A New Introduction To Life
March 9th, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
A NEW INTRODUCTION TO LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-9-80 10:50 a.m.
To the thousands of you uncounted who are sharing the hour on radio and television, you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A New Commitment to Christ, A New Introduction to Life. It comes out of these days when I have been convalescing, and arises out of a close and prayerful look at one of the companions of the apostle Paul in the work of the Lord. His name in Greek is Epaphras, which is a shortened form of Aphroditus. But we would call him; most of us do, Epaphras, as we use the word in our language. But in Greek it is Epaphras, Epaphras. In Latin, it would be Venestus, and translated, it means “handsome” or “charming.” He was converted in the three‑year Ephesian ministry of the apostle Paul and was the evangelist of the Lycus Valley.
Up here at the head of it is Colosse, eleven miles down is Laodicea, and two miles further and on the other side of the river is Hierapolis. He is in Rome, a prisoner with the apostle Paul; and from his prison, Paul writes three letters and sends them by Tychicus, one of his servants, one of his fellow workers, and Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon, who lived in Colosse.
And he writes three letters, sending them by Tychicus and Onesimus. One of the letters is Colossians, addressed to the church at Colosse [Colossians 1:1-2]. A second letter is to Philemon, addressed to the owner of this runaway slave [Philemon 1:1], whom Paul has won to Jesus and who is being sent back to his master [Philemon 1:8-19].
And the third letter is addressed to Laodicea. It’s an encyclical. It’s a general epistle. And we know it by the name of Ephesians [Ephesians 1:1].
This is what Paul writes of Epaphras in the Colossian letter, the last chapter, verses 12 and 13:
Epaphras, who is one of you, that is, he is a Gentile and a citizen of Colosse, Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.
For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and for them that are in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis, those who lived in that Lycus Valley in the interior of the Roman province of Asia.
There are three things in these two verses that Paul writes about Epaphras that brought a new and deepening commitment of my own heart to the Lord, and we share it together this hour. First: his fervent praying, and that leads to our intercession for the work of our Lord. Here in the verse, you have two words there: “Epaphras, one of you, a servant of Christ, salutes you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers” [Colossians 4:12].
In our English translation, it is two words, “laboring fervently.” The two words are a translation of just one word in the Greek testament, and that word is agōnizomai: agōnia. We’ve almost bodily made it an English word, “agony.” Such as in Luke 22:44: “And being in an agōnia the Lord prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
Now the verbal form of agōnia is agōnizomai, and that’s the word that the apostle uses here to describe the earnest, fervent intercession of Epaphras for the saints and the church and the people in Colosse, in Laodicea, and in Hierapolis [Colossians 4:13]. Now what do you think of that? This man, Epaphras, Paul describes as laboring fervently; the Greek “agonizingly,” before God in prayer for the people of that Lycus Valley [Colossians 4:12].
Is that a waste of time? Could it not have been spent in more profitable areas, to work, to get out and do, to achieve, to march, to go? And here he is, waiting upon God, talking to the Lord, fervently praying for those people [Colossians 4:12]. What do you think of that? Well, as I turned it over in my heart, three things came to me about what Epaphras was doing, fervently interceding before God for his people.
Number one: that tarrying before God is a secret power that the Lord has opened up for us. There is no doubt but that there is a time for marching. The Lord said to Moses at the Red Sea with the army of Pharaoh behind him and the mountains to the right of him and the desert to the left of him, God said to him, “Why criest thou unto Me? Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward” [Exodus 14:15].
Now I’m not denying that there are times when we need to do, we need to march. But there are other times when we need to wait upon the Lord. It is the secret of our power. In the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord said to His apostles, “Tarry in Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high” [Luke 24:49]. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, of that first mother church in Jerusalem, the Dr. Luke wrote, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness” [Acts 4:31]. There is in our praying the secret of our power.
Number two, is that a waste of time to wait upon God? Second: it is in waiting upon the Lord that we have God’s answer for all of the decisions and problems and ways of our lives. A man came up to me after the 8:15 service and said that he had an awesome problem in his life. I said to him, “My brother, there are no problems for which God does not have the answer if we wait upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14].
