The Baptist Foundation (Witnessing with Our Work )
November 28th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
The Baptist Foundation
WITNESSING WITH OUR WORK AND WEALTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-28-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message. The title of the sermon today is Witnessing with our Work and Wealth, and the message is dedicated to the Baptist Foundation. In the eleventh chapter of the letter of – Apollos, I think – to the little congregation of Hebrews, he writes in the fourth verse:
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
I made the title of the message from the word that the author uses: martureo, martus, "witness," finally came to mean "martyr," martureo; "by which he obtained witness, God" – and here it is translated "testifying," but it is the same word, martureo – "God witnessing of his gifts."
And you have two names here for what Abel offered unto God: "By faith, Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice," thusia, "a slain animal"; then, "God testifying of his gifts." In the first place it is called a thusia, a "slain sacrifice," but in the second place it is called a doron, a "gift." God testifying, God witnessing to his gifts, doron: immediately that brings to my mind the interminable discussion in the theological world concerning the origin of sacrifice. Where did it come from and what did it originally mean? Why did the first man offer a sacrifice unto God?
Now, one of the theories that is ably defended on the part of the theologian is that sacrifice originally began in a present, in a gift, in an offering of thanksgiving and gratitude to God. I find that here in the text, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent thusia," a slain sacrificial animal. Then, "God testifying of his gifts" – a doron" [Hebrews 11:4]. In this passage, the sacrifice is called a gift, and that is exactly what you find in the translation of the Hebrew words in the Old Testament: minchah, gift. And that is the word that is used in describing the sacrifice of Cain and of Abel. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis:
In process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground – a minchah, an offering – a sacrifice unto the Lord. And Abel also, he brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof.
And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his minchah – translated here "offering" – but unto Cain and his minchah, He had no respect.
The word minchah is the Hebrew word for "gift," for "present," and elsewhere in the Bible, minchah – gift, present – is translated "sacrifice." In the ninth chapter of Ezra, for example, Ezra says that:
I sat astonished until the evening minchah – until the evening sacrifice – and at the evening minchah, sacrifice, I arose up from my heaviness; and rent my garment and spread out my hands before heaven.
Those, therefore, who think that sacrifice originally began in a man’s feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving to God – "And he offered a minchah, a present, a thusia, a sacrifice to the Lord" – [have cause to defend this position]. And in the text, by inspiration, the Scriptures say, "God witnessing of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh" [Hebrews 11:4].
Through the years and through the centuries and through all of the story of human history, the gift, the sacrifice, the offering of Abel is a dedicated testimony to God. And as I read the text, and as I think of the gift of Abel, and that he speaks through it words of encouragement and support to the generations and the generations, immediately I ask, is that possible today? Can a man today speak and witness and testify through his offering, his gift unto God? The answer to that question is an emphatic affirmation. It is a yes! Through the institution of the Baptist Foundation, a man after the day’s work is done can continue to witness, and to testify, and to encourage, and to support the work of God around the earth.
First, wealth – our possessions, what we own – are a reward and an endowment from God. Everything that we have is a gift from His gracious hands. In one of his addresses on the plains of Moab, the great lawgiver Moses spoke to his people and said:
When you come into the land, and when you are prosperous, you may say in your heart, My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth the power to get wealth.
Whatever we own comes as an endowment and as a reward and as a gift from God’s gracious hands. It is therefore right for a man to pray that God will bless him and help him to succeed in his task and business. It is right for a man to pray that souls be won. It is right for a man to pray for spiritual power. It is right for a man to pray for God’s moving presence in the services of the church. It is no less right for a man to pray that God will bless him in the work of his hands. For one thing, it means the support of himself and his family.
The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:8, "He that provideth not for the things of his own, and especially for those of his own house, has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." A man ought to pray that God will help him to support his family and himself, not be parasitical on the government with a hand out for welfare, he ought to pray that God will give him wisdom and health and strength to support himself and his home. And it is a right prayer for a man to ask it of God.
