The Soul-Winning Church
March 13th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
1 Thessalonians 1:2-8
THE SOUL-WINNING CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 1:2-8
3-13-77 7:30 p.m.
The title of the sermon tonight is The Soul-Winning Church. It is a characterization of the church at Thessalonica. And if you would like to turn in your Bible and read with us out loud, it will be in the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians, verses 2 through 8. And sharing your Bible, let us all read the passage out loud together. And you who share the service of this First Baptist Church in Dallas outside of these walls, we invite you also to take your Bible and read the passage out loud with us; 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verses 2 through 8. Now reading it out loud together:
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
So that ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
[1 Thessalonians 1:2-8]
This is The Soul-Winning Church: “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord” [1 Thessalonians 1:8]. What a magnificent characterization of a brilliant, shining, soul-winning New Testament church. You notice how Paul begins: “We give thanks to God for you all,” I like that. Paul was a Southern Baptist, “We give thanks to God always for you all” [1 Thessalonians 1:2]. That just sounds good, “you all,” but he wasn’t a Texas Baptist, because he also wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” [Philippians 4:11]. Wasn’t a Texan, but a man of God, and exhibiting before our eyes on this page a delineation of a church that shined for God; “From you sounded out the word of the Lord” [1 Thessalonians 1:8], a soul-winning church.
I have a characterization of a soul-winning church that is universally true. It is this: always the congregation is identified with the people; it is close to the people. It is not removed; it is not separated; where they are, involved in the problems that they face, a soul-winning church is always close to the people. Have you noticed, in these modern days and years, how the great social movements that have revolutionized the face of the globe, always they are identified with the people, they are close to the people? In America, a tremendous political campaign will revolve around some slogan that identifies the party with the people. One time it was “Vote for a Job.” Another time it was “A Full Dinner Pail.” Once in a while it will concern some kind of a deal like, “A Square Deal” or “A New Deal,” it is something identified with the people.
Those same social movements that have swept the countries of Europe have their insignia in a plain and a common thing. For example, the fascist movement in Italy: the sign of it was a black shirt. The Nazi movement in Germany: the sign of it was a brown shirt. The great, terrible, ominous, communist Bolshevik movement in Russia has a sign that is familiar to the people of the whole world: a hammer and a sickle, a working man’s hammer, a working man’s sickle.
It is a tragedy that in the faith, and in the church, and in the religion of Christ, we somehow give the impression that we live in another world; we are separate from the real problems and issues of life. We sometimes give the impression of being a holy charade. It is fictitious, it is not real; there’s a front in religion. But the real thing of life is found back of it; in business, or in entertainment, or in corporations, or in some other area of political, social, or civic life. But religion is removed; it doesn’t have to do with the real issues that we face in our lives. What a tragedy! So many times religion is looked upon as being unreal and fictitious; it’s not actual, it’s just a show, it’s just language, it’s just a drama, it’s just a putting-on, it is just a play. But it is the actual thing!
Like that cowpoke in West Texas who went to his first picture show, way back there in the days of the silent movie. And he sat there and watched that thing; and there came riding along a black-headed, black-hatted, black-mustached villain, and he swept up the heroine in his arms and furiously rode away with her. And that cowpoke stood up and pulled out both of his six shooters and riddled that screen with bullets, saying, “You low-down coyote, you can’t do that!”
And the fellows around him yanked him down, and said, “Sit down, that ain’t real. That’s just a show.” That’s like religion: there’s no need to be concerned, or moved, or excited. It’s not real, it’s sort of play acting; it’s a charade, it’s fictitious.
I heard one time one of the funniest stories, one of the craziest things I ever listened to in my life, talking about a thing that isn’t real. There’s a guy stumbled into a hamburger joint and said to the hamburger man, “I’m so hungry. If I did a trick for you, would you cook me a hamburger?”
And the hamburger man said, “Well, show me your trick.”
He reached into his pocket, and he pulled out a little grand piano; reached in his pocket and pulled out a little stool; reached in his pocket, pulled out a little mouse. He set the little mouse on the stool, and the little mouse played a little concert on that grand piano. The bug-eyed hamburger man looked at that, cooked him the hamburger, fed it to the hungry guy; and after he gobbled it up he said, “Mister, I’m still hungry. If I showed you another trick, would you cook me another hamburger?”
