LAY PEOPLE IN SOUL-WINNING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 2:1-2
1-13-85 10:50 a.m.
We praise God for you, wonderful choir and orchestra. And we no less thank the Lord for the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and in television with us in the sanctuary here of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Lay People, lay people, laywomen and laymen, in Soul Winning, in evangelism, in witnessing. It is a third in a series of four preparing for our tremendous Evangel home ministries in this great metroplex.
As a background text, in the second chapter of 2 Timothy, reading verses 1 and 2, 2 Timothy chapter 2, verses 1 and 2, Paul writing to his son in the ministry, Timothy, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
The Great Commission given by our Lord encompassed the conversion of the whole world. We are to make disciples of all the people. We are to baptize them in the name of the triune God. And we are to teach them to observe the things that the Lord hath commanded us to observe. [Matthew 28:19-20] That commission was given to His people. And the Apostle Paul reiterates the assignment as he describes the calling and commission of his son in the ministry, Timothy.
“These things,” the evangelization of the people, “you are to disciple and to teach these whom God hath brought unto your purview. And they are to teach others. And these are to teach others.” And thus, the commission of our Lord is regnant and is our ultimate command and authority and mode and way of life and work until the consummation of the age. This is our assignment.
It was never, ever the purpose of the Lord, or any intimation or thought in the New Testament, that such a vast commission, converting, testifying, witnessing was to be carried out by a paid ministry. Now, in the Bible, it is expressly said that the man who preaches the gospel is to live by the gospel. In that same ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul avows that we are not to muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. In the fifth chapter of 1 Timothy the apostle writes that a pastor that does good, that works well, is to be worthy of double honor. The Greek word is “double pay.” I like that. You are to double his salary if he does good. That’s an inspired word, don’t you think?
But the great outline as we’re going to see of the evangelization of the carrying out of the Great Commission was never in the mind of God or presented here on the pages of the New Testament as an assignment for a paid ministry. Rather, it was a calling for all of God’s people, all of the Lord’s lay people, this evangelization of the world. And in our brief moment here this morning, we’re going to take a panoramic view of that work of God in the earth. We shall look at the first century, then so briefly in the middle centuries, and then in our century today.
First, the first century, the first Christian century. When I pick up the Bible and begin reading of the evangelization of that Greco-Roman world, what I read is, of course, the work of Peter and John and Paul and the apostles. But mostly I read of the lay men and women who were in their hearts and in their lives committed to the sharing of the saving grace of our Lord.
For example, a marvelous part of the Book of Acts is a recounting of the work of two laymen. One of them was Stephen, a deacon, Stephen. In the Bible our Lord Jesus is always presented as seated at the right hand of God. But one place in the Bible our Lord and Savior is described as standing, and that was the occasion when He received the spirit of this deacon, this layman, into heaven. Our Lord Jesus stood up to welcome Stephen into glory, God’s layman, a deacon. And no sooner is the holy record filled with the recounting of the witnessing Stephen, than it begins with Phillip, another layman, another deacon. And we read of him in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts as we read the Scripture this morning, a layman, a deacon, witnessing to the saving grace of our Lord.
Then the record goes beyond the story of these lay men, these deacons in Jerusalem, and it spills over into Samaria, and it spills over into Gaza, and from Gaza into Africa. And finally, the new center of the evangelization of the world is in Antioch, not Jerusalem, but in Antioch. From Antioch there spread out the great missionary movement that literally turned the Greco-Roman empire to Christ.
Now, who founded that church in Antioch, the center of the evangelization of the Roman world? Who did that? I was interested in a professor who was teaching a class, and he said to his young students, he said, “Who founded this church in Antioch, the center of Gentile evangelization? Who founded it? Where did it come from?”
And one of the young men replied, “Well, it is obvious. In the persecution that arose around Stephen, deacon Stephen, the layman Stephen, in the persecution that arose around Stephen, the church was scattered throughout the whole Levant; it was scattered. “And naturally,” he said, “some of those apostles went to Antioch. And there those apostles, who founded the church under the leadership of the Lord in Jerusalem, they founded the church at Antioch.”
