What We Owe and How to Pay It


What We Owe and How to Pay It

October 28th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM


Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you. There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Philemon 16-20

10-28-87    7:30 p.m.


We welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio.  You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas.  And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled What We Owe and How to Pay It.  In the Book of Philemon, in the Book of Philemon, a very small letter that Paul wrote to a brother and pleading in behalf of Onesimus, a runaway slave.  The man had been wonderfully converted in Rome and Paul is sending him back to the Lycus Valley in the middle of Asia Minor.  And this is a part of what he says:

Receive him not as a slave, but as a brother beloved, especially to me, and how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as you would me myself.

If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account;

I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: even though I do not need to remind you how you owe me even your very soul.

[Philemon 15-19]

Paul had won Philemon to the Lord, and now Onesimus.

What we owe and how to pay it: there is especially and particularly an aside to the appeal of the sermon tonight that I pray God in heaven will wonderfully bless.  Today there was brought to me by Dr. Charles McLaughlin—our yokefellow, an assistant in the faith—there was brought to me the invitation of a television station in the city of Dallas, a station that has broad coverage.  It is one of the most popular in the land, and they have offered to televise live our services from 11:00 o’clock to 12:00 o’clock every Lord’s Day morning.  One of the unusual providences of life, there is no church in this vast metroplex that televises its services every Lord’s Day live from 11:00 o’clock to 12:00 o’clock each Sunday morning.  There are a thousand churches in Dallas; I’d say there would be seven hundred in Fort Worth.  I’d say in the vast metroplex they would total three thousand.  There’s not one, there’s not one that is invited to televise its services live each Lord’s Day morning.  But they have offered that to us.

The going rate, the cost is what they usually pay for such a time, the cost is ten thousand dollars a Sunday, which seems astronomical to me.  But to those who work in the televised world, they say that is most reasonable.  What it would mean would be an outlay of five hundred twenty thousand dollars a year.  Where do you get five hundred twenty thousand dollars a year for the preaching of the gospel for a televised ministry?  It has to come from the love and response of our people.  And if we so respond, we will have more than enough for that ministry, added to all of the other wonderful things that are included in the support of the church and our worldwide mission appeal, if we will just respond.

So the subject: what we owe and how to pay it.  What we owe to God is everything we have in our life, our very being, our salvation, and our hope in heaven.

“What do we owe God?” you ask, suppose He sent His bill.

One hundred thousand dollars for the sun upon the hill,

Two thousand for the little brook that runs along the way,

Five thousand for the nighttime and five thousand for the day,

Six hundred thousand for the little birds that trill and chirp and sing,

Six hundred thousand for the tiny flowers that tell us that it’s spring.

One million for the baby girl to your heart so very dear,

Another million for the precious boy God’s given you to rear.

These are the bills which everyone of every clime forget.

If God should charge you what you owe you’d always be in debt.

[“What Do We Owe,” Dale Crowley]

We couldn’t pay God for what He has given to us.  What we owe—O God! it is everything we are; love, hope, hold dear.  But trying to remember what we owe to God and thus responding, what can I do?  One, I can love Him with my heart, my deepest soul.  I can love His Word.  I can worship the Lord.  I can bow down in His presence and call upon His name.  I can pray to Him.  I can talk to Him.  I can assemble with you in a public gathering and sing His praises, and listen to His Word, and love God together.  I can witness to His grace, the Lord’s blessing in personal life, helping me to magnify the name of the Lord in how I am and how I live, and in my personal testimony.

I want to share with you, if you would kindly forgive me for it, one of the most unusual providences in which I was ever thrust in my life.  Years ago, there was the richest family in the city of Dallas, many years ago.  His name is on our chapel.  The man owned three million acres of land in Texas; the greatest land baron that this world has ever known.  He was a deacon in this church and his family grew up in this church.  And when I came here four of his daughters were very dedicated members of this church.

Well, they had a big dinner for me.  It was in a luxurious mansion, a big dining hall, marvelously set.  And the whole tribe was there with others that they had invited. And when I sat down, I noticed at each plate there was a wine glass.  So they went around, the servants did pouring wine, and came to my glass and started to pour wine in my glass, and I put my hand on the top of it.

And the hostess—beautiful, gracious, charming, cultured woman—spoke to me.  It was her home and I was her guest, and she began to talk to me.  A little wine would not hurt, so be one of us and drink with us just to be sociable.  I demurred and refused, and she pressed and kept on pressing the appeal.  And I said, finally, “I will not drink it.  I will not do it.”  And when I finally said that, the whole throng burst out into an uproar and said, “You lose!  You lose!  You lose!”  And I said, “What in the Sam-Hill and under high heaven is it that somebody is losing?”  And they said, “The hostess bet that she could get you to drink, and we bet she couldn’t do it.  And she loses!  She loses.  She loses.”  I never thought of such a thing like that in my born days!

