The Work to Which God Has Called Us
February 5th, 1978 @ 8:15 AM
THE WORK TO WHICH GOD HATH CALLED US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-5-78 8:15 a.m.
It is nothing short of wonderful to see the dedication of these young people to this early morning service; their orchestra that is enlarging, and their faithful attendance, and their beautiful singing. You who are listening on the radio of the city of Dallas, and on KCBI, the radio of our Bible Institute, are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in this queenly city. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Work to Which God Hath Called Us. And it is an expounding of the first verses in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts:
Preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews…
And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos,
they found a certain sorcerer, in the court of Sergius Paulus—
And thereafter the extensive and God blessed ministry of the first missionary journey [Acts 13:4-14:26].
When we come to this section in the Book of Acts, it is as though we were standing on a vast continental divide looking at what God has done in these ages past, and forward to what God is proposing to do in the centuries yet to come. It is a vast watershed here at the thirteenth chapter of Acts. The twelve chapters that have preceded are largely one thing; and now the thirteenth chapter and the rest that follow after are another thing. We are now looking at the great foreign mission enterprise; the evangelization of the world, the extension of the gospel message of Christ to the Roman Empire [Acts 13:1-28:31]. And this marks the big change in the ministry of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Heretofore, its center has been Jewish Jerusalem; now it will be Gentile Antioch. Heretofore, it has been Simon Peter; now it will be Saul, Paul of Tarsus. Heretofore, the message has been addressed to the Jew; now it is addressed to the Gentile. Heretofore, the message has been encompassed to one people; now it is preached to all peoples. Heretofore, it has been centered in one nation; now it will be proclaimed to all the nations, and provinces, and tribes, and tongues, and peoples of the world. The churches that were born in the preaching of the apostle Paul on this first missionary journey are called the churches of Galatia [Galatians 1:2]. And in the Bible you have a letter of the apostle to the churches of Galatia sounding a great note of Christian freedom [Galatians 1:1-6:24]. Heretofore, the Christian message has been tied to the legalism of the Old Testament; now it is free, and becomes a message of justification by faith [Galatians 2:16, 3:24; Romans 5:1].
So when we look at the passage, we are looking at one of the tremendous turns in the providences, and choices, and purposes, and elective plans of God [Acts 13:1-7]. This thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts introduces us to a new world and a new departure. Well, look at it; it is a part of the purpose and plan of God from the beginning. It says here that as the church ministered to the Lord, praying and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]. Do you see that verb? “For the work whereunto I have called them.” Proskaleō, perfect tense, indicative mood, proskaleō, “I have called them,” perfect tense; something done in the past which now continues throughout the unfolding years of the future. That is, this is not a second thought of the Lord, nor is it an adventitiously expressed, nor is it something that God observed and implemented on the spur of the moment. This is something God had in His mind and purpose in His elective plan for the world before its foundation—proskaleō, perfect tense—done in the past, just now expressed and seen.
Well, I can easily, as you can, follow the purpose of God through all of these ages past as it is revealed here in the Bible. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Genesis, when God called Abraham He said, “And in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” [Genesis 12:3]. Then when the Lord gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus [Exodus 20:1-17], I would say it would be apparent that the nineteenth chapter comes before the twentieth, isn’t that right? That would be very logical. The nineteenth chapter comes before the twentieth chapter. So what God said and purposed in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus is something that He intended when He gave the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus—I mean the Book of Exodus. Now you look at what God said before He gave those commandments to Israel, the oracles of God to Israel [Exodus 20:1-17]. In the nineteenth chapter God said, “Thou shalt be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” [Exodus 19:6]. And then, having chosen Israel to receive the oracles of God, then the Lord gave to Israel the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. Now what does that mean, “thou shalt be unto Me a kingdom of priests?” [Exodus 19:6]. What are priests? Priests are chosen men of God, consecrated and set apart, to represent the people to God and God to the people. That is, it was the purpose of God that Israel should receive the oracles of the Lord and should teach them and preach them to all of the families of the world [Exodus 19:6]. And when they failed in that, looking on all the others as Gentile dogs, it frustrated the divine wisdom and purpose of the Lord.
