The Word of the Lord
February 26th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE WORD OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 13:42, 46, 48
2-26-78 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Word of the Lord. You could also entitle it Teaching the Word of the Lord, or Glorifying the Word of the Lord. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 13, and I shall read as a text, beginning at verse 42, of the thirteenth chapter of Acts, “The Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” [Acts 13:42]. And the next Sabbath came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God [Acts 13:44]. Verse 46:
It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you . . . we now turn to the Gentiles . . .
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
That is going to be the subject next Sunday morning, The Doctrine of Election. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life were saved, believed” [Acts 13:48]; this morning, glorifying The Word of the Lord.
When you look at this thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, seven different times does it refer to the word of the Lord. It is mentioned in the fifth verse: “When they came to Salamis, they preached the word of God” [Acts 13:5]. It is mentioned again in the twenty-sixth verse: “To you is the word of this salvation sent” [Acts 13:26]. It is mentioned again in verse 42: “The Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them” [Acts 13:42]. It is mentioned in verse 44: “The whole city gathered together to hear the word of God” [Acts 13:44]. It is mentioned in verse 46: “It was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you” [Acts 13:46], to the Jew first and also to the Greek—to the Jew first. In verse 48: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord” [Acts 13:48]. And verse 49: again, “And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region” [Acts 13:49].
That is a tremendous emphasis. But if you think that is many, I looked in the concordance, and I counted 1,153 times in the Bible where the word is used. That is a tremendous emphasis. Well, it just reflects the whole spirit and attitude of the revelation of God that I hold here in my hand. There is an almightiness about the weight and burden of the meaning and significance of the word of God.
In Psalm 119:89, it is written: “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is natsab in heaven.” Here in the King James Version, natsab is translated “settled.” Natsab is a Hebrew word that literally means “fixed” or “established.” “For ever, O God, Thy word is fixed in heaven” [Psalm 119:89]. Before it was ever written down here in this Book, it was up there before God, fixed in heaven. I wonder what that means. Is it on a great tablet? Is it engraved and incised in angelic marble? Is it written on the sides of the golden city? What is this: “Thy word is fixed in heaven”? [Psalm 119:89].
Another typical passage in the eighty-ninth Psalm, verse 34: “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips” [Psalm 89:34]. We can depend upon the word of God. Heaven and earth may change; it may pass away; but the word of God will never pass away [Matthew 24:35]—the almightiness of God’s word.
It was the word of God that Jesus used in the fourth chapter of Matthew to defeat Satan. In every temptation, Jesus answered the deceiver and the tempter with a word from the book of God [Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, 13]. And it is no less amazing that in the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, in the eleventh verse, the inspired writer says this, as we face Satan: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony” [Revelation 12:11]. Somebody described the Christian faith as being the “Great Confession.” It is precisely and exactly that.
The apostle Paul wrote to us, in the third chapter and the sixteenth verse of Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom” [Colossians 3:16]. What a magnificent injunction, and especially so, when we remember that that word is life to us, inside and outside. “My son,” writes the wisest man who ever lived:
My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they shall be life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? The words of God are life, and they are health!
What a wondrous thing that God should call us to be an instrument, to be used of the Lord, to mediate these words of God. This thirteenth chapter of the Book Acts begins: “And the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Saul and Barnabus for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. What work? Well, when they go out to do the work that God has called them to do, this is what it is: seven times in the story that follows are they teaching and preaching the word of God [Acts 13:5, 26, 42, 44, 46, 48, 49]. Ah! What a wonderful and heavenly mandate.
The one hundred nineteenth Psalm and the twenty-fifth verse says, “My soul was in the dust; my soul was in the dust; but I was quickened by the word of the Lord” [Psalm 119:25]. Just imagine that, to be used of God to raise people out of the abyss, and out of the pit, and out of the mire, and out of the clay, and out of the dust of the ground, and to raise them up to the word of God into the angelic, beatific vision of the Lord Himself; thinking God’s thoughts, reading God’s words, storing them in our souls— life and health for our very bones.
So I take, I deduct, I deduce from that this first avowal: the tremendous assignment, and mandate, and dedication of the church is to teach the Word of the Lord [Acts 13:5]. That’s why God hath called us, and commissioned us, and sent us out [Acts 13:2-3]. We are to preach and to teach the Word of the Lord. That is why in your Scripture lesson this morning that we read together 2 Timothy, which is the last letter Paul wrote. Second Timothy, chapter 2, verse 2, he writes to his son in the ministry; he says, “The word that thou heard from me among many witnesses, the same teach to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” [2 Timothy 2:2]. That is our heavenly assignment: teaching these, who in their turn and generation shall teach others also.
