Caring for The Church of God
December 10th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
CARING FOR THE CHURCH OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-10-78 8:15 a.m.
It is with unspeakable joy that we share this hour with the thousands of you who are listening on the two radio stations. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Caring for the Church of God, shepherding, tending the flock of the Lord. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 20. And the message today is a textual sermon; it is a careful looking at the twenty-eighth verse. Paul says to the elders, the pastors, in Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers,” episkopoi, bishops, “to feed,” to pastor, “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. And there is so much in the text that I have decided to take the hour and to expound this word that Paul has addressed to the elders, to the bishops, to the pastors of the church at Ephesus [Acts 20:17].
We look carefully at his admonition, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock” [Acts 20:28]. And that word “take heed” has a different turn than what you might think for. And the turn it has brings a profound significance to us today, especially this moment. The word that he uses, translated here “take heed,” is prosechō, and the word nous, “mind,” has to be understood in it. Pros, of course, is “toward,” and in combination with another verb it is very active. And of course, echō is the word for “have.” So, what he says here is prosechō, remembering that the word for mind, nous, is understood in its use, it means “to apply the mind to, to attend to.” There is no doubt but that there is a tremendous emphasis in the Christian faith upon the intellect, upon the mind.
For example, when our Lord is asked in [Matthew 22], “Which is the great commandment of the law?” [Matthew 22:35-36]. He rightfully quotes the Shema, which is the great avowal of monotheism and is the very heart of the Jewish faith. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” or strength. Now that is the way it is written in Deuteronomy. Now you look how Jesus will quote that great Shema: “Master, which is the great commandment of the law? Jesus said unto him,” this lawyer, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy dianoia” [Matthew 22:35-37]. How will you want to translate that? Translated here “mind.” Isn’t that unusual? The Lord changes that Shema: not “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength” [Deuteronomy 6:5], but when Jesus quotes it, He quotes it, “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy dianoia,” and that word refers to the intellectual faculty, the thinking process; “with all thy intellectual capacities” [Matthew 22:37]. You can’t help but notice that.
There is another thing you see in Paul, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sōphronismos” [2 Timothy 1:7]. Now how would you like to translate that? Sóphronismos, translated here in the King James Version “of sound mind”; “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” [2 Timothy 1:7]. Sōphronismos means “a sober, sound, controlled, and disciplined mind.” Now this is just typical of the revelation of God; the emphasis that it places upon the intellect, the thinking process, the mind. And any time that we get away from that in the faith and in the religion, you’re going to give cause for the enemies of Christ to say bitter and caustic and vitriolic things about us.
I suppose the most famous quotation out of Karl Marx and the communist world is this; namely, he said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” Let’s take again an enemy of the cross and of Christ: I quote, “The supreme crime of the church today is that everywhere and in all its operations and influence it is on the side of sloth of mind; it banishes brains, it sanctifies stupidity, and canonizes incompetence.” That’s not a fanatic intellectual; this is a man who has watched the Christian religion. He has watched its ministry; he has carefully observed its people. And that is his impression. You have a poignant and tragic instance of that in Reverend Jim Jones and his People’s Temple, and the unbelievable, indescribable sorrow that overwhelmed that community in Guyana. Never in the earth, never, would you find a community of Christian people who knew the Word of God and who studied the Holy Scriptures, who would ever be persuaded into a fanatical cult, a far out religious devotion like that. There is always in the Word of God a beautiful and a sweet reasonableness. That’s what Paul is referring to when he speaks to these elders of the church, these pastors of the church, these bishops of the church, that they are to guide the flock and to lead the flock into the finest intellectual God-given wisdom [Acts 20:28]. And when I study the Word of the Lord, it is in a different world from fanaticism, and aberration, and tragic error and mistake. It moves on a different plain.
I don’t think there ever lived a man of finer intellectual perspicuity than Moses. And when I read the writings of Moses, these men who were with him and the prophets who followed him were men of tremendous wisdom. And the same thing obtains with our Lord and with the apostles who followed Him. I study the words of these men, and I am overwhelmed by their wisdom and by their reasonableness.
When I was in school, I was taught to read in the Greek language Plato and Aristotle. And the wonder and beauty of their thoughts, even though they were pagan, was exceptional to me. And yet, when after studying classic Greek literature, I turned then to reading the koine of the New Testament, there’s no comparison. The elevation of thought and revelation in the Holy Scriptures is as high above Aristotle or Plato as the sky is higher than the earth. For example, when the officers in the temple were sent to arrest Jesus, they came back without Him. And the Sanhedrin asked why. And those officers replied, “We never heard a man speak like that Man, never a man spake like that Man [John 7:46]. We couldn’t touch Him. Somehow our hands were paralyzed that would lay forceful coercive action against Him,” the wisdom in the Lord Jesus.