It is right for a man to pray that the Lord will prosper him in his work, that he might support God’s kingdom’s program in the earth. Without the support of the people in behalf of the church, the church would die in its many faceted ministries. It is the apostle Paul himself, in the second Corinthian letter chapters 8 and 9, in 1 Corinthians 16:2, and in many other passages, who set the framework for godly stewardship in the churches of the New Testament. It is right for a man to pray that God will bless him in his work.
It is right for a man to take God into partnership. When Jacob lay down in Bethel, he saw a vision, a ladder, and the angels ascending and descending [Genesis 28:12]. He arose from his sleep and said, "This is an awesome place. This is none other than the house of God and the gate to heaven" [Genesis 28:17]. Then he said – for he was fleeing away from his brother Esau and from his father’s house – he said,
O Lord God, if You will take care of me, and if You will give me bread to eat and raiment to wear,
And if You will bring me back to Canaan, to my father’s house;
then this stone shall be Bethel, the house of God, for me: and out of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely return the tenth unto Thee.
It is right for a man to ask God to prosper him, and it is right for a man to take God into his partnership. "Lord, if You will bless me, if You will stand by me, and if You will help me, out of all that You give me, I will return at least one tenth unto Thee."
For, you see, money and prosperity and affluence can be a curse. It was to Achan [Joshua 7]; it was to Judas [Matthew 26:14-16, 27:3-4]; it was to Ananias and Sapphira [Acts 5:1-10]; it was, it was to those who have misappropriated and misused God’s gifts. Money can be a curse in government, in labor, in family, in society. It needs to be redeemed by a consecrated and hallowed commitment in its dedicated use for God.
George W. Truett, the illustrious pastor of this church for forty-seven years, one time said, and I copy from his address:
A man right about this question of money is likely to be right or easily led to do the right on every other question of religion. A Christian man wrong on this question of his money is likely to be seriously wrong on every other question of religion. Now this is putting it strongly, but I do unhesitatingly believe every word I am saying, and I would have our men to lay it to heart.
When a man is wrong about his money, Dr. Truett avows, he’s likely to be wrong in so many other areas of life. But if he is right about his money, he is likely to be right about so many other areas of his life.
I can illustrate that in the parable of the good Samaritan [Luke 10:25-37], falling among thieves and left naked and dying. The thief said, "What is thine is mine; I will take it," and he did. The Levite passed on one side and the priest passed on the other side, and they said, "What is mine is mine, and I will keep it." The Good Samaritan came by and stopped to heal and to help. And he said, "What is mine is thine, and we will share it." It is right for a man to ask God to prosper him and to bless him, and to make God his partner.
Not only our possessions, what we have, as an endowment and a gift and a reward from God, it is also a stewardship under God. In one of the most meaningful parables of our Lord, the Savior said,
There was a certain nobleman who went into a far country.
And he called his ten servants, and delivered unto them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy until I come.
And it came to pass when he returned he called those servants, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how every man had gained by trading.
The first came and said, Lord, thy pound hath gained one thousand percent, one pound, ten pounds.
And the second came, Lord, thy pound hath gained five hundred percent, one pound, five pounds.
The lord said to the first, You have authority over ten cities, and to the second, You have authority over five cities.
Look at the words that he used: pragmateuomai, translated here – "occupy till I come" – Pragma means "business," it means "trading"; pragma. Pragmateuo means "to trade." "And when he came back he called those servants that he might know how everyone had gained by diapragmateuomai," by his trading. It’s a business parable, and it is just that. Now look at it.
What is the purpose of the nobleman in delivering to those ten men those ten pounds? Was it monetary? Did the nobleman need the money? Why, look: "pound," mna, mna, it is one-sixtieth of a silver talent. It is a hundred drachma. It is a hundred denarii. It is twenty-five shekels. It is about twenty dollars. Did the nobleman need that? No! What the nobleman was doing was he was seeking to develop good, able, dedicated stewards that they might learn someday to be able, dedicated rulers.
