Loving the Church of Our Lord


Loving the Church of Our Lord

September 29th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell 

Ephesians 5:25

9-29-85    10:50 a.m.


The throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television; this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Loving the Church of our Lord.  In the Book of Ephesians 5:25; the Book of Ephesians is an encyclical.  It is a general epistle written to all churches of all time.  The reason you have it labeled Ephesians is because in the Textus Receptus, the basic manuscript for the translation of the King James Version, it happened to the have Ephesus up there: “to the saints at Ephesus” [Ephesians 1:1].  Had it been to the saints at Laodicea, you would have called the book the Laodiceans.  Had it been any other of those churches in the New Testament days of Paul, it would have been called by that name.  It is a general epistle.  And our manuscript happened to have Ephesus, Ephesians written in it.  And in this general letter, written to all of the churches of all time, in Ephesians 5:25, the apostle writes, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”  Then he continues in verses 30-32:

            For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.

For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

[Ephesians 5:30-32]

That is a beautiful reference and a most meaningful one for us.  After he says, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25], then he quotes from the second chapter of Genesis, verses 23 and 24, that describe the creation of Eve.  She was taken out of the side of Adam.  And out of the side of Adam from near his heart, God created the bride [Genesis 2:23-24], the wife of the man that He made [Genesis 1:27].

Now in the King James Version, you call it a rib [Genesis 2:22].  There is nothing even suggesting a rib.  God took from the side of Adam, from near his heart, that is what the Hebrew book in Genesis says, God took from his side, from near his heart, and out of the side of Adam, near his heart, God created Eve, his wife, and brought her to Adam [Genesis 2:22].  And when Adam looked upon her, he said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” [Genesis 2:23], because she was taken from his side.  “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh” [Genesis 2:24].  “This is a great mystery” [Ephesians 5:30-32].  And it is.

If we had time this morning to speak of that most unusual of all of God’s creations, the falling in love of a man and a woman and a woman and a man, and the union that creates a blessedness, an intimacy, a happiness, a joy beyond anything experienced in mortal life.

And the apostle says this mystery has a profound meaning for us.  It is a picture of the bride of Christ, His church, that was taken out of His side [Ephesians 5:29-30].  Born in His sufferings, in His tears, in His blood, in His cross [Matthew 27:26-50], in His atoning grace [Ephesians 2:8], the church was born in the sacrifice of our Lord [Ephesians 5:2].  In the atoning grace, in the pouring out of life, in the scars of our Savior, we came from His side, from near His heart.  We were born in His tears.  And as a basis for that he speaks of loving the church [Ephesians 5:25].  And that is our dedication this beautiful and solemn hour: Loving the Church of Our Lord.

In the wonderful admonition of the apostle Paul to these elders in the church at Ephesus, he says in Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all of the flock,” the church, “over which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops,” elders, pastors, “to pastor,” poimainō, to pastor, to feed, to cherish, to care for “the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].  Loving the church, cherishing the church, for which Jesus poured out his own blood.

                        I love Thy kingdom, Lord,

The house of Thine abode,

The church our blessed Redeemer saved

With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God;

Her walls before Thee stand,

Dear as the apple of Thine eye,

And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall;

For her my pray’rs ascend;

To her my toils and cares be giv’n,

Till toils and cares shall end.

[“I Love Thy Kingdom Lord,” Timothy Dwight]

Loving the church of our Lord, keeping the ordinances that God hath committed to us, there are two.  The initial ordinance, the ordinance of baptism that we saw just now [Matthew 28:19]; and the continuing, repeating ordinance, the ordinance of the breaking of bread [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]; these ordinances belong to us.  They do not belong to the Congress.  They do not belong to the judiciary.  They do not belong to the civic enterprises of the city.  They belong to us.  And we cherish them and keep them holy and inviolate.

