Life At Its Best (FBA Baccalaureate)

Life At Its Best (FBA Baccalaureate)

May 19th, 1985 @ 7:30 PM

Colossians 3:2

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Colossians 3:2

5-19-85    7:30 p.m.


Thank you wonderful choir and marvelous orchestra, and God bless all of you who are here tonight to help us praise God for the graduating seniors of our First Baptist Acadamy.  May we congratulate with all our hearts these gifted and dedicated young people, and their homes, and their parents, and their friends and neighbors who wish them the finest in God’s patience and loving kingdom.

Now we are going to read together God’s Book, Colossians, the Book of Colossians; about oh, half way through the New Testament.  And you will find a red Bible like this in the pew rack if you have not brought one.  The Book of Colossians, and let us all read it together.  If you do not have a red Bible, come up here and I will give you one, right here.  Let us all read it together, Colossians chapter 3, the first 11 verses of Colossians chapter 3, Colossians chapter 3, Colossians 3:1-11, now everybody sharing his Bible.

David, give these youngsters down here—I do not know how all of them can read out of one Bible, but let’s try—try.  Next time you need that, you are going to have to get you a Bible for each one of these kids.  You going to do that the next time you play here, all right?  All right.  We all read God’s Word together.  This is a big thing, learning the mind of our blessed Lord.  Got it?  Chapter 3 of the Book of Colossians, the first 11 verses, now together:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.

For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:

In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;

And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him:

Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

[Colossians 3:1-11]


Amen.  And the text, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” [Colossians 3:2].  And the title of the sermon, Life At Its Best; the key word in this passage, in Colossians 3:2, is “affection.”

“Set your affection on things above, not on the things in the earth” [Colossians 3:2].

The word Paul used is phren, phren.  It means the mind, the intellect, and it is a much used word in the Greek language.  Phroneō means to think, to take thought, to incline to the mind.  Phronēma refers to “a frame of mind, the will or the mind.  Phronēsis is a thoughtful frame or sense.  Phronimos is to be thoughtful, prudent, discreet.  Phronimōs, long o, means to be considered and providentially attentive. Phrontizō means to be considerate and to be careful.

So out of that we have many of our English words: phrenic refers to “of or pertaining to the mind.”  “Frenetic” refers to a mental disorder.  You have it in schizophrenia.  Phrenitis refers to a frenzy or a delirium.  Phrenology is a study of character, conditioned by the configuration of the skull.

Now the word here, phroneite, it’s an active, present, imperative.  Greek doesn’t have tenses, it has kinds of action.  And a present active refers to a continuing, like aorist refers to a thing that happened one time.  A present active is a continuing thing; it is linear action.  It refers to a pattern of life.  We are to think, we are to be minded and in our inner disposition, in the whole region of thought and desire, in our inward impulses and disposition.  That’s what that word “affection” means.  We have our feet on the earth, but we have our hearts, and our minds, and our souls, and our goals, and our purposes up there with God and toward God in heaven; life at its best.

Life can be sordid; it can be decrepit.  Life can be low; life can be evil and vile and wretched.  With the head of the Annuity Board of our Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Alton Reed, I was walking down Broadway at Forty Second Street in New York City late one night.  And we were passing one bar and one saloon and one striptease joint and one nightclub after another, a long, long series of them.

And when I got to my room, while I was undressing to prepare for bed, I turned on the television just for that moment, and it happened to be in the midst of a panel discussion.  And in that panel discussion, they were saying there are two hundred thousand alcoholics in New York City alone—two hundred thousand of them.  This is some time ago.  There may be four hundred thousand of them now.  And the panel was discussing the tragic problem of over one million people in New York who are vitally and tragically affected by those two hundred thousand alcoholics.  Life can be sordid.

In our dear church, there was a son of one of our finest families.  He became involved in drugs, and thus, in order to support the expensive addiction, he began to steal and of course, confronted the law.  Life can be sordid, it can be decrepit.  It can be destructive.  It can be tragic.