When people describe heaven as sitting on a cloud with a halo and our wings at rest – no! The whole universe is to be guided and controlled in organized rulership. And we are to sit upon thrones judging and we are to have command of all God’s creation, of which the moon is a little part – and may James Irwin go visit it someday and recall these marvelous things that he saw and felt on it – He’s developing stewards in order to develop rulers.
I one time heard of a farmer, and his neighbor came to him and said, "Jim, you don’t need to work those boys so hard to raise corn."
And Jim replied, "Tom, I’m not raising corn. I’m raising boys!"
That’s exactly this: the nobleman didn’t need the small amounts of money, but he’s developing stewards in order that someday they might be rulers in the kingdom of God.
Thus it is that all that we have comes from His gracious hands, and we’re stewards; we’re custodians; we use it for God. "Occupy till I come" [Luke 19:13]: you recognize that phrase? "As oft as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show the Lord’s death till He come" [1 Corinthians 11:26]. "Occupy till I come"; pragmateuo, pragmatic, financial, practical, trade, use until I come.
There’s no land but God’s land. There’s no sunshine but God’s sunshine. There’s no breath and no air but God’s breath and God’s air. There’s no time but God’s time. Use, pragmateuo – diapragmateuomai, trade – use until I come. We are stewards under God with whatever the Lord gives us.
Out of the seminary – – and this would be very typical – – out of the seminary there was graduated a young neophyte, a young theologue, and he’s called to be pastor of a church in a little mill town in South Carolina. There was only one rich man in the church, and he owned the textile mill, and he gave to the Lord’s work two dollars each Sunday. That was all; two dollars each Sunday.
And the young minister began to preach about stewardship and about a responsibility to God and the support of the Lord’s work in the earth – to no end; he still gave two dollars a Sunday. Well, being neophytic – being young and inexperienced – he stood up in the pulpit one day and pointed to the man, and told him what he thought about what he was doing – man! after forty-four years being a pastor, I’d never do that! – and said to him, "Everything you have is not yours. You don’t own anything."
It infuriated the mill owner. He called the pastor after the service and said, "I demand an appointment with you now!" And the young preacher said, "Fine, I’ll meet you at the church at two o’clock this afternoon." The man came there in his limousine, picked up the young preacher, took him to his beautiful, palacious home and said, "See that mansion? That’s mine. I don’t owe a dime on it. It’s paid for. I have the deed. It’s mine!" He took him to the mill, with a sweep of his hand took in the whole industry, and said, "You see that complex? That’s mine! Don’t owe a dime on it. I have the deed to it. That mill is mine!" Took him out in the country to a beautiful South Carolinian plantation, drove him over it – "See these broad, beautiful, fruitful acres? Every acre is mine! Yet you said this morning in the pulpit that I didn’t own anything, that I have nothing."
The young preacher just listened. When he was done, drove him back to the church, the preacher said, "Could I ask just one thing of you? Could I have another appointment with you?" And the man blurted out, "Indeed, at the same time, at the same place, next Sunday afternoon, here at two o’clock." And the young preacher humbly replied, "No, let’s make the next appointment here at the church at two o’clock Sunday afternoon, a hundred years from now."
We just use what God places in our hands. "Occupy till I come." Not an acre of it is really ours. Not a ray of sunshine is really ours. Not a drop of rain that falls is really ours. We just pragamateuo, we use it until He comes.
Not only are our possessions an endowment from God, not only are they a stewardship to be used under God, but they are a legacy to be dedicated to God for the work of the Lord in the earth. There is much that we can do in our lifetime, no matter how poor, or how modest, or how affluent we are. The Lord was blessed by the gift of the two mites of the poor widow [Mark 12:41-44]. The Lord was blessed by the lunch of the little junior boy [John 6:9-13]. The Lord was blessed by the rich gift of the loan of the tomb on the part of Joseph of Arimathea [John 19:38-42].