And His apostles were just like Him. Do you remember this in the life of the apostle Paul? He is standing in chains before Herod Agrippa II, and by his side, his sister [Bernice] [Acts 25:23], and he is given privilege to make his own apologia, his own defense, his apology [Acts 26:1]. And as he speaks to Herod Agrippa, Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea, breaks in, and he says, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning hath made thee mad” [Acts 26:24]. And Paul replies, “Most noble Festus, I am not mad; but I speak the words of truth and sobriety, soberness. The king himself,” the king being a Jew, “the king himself knows whereof I speak; for these things were not done in a corner [Acts 26:25-26]. Herod Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest” [Acts 26:27]. And the king replies, “En oligō, you would persuade me to be a Christian” [Acts 26:28]. And Paul replies, “Not only en oligō but en megalō, I would to God all that hear me today were such as I am, except for this chain, these bonds” [Acts 26:29]. And when he was dismissed and sent back to his cell, Herod Agrippa said to Festus, “This man has done nothing worthy of bonds or of death. He could be set at liberty had he not appealed to Caesar” [Acts 26:31-32]. The reasonableness, the everlasting truth of what the apostle was preaching made a profound impression upon that pagan governor, Festus, and upon the Jewish king, Herod Agrippa.
I choose that just as an instance. It is that story all the way through. When Paul stood before Felix and Drusilla his wife, the Scriptures say, in Acts 24, that, “Paul reasoned,” you look at that word, “Paul reasoned of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come. And Felix trembled, and said, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” [Acts 24:24-25]. Tragic his response; but the message is described as “Paul reasoned of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment” [Acts 24:25]. Of all things in this world, there is none that more reflects the infinite mind and truth of God than this Book I hold in my hand, and the gospel that is preached from its sacred page. And that’s what Paul is saying, “Prosechō,” translated, “Take heed to thyself, and to the flock” [Acts 20:28]—unthinkable any far out fanatical excess or aberration—reasonable, and right, and godly, beautiful, like the light of the sun.
Now again, he says, “to feed the church of God” [Acts 20:28]. That of course is the word “to pastor.” He uses the word poimainō, which means “to feed a flock, to tend, to shepherd a flock.” The word for a pastor, for a shepherd, is a poimēn, and the word for a flock is poimnē. So poimainō, to feed, to shepherd, to care for the church of God; this is our great mandate, our assignment, our calling [Acts 20:28]. It’s been the one and only thing in my life I have ever wanted to do or be interested in. I have been asked to be president of a university, of a college. I have been asked to share in so many of the executive places in our denominational life. When I was young, because I was so vigorous a preacher, so zealous an evangel, I’d just preach all over the place. Still might do it if I weren’t tied down to that P.A. system there. Everybody thought I would be an evangelist. Just starting out at seventeen years of age, there has never been anything, never, ever, that has appealed to me except to be a pastor of a church. George Truett, my predecessor, was like that. He said, “If anything happened that I couldn’t be pastor of the church, I’d go up to the head of the hollow,” talking about his North Carolina heritage, “I’d go up to the head of the hollow, and I’d organize me a church and be its pastor.” I heard him say that one time. And I loved the thought. I loved listening to him avow it. I felt the repercussion in my own soul. To pastor a church, to tend a flock, to shepherd God’s redeemed people; it is a beautiful and heavenly assignment.
I say in truth, if I were president of the United States, and had to resign my church, I feel I’d be stepping down. If I were prime minister of the British Empire, and had to resign my church, I feel I would be going lower. This is a God-given calling and a God-given ministry, to shepherd, to feed, to tend the church of God [Acts 20:28]. So, when I see that in the words of the apostle Paul, I have a remembrance of somebody else who said that. Then I remember the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of John, when the Lord said to Simon Peter, “Simon, lovest thou Me?”
“Lord, You know I love You.”
Then the Lord says, “Feed My lambs; take care of My little ones.” Then the second and third time, “Simon, lovest thou Me?” and he says, “Lord, You know that I do.” And then the Lord says, “Feed My sheep; tend My flock, shepherd My people” [John 21:15-17]. That’s where I heard that before. And Paul the apostle reiterates it to the pastors of the church there; to shepherd, to feed, to tend the church of God [Acts 20:28].
And that’s what we ought to be doing as a people who pray for each other, and love each other, and who hold up the hands of the pastor, and who work with our deacon leadership, and our staff. That’s what we’re doing. Our ministries are to little lambs, to little children, to the babies; and then to the teenagers, and to the youth, and to the college and career people, and to the singles, and to the young marrieds, and to our adults; tending the flock of the Lord, and doing it purposively, plannedly, statedly, wisely, carefully, beautifully, effectively—not adventitiously, or peripherally, or haphazardly, or opportunistically; doing it with a great commitment as God shall give us wisdom to know how to do it.