They have a great purpose.  The ordinances shape and mold the truth of Christ as a dipper will shape and mold the water.  The initial church ordinance [Matthew 28:19], this is our death to the world and our resurrection to a new life in Christ.  We are buried with Christ by baptism into the likeness of His death, and we are raised by the power of God in the likeness of His resurrection to walk and to live in a beautiful life before our Lord [Romans 6:3-6].  It has a profound purpose.  The meaning of our breaking of bread, this is the torn body of our Savior, and sharing the crimson fruit of the vine, this is the life that was poured out for us [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  There is a profound purpose in the sweet observance of these holy ordinances.

I think that the first thing that will happen to someone who has accepted Christ as his Savior is in keeping with the word of our Lord: “I want to share in these holy ordinances.”  Just as the treasurer of Ethiopia, when he listened to the gospel from Philip the evangelist, while the preacher was making his appeal [Acts 8:34-35], the Ethiopian treasurer said, “Look, here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized?” [Acts 8:36].  “I want to be baptized”: that is the first reaction of someone who has found Jesus as his Savior, “I want to be baptized.”  “And they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” [Acts 8:37-39].  There is never an exception to that.  When we follow the Lord in keeping with His holy ordinances, there is a fullness of heart that is indescribable.  We have done what God hath commanded us to do, and there is a surrendered yieldedness of heart in the love of God that characterized every obedient servant of Christ.

Not only do they have a tremendous purpose, but they have a scriptural order.  Always, always in the Scriptures, first we are to be baptized [Matthew 28:19], then we are to observe our recurring church ordinance [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  First, I am to be buried with the Lord, and raised with the Lord [Romans 6:3-5], then I am to share in the body of Christ, in the congregation of the Savior, in breaking bread and drinking from the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  Always, that order.  First, I am to be saved [Acts 8:37].  Second, I am to be baptized [Acts 8:38].  And third, I am to observe the keeping of this holy supper as the Lord hath committed it to us [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  And again, there is never an exception to that in Holy Scripture.  The order is as inspired as the content.  First, I am to accept Jesus as my Savior [Acts 8:37].  And upon that public confession of faith in Christ I am to be buried with Him and raised with Him [Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:38; Romans 6:3-5].  Then I am, with the congregation, with the saints of the Lord, to observe the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 26-28].

Not only is there great purpose in it, shaping the truth of God and keeping it ever before us, and not only is there an order in these services, always one, two, three, always, but there is in Holy Scripture, a beautiful, precious meaning in these holy ordinances.  When the Lord said, “This is My body, eat in remembrance of Me; this is My blood, drink in remembrance of Me” [1 Corinthians 11:24-25], did He mean the actual flesh and blood of the Savior?  It could not be because, when He said those words, He was standing before them.  Jesus was there in the flesh.  When He said, “This is My body and this is My blood,” it could not be the actual body and blood of the Lord Jesus.  What the Lord said was this, “This is My body, this bread represents the giving of My suffering body on the cross for your sins [Matthew 27:32-50].  The bread represents My body.  And this cup is My blood, the red crimson represents; it brings to mind the picture of the crimson of My life poured out for you” [1 Corinthians 11:23-26].  All Scripture moves in that direction.  When the Lord said, “I am the door” [John 10:9], I understand what He means.  He is our open door into heaven.  When He says, “I am the vine” [John 15:5], I understand what He means.  We draw, as a branch from the vine, our strength from Him.  When He says, “This is My body, and this is My blood” [Matthew 26:26, 28], I understand.  The bread broken and the crushed fruit of the vine brings back to my heart the memory of what He did for me that I might be saved, suffering and dying on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50].

It is exactly like this.  In a beautiful home here in Dallas, one of the tremendous corporate leaders in the city took me into his study, into his library.  And there on the wall in that beautiful library in that mansion was a picture, an oval picture, a large picture of an old-fashioned girl.  She looked to be about eighteen years of age.  She was dressed in an old-fashioned dress with a high collar.  And as I stood by his side, he pointed to that picture.  And he said, “See, that is my mother.  She died when I was born.  And I am looking forward to that beautiful day when I see her in heaven.  This is my mother.”