One of the most beautiful verses, admonitions, in the Psalms is the one that closes the twenty-seventh Psalm, “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” [Psalm 27:14]. God has an answer for us, nor is there any problem too little to take to Him, nor is any decision too intricate for Him not to know exactly how to do, where to turn, what to say, the choice to make. God has a blessed plan for all of our lives, an elected purpose. And our lives are made up of multitudinous little decisions. Take them to God. Lay them before the Lord. Tell Him all about it, and you’ll have an answer from heaven. Wait, I say, on the Lord [Psalm 27:14].
There was a woman who called the manager of a hotel and said, “Sir, I left my expensive and beautiful diamond brooch in the hotel room. Would you see if it has been found?”
And the manager of the hotel said, “You hold the phone. You wait, and I’ll find out.”
So he went to the business office. To his joy, they had found it, and it was in the safe in the business office. So he came back to the telephone to tell the woman her diamond brooch had been found. When he came back to the phone, she had hung up. He waited, thinking she will—she will call back. She never called. He published a little advertisement in the paper. No one ever answered it.
How often are we like that woman? We don’t wait for God. We’re in too big a hurry, or we’ve got other things. Why wait for a voice from heaven? God says do it. He has storerooms in glory of blessings innumerable for us all wrapped, all prepared, just for our receiving and our asking if we will take it to God and wait for the answer. “Wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14]. Not only that, but in our waiting upon God, there is a renewal of strength and a regiving of life. It comes from God.
Do you remember the verses that close the fortieth chapter of the Book of Isaiah?
Even your youths shall [faint] and be weary, and your young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the Lord, they shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.
They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: “Wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14].
When I became ill and was in the hospital, one of the first letters that I received was from sweet Lida Lynn Marchman who is right there with her violin. She’s the wife of my dear friend, Dr. Oscar Marchman, who every Sunday helps me, as he ushers down that center aisle. And in her sweet letter to me, she enclosed a passage out one of the essays of John Ruskin, the great Christian art critic and essayist and philosopher. And this is what he wrote. He is talking about a rest in music. A rest is a little curlicue, half like a flag, and when you get to it in your score, it means quit. You don’t sing. You don’t play. You don’t make any noise. You rest. You rest. And that’s what he’s talking about. So John Ruskin writes:
There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life melody, the music is broken off here and there by rests. And we foolishly think we have come to the end of the theme.
God sends a time of forced leisure, illness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives. And we lament that our voices must be silent and our part missing in the music whichever goes up to the ear of the Creator.
How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time with unvarying count and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between.
Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the tune and not to be dismayed at the rests. They are not to be slurred over, not to be omitted, not to destroy the melody, not to change the keynote.
If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.
If we sadly say to ourselves, ‘There’s no music in a rest.’ Let us not forget there is the making of music in it. The making of music is often a slow and painful process in this life, but how patiently God works to teach us. How long He waits for us to learn the lesson. There is music in a rest, and God beats the time.
I can’t help but comment to you children who play and sing: I think the most effective part of the “Hallelujah Chorus” is when you get to the end, you sing four times: “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!” And then it stops. Everything stops. The choir stops. The orchestra stops. Everybody stops. And my heart stops because I think somebody’s going to miss out on that “hallelujah.” But that rest there, when everything stops and then the last hallelujah is sung, it just carries you to heaven. That’s exactly the way God is with us.
Sometimes He puts a rest in your life. He says “Wait a while. Look up to Me. Just pause.” And there is music in that rest. There is God speaking to us in the pause. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; run, and not be weary; walk, and not faint” [Isaiah 40:31]. That’s God.
I oft times think of John Milton pouring his life into the great Cromwellian Commonwealth, and blind because of the hours and years of meticulous service; blind, when he was barely forty. And out of the pathos of that blindness, he wrote the sonnet entitled “On His Blindness.” Next to the last verse in the sonnet are these words:
Thousands do his bidding
O’er ocean and land without rest.
And I just see in his writing that, the whole vast array of the people, of the soldiers, of the political rulers, of the magnates of industry, I can just see them deployed over the face of the earth:
Thousands at his bidding
Haste over land and sea
And then he thinks of himself, and he closes the sonnet with this verse:
But they also serve
Who only stand and wait.
