Sweetest Verse in the Bible
February 21st, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE SWEETEST VERSE IN THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sweetest Verse in the Bible. I realize in nominating such nomenclature, such descriptive sentences, that I would be just, this is my personal reaction as I read through the Bible, and you would pick out another verse; but this is the one that to me is the sweetest verse in the Bible: "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32].
Now, there is a chapter heading right after that, chapter 5, Ephesians 5; but the chapter heading is misplaced: it should have been two verses down. And the reading of the whole text: "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, wherein ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" [Ephesians 4:30]; and that was the sermon last Sunday morning. Then, "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you," and the passage continues, though there’s a chapter heading there: "Be ye therefore," the therefore continues the word, "Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor" [Ephesians 5:1-2]; the golden altar of incense, with its perfume, its ascending sweet-smelling odor, coming up to God. Now that’s the whole passage.
"Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children, tekna agapeta." We are to God "tekna agapeta." Look at that. John wrote in his first epistle, "God is agape" [1 John 4:8], a love that is oh so exalted; "God is agape." Then the apostle calls us here, "tekna agapeta"; we are children of God, born in His love. We are wanted, we are desired, we are prayed for. Don’t you see children that are unwanted? Sometimes as foundlings they’re placed on a doorstep. I have read where they are placed in ashcans, sometimes just to get rid of them they send them to a home. That is so sad. But this is so glad: we are tekna agapeta. We are children born in the love and mercy and goodness of God; we are desired, we are wanted, we are prayed for, we are welcome, we are dear children of God. And as such, he says, we are to be "mimetai of God," mimetai. Now you know that word: a mimic, and our word imitator comes from it; a mimeograph, we are to be copyists of God, we are to imitate God. What an admonition, and yet, if we love the Lord, you will find yourself unconsciously loving, following, inculcating, incarnating those sweet, precious characteristics that we see of God in Christ Jesus. We are to be mimetai, mimics, immitators of God.
Upon a day in the international airport in New York City, waiting for a plane to cross the ocean, it was delayed, I met a man who was at that time the governor of Maryland. He is a gifted political leader; he delivered the keynote address at the Republican Convention that nominated President Richard Nixon. He was there placing his daughter on a plane to cross the sea, and that plane also was delayed. So I visited with him for a full hour. Learning that I was a pastor, he began to talk to me about the things of God and of his family. They all through their generations were Methodists. And he began to talk about his mother, who must have been a very devout Christian woman. And he said, "You know, my mother had an unusual and strange habit. When she went down to the altar to kneel to take the Lord’s Supper," and that’s the way they do in that church, they come and kneel, he said, "You know, my mother always took off her jewelry, took off her jewelry, took off her jewelry and put it in her purse when she knelt before the Lord to take the communion service." He said, "Did you know, as the days passed and I grew up, I found myself taking off my jewelry; take off my rings, take off my watch, take off my jewelry when I knelt to take the Lord’s Supper." And he said, "Pastor, did you know, last Sunday morning when I knelt there to take the Lord’s Supper, my teenage boy was kneeling by my side, and I saw him take off his jewelry, his rings, his watch, as he knelt by my side before the Lord."
That is nothing but just imitation; there’s no reason for it, indefensible by all rationales that you could summon. But to mimic, to imitate, and how glorious it is to imitate God! That is the most wonderful originality in the world, to copy the Lord; for "His name is Wonderful" [Isaiah 9:6]. The sons of old Eli did not imitate their father; the sons of Samuel did not imitate their father; Absalom did not imitate his father David; but our Lord Jesus imitated His Father, He was an exact duplicate. And to see Him, He said, is to see the Father [John 14:9], to mimic God.
Well, how is God? If you were like Him, what would you be like? That is the text: He is kind, He is tenderhearted, He is forgiving. He says so, "even as, ho theos en christo"; you have it translated, "as God for Christ’s sake" [Ephesians 4:32]. What he actually said, "ho theos, God, en christo, in Christ"; God in Christ. That’s what God is like. And you see God in the Lord. And what is God like? If we were to mimic Him, if we were to imitate Him, if we were to be like God, what would we be like? We would be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. So I speak of the kindness of God.
