A WORD THAT WOULD REMAKE THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-31-92 10:50 a.m.
We welcome the throngs of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the senior pastor, W. A. Criswell, bringing the message entitled A Word That Would Remake the World.
In our preaching through the Book of Romans we are in the first verse, and we are in one of the greatest pieces of literature inspired in the history of mankind. It was the Book of Romans that led Augustine, the incomparable North African theologue, to the Lord. It was the Book of Romans that laid the foundation for the Reformation under Martin Luther. And it was the Book of Romans that led John Wesley into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And when we’re preaching through the Book of Romans, as we are during these days, there could be no finer study God could allow and present to us.
The title of the sermon, The Word That Would Remake the World. And in a thousand lifetimes I don’t think you’d ever guess what that word is, a word that would remake the world. Paulos doulos Iēsou Christou. Paul, doulos, a slave, of Iēsous Christos, Jesus Christ; a slave, a slave of Jesus Christ [Romans 1:1].
I suppose there’s never been a city like Rome. Thousands and thousands massing up and down those streets of the imperial city: soldiers just returning from the overthrow and the pillage of distant provinces, generals triumphant followed by their innumerable captives, cohorts marching down from the golden milestone in the Forum, merchants from Asia and South Africa and Spain hawking their wares. No wonder they called it the eternal and imperial city, celebrated in song and in poetry. And in the midst of those thousands and thousands of merchants, the doulos, the slaves. If I could describe the Roman Empire as anything above anything else, I would call it an engine of slavery.
Slavery reached its peak and its climax in Roman history. I have read, out of a population of 100 million people, 60 million of them were chattel property. They were slaves. Had you walked down the streets of Rome in those days, three men out of every five you met would have been chattel property. They had no rights, legal or personal. They could not even marry unless in permission of the owner. And when children were born, they belonged to the master. And the families were broken up. He could sell any one of them any time to anybody, anywhere. Crucifixion, the cruelest means of execution, was invented by the Romans to browbeat and to annihilate in fear the slave.
And the dungeons in which they were sometimes placed, indescribable. I was in Rome one time, and they let me down in the Mamertine dungeon, two-thirds underneath the ground. The only entrance: an aperture up there at the top, a trap door; more terrible than the Bastille. I think of Dante’s word before his Inferno, “All hope abandon who enter here”; slavery, doulos, in the Roman Empire.
And as I open my book, “Paulos doulos”; well, Paul, that is the first word in the letter, in the book, “Paul.” Evidently he hasn’t departed from his pharisaical pride and egotism. He places himself first: Paulos, “Paul.” Then I look: doulos. “Paul, doulos—slave” [Romans 1:1]. You couldn’t help but look and think.
Men arrogate to themselves all kinds of epithets. Name his name king, emperor, general, leader. Not worthy of it? Perish underneath the burden of the ornamental nomenclature. But this, “Paulos doulos,” slave [Romans 1:1]; I never heard of anybody claiming that title, not in all literature nor in all history; a slave, a slave, a slave of Iēsous Christos, a slave of Jesus Christ. All you have to do is just read through the Book of Acts and see the depths of that servitude. No will but God’s will. No love but Christ’s love. No dedication but that to the Lord—a slave of Jesus Christ [Romans 1:1].
To us, slavery is a memory. When I was a youth, in Tuskegee, Alabama, I visited with Dr. George Washington Carver. When he was a boy, he was traded by his master for a horse, a slave; came to be the greatest scientist in chemistry the world ever knew, a slave. To us, it’s a memory, but to the Romans, even Plato and Aristotle avowed that the institution of slavery was indispensable to human life. And that is the word Paul assesses to himself, “Paulos doulos,” a slave [Romans 1:1].
What hath God wrought, and what has come to pass before our very eyes, this man! Do you remember when the riot occurred in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Acts in the city of Jerusalem [Acts 21:27-32], and the soldiers came down and arrested Saul? [Acts 21:33-36]. He was the instigation of such a riot. And as they were about, according to the Roman custom, to make inquiry by flagellation, by beating, when they bared his back and tied him with thongs, ready to strike, do you remember what he said? “Is it lawful to scourge a Roman citizen?” [Acts 22:24-25].