I could have scoffed in ridicule and said to him, “Sir, that is your mother?  That is cardboard and ink and paper and glass and frame.  That is not your mother.”  It would have been unthinkable, besides being uncharitable, for me to scoff at that wonderful man when he pointed to that picture and said to me, “This is my mother.”  I knew what he meant.  “That picture is a picture of my mother.  That picture represents my mother.  That picture keeps before my mind my mother who died that I might live, when I was born.”  I understand.  So, do I understand when the Lord says, “This is My body” [Matthew 26:26], it represents His body; “This is My blood” [Matthew 26:28], it represents His blood, and brings back to my mind the memory of the suffering Christ who died that I might live [Matthew 27:26-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3].

Loving the church, keeping its ordinances, praying and upholding its ministries.  There are two in the Bible.  There are two ordained officers in the church.  For example, when Paul writes to the church at Philippi he begins his letter, “Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all of the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” [Philippians 1:1].  And in the New Testament the episkopoi and the presbuteroi and the poimēn, all three refer to the same ordained servant of the Lord.  Sometimes he is called an episkopos, that is an overseer, translated bishop.  Sometimes he is called a presbutreros, that is an elder, referring to the dignity of his office.  And sometimes he referred to as a poimēn, that is the word for shepherd, translated pastor.  And all three of those words refer to the same man.

In the church of Christ there is always that pastor, “and the deacons,” the diakonoi.  These are the servants, deacon, diakonos, servant of Christ.  In the third chapter of the first letter to Timothy he speaks first of the bishop [1 Timothy 3:1-7]; the pastor, the elder; then beginning at verse [8], he speaks of the deacons [1 Timothy 3:8-13].  These are the two ordained officers in the church that Jesus founded.  And there are just two, the pastor and the deacon.  And they are to be upheld and prayed for and encouraged by the congregation of God’s sainted people.  And they make an unbeatable team; when they are devoted and dedicated to the service of our Christ, God works with them in grace, in unction, and in power.  What a wonderful thing it is to be a pastor, a preacher, an elder, a bishop, proclaiming the Word of the Lord.

One time I mentioned here, when I was a youth at a Southern Baptist Convention, I was invited with just a small group of others to eat lunch, a noon meal with George W. Truett, the famed pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  I cannot remember why I should have been invited.  I was just a youth, and the rest of the men there were patriarchs in our convention.  But it was a wonderful thing that somebody did for me in inviting me to that lunch.  And I can just see the great, mighty servant of God as he stood there that day, with about, oh, I would say fifteen to twenty of us.  And he described his commitment to the ministry, to the preaching of the gospel.  He said when he was a young man he wanted to be a lawyer.  He set his heart on being a counselor, an attorney.  “But,” he said, “in the providence of God, he was called to the ministry to be a preacher.”  Then he said, “If I stood before the Lord God today and He said to me, ‘When you were a young man, you wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted you to be a preacher, and called you into the ministry of the saving word.  Now, says the Lord God,” Dr. Truett speaking of the Lord talking to him, “Now, says the Lord God, you may choose for yourself whether you be a preacher or whether you would be a lawyer and what will it be.’”  And Dr. Truett replied, “If I had a thousand lives, every life I would give to God to be a preacher.”

Oh, as a boy, as a youth, as a teenager, listening to that man, I thought that is like heaven.  And that is exactly the way that I have felt all of my life, all of it.  My mother wanted me to be a doctor like her father.  Her father was a physician, and she wanted me to be a doctor.  But as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to and prepared myself for being a pastor.  I have no other interest in any other commitment.  All of my life, I have wanted to be a pastor.  I would rather be a pastor than anything in this earth, whether it be president of the United States or prime minister of England.  I love being a pastor.

And it is wonderful and God-blessed, encouraging beyond any way I could say it in syllable and in sentence, to have godly ordained men who are faithful to the church and faithful to its highest interests and the service of God’s people.  What a wonderful thing, to be a deacon in the church.  One time, many years ago, I preached at the North Shore Baptist Church in Chicago.  And after the preaching hour was over, I was a guest in the home of James L. Kraft.  He was the head, the founder, of the great Kraft Food Corporation in Chicago.  And after those days, I invited Mr. Kraft to come here to our dear church.  And he said something here that just stayed in my memory through the years.  Mr. Kraft said, “I had rather be a layman in the North Shore Baptist Church of Chicago than to head the greatest corporation in America.”  He paused and then he added, “My first job is serving Jesus, my Lord.”  What a wonderful commitment for a man to make.  “My first assignment in life is to serve Jesus, my Lord.”  This makes for a glorious church, the church Jesus loved [Ephesians 5:25].

