THE LOVE OF CHRIST FOR HIS CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-23-79 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the church delivering the message entitled, The Love of Christ for His Church. It is an exposition, as you will see in these moments following, it is an exposition of three verses in the fifth chapter of Ephesians. Ephesians chapter 5, verse 25, verse 26, and verse 27 [Ephesians 5:25-27]. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. That is our redemption. “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26]. That is our sanctification. “That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” [Ephesians 5:27]. That is our glorification. Those three verses represent the three giant steps of our salvation. First: our justification, our redemption in the blood and sacrifice of our Lord, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. Second: our sanctification, in the laver of the “water by the word,” our cleansing, our sanctification [Ephesians 5:26]. And the third and last and consummating climactic step in God’s purposes of grace for us: our glorification, “That He might present us to Himself, a glorious church without spot, wrinkle, any such thing, but holy and unblemished” [Ephesians 5:27]. That’s the sermon, and we shall take it in those three great steps.
First, our redemption from sin, our deliverance from the judgment of our iniquities: Christ loved us, and gave Himself for us [Ephesians 5:25]. Christ loved the church. He never said, “My wife.” He never knew the most intimate and precious of all human relationships. He never said, “My child.” He never held in His hands the gift of a little life and saw in the face of that tiny babe a reflection of His own features. He never said, “My home.” One time He remarked, “The foxes of the field have dens, 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 home”; but He did say, “My church” [Matthew 16:18]. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25].
There is a beautiful expression here that is hid from us in our English language, but is very noticeable when you read it in the language in which Paul wrote it. It’s a strange thing that in the literature of the Greeks, all of it—all thousands of years of it, in the literature of the Greeks, they used the word eros world without end, eros, “love.” They named one of their gods “Eros”; the Latins called him “Cupid.” If you ever are at Piccadilly Circus in London, right in the middle of the Circus, there is a bronze statue of Eros, Cupid. And the word is used constantly. Just as in English we use the word “love,” they used the word eros. It is everywhere in Greek literature. But you will not find it one time in the Greek New Testament, not once. It is never used. Never, ever.
On the other hand, there is a word translated “love” that is used in the Greek New Testament about three hundred twenty-five times; and that word is never found in Greek literature. That is the strangest thing that you could ever have discovered. The word translated “love” in our New Testament is never used in Greek literature. It’s the word agape, agape. Why would that be? It is an astonishing literary discovery. Why would that be? Well, the answer is this, the Greek word eros referred to love as they knew it in human relationships. We have it in our English language—“erotic” or “erogenous,” referring to the stimulation of a sexual response, love. But agape, the word used in the Greek New Testament, agape is a self-sacrificing love, one that is not ministering to itself but to somebody else, agape. And when you read in 1 John 4:8, “For God is”—the word is agape, a New Testament word; a self-sacrificing love. “God is agape, love.”
When you read John 3:16, you have the verbal form of the word, “God so loved the world,” agapaō, the same word in verbal form, a self giving, a self-sacrificing love. And you have it in Galatians 5:22: “For the fruit of the Spirit is agape, love, self-sacrificing love.” If I can do some good for you, let me try. If I could run an errand for you, let me try. If there is some mission by which I could be your servant, let me try. “For the fruit of the Spirit is agape, love” [Galatians 5:22]. That’s a beautiful thing. And that’s Christian, and that is the New Testament, and that is this love of our Lord for us. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for us” [Ephesians 5:25]. In pity, in grace, He died in our stead [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21].
The second tremendous step in our salvation; our sanctification: “That He might sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26]. And here again, there is a Greek word in there that you would never guess in the English translation, but what a meaningful word it is, “That He might sanctify and cleanse us with the loutron of water by the word,” loutron; the Hebrew word would be kiyyor. What is the kiyyor in the Old Covenant, and loutron in the New Testament? Well, it was the “laver”—it was the laver.