For the love of God is greater
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
[from "There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy"; Frederick William Faber, 1862;]
When Gad came to King David, and because of his sin in numbering Israel, Gad the prophet said, "You must choose between three: one, seven years of famine; two, to flee before your enemies as they pursue you three months; three, that a three-day pestilence sweep through the land." And David, bowing before such a harsh judgment said, "Let us not fall into the hands of man; let me fall into the hands of God, for He is merciful and kind; it shall be three days pestilence" [2 Samuel 24:13-14]. And do you remember the wonder of the story? When the pestilence swept the land and the destroying angel came over Jerusalem, David saw him with his sword drawn, and bowing before the Lord of judgment, pled for mercy in behalf of his people [2 Samuel 24:17]. That’s the story when God sent him to Mount Moriah, where Araunah’s threshing floor was located, and there where Abraham offered up Isaac [Genesis 22], there did David build an altar to placate the wrath and judgment of God. And there in that place did Solomon build his temple. Why, the very location of it, the very erection of it is a thanksgiving and a gratitude and an acknowledgement of the goodness, and the kindness, and the mercy of God; for the Lord stayed the plague; kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.
That explains to me why God doesn’t destroy the wicked. Oh! The violent men in this world, in this town, these who plan murder, and war, and attack, and wrong, and violence; why does not God destroy them from the face of the earth?
It’s because He is kind and good; He makes His rain to fall on the field of the bad man as well as the good man; He makes His sun to shine on the unjust man as on the just man. The Lord loves us all alike, good and bad. That’s why the apostle Simon Peter wrote, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" [2 Peter 3:9]. That’s why the prophet Ezekiel cried, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, the judgment upon the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" [Ezekiel 33:11]. The goodness and the kindness of God; maybe tomorrow the bad man will repent, maybe someday beyond the morrow he’ll bow and give his heart to God; kind, forgiving.
And to me that explains why sometimes grievous and onerous burdens are placed upon God’s very anointed: the slavery of Joseph in Egypt [Genesis 39:1-41:36]; Israel cried when the bad brothers came and said, "Is not this the coat of your son, Joseph?" Many colored; they dipped it in blood, a kid’s blood, a goat’s blood. "Is not this your son’s coat?" [Genesis 37:31-21]. Jacob looked at it and recognized it immediately, and he said, "Everything is against me; I’ve lost Rachel the mother, and now my son [Genesis 42:36]. I’ll go down to the grave grieving for my boy" [Genesis 37:35]. But, when Joseph was prime minister of Egypt and saved the family, Joseph said, "But God meant it for good" [Genesis 50:20]; kind, loving, remembering us. Is that not the story of Moses in exile as a shepherd? For forty years God prepared him and spoke to him [Exodus 2:11-3:8]. Is not that the story of the tears of Hannah? Had it not been out of her broken-heartedness she cried to God, there’d been no little Samuel lent to the Lord [1 Samuel 1:1-28]. Is not that the story of the apostle Paul, only out of a life beat, bruised, incarcerated, could those glorious letters, one of the prison epistles out of which I’m preaching now, could they ever have been written? [Acts 27:14-28:31]. Is not that the story of the sainted apostle John, whom Domitian exiled to die on the stony rocky isle of Patmos? But there, God rolled back the heavens as a scroll, just rolled back, and saw him; and he saw through those heavens the vistas of the apocalyptic age yet to come [Revelation 1:9-20]. All of these burdens are the kindnesses of God.
May I speak of the kindness of Christ? Ho theos en christo, God in Christ. When you look at Him, that’s what God is like. Well, how is our Lord? Why, my sweet people, "Jesus, moved with compassion" [Mark 1:41], is His ever and enduring name; kind, tenderhearted, forgiving. Tell me, if you could go back through the sweep of human history and pick out an event, and there you would like to stand in the glory of some magnificent epochal hour, and look on the face of a great general in his triumph, something like that, what would you like to do? Oh! Some of us, "You know I’d like to have seen Alexander the Great when he stood triumphant over Darius, and at his feet the forever dissolution of the Persian Empire." Changed the whole course of human history, what a day to have been there! Or some might say, "You know, I’d like to have been standing on the banks of the Rubicon when Caesar crossed it and changed once again the story of the Roman Empire." Or someone might say, "I’d like to have been in Waterloo and there to have looked upon the face of the Iron Duke of Wellington in his final victory over Napoleon Bonaparte." I would not blame you; oh, what significant events those are!