So, as the prophecy continues: the Lord begins to unfold the coming of His Son in the world, the Savior. And He says, in the prophecy of Isaiah 49:6, “I will set Thee,” talking to the Lord Jesus who is yet to come, the promised Messiah, “I will set Thee a light unto the Gentiles,” Gentiles, nations, “I will set Thee a light to the whole world, and Thou shalt be unto Me for salvation to the end of the earth” [Isaiah 49:6]. I am just pointing out to you that God, in His infinite design and elective purpose, has chosen this before the foundation of the world [1 Peter 1:18-20]. Finally, Christ came and His glorious incomparable ministry in the days of His flesh is presented to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And those Gospels ensue in, issue in, culminate in, find their consummation in what we call The Great Commission: “Go and preach the gospel to every creature” [Matthew 28:19-20], or, “Thou shalt be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” [Acts 1:8], or, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the triune God” [Matthew 28:19]. What we see here—proskaleō, perfect tense—a program God hath intended for His people from the centuries and the ages past.
One of the things that I notice as I reread the call of the apostle Paul, who appears here with Barnabas [Acts 13:2]; in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts, and in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts—three times is the story recounted of the conversion and call of Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18, 22:6-16, 26:12-23]. And in all three of those, it finds its climax in the Lord’s choice of the apostle to be Christ’s representative, and emissary, and ambassador, and missionary to all the people; and it will use that word ethnos; always a word that refers to the Gentiles, to the nations, to the peoples of the world: this is the purpose of God [Acts 9:15, 22:14-21, 26:16-20].
Number two: do you see how the Lord implemented that divine plan and elective purpose? He does it through His church. Now there were in the church at Antioch [Acts 13:1], and in that ministering, and praying, and fasting, and serving, and sacrificial church, the Holy Spirit of God moves to implement this divine plan [Acts 13:2]. Well, there is something for us to be seen in this: there is a difference in the church of Jesus Christ and any other organization in the world. I guess the Lord could have used the political processes of the Roman government; but He didn’t. I would suppose God could have used the civic and fraternal organizations of the great cities of the empire; but He didn’t. The Lord used for His instrument to carry through His tremendous predesigned elective program, He used the church.
Now the church is set apart; it is a different organization—organism I love to think of its being—than any other in the world. For the church is set for the salvation of the souls of men. It is set for the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. It is set for the purpose of calling men to repentance and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The legislative body is not set for that. The judiciary is not set for that. The great banking institutions, and merchandising institutions, and all of the fraternal, and civic, and educational institutions of the world are not set for that. But the church is; and the great assignment of the church is to preach the gospel, calling men to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21]. And when a church will give itself to that, God’s Holy Spirit will work with it, just as the Spirit of God worked with these churches who were faithful to the message of Christ in the New Testament.
Now there is one thing that the church must be sensitive to; and that is the leading of the Spirit of God. A church that is insensitive and dead can’t hear the moving of the Spirit of God. There must be in us a sensitivity, an openness, heavenward and God-ward, to what God wants us to do, and wills for us to do. And when we are sensitive to that, the Holy Spirit will guide us into the same kind of a ministry that you see here: an outreach ministry, one beyond itself. Be unthinkable that the Holy Spirit would guide a church to do its work within four walls, behind stained-glass windows, underneath a high steeple, and the whole mass of humanity pass it by; unthinkable! The Holy Spirit works and when He works He guides the church into tremendous soul-winning, evangelistic, and missionary commitments. Listen to this:
If I have strength, I owe the service of the strong;
If melody I have, I owe the world a song.
If I can stand when all around me the weak are falling,
If I can run with speed when needy hearts are calling,
If my torch can light the dark of any night,
Then I must pay the debt I owe with living light.
If heaven’s grace has dowered me with some rare gift;
If I can lift some load no other’s strength can lift;
If I can heal some wound no other’s hand can heal;
If some great truth the speaking skies to me reveal,
Then I must go to each broken and wounded thing,
And to a broken world my gift of healing bring.
For any God given gift I am taught to say
Gifts are most mine when I most give them away..
God’s gifts are like flowers which show their right to stay
By giving all their bloom and fragrance away;
Riches are not gold or land, estates or marts,
The only wealth transferred to heaven is found in human hearts.
[from “Life’s Stewardship,”Charles C. Woods]
Isn’t that the Lord’s truth beautifully expressed? This is God’s will for us and for the communion of His church: He has called us to do His work, which is to minister to His people.