When you went into the tabernacle, or when you worshipped the Lord in the temple, the first thing you see is the bronze altar, the great brazen altar. That’s the altar of sacrifice [Exodus 40:6]. And between the altar and the entrance of the door into the sanctuary is the loutron, the kiyyor, the laver, the great bowl of water in which the priest washed himself, cleansed himself, that he might appear in the presence of the great and Holy God. Now that’s what Jesus is doing with us, that He might sanctify and cleanse us with the laver of water by the word. “Washed in the laver of the water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26]; that is a magnificent thought. We are bathed in the Book. We are washed by the Word; this is what Christ does for us.
Now out of forty-dozen things, literally, that I could speak of this morning—and would to the Lord I had opportunity to do it—I have chosen just three—three things of our cleansing, of our sanctifying “in the laver of the water by the Word” [Ephesians 5:26]. First, I speak of our sanctifying, our cleansing in the laver of the water of the Word, in our doctrinal teaching. What we are taught is the truth of the faith and the truth of God in the Word of the Lord.
I stumbled into a poignant illustration of that one time in northern Maine. I was holding a revival meeting for the upper half of Maine, say from the middle of the state up to the Canadian border. And it was held in the auditorium of a big high school. And it was sponsored by all the churches in the upper half of the state of Maine. In Caribou, in the city of Caribou, is one of our largest Air Force bases. They told me that’s the closest base to Moscow in the continental United States, and it is very spacious. In the days of my crusade there, I became acquainted with a Baptist chaplain on the base. He was not a Southern Baptist. He was a Baptist chaplain of another Baptist denomination. And one time, in talking to me, he asked me a very blunt question. He said, “I would just like for you to tell me what you teach down there in those Southern Baptist churches.”
Well, I said, “I don’t know how to reply. I don’t know what to say. Something has given rise to such a question in your mind. What is it?”
Well, he said, “Recently there came to me a young airman and his wife. They had been through a great heartbreak. Their baby had been born without life. It was stillborn. It was born dead. And that grieving young airman and his wife came to me and said, ‘Chaplain, would you baptize this baby, that its soul might not be damned forever in hell?’” Well, the chaplain said to me, “I asked them, ‘Are you Baptists?’ They said, ‘Yes.’” ‘And you are Southern Baptists?’ ‘Yes,’” and told him the town from which they came in the Southland. And then the chaplain exclaimed, “And yet, being a Southern Baptist, you are persuaded that the child is going to spend an eternity in hell unless I baptize the stillborn infant?” They said, “Yes, that is what they tell us here, our friends on the base.” And then the question repeated, “What do you teach your Southern Baptist people? What do you teach them?”
Well, I had to confess to him, I guess we are not taught in the Word. We don’t do good. Such a thing as that, I cannot conceive of it. And if you don’t know how to answer that question, I have not done good, and we haven’t done well. “As in Adam all die,” all of them, all of us, all the generations. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ are all made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22]. There is no such thing as a man being judged and damned and condemned for original sin. I don’t pay, I am not judged, I am not damned for the sins of my forefathers. Christ paid it all. “As in Adam all died,” all under the judgment of sin, “in Christ we are all made alive” [1 Corinthians 15:22], all of our little children, all of them. Not one of them shall ever pay in the great judgment for the sins of fathers and mothers. You see, I am judged for my sins. I must repent of my sins. I must ask God to forgive me my sins. I must plead the mercies of Jesus for me [Titus 3:5]. And that is how I am saved. But to think that the judgment of God in damnation is not in the atoning grace of our Lord, ah, I cannot conceive of it. And it just brought to my soul the fearful responsibility, the awesome assignment, that our people might be sanctified by the laver of water in the Word [Ephesians 5:26]. That we might be cleansed from the disfigurement of heresy and aberrational doctrine, that we might know the truth of God. That’s the purpose of Christ for us, that we might be sanctified and cleansed with the teaching of the laver of the Word of God [Ephesians 5:26]. And the Lord help me to do that, and God bless our teaching ministries as they share in it.