And the professor said, “Young man, would you turn to the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts and read the first verse?” And Toby Snowden would you do that for us, the Book of Acts chapter 8, the first verse.
[TOBY SNOWDEN]: “And at that time there was great persecution against the church at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
[DR. CRISWELL]: What does the Book say? “Except the apostles.” It was these Hellenistic Greek-speaking Jewish men and women who were hounded out of the country, who were persecuted out of Jerusalem.
And if I, which I don’t have time, if I could pick up the story in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts, some of those Hellenistic speaking Jewish converts came to Antioch and there they witnessed to pagans, Greek-speaking, Greek-idol worshipers, the first time the gospel had ever been spoken unto them. And with one accord, they turned to the saving grace of our Lord and became Christians. And in that church at Antioch was the first time in the world that the people of Jesus became known as Christians. It was not a work of “the ministry.” It was not a work of the apostles. It was a work of lay people, of laymen and laywomen.
And so the whole first century is the story of these lay people traveling over Roman roads. Some of them were slaves. Some of them were merchant women like Lydia. Some of them were soldiers. Some of them were sailors. Some of them were people out in the business world. It was a movement of laymen and laywomen. That is the story of the propagation of the gospel, the scattering of the Word of the Lord throughout the first great Christian century.
Now in the little moment that is assigned to me in this message; that’s the story throughout the years ever since. We just pick out, say, the middle centuries. In the eleven hundreds, in Lyons, in Lyons France, there was a rich merchant man by the name of Peter Waldo. Walking down the street of his city, he happened to hear a minstrel singer singing a hymn, a Christian song. He stopped. He listened. And being a very wealthy man, he hired a translator to take the Word of God, the New Testament, and translate it into his native tongue. Reading the Bible, he became a Christian.
He took his fortune, gave half of it to his wife, took the other half and gave it to the poor, and some of it he used to translate into the language of the people small portions of Scriptures. And he gave them out as a testimony as he preached on the streets, as he witnessed everywhere. And in the providence of God there were other laymen who were enthralled with the message of Christ and the commission of God to share the good news with others. They were called The Poor Men of Lyons, The Poor Men of Lyons. And they went everywhere giving out those Scriptures and winning people to the Lord Jesus.
I don’t think there’s a more beautiful or effective poem in the English language than this one written by John Greenleaf Whittier, our American Christian poet, concerning one of those Waldensian merchants. He is a drummer, and in a beautiful court he is presenting his costly silks to a courtly lady, to a noble woman. And the poem as it continues, as he unfolds his treasures and as he presents his beautiful silks, then this Waldensian merchant says,
O Lady fair, I have yet a gem which a purer luster flings,
Than the diamond flash of the jeweled crown on the lofty brow of kings;
A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue shall not decay,
Whose light shall be as a spell to thee and a blessing on thy way.”
The cloud went off from the pilgrim’s brow, as a small and meager book
Unchased with gold or gem of cost, from his folding robe he took!
“Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price, may it prove as much to thee
Nay, keep thy gold—I ask it not, for the Word of God is free!
[“The Vaudois Teacher,” by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1830]
This the Waldensian merchants, laymen, laywomen, spreading abroad the marvelous good news of the saving grace of our Lord.
I wish I had time to speak in the thirteen hundreds of John Wycliffe, took the Word of God, translated it into the English language. They were called Lollards. And two by two, those laymen went up and down the streets of the cities of England and up and down the highways and the byways distributing the Word of God in our English language, pointing to the Lord Jesus as the Savior of our souls.
Isn’t it something unusual, after Wycliffe, he died before the Inquisition could execute him; they dug up his body, and they burned it. And they cast his ashes on the River Swift. But the River Swift runs into the Avon. And the River Avon runs into the River Severn and the Severn runs into the great estuary. And the estuary pours into the vast sea. And the sea leads to the continents of the world! Thus, the marvelous message of grace, of John Wycliffe: the Word of God in our native language, in ours, spread throughout the world by laymen and laywomen.