And the captain, the chiliarch of the host, turned to him and said, “You, you, are you a Roman citizen? With great sums of money I bought that citizenship. And you, you are a Roman?” And he replied, “I was free born” [Acts 22:27-28]. Saul, free born; Saul, the name of Israel’s great king, head and shoulders above any other citizen in the empire [1 Samuel 10:23]. Saul. When they stoned Stephen to death, when they executed Stephen, he didn’t dirty his hands with a stone. He presided over the execution, Saul [Acts 7:54-58].
And he lists here in the third chapter of Philippians his credentials, his pedigree [Philippians 3:4-6]. Dear me! What a noble heritage, and what a glorious man! Then he says, “All of this that was profit for me, I gave up as a slave for Jesus Christ” [Philippians 3:7-8]. And he changed his name [Acts 13:9].
When you see “Saul,” and that’s Paul, you think “Saul” was Hebrew and “Paul” is Latin. Not so. Paul said in Ephesians 3, “I am the least of the saints” [Ephesians 3:8]. And in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “I am the least of the apostles.” You see, Paul is Latin for, “a little one,” a little one, a tiny one. “And in the presence of the great God and our Savior, the Lord Jesus, I’m a little one, and He is the great One.”
And he says in that same Philippian letter that he seeks to be like his Master. He’s a slave seeking to emulate his beautiful and glorious Lord. And how Jesus emptied Himself and took upon Him the form of a—and you have it translated “servant”—the form of a doulos, of a slave [Philippians 2:7]. I can hardly imagine that. The King of glory, the Lord of all creation, born in human flesh in a stable [Luke 2:11-16], and for thirty years living in a tiny town, doing the work of a carpenter [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], supporting His family. And even when He died, looking at John, saying, “My mother; take care of her” [John 19:26-27]. That’s the Lord Jesus.
And in the [tenth] chapter of Mark, teaching us, “In the world they lord it over each other, but you, he that would be great among you, let him be douloi, slave, of all” [from Mark 10:42-44]. And of all things imaginable, washing feet! Washing feet [John 13:4-5]. And finally crucified [Matthew 27:32-50], the execution reserved for a slave; to be like Him.
And that is the beautiful example and model of the faith and hope in our own hearts: to be a slave of our Lord and of one another. As he says in Galatians 1:10: “I do not please men, but I please Jesus, of whom and for whom I am a doulos, a slave”; pleasing Him, not men. What a wonderful life that is described as being.
Daniel, by commandment of the king, was to drink wine and eat meat offered to idols. And when the prince of the eunuchs laid it before him by command of the king, he pushed the wine aside and said, “Bring me water,” and pushed the meat offered to idols aside and said, “Bring me vegetables” [Daniel 1:8-16]—a slave of God [Romans 1:1].
I was in the home of my wonderful deacon, Olan Harned and his sweet wife, both of them Sunday school teachers in my little church. And as the evening wore on, there came into the home their one beautiful teenage girl, like those girls you saw right here—came into the house, immediately went to her room. And seated as I was there in the living room, I heard her crying. I heard her crying in her bedroom. And the mother got up and went into the bedroom where the girl was crying, came back, and sat down by me, and said, “Young pastor, I know you seek an explanation. She was on a date, four of them in a car, and she refused moral turpitude. And they pushed her out of the car, and she walked through the dark and through the night four miles coming back home; a doulos of Jesus Christ, not pleasing men, but God.
In that very baptistry, that baptistry there, one of the scions of one of the richest families here in the city of Dallas, belonging to another faith, I baptized the young man, and they disowned him. He lost his fortune pleasing God—a doulos, a slave, of Jesus Christ [Romans 1:1].