And the hamburger man said, “Man, if you’d got a trick like that, I’d like to see it.” What he did was, he reached in his other pocket, pulled out a little canary; set the little canary on the little grand piano, and while the mouse did the accompaniment, the little canary sang an aria.
The hamburger man looked at that bug-eyed and said, “With a trick like that, what you doing beggin’? You could make millions off of that.”
And the bum said, “Mister, that ain’t real, that’s just play. That’s just foolin’.” He said, “You see that canary? That bird ain’t really singing; that mouse is a ventriloquist.”
How many times do we give the impression that our religion is not real, it’s not to be taken seriously? Somehow it’s just play acting, it’s fictitious. We give that impression in many ways. One is we ourselves, who are involved in the theological world, are so many times bogged down in theological hairsplitting over inconsequential and insignificant nothingnesses. Whether it’s true, whether it’s not true, makes no difference in the evangelization of the world. Yet the theological world so many times is involved in some kind of philosophical dialogue.
We also give that impression in the dramatic gestures that we make in the name of God and in the name of religion. For example, we will go to a vast, tremendous convention, and look at the thousands and say, “Man, this is the faith; his is it!” Jesus never referred to it. Or, we look upon or share in a pompous service, and we say, “Man, this is the faith!” Jesus never referred to it, never discussed it. Or, we hear some great beautiful oratorical peroration, and rising in wonder with the orator and the preacher, we say, “Man, this is the faith!” Jesus never referred to it, never discussed it, never mentioned it; but He did say something about a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple [Matthew 10:42], He did say something about the one lost sheep [Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:3-7], He did say something about knocking at the door [Revelation 3:20]. There is not a more beautiful passage in God’s Word concerning the Son of God than this, “When He saw the people, He was moved with compassion on them” [Matthew 9:36]. “Jesus, moved with compassion” is ever His enduring name [Matthew 14:14, 15:32; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13]. “Then said He to His disciples, the harvest truly is plenteous” [Matthew 9:37]. The English teachers wouldn’t like that—what a mixed metaphor! Talking about the people are like sheep, then “the harvest is plenteous” [Matthew 9:36-37]. English teacher wouldn’t like that mixed metaphor, but there is a language of the heart as well as of the grammar; and it is out of the fullness of a loving heart that the Lord ever spoke and always ministered. And that is God’s message to me and to us in our day, not to be involved in inconsequentials, bogged down in minutiae, things that whether they were or whether they weren’t, whether they were done or whether they were undone would make no difference at all. But giving ourselves to the main mandates of God and of heaven, which are that we minister to God’s people; compassionate in the harvest fields, praying, and working, and winning for our Lord; this is a message for me.
First, I begin with myself in this pastoral ministry.
A local pastor of great austerity climbed up in his high church steeple
To be nearer God, that he might hand God’s Word down to the people.
In his day, God said, “Come down and die!” And he cried out from his steeple, “Where art Thou, Lord?” And the Lord replied, “I am down here among My people.”
[“The Preacher’s Mistake,” William Croswell Doane]
There was a thing that happened that has stayed in my memory as vividly now as the moment that it happened; I had not been pastor of the church here but a day or two, I had just come. I don’t come down to the church in the morning, my study is in the parsonage—it always has been these years—and I don’t come to the church in the morning. But for some reason that I have forgotten, I came down to the church in the morning. When I did, walking along the side here on Patterson Street, where now our Mary C. Building is, I saw a large group of people gathered around the door, the front door, at Ervay and Patterson, that front door. I saw a large group gathered around that door. I wondered what it was. I elbowed my way in through the crowd, and finally came up the steps to the door. And there, prostrate on the steps with both hands reaching out toward our front door, was a fallen man, a prostrate man. I stood over him, and as I stood above him, he breathed his last and died there on that front doorstep. In a while, they had already called the police, in a while the policeman came and took his body away. The crowd dispersed, and forgot it. But it is as vivid in my mind as the day I looked down upon that prostrate figure; what was his name? Where did he come from? Was he saved or was he lost? And the inexplicable, what was he doing with both of his hands extended toward our front door? A message that I have remembered in these years since: these are my people, whether they are saved, whether they are lost; they are all souls for whom Christ died [Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2], and I must remember.
