The Servant Church
June 12th, 1988 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-88 10:50 a.m.
You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor, bringing the message entitled, The Servant Church.
In our preaching through the Gospel of John, we are in chapter 13. And I read, beginning at verse 4. John 13:4:
Jesus riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.
After that He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His own garments, and was set down again, He said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
You call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.
There are those – there is a denomination of Baptists who have three ordinances: Baptism, the initial ordinance; the Lord’s Supper, the recurring ordinance: and the washing of feet, a humble ordinance. We do not follow that pattern, because we seek to be a New Testament church. And in the New Testament church they had only two ordinances, baptism [Matthew 28:19] and the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthans11:23-26]. The washing of feet was not a church-instituted ordinance. So we know from the interpretation of the message and ministry of our wonderful Lord that, when He says we ought to wash one another’s feet [John 13:14], He is speaking of the attitude of love and ministry and service that ought to characterize every devout follower of our precious Lord.
In keeping with that spirit, the sermon today concerns the servant church: washing feet, our servant-Savior, the Lord Jesus; the servant pastor, the undershepherd of the flock; the servant deacon, whose very name means to serve; and the servant congregation – all of us who belong to the household of faith. The servant Savior: what was He like? God manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]: what was He like? Oh! how wonderful it would have been could we have seen Him in the days of His flesh: to look at Him, to talk to Him, to touch Him, to sit at His feet and to learn of the things of the forever kingdom of God. Wouldn’t it have been incomparably precious to have seen our Lord when He walked in the hills of Galilee? Dear Lord, what a privilege just to see Thee!
What was He like washing feet? This is God manifest in the flesh. This is God incarnate [Matthew 1:23]. This is God in human form [Philippians 2:7]. This is God dwelling among us [John 1:14]. And what is He like washing feet? [John 13:5]. And the picture of our Savior in His own descriptive words were just like that. In the closing words of the eleventh chapter of Matthew:
Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart – for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest for your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.
What was He like had we seen Him? Meek and lowly in heart.
In Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Our Servant, washing our feet, ministering to our needs, a loving and compassionate friend. Everything about Him was inviting. Little children were welcome to come. He took them in His arms and blessed them [Mark 10:16]. Outcast sinners loved to be near Him [Luke 5:1-2]. And women who in that day lived such a life of chattel property, they loved the Lord Jesus, and followed Him and ministered to Him [Mark 15:40-41].
What was He like washing feet? Tender, sweet, and precious. And His ministry; what did He do? In this eleventh chapter of Matthew: “You tell John, who asks if I am the incarnate Son from heaven [Matthew 11:2-3] – you tell John the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached unto them” [Matthew 11:4-5]. As Simon Peter stood in the court of Cornelius and preached Jesus, he said this word about Him, “He went about doing good” [Acts 10:38].
The ministry of our Savior was one of unending servitude, of blessing, of help. No one was sick in His presence, and no one died. No one bore an unbearable grief or sorrow; but Jesus was there to help, to sympathize, to minister, to heal, even to raise from the dead.
And the wonder of all wonders – this incarnate Son of God; when Isaiah in his fifty-third chapter sought to describe Him, these are the words that he said: “Surely, surely He hath borne our griefs, carried our sorrows. He was oppressed, afflicted; yet He opened not His mouth; brought as a lamb to the slaughter, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” [Isaiah 53: 4, 7]. Unresisting, without reproach, without harsh words of condemnation and judgment. O God, this is our Lord! It’s an amazing prophecy to me; without resistance, without words of judgment or condemnation, just silently suffering in atoning love for us, like a lamb.
In these years gone by, I went to the biggest packinghouse in the world, in Chicago. I was first there where they were slaughtering those beef cattle, and it was a den of lowing and moaning and bellowing, as they cut their jugular vein, and down the chute to be processed. Then I went to the area where they were slaughtering pigs and hogs, and the screaming and the yelling and the sound and the noises as they were slaughtered, and down the chute to be processed. Then I went to the place where they were slaughtering lambs. There was not a sound. The only thing heard was the clank of the machinery as they were brought from the slaughter into the processing chambers; not a sound.
And one of the most poignant of all experiences of any pastor: long time ago there was a slaughterhouse, a packing plant in Dallas, and down the aisle at the church came this man. When I talked to him, he said, “I was the man that, with that long sharp knife, plunged it into the throat of the animal to be processed, cut the jugular vein and down to be processed. And upon this day, without announcement to me, after slaughtering and slaughtering those animals – without announcement to me, there came up a lamb, a little white lamb. And I took that long knife and I plunged it into the throat of that little lamb. And pastor,” he said, “the little thing looked up at me and licked the blood off of my hand.” He said, “Pastor, I threw that knife away, and I’m not a killer since then. I don’t kill anymore. And I went to the foreman and I said, ‘I quit this job. I quit.'”