However poor or modest or gifted, we all can have a part in our lifetime. But there is something over and beyond and beside that is infinitely possible, infinitely blessed, and infinitely useful. "By faith Abel offered unto God a most excellent sacrifice; God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh" [Hebrews 11:4]. When the work of the day is done, it is possible for us to leave a legacy of support, and encouragement, and blessing that shall reap till the Lord shall appear from heaven in glory.
I was moved one time, listening to a layman in Lebanon, Tennessee. He’d gone to his pastor and said, "Pastor, God’s blessed me unusually; what could I do especially?" He belonged – the pastor was of another denomination, and he said, "Let me tell you: why don’t you take a missionary in Korea?" And he did. And he took a picture of a missionary and put it at the head of his bed, and every night when that godly layman knelt down, he looked up at the picture and then he prayed a little prayer: "Lord, bless my missionary while he works and I sleep." Then in the morning he’d look at that missionary, and he’d say, "Now Lord, bless my missionary while he sleeps and I work." And in these days and years since, I have felt, did you know that godly layman could keep that witness and testimony in Korea until the Lord comes again by leaving a dedicated trust and legacy for God? "Lord, bless the missionary in Korea, as I pray God shall give me the infinite reward of my salvation in heaven." It is possible. And, oh! how preciously, beautifully significant, what we have for God. "He being dead yet speaketh" [Hebrews 11:4]; the reward, and the support, and the encouragement going on and forever.
There were two sisters in this church, both of them very wealthy. One of them carefully planned to the Baptist Foundation a trust, and bequeathed to the foundation her large estate. One third of it goes to the Buckner Benevolent Program, one third of it goes to our Baylor University Hospital here in Dallas, and one third of it goes to the support of this dear church. Nor could I ever say words commensurate and adequate, the debt of gratitude we owe to that wonderful Christian woman. She being dead yet speaketh. In a thousand facets of this glorious ministry, she still has a worthy and wonderful part.
Her sister also was here. She was more affluent than the first. And as the days passed, in love and prayer and friendship, she finally opened her heart to me, and one day said, "I have resolved I’m going to give what I have to God, and I am coming to the church. I’m going to put my life there, and you just tell me what you want me to do." But she became ill, suddenly so, and I watched her die. You know, what you do you must do now. Our day of grace is so brief, like a river that loses itself in the illimitable sea, like a day that dies in the twilight and the night.
Like the snow falls on the river,
A moment white and gone forever;
Like the borealis race
That flit ere you could point their place;
Like the rainbow’s lovely form,
Vanishing amid the storm
[From "Tam O’Shanter," Robert Burns]
So brief – and she died. Her estate was dissipated. Seven million dollars of it went to the government, and the rest of it, I don’t know where or what; lost. I sometimes think of the banker who said, "You know, a hundred thousand people with a ten dollar bill in each hand is nothing. But a hundred thousand ten dollar bills in the bank is a million; and think what you can do with a million dollars."
When your estate, when what you have is fragmented and dissipated, it amounts to nothing. And the estate of this woman, nobody remembers, nor does it work for God. But the first – O Lord! there is no day that I come down to this dear church but I pass a building named for her. I look at her picture a thousand times, and as I see the supported work sustained by that glorious steward of God, she being dead yet speaketh.
And the legacy we leave behind, what does it say? Does it speak of waste and dissipation and loss in neglect and forgetfulness? Or does it speak those glorious words that have witnessed to God ever since the days Abel offered a minchah, a sacrifice, a present to the Lord? "He being dead yet speaketh" [Hebrews 11:4], and shall till the Lord comes again.
We must sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and here to the front: "Pastor, we’re coming today." We had one of the most glorious responses at the 8:15 service that I’ve seen; it was heavenly. Dear God, could You do it again? Could You do it now? Speak to somebody this morning, you, and answer with your life, "Here I come, and here I am. Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming today." Or just a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing that song, come. Make the decision now in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, into that aisle and down to the front: "Here I come. I make it now." God in heaven and His angels will attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.