We Go to Church with Paul
October 23rd, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
WE GO TO CHURCH WITH PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-23-77 10:50 a.m.
It is a joy to welcome the thousands of you who on radio and on television are sharing this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled We Go To Church With Paul. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we are in chapter 9. The chapter begins with the wonderful conversion, the miraculous conversion of the apostle Paul. And in the center of the chapter there is described his preaching –
After he was converted,
Straight way he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
And all that heard him were amazed and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem? And came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
But Saul increased the more in strength, . . . proving that this is the very Christ.
And then throughout the rest of the Book of Acts, and the epistles, we have the story of the testimony of this converted arch-persecutor of the Christian faith.
Now, as I read it, both in the Book of Acts, and in the epistles that he wrote, I just thought in my mind how would it have been had we sat in a congregation in Damascus or in Jerusalem or in Tarsus of Cilicia or in Corinth or in Rome or in Athens or any other of those great centers where the people thronged together to listen to this converted persecutor of the Christian church? How would it have been had we been present? What would we have seen? What would we have felt? What would we have experienced? What would we have heard had we been in one of those congregations addressed by this Saul, Paul of Tarsus?
It is like the word of a businessman of which I once read. He was on a trip in the middle of the last century from the eastern coast to mid-America. And passing through upper New York, he attended an evening service of the great revival preacher and converted lawyer, Charles G. Finney. And this businessman said, "I went to the meeting and I sat on the back row." And he wrote saying, "It seemed to me as I listened to Finney preach, that the very hair on my head stood straight up." What would we have felt? What would it have been like? What would we have heard and seen had we attended one of the services conducted by this Saul of the Roman province of Tarsus, of Cilicia, the capitol of which is Tarsus?
Well, we will just look in the Bible and find a description of those services and how they were. Our first will be a reading of a description of the service conducted by Saul in Ephesus. He describes them. And he says, "Brethren, remember, that by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" [Acts 20:31]. Then he speaks how he walked in and out before them in all seasons: Serving the Lord with all humility of mind and with many tears – "how I kept back nothing profitable to you, but have showed you and taught you publicly, . . . testifying to the Greeks and to the Jews" – to every one – "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:20, 21]. Had we been in the service, we would have seen and felt the fervency of the witness of this man filled with much and deep emotion in his description of the services in Ephesus. Twice in this little passage does he mention his tears. He spoke with deepest feeling and he punctuated the truth of God that he delivered with many tears. Paul often speaks of his tears, and had we attended one of the services conducted by this Saul, Paul, you would have felt the deep emotion of the testimony of this converted persecutor as he spoke with many tears.
We have a description of the services in Paul’s letter to Thessalonica. He says, "For our gospel came not to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; as you know what manner of men we were among you for your sake" [1Thessalonians 1:5]. Had we attended a service conducted by this Saul of Cilicia; we would have felt in it the moving power of God in and by the Holy Spirit. He says, "the word was not just in language only, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance." What he means by that "much assurance" is this; that his message was not speculative. It was not philosophical. It was not problematical but if was verily the truth of God. He spoke with profound and everlasting authority. His message was delivered in much assurance in and by the Holy Spirit and in the power of God. When you went to the service it would not be well possibly it would be this or maybe it was that – a so-so religion, or a maybe-so religion. No, the note that he sounded was one of infinite and heavenly authority. It was delivered in great power, and in much assurance.
A third thing you would have noticed in the services conducted by the apostle Paul. You would have seen a great sweeping into the kingdom of God. You would have seen people turned into the faith of the Lord by the uncounted thousands. Look at this Asian ministry – the ministry of Paul in the province of Asia. And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for the space of three months. The King James Version translated this next word; "disputing and persuading" – dialegomenos; dialegomenos is "reasoning." He spoke boldly for three months – reasoning [Acts 19:8].
The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is not some far out, unthinkable, unimaginable mystic deliverance supposedly from heaven. No. It is based in fact. In our nature and God’s nature and creation’s nature, it is reasonable to be a Christian: "reasoning and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God." And he took the disciples and placed them in the school of Tyrannus. "And this continued by the space of two years; so that all which dwelt in the Roman province of Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" [Acts 19:8-10]. "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" [Acts 19:20]. Had you attended the services in Ephesus and under the direction of the apostle Paul, you would have seen a mighty, mighty, mighty turning to the Lord. When in the Revelation, the Master addresses seven letters to the seven churches of Asia, they were founded, and the people were converted in this mighty testimony of the apostle Paul in that Roman province.
