The Best Years of Our Life
January 29th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-29-78 8:15 a.m.
The message this morning is dedicated to our Median Adults who are in the very prime of their womanhood and manhood. They are, I suppose, the greatest area of support in our church life because they have reached the summit of what God has given them the ability to achieve. So the title of the message is The Best Years of Our Lives.
The sermon comes out of a juxtaposition of two passages here in the third chapter of the Book of Philippians. Paul writes, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” [Philippians 3:12]—that is, reached the goal that God had intended for him.
You know it is a strange thing writing these words, for in Philemon at the same time he wrote this letter of Philippians, he refers to himself as, “Paul the aged” [Philemon 1:9]. Isn’t that unusual? The man who is writing these words refers to himself in Philemon as, “Paul the aged” [Philemon 1:9]. And yet he writes, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” mature, teleios, “but I follow after, if that I may,” now here is another tremendous word: katalambanō, “get hold of,” if that I may seize, grasp, get hold of, “that for which also I am,” and there’s that same word again, “that for which also I was seized,” grasped, got hold of, “by Jesus Christ [Philippians 3:12]. Brethren, I count not myself to have,” and there’s that word again, katalambanō, “I do not count myself as having got hold of it yet” [Philippians 3:13]. I haven’t grasped it yet. I haven’t attained it yet. I haven’t achieved it yet, “But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” [Philippians 3:12], epekteinō —you can just see that runner, just straining, “I press” diōkō; I pursue, “toward the mark,” skopos. That’s an unusual thing; skopeō, skopeō means to look at a thing intently—at the mark, something that is looked at intently. “I press toward the mark for the prize,” brabeion—that’s the prize at the Olympic Games, “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:13-14]. Every word in that describes an intensest life and a sublime dedication [Philippians 3:12-14].
Now the verse that is in juxtaposition is with it: “For our conversation,” politeuma— commonwealth, state—could I translate it, citizenship? “For our politeuma, our citizenship, is in heaven; from whence also we look, apekdechomai, means to welcome with pleasure, gladness, “From whence also we are looking with anticipation and glory and gladness for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? This man in one sentence describing the intensest dedication of his life to the Lord Jesus—pressing toward that goal that God had set for him [Philippians 3:14]—and then, in the next breath writing, waiting, watching expectantly for the coming of the Lord [Philippians 3:20]; that’s a glorious thing, isn’t it?
In the future, the years that lie ahead; years of achievement, and work, and triumph, works of glory and gladness; waiting for expectantly, happily, gladly; looking forward to the ultimate and final intervention of God, when we see Him face-to-face [Revelation 22:3-4]. Ah! What a life God has opened to the Christian; to work, and to work, and to work, and at the same, to watch, and to wait, and to pray; all of it filled with the intensest blessings of the Lord [Philippians 3:13-14, 20].
I one time heard of a farmer plowing out in the field and the preacher visiting him out there. He said, “My brother, what would you do if you knew the Lord was to come in the next few minutes?” And he replied, “Pastor, I would plow this furrow to the end of the row.” That’s right. The Lord may come any day, any time, any moment. And we are to live in that glorious, triumphant expectancy. But in the meantime, however it is that the Lord shall come—tomorrow, today, this afternoon, tonight, at midnight, at dawn, however—may He find us working, as well as watching and waiting [Philippians 3:12-14, 20].
So the two are here, together: our fine, glorious, best years that lie ahead for all of us. First, may I speak of our working? [Philippians 3:12-14]. The Lord has given us marvelous promises when we dedicate to Him the labor of our hands. And it is better; and it is finer; and it is sweeter; and it is happier; every moment of the day and every step of the way.
I stood one time, as many of you have, in that big constitutional room in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where George Washington presided over the Constitutional Congress. And the chair that he sat in, the back of it has a sunburst. It has the sun and the rays, extending out all the way around. And when the Constitutional Congress had finished its task and that tremendous political document had been completed, Benjamin Franklin stood up and he said, “All through these days and months, I have been looking at that sun carved on the back of that chair.” He says, “As I looked at it, I often wondered if it were a setting sun or a rising sun.” Then, he added, “Having completed this document and having finished our work, I believe it is a rising sun.”