But life can be a marvelous, glorious triumph over anything.  I spoke last week at a Baptist church in Garland, and to my amazement the pastor of that church had been a hopeless alcoholic, a helpless alcoholic.  And in the middle of his life—I’m not talking about in youth, I’m talking about in the middle of his life—in the middle of his life, he was wonderfully and gloriously converted by the power and grace of Jesus our Lord, and he is now the pastor of that church.  And there are several things that he does: he has an orphans’ home, he has a school, an academy, and he has the largest ministry to the down-and-outs and the street people of any city in America, here in Dallas!  I didn’t know that.  I went down, one day last week, to look at a vast building, a tremendous building on the south side of the edge of the city of Dallas.  He runs it, ministering to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of street people and down-and-out people everyday; life at its best.  Out of the background of the sordidness of an alcoholic, this is a minister of the gospel of Jesus, preaching the grace of God and conducting and furthering a ministry that is incomparable in our very city.  Life at its best.

Life can be mean and low and envious and full of jealousy—kind of hate to hear the plaudits that are and accolades that are dedicated to somebody else; unhappy to see the advancement of somebody else, offended by their exaltation and their place of prominence in the world—little and mean, envious.

If you remember reading in history, Stanton said about Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln, “He’s a low, cunning clown,” Stanton said, “He is the original gorilla.”  Stanton said about Abraham Lincoln, “Fools go to Africa to hunt for anthropoids, but the original ape is over here in Springfield, Illinois,” referring to Abraham Lincoln.  But Abraham Lincoln appointed Stanton—that man—appointed Stanton to be the Secretary of War, to conduct the tragedy of the conflict between the states; a great, noble soul, Lincoln.

I one time read of Robert E. Lee: Robert E. Lee was asked about a certain man, and Robert E. Lee gave him the finest accolade and appraisal that a man could speak.  And a friend overheard him and said, “General Lee, don’t you know that man speaks terrible things about you?”  And the great Robert E. Lee replied, “He did not ask me what that man said about me, he asked me what I thought about him!”  A tremendous personality, a gifted soul; life at its best.  And we can be encouraged and lifted up by the wonderful achievements and gifts of these others who are succeeding all around us and rejoice in the blessing of God upon them.

Themistocles, who guided the Greek navy in its great tremendous victory at Salamis over the Persians, Themistocles was inspired to do his great work as the leader of the Athenians by the heroic examples of his contemporaries.  Thucydides, as a youth, was fired and inspired by listening to Herodotus read his history.  Demosthenes, when he listened to Callistratus, was inspired to study oratory.  It’s wonderful to see a soul that rejoices in the blessing of God upon somebody else.  Beethoven said of Handel, “He is the monarch of the world of music.”

I went one time out here to the Cotton Bowl.  That year they had invited the University of North Carolina to play against SMU, who had won the Southwestern Conference.  They had invited North Carolina because they had a wonderful, far-famed, and successful, and gifted quarterback by the name of Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice.  And the University of North Carolina came to the Cotton Bowl that New Year’s Day to play SMU, and SMU beat them ingloriously, ignominiously.  It was a riot out there.  SMU just ran over them.  And “Choo-Choo” Justice, where all of those seventy-five thousand of us could watch him, “Choo-Choo” Justice, after that inglorious beating and humiliation loss, he went over to Doak Walker and to Kyle Rote and congratulated them, patted them on the back, told them how good they did and how fine they had done.  That’s great; that’s life at its best delivering us from the low, mean nature that envies the success of others, but rejoicing in the goodness of providence that has given them such unusual and blessed advancement and success.  Life at its best.

Life can also be filled with vainglorious ambition after worldly things; a social snob, social snobbery.  John Ruskin said, “Prepare yourselves for the finest society, then don’t enter it.”  That was brilliant admonition, dear me!  And to have as a goal in life to be financially successful; a great lawyer one time said, and I quote him exactly, he said, “A man is worth exactly what he’s able to earn.”  And another man, reading it said, commented, “Then John Milton was worth five British pounds a year.”  That’s how much he received for writing Paradise Lost.