But you know, if I had my choice, you know what I’d like? I had rather, rather than seeing all of the generals in all of the great hours of triumph in their marching armies in all history, I’d like to see something like this: I would have loved to have been there when the Book says that the throngs and the multitudes were pressing Jesus on every side, and there walked up to Him a leper: "Behold, a leper" [Matthew 8:2]. Now you tell me, how could a leper get to Jesus when He was thronged and pressed by the multitudes on every side? Well, the reason is very plain: according to the law, when a leper left his leprosarium, wherever he was in the tombs, outcast, whenever he walked he had to cover his face with his hand and to cry, "Unclean, unclean, unclean!" And wherever he walked, there the people fell away from him, that icy circle always around him; he could walk anywhere and the multitudes part. That’s how he walked to Jesus; he just walked right up to the Lord Jesus. And the throngs around Him aghast fell apart; the Lord didn’t move. He stood right there where He was, in the center of that icy, chilling, ever present circle; He stood right there, He didn’t move. The leper came right up to Him. And the Book says, "And the Lord touched him" [Matthew 8:3], put His hand upon him. Why, that is the first time in memory he’d ever felt the touch of a human hand. I would guess it was half the cure, just the feel of the warm, sweet, loving hand of the Lord. Wouldn’t it have been great to have been there?
Or, when the disciples were interdicting the mothers who were bringing their children to Him, and the Lord said, "Forbid them not, suffer them to come unto Me; of such is the kingdom of heaven" [Matthew 19:14]. And He took them in His arms, and blessed them. Wouldn’t you have loved to have seen that? Or when the crowds were hungry and the disciples said, "Send them away." He said, "No, we shall feed them" [Matthew 14:15-16]. Or when the blind man cried out, and the friends around him said, "Hush, He has no time; He is a busy Man." And the Lord stopped and said, "Bring him to Me" [Mark 10:46-]. Kind, tenderhearted Jesus, moved with compassion.
He was that way in His death. When those who crucified Him railed on Him, walked back and forth and blasphemed Him, and when the thief by his side reviled Him, He said, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34]; kind, tenderhearted, forgiving. When He saw His mother standing there, He said to John the beloved apostle, "Behold your mother"; speaking to His mother from the cross, "Mother, behold your son." From that day John took her to his own home [John 19:25-27]. No wonder the centurion, who was a hardened man – how many men had he crucified? – no wonder that centurion, looking at Him, said, "Surely, truly this Man is the Son of God" [Mark 15:39].
And He is that way in heaven today: kind, tenderhearted, forgiving. The eloquent author of the Hebrews says so, "For we have not an High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin. Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that you may find mercy and grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:15-16]. Just come; He knows all about us. Tried, tempted, suffered, there’s no one goes through any experience, not even you, but that Jesus has drunk of that bitter cup; He tasted even death for every one of us; the kindness, the tenderheartedness, and the sympathy, and the understanding, and the compassion of our Lord.
Now last, he says: "Ye," we are to be that way. We’re to be mimetai, mimics, imitators of God. "Be ye therefore, be ye, kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32]; we are to be that way. Oh, how we need it, how we need it! One of the great, great sermons of Dr. Truett that you all, Donald Bowles, sometimes broadcast over the radio, is "The Need for Encouragement." Oh, that’s one of the greatest sermons of all time, "The Need for Encouragement." "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted," sympathetic, understanding. There’s an autobiography, so moving, written by Frank Rutherford. He preached his heart out, poured his soul out to his people. The intensity of the truth burned in his heart in the church in which he preached. He went to the vestry, not a soul spoke to him. Janitor finally came in; his only remark was, "It’s raining outside." Then he went out to close up the building. Pastor went home without an umbrella, drenched in the rain, into his little room. He lost his heart and his ability to minister; left the ministry. You know, when I read that, I thought, "Dear, dear, why couldn’t just anybody, even a dog wag his tail? Why couldn’t just anybody have said some word of encouragement?" Oh, oh!
It takes so little to make us sad,
Just a slighting word or a doubtful sneer,
Just a scornful smile on some lips held dear,
And our footsteps lag though the goal seemed near,
And we lost the joy and hope we had
It takes so little to make us sad.
It takes so little to make us glad,
Just a cheering clasp of some friendly hand,
Just a word from one who could understand,
And we finish the task we so long had planned,
We lose the fear and doubt we had
It takes such a little to make us glad.