Well, when we think of those services filled with zeal and emotions and tears, filled with the power of God and filled with the reasoning and converting grace of the spirit of God, when you go to church today, what do you find? Is it like that? Listen to the testimony of a man as he writes of his church. "I go to God’s house and find no God. I do not hear His voice in song or sermon. His grip is not in the hand of fellowship. I hear no yearnings for the lost in the message of the preacher nor see it in the faces of the people. There is no God in the temple where my people worship." That is one of the saddest indictments of modern church services that one could utter.
There is no life apart from warmth. It is under the warmth of the feathers and the wings of the mother hen that life is born. It is in the blood-bathed womb of a human mother that a child is born. It is in the warmth of the spring time that the earth comes to flower and to foliate and to fruit. In the paralyzing cold of the winter does the whole world die. A dead mother cannot give birth to a live child. A refrigerator can preserve something that is dead, but it never presents anything that lives. It is thus in the church.
In the church where there are no holy fires that burn in the furnace, where there is no burden for the lost, where there is no weeping over the judgment that faces these without Christ, where the agony of Calvary is forgotten, in that kind of the church God leaves the temple. The Holy Spirit does not move in the congregation. The lost are not wept over. The burden of their judgment is not weighed upon our hearts. The pews become empty and the church finally dies. I go to these meetings of the convocations that represent the nations of the world. And the reports that are made are tragic beyond any way to describe them. Europe, hardly knows the Lord. Church attendance is almost non-existent. And there is an undercurrent in America that if it continues our nation will be as secular, as materialistic, as unspiritual as God’s forsaken as the world that you see beyond these iron and bamboo curtains.
What was it in the life of this Saul of Tarsus that brought to his heart such combustible, flaming fuel? What burned in him that made him as he was? Here again, in his witness, it is plain to see how that man was in his soul, and how those services were conducted to which we would love to attend. Here is one., one of those fuels that fed the flame, and fire in his soul was his love for Christ. He wrote in Philippians, "What things were gained to me, those I counted lost for Christ. Yea doubtless, surely I count all things but lost for the excellency of the knowledge of the Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the lost of all things, and do count them but refuse – but dung, that I may have Christ" [Philippians 3:7, 9]. This is the man who, having so much, gave it all up in order that he might follow the Lord, and do the will of the Lord, bowing before Him, he said, "Lord, what wilt Thou how me to do?" [Acts 9:6]. The fuel in his soul, fed by his undying love for Christ.
Look at him again. What is it that burned so furiously in his heart? Not only love for Christ, but love for the lost. Listen as he writes to the church at Rome, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were a curse for Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" [Romans 9:1]. And he begins the next chapter in the same tenor, "Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is, that they might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. There was in his soul an infinite longing for the salvation of these to whom he addressed the message of the Lord. And that seeking note is in all that Paul said and did.
For example, writing to the church at Corinth he says,
We then are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain.
(For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation).
[2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2]
In all that he did, you could feel the tug of that seeking, searching, soul-winning note. And that ought to be everything that we do in the church. In the songs we sing, in the lessons we teach, in the sermons that the pastor preaches, there ought to be felt in it a pull, a tug toward God; this seeking note.
How was this man Saul? What were those fires that burned in his soul? The refusal to be discouraged. Was there ever any man whose life you ever read of that seemingly was fraught with such endless disaster as that of the apostle Paul? You do not realize it, but in the ministry that he had over those years and years, practically all of it was spent in prison, behind stone walls and iron bars. He lived a life of apparent defeat and desperation. He was stoned at Lystra and dragged out for dead. He was beaten at Philippi and thrust into the inner dungeon. He found time and again an absolute rejection and refusal of his message. When he spoke to the Athenians in the university city of Athens, he was mocked and ridiculed and laughed at. And most of the other places he created a riot of opposition and had to be taken secretly out of time.
His whole life seemingly was one of defeat and frustration, rejection and refusal. When he spoke before Felix, when he spoke before Herod Agrippa the II and his consort, Bernice; when he stood in the presence of the mighty, stood in the presence of the hoi polloi, seemingly it was just the same. He knew defeat and frustration and despair. But he was never discouraged, never. Let me read this to the choir and I want you to name this man.
He failed in business in 1831.
He was defeated for the legislature in 1832.
He again, failed in business in 1833.
His chosen bride died in 1835.
He had a nervous breakdown in 1836.
He was defeated for speaker in 1838.
He was defeated for elector in 1840.
He was defeated for Congress in 1843.
He was defeated for the Senate in 1855.
He was defeated for vice-president in 1856.
He was defeated again for the Senate in 1858.
But he was elected president in 1860.
What was his name?
Abraham Lincoln; did you ever know of a man who had a life of sorrow and sadness and defeat like that great president? But he never lost faith and he never lost hope? Always, his eyes were fixed upon some greater and better tomorrow.