It’s a cheap goal.  It’s a worldly goal, any of these things that are below the great God in heaven.  And we have learned something great and well when we learn that the achievement of these cheap, worldly goals do not bring happiness or gladness or blessing to our hearts.  They just don’t.  The rewards of the world do not bring nobility to the soul or happiness to our hearts.

I read one time of an Oriental monarch who was surfeited with all of the accouterments and embellishments of his royal throne.  And he went to an oracle such as we have in Greek history in Delphi.  He went to an oracle, and the oracle said to that surfeited, Oriental monarch, “You find the happiest man in the world and wear his shirt and you’ll be happy.”  So the monarch sent out emissaries and ambassadors and plenipotentiaries all over his kingdom to find the happiest man, that he might bring back his shirt.  And when the emissaries came back and reported, they said, “We have found the happiest man in the empire, but he doesn’t have a shirt to his back.”

I wonder if any of you ever read Herodotus, the “Father of History?”  You won’t find anything in literature, you won’t find any novel, you won’t find anything written that is as brilliant and dramatic and appealing as what Herodotus writes in history.  Let me take one instance.

Croesus, who was the king of Lydia whose capital was at Sardis, Croesus invented money.  The first time anyone in the world ever used money was when Croesus invented it.  And his name became associated with a rich, rich, rich man, “as rich as Croesus.”  Croesus was the king of Lydia and his capital at Sardis in the center there of Asia Minor.  There came to see Croesus, Solon, S-o-l-o-n, Solon, who was a brilliant and gifted lawyer from Athens.  We sometimes refer to a wonderful and gifted lawyer or politician as a “Solon.”  Solon, the Athenian lawyer, came to visit Croesus at his capital city in Sardis.  And while they were visiting together, Croesus said to Solon, “Solon, who is the happiest man that you’ve ever seen in your life?” . . . expecting Solon to say, “You, Croesus.  Look at your kingdom.  Look at your wealth.  Look at all of the affluence.  It’s you, Croesus.”  Instead of that, Solon thought a moment and then he named an inconsequential, insignificant, humble citizen in his hometown of Athens.  Well, Croesus was sort of insulted, so he asked him a second time.  “Well, Solon, if it be that’s the happiest man and the most blessed man you’ve ever seen in life, well, which one is the second one, the second most blessed and the second happiest?”

And Croesus expected Solon—and all this is in Herodotus; he’s telling this story in history— Croesus expected Solon to say, well, he was.  And instead of that, Solon named an inconsequential, humble, unknown peasant farmer in Attica, over there where Athens was the capital.  And Croesus was greatly offended.  He was insulted.  He was the richest man in the world.  He was the king of that empire.  He had everything and all the accouterments and embellishments of wealth.  And yet Solon said he had no right to be named among those who were the happiest and most blessed in the world.

And he said to Solon, “Why do you say that?”

And Solon replied, “Because no man can be accounted blessed and happy until we see the end of his life.”

All right.  Now, Herodotus tells us the end of his life.  Cyrus, who was the great general of Persia and had conquered and was conquering the world, Cyrus came with his army to conquer Lydia and Croesus, and he was besieging Sardis.  Now, Sardis was an impregnable fortress.  If you’ve ever been over there, it’s on a high hill just like that, like a cone.  And Croesus had built a tremendous wall around the top of it, and it was impregnable and unassailable and unconquerable.  And the army of Cyrus is around Sardis, besieging the capital of Croesus.

And what happened was a Persian soldier saw a Lydian soldier drop his helmet off of the wall.  And he watched that Lydian soldier climb down the wall and climb down the side of that impregnable fortress and retrieve his helmet.  And that night, that soldier, with a few others, followed that same course up that hill and to the wall, and they scaled the wall.  And they jumped down into the city and ran to the gates and flung them open.  And the army of Cyrus entered that capital city of Lydia and took it.

And as his wont was, he was burning the king, Croesus, at the stake.  And when the fires were kindled and the flames began to rise and to move toward Croesus the king, he was heard to call out, “O Solon!  Solon!  Solon!”

