Our Ministries for the Poor
March 18th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
OUR MINISTRIES FOR THE POOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-18-87 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the multitudes of you who share our hour of praise and worship on radio and on television. You are a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Ministries to the Poor.
It is no strange thing for us who are in the heart of this work of the Lord to be introduced to the avowal that the remembrance of the poor is at the very heart of our gospel ministry. And as a background of that avowal, I read several passages from the New Testament. One is in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew. It is the story of John the Baptist in prison, hearing of the works of the Christ.
And He sent two of His disciples,
And said unto Him: Are Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?
Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John those things which you do hear and see.
Now look at them. It’s an amazing encompassing list that our Lord names for John to be assured that his introduction of Him as the Christ was the truth of God. Look at them: “The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised up.” What is his last? “And the poor have the gospel preached unto them” [Matthew 11:5].
What an amazing category! This is the imprimatur and the aegis of God upon the ministry of the Lord Christ. “The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. And the poor have the gospel preached unto them” [Matthew 11:5]—one of the signs of the messianic power of God: the preaching of the gospel to the poor [Matthew 11:5].
I’m turning now to the second chapter of the Book of Galatians. In this second chapter to the churches of Galatia, Paul is recounting the first Jerusalem Conference. When he came back from the first missionary tour, recounted in Acts 13 and 14 [Acts 13:4-14:26], when he returned, he was accosted by those who said, “A man cannot be saved just by believing on the Lord Christ. He must be circumcised, and he must keep the law of Moses” [Acts 15:5].
That precipitated a fierce confrontation between Paul and those who stood by him and the Judaizers, who said you had also to be a Jew as well as a Christian. You had to keep the law of Moses, as well as believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, in order to be saved [Acts 15:5]. So the first Jerusalem conference was convened in order to address that doctrinal subject: whether we who are Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved, in order to be a Christian. Now Paul recounts this: “After fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas; and I took Titus with me” [Galatians 2:1]—who was an uncircumcised Gentile [Galatians 2:3]; then he describes the discussions [Galatians 2:3].
Now, in verse 9:
And when James and Simon Peter, called Cephas, and John—the sainted revelator—who were pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and to Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the Jews.
Now verse 10: here again is that same aside, “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same thing, which I also was forward, was eager, to do” [Galatians 2:10].
In the midst of the great doctrinal controversy that has liberated us from the yoke that even those who tried to bear it were unable to endure [Acts 15:10], in the midst of that conference, this aside: “Only they would that we should remember the poor” [Galatians 2:10].
Whatever the doctrine and whatever the confrontation or discussion, that always to be in our minds, and in our hearts, and in our love, and in our ministries: that we remember the poor.
In Revelation, there is one of the seven churches that has before God no fault—a remarkable faith. With all the other six, our Lord finds tremendous blame, but not with Smyrna.
I read Revelation 2, beginning at verse 8:
And unto the angel of the church of Smyrna write; These things saith the First and the Last, I who was dead, and now am alive.
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you do not realize it, you are rich) . . .
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, Satan shall cast some of you into prison, and you will be tried: and you will have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Every word one of commendation to the church at Smyrna. What kind of a church? “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty—poor, but you do not realize it—how rich you are” [Revelation 2:9]. And one other, beside the one that we read: “I was sick and you visited Me. I was hungry and ye fed Me. I was naked and ye clothed Me. . . Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, you did it unto Me” [Matthew 25:35-40]. Doctrinally, dispensationally, it’s His brethren. It’s a sign of our love for Christ and the conversion of our souls and our hearts in Him.
Now a last one: in the third chapter of the Book of Acts, Peter and John are in the temple at the ninth hour, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb—
born that way—
he was laid there at the temple to ask alms.
And seeing Peter and John going into the temple, he held out his hand, his right hand;
He held out his right hand and asked for a coin, a token.
And Peter fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said: Look, look on us.
And he looked, with his right hand extended, expecting to receive something of them, a pittance. Then Simon Peter said: “Silver and gold have I none”—poor, poor—“silver and gold have I none; but what I have give I to thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” [Acts 3:5-6].
I want to ask you something, if you had been born lame, and had never walked in all the days of your life, and two strangers came by and said, “Stand up,” would you have stood up? It wouldn’t even entered your mind to have stood up—born that way, never stood in your life, never took a step in your life. He just looked at them with his right hand extended. “Preacher, what makes you think he had his right hand extended?” Well, the next verse says that Simon Peter took him by the right hand, and raised him up [Acts 3:7].
Now I want to show you something else about Simon Peter. Peter—people sometimes will ask me, “What makes you think Peter was a great big, gigantic strong man?” Well, I want to ask you, if I’m seated here, is there a man here in this house that can take me by the right hand and raise me up? You want to try it? Any one of you want to try it? I’ll be seated right here and you come up here and take me by the right hand and raise me up. I’d just like to see you try to do it.