Out of these dozens of things that I say that I wish I could speak of, I choose another one, just one out of so many, that the Lord in His purpose to sanctify us with the laver of water in the Word, it entails for us what the Word would teach us concerning our cleansing in confession, and prayer, and intercession, and supplication. For us to think that we can do God’s work without God, that we can ever grow in the grace of the Lord and never bow in His presence, is again unimaginable and inconceivable and unthinkable. There is a cleansing, there is a sanctity, in our praying and in our confession that is always presented powerfully, dynamically, forcefully in the Word of God.
I would suppose—this is just an observation on my part—I would suppose that the very key to the understanding of the prophetic message of the Bible is in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel. If that is taken out, if the ninth chapter of Daniel is taken out, the key, the keystone to the whole prophetic structure sort of collapses. The very heart of the prophetic presentation of the review of the world and its coming history is in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel. Now I want you to see how that chapter reads, how it begins. Before God speaks to Daniel, before He reveals to him the word of the Lord, listen to this—Daniel chapter 9:
I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments;
We have sinned, we have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, departing from Thy precepts and Thy judgments.
And in that confession, verse 19: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Thine own sake” [Daniel 9:19].
Now in that supplication and in that confession and in that prayer, “while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people . . . and presenting my supplication unto the Lord my God . . . while I was speaking . . . the word of the Lord was sent to me by Gabriel”—the messenger of heaven [Daniel 9:20- 22]. That is God’s teaching for us. He sanctifies us and cleanses us with the laver of the water of the Word in our praying and in our supplications [Ephesians 5:26]. Lord, Lord, how could I ever persuade myself that we could do this work without prayer, intercession, supplications, and confession? Lord, Lord, we can have organization here in the church, and the church is greatly and meticulously organized, but in organization, we have what organization can do when we pour into this effort human genius and human wisdom. And I praise God for the abilities of the people who work in the congregation. We have what human genius and human wisdom can do.
But when we pray, when we seek God’s face, when we supplicate and importune, confess, and ask heaven, we have what God can do. And that is what we pray for. There is a cleansing in confession. There is a sanctity in supplication, there is a visitation from heaven in prayer that we can find in no other way. And this is the Lord’s will for His people—that we be sanctified, cleansed with the laver of the water by the Word [Ephesians 5:26]. And the Word leads us and teaches us to depend upon God in prayer and supplications [Daniel 9:3].
May I take just one other out of these dozens, I say, that we could mention? It is the purpose of Christ for His church that we be sanctified and cleansed with the laver of water by the Word [Ephesians 5:26]. Could I speak now for this moment of the supporting ministries of the church? If I am taught in the Word of God, how do I do that?
Sweet people, on my desk now is a letter that I must answer. I, in kindness, ought to reply to it. I have a dear friend here in the city of Dallas who is a priest. He belongs to another communion so very different from ours, and I love the man. He and I are good friends. In his graciousness and kindness to me, he has written me a letter. And the letter is an invitation and tickets to a to-do that they are to have in the church. And they support the church by those arrangements. You come and you share, you know, and things that they do to support the church. And when I think of that programming to support the church by those to-dos to which everybody is invited, and in which we buy things, you know, and share and all, I think, “Dear God, how we need the laver of the washing of the Word of the Lord” [Ephesians 5:26]. God hath taught us. He hath spoken so clearly and so plainly.
I listen to these men, as I did Perry Bolin just now. Del Rogers was at the 8:15 service, as I listened to these men, one of them said, “Tithing is not a practice, it’s an attitude. It’s an attitude.” And I began to think about that. And the man is so correct. It is an attitude. What I have is not mine; it is God’s. The air that I breathe is not mine; it’s God’s air. The ground on which I walk is not mine; it is God’s earth. The sun that shines on my head is not mine; that’s God’s sun. The very dust of the ground out of which my body is formed is not mine; that’s God’s dust, and I use for just a while what belongs to God. I am a steward occupying until He come [Luke 19:13]. And for me to say to God, “Lord, this is Yours, and what is Thine, this proportion that You have asked for, I gladly, gladly devote to Thee.”
