GOD’S CALL TO A WAITING MINISTRY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 2:1
I would call that the second best introduction I ever had in my life. The best one was when the fellow who was to present me did not appear, and I introduced myself. Oh dear, dear! I have loved these Lindsays for so long that I cannot almost call to mind when I first came to love them, respect them, and thank God for them. Gordon Lindsay, for some reason that I have never been able to understand, had in his heart a moving affection for me; visited with me, prayed for me, asked God to bless me, and of course through him I came to love and respect his dear wife, Frieda. I cannot imagine, it is beyond my thinking, the marvelous, extensive work that they have done in building this institution. I wish I could bring people of my own communion here just to see it. I am like that rooster who found an ostrich egg: he gathered his hens together and said, “I want you to look. I’m not finding fault with you for what you are doing, but I just want you to see what they are doing in other places.” That’s the way I feel about Gordon and Frieda Lindsay. It is a miracle what they have done.
Now to you who are being graduated, a message from my heart, The Call of God to a Waiting Ministry; and it comes from the exposition of a text in 2 Timothy, chapter 1, verse 4. Starts off with, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ…to Timothy, my beloved son” [2 Timothy 1:1-2], his sweet boy in the ministry:
I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers . . . for every remembrance of thee; greatly desiring to see thee . . . when I call to mind your tears . . . and when I remember the unfeigned faith which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded in thee also.
[2 Timothy 1:3-5]
And that avowal in verse 4: “Greatly desiring to see thee” [2 Timothy 1:4]; so this solemn and beautiful and meaningful afternoon, we will visit Pastor Timothy.
When we go to Ephesus, where he shepherded the church of God, they’ve been unearthing, the archaeologists have, for almost centuries, that’s one of the most beautiful Greek cities in the history of the world. When Paul went there and when Timothy became pastor there, it was on the Mediterranean Sea. The Caýster River that runs through the middle of it has brought so much sediment that now it is located six miles inward. But when Paul and Timothy were there, it was one of the great seaports of the Mediterranean. And I say, I think, the more I read and the more I visit it, it must have been the most beautiful city the world has ever seen. You can walk through those vast boulevards today, unearthed. And on either side they were lined by beautiful Corinthian Greek columns. And as you walk through the city, you come to the theater: seated twenty-four thousand people, and perfectly attuned. I have preached in it.
Then continuing your walk through the city, you come to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the temple of Artemis, or in Latin, Diana. If you have ever been in the British Museum in London, you have seen there a base of one of those columns. I never saw such a vast piece of marble in my life. And all the way around it, statues, carved marble statues of full human height. And the whole temple was filled with those gorgeous, marvelous columns.
So finally we come to the home of Timothy, and knock at the door. And he comes to the door, and we introduce ourselves: “We are from Christ for the Nations in Dallas, Texas in the New World, and we have come to visit you, Timothy.” He opens the door, and we are graciously entreated. And the first thing I notice when I sit down in his home is the women; just look at them. I notice the women. There’s his mother, there’s his grandmother, and there is his wife, Mrs. Timothy. I can’t believe it. And I say to him, “You mean to tell me you’re married? You have a wife?” And Timothy replied, “Yes. It was written in the Proverbs, ‘He that getteth a wife, getteth a good thing’ [Proverbs 18:22]. And Paul, my father in the ministry, wrote to me that an episkopos, a presbuteros, a poimēn,” the three words that are used interchangeably for a pastor, “the pastor, the preacher is to be the husband of one wife” [1 Timothy 3:2]. Well, I am dumbfounded at that. This Roman Catholic communion says, “We are the original church. We are the church from the beginning. We are the church in this Book.” And yet they prohibit their clergy from being married. But Paul said that the clergyman, the episkopos, the presbuteros, the poimēn is to be the husband of one wife.
Well, Sunday a week ago, a young fellow came up to me at our church here in Dallas and introduced me to one of the prettiest little girls you ever saw in your life. She was a knock-out. And I said to him, “And who is she?” And he says, “She is my fiancée. And we are going to be married.” And he said, “I have finished my college, and I’m going to the seminary, and I wish I could take her with me.” Well, I said, “Take her.”
“Oh,” he said, “I’d love to. I’d love to marry her now and take her, but I don’t have the money to support her.” He says, “Can two live as cheap as one?” I said, “Certainly. Marry her; take her with you to the seminary. Two can live as cheap as one: if one will go hungry and the other will go naked, you got it made. You got it made.”
And what a delight to see you girls here: it’s just wonderful.
So, we ask Timothy, “How’s your church?” And he says, “How’s my what?” And I say, “How is your church?” And he says, “Church. I never heard of a church. What is a church?” And I say, “Timothy, you are the pastor of a church.”
“Oh,” he says, “you’re talking about my ekklēsia.”
