who accompanied him, all night long they never entered in to the little hut in which Livingstone was living, because the master was on his knees. And in the morning hour, when they looked in, he was still there on his knees. And they went to him and touched him. And in the nighttime praying, his spirit had fled away. What a wonderful way to die – on your knees.
One of the sweetest things that I have read as I prepared this message, there was the president of one of our Christian schools, a Baptist school. He overheard what the doctor said, and turning to the physician asked, "Did you say I was dying?" And the doctor replied, "Yes, you are dying." And the president said, "Would you put me on my knees by the side of the bed?" And they lifted him up and placed him on his knees by the side of the bed, and he began to pray. And when he could no longer form the words, and his voice failed, he whispered the words; and when he could no longer whisper them, he thought them. And when he could no longer think them, they lifted him up; his spirit had fled away, and he had died there on his knees. And a great revival broke out in that school. Every student in the school was saved, and the revival poured to the countryside round around. Isn’t that just marvelous? Ah! That we had leaders like that, and presidents like that, and pastors like that; who know God in prayer, and who so steadfastly continue in intercession that the last breath they breathe is a prayer to God for the people. This is the perfect and heavenly fellowship of God’s saints.
And into that communion we invite you tonight. In a moment, we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, giving your heart in faith and trust to the Lord, coming into the fellowship of the church, as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now; make the decision now in your soul. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway or coming down this aisle, "Here I am, pastor, I have made that decision for Christ, and I am coming now."
On the first note of the first stanza, come; angels will attend you in the way. The greatest blessing you have ever known in life awaits you. Open your heart to God, to Christ, to heaven; say, "Lord, here I am." Make that decision now; do it now. Come now, on the first note of this first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.
THE HEAVENLY FELLOWSHIP
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Description of the church (Revelation 21:16)
II. Fellowship with God in the prayers
A. Public and private
1. We are commanded to meet together (Hebrews 10:25)
2. Sublimest characteristic of American Republic
III. Fellowship with Christ in the breaking of bread
A. Symbolically enter sufferings of our Lord (1 Corinthians 10:16, Philippians 3:7-10, Colossians 1:24)
B. Atonement for sin made once for all
C. That His truth be mediated to others
IV. Fellowship with the saints in the apostles’ doctrine
A. A real, genuine fellowship (Hebrews 11, 12:1)
B. In this sacred place and pulpit
V. Fellowship with one another in the household of God’s redeemed
A. Commanded to love one another (John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
B. First Christians made impression on pagan world