He Gambled His Life on God
May 21st, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
HE GAMBLED HIS LIFE ON GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-21-89 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message, and it’s a Latin/Greek one out of the Holy Scriptures. So let’s begin. In the third chapter of Paul’s letter to Philippi, beginning at verse 12 [Philippians 3:12]: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” reaching the goal for which God set before me, “but I follow after, if that I may apprehend”—this whole passage is taken out of the Greek Olympic games, and that is a Greek Olympic word: katalambanō—“if I may katalambanō,” if I may seize, if I may grasp, if I may win the prize, “if I may get hold of that for which also I was got hold, katalambanō, of Jesus Christ. Brethren, I count not myself to have katalambanō”—I haven’t won the prize yet—“but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press”—I’m running the race—“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:12-14]. I haven’t arrived. I haven’t won the prize, but I’m reaching forth toward it to seize that, to grasp that, for which God also got hold of me.
What a magnificent avowal in a man’s life: “I’m on the way. I’m pressing toward the mark.”
The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice,
A banner with this strange device,
In happy homes he saw the light
Of household fires gleam warm and bright;
Above, the spectral glaciers shone,
And from his lips escaped a moan,
“Oh, stay,” the maiden said, “and rest
Thy weary head upon my breast!”
A tear stood in the bright blue eye,
As he answered, with a sigh,
“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch!
Beware the awful avalanche!”
These words were spoken in awesome fright,
But the youth answered from up the height,
[“Excelsior,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1842]
I’m on the way! God help me: seizing that for which God got hold of me.
And in this wonderful epistle of Paul to the church at Philippi, he speaks of a young man who did just that. In the previous chapter, the second chapter, he writes:
I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, my companion, my fellow soldier, my messenger, and minister from God.
For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness because ye heard he’d been sick.
He was sick nigh unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also . . .
I send him therefore the more carefully, that when ye see him, ye may rejoice, that I have been less sorrowful.
Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such in reputation;
Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.
What do you think about that? “Because for the work of Christ, he gambled his life . . .” [Philippians 2:30]. You have it translated here “not regarding his life”: parabouleuomai. That’s a Greek word “to take a risk.” It’s a Greek word “to expose yourself.” It’s a gambling term, and it was used here to stake everything on God—betting your life on God.
One of the things that I discovered as I studied and prepared this message: that word parabouleuomai, “gambling”—those early Christians were called parabolani. They gambled their lives on God. They were risk takers. They bet on God. They were gamblers for God—betting everything on the Lord.
Now this man Epaphroditus—the young fellow that the Lord, that Paul, is sending back in the name and power of the Lord to the church at Philippi—he was converted out of idolatry, out of paganism. Epaphroditus is the Greek word for “handsome,” for “charming;” and it is built upon the word of the goddess Aphrodite. In Greek, that’s the Greek word for the goddess of beauty, of love. In Assyrian language, she’s called Ishtar. In the Phoenician language, she’s called Astarte. In the Egyptian language, she’s called Isis, and in the Roman language, the Latin language, she’s called Venus. She arose out of the sea: aphros. That’s why she’s called Aphrodite, and she represented the most degraded form of worship that mind could imagine.
For example, if you’ve ever been in Corinth, up there on the top of the hill overlooking the great city was a temple to Aphrodite, and you worshipped her with a thousand prostitutes. To us today, it is unthinkable. She represented an awesome degradation; and out of that paganism, and out of that degradation, and out of that prostitution, this young man Epaphroditus was born again. He was saved. He became a Christian.
By the way, if you’ve ever been in the Louvre, you’ll see there one of the most famous statues in the world: Venus de Milo—“Aphroditē tēs Mēlou.” Aphrodite: discovered on the Greek island of Melos. Everywhere in the ancient Roman world she was worshiped; and he [Epaphroditus] came out of that paganism and followed the Lord Jesus Christ—gave his heart and life to God.
Just briefly, his mission from Philippi to Rome: Paul was incarcerated in the Mamertine dungeon there, and the church at Philippi took up a collection for him—made a gift for him—and sent Epaphroditus with it to Rome [Philippians 2:25, 4:18]. But while he was in Rome, he became sick unto death; and the church at Philippi had heard about his illness and was so greatly concerned concerning the young man [Philippians 2:26-27]. And so Paul sends him back to [Philippi] with this epistle [Philippians 2:25, 2:28]—the most beautiful letter ever written—and he returns with the love and appreciation of the apostle Paul for what they had done [Philippians 1:1-5, 1:7; 4:10-23].
Paul’s written appreciation of him is an unusual thing. In Philippians 2:25 it follows an ascending scale. He refers to him as adelphos, “my brother;” sunergos, “my fellow worker;” sustratiotes, “my fellow soldier;” apostolos, “apostle,” a chosen vessel unto God; leitourgos, “a minister who stands before the seat of government”—here “a minister who stands before God.” What a wonderful thing that a man out of paganism and out of idolatry could be so won to God that he becomes all those things that Paul describes in that beautiful tribute.