And in keeping with that, the school has always been in the church; it always has. It was from the beginning. The school was in the church teaching the Word of the Lord. There’s a Greek word, katēcheō, katēcheō— that Greek word means “to instruct.” So they called these neophytes—these new converts in the beginning—they called them katēchoumens, katēchoumens, katēchoumens—a new convert. And they instructed them, katēcheō, with a catechism. And from the beginning that was the work of the church.
I think that these four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—I think they were little tracts that were used to teach the katēchoumens the Word of the Lord. From the beginning, the school was in the church. All of the old, great universities were church schools, all of them. These ancient ones in Rome, or in Germany, or in France, or in England, or in America, without exception, all of those great universities were church schools—all of them, all of them. And the public school system, of which we are so proud and grateful for, the public school system was in the church.
In 1780, Robert Raikes, the editor of the Gloucester Journal in England, seeing all of those children out on the streets, gathered them together in a Sunday school. And as the days passed and the Sunday school movement spread over the earth, it was decided, “You know, on Sunday, we ought to teach the Bible, the Word of God. Then we’ll take the weekday to teach the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic.” So the church school was divided. On Sunday they taught the Bible; and then in the days of the week, they taught the three Rs. And that’s where the public school system came from.
Education, teaching, has always been in the church. It ought to stay there. That’s where it ought to be. To teach without God is to deliver to the world Frankensteins, and evolutionists, and atheists, and materialists, and secularists. Teaching is an assignment for the church, the people of God. And in keeping with that, our great communion of Baptist churches has almost from the beginning dedicated itself to a great Bible-teaching ministry.
In the session of the Southern Baptist Convention at Augusta, Georgia in 1863, Dr. Basil Manly, Jr., professor and later president of our first seminary, Southern Seminary, offered the following resolution—quote, “Resolved: That a committee of seven be appointed to inquire whether it is expedient for this convention to attempt anything for the promotion of Sunday schools.” So, ablest men were chosen, and Dr. Manly was chairman of that committee. And they brought in the next year this report:
All of us have felt that the Sunday school is the nursery of the church, the camp of the instruction for her young soldiers, the great missionary to the future . . . it goes to meet and bless the generation that is coming, to win them from ignorance and sin, to train future laborers when our places shall know us no more.
So the report of that committee was unanimously adopted, and they appointed the first committee to further Sunday school work in our Baptist churches. And the new board was located in Greenville, South Carolina, where the seminary was located. And Dr. Basil Manly was the president of the board; Dr. John A. Broadus was the secretary of it, and Dr. James P. Boyce vice-president of it. All three of those men were, in order, president of the Southern Seminary.
Now at that time, the convention met biannually. And on account of the tragic War Between the States, it failed to meet in 1865. But in 1866, at Russellville, Kentucky, the new board made its first report, which is written by possibly the greatest scholar our denomination has ever produced, Dr. John A. Broadus. And this is what he said:
In conclusion, the Board affectionately urges upon the Convention and the churches the incalculable importance of the Sunday school work. Besides its powerful direct influence upon the welfare of society, and its vast and blessed direct results in the salvation of souls, the Sunday school is a helper to every other benevolent agency. The preacher and pastor finds in it the aid of many subordinate preachers and pastors, each laboring for the benefit of a little flock, and all finding their gifts and graces developed and exercised, as his own are, by efforts for the religious good of others.
. . .
Everything Christians care for would greatly suffer if its influence were lost, everything will gain in proportion as its influence is extended.
Isn’t that great? Well, the war’s destruction was too much for the South. The seminary men were struggling to keep the institution alive. They finally moved it to Louisville, Kentucky. And it was not until 1891—think how much later; you know it’s hard for us to realize the devastation of the South—it was not until 1891 that they were able to begin the work again, this time in Nashville, Tennessee, where that Sunday School Board is still located. Ah! The dedication of those men, and the wisdom of those men, and the wisdom of God in the church through the years, giving itself to a tremendous teaching program.
May I point out in the second place now, not only is it a dedication of the church, a commitment from God, but the constraining motive that lies back of it is from the Lord Himself? When we are teaching the Word of the Lord, we are doing God’s work in the earth. That’s it. Just take the commandment—take the Great Commission. Look at this word “teach.” In the King James Version, we are to “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God, teaching them,” there it is again, “all the things that I have commanded thee” [Matthew 28:19-20]. This is it. When you’re doing God’s work, that’s what you are doing. You are teaching the Word of the Lord.