Isn’t it strange how sometimes little things that happen in your life stay in your heart forever, and a thousand other bigger things fade into oblivion? Here’s one of those little things. I am now reaching, as you know, toward the thirty‑sixth year of preaching these pre‑Easter noonday services. They were begun by Dr. Truett, and I immediately began preaching at the Palace Theater when I came to be undershepherd of the church. In the first time that I preached there, on the first day, Monday, a beautiful, sunshiny, warm, April spring day, I was walking out the foyer of the theater, and a little tiny wisp of an old woman came and stopped me. And she said, “I came to the theater today to see my new pastor.” She said, “I cannot attend church, but one of my neighbors offered to take me and being so warm and sunshiny, I am here. I have heard you on the radio, but I wanted to see what my new pastor looked like.” Then she added, “I wish I could help you. But,” she said, “I’m so old, and I’m so feeble, and I’m so weak, and I’m so poor, all I can do is pray for you.”
I said to that little old lady, I said, “Dear, you say that to me as though that were small. All I can do is just pray for you.” I said, “That’s more than money. That’s more than all of the intensest life that could be poured into this church. That’s more than everything that you can do, just to pray for me.”
Strange thing; I have often gone back to that moment in that Palace Theater. And I have often thought it must have been that God has blessed these years and years of ministries in this dear church because of the praying of that little old woman who said, “I’m so old. I’m so poor. I’m so weak. I wish I could help you, but all I can do is pray for you.” That’s God’s way of remaking human life and the whole world. Wait, I say, upon the Lord [Psalm 27:14]. And thus did Epaphras. He agōnizomai. He prayed fervently for those in Colosse and Laodicea and Hierapolis [Colossians 4:12-13].
A second thing that moved my heart about this fellow servant of the apostle Paul: look at his total and complete consecration, his sacrificial dedication to our Lord. Now as you know, I preach out of the King James Version of the Bible. This is the most beautiful literature ever penned by man. It is written in the days of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was still alive when this was written. You can’t talk like this anymore. The language has changed. The most beautiful piece of literature, just literature, is the King James Version of the Bible. And it is the text that I preach out of every service. Now, sometimes, the beauty of the King James Version will obscure the jagged word that is used. And this is an instance of it, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ” [Colossians 4:12].
And it’s translated that way in verse 7 of the first chapter, “Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ” [Colossians 1:7]. The Greek word is doulos, and doulos is the ordinary term for a slave. He had given up his life, all of it, in servitude to the Lord Jesus. Not only that, but when they carried the letter to Philemon in this same place of Colosse, in the twenty-third verse, the apostle writes, “There salute thee Epaphras, my sunaichmalotos, my fellow prisoner, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus” [Philemon 1:23].
What happened was, this man Epaphras, Epaphras, not only had given his whole life to the Lord [Colossians 1:7], but also he had become a prisoner in the same cell with the apostle Paul [Philemon 1:23]. Now I can easily imagine in my heart that scene when Tychicus, who with Onesimus carries those three letters back to the Lycus Valley, carries them to Colosse and Laodicea and to Hierapolis [Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7]. I can easily see the hurt in the heart of Epaphras when he sees Tychicus and Onesimus leave to go to his home and his people, and he is bound and incarcerated [Colossians 4:7-9; Philemon 1:23]. The price that a man like that pays to serve the Lord, it rebukes me. What does it cost me to serve Jesus, and what have I sacrificed for my Lord? And this man, giving everything to the—to the blessed Savior, and now in prison as he sees Tychicus and Onesimus go to his home without him [Colossians 4:7-9; Philemon 1:23].
When I was in the coronary care unit, there was a little nurse. She’s an Ethiopian. And as I visited with her, I said to her, “I have been in Ethiopia. In these days past, when I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Mabel Ann sang, and I preached, and we had evangelistic convocations in all the big cities of East Africa. And we began in Addis Ababa, stayed there longer than any other place.”
I said, “I’ll never forget Addis Ababa and those faithful Coptic Christians.”