Let me contrast that with something the Lord said about the world. In the [sixteenth] chapter of Luke and the eighth verse, the Lord says, “The children of this world in their generation are wiser, smarter, than the children of light” [Luke 16:8]. When I look at the typical church, and compare it with the brilliance of the world, I can understand what the Lord meant when He avowed that. These children of the world, ah, how they use light, and color, and music, and drama, and activities, and a thousand things to lure, and to win, and to woo our people into the ways of the world! I see it every day; hear it on radio, see it on television, look at it in newspapers, on the billboards, in these lighted up broadways; everywhere you see the appeal brilliant, scintillating, shining, of the ways of the world. And in so many instances will you find the church dark, or cold, or drab, or prosaic, or dull, or monotonous, or uninteresting. No wonder they have the young people, and no wonder they woo our families away. Dear God, help us to shine, to shine for Thee, programs that are more interesting by far than any you find out there in the world.
I love standing here this sacred hour, before this unusual presentation of the nativity, of the incarnation of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-16]. Every song they sing will magnify the Lord Jesus, and it will be as beautiful, as pretty, as anything they’ll be singing out there in the rock band, or on the dance floor, or in the bar in the world. I love that. In fact, I think we have a better product to sell. And if we will place with it the finest wisdom and genius that God can give us, I think we have a better instrument to woo and to win them to the faith and to the beautiful life of our wonderful Lord. Why, my brethren, there’s no comparison between us and them. Their motive—and motive finally dictates all character and all life—their motive is always monetary, and carnal, and worldly. What they’re doing, they’re doing for pay; they’re doing it for advancement; they’re doing it for fame. They’re entertaining. They are selling. They are acting. All that they do is for a temporary and monetary response. Think of the motive that lies back of what we’re doing in this world and in this church. For the love of the Lord, for the love of children, for the love of teenagers, for the love of families, for the love of Jesus, everything we do, dedicated to that holy and heavenly end. And what a marvelous reward does God give us.
For example, a single, a single; don’t go to a bar to find your husband or your wife. Come to church. Find a Christian girl or find a Christian boy. And marry not before a justice of the peace, but in the house of God. Make those sacred covenants that bind you together forever. That’s the church. Then when God blesses the home with a new life, take that little lad, a Samuel, or take that precious girl, a little Elizabeth, or a little Mary, or a little Miriam, and bring the child up in the love and nurture of the Lord [Ephesians 6:4]. There is no comparison between us and the world. We just need to make our message and our life beautiful and attractive, full of light and joy. That is what God is pleased with in us.
Now, last—as Gary would say, we’re going to punch the button in a minute—that’s why one of these days I’m going to get me a little planet of my own, I’m going to put me a little soapbox on it, and anybody who wants to hear a guy preach world without end, you come and visit my planet. I’ll be at it. I’d love that.
He does the most unusual thing here, when he says that “take heed to yourself” [Acts 20:28]; remember, God has given you a mind and wisdom in which to direct the work. And then he says “to shepherd, to tend the flock.” Now look how he describes it, “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. Do you see that? He says, “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood,” God’s blood, God on that cross, God making atonement for our sins, “The church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Dear me. God?
Then when I read the writings of Paul, I find that he calls Jesus “God” all the time, all the time. In Romans 9:5, Paul will say, “Christ over all, God blessed for ever.” Think of that, “Christ over all, God blessed forever.” Take again in [Philippians 2:6], “Who, our Lord Jesus, who being in the morphos of God, in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held onto, to be equal with God, prosōpon theon, face to face with God.” Or again, in the first chapter of Colossians, “He is the express image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15]. And he repeats the thought again in the second chapter, “In Him all the fullness of God did dwell” [Colossians 2:9]. Or that famous text that Paige would love, in Titus 2:13, “Loving, looking for the blessed hope, and the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” That’s just the way Paul spoke, calling Jesus, God. And he does so here: “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
Now that is a marvelous word there, “purchased,” peripoieō, which literally means “to get for yourself.” Peripoieō translated “purchased” [Acts 20:28] “to get for yourself”; let me show you how they used that word. The Lord will say, “Every man that shall save his life shall lose it: but if a man shall lose his life for My sake, he shall peripoieō, he shall buy it for himself, he shall purchase it for himself, he shall reserve it for himself” [Matthew 16:25]. You deacons, in the third chapter of the Book of 1 Timothy, Paul says that, “He that uses the office of the deacon well peripoieó, he purchases for himself a great degree in heaven” [1 Timothy 3:13]. You know, the Book says there are degrees in heaven [Matthew 5:19, 11:11]; we’re all not going to be alike. There are degrees in heaven; there’ll be somebody sit on the right hand of Jesus. And he uses that word “purchase.” That’s what Jesus did for us: He purchased us with His own blood [Acts 20:28]. And the Scriptures present that in a beautiful and a precious way.