“And we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord and ourselves,” your translated “bond servants for Jesus’ sake” [2 Corinthians 4:5]. The word is douloi, plural of doulos, “your slaves for Jesus’ sake” [2 Corinthians 4:5]. Your slaves for Jesus’ sake. Do you know how to have a beautiful home, a beautiful home? “In honor preferring one another” [Romans 12:10]. The husband is a slave, the dear wife is a slave, and the whole purpose of life: to make each other happy. What can I do to make you happy? That is a beautiful home, a doulos, a slave. What did I say the title of the message is? A Word That Would Remake the World. Beautiful children, the making of beautiful children, douloi, slaves, pleasing Dad and Mother, obeying their parents in the Lord [Ephesians 6:1]. What would make a beautiful neighbor? A slave [Romans 1:1].
In one of my pastorates as a youth, there was the Higgins family here and another family there, their farms side by side. And the Higgins so made it miserable that this family sold the farm and moved away. And wonderful prayer partner, Mr. Worthington, bought the farm next to the Higgins. Can you believe that? He bought that farm next to the Higgins. And Mr. Higgins came across the creek and said to Mr. Worthington, “I want you to know and understand that the fence line is here, this side of the creek.” The title said the fence line was the creek. “I want you to know the fence line is here, and the bottom, the creek bottom, is mine. I want you to know that.”
And my wonderful deacon and glorious prayer partner put his arm around Higgins and said, “My sweet neighbor, you place that fence line where you think it ought to be, and that’s where it will be, and I’ll be your friend and your neighbor.”
Well, the days passed, and vicious Mr. Higgins came back and sought out my good deacon and said to him, “Mr. Worthington, Mr. Worthington, I never had anybody speak to me like that or be good to me like that. We’re going to put the fence line at the creek. The fence line is at the creek, and this side of the river bottom is yours, and that side will be mine, and we’ll be friends and neighbors for the years.”
There’s nothing like it. It’s a word that would remake the world. “I’m your servant. I’m your slave. I’m your friend. I’m your prayer partner.” It’s a word that would remake the church. “You don’t have to elect me or kowtow to me or honor me or advance me. I’m a doulos. I’m a slave of Jesus Christ [Romans 1:1], and any humble place is wonderful for me.”
Where shall I work today, dear Lord?
And my love flowed warm and free.
And the Lord pointed out a tiny place
And said, “Tend that for Me.”
I cried aloud, “O Lord, not there!
Why, nobody would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me.”
And when the Lord answered, He was not harsh.
He answered me tenderly,
“Tell me, precious child of Mine,
Are you working for them or for Me?
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”
You don’t have to elect me or honor me. I’m a doulos. I’m a slave of Jesus Christ; and how beautiful that word is when applied to soulwinners, “a servant” [Romans 1:1].
I have to close. Right down there from me, from my little church, a little tiny county seat town, and Brother Burkhalter, the pastor of the little Baptist church there, his wife died, a widower, a saint of God. In the county seat town, a family so atheistic, anti-God and anti-Christ and anti-church and anti-everything, and he’d go by and see them to no effect. He became ill, was invalid. And in order for him to relax so he could rest at night, she would bathe his feet in warm water. And Brother Burkhalter saw that. And upon a night, he took off his outer garments and knelt down, and in the basin of warm water washed that infidel’s feet. And as he washed that atheist’s feet, the man broke into tears. And Brother Burkhalter easily won him to the faith and to the Lord.
Sweet people, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you out of all the fine doctrine and theology that we may possess, there’s not anything that is dynamic as being sweet, and kind, and gracious, and encouraging, and helpful—a doulos, a slave for Jesus [Romans 1:1].
And that is our appeal to you on television; giving your life in a beautiful way in the service of Christ, and your family and those whom you love. And if you don’t know how to accept Jesus as your Savior, call that number, and it will be the joy of our people to open for you the door into heaven, and I’ll see you there some glorious and triumphant day.
And in the great throng of people in God’s house this sacred hour, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today I’m making a decision for Jesus, and here I stand” [Romans 10:9-13]. Do it. While we sing our song of invitation, come now, make it now.