Here is a teacher, and he is seated there before his class with a book in his hand. And here is a boy. There is a girl. And that boy has a book in his hand. The great assignment of the teacher is to get that book into the heart of that boy and that girl. And that’s why we need the Holy Spirit to help us; because that youngster may understand the syntax of a sentence that describes the grace of God, but does he know the grace of God? You see, he may be able easily to learn all the historical and geographical background of the Bible, but does he know the God of the land and the Lord of the people? With the Spirit of the heavenly Father helping us, this is our great work: to get the Word of God into the hearts of these who sit before us, who study with us, and to get us all into the kingdom.
Now third: may I speak of the process, the price of excellence, in that teaching the Word of God? It is twofold. And you’ll be surprised at what they are; that is, what I think they are. Number one is paying attention to detail. Ah! What an inconsequential. Here we are talking about the Word of God. And we’re talking about lifting our souls out of the dust, and raising us, and elevating us into the kingdom of His dear Son. And now when we get down to doing it, you are going to talk to us about inconsequentials. You’re going to talk to us about paying attention to detail.
Well, that may not be so far and from the mind of God as you might think for. The thirty-first chapter of the Book of Exodus starts off like this: “And the Holy Spirit filled Bezaleel. . .and Aholiab” [Exodus 31:1-11]. Oh, man! Now I’m going come into a tremendous conquest for God. The Holy Spirit fills Bezaleel and Aholiab. Man, we’re going out here, and we’re going to conquer the whole earth, or we’re going to do some stupendous thing! The Holy Spirit comes upon and fills Bezaleel and Aholiab. And what do they do? What do Bezaleel and Aholiab do? This is what they do: filled with the Spirit of God, they make pots, and pans, and snuffers, and staves, and stobs, and rings, and curtains, and taches [Exodus 36:1-39:43].
“Do you mean to tell me that the Holy Spirit of God comes upon Bezaleel and Aholiab to make stobs, and stakes, and rings, and rods?” You see, that’s God. That’s God. That’s the Lord. And you say, “Well, how unusual.” That’s in the Bible. Listen, my brother, you will find the same workmanship of the Lord God in that other book that God has written, the God of nature. You don’t believe that? Come with me, just a second—how God pays attention to detail.
One time, a scientist said to me, “Come here, preacher, look.” He had a microscope there. He said, “Come here and look.” So he said, “Look down there.” And I looked down there, and he had taken a thing that was painted with the finest paint that man could invent, he had taken something that was painted; and I looked at it. And that was the beatin’est thing I ever saw in my life! To me, as I looked at it with my naked eye, it was painted. It was red, painted; just something painted red. But when I looked at it through that high-powered microscope, I never saw such blobs in my life. It was a blob there, and a blob there; and a blob there; and a blob from one side to the other. It looked like a mess: m-e-s-s, mess. That’s exactly what it looked like.
Then he said, “Now, preacher, I want you to look.” And he changed the slide. You know what he’d put underneath that slide? He had taken a butterfly wing, just an ordinary butterfly wing, he had taken a butterfly wing, and he’d mounted it. And he said, “Now, preacher, I want you to look at that.”
I looked in there, you know, at that butterfly wing, and I want you to know, from one side of that wing to the other, it was as smooth and solid as silk and satin. There wasn’t a blob in it. The Lord God who made that little butterfly wing, He went down into the atomic structure of it. And He went down into the molecular structure of it. And He made that. Ah! It looked like something that God’s hand could do. You just think of that; just think of that.
Or think of anything else. A snowflake: there have never been two of them alike. And think of the billions, of billions, of trillions, of quadrillions, of snowflakes. That’s God. Did you ever see a snowflake under a magnifying glass? It’s a beautiful crystal.
Or a flower, a flower—one of the great philosophers and poetic sensitive souls was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Do you remember that little poem?
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck thee out of the crannies,
I hold you here, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I could understand what God and man is.
[from “Flower in the Crannied Wall,” Aldred, Lord Tennyson]
Why, that’s amazing, that sensitive poet, seeing the very breath and presence of God in the structure and arrangement of a little flower, growing out of a crack in a stone wall! Now that’s God. That’s not we; but that’s God, paying attention to detail, the little things.
You know over there in Athens, as all of us who have been there—most of you have—you go see the Parthenon. And there above the porch, above those columns, is the great pediment. Phidias, the incomparable sculptor, made beautiful marble carvings, sculptured pieces for the pediment. But when Lord Elgin conquered Greece, he took all those beautiful marble pieces down. And he took them and gave them to the British Museum in England, in London, and that’s where they are. So when I was in London, I went to the British Museum. I wanted to look at those Elgin marbles that were taken down, up there. And you know why? Because I wanted to look on the back side of them.