I told that little girl, I said, “The most powerful political figure in Ethiopia, a devout Christian, had a dinner for us in a beautiful old hotel in Addis Ababa. And he invited all of those fine, wonderful people who worked with him in running the nation of Ethiopia. It was a beautiful and precious occasion.” And I said to the little nurse, “I’ve made inquiry since the Marxists and the communists have taken over Ethiopia. I’ve made inquiry about those wonderful people, and I have found,” I told her, “that they have either been executed or they’re now in prison.”
She said, “Yes, I know.” She said, “My husband and I came to America to study, and we can’t return now. We’re Christians, and we can’t return.” She said, “My brother was a preacher, and he was killed. And my brother‑in‑law is a preacher, and he is in prison.”
Today, all over this earth, there are men and women who are paying the price with their lives of the devoted service by which they serve God. And every one of them is a rebuke to me. I don’t pay any price. I don’t sacrifice, and they are laying down their lives for the faith all over this earth right now.
. . .
If my load should lead to complaining,
Lord, show me Thy hands,
Thy nail‑pierced hands,
Thy cross‑torn hands.
Lord, show me Thy hands.
O Christ, if ever my footsteps should falter
And be prepared for retreat,
If desert and thorn cause lamenting,
Lord, show me Thy feet,
Thy bleeding feet,
Thy nail‑scarred feet.
O Savior, show me Thy feet.
And Lord, when I am sorely wounded
With the battle and toil of the day
And I complain of my suffering,
Lord, let me hear Thee say,
Behold, My side, My nail‑pierced side,
My side that was wounded for thee.
My God, dare I show Thee
My hands and my feet?
[from “Show Me Thy Hands,” Brenton Thoburn Badley]
There’re no wounds in them. There’re no scars in them. There’s no torn or broken flesh in them. Epaphras rebukes me, and these who serve God today at so great a cost, they humble me. What price do I pay to serve Jesus?
One other thing that Paul writes of this fellow prisoner and this fellow slave, “I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you” [Colossians 4:13]. And that’s another Greek word. Z‑e‑l‑o‑s is the Greek word, and it means fervor and zealousness. “I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and for them that are in Laodicea, and for them in Hierapolis” [Colossians 4:13]. Fervent, zealous, witnessing, soulwinning, testifying; he has evangelized that young Asian convert. He evangelized that whole Lycus Valley. Lord, Lord, how I need to do better.
A doctor was talking to a preacher, and he said to the preacher, “You are so scholarly and so gifted and so learned. Why do you waste your time with old wives’ tales about God’s love [John 3:16] and the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25], and the coming of a Savior [Matthew 1:21], and the resurrection from the death [Matthew 28:1-7], and that fantasy about seeing Him again? [John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7]. Why do you waste your time with old wives’ tales like that?”
And the gifted and dedicated pastor replied to the physician and said, he said, “Sir, if a man came to you and told you, ‘I had cancer, and this prescription healed me and many others,’ and he gave it to you, and it healed you, and you gave it to others and it healed them, tell me, doctor, if you had a prescription that would cure cancer, wouldn’t you stand up and shout it to the world? ‘I have a remedy! I have a cure!’ And the millions who are hopeless today, dying of that awesome and dread disease, ‘I have hope. I have a remedy. I have a cure.’ Wouldn’t you do it, doctor?”
And the doctor said, “Yes, indeed I would.”
And then the pastor said, “Sir, I had a cancer. It wasn’t in my flesh. It was in my soul. And twenty‑five years ago, I found Somebody who could heal it. And I was made whole and well again.” And he said, “Doctor, I have given that prescription to thousands of others since, these who have broken hearts and broken bodies and broken homes and broken lives. And I have found that it has healed them too. Doctor, why shouldn’t I shout it and herald it and preach it, the blessed hope we have in Jesus, our Lord?” [Titus 2:13]. My brother, so blessed was that word; the doctor gave his heart to Jesus. And those two men, the pastor and the doctor, were like Paul and Dr. Luke, the beloved physician [Colossians 4:14], through all the remainder of the years of their pilgrimage.