Simon Peter did. He was a great big, strong, bulky man.
He took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
And he leaping up stood, and walked. . .leaping, walking, and praising God, and entered into the temple
[Acts 3:7, 8]
And no wonder the people saw and heard. I’d have been listening and watching, too. Good night, think of that! Isn’t that a wonderful way to go to church: walking and leaping and praising God? Man, you couldn’t get into this house if we had a few coming to church like that. Oh, dear! Oh, oh, oh, oh—“Silver and gold have I none: but such as I have give I thee” [Acts 3:6]—rich, though having nothing: the poor.
My whole ministry has been a reflection of what I have seen and read here on these holy pages. My first little church, eighteen members; they said to me, “If you will work hard, we will try to pay you $20 a month—if you will work hard.” They were selling cotton at five cents a pound. And the people were poor. I was a teenager, like you kids. I was seventeen years old. I was their pastor. They paid me $20 a month out of their necessity, and out of their poverty, and out of their want, and I lived on twenty dollars a month. I never allowed myself more than ten cents for breakfast, more than twelve cents for lunch, and more than eighteen cents for dinner—never—and most of the time, lived below it. All through those years, I lived like that, with poor, but sainted, people, living on a pittance.
In my first pastorate out of the seminary, my first full-time pastorate, in a county seat town, a small county seat town, in the midst of the Depression in a poor part of our world, down there was a wagon yard. And clustered around that wagon yard were poor, poor, poor families. As I walked in and out among them, prayed with them, knelt down in their poverty-stricken cottages—shacks, winning them to Jesus, the need to cover their nakedness and feed their hungry mouths pressed itself upon my heart. And the first Christmas I was there, I had a White Christmas Program. And I invited everyone to bring a package wrapped in white, place in the package something that can feed these poor people—a staple, not a perishable, or something that they can wear. And we had a White Christmas Program. It was marvelously blessed of God. The house was packed to the rafters and those gifts went clear to the ceiling. And for the rest of the winter, and each year that I was there, we fed and clothed those hungry, needy people.
When I came to Dallas, I found a like need here in this city: a great throng of poor people, thousands and thousands of them. And we started, in those long-ago days, forty-three years ago—we started with a beautiful White Christmas Program.
For all the years heretofore, nobody came to church at Christmas time. When we presented that beautiful White Christmas Program, this thing was packed to the wall. And once again, those white Christmas packages went clear up to the ceiling. And for years and years, we ministered to the poor in the city out of the largess of our kind-hearted people, bringing food and clothing for these poor to eat and to wear.
And as the days passed, and the days multiplied into years, we began, formally, to shape a ministry, a continuing ministry to the poor of our city. And we built us a chapel over in West Dallas, and then another chapel, and then another chapel. And then we buy an abandoned church, and another chapel, until today, we have twenty-six of those chapels. And every time you make a gift, a large percentage of that goes for those poor people. There are more than $800,000 in that budget that goes for the support of these ministries to the poor. Nor is there anything that I see that has the repercussion in my heart as our ministries, through those twenty-six chapels, teaching the Word of God, preaching the gospel, baptizing our converts, and feeding and clothing those families.
A long time ago, I sat through a meeting here at the church and literally cried for about three hours—just sat there and wept. What it was, at Christmas time, we had a meeting here in Coleman Hall of those families in those chapels. And the program was the testimonies of those people who had been won to Christ in the ministries of our dear people through those mission chapels.
There would be a man stand up, and he would say, “I was a drunkard and every Saturday I’d beat my wife. And when I came home, my children hid themselves. They were afraid of me.” Then he turned to one of our preachers and said, “But that man of God came to my door, knelt in my house, prayed God’s mercy upon me, and won me to Christ. And I became a new man.” And then he described his new life in the Lord. That went on for about three hours. It was a divine and heavenly convocation of these who had been won to the faith, won to the Lord. And we carry that ministry on every day of every year, 365 days of the year. It is a part of this faith commitment in Christ.
I have not words to describe the blessing and the glory I feel in my soul when I think of this increasing ministry under some of the most devout and godly men I have ever known in my life, like Lanny Elmore and those pastors, and these that they win. We have four preachers over here in our preacher’s school that have been won to Jesus out of the gutter in this Inner City Chapel, four of them are studying to be preachers—just symbolic of the thousands that have been touched and raised up in the Lord.
I want to relate, and then I will close—I want to relate something that happened, showing how God’s grace, and God’s mercy and love, and God’s infinite and heavenly blessing reaches down to these who are the poorest in the earth. I had gone to the Southern Baptist Convention in a city over there on the other side of the Mississippi River in the East. And I was on the plane, coming back to Dallas.