You know why I wanted to look on the back side of those marbles? You know the story. Phidias was working on those beautiful, sculptured, marble pieces to put them way up there above the ports, way up there in that pediment—that triangular, up there. And he was working on them, and working on them. And he was working on the back side, just as he had on the front side. And a fellow came by and looking at him said, “Why in the world, Phidias, are you working on the back side, trying to make them just as beautiful on the back side as on the front side? Don’t you know nobody will ever see it? They’re up there so high up no man; no eye human will ever look at it.” And Phidias, replied, “I know, but God can see it. But God can see it.” And so I thought, “Well, this is just a little part of divinity that maybe I can possess, looking on the back side of them.” And sure enough, it’s just as I heard the story. Even though he created those things and put them up there where no human eye was ever supposed to look, on the back side of those beautiful marble pieces—the Elgin marbles—when you look at the back side of them, they are done just as meticulously and beautiful. The hair and the folds of those beautiful robes and everything, just as beautiful on the back side as on the front side. Now that is art. That’s art.
When I was in Florence, Italy, I went to the Academy of Fine Arts to look at Michelangelo’s David. And here again is a world-famous story. It is of heroic proportions: one of the great pieces of sculpture of all time, and Michelangelo carving that out of a vast, huge block of marble. Michelangelo had it finished. And a friend came by and looked at it and said, “That’s magnificent. You have done it.”
He said, “Yes, just about.” It looked complete.
And did you know that same friend came by several months later—several months later? And he looked in there, and there Michelangelo was still working on that statue of David. He was doing little old things around. And the man said to him, “Why, I thought you had finished with that thing months and months ago. Why, what are you doing?”
And Michelangelo said, “Well, I’m just, just trying to change a little contour of the muscle here. And I’m just trying to soften the expression there. And I’m just trying to add a little more graceful tone here.”
And the fellow said, “Listen, Michelangelo, those are trifles. Those are trifles.”
And then the famous reply: “You see,” Michelangelo said, “trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.”
Now, that is the excellence in teaching—a whole multitude of little things that go together. “Is there a place to park down here? Is there?” That’s part of it. “Is there a nice room?” That’s part of it. “Is the temperature in the summertime, in the wintertime, is it organized well? Is the teacher carefully trained? And has he prayed? And does he know the words, and all that it means, and the background?” Oh! I can go on and on. Little things, but they make for tremendous excellence.
Just like your preacher: when he stands up here to preach, you can just count on it. He’s spent hours and hours getting that message ready. It may sound to you as though it’s impromptu and extemporaneous. It may be in the way I deliver it; but not in the way I prepared it. Every one of us in this Sunday school is to be just like that—all of these little details—details about that lad and about this one, and about the other one. Ah! Ah! Patience in doing that makes for a powerful teaching ministry.
Do you remember the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, and the tenth verse? His enemies are mocking Isaiah. That’s the way you can tell how he did. His enemies are scorning him and ridiculing him. And do you remember what they said about him? “This is Isaiah, line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little” [Isaiah 28:10-13]. We’re so tired of it we don’t know what to think. Whenever you hear Isaiah, he’s saying the same time. He’s going over the same thing: here a little, there a little; line upon line, precept upon precept. That’s what they said. But that’s the message of the prophet. It’s staying with it and delivering the message of the Lord, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little. And God uses it for the glory.
Now I must hasten because I’m just getting started good. This ministry of teaching the Word of God is always to be led by the adults, always: first, for ourselves. “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed” [2 Timothy 2:15]. It starts with us. We’re to study, and to read God’s Word, and to open our hearts to the truth of the Lord. And then we are to train our youngsters. That’s God. “Train up the child in the way he should go” [Proverbs 22:6]. We ourselves, first, and then our children after us.
Remarkable how a child is. I read one of the most unusual things. It referred to “the inaccessible boy.” That was the title of it: “The Inaccessible Boy, The Recalcitrant Boy.” There was a fellow seated by a boy with his arm around him. The boy was prodigal and wayward. He was a ragamuffin. He was of the street. And so the fellow was trying to get the boy to come to his Sunday class. And he said, “We have candy, and we have cookies. Will you be there?”
The boy said, “No.”
The fellow said, “We have games. And we have a gymnasium in which we play. Will you come?”
And the boy said, “No.”
He said, “We have books. And we have things that we can place in your hands to study. Will you come?”
The boy said, “No.”
He said, “We sing songs, and you can be in the choir. And we just have the best time in the world. Won’t you come?”