When I was in the beginning of my ministry with my little churches, I had a lot of sharecroppers in those churches. And they would give half of everything that they raised on the farm; they gave it to the man that owned it. He was a sharecropper. A man owned everything that possessed it, and the sharecropper worked the farm. And half he gave to the man that owned it, and half he kept for himself and his family. And you know, as a youngster, pastoring those dear sweet people that I loved so dearly and lived with them, I thought, “You know, God could have done that with us. He could have said, one half of everything that you have belongs to Me” [Leviticus 27:30, 32]. But He didn’t do that. He said, Just one part out of ten belongs to Me. Well, that is a sweet, gracious thing from the Lord, who possesses everything. All of it is His, and when I give Him that, I owe it to Him. The Book says the tithe is the Lord’s: “And here men that die receive tithes; but there He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that He liveth” [Hebrews 7:8]. You know, there was a preacher, and they asked him, “How many tithers do you have in the church?”
He said, “One thousand nine hundred.”
And the man was amazed at him, and he said, “You have one thousand nine hundred tithers in the church. How many members do you have in the church?”
“I have one thousand nine hundred members.”
“What? You have nineteen hundred members and nineteen hundred tithers?”
“Yes,” said the preacher. “Yes. About a hundred of them bring the tithe to the Lord. The other eighteen hundred—God collects it.”
Don’t you ever think you will escape that. The Lord lives, and the Lord reigns. And I either give Him in love and gratitude what He says is His—I either give it to Him, or He takes it in ways that are tragic. But He collects. It will be an illness, it will be bad judgment, it will be a sorry investment. It will be a tragic accident in your life. Don’t you ever think that you will ever keep everything that you have. You won’t. One tenth of that belongs to God, and God takes it. And if I give it to Him voluntarily, willingly, I am wonderfully blessed. But if He has to take it, it’s always in a lack and in a sorrow, and in a sadness, and in an illness. Lord, I don’t want to be that way. I just don’t. Lord, Lord You have been so good to me, how could I ever hesitate at remembering You? And here Lord, this belongs to You. It is not mine, this is Yours. And then, Master, because You have been so good to me, here is something beside. This is a gift. This is an offering, just to praise Your wonderful name. That’s the way to be. You will not lose by it, because God has taught us that in the Book—and it is a part of our sanctification [Ephesians 5:26].
I must hasten. This third verse, our glorification; He saves us in His redemptive grace. That is verse 25 [Ephesians 5:25]: He sanctifies us in the laver of the water of the Word [Ephesians 5:26]. We are taught so many things in the Christian pilgrimage; and now last, and the consummating word of it all: “That He might present us to Himself a glorious church, without spot, or without wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and unblemished” [Ephesians 5:27]. That’s God’s purpose of grace for us, a perfected and sinless and holy blood-bought, blood-washed people. Beautiful. Revelation 21, “And I heard a voice saying unto me, Come hither, and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife” [Revelation 21:9], that glorified, sanctified church, “And he took me to a high mountain” [Revelation 21:10]. And the rest of that twenty-first chapter of the Revelation groans under the burden of the way to describe the glory that God hath in store for us who love Him; His bride, the Lamb’s wife, in symmetry and in beauty [Revelation 21:11-27]. O Lord, what God doth purpose for us.
In reading through that chapter again, I thought of the beautiful temple of Solomon. And if you are a mason, you will know even more poignantly now what I speak. There were two columns in front of the temple of Solomon. One of them was named Jachin, and the other was named Boaz [1 Kings 7:21]. Jachin is the word for “beauty.” God’s church, glorified in beauty, “Come hither, and I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife” [Revelation 21:9], and all the beauty and symmetry of that glorious city of God [Revelation 21:10-27]. Not ugly or disfigured by schism or by division; but just perfect in unity, in oneness in the Lord. Do you remember the one hundred thirty-third Psalm of David?