May I add just one other, out of a multitude of things that could be said?  Faithful to that church unto death.  Out of the seven churches of Asia, there is just one of them with whom the Lord found no fault.  It is the martyr church of Smyrna.  And in that address, the message of our Lord to the church at Smyrna, in Revelation 2:10, He says, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”  Now, if I believed that we were saved by works, that we made our own way to heaven, why, I would try to interpret that against the meaning of Holy Scripture.  You hang on, and you do good, and you strive, and by and by, if you are good enough and if you have striven hard enough, why, the Lord might open the pearly gates and let you in.  You save yourself.  You do it by works, by being good, by keeping all of the things you are supposed to keep, and observing all of the laws you are suppose to.  You do it yourself.  Now that is what I would say if I were an Arminian.  I am no Arminian.  I don’t believe the Bible teaches us that we save ourselves.  If we save ourselves, you don’t need Jesus.  You just go out here and save yourself.  It would be ridiculous to think of His coming to die on the cross if we can save ourselves, if we can forgive our own sins.  Nothing of that is ever in the Bible.  Always it is God’s grace that saves us.  We are saved by grace through faith [Ephesians 2:8].

The channel of God’s grace to us is in my open heart.  Lord, I cannot save myself.  I cannot even be good.  I stumble and fall every day of my life.  But I cast myself upon Thy mercies [Titus 3:5].  Lord, be good to me.  Save me.  And He does it.  And when I get to heaven and they sing the song of glory in the beautiful ramparts of the New Jerusalem, the song is not going to be “All praise and glory to me, Look what I did.  I made it.  My works are so acceptable and my life is so perfect that here I am, all praise and glory to me.”  There will be nothing approaching that when I get to heaven.  When I get to heaven and join the heavenly chorus and the angels’ song, it is going to be, “Worthy is the Lamb who died for my sins, and gave to me the grace and the love and the forgiveness that opened for me the gates of glory” [Revelation 5:11-12].  We are going to praise Him.  That is how we are saved.  We are saved through Jesus our Lord [John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. 

Now that is what He means here, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a reward, a crown” [Revelation 2:10].  What He means is be faithful even if it costs you your life.  Be faithful even if it means martyrdom, death.  Be faithful if it costs you all that you have and are; meaning, including life itself, “and I will give you a crown in glory” [Revelation 2:10].  Lord, that we might be that way, faithful unto Jesus even unto death; if it were to cost us our lives.

I sometimes think of Ignatius, pastor of the church at Antioch.  About four or five or six years after the death of the apostle Paul, the emperor Trajan condemned Ignatius to be exposed to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome.  And he made that long trek from Antioch in Syria to Rome.  And he was one of the first Christian martyrs to die in the Coliseum.  Along the way he wrote letters, and we have those beautiful letters to this present day.  And when Ignatius, the pastor of the church in Antioch, was placed in the Coliseum, and the cages were opened, and those ravenous beasts, who had been starved and were viciously, voraciously hungry—when the cage doors were opened, those lions rushed out.  And Ignatius stood there and extended his hand and arm to the leading lion, and above the crunching of bone and the tearing of sinew, he was heard to say, “Now, I begin to be a Christian.”  No wonder they subverted the Roman Empire.  What could you do with a man who stood in the presence of a violent death saying, “This is the beginning of my Christian faith, my Christian commitment”?  “Be thou faithful unto death,” if it costs you your life, “and I will give you a crown in glory” [Revelation 2:10].

It is wonderful to be a Christian.  It is glorious to follow in the steps of our Lord.  It is incomparably precious to be counted a member of the flock of our Savior, loving the church of our Lord.  We are going to stand now.