“Yes, your church.” Then I remember why he never heard of a church. For three hundred years the congregations of the Lord were called ekklēsia: ek, “out of,” kaleō, “called,” “the called out people of God.” The word referred to the congregation, to God’s children. But when Constantine became a Christian, they changed the name from ekklēsia, referring to the people, to kuriakos, kurkas, kirk, “church,” referring to the house of the Lord. For three hundred years there was no such thing as a church house. God intended for His people to be outside: in the marketplace, in the schoolhouse, in the home, up and down the street. And the most dynamic of all of the Christian centuries are those first three.
Did you ever think of this? Christ was not crucified in a cathedral between two golden lampstands; but Christ was crucified outside the city wall [Hebrews 13:12; John 19:20], on a great highway where the thousands passed by, and on a place more like a garbage dump than anywhere else, and he was crucified naked [John 19:23-24]. Every picture I have ever seen of the Lord He is covered. When the Lord was crucified [John 19:16-30], it was the intention of God that He be exposed! And you can’t expose Him too much, you can’t sing about Him too much, you can’t preach about Him too much, you can’t testify about Him too much, you can’t point to Him too much, you can’t love Him too much, you can’t trust Him or obey Him too much. God intended that His Son be exposed! And that’s what we ought to do out there where the people are, telling them about Jesus.
So, so I say to Timothy, “How do you do your work?”
“Oh,” he said, “according to the word of Paul when he wrote of his ministry in
Ephesus, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, ‘Remember that by the space of three years, I ceased not with tears to warn everyone, testifying from house to house, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ [Acts 20:31, 21]. Then Paul wrote, ‘And do it with rejoicing; and again I say, Rejoice’” [Philippians 4:4]. Ah! Ah! Timothy says, “I am to do my work with rejoicing, with gladness, with enthusiasm.”
Did you ever think about this? There is a Greek phrase en theos: theos, the Greek word for God; en, en theos, “in God.” And they took that Greek phrase and made a substantive out of it: enthusiazō. And when you take enthusiazō out of Greek and spell it into English, it’s enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is none other thing than God in you! Man alive! Rejoicing in the Lord [Philippians 4:4].
And I just love you people. Oh, you clap your hands, you hold up your arms, you rejoice. I love you just the way you do. And so many of these churches are dead, dry, and stupid; they just are. They just are. Ah!
Did you know, I had some of my people go to North Carolina where we have a summer assembly there. Well, it was Wednesday night, we came a little early, so they sat down in a restaurant. And it happened to be in the restaurant, the waiters and waitresses were young people from the Baptist Student Union; and ah, they were so happy in the Lord. They’d take those orders, and they’d bring them out and just do it so graciously and happily. And then when they’d eaten, they picked up the dirty dishes and took them back to the kitchen just so happily. And then when they got through, those kids stood over there in a corner and sang some Christian songs. Ah! it was something! And after they got through eating, they went to a church: a church on a Wednesday night service. And ah, it was as I say, dead, and dull, and dry, and dreary. And when my folks came back, they said to me, “Pastor, you know what? If both of them had made an invitation, we would have joined the restaurant.” Amen. Ah! There’s nothing in the world like being enthusiastic. Oh! And optimistic, like that old codger who married at the tender age of eighty-seven, and immediately began looking for a bigger house close to an elementary school. Brother, that’s the way we ought to be. Oh my!
So, Paul writes, “Remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone with tears, from house to house, house to house” [Acts 20:31, 20]. Well, let me take a leaf out of my own life. When I was your age, I began to be pastor of a little village church; I was seventeen years old. And I said to them, “On such and such Sunday, let’s have a hundred in Sunday school.” And they said to me, “We never had more than sixty in Sunday school in our lives.” Well, I said, “On such and such Sunday, we’re going to have a hundred.” They said, “We can’t have a hundred. We never had more than sixty.” Well, I was young, like you, and I got mad. And when the congregation met, I said, “We’re going to have us a vote. I want all of you to vote that on such and such Sunday, when we’re going to have a hundred here in Sunday school, I want you to vote you’ll do nothing. That’s all I want you to do. I want you to vote that you will do nothing.” So they all held up their hands: they’re not going to do “nothing!” But you know what I did? I got me some paper, and I went up and down every lane, and every road, and ever highway, and I knocked at every door, and I wrote down the names of those people who said they would be there in Sunday school. And when that Sunday came, we had three hundred sixty-five present in Sunday school! Oh, what you can do, knocking at the door!
And when I came to our queenly city of Dallas fifty years ago, there was not a church in the world that had two thousand in Sunday school, not one in the earth that had two thousand in Sunday school. And I said, “we’re going to have thousands and thousands.’ And when I asked them to call a young fellow, and I assumed the title of senior pastor, there were days and days and days when we were running over eight thousand in Sunday school. Sometimes we’d once in a while have over twelve thousand in Sunday school. Young people, there’s no limit, there’s no limit to what you can do for God if you’ll get out there where the people are and invite them in and tell them about the sweet precious Jesus.