I come to our our modern centuries. In the seventeen hundreds there was a young fella in Glouchester, England, by the name of Robert Raikes. And he inherited from his father the Glouchester Journal.
One day this journalist, this newspaper man, was on the streets of Glouchester, his city, and a woman happened to point out to him the ragged children in the streets of Glouchester. And there came into his heart, Robert Raikes, there came into his heart the gathering of those children on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day and teaching them the Word of God. And thus began the great sweeping Sunday school movement. So mighty an impact did that have on England and finally America and finally the world, that King George III and his gracious Christian queen, Queen Charlotte, called Robert Raikes to the court and greatly honored [him] before the whole civilized earth. It was the work of a layman, a layman, a journalist, a newspaper owner, Robert Raikes and the Sunday School.
I mention just one other in the moment that I have. When I was in England one time I asked to be taken to Colchester, a city in Essex near the North Sea. And when I was in Colchester, I searched out Artillery Street, and on Artillery Street the Primitive Methodist Chapel. And inside of that Primitive Methodist Chapel I read a very large and effective bronze tablet announcing that here sat the young man Charles Haddon Spurgeon listening, and there in this place he was converted, the greatest preacher that ever lived unless it was the Apostle Paul.
What happened was, on a stormy day, the snow blowing before the heavy gale, he couldn’t go to the church toward which he had planned to worship, and turned in to that Primitive Methodist Chapel. And seated there, he listened to a layman, a layman. The pastor of the church could not get to his pulpit, and this layman stood there in his stead.
The layman took as his text Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto me, all ye ends of the earth, and be ye saved: For I am God, and there is none else.” And that layman in his stuttering way announced that we can’t be saved looking to the church or looking to the preacher or looking to a friend. We’re saved by looking to Jesus. “Look to Jesus and be saved.”
And he pointed out young Spurgeon who had been in an agony for months and years over his lost condition. He pointed him out and said, “Young man, you look so miserable. Look to Jesus! Look to Jesus.”
And Spurgeon said, “I looked that day and I lived.”
Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus Christ, and live;
‘Tis recorded in His Word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”
[Refrain from “Look and Live,” by William A Ogden, 1887]
The work of a layman, a layman. Now, I don’t want to exaggerate this: it was “Mr.” Spurgeon all of the days of his life. He was never ordained. He was a layman all of the days of his life. The great evangelist in America who was a contemporary with Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, was a layman all of the days of his life. He was “Mr.” Moody. Mr. Spurgeon. These are laymen. Lay people in evangelism, in witnessing and in soul winning.
So I come in this last moment to my own life. As a youth I was in New York City and wanted to go to the Bowery Mission, heard about it ever since I could remember. And there that big mission was jammed full of the flotsam and jetsam of humanity. And a man, a handsome man delivered the message, I supposed a minister, but he didn’t talk like a professional preacher. He didn’t use the jargon of the pulpit. He was a layman. He was a stockbroker, an affluent stockbroker on Wall Street.
And after the service was over, I visited with him at length. What a wonderful thing. He had been gloriously saved and he was using his great fortune and his gifts to speak to others and to win others to the Lord Jesus, a layman.
In my first pastorate, on the other side of the county seat town where we were ministering, one of my deacons was holding a revival meeting. I went over there to encourage him, one of my laymen. And I haven’t time to recount it, but one of the finest, deepest, highest, most moving spiritual services that I ever shared in my life was in that meeting with my layman, my deacon.
Pat Zondervan is a layman. He’s head of a great publishing company. He goes up and down this whole world, pays his own expenses. These men who are in that Gideon Bible printing and Bible distributing assignment, all of them are laymen. They are lay people.
The power of personal testimony, “This do I know and this have I experienced.” The power of personal testimony is the most dynamic instrument that God can use to win are these to His saving grace. There’s nothing comparable to it.
I read of a man who for years on the Long Island commuter train in New York City went up and down the aisle as he went to work, as he came back from work. And as he walked up and down the aisle of the commuter train, he would say, “Is any member of your family blind? Do you have a friend who is blind? Tell them to see Dr. Carl”, and he gave the address. “I was blind and he healed my eyes.”