Well, I have reviewed that the Lord only knows how many times, and I have thought, “What if I had acquiesced and had drunk?”  A small, inconsequential thing, but there before that great group seated at that dinner table, O Lord, however we may seek to witness with words, our best and finest witness is always with how we are, how we live, how we do.

May I add just one facet to that?  How do you do under harsh providences?  How do you act when things are not good?  Listen to Habakkuk:


Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines;

the labor of the olive fail, and fields not yield their increase;

the flock cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet will I rejoice in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

[Habakkuk 3:17-18]

Anybody can praise God when everything is going your way.  Even an infidel can praise God when everything is pleasing in his life, and prosperous and affluent in everything that he touches.  An atheist and an unbeliever can be glad, but when things are harsh and hard and troubles come, that’s when a Christian praises God.  Lord, I may not understand the problem, and I may not enter into the reason why the trouble and the hurt, but Lord, I still love You.  As Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” [Job 13:15]

Now, when we seek to magnify the Lord in our work and in our life, one way to do it is through “coin personality.”  I take my days and my strength, and I turn it into currency and I give it to God.  If I make a hundred dollars a day and I give a hundred dollars to God, I have given him a day of my life.  And thus I can have a part and an investment in all the kingdom work of the earth.

I can’t go abroad and be a missionary, but I can give a part of me and somebody go in my place.  I can’t minister in every area of this dear church, but when I give to support it, I have a part in every ministry of our dear people: preaching, teaching, helping.  I can do it all in bringing to the Lord a coin personality.

Now may I speak for a moment of the result in personal life when you do that?  There was a man who headed a great business institution and went bankrupt.  We’re familiar with that in our city of Dallas.  In reading Genesis 28:22, he drew a circle around that verse when Jacob said, “Of every thing You give me, I will dedicate a tenth unto Thee.”  Now I quote, “From that moment on, as long as I live,” he said, “of all God gives me, I will give one-tenth to Him.”  He made a marvelous recovery.  Why?  Because he became a co-laborer with God, and God was his partner.  And God worked with him, and God helped him.

There is a proverb, “He who cuts his own firewood is twice blessed, is twice warmed.  He is warmed when he cuts it, and he’s warmed again when he burns it.”  So the tither in hard times, in difficult times, he is blessed in his providential faith.  If I trust God, God will help me, see me through.  And he is blessed in wrestling with a harsh providence.  Whatever these providences come in my life are in the will and purpose and admittance of God, and I’m going to take them as such.  If I’m sick, if I lose my sight, if any other harsh reality comes into my life, if I’m hurt or crushed, God will help me.

Years ago, a young businessman stood on the street in a little county seat courthouse town in southeast Alabama.  Down the street came a well-known country preacher, tall, gaunt, his form slightly bent with age.  He scarcely slackened his pace, but with a kindly smile and a slight nod of greeting, he handed the young man a tract, and said, “Read it.”  Thus did two of God’s trains meet at an obscure little station on the great highway of life, and passing each other, went on.  It was a tract on tithing.  It changed the life of the young man.

In a distant state lived his brother, involved in litigation, in debt, facing a hopeless future.  The brother sent him that tract.  Satan whispered to him, “Wait till all debts are paid and the litigation is over, then you try it.”  But by faith and dedication, he began.  After more than a half century, fifty years later, that merchant is of unlimited credit in the commercial world.  And both brothers have taught their children to tithe, and now they are teaching their children.  It never fails.

Now I have to close with some concomitants and corollaries.  Number one; how can I tithe when it is so hard to figure it out?  The answer: if the case were reversed, and God were to tell you that He would add one-tenth to your income, would you have any trouble or difficulty figuring out how much it would be?

All right, another one: are there not strictly business reasons that account for the prosperity of a tither?  The answer is yes.  And the reason it is yes is because you cannot separate God’s laws from daily practical living.  The Lord God who made us up there made us down here, and all of it is His.  Tithing leads to system, and system itself leads to prosperity, whether it’s in business, in labor, in farming, in present life, even playing Cowboy games.  It’s all the same; God’s laws are universal.

The accounting acknowledgment of God in our lives, the claims of Christ, the needs of humanity around us, if a man is sensitive to those things, it will remake his life.  We begin to realize the wealth of the meaning in the Savior’s Word, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:35].  And again, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will men give into your bosom” [Luke 6:38].  That’s God’s Word.

All right, again.  Is it wrong and materialistic to expect prosperity from tithing?  Not according to the Word of God.  And that’s all I am, is an echo, a mouthpiece, I don’t invent the message and I didn’t write this Book.  What does God say?  Proverbs 11:24, “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth”; what an amazing thing!  “And there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but tendeth to poverty.”  Again, Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase: then shall thy barns be filled with plenty” [Proverbs 3:9-10].  Or as our Lord said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all of these other things shall be added unto you.”