This is a message for us in the church, for every member of our congregation. In those days gone by, in the daily papers there was a black headline of a crime that you don’t talk about; more and more out in the open, but for the most part still just look at it. I looked at the headline, briefly through the article, as I do things like that. The following week there came a mother here to the church and sat down before me. And she had with her a boy about sixteen or seventeen years of age. When she was seated there with her boy, I said, “I am glad to have you. Is there something that I can do to help?”
She said, “I know that you would understand why I have come.”
I said, “No, I have no idea. I’ve never seen you before, and I don’t know.”
She said, “I am sure you have read in the paper about my son.”
I turned to her and said, “What is your name again?” And she repeated it. I said, “Is this boy named,” and I called his name. I said, “Is this the boy that I read about in the paper?”
She said, “Yes, yes. I have brought him to you.” Then she told me why. She said, “Last night my boy came to my bedroom and fell at my feet, and cried, saying, ‘Mother, I need God, can you show me how I can find God?’” And the mother said to me, “When I was a small girl, I attended Sunday school in a Methodist church, but it’s been so many years ago I could not remember what I was taught. So I went to my neighbor next door, and I said, ‘My boy is on his face in my bedroom, crying and asking how he can find God. Would you come and tell him?’ And the neighbor replied, ‘I don’t know what to say. But every Sunday I listen to Brother Criswell on the radio at the First Baptist Church. Take your boy to him; he can tell the lad how to find God.’” She said, “I have brought him here for you to tell him how he can find God.”
I turned first to the boy, and I said, “Son, let me ask you a few questions. Were you ever in church?”
“No sir,” he replied, “never one time in my life. I have never been to church.”
I said, “Son, did you ever hear a sermon?”
He said, “No sir, I never heard a sermon in my life.”
I said, “Son, were you ever in Sunday school?”
He said, “No sir, I was never in Sunday school in my life.”
I said, “Lad, let me ask you just one other question: did anybody ever invite you?”
He said, “No sir, no one ever invited me.”
This is not in some far away country, this is not in some far away city; this is in our home of Dallas! A boy grown up to young manhood, standing at the threshold of the life of strength, and has never, has never been invited even to God, or to church, or to Sunday school; pass him by! Pass him by.
I wonder how many thousands there are like that? Driving to church tonight, I saw a little bunch of young people, dressed so casually. And I thought, “Dear Lord, what do we do? And how do we turn, that they might be invited to the Lord?” One of them had a baby buggy with a little baby in the buggy. Young people, the nation tomorrow, the civic life tomorrow, the life of our whole being tomorrow, in which our children are growing up, who pauses? Who prays? Who knocks at the door? Who visits? Who cares? Who invites? It seems as though the whole church of Christ passes by in vast and interminable indifference. There is no burden of heart; there is no weeping of soul; there is no agony of spirit. There is no wrestling before God, and the lost are unsaved. And the most tragic of all, the death of our Christ for them is in vain. He shed His blood, poured out the crimson of His soul for no purpose at all; He might as well not have died. Ah, Lord! Could such a thing be?
I stood one time, the first time I was in Palestine—I stood one time when you could stand there, prohibited now, off limits now—but in those years ago, I stood one time on Mt. Calvary. It is a Muslim cemetery; dirty, unkempt, and the stones just strewn all around. I stood there on that mount, thinking, trying to think tremendous thoughts. This is the place where the Son of God died for the sins of the world [1 John 2:2]; this is the ground that drank up His blood [John 19:33-34]. I stood there trying to think great thoughts, and I castigated myself because of my sheer inability to do so. Right below me, right in front of me was some kind of a joint that repaired cars, and bodies, and automobiles; looked like a junk thing to me. And they were hammering, and they were working, and with forges and all kinds of torches they were working down there in a scrap heap; just the noisiest indifference. And then just beyond that was the Nablus Road, and coming out of the Damascus Gate, they were hawking their wares there, passing by with no thought of anything that ever had happened on that mount. And mostly, standing in the midst of a Muslim community, I thought, “Dear God, dear Lord, does anybody know that You died? [John 19:30]. Does anybody care that You poured out your life? Lord, Lord, is this Mt. Calvary?” [Luke 23:32-33].
Do you remember that poem of Studdert-Kennedy?
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds, and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
But when Jesus came to my hometown, they simply passed Him by,
They hurt not a hair of His head, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, they would not cause Him pain,
They simply passed on down the street, and left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them; they know not what they do,”
And still it rained that bitter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the street without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against the wall, and cried for Calvary.