What a marvelous testimony. This do I know and this is God’s hand in salvation. There’s nothing like it in the earth.
If I were to ask you, all of you that were saved by a preacher’s sermon, hold up your hand. There would be a few of you who would hold up your hand. I was saved by listening to a preacher preach. But practically all of you would hold up your hand, saying, “I was introduced to the Lord by my dear mother”, such as I was, or, “by my father,” or, “by my Sunday School teacher,” or, “by a precious friend.” Practically all of us have been brought to the Lord by somebody who personally witnessed to us. That is our great assignment from heaven.
Like a man said to me, “I practice law to pay expenses. But my business, my job, is witnessing for Jesus. That’s my great calling and assignment.” And it’s a beautiful thing to see a layman, a layman, do something good and gracious for God and for our blessed Savior.
I went to an apartment building here in the city of Dallas to visit a family to talk to them about the Lord and our wonderful church. And as I was leaving the lower hallway, a met one of our deacons and his beautiful wife. They had come to visit in an apartment there in that complex. Well, as I left the building, as I walked through the long hallway to leave the building, the apartment that he and his wife had entered, the apartment was located in a place and the door was ajar where I could pause before going outside, and listening to my deacon as he witnessed to the Lord.
So I just stopped there before the door, going out, I stopped in the hallway, listening through that open door of the apartment as my deacon witnessed for the Lord. I could not believe my ears how beautifully and effectively, how spiritually and preciously, how endearingly and movingly he spoke about what Jesus had done for him. Then he spoke of the wonderful fellowship of our dear church. And then he pressed an appeal to the family that they accept the Lord and that they come and to worship God and go to heaven with us. It was triumphant. It was spiritually heavenly glorious. It was uplifting and encouraging. It was the voice and work of a layman.
When you see a church that’s empty,
Though its doors are open wide,
It’s not the church that’s dying,
It’s the laymen who have died.
For it’s not by song or sermon
That the church’s work is done,
It is the laymen of our country
Who for God must carry on.
[“The Laymen,” by Edgar A. Guest]
That is the will of God for us. That’s our assignment, each one of us from heaven, saved to save others. “I do these things to pay expenses, but my business is witnessing for Jesus.”
As Dr. Melzoni and as our staff and as our people shall direct and help us and guide us, in His wisdom and grace we are going to try to make it possible, a handle for our people to seize and to hold, in our Evangel Groups to witness to every part and every house and every home and every heart in this great, vast metroplex.
And, O Lord, may it be, may it be that when we gather here in the assembly of God, that every service we see people and families coming down these aisles. “I have been won to the Lord by the testimony of this gracious godly man who stands by me here.” Or, “I have been made aware of the wondrous good of Jesus and His love for me by this dear, precious woman and kind friend who stands by me here.” O Lord, it’ll be heaven. It’ll be revival. It’ll be glory. It’ll be the greatest experience we’ve ever shared in our lives, just to look upon it, much less to be a part of it.
But we have this moment, we have now, we have today. If this is your commitment, “The Lord has spoken to me, Pastor. This is my wife and these are my children. We are all coming today to share in the sweet, blessed ministries of this wonderful church.” Welcome as you come. A couple you, you and your wife, you and a friend, the two of you coming, welcome, or just one somebody you. “The Lord has spoken to my heart, Pastor, and I’m answering with my life. I want to take Jesus as my Savior. I’m turning in faith and in confidence and belief to Him. I am taking Jesus as my Savior.” Or, “I want to put my life in this wonderful church. God commands me to be baptized. I want to follow Him in baptism.” Or, “I want to give my life to a special call that He’s pressed upon my soul.”
As the Spirit shall open the door and lead the way, answer now. Answer now. Make the decision in your heart now. When we stand up in this moment to sing, that first step will be the most significant and meaningful that you’ve ever made in your life. “Pastor, I’m on the way. Here I am.” God bless you. Angels attend you and welcome as you come. While we stand and while we sing.