Now I want to speak of gambling his life on God. Paul speaks of it as though it were well-pleasing to the Lord—giving everything that he had for God. What do you think about that? What do you think about that poor widow that Jesus observed standing by the treasury in the temple and she placed two mites in the offering—everything that she had—gambling everything on God? [Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4] It’s a wonderful thing to believe in the ableness of God to bless. He holds the world in His hands. The whole universe is His omnipotent possession [Psalm 95:4; Isaiah 40:12, 50:10-12], and when we trust Him and go all out for Him, gambling everything on Him, He doesn’t forget to bless us [Matthew 6:25-34]. He sees us through.
I one time heard about Queen Elizabeth I—Queen Elizabeth. She said to a merchant man in London, “I want to send you on a mission far away to one of the colonies,” and the merchant man said, “But, dear queen, if I leave my business on that long, long journey, my business will fail while I’m gone.” And Queen Elizabeth said to the businessman, “You go your way for me. You take care of my business, and I’ll take care of yours while you’re gone.” So the merchant man went on his way; and when he came back, he was amazed at the tremendous increase in his business there in London because it was sponsored by, and furthered by, and taken care of by the queen herself. That’s the way it is with God. When we gamble everything on Him, He sees us through. We don’t lose. He multiplies our devotion to Him ten thousand times [Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 6:38]. What a wonderful thing to put everything you have, to stake everything you have, on God!
My impression of mankind is this: you’re going to do it anyway one way or another. Every one of us—I don’t care who we are—there is something on which we’re going to stake everything of our lives. We’re going to leave our lives to it. We’re going to yield our time and energy to it. We’re going to put everything we have into it, every last one of us.
One of the strangest things, one of the strangest providences that I can remember here in our church: there was a family here in our church who came to me and said, “Up there in Idaho—up there in Idaho one of our kinsmen has died, and we’re bringing his body back here to Dallas for burial, and we want you to conduct the memorial service.”
Well, I said, “What was he doing in Idaho?”
And they said to me, “He’s one of the greatest cattlemen in America: thousands and thousands of acres up there in Idaho and thousands and thousands of cattle on those acres. He’s given his whole life as a cattleman.”
Well, I said, of course, being a Baptist pastor, “Was he a Christian?”
“No,” they said.
Well, I said, “Did he have anything to do with the church?”
“No,” they said. “He was too busy with his cattle. He was too busy. He’d given everything, his life, to cattle.” And then they said to me, “You understand, don’t you?”
And I said, “Yes, I understand. I understand. I understand.”
I understand all of us are like that. There’s something to which we will give the energies of our lives. You just will. You can’t obviate it. How infinitely better it is if we can take the energy and time and love and devotion of our souls and dedicate it to God; and what we do, we do under His direction: in His love, under His aegis, in His purpose and will—gambling everything we have on God.
Now I don’t deny that there are millions and millions who would say this [Epaphroditus] lost. He gambled on God, and he lost. They would say there’s not any God, there’s not any Savior, there’s not any heaven. The disdainful Epicureans and those scornful Stoics and these infidel professors and these grasping materialists and these mocking unbelievers: “He lost! He gambled everything on God, and he lost.”
But some of us say, “He won.” He may have lost his possessions, confiscated; he may have lost his house and his home, hunted down; and he may have lost his life, he became a martyr. But we say that he won. He won. He won.
In Philippians 1:21 is one of the greatest verses I know of in all human literature and in all the Holy Scripture: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.”
If for me to live is money, to die is a loss. If for me to live is pleasure, to die is a loss. If for me to live is ambition, to die is a loss. If for me to live is this world, to die is a loss. If for me to live is pleasure, to die is a loss [Mark 8:36-37]. But if for me to live is Christ, to die is a gain [Philippians 1:21].
Lord God in heaven, as we stand at the crossroads of life and give ourselves to the purpose for which we believe God made us, Lord, may it be the energy of our souls and the devotion of our hearts and the purpose to which we give our energy and life and days and years. God, grant it that it be in Thy purpose and in Thy will. Gambling everything we have on God, believing in Him, and He’ll bless us and see us through.
Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, how vital it is in this strategic moment in the lives of these young people that they look to heaven for the direction and the purpose for which God borned them into the world. Precious Savior, may they be like Epaphroditus, who came out of the world and into the love and grace of the Lord Jesus and built his home and his life and every purpose dear to his heart in the will of God. Lord, may these young people who hear this message tonight be like that young man: gambling everything on God. And when we come to the end of the way, may it be our infinite joy to hear our Savior say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy reward” [Matthew 25:21, 25:23].
In a moment, we’re going to stand and sing us a song of appeal; and while we sing that song, somebody you, a one somebody you: to give your heart to Christ, come and stand by me—“Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me, and I’m answering with my life.” Or a family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church; or somebody you giving your heart to the call of Christ—as the Spirit shall make appeal and as the Lord shall press that invitation to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, this is God’s time and God’s night for me, and I’m coming.” May angels attend you in the way. May the Holy Spirit bless you as you decide for Christ, giving everything to God.
Now let’s stand; and while we stand and sing our hymn, to give your heart to the Lord, or to put your life with us in the service of Christ, or to answer a call of God in your heart: make it now. Make it now, while we sing our appeal.