I can kind of understand that. When a man is insulted or beat or imprisoned, and he blesses you and prays for you and loves you in the name of God – no wonder those first Christians subverted the whole Roman Empire. It had never been seen before. That is our servant-Savior, washing feet, washing feet [John 13:5].
We’re speaking of the servant church: the servant pastor. In God’s Word, “The elders,” Peter writes in 1 Peter 5, “the pastors which are among you, I exhort, I who also am an elder, a pastor” [1 Peter 5:1]. In this passage, all three words that describe a pastor are used, except the last two are verbal. A pastor is called a presbuteros, translated here “an elder.” That refers to the dignity of his office. In verse 2, he’s admonished to “feed the flock.” That is the word poimen, to “shepherd” the flock. The pastor is a poimen, translated “pastor.” He’s a shepherd. And in that same second verse, he’s to “take the oversight,” that’s the word episkopos. He is the administrator of all the house of the Lord [1 Peter 5:2].
And having spoken of him as the presbuteros, the elder, as the poimen, the shepherd, the pastor, and as the episkopos, the overseer, the administrator, he says then to the pastor, “Not being a lord over God’s heritage, but being an example to the flock” [1 Peter 5:3]. That is the ministry of the pastor: washing feet. He is the servant of his people. They are not to minister to him, but he is to minister to them. And a wonderful pastor would always be one who furthers and exalts his people. These are they who are appointed and elected and placed in positions of service and ministry.
Everyone, God says,everyone has a gift, no one but who has a gift. It may be the humblest kind of a ministry, but each one has a gift. And the pastor is to encourage the people in the use of that precious gift the Holy Ghost has bestowed upon each one of us, always furthering the life of his people. It is easy to do that. I love to see our people grow in grace, take a part in the service of Christ. Some of them are gifted teachers. Some of them are gifted singers. Some of them are gifted instrumentalists. Some of them are wonderful visitors. Some of them have the gift of money. God blesses them, and they know how to support the work of God. Some of them are preachers. Out of this congregation, oh, we have some of the finest missionaries on the foreign field and some of the finest preachers in these pulpits. And the pastor is to encourage his people in the work of the Lord. It’s a beautiful thing.
Over here in the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 1, it says in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied, then they ordained these men to help the apostles. That’s a great, wonderful provision of the Lord God, when the church began to grow, God raised up helpers by the side of the pastor [Acts 6:1-7].
When I began with my first church, my little country church, I had eighteen members; eighteen. Then, almost immediately thereafter, I was called to another little country church. It had forty members, and we met once a month. We called them quarter-time churches. I never had anyone, not one, who would lead in public prayer – not one. I preached, just seventeen years old when I started. What I lacked in knowledge and ability, I made up in loudness. You could hear me forty miles; just preached all over the place.
I did all the preaching. I led the singing. And it was good, I tell you. I led the singing. I taught the Sunday school. I had the little kids, these little kids. I taught them choruses to sing. I did the whole thing, did the whole thing. The entire ministry of the church, I did when I started out with those little country quarter-time churches.
And now, in the precious providences of God, I’ve been undershepherd of this dear church for forty-four years now, and I love beyond any way I could say or describe it; I love to see our people take these responsibilities in all the many areas of our church life and do them well, better than I could. I just rejoice. We have a staff, a paid staff. What a wonderful thing! And all of these many, many men and women who work in the differing areas of the church, a servant church, a blessing. O God! I couldn’t frame the word to pronounce it or put the sentence together to say it, the depths of my gratitude to God for the wonderful ministries of this wonderful church.
Not only a servant-Savior, and a servant pastor, but a servant deacon – a servant deacon. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:13, “They that have used the office of a deacon well, worthily” – Christ-honoringly – “purchase to themselves a great degree and boldness in the faith, which is in Christ Jesus.” The very word deacon means “servant”; diakonos is the Greek word for servant. And the deacon is a servant in the church. He stands by the pastor, holds up his hands, prays for him, works with him.
I think one of the most devoted men I ever saw or listened to in my life was the president of the trustees of the seminary that I attended. He owned the big Anderson Department Store in Knoxville, Tennessee. He, one time, speaking to us, described a situation there in that beautiful First Baptist Church of Knoxville. Dr. Fred Brown was the pastor, a godly man. He was elected president of the convention; never able to serve because of his health.