That is exactly with the apostle Paul. It was out of a Roman dungeon that he wrote in the Philippian epistle, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice" [Philippians 4:4]. He was for years and years, chained to a Roman soldier, the guard changed every six hours, and he writes that the whole Praetorian Guard, the personal army of the Roman Caesar – the whole Praetorian Guard, has now become acquainted with the gospel.
And I have thought how would it have been to have been chained to the apostle Paul, day after day after day? There was no defeat in the heart of this man. There was nothing but victory and triumph and a glorious and heavenly tomorrow. He preached that way, he wrote his letters like that, and he lived in that time of a glorious victory. And that has a wonderful message for us to remember today. One thing, God is always for us. God is always with us. God is never against us. God is for us. God the Father answers our prayers. God the Holy Spirit has sent us out and He has promised to be with us to the end of the age. And God the Holy Spirit works in convicting power.
When a man speaks for Jesus, always he can know that in the heart of the man to whom he is addressing his appeal, the Holy Spirit is working, giving evidence of the truth of the revelation of God. The Lord is always for us. He is always with us. God is will always working by our side. And with God, the omnipotent one of heaven, the Almighty of glory, how could we ultimately fail?
Again, the word of the Lord is always blessed – always blessed. "My word," God says, shall not return unto me void, but it will accomplish that where unto I have sent it" [Isaiah 55:11]. "For the word of God is quick" – living – "and powerful, and sharper that any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. . . . but all things are open and naked unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" [Hebrews 4:12, 13]. "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh a rock in pieces?" [Jeremiah 23:29] God will always bless his Word. We may not see. We may not understand. But God never fails to bless his word; maybe not bless us, but bless his Word. The promise is He blesses the Word.
Dr. Patterson here is now teaching young preachers. He is teaching homiletics. Our professor of homiletics has taken another position. And Dr. Patterson, my wonderful fellow workman is now teaching homiletics in our Bible institute – teaching these young preachers how to preach. Now, I want to show you how most sermons are born, how most sermons are made. Here is a copy of one of them. This is a very commendable thing supposedly of what I am reading to you, how a preacher makes his sermon.
The preacher passed a little cottage where one man was saying, "Yes, there will be a lot of women miserable when I marry."
The other let that rest for a moment and then responded, "Oh, I don’t know. How many women are you planning to marry anyhow?"
So as the preacher walked along, he said, "That is my first point – humility. Point number one." So the preacher passes the auction barn where he sees a sweet young wife gently calming a rather upset husband. What can be wrong here, he wonders? Then he hears her say to husband, "Of course, I spend more than you make, dear. I have confidence in you." The pastor almost jumped for joy as he said, "Perfect, for point two; namely optimism. So the preacher goes on and he comes upon a farmer, plowing with one mule, but who was calling, "Get up, Pete. Get up, Barney. Get up, Johnny." Stopping in amazement, the preacher asked, "How many names does that mule have?
"Just one," says the farmer. His name is Pete. But he doesn’t know his own strength. So I put blinders on the rascal and yell a lot of names at him and he thinks two other mules are helping. Amazing what we can get done that way."
And our pastor now leaped for joy, and he says, "Don’t know his own strength. Amazing what he can do. Eureka! That’s my third point – power. And he has got his sermon, all three points.
Now that is the way most sermons are made. They arise out of the peripherals of the day, out of the adventitious events that the preacher sees or watches during the days of the week.
Tell me, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if Dr. Patterson would teach his young preachers, "Let your sermon arise out of the immutable, inerrant, eternal word of God? Expound the Scriptures. And in that, you will teach every human life at every needed point. Let the sermon arise out of the holy Word." And that is how Paul preached. And that is how all of the apostles preached. "To him, give all of the prophets witness." And when a man opens God’s Book and expounds the inspired, infallible Word of the Lord, there is immediately a repercussion in the hearts of the people. This is the authority of God himself – "Thus, saith the Lord."
A last thing for us to remember; the same Lord God that saved then, under the preaching of the apostle Paul, is the same Lord God that saves today – under the witness and testimony of the blessed Jesus; doing it just as miraculously, just as gloriously, just as wondrously as God bared His arm to save in the ministry of Saul of Tarsus.
Look, when I turn to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, I read the marvelous conversion of the Philippian jailer. This man was rough and tough and brutal and cruel. Beat Paul and Silas until the blood ran down. No need for them in an inner dungeon, didn’t even need that. Put their feet in stocks, didn’t need that. He was brutal far above the call of duty or of the law or of necessity. And yet, that night – that night, that Philippian jailer, so cruel and brutal was wondrously saved. And we read that and say, "How marvelous, how glorious." But the same Lord Christ that saved that Philippian jailer saves today, in the same wondrous and marvelous and miraculous way.