Man, isn’t that true of us? Our work and our task is always up! It’s God-ward. It’s heavenward. It’s Christ-ward. It has the light and the glory of the Lord in it. It is a rising sun. And bless God; the Lord will give us grace to do His assignment—His task for us in the world [‘Matthew 28:18-20]. That’s a wonderful thing, always remembering that the Lord never calls us to a work that we can’t do. Nor does He lay upon us more than we can bear. But always what God assigns us to do, He gives us His grace, and mercy, and presence, and power to do it well. If there’s any stumbling or hesitancy, it lies in us, not in Him. When we give ourselves completely and fully to the work of the Lord, God’s Spirit works with us, and we are able to achieve what God has assigned us to do [Zechariah 4:6].
As you know, there is a tremendous, a tremendous, catastrophic decline in the number of souls and the number of baptisms in our Southern Baptist Convention that we are winning for Jesus. And nobody who loves God, loves the preaching of the Word, and loves lost souls but that could be concerned—deeply burdened—about what is happening to our churches, and our preachers, and our denomination, and our people. Well, how are you going to turn it around? Not by wringing your hands, not by lamenting, not even by writing articles about it. What we need to do is to take it to God. “Now, dear Lord, this is a task that the Lord has given us to do: to win people to Christ, to preach the gospel, to baptize our converts. That is the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20]. Now Lord, show us how to do it.” And this is the thing the Lord hath shown us how to do.
Did you know, out there in the world, we will win maybe one out of five hundred—one out of five hundred? But in the Sunday school, we will win at a minimum one out of three. You think of the disparity between those two figures. Out there in the world, we will win possible one out of five hundred. But in the church, enrolled in our Sunday school, we will win one out of three. And what our church ought to do—beyond any other congregation in the world—is to demonstrate to the thirty-six thousand of our sister churches in our Southern Baptist Zion and the quarter-million churches on our North American continent, we ought to demonstrate to them that a church can still be vibrant and alive, moved by the Spirit of God; that people are still amenable to the gospel; that they will respond to a loving care, a tender heart, an expression of concern and love, and an invitation to come. Everything good, everything fine, everything rising, everything up, everything shining is from God’s promises to us, just to dedicate ourselves to Him.
I could say a word about all of us who are in the prime of our lives, if it were not taken too personally. As though I were trying to inflict myself upon a congregation, beyond the days when I ought to be its minister; if I would not be misunderstood, could I say it?
In the greatest crisis that ever overwhelmed Great Britain, I remember the time, and the moment, and the day, and the speech when they asked Winston Churchill to be prime minister of a failing, and falling, and disintegrating British Empire. Under the heavy hand of Hitler, Britain was beat to the ground, in the dust of the earth, facing inevitable defeat. And Sir Winston Churchill was elected prime minister.
I listened to that man on the radio, as he delivered his addresses before Parliament, and as he spoke to the whole free world. I never heard a man in all of my life who could lift up the spirits of a people, of a nation, of the world, like Winston Churchill. You know how old he was when they turned to that great, marvelously-gifted man? He was sixty-six. He was sixty-six years of age when he was first prime minister. And then, again, in a great crisis of the British Empire, they asked him once again to be prime minister of the British people. He was seventy-seven.
I don’t know of a man I have ever read in history that I have admired more than Sir Winston Churchill. There’s a reason why. Facing Parliament, right by Westminster Abbey, is that tremendous statute of Winston Churchill looking at the assemblies of Parliament. The best years of your lives: I have said this just to avow and to emphasize that your greatest days are ahead. It is a rising sun. Our work, increasingly, meaningful, significant, tremendous—and you, who are in the prime of life, this is the time to rise and to shine! God bless you and His Spirit work with you, as with us, you press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:14].
Now this word in juxtaposition with it: “For our politeuma, our citizenship”—we’re citizens of two worlds: this one and the world to come—“For our politeuma is in heaven; from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:20]. While we are working, laboring, doing God’s assignment in the earth, our heads are raised upward: waiting, watching, praying for the presence, the parousia “the presence,” the coming of the Lord.
In Revelation 22:20, the Lord closes His Word: “Behold I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” And it was in that hope, that the Christians were comforted, that they found strength. In dark days of bitter persecution, this is what they said to one another. If they were Aramaean, if they were Hebrew-speaking, if they belonged in the world of Palestine and all of those who spoke in that Aramaic language—as they were carried away either to burning, or to drowning, or to dungeon, or to be fed to the beasts and the lions in the gladiatorial amphitheaters—the Christians would say, if they were Aramaic-speaking, they would say: “Maranatha. Maranatha, the Lord is coming. The Lord is coming” [1 Corinthians 16:22]. And they met death with a triumphant spirit. If they were Greek-speaking, however the persecution raged, they would say to one another, “achris hou elthē,” Till He come. Till He come. Till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26].
