Sorrow, Peace, Comfort
January 12th, 1989
SORROW, PEACE, COMFORT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 4:13
Dallas Theological Seminary Chapel
I will be eighty years old my next birthday, and as you would know, I have asked the church to seek someone to come and to be with me, and then when I die or retire, to continue the work there in that dear church. And I have watched what they have done here in this great seminary. Dr. Walvoord and with him now Dr. Campbell, and I would to the dear Lord in heaven we could do just as good as that. O Lord, somebody able and capable!
I have always had a profound love and devotion and interest in this tremendous school. In 1927, I enrolled as a freshman in Baylor in Waco and was brought by a friend to Dallas. He came here to visit with Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1927, and brought me up here with him. And I visited with that wonderful, gifted and dedicated theologian and man of God. And from that day until this, I have always had a profound interest and a prayer for this marvelous school.
We are really at it in the communion of our Southern Baptist Convention: we have a bunch of half-infidels, I call them; they call themselves “moderates.” And I tell you, your devotion to the Word of God is just incomparable. Which leads me in this first Thessalonian letter, which leads me to make a comment: you know, Paul starts off there in the first chapter and the second verse, he says, “We give thanks to God always for y’all” [1 Thessalonians 1:2]. Now, that’s in the Book. You look at it, “y’all.” I say that Paul was not a…he possibly was a Southern Baptist because he says “y’all”; but he wasn’t a Texan because he also says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” [Philippians 4:11]. Make a comment out of it.
In this first letter, this first epistle that is in our New Testament, the first one written by the apostle Paul, addressed to the church at Thessalonica, there are three words in it that I think of as being common denominators for all mankind. And when we give ourselves to that ministry, no matter where we are or what our assignment, we are under God’s hands ministers to the desperate need of the human heart. The first one is the word “sorrow.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “Concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.” Sorrow: a common denominator for all humanity—sorrow.
Job says in 14:1, “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of tears and trouble and trial and tribulation, sorrow” [Job 14:1]. Upon my first preaching mission in Russia, I started in Leningrad. And in the days I was with those saints there, they took me to a monument outside of the city; looked to me about seven miles away. It was a tremendously effective rising sculpture there, and marked the advantage point, the ultimate area where the Nazi army had been stopped. And in that campaign, they had lost three million people; unthinkable to us. Well anyway, when I came to Moscow and was preaching there in that Baptist church in Moscow—and if you’ve been there you know they just jam it four, five times a day—while preaching there, I began to speak of that common denominator of all humanity, our sorrows. And I spoke of the fact that whether it be a German mother, or a French mother, or an English mother, or an American mother, or a Russian mother, that when they wept over their slain sons their tears were all strangely alike.
Well, I want you to know that when I said that sentence that entire throng burst into tears. I’d never seen anything like that. And if you’ve ever been there, you know they have large, white handkerchiefs; and every soul in that assembly took out a white handkerchief to wipe their tears away. Well, after the service was over I said to Michael Zidkoff, the pastor of the congregation, I said, “I was so surprised. Why did they burst into tears when I spoke of the fact that they were common no matter what nationality the mother?” And he said, “Well, preacher, you don’t realize it, but there was nobody there, nobody there but that had a father or a brother or a son who was lost in the war.”
This is true with all mankind. There is a common denominator of every language and nation and people under the sun: and that is the bond of sorrow. And when we minister to the sorrowing heart, we are under God emissaries from heaven to people wherever they are, of any kind, of any description, of any nation, of any language, of any color. Strange thing how the apostle writes in Galatians 3:28: “In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, there is none rich and poor; but we are all alike in Him.” And when I give myself to that ministry, wherever in the world I stand, I can be an emissary and an ambassador from God to heal the human heart.
A second word that he uses here in the epistle is the word “peace.” He uses it in [1 Thessalonians 5:13], he uses it in 1:1, and he uses it in 5:23, “peace” [1 Thessalonians 1:1, 5:23]. Peace: to be quiet in our homes, and in our hearts, and in our lives, and in our cities, and in our nations, with one another.
I was over there in Israel one time, going around, and I tried to remember the occasion of this, but I can’t recreate it. I was with a Jew, and with an Arab, and with a Christian, and a nondescript—there were five of us, and we were I don’t know where; way, way out, way, way out. And we sat down in some kind of a place; we sat on the floor. And the meal, the noon meal, was spread before us. And in the center of the repast was a stack of flat, looked like big pancakes to me, but it was bread, the way they make bread, flat, round bread. And when we were seated, the man, the Jew who was on the other side of the table from me, he picked up the top loaf, and reaching across the table, said to me, “My brother, would you break bread with me? Would you break bread with me?” I said, “Privilege, happily”; and we broke bread together.
How I could pray that all mankind could enter that kind of a fellowship: “Will you break bread with me?” And how desperately that is needed in our war-torn world. You say, “Well, that’s true over there in Israel, and that’s true over there in Indonesia, and other unhappy places of the world.” Young men and women, you don’t realize how near we live in that in this city.