Word came to me that that brutal tribe of Stone Age Indians called the Aucas, in the Amazon Valley had slain five white missionaries who had gone to tell them about the saving grace of the Lord. Then word came that the wife of one of the missionaries who had been slain, and the sister of another one of the missionaries that had been slain, had made their way to that awesome tribe and had won them to the Lord. I said in my heart, "I want to see that with my own eyes." So I went down to the Amazon jungle and over to where the Aucas live. And there, there did I conduct a church service with that tribe of Stone Age Indians that had known no other thing in life than to dip their hands in human blood. And at my invitation, three of those Aucas who had slain those five missionaries, sat in three chairs on this platform and stood up to witness to what Christ had done for them. He is still in the saving business – miraculously, gloriously, wondrously. Just as He spoke to you and you found the Lord and were saved.
We read of that Asian ministry of Saul of Tarsus when the whole nation turned to the Lord, when those seven churches were founded, when all of the people knew of the saving grace of Christ, and we say, "What a marvelous, marvelous outpouring of the saving Spirit of Jesus." My brother, it is in our modern times just the same way. I read the other day where in the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon and in the young preachers of Spurgeon’s Preachers College, where our British intern Peter Shepherd comes from; in the ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and with the young men they taught and trained in Spurgeon’s Pastor’s College, there were two hundred sixty-five thousand souls saved and baptized in the Baptist churches of Great Britain. Just think of that. Under the influence of the testimony and teaching of one godly man, two hundred sixty-five thousand won to Jesus and baptized into the fellowship of the church. He is still doing it. He is still the same Lord God.
Then we read in the Bible of this ministry of Saul of Tarsus in the school of Tyrannus, some place where throngs could come and Saul could teach them the Word of the Lord. And then the comment of Dr. Luke, "so mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed." [Acts 19:20] And I read about that ministry in the school of Tyrannus, the auditorium of the school of Tyrannus, and I think what a wonderful thing – what a marvelous thing. But the same Lord God gathers with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas.
I am in my thirty-fourth year as the under shepherd of this dear congregation. For now, going on thirty-four years, have I been preaching to this dear church. At 8:15 o’clock this morning, this house was filled. At 10:50 o’clock again, this house is filled. And at 7 o’clock again tonight, when I preach, the house will be filled. Coming to hear what? Nothing but the Book. Just the Book. Preaching the Word of the Lord. It is a miracle. It is a wonder of heaven – the power of God in that witness on this sacred page.
It is the same Lord. It is the same power. It is the same presence. It is the same saving grace. It is the same Jesus – this same Jesus. To stand in that life of those who have followed the Savior, giving our life in trust to Him; pilgrimaging with the disciples who call upon His name; finally, lifting up our faces to the great and wonderful consummation, oh, my brother, this is the life God intended for us when He created us and made us and we were born into the world.
And that is the appeal we press to your hearts. Come and join with us in our pilgrimage to the holy city, in our march to the heavenly Zion. Make the decision to give your heart to God and standing unashamed before men and angels avow that faith. Bring your family. "Pastor like that sweet Cole family we are going to rear our children in the love, and nurture, and admonition and knowledge of the Lord. They will never know anything than to bless the name of Jesus all their lives." A couple you just beginning your lives or just one somebody you, "Today I have decided for Christ and here I am." On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now and may the Spirit of God and the angels of heaven attend you in the way as you come while we stand and while we sing.
WE GO TO CHURCH WITH PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. What would it be like?
B. The services
1. In Ephesus – fervent, full of tears, pleading(Acts 20:19-21, 31)
2. In Thessalonica – powerful, assured of the truth(1 Thessalonians 1:5)
3. In Asia – saving, whole cities and provinces turning(Acts 19:8-10, 20)
C. So different from today in many churches
1. "I go to God’s house and find no Godâ€¦"
2. No life apart from warmth
3. God leaves the church where there are no holy fires burning
II. What fed the holy fire in his soul?
A. Love for Christ (Philippians 3:7-9, Acts 9:6)
B. Love for the lost (Romans 9:1-3, 10:1)
C. The seeking, pleading spirit (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2)
D. He refused to be discouraged(Philippians 1:13, 4:4)
1. Abraham Lincoln
III. For us to remember
A. God is with us and for us
B. The word of the Lord is always blessed(Isaiah 55:11, Hebrews 4:12-13, Jeremiah 23:29)
1. Preaching the Word vs. story of other sermon preparation
C. Same Lord God that saved then is the same that saves today
1. Philippians jailer and the Auca Indians
2. Asian ministry of Paul and Spurgeon’s pastor’s college
3. The throngs in school of Tyrannus and our church(Acts 19:20)