My brother, if we are zealous, He has a zeal for you. If we are fervent, if we speak of our faith, we can’t help it. God’s done something wonderful for us [Ephesians 1:7-12]. And what He has done for us, He will do for you [Ephesians 1:13-14]. There are no problems He can’t solve, no questions He can’t answer. Every life is dear and precious in His sight, and He has an answer from heaven for you, “Wait, I say, upon the Lord” [Psalm 27:14]. Lord, God that we might listen to Thee more fully and follow Thee the more closely. Now may we stand together?
In the life of our Lord, there were thousands who were pressing around Him on every side [Matthew 8:1]. And the Book of Matthew says: “And, behold, a leper came up to Him” [Matthew 8:2]. How could a leper come up to our Lord, just walk up to Him, when He was crowded and pressed on every side by thousands and thousands? [Matthew 8:1]. The answer is very simple as you know; wherever the leper went, the people fell away from him. That chilling circle ever was around him. So he just walked right up to Jesus through the throngs. Did Jesus fall away from him and withdraw? Not our Lord. He stood there, and the leper came up to Him and said to Him: “Lord, that I might be clean, that I might be healed” [Matthew 8:2]. And the Bible says, “And the Lord touched him” [Matthew 8:3]. I can just see that throng gasp, “And the Lord touched him.” My brother, he had not felt the warm touch of a human hand in a lifetime. It was half the cure when the Lord just touched him. I don’t know how it is or why, but there is something in the human touch, in the warmth of a human hand, that moves and reaches the heart, the kindness, the gentleness, the sweetness, of a touch; interested, compassionate, may be praying. And I thought, today, with our hands, maybe joining hands, we could touch the one to the right and to the left, an expression of our loving interest in you, in your life, in your house and in your home, just the warmth of the touch of a hand.
Our Lord, what a wonderful day when the Lord touched us, when He reached down from heaven and touched us; O blessed Savior, we haven’t been the same, nor could we ever be. Jesus now lives in our hearts and in our homes and in our lives [Colossians 1:27]. And what a blessing to have Him close by, to talk to Him, before whom to lay all of our problems and our disappointments and our frustrations and our weaknesses, asking God’s strength and health. And our Lord, in this precious moment now, we pray Thy presence felt in our souls, and Thy hands of healing upon our bodies. And may God be honored and praised in the length and in the strength of our days. Bless our people, this dear church, and, our Lord, in answer to prayer, may many come to Thee now. We have visited. We have telephoned. We have called. We have prayed. We have taught. We’ve knocked at the door. We’ve asked of heaven. Now, Lord, give us the answer. And we’ll love Thee for the reply. God’s mercies to us in the saving name of our blessed Jesus, amen.
Now, while we sing our song, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor. My whole family’s coming today.” Maybe accepting the Lord as a family [Romans 10:8-13], or coming into the church as a family, or a couple, or just one somebody you, as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Do it now while we pray, while we wait, and while we sing.
A NEW INTRODUCTION TO LIFE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-9-80I. Looking at Epaphras
A. Epaphras a form of “Eproditus”; means “handsome” or “charming”
1. Convert of Paul; he evangelized the Lycus Valley
2. A prisoner with Paul
B. Paul writes three letters; sends them by Tychicus and Onesimus
1. He writes of Epaphras in the Colossian letter(Colossians 4:12-13)II. Prayer for our work
B. Is it a waste of time and effort? (Exodus 14:15)
1. In it is the secret of power(Luke 24:, Acts 4:29-31)
2. In it is God’s answer to all our needs, directions and ways(Psalm 27:14)
a. Diamond broochleft in a hotel room
3. In it is the renewal of our strength(Isaiah 40:30-31)
a. John Ruskin
b. John Milton
c. My first time to preach pre-Easter at Palace TheaterIII. Sacrificial dedication and consecration to our work
A. Epaphras had given up his life in servitude to Jesus(Colossians 1:7, 4:12)
1. He was also a fellow prisoner of Paul(Philemon 23)
B. Ethiopian nurse at the hospital – cannot return home
C. Poem, “Show Me Thy Hands”IV. Witnessing in our work
A. The zeal of Epaphras(Colossians 4:13)
B. The preacher to the doctor – cure for cancerV. Invitation – the touch of the Lord(Matthew 8:2-3)