The apostle Paul will say, in 1 Corinthians 6, “We are not our own; we are bought with the price” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. The apostle Peter in his first letter, in the first chapter, will say, “We are redeemed not with corruptible silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. We are bought with a price. Jesus owns us twice: He created us [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16], and we belong to Him by creation; and He redeemed us, and we belong to Him in loving gratitude, in serving, loving, worshiping devoted gratitude and thankfulness. Twice over do we belong to our blessed Lord; He bought us with His own blood [Acts 20:28].
That means we are precious to Jesus. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? He never wrote a book; He never painted a picture; He never sculpted a monument; He never wrote an oratorio; He never built a bridge, He never engineered a bridge, but He did say, “I build My church” [Matthew 16:18]. He never said, “My wife.” He never knew the most intimate of all human relationships. He never said, “My home.” He did say, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” [Matthew 8:20]. He never said, “My boy,” or, “My girl.” He never knew what it was to hold in His arms a precious bundle, created life, from the hands of God. But He did say, “My church” [Matthew 16:18].
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. And the imperishable nature of that created born out of His wounds and blood church is forever. “On this rock I build My church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18]. The church is like Jesus Himself: a forever creation. You see the church is not an institution; it’s Christ’s body [Ephesians 5:30]. The church is not an organization; it is a living Christian organism [Ephesians 1:23]. The church is not a building; the church is a fellowship, a communion, a
koinōnia. The church is the body of the blessed Jesus [Ephesians 1:22-23].
And our assignment is beautiful and precious in the earth. We are to bear witness to the eternal in the midst of the transitory. We are to bear witness and to preach of the everlasting and not the ephemeral and the immaterial. We are to be like the Holy Spirit Himself, not speaking of us, but pointing to the Lord Jesus [John 16:13-15]. We’re to proclaim to men our citizenship in heaven [Philippians 3:20]. We are to take the light of the throne of God and to shed it abroad in this darkened world [Philippians 2:15]. We are to emphasize faith over doubt, victory over defeat, Christ over Satan. We are His hands, and His feet, and His tongue, and His witness, and His heart, and His life. We are His body in the earth [Ephesians 1:23].
And to belong to Jesus is to have life everlasting [John 10:27-30]; and to be a member of His church is to be a member of the body of our Lord Himself [Ephesians 5:29-30]—what a happiness, what a gladness, what a glory, what an exaltation. Sing…you couldn’t sing about Him enough. Praise God, you couldn’t praise Him enough. Love Him, you couldn’t love Him enough. Serve Him. Glorify Him. You could never do too much in expressing in life, in language, in syllables and sentences, in prayer, in praise, in glory, in thankfulness, you could never say too much, what Jesus means to us in the church He bought with His own blood [Acts 20:28].
And that’s our invitation to you this sacred and precious hour; to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], to praise God with us in the congregation of the righteous, to look in faith and hope in Him [Ephesians 2:8], to join heart and hand with the families that belong to this church. In a moment we sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, down that stairway, down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming today.” Bring your wife, bring your family, bring your children, or just maybe you. On the first note of the first stanza, answer with your life. This is the most precious of all the moments in our entire church; praying for you, waiting for you, and rejoicing when you respond. Make the decision now in your heart. And when we stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, walking down this aisle. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
CARING FOR THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Prosecho – “to apply your mind to, to attend to all the work and ministries of the church”
B. The emphasis of the Christian faith upon the intellectual process, the mind
1. Dianoia – “with all thy intellectual capacities”(Matthew 22:35-37, Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
2. Sophronismos – “a sober, sound, controlled, and disciplined mind”(2 Timothy 1:7)
C. Karl Marx – supreme crime of the church is sloth of mind
1. Rev. Jim Jones and his People’s Temple
D. The elevation of thought and revelation in Holy Scriptures(John 7:46, Acts 24:24-25, 26:24-32)II. “To feed, to shepherd the church of God”
A. Poimneio – “to feed a flock; to tend, to shepherd a flock”
1. My beautiful and heavenly assignment
B. We have heard this appeal before(John 21:15-17)
C. Caring for the flock in every possible way
1. Children of the world(Luke 16:8)
D. Our infinitely greater purposeIII. “Purchased with His own blood”
A. Paul calls Jesus “God”(Romans 9:5, Philippians 2:5-6, Colossians 1:15-20, 2:9, Titus 2:13)
B. Peripoieo – “to purchase, to get for yourself”(Matthew 16:25, Luke 17:37, 1 Timothy 3:13, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 Peter 1:18-19)
C. The church is nearer, dearer to the Lord Jesus
1. Precious to Him(Matthew 16:18, 8:20, Ephesians 5:25)
2. Imperishable nature (Matthew 16:18)
3. Her heavenly purpose