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down on the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that ran down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew upon Mount Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the hills of Zion: for there God commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
That is God’s church, beautiful, filled with love for the Lord. And that other tremendous column he called Boaz [1 Kings 7:21], that’s strength. God’s glorified church, beautiful, beautiful; filled with the loving presence of the Lord, and strong in the faith, in the commitment and devotion we have to one another and to Him. Isn’t that a gracious word that Paul writes in the first Corinthian letter, chapter : “The cup that we drink, is it not the communion—the koinōnia, the fellowship—of the blood of Christ? [1 Corinthians 10:16]. And the bread that we break, is it not the koinōnia—the communion, the fellowship, the comradeship of the body of Christ? For we being many are one . . . body in Christ: for we all partake of that one loaf” [1 Corinthians 10:16, 17]. That’s glorious. You and we, together in the Lord, in a beautiful koinōnia—a precious communion and fellowship, a glorified work of God that lasts forever.
In one of these churches, in one of our big cities, I was holding a revival meeting, and they were kind of what you would call “high church,” which is all right, not anything wrong with that. But when they take people into the church, they don’t do it as we do. I don’t expect people to do as we do. I thank the Lord they are not all like me. They are a lot better than I am. But, you know how we do when we take people into the church; man, we just rejoice all over the place: “Just so glad to have you; God bless you. Amen.” Well anyway, the thing was very, you know, reserved and conservative, dignified. So when people came forward at the service, why, the preacher would just greet them, you know, and they would be seated, and that was all.
Well, that morning, when the pastor introduced a fine-looking man and said that he had come forward to confess his faith in Jesus, and he wanted to be baptized, and wanted to be a member of the church; well, when the pastor introduced that man, why, there was another man who stood up right in the middle of the congregation, just like that. He was white-headed himself, distinguished. He stood up and he addressed the pastor, and he said, “Pastor, you have just introduced my law partner of forty years.” He said, “He and I have stood together in trials, in difficulties, in investments, in business, in law, in work, in life. Forty years, we have stood together.” He said, “Pastor, it just doesn’t seem right to me that he stands there by himself, giving his faith to the Lord, accepting Jesus as Savior, and wants to be a member of this church.” He said, “Pastor, it just seems to me that I ought to be up standing by his side. And if you don’t mind, pastor, could I come and stand by his side as he gives his heart in faith to the blessed Jesus?” And there they stood. That’s beautiful. That’s glory. That’s God. There is no oneness of heart and spirit in business, or in investment, or in law practice, or in medicine, or in any other professional relationship in life. There is no preciousness like that in the faith, and in the Lord: my brother, my sister, and all of us, one in Christ, our great partner and enduring, everlasting Friend. Why, just think of it! My heart can’t contain the glory of the thought.
The golden sun, the silver moon,
And all the stars that shine,
Were made by His omnipotent hand,
And He is a friend of mine.
When He shall come with trumpet sound
To head the conquering line,
The whole wide world will bow at His feet,
And He is a friend of mine.
[“Jesus is a Friend of Mine,” John M. Sammbs]
Together with our Lord.
I can well understand the exclamation of Paul when he wrote, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and heart has not imagined those good things God has prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Language cannot bear the burden of its beautiful and glorious meaning.
Now may we stand together? Our precious Lord, I would to God I could say it and preach it as it actually is, the glory the Lord hath in store for those who love Thee, and the beautiful sanctity by which the Lord is teaching us in the faith and in the way. Lord, Lord, to sit at Thy feet, to be taught by the Holy Spirit in the infallible Word, what a preciousness. Dear God, how wonderful You are to us.
In a moment, we are going to sing us a song, and while we sing the song, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, today, I would like to follow in the grace and goodness and love of the Lord. I want Jesus as my Savior and Friend, and I am coming” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or to put your life in the church, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today.” With no one leaving but all of us quietly praying, if the Lord speaks to your heart, there will be godly deacons to welcome you here; we will have a prayer together. And we’ll rejoice with the angels in glory in your coming. Do it now; down one of these stairways; down one of these aisles, “Here I am, preacher. I am on the way.” May angels attend you as you come, while we pray and while we sing.