A man sat down by my side on the airplane. And when he found I was a Baptist preacher, he seemed to be interestingly intrigued that I was a preacher, and a Baptist preacher. He was not a Baptist, and I don’t think he was very much of a religionist. Anyway it seemed to captivate his thought and interest that I was a Baptist preacher.
So he began talking to me. And he said, “So you are a Baptist and you are a Baptist preacher.” Well, he said, “Let me tell you something.” He said, “In the Tennessee town where I grew up, there was a girl who became pregnant.” And being in a small town, such as I grew up in, an illegitimacy like that was a point of shame and scorn unbearable. I know all about that, growing up in a small town.
So he said, “This young woman—pregnant now, outcast, shunned, deprecated, scorned—she got a little place of a hovel of a house on the edge of town.” And he said to me, “She raised that little boy taking in washing. She was the washer woman in our town. And she took in washing, and supported herself and that little boy that we called Willie, little Will. And the little fellow grew up in the town, supported by that mother taking in washing.” And he said, “You know, you won’t believe it, taking in washing, she not only raised that little boy in the town, but she sent him to college. And he went through college, supported by that mother, taking in washing.” Then he said to me, “And you won’t believe it. They tell me that little fellow Willie is one of the greatest preachers in America. That’s what they tell me,” he says, “and he is the pastor of one of the biggest Baptist churches in this nation.”
Well, I said, “Mister, what is his name? What is little Willie’s name, who is such a wonderful preacher and the pastor of one of our great Baptist churches?” Well, bless my soul—I had just heard that man. That man, little Willie—I had just heard him deliver the annual sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention. I had just heard him.
As the days passed, he invited me to hold a revival meeting in his church. I was delighted to accept. Not a soul in this earth, I suppose, knows this story, and the man is dead now. And when I went to the church, without saying anything about the growing up of that little boy, who’s now pastor of that great church where I was holding a revival meeting, I said to the people there, “Where is his mother? I’d love to see his mother?”
And the men in the church said to me, “She just died. She just died.”
Well, I said, “How was it here?”
And they said to me, “You know, when he came to be pastor of our church, the first thing he did, he brought his mother here. And all those years, she’s lived here in our midst. And you never saw—you never saw a son so love his mother as that boy loved her.”
Who would have ever thought, out of such poverty and need, would grow up so marvelous a man, and so wonderful a servant of Christ, and so glorious a minister of the gospel? That’s the faith. That’s God. That’s Christ, our Lord. And it is one of the signs and affirmations of the truth of the gospel that we preach: the love and care of God and His people for the poor.
And I’m so grateful that in all of the work that we have done, and the thousands and thousands of dollars that we’ve poured into that ministry, never, ever, in forty-three years, have I heard anyone, any time, say any word but one of gladness and thanksgiving and praise to God that our church is giving to so sweet and so precious a ministry.
God bless Lanny Elmore! And God bless our chapels! And God bless our preachers! And God bless our people, as they minister in the name of Christ to these who so desperately need Him and us! “You go back and tell John, not only are the dead raised, and the blind see, and the lame walk, and the deaf hear, but tell him the poor have the gospel preached to them” [Matthew 11:5]. That’s the Lord. That’s our Savior. Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, just to be a part of the spirit, and heart, and love, and compassion of Jesus is a blessing and a privilege beyond any way we could ever describe it. Thank You Lord for a church that so loves Jesus, it makes a part of its ministry the preaching of the gospel to the poor; a part of its giving program and budget; a part of its prayer and love. And our Father through the unfolding years that lie ahead may those sweet ministries continue under Thy hands and ours. Thank You Lord for a praying, loving, giving people interested in the lost, interested in men everywhere, interested in families and children from every stratum and walk of life. And make us Lord effective in Thy hands to win them to Thee, in Thy saving name, amen.
Now brother Denny Dawson, we are going to sing us a song and I will be standing right here, right here. Somebody tonight to give himself in trust to the Lord Jesus come and welcome [Romans 10:9-13]. A family you to put your life in this circle and circumference and fellowship of our dear church, welcome. Or to answer some call of the Spirit in your heart, welcome. As God shall make the appeal, answer with your life. Do it now, welcome now, while we stand and while we sing.
MINISTRIES TO THE POOR
I. At the heart of the Christian faith
A. Matthew 11:1-5
B. Galatians 2:1-10
C. Revelation 2:8-11
D. Matthew 25:31-46
E. Acts 3:2-8
II. My pastoral experience
A. My first church
salary $20 a month
B. First full-time
pastorate began in the midst of the Depression
C. Our chapels
program of mission chapels
III. The appeal of the gospel
A. On the plane coming
back from SBC
1. Story of