[“Indifference,” Geoffrey A Studdert-Kennedy, 1929]
Anything but to pass Him by, to forget, that it be nothing to us or to them.
O Lord! That there might be laid upon us the care of souls, the burden that they might be saved. Lord, would You do that for us? Would You do it for our church? Would You do it for me, Lord? Would You do it for our people? Let it be a care to us whether people are saved or lost.
In the circle of the family, are they all in the fold? In the circle of our classes, are they all in the kingdom? In the circle of our acquaintance, are they all in the fold of God? Will I see them at the great judgment bema of Christ someday [2 Corinthians 5:10], washed, redeemed, in the blood of the Lamb? [Revelation 1:5]. Lord, Lord, send us revival. Send us souls. Save the lost. Add to Thy church.
Now I have a little appeal, first, of consecration and commitment. I have thought our people need to recommit themselves to the Lord. You don’t have revival without it. How shall I do it? Shall I stand down there and say, “All of you here tonight who would regive your life in prayer and intercession to our Christ, would you come and shake my hand?” You know, I am so persuaded of the spirit of concern and revival among you, I think every one of you would come. I may, of course, be mistaken; but I am not often about my people. I think there is such a spirit of prayer, and intercession, and concern, I think if I were to stand here and make that appeal every one of you would come. Then I thought, “Lord, we cannot do that. It would take hours for these people to come by and to press my hand and say, ‘Pastor, tonight, I reconsecrate and rededicate my life to the Lord. I am going to be a better Christian, I am going to serve Him more faithfully, and I am going to ask God to make a soulwinner of me.’” So, the only way I know to do it is, every one of us that feels in his heart, “Lord, I would like to give myself in this day of revival to a renewed dedication and consecration to Thee,” all of you who would like to do it, would you kneel? All over the house, upstairs and downstairs, would you get on your knees before the Lord?
And we will have our prayer of commitment. Our Savior who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], who poured forth the crimson, the red blood of His life into this earth to wash our sins away [Revelation 1:5], that we might someday see God’s face and live [Revelation 22:3-5]—O blessed Jesus, who in compassion [John 10:10], and mercy [Titus 3:5], and grace [Ephesians 2:8], came to be our Savior [1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 10:4-14]. Dear Jesus, what sadness unspeakable! O Lord, how our hearts are burdened at the thought of it; that Christ should have died for anyone in vain [2 Peter 3:9]. Lord, Lord, that they might turn and be saved [Ezekiel 33:11]; that they might look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]; that they might believe and be added to the kingdom [Acts 16:30-31]. O Christ in heaven, do You need somebody to speak for Thee? Then let us speak. Do You need somebody to knock at the door for Thee? Then consecrate our hands. Do You need somebody, Lord, to pray for the lost? Bow down Thy ear and hear us, Lord, as we pray. And do You need someone to gather in Thy name and to present the great message of hope and salvation? Then Lord, come to this service and listen to us. And Master, do You need someone to press the appeal for Christ? Come, come, come! Then Lord, may the convicting, converting Spirit of Jesus move in our services, and may they come. Lord, as we pray for the services each night, do it again, now. When in a moment we stand, blessed Jesus, and sing our hymn of appeal, may the Spirit of God be in the message, and may they come.
While our people bow in this reconsecration, this is revival: when God speaks to your heart, and you respond with your life. “For the first time in my life tonight, I am accepting Jesus as my Savior; I’m coming.” “I live in this city of Dallas, and with you I covenant to pray and to serve our living Lord. I’m putting my life with you in the church.” “I’m coming by letter, or by baptism [Matthew 28:19], or by a statement.” “I’m bringing my family with me; we are all coming tonight.”
Is it the family to whom God speaks? Is it a couple to whom the Lord addresses His word of appeal? Is it to one somebody you? Make the decision now on your knees, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up walking down that stairway, or coming down that aisle. “Pastor, tonight I have decided for God [Romans 10:9-13], and here I am.” Dear Lord, dear Lord, add to this holy moment the Spirit of grace, and appeal, and salvation, and give us souls tonight. Thank Thee, Lord, for the answered prayer, in Thy dear name, amen.
Now may all of us stand together? And while we stand and sing our song of appeal, a family, a couple, or just you, on the first note of the first stanza, “Here I come, pastor, here I am. I am on the way.” God bless you, angels attend you as you come, and while we sing.