Isn’t that a marvelous way to live and to work? Busy at our assignments [Philippians 3:12-14], looking up to Jesus [Philippians 3:20]. And however time or fortune may turn, always that glorious triumph: “It’s a better day ahead. We’ve got a better home, a better body, a better house, a better fellowship” [Hebrews 8:6]. Always looking up! It is a marvelous thing to be a Christian—working for Him, waiting for Him [Philippians 3:12-14, 20].
One time on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem where David’s tomb is, where the upper room is, there is there now a shrine to the hundreds of thousands, and millions of Jews, who were decimated in the holocaust. They were killed by Hitler. They were ravaged by the Nazi Party. They were decimated by a cruel and awesome persecution. Well, in that shrine on Mt. Zion, there is, among other things, a box of soap, made out of the Jewish community that there had been slain. They had taken the bodies of the Jews and made soap out of it.
So there was a box of soap made out of the Jewish community. And by the side of the box of soap, representing the boiled-down bodies of these Jewish people who had been slain, there was a large placard, a square about like that, in Hebrew. I could not read it. The sign said that it was a song that the Jewish people sang as they were carried off to prison and to death. And I asked a man who could read Hebrew fluently, I said, “I have my pencil here and this piece of paper. Would you translate for me that song that these Jewish people sang, as they were carried away to prison and to death?” And so he said, “Well, when I translate it in English, it will not be beautiful as it is in Hebrew. But I’ll translate it exactly as it says.” And I wrote it down. I never heard such a song. This is it:
Of all truth, this is the truth that we believe,
that Messiah is coming soon.
Despite the fact that He is not come today,
And despite any other facts of life,
This is the truth that we believe,
Messiah is coming soon.
That would sustain anybody, wouldn’t it? Anywhere, under any conditions, at any time? Despite the fact that He is not here now; despite the fact that He hasn’t come yesterday; despite any other providence or any other facts in life; this is the truth that we believe: our Lord Christ Messiah is coming soon [Revelation 22:20].
That’s a wonderful way to be and a glorious way to live. While we have strength, and ableness, and an open door, we shall be fast with it and hard at it, doing God’s work in the earth [Philippians 3:12-14]. And at the same time, our eyes will be lifted up and our heads will be raised, looking forward, waiting, watching for the imminent return of our Lord [Philippians 3:20].
Dear God, what a marvelous thing, to give your life to Jesus, to do His assignment in the earth, and however life may turn, always it is upward, it is victory, it is glory, it is God. And now that’s our pressing invitation to you this morning: to walk with us in this pilgrim way, to give your life to Jesus [Romans 10:9-13], to live the triumphant and victorious life, praying with us, working with us, serving with us, loving Jesus with us.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And as we sing it, in that balcony round, a family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, on this lower floor in this press of people, into that aisle and down to the front, “I’ve made that decision, pastor. And I’m coming.” As God shall open the door, shall lead the way, shall press the appeal, answer with your life. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Make it now. Do it now. “I’m on the way, preacher. Look, here I am,” while we stand and while we sing.
YEARS OF OUR LIVES
I. The Word
lambano – “to seize, grasp, lay hold of”
– “to look at a thing intently”; skopos – “the mark”
– “the prize in the games”
– “commonwealth, citizenship”
The message from the juxtaposition of the two – to work and to watch
forth, pressing forward
Watching, believing, waiting for the return of our Lord
Farmer asked what he’d do if he knew the Lord was coming back in the next
thirty minutes – “Plow to the end of the rowâ€¦”
II. Our work
years of tomorrow
Hall, Philadelphia – rising sun carving on George Washington’s chair
can do it in God’s enabling grace
decline in number of souls won and baptisms in our Southern Baptist Convention
Turn it around by taking it to God and doing what He has shown us how to do –
In the world we win maybe one out of five hundred; in Sunday school we win one
out of three
Winston Churchill Prime Minister at age of 66, and again at 77
III. Our watching and waiting
The coming of the Lord is always imminent(Revelation
dark days of persecution, Christians would say to one another, Achrisouelthe
– “till He comes”
Museum in Jerusalem – song Jewish victims sang as they faced death