And that leads me to my third avowal: this work to which the Holy Spirit has called them, already purposed in design and election and now to be implemented through God’s people, so we look at it. So, when the Holy Spirit said—now I’ve often wondered, how did the Holy Spirit say that? We are not told; just that the Holy Spirit said:
Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
So they fasted and prayed, and laid hands of consecration, of separation, of dedication on the heads of Barnabas and Saul, and they sent them away.
So this is what the Holy Spirit did, the Holy Spirit: those men, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, they came to Seleucia [Acts 13:4]. Now, when you look at the Orontes River flowing between those Lebanon and anti-Lebanon ranges, it turns just right there at the top; it turns and makes a direct westward course into the Mediterranean Sea. And Antioch is right there in that beautiful valley where the Orontes turns to the west. Now down there, sixteen miles on the Mediterranean Sea, was the seaport of Antioch called Seleucia; and that was the first town that they went to [Acts 13:4].
And then, from Seleucia they took a boat and they sailed a 125 miles to Cyprus, to Salamis; that was the first place on the isle of Cyprus that they preached [Acts 13:4-5]. And then they went through the isle of Cyprus, ninety miles to the capital of the island—to Paphos—and preached the gospel there [Acts 13:6-12]. Then when they had preached the gospel in Paphos, they crossed the upper part of the Mediterranean Sea, 175 miles, and came to Perga, which is the biggest city in Pamphylia and just right up the river from Attalia, which is the seacoast town [Acts 13:13]. And then from Perga, having preached the gospel, they went into the interior of Asia Minor, in the Roman province of Pisidia, and there they preached the gospel ninety miles north to Antioch, Pisidian Antioch [Acts 13:14-41]. And then as you know, from Pisidian Antioch, they preached the gospel to Iconium; from Iconium to Lystra, from Lystra to Derbe [Acts 14:1-28].
And then the second missionary journey around the Greek part of the Mediterranean empire [Acts 15:36-18:22]. Finally, to the Roman city, the capital of the great Caesar himself [Acts 18:22-21:17]; that’s what the Holy Spirit did. When the Holy Spirit led them, it led them; preaching the gospel to the people, preaching the gospel to the people, teaching the message of the Lord to the people, out there where they were [Acts 13:2-4].
Now, I don’t deny that it is a fine thing to build buildings. Dear me! We are so accustomed to using buildings as instruments, until I have come to the place where I cannot think of doing God’s work without it. And we pray God shall magnify His name in our buildings. We have about thirty million dollars worth of buildings in this First Baptist Church in the heart of this city. And I love to think that we magnify the name of the Lord in the furnishings; all of the accouterments that you see, that we magnify the name of the Lord in all the things that you find in these buildings. And I can go on and on with the things that we do—all of the organized and activities life of our people—but I am just pointing out what the Holy Spirit points out in the Book of Acts when we do His work: what we do when we do the work of the Holy Spirit, we do one thing: we are reaching people! Preaching to people, winning people to Jesus [Acts 1:8]; the emphasis must always be there—the church in the heart of the people, and the people in the heart of the church— folks, people, families, children, people.
Did you know, some time ago there was a radio entertainer, and he loves to present Lincoln. So on that radio program he delivered the Gettysburg Address, and he did it in such a different way that he was overwhelmed with letters; the response from the nation that listened to him. And you know what he did? I never had thought of it before, but apparently in his study, in his research, he found that there was a word in the Lincoln Gettysburg Address that Lincoln emphasized. And this is it: when you and I think of the Gettysburg Address, here is the way we think of it, “That government of the people, and by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Now I’ve never heard it any other way, nor have I ever in my mind thought of it any other way. But you know what that entertainer did? Having researched it, he read, or delivered that Gettysburg Address in the way Lincoln is said to have delivered it: with an emphasis on something else. And this is the way Lincoln is supposed to have said it, “That government of the people, and by the people, and for the people should not perish from the earth.” Now you think of the difference that that makes. The thing that was emphasized in the heart and mind and presidency of Lincoln was the people, the people. The emphasis upon the people! Now that is the same emphasis that we ought to find here in all of the programming of our church. We are reaching people. We are preaching the gospel to people. We are trying to win people; we are trying to get them to God.
When you look at the continents of the world, what do you see? People! When you listen to the voices of the urban and rural communities, what do you hear? You hear the cry of the people. When you consider the needs of the nations of the world, what do you do? You consider the needs of the people. And when you watch the love expressed of God on the cross you will find that He is dying for the people—souls—for us [John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. And that ought to be our emphasis: all of the people.