[“It Takes Just a Little”; Ida Goldsmith Morris]
Kind, tenderhearted, sympathetic, understanding.
Why, did you know – I read in the life of Sir Walter Scott, and these things are astonishing to me – he was a dullard when he was a little boy; they said he was stupid in his lessons. He didn’t learn well, he wasn’t smart. And he was discouraged, Sir Walter Scott. And upon a day, Sir Walter Scott says he sat down by Scotland’s sweetest singer, Bobby Burns; and Bobby Burns read to the little lad some of the lines of poetry he had written, put his hand on his head and encouraged the boy. And Sir Walter Scott said he went back home and wept for joy, and it was the change in his life. Why, did you know, I heard Gypsy Smith one time, I’m talking about the old gentleman, the old Gypsy Smith, I heard Gypsy Smith one time describe one of the most moving incidents in a little boy’s life. He had gone to hear Moody preach; and Ira D. Sankey sing. And after the service was over, he went up to Ira Sankey, Moody’s singer, and Gypsy Smith described Ira Sankey talking to him as a little waif of a gypsy boy; and somehow, by inspiration God revealed to that singer something. And Ira Sankey, Gypsy Smith said, put his hand on the head of a little forlorn gypsy boy and said to him, "Someday God will make of you a great preacher." A sentence, the warmth of a hand, a smile, kind, tenderhearted, sympathetic.
Ah, that’s what makes a wonderful church! I don’t gainsay everything else in the church; but there has to be in it warmth and love, all of those human equations that make us glad. Did you know, I’ve heard many compliments on our church, many, many, of them? Oh, I’ve heard them speak of the attendance. This morning it was really pouring down rain at 8:15; did you know this place was crowded this morning at 8:15 in the pouring down rain. We had such a wonderful harvest. Oh, they just say such wonderful things about the church! "Think of its budgets, think of its program, its Sunday school attendance." But do you know the finest, bestest compliment I ever heard? Dr. Forest Fesser, for so many years the executive secretary of our state, said one time said to me – he belongs to our church, he and his wife – he said, "Pastor, did you know I was way over yonder somewhere," and he told me where, and I didn’t know where it was, but way here in Texas somewhere, he was attending a Baptist Association. And there at the association a man came up to him and introduced himself. He said, "Dr. Fesser, I’m pastor of the second biggest country church in the world." Well, Dr. Fesser acknowledged it and went on. Then he got to thinking about that, so he went back to the preacher, and he said, "You know, you intrigued me by what you said, you’re the pastor of the second biggest country church in the world,who has the biggest country church in the world?" And that rural pastor said, "Criswell, there in Dallas." Ah, I just love that! You’d have to grow up in the country, you’d have to be pastor of a little country church to know what that meant; the biggest fellowship, the sweetest communion, the koinonia that only God could create. How we need it! All of us do.
And I close. Did you know, mostly – I don’t know whether this is good to confess or not – mostly, that’s what wins people to Jesus. Oh! I wish I could say, "Do you know I stand up there in that pulpit, and I preach the great doctrines of the faith? And by my preaching the great doctrines of the faith, these people are convicted, and they fall on their faces before the Lord, and they confess their sins, and they look to Jesus for salvation by the tremendous doctrines that I preach."
Well, I’d be a first class, unmitigated liar if I said that, you know that? I just would. I’m not gainsaying the preaching in the doctrine, and I’m not deprecating the truth of the Lord that your pastor tries to mediate in this sacred place; but I am saying that by common human experience in my pastorate, I have learned that most people are won to Jesus because somebody loved them into it, prayed them into it, visited them into it. And they’ll say to me, "Pastor," and call the name of a man, "he told us about the Lord, and told us about the church, and told us about Jesus, and here we are. And the friendship of this dear family won us to Jesus, and to this precious church." I guess God meant it that way; there’s a human equation that we cannot escape. And maybe that’s one reason that He said for us, "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ hath forgiven you" [Ephesians 4:32]; to be mimics, to be imitators, to be mimetai of God.
O Lord, may there be in our hearts that loving warmth, that compassionate, shepherdly interest that blesses everybody we know. Lead them to Jesus, do it Lord, do it Lord. Do it now, do it again.
In a moment we’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, you, to give your heart to God, to accept Jesus as your Savior, would you come and stand by me? A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I make it now." Say that to God in your heart, make the decision in your heart now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. God will attend you in the way; open every door, if you’ll come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.