Dr. Fred Brown began preaching on the street. And Mr. Anderson, who owned that beautiful spacious department store, a marvelously gifted man – deacon Anderson went to his pastor, Fred Brown, Dr. Brown, and said, “Pastor, it’s just beneath the dignity of the pastor of our great church to be standing out there on the street corner, preaching the gospel.” And Dr. Brown said to his deacon, Anderson, “But, I’ve just got it in my heart. It’s in my soul. And I just want to preach to these people, who are walking up and down those streets, the love and grace of the Lord Jesus.” And the next day, when Dr. Fred Brown stood up on the street corner to preach the gospel, that illustrious deacon, Mr. Anderson, stood by his side, and every time thereafter. I think that’s great. “If my pastor’s going to stand there on the street corner, and preach the gospel of Christ, I’ll be there standing by his side.”
To show you what a profound impact that made upon me as a student, when I had my first pastorate out of the seminary – when I had my first pastorate, every Saturday I took my Bible and went down on the courthouse lawn and preached the gospel. It was a county seat town. And the farmers came there by the throngs. And I’d stand there on that courthouse lawn and preach the gospel. And it happened again. Those godly deacons stood by my side, standing there preaching the gospel.
One of the strangest things; at the 8:15 service this morning, there was a man and his wife who joined the church this morning. And when he came down, he took my hand and he said, “Pastor, I was there in that county seat town, and I listened to you preach the gospel on the courthouse lawn, and in that day I shook your hand.” It’s wonderful. It’s God-honoring to be a servant of the people, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, to wash feet, to wash feet.
Our time is gone. May I close with the word of a servant church, a servant congregation, precious to one another and to the Lord? In Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Baros, that’s the Greek word for weight, for heaviness. Bear ye one another’s heavy assignment or providence in life. And we all have them, all of us, even the children. The grief and the tears of the children are as real as the grief and tears of us who are older and mature. And the frustrations and the disappointments and the hurts of teenagers is as poignant as it is for us. The burdens of life; no one escapes them – no one. And we are admonished to bear one another’s burdens.
There is no day but that some of our congregation is dying in the hospital. I visited some of them yesterday. There is no day but some of our people bow their heads in secret and cry before God. All of us, all of us, know the heaviness and the grief and the tears and the hurts of life – all of us. And we need strength and comfort and help. The beautiful, beautiful song “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”:
We bear our mutual woes.
Our mutual burdens share.
And for each other flows.
The sympathizing tear.
[“Blest Be The Tie That Binds,” John Fawcett]
That’s God’s presence in our midst.
And that ministering church is given to the help of the needy, the poor, the distressed, the outcast. I couldn’t but notice Hershel Forester’s prayer: “Lord, bless our twenty- eight chapels.” Even now, in this city, there are twenty-eight missions, chapels through which we are ministering to the poor of our city. We are feeding them every day, clothing them every day. And what appeals to my heart in our ministry is we are not just a soup line. We are telling them about Jesus. We are winning them to the Lord. Over here in our preacher’s college, we have five men studying to be preachers who have been won to Christ out of the gutter in our inner city chapel. I love it; a ministering church helping these who so desperately need us.
And our appeal to the lost: these camps in which we are now sharing; the Criswell Kids on Thursday – on Thursday, here at the church. These Criswell kids, they’re the primaries, they’re the children too young to go to the camp. On Thursday, we had two services with Miss Libby. And we had sixty of those children come to the Lord; sixty of them. And out there at that camp, they made an appeal every time the services were convened. And tonight, they’ll have a great hour ministering to these who need Jesus.
O God, what a wonderful life! What an open door of heaven You have set before us in Thee, to be a helper, to be a blessing! O God, bless Thou the fruit and the effort and the work of our hands!
THE SERVANT CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-12-88I. The servant Savior – what was He like?
A. His self-description (Matthew 11:28-30, 20:28)
B. His ministry (Matthew 11:4-5, Acts 10:38)
C. His silent suffering (Isaiah 53:1-7)II. The servant pastor
A. Fellow worker (1 Peter 5:1-4)
B. Develop and encourage the laymen (Acts 6:1-4)III. The servant deacon
A. Diakonos – “servant” (1 Timothy 3:13)
B. Stands by the pastor; works with himIV. The servant church
A. To the members, a ministry of healing, helpfulness (Galatians 6:2)
B. Help to the needy, poor, distressed