I had a friend in the long-ago day, when I was beginning my first preaching ministry in Oklahoma. As you know, I began my work in the days of the Depression, something that this young generation has no idea. But, oh! The hardship of those dark days, when people lost their homes and lost their farms, when cotton was five cents a pound; worked hard all year long and not even be able to pay the bill that accumulated at the grocery store. That is the way that I lived for years as a young pastor. Well, I had a friend in Oklahoma, later became the executive secretary, and one time he told me this. In his little church, in the little town where he was pastor—and I was pastor right over there—they were having an every member canvas. You know, they were going around getting everybody to sign a pledge card for the church, to support the church. So he went to one of his deacons and gave the deacon the name of a father and a mother who belong to the church, and they had seven children. The family was on welfare, they were on relief; they were barely existing. So when the pastor gave the name of the family to the deacon, the deacon said, “Pastor, I will not go. I won’t go.” And the pastor said, “Now listen, this is an every-member canvas. It doesn’t say, “every member except this family.” It says, “every member, all the people.” The deacon said, “Pastor, I don’t care what you say, I am not going.”
“Well,” said the pastor, “you go and I’ll go with you.”
“No,” said the deacon, “I am not going. I’m not going to take these cards to that starving family. I’m not going to do it.” Well, the pastor said, “I will go. I will do it. Will you go with me?” And the deacon said, “Pastor, I’ll go with you, with the understanding that you do all the talking. I’m not going to say anything.” So they went; went to that poor bedraggled home, that father out of work, that mother slaving, trying to take care of those seven ragged children. And the pastor sat down, and he talked to that father and mother and those seven starving children in the background. And he explained to that man the church and its work, explained the preaching of the gospel, the teaching of the Word of God, explained its great missionary outreach. And while he was talking, the man broke down and cried. And the pastor said to me, he said, “When that man broke down and began to cry, my heart sank in me. There was that deacon looking at me, “See, pastor, I told you so!”’
“Here I have explained all this to this man, and he can’t respond, and he is crushed and humiliated. His heart is broken; and there he is crying.”
“Oh,” he said. It was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. But when the man gained his composure and could talk, this is what he said: “Pastor, this is the first time that anybody has ever asked us for anything. This is the first time we have ever been treated like other folk. This is the first time anybody has ever come to us as though we were also somebody.” He said, “Pastor, give me nine cards.” And he gave out nine cards and had each one of them—he and his wife, and each one of the seven children—to fill it out for five cents a week. Then he gathered them up, put them back in the hands of the pastor, and said, “I have no idea where the money is coming from, but we will trust in Jesus.” The preacher said to me, “The man got a good job, and it was a new day.” And he said, “When I stand up to preach, all nine of them fill a whole pew.” And he said, “I have baptized all seven of those children.”
It is we, it is we who categorize people! See, these will respond, these won’t. These are those we ought to try to reach and these, no! And that’s we. The Holy Spirit is not that way. Wherever there is somebody, there is a somebody for whom Jesus died [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And wherever there are people, those are the people that God hath sent us to win to the saving faith of the Lord [Acts 1:8].
I have to conclude. I’m not denying—and when you work in a vineyard of the Lord, you will find this to be true—there will be those who will reject, and they won’t respond. That is the story that you have here in the Book of Acts; page after page of it. These who raise insurrections and these who reject vehemently; that’s right! There will always be some who will not respond. But brother, praise God! There will always be some who will. Always, God will give us some; and that is the reward of our appeal. When we go, there will be some who will come.
Oh, bless a witnessing, praying, serving, sacrificial church! Our Master, make this one in the heart of this vast, metropolitan area. God bless us aboundingly as we open our hearts heavenward and outward in response to the leading of the blessed Holy Spirit of Jesus.
And that’s our appeal to you this soul-saving day. Thus to give your heart in faith to the saving goodness of God in Christ [Romans 10:9-13; Ephesians 2:8], or to put your life with us in this dear church; to walk with us, and serve with us, and pray with us, to do God’s will in your life by our side, to pilgrimage with us on the glory road to heaven, come, and welcome. In the balcony round, you, on the lower floor, you, a family, a couple, just one somebody you; down that stairway, down that aisle, angels attend you, God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.