And a Persian soldier ran to Cyrus the emperor, the king, the conqueror, the general, and said, “He’s calling upon the name of a god we never heard of.”

And Cyrus was piqued and his interest was quickened by calling on a god he never had heard of.  So he had them take Croesus out of the flaming fire and brought him into his presence.  And Cyrus said to Croesus, “What is the name of this god you’re calling on?”

And Croesus replied, “No god.  No god.  Calling on the name in remembrance of a great Athenian lawyer that visited me.  His name was Solon.”

And Cyrus said, “And what did he say that makes you think of him in such a time as this?”

And Croesus replied, “He said no man is happy or blessed because of his possessions or his riches or his achievements, but that man is happy and blessed who has a beautiful life to the end of his days.”

And Cyrus was so impressed by the story that Croesus told him, that he allowed him his life, and he lived with Cyrus in his court the rest of the long days that he lived.

It is a foolish man, it is a foolish woman, it is a foolish anybody who thinks that life can be found in its happiest and most glorious estate, by fame or fortune or success or money or achievement.  It lies in the humble blessings of God upon us whether it be a humble farmer out there tilling the soil, or a clerk in one of our stores, or a sweet mother, or a humble day laborer who’s working with his hands; life at its best.

And that leads me to this final avowal: life at its best is always found in the service of God, in a life dedicated to God.  There is none comparable to it.  I do not know of a more poignant way to bring that truth home to our hearts than to take another page out of history, this one out of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte.

As you know, Napoleon, when he conquered Europe, Napoleon took his family and he sat them every one in great places over the many kingdoms and states and nations of Europe that he’d conquered.  Whenever he’d conquered a country, he’d put his kinsmen over it to be king over it, or to be emperor over it, or to be ruler over it.  He took his entire family and spread them around over all of those conquered nations of Europe.

Well, in the days of his glory, Napoleon heard of an uncle that he had never known.  His mother was named Letitia Bonaparte.  He was born in Corsica.  And there had come from Corsica this uncle of his mother, Letitia Bonaparte.  And he was a humble pastor, a humble pastor of a little church seventeen miles from Florence, and the town in which he ministered had less than a hundred people in it.

And when Napoleon heard of that humble pastor, his uncle, in that little place, he called his general in and sent him, with twenty men, to that little town seventeen miles from Florence, and said, “When you see him, you tell him that no kinsmen of Napoleon Bonaparte ever is to be in a humble ministry, but he’s to be the leader, to walk in aristocracy and in pride and in glory!  And when you see my uncle, you bring him to Paris, and you tell him we will make of him a bishop.  But mostly we will make of him a cardinal in the church.”

So this man came, and the history book describes, he was dressed in gold and in finery and a plume on his helmet, with his twenty men, and came up to this humble place, this humble cottage where that pastor lived in a little town of a hundred people, and said to him, “The great Napoleon, the great Napoleon has asked me to come to you and to bring you to Paris.  And the least you can be a bishop of any diocese that you choose.  Or at least we shall make you a cardinal and give you a cardinal’s hat.”

And the humble pastor replied, “No.  Nay.  No.  These are my people and I am their shepherd and I’ll not leave them.”

The man pressed it upon him and the humble pastor said, “No.  These are my people, my sheep, and I’m their shepherd.”

And the great general said, “Then I shall take you by force!  And we’ll take you to Paris and make you a cardinal or a bishop against your will.”

And the humble man replied, “Sir, if you do that, what would these dear people think and what would the world think?  That against my will you forced me into this exalted place when I want to be a humble shepherd with these people?”

Crestfallen, the man returned to Paris and made his report to Napoleon.

Now I want to tell you what happened.  On the Isle of St. Helena, in the middle of the South Atlantic where Napoleon spent the rest of his life in exile on that lonely isle; he died at fifty-one years of age.  News came to him on the Isle of St. Helena.  News came to him that his uncle had died, the shepherd of that little flock, at the age of ninety and five years, full of days, blessed of God, loved by the people, honored by the Spirit of God.