And the boy said, “No.”
The fellow, discouraged, walked away dejected. And the boy said, “Say, say, will you be there?” And the man said, “Yes, I will. I’ll be there.”
The boy replied, “Then I’ll be there, too.”
Now isn’t that strange, to read a story like that? The boy didn’t know anything and cared less; but he was touched by the warm embrace of that man. And his heart was moved by the friendship of somebody who took a little interest in him. And the boy would have followed the man to the saloon or to the Sunday school—either way, either way. That’s kids. That’s kids—either way, either way.
And then that’s our tremendous assignment. Let me finish. They studied the Sunday school. And here is what they found: one-half of all of the pupils in a Sunday school are lost because of—why, do you think?—because of the indifference of the teacher. The tie between the teacher and the pupil is so frail, so tenuous, that it’s broken so easily. Just don’t care.
I was talking to a man in North Carolina in one of those great big knitting factories. You know, as I talked to that fellow, there was his loom, right there. And as I talked to him, he kept his eye on that loom. And every minute or so, he would go over there and carefully look at those threads. All the time I was talking to him, his eye was on that loom—the loom of life.
I was visiting a rancher in West Texas, and all of the years of his life, his eye on that herd and on those calves. I heard a man say, “You know I’m kinda sorry that I joined the church.” He said, “Before I was converted, they came to see me. They talked to me. They paid attention to me. But now that I’m saved and I belong to the church, nobody says anything to me. And nobody pays any attention to me.” Man, that’s tragic! That’s tragic.
These are ours. These are our children. These are our fathers and mothers. These are our young people. These are the harvest of God. Have to love them, and care for them, and teach them the Word of the Lord—growing in grace, together is God’s finest and best.
Let me close now. God won’t let your effort fall to the ground. When we do this—carrying out God’s word—He never lets it fail. A Sunday school teacher quit. “Pastor, I’m just a failure. And I’m going to quit. I’m so discouraged.” And it just happened to be that a soldier boy, killed in the battle, talked to his friend and said, “Thus, and thus.” And, then he added, “And you go see my Sunday school teacher, and tell her that I thank her for winning me to Jesus and for teaching me the way to die, and that I’ll meet her in heaven.” And that soldier came and told that Sunday school teacher what that dying boy had said, and the teacher said, “O God! And to think that I have been discouraged and quit.” See, that’s God. No word ever falls to the ground when we deliver it in His name and for His sake [Isaiah 55:11].
My brothers and sisters, this is God’s assignment. This is God’s work. And we’re throwing our very lives into that mandate. Come and join us. Come and be with us. Put your name down. “I, too, am a pupil, a student, a learner. And I open my heart to what God has to say to me.” It will be health for your body. It will be prosperity and life for your soul.
And that’s our invitation, even now: giving your heart in faith to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8], receiving Him as your Savior, coming to be with us in the circumference and fellowship of this wonderful church, sitting down with us before the Word of the living God. “Lord, Lord, teach me. Open my eyes. Let me see visions of glory. May Jesus live in my heart. Help me, Lord, to follow after Thee, a way that leads to heaven.”
Come. On the first note of the first stanza, come. “Here I am, pastor. I’m on the way. I take Jesus as my Savior today [Romans 10:9-13]. I want to be baptized, like He says in the Book” [Matthew 28:19]; or “I want to belong to the church, the family of God.” As the Lord shall open the door, make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.
TEACHING THE WORD OF THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The Word of God referred to seven times here(Acts 13:5, 26, 44, 46, 47, 48, )
B. The almightiness of the weight and meaning of the Word of God(Psalm 119:89, 152, 160, 89:34, Matthew 25:34)
C. Wonderful to be used of God to declare the Word(Acts 13:2, Psalm 119:25)II. The great assignment and dedication of the church(2 Timothy 2:2)
A. The school in the church from the beginning – katecheo
B. All the old universities, schools
C. The tax-supported school system
D. Our Sunday School BoardIII. The constraining motive
A. Literally God’s work(Matthew 28:18-20)
1. The teacher and the pupil with the Book in their hand
2. Dependent upon Holy SpiritIV. The price of excellence
A. Paying attention to detail
1. God’s willingness to pay attention to detail (Exodus 31:1-11)
2. The other book God wrote – nature around us
3. Worthy workmanship
B. Endless patience(Isaiah 28:10)V. Faithful in working
A. Half of all Sunday school members lost because of indifference of the teacher
1. The man at the loom; the rancher about his herds
2. Teacher and a ragamuffin boy – “Will you be there?”
B. If we love God, it is a joy to accept the assignment(John 21:15-17)