Last night, last night, at our midweek service, last night, we have two chaplains supported by our church that work among boys and girls in detention homes here in the city. And every Wednesday night, they’ll bring down those young fellows: teenagers, they’ve won to the Lord, and present them on a confession of faith. So the young fellow last night, when I gave him the microphone to make a testimony and a witness for the Lord, he said that the city of Dallas is increasingly faced with gangs—drug warfare. And when I listened to him, I remembered something that happened in our city several years ago; you wouldn’t believe such a thing in Dallas. I walked down Main Street from there down to the end of it, I walked down Main Street, and it looked like a war zone! Mobs, mobs in the city of Dallas, mobs made up of minorities, mobs in the city of Dallas poured down Main Street with pipes and clubs and battered out those plate glass windows in those storefronts, and seized everything that was on display and ran away with it. I remember so poignantly, standing in front of Neiman Marcus, and every plate glass window had been smashed, and all of its displays taken out and stolen—ran away with. You don’t realize how near and how close we are every day of our lives to the bursting asunder of those bonds that make possible our living together in peace by the drug gangs, and by the feeling of oppression on the part of minorities, and the Lord only knows what else beside.
Now what I say—and I think I’m correct in it—what I say is, when they present those young fellows to the church, I say, “You’ll never change by the penitentiary, or by the electric chair, or by this death by inoculation. You’re going to do it in the name of the Lord, you’re going to do it by the gospel, or it will never be done.” And that’s why I feel that our calling is so vital and it’s so important. God help us! If there is any peace in Dallas, and if there is any brotherhood among our minorities and among our people, and if there is any hope for a war-cursed world, it lies in the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. It lies in you and your ministries.
And a third word that he uses is one of comfort: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” [1 Thessalonians 4:18]. That’s the way he closes the fourth chapter. He speaks of it in the third chapter [1 Thessalonians 3:2]; he speaks of it later on here in the fourteenth verse in the fifth chapter, comfort [1 Thessalonians 5:14]. I’m speaking of common denominators for all humanity and all mankind. And when we give ourselves to them, and address ourselves to that deep hunger and need, we’re emissaries and ambassadors from God to a broken heart, to a needy people—comfort, comfort.
And my sweet girl, called into the work of God; or my young friend, assigned as a missionary or a preacher; or an employee of a religious agency, or teacher in a great school—I don’t care who you are or what you’re doing, you can love the people. You can be a prayer partner, a yokefellow, a pilgrim in the way; you can be an encourager, you can love them. And it is one of the sweetest privileges in life just to do that: just to be a representative of the compassionate Lord for His people.
A parish pastor
Of great austerity
Climbed up in his high church steeple,
To be nearer God,
That he might hand
God’s Word down to the people.
In his day God said,
‘Come down and die.’
And he cried out from his steeple,
‘Where art Thou, Lord?’
And the Lord replied,
‘I’m down here among My people.’
[adapted from “The Preacher’s Mistake,” William Croswell Doane]
That’s our calling. However our assignment, and when our duteous work is completed here in the school, and we’re graduated, and we are out there in the ministries, whatever they are, in my humble persuasion, our first assignment is to love the people, to minister to the people, to encourage the people. And when you have a ministry like that, I can tell you truly God will bless you, and God will give you the love and affection of the people.
I speak of that because of our own experience. Lord God, how we need, personally, how we need Your loving and compassionate remembrance.
Do you remember that song written by that black preacher?
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me;
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me.
In trials and tribulations,
Stand by me;
When the host of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me.
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me;
When I’ve done the best I can
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou who knowest all about me,
Stand by me.
And for me now and especially:
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me;
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou Lily of the Valley,
Stand by me.
[“Stand By Me,” Charles A. Tindley]
And that comfort that I find in my Lord is the great assignment that I have in being a minister of Christ to the people: to comfort them, and to encourage them, and to love them, and to stand by them. And when I do that, I shall have the sweetest, dearest assignment under God in this world.
May the Lord speed you, young men and women, in the great calling into which the Lord has placed your beautiful life. Amen.
Sperry Chafer, 1927
a Southern Baptist, but not a Texan (1
Thessalonians 1:2, Philippians 4:11)
denominators of all mankind
1. Addressing our
ministries to the desperate need of the human heart
Thessalonians 4:13, Job 14:1)
Leningrad, monument where Nazis were stopped
in Moscow – whether German, French, English, American or Russian mother, when
they wept over their slain sons their tears were strangely alike
1. Nobody there but had
lost father, brother or son in the war
we minister to the sorrow heart, we are God’s emissaries from heaven(Galatians 3:28)
Thessalonians 1:1, 5:13, 23)
five of us in Israel – “My brother, would you break bread with me?”
in Dallas – gangs, drugs, oppressed minorities
1. Chaplains working
with young people in detention homes
2. Mob down Main Street
3. Our nineteen
Thessalonians 3:2, 4:18, 5:14)
worker of the Lord can love, minister
1. Poem, “A parish
first assignment is to love and minister to the people
Our plea to God – how we need His compassionate remembrance
1. Hymn, “Stand By Me”