And Napoleon found himself facing over the lonely waters of the South Atlantic with a broken spirit, and a broken heart, and with a remembrance that God’s blessings are not upon those who are great and mighty in war, or in battle, or in finance, or in political life, or in fame, or fortune, or any other way by which the world brings its emoluments to a man, but the man is blessed and rich and happy when he humbly and beautifully serves God.

And that is our humble appeal to you in your life.  What did the Book say?  Set your affection, set your mind, set your goal, set the pattern of your life not upon the things of the earth, the cheap rewards and emoluments of this earth, but set your heart and your mind and the pattern of your life and the energy of your days and the dreams and visions of every tomorrow, set them upon the will of God, to serve the Lord.  And if you do, all the days of your life will be full and rich, and you’ll come to the end of the way grateful to God for blessings indescribably precious.  God grant it to you, to us.

In this moment of appeal we are going to a sing of invitation. {To the orchestra] Do you want to stay here, or do you . . . you want to go.  All right.  We are going to have a prayer, and then in the prayer, while the rest of us ask God to give us a sweet harvest tonight, our wonderful orchestra will find a place to the right, and then we will have room down here for all of you who come.  “I want to take the Lord as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13].  Or, “I want to give my life to the blessed Jesus, and I want to put my live in the fellowship of this wonderful church.” Or, “I want to answer God’s call in the deep of my soul.”  As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life.  In the balcony around there is time and to spare.  In this great lower floor down one of these aisles.  We will pray together, we will give our lives anew to God together, and we will ask Him to enrich us and bless us in our days.  Now may we pray?

Our Lord, there is so much to learn in the meaning of life.  And we learn it the best, most beautifully at Thy feet [Matthew 11:28-29].  Our Lord, we can make such mistakes by following the allurements of the world.  They are cheap; they are temporary; they vanish like the morning mist, but in God there are gifts and blessings that never fade.  They grow with each passing day.  They multiply in every year.  And as we grow older and follow the will of God for our lives, these things that belong to God belong to us, His best and finest blessing.  Lord, what a tragedy if we, having the opportunity to receive the very kingdom of heaven from Thy hand [Luke 12:32], choose what is futile and full of failure and full of despair and full of heart ache and sorrow and disappointments.  O God, may we always choose what is best and what is finest.

Now, Master, when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, may God give us a gracious harvest; he who comes accepting Thee as Savior, as Lord in life [Ephesians 2:8], and these who come to put their lives with us in this wonderful church.  Give us, Lord, the answer from heaven, and bestow a sweet harvest in encouragement and blessing upon us tonight.  In Thy wonderful name, amen.

Now while we stand and sing, a thousand times welcome as you come, while we make appeal and while we sing our song.  


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Set your affection on things above

A.  Phren – “the
mind, the intellect”

B.  Phroneite – active,
present, imperative

C.  Our
feet on earth; but hearts, minds, and souls toward God in heaven

II.         Life can be sordid

A.  Walking down Broadway
in New York City – bars, saloons, nightclubs

1.  Panel
discussion – 200,000 alcoholics in New York City alone

B.  Young son in our
church became involved with drugs, began stealing

C.  Life can be noble, hallowed
before God

      1.  Pastor of
church had been helpless alcoholic

III.        Life can be low, mean in nature,

A.  Cannot bear to hear
praises of others or see their successes

B.  Life can be big in
heart and appreciation

      1.  Stanton of

      2.  Robert E. Lee

C.  The big man in soul,
rejoicing in the success of others

      1.  Themistocles,
Thucydides, Demosthenes

      2.  Beethoven of

      3.  Charlie
“Choo-Choo” Justice

IV.       Life can be filled with vanity, cheap
ambition, worldly goals

A.  Social snobbery –
John Ruskin

B.  Financial success,
money – John Milton

C.  These
things do not bring nobility to the soul or happiness to the heart

Surfeited monarch before an oracle

Story of Croesus

V.        Life at its best is always found in a
life dedicated to God

A.  Napoleon’s uncle, a
humble pastor