Caring For the Church
December 10th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
CARING FOR THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-10-78 10:30 a.m.
Once again it is a gladness on our part here in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are watching the hour on television, and by cable television across the vast Southwest, and on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Caring for the Church.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 20; and in the midst of chapter 20, in the address of Paul to the Ephesian elders, to the pastors of the church in Ephesus, he speaks a word of beautiful admonition that has great pertinence for us today, particularly this hour. He says to the elders, to the pastors, to the bishops of the church at Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, bishops, episkopoi, to feed, to pastor the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. There is far more in that one sentence than we realize when we just read it casually. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock”; the word translated “take heed” is one of an altogether different nature than you might think for. Prosechō has in it a word understood: it is not expressed in the verb itself, but it is understood in the meaning of the verb. Understood is the word nous, “mind”; and the word actually means “to apply the mind to, to attend to”: “Take heed,” it is translated in the King James Version, out of which I always preach. “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock” [Acts 20:28]. What he says in actual translation is, “To apply your mind to, to attend to all the work and ministries of the church” [Acts 20:28].
You see, there is something in this New Testament and in the whole Bible that sometimes we are prone to overlook or to forget; and that is the emphasis of the Christian faith upon the intellectual process, upon the mind, upon the wisdom God has given us in our work. For example, in the [twenty-second] chapter of Matthew, the Lord is asked by a lawyer, “Which is the great commandment of the law?” [Matthew 22:35-36]. And the Lord quotes the famous Shema of the Jewish religion, the very heart of the Jewish faith, Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord”—a great monotheistic affirmation—“The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, with all thy strength.” Now that’s the way it is in Deuteronomy. Now you look at our Lord as He quotes it: “Master, which is the great commandment of the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy dianoia” [Matthew 22:36-37]. 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” [Matthew 23:37]; and that word refers to the intellectual faculty, the thinking process, “with all thy intellectual capacities.” 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? Sōphronismos, translated here in the King James Version “a 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 anytime 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 [Acts 20:17], 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 plane.
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], and he is given privilege to make his own apologia, his own defense, his apology [Acts 26:2]. And as he speaks to Herod Agrippa [Acts 26:1-2], 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 oligō 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. 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 PA 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 love 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 [Acts 20:28].
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.
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 [Acts 20:28], 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, oh! 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. 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 life and glory. That’s 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, going to put me a little soapbox on it, and anybody that 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, “Take heed to yourself” [Acts 20:28]; remember God has given you a mind and wisdom in which to direct the work. 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” [Acts 20:28]. God’s blood, God on that cross [Matthew 27:32-50], God making atonement for our sins [Romans 5:11]: “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. Dear me! God?
And 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 forever.” Think of that: “Christ over all, God blessed forever.”
- Take again in Philippians 2:5: “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, pros ton theon, face to face with God” [Philippians 2:5-6].
- 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”; “to get for yourself.” Let me show you how they use 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 a deacon well peripoieō, he purchases for himself a great degree in heaven” [1 Timothy 3:13].
You know, the Book says there are degrees in heaven: we’re all not going to be alike. There are degrees in heaven [Matthew 19:29-30]. There will be somebody sit on the right hand of Jesus [Mark 10:40].
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 a 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 [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].
- Jesus owns us twice: He created us, and we belong to Him by creation [Genesis 1:26-27]; 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 [1 Peter 2:4]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? He never wrote a book, He never painted a picture, He never sculptured 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 [Hebrews 13:8]. You see, the church is not an institution; it’s Christ’s body [Ephesians 1:23]. The church is not an organization; it is a living Christian organism. 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 1:23].
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 are 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 5:30]. 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, to praise God with us in the congregation of the righteous, to look in faith and hope to Him, 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.