Tell a man again, tell a man that one tenth of his income is God’s and nine tenths of it belongs to him, and he’ll feel no obligation to use his substance and property and possessions for God.  You teach him that this tenth belongs to God, and he’ll use the other nine-tenths in materialistic and worldly and God-dishonoring ways.”  Now that’s what some would say.

All right, I want to ask you.  Let’s turn this thing in a theological experiential way.  Suppose I stand up here and preach—which I do—suppose I stand up here and preach the election of God, the perseverance of the saints, the predestinating grace of the Lord, which I believe the Bible teaches and is the most glorious promise in the world.  God says, “You trust Me.  You give your heart to Me.  I will reborn you.  I will make a Christian out of you.  I will make a pilgrim out of you.  And I will see you in heaven someday.  I will, I will take care of you.  I will see you through.”  Well, I preach that. I preach that.  God is sovereign, and God knew me before I was born and wrote my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 17:8].  God wrote it up there and I was saved by His grace [Ephesians 2:8], and His mercy, bless His name [Titus 3:5]. 

All right.  So I say, you know, if I believed that, that I was saved by the predestinating grace of God and I’m going to heaven, if I believed that, did you know I’d just go out here and sin all I want to?  I’m saved and I’m saved forever, and I’m predestinated to go to heaven.  I’m going to be there.  “If I believed that,” a critic says, “I would just go out here, and I would just sin, and I’d cuss, and I’d drink, and I’d carouse, and I’d be promiscuous.  I’d just go out here and sin all I want to.”

Well, my brother, I do!  Yeah, I drink all I want to.  I just get drunk all I want to.  I just cuss all I want to.  I just cuss and cuss and cuss and cuss all I want to.  And if there are any whoremongers around here and any prostitutes walking up and down, I would just live with them all I want to.  You see, when I was saved and born again and loved the Lord, I don’t want to cuss.  It just never comes into my heart like that.  I don’t want to get drunk.  It just doesn’t come into my heart like that.  I don’t want to be promiscuous.  It just doesn’t come into my soul like that.

You see, I’ve been born again; I’m a child of the King.  I’ve fallen in love with the Lord.  I love God’s people; I love the assembly of His saints.  I love being here with you.  And these other things have no appeal—I’m a child of God.  Oh, what a beautiful thing!  And that’s the way with a man’s possessions.  One tenth of it belongs to God; that’s right.  And in my heart, the other nine tenths I want to use for Him for the blessing of His Name and the glory of His kingdom; that’s the Lord.

Now brother Doug, Dr. Wood, let’s sing us a song.  And while we sing it I will be standing right here.  Somebody you give his heart to Jesus, somebody you put your life with us in the fellowship of our wonderful church, somebody you to give himself in a special way to the call of God.  As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life.  Do it now.  Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          Introduction

A.  The
text – Paul to Philemon, “Receive Onesimus…”

B.  Dale
Crowley’s “What Do We Owe”

C.  We
owe to God our life and being, our salvation, our hope in heaven

II.         Paying the debt

A.  Loving
the Lord, His Word, His will

B.  worshiping
the Lord in private devotion and public assembly

Witnessing to the grace of our Lord through personal life and testimony

1.  Dinner
for me – the bet on the drink

2.  Even
in adversity(Habakkuk 3:17-18, Job 13:15)

Through “coin personality”

III.        The result in personal life

A.  Bankrupt
head of a great business institution began tithing – made marvelous recovery (Genesis 28:32)

Proverb:  he who cuts his own firewood is twice warmed

So the tither in hard times – he is blessed in his providential faith

B.  Young
businessman on the street was given tract on tithing from well-known country

Changed his life – he sent it to his brother who was involved in litigation and
in debt

Brother began in faith – now a merchant of unlimited credit

IV.       Some concomitants and corollaries

A.  How
can I tithe when it is so hard to figure it out?

1.  If
the case were reversed and God were to tell you He’d add one-tenth to your
income, would it be difficult to figure out how much?

B.  Are
there not strictly business reasons that account for the prosperity of a

Yes – you cannot separate God’s laws from daily practical living

The accounting acknowledgment of God in our lives will remake a man’s life(Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38)

Is it wrong and materialistic to expect prosperity from tithing?

Not according to the Word of God(Proverbs 3:9,
11:24, Matthew 6:33)

D.  Some
say that if you tell a man one-tenth belongs to God and the rest belongs to
him, he will feel no obligation to use his substance for God

Theological experiment – as a reborn Christian I want to give what I have to
the Lord