So, one of my deacons called me on the phone, and he said, “Pastor, next door to me there is a family moved into the city, and I thought maybe if you’d come and visit them, they’d come to church.” I knocked at the door, and was graciously entreated. There was a father, a mother, a seventeen-year-old girl, a fifteen-year-old boy, a twelve-year-old boy. And I took my Bible and read to them how to be saved, how to go to heaven when you die, and they responded so graciously and said, “Young preacher, we’ll be there next Sunday.” Next Sunday came, they were not present. After about, oh, three or four weeks, I went back, knocked at the door, and again I was graciously entreated. And I opened my Bible and once again told them how to be saved. And they just responded so preciously, and they said, “Preacher, we’ll be there next Sunday.” When Sunday came, they were not there.
And on Tuesday night, the following Tuesday night, about 2:00 o’clock in the morning, the telephone rang at the parsonage. And there was a Christian nurse who belongs to our church; there was a Christian nurse on the other end of the line. She’s in our Baptist hospital. And she said, “Pastor, I apologize for calling you at such an unearthly hour, but there’s a man here, and his boy has been crushed in a terrible automobile accident. And I thought maybe you’d come and stand by his side when his boy dies.” She said, “I asked him, ‘Do you know anybody here in this city?’ And he said he knows you.”
I hastily dressed and went up in our Baptist hospital, went up there to such and such floor, such and such a room, walked in, and there was that man, standing over that fifteen-year-old boy. He was driving back into the city at a furious rate, had an awful accident, and was crushed from head to foot. I took my place by his side, and just in almost a moment, the nurse took that white sheet and put it over the face of the lad, and looked up and said to the father, “Your boy is gone.” And she left me standing there by his side. He reached down and pulled the sheet from the face of that sweet, dead boy; looked long and hard into that silent countenance, fell on his knees, and raised his hands to God, and said, “O God, my boy is gone, and I haven’t lived right, I haven’t done right by him. O God, what shall I say? And what shall I do?” After the memorial service was over, down the aisle the next Sunday came the father, and the mother, the seventeen-year-old girl, and the twelve-year-old boy, giving their hearts to the Lord, and joining the church by baptism.
I shake hands with the people as they go outside, as they leave the sanctuary. And as I shook hands with the people leaving the sanctuary, they said to me, every one of them, “Pastor, wasn’t that a glorious sight, the whole family coming to the Lord and joining the church by baptism. Wasn’t that a glorious sight?” I acquiesced, “Oh, it was a beautiful sight. It was a glorious sight.” You know what I actually thought? When I looked at them there on the front row, I said in my heart, “That is the saddest sight I ever saw in my life.” I didn’t tell the people, I didn’t think I should, that there was another boy that belonged to the family, and that he lies in a Christless grave. I didn’t think I should.
And someday at the great assize, when we stand at the judgment bar of Almighty God [2 Timothy 4:1], and the Lord opens the book, and calls the roll, and calls the name of that father, he answers, “Here”; calls the name of that mother, she answers, “Here”; calls the name of that seventeen-year-old girl, she answers, “Here”; calls the name of that twelve-year-old boy, he answers, “Here.” And God shall look in the eyes and face of that father, and say, “Is that all?” And the father will reply, “No, Your Honor. There is another boy, fifteen years old.” And the Lord shall say, “And where is he?” And the father will reply, “He lies in a Christless grave in Texas.”
When the choir has sung its last anthem,
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer;
When the people have heard their last sermon,
And the sound has died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men;
And each one stands facing his record,
And the great book is opened, what then?
When the actor has played his last drama,
And the mimic has made his last fun;
When the film has flashed its last picture,
And the billboard displayed its last run;
When the crowds seeking pleasure have vanished,
And gone out in the darkness again;
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him, what then?
When the bugle’s call sinks into silence,
And the long marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they’ve captured the last fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead,
And the wounded afield checked in;
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him, what then?
[“What Then?”; J. Whitfiled Green]
Young people, remember the title I gave the message: God’s Call to a Waiting Ministry. No matter where it is, or what, no matter the culture, the language, you win these people to Jesus: from house to house, from door to door, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:20-21]. Whatever else we may do, and whatever else we may be elected to or called to, our first commitment is, “We’re going to win these people to Jesus, we’re going to tell them about the Lord, and I’m going to be His servant whether I’m a girl, or whether I’m a boy; I am devoting my life that these who are lost might be saved.” And God bless you, sweet, darling and precious young people, and speed you in the ministries to which the Lord has called you. Amen.