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Strive for better rewards than earthly ones: Criswell

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–In his first visit to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, W.A. Criswell spoke on being a workman for God to a packed chapel service April 17. They responded to his message by kneeling throughout the auditorium in a prayer of commitment to serve wherever God should call them.

Midwestern President Mark Coppenger introduced Criswell as “a faithful servant and model in the pulpit.” As he referenced the published contributions of the 87-year-old preacher, dozens of students lifted copies of books, commentaries and Bible study notes they had brought with them in anticipation of getting autographs.

Coppenger described Criswell’s “Why I Preach the Bible Is Literally True” as “a signal book in the conservative movement in our convention to affirm the inerrancy of Scripture.”

Criswell drew from his characteristic expository style to preach from Matthew 19 and 20 about the motivation of a workman for the Lord. Reading the parable of the workers in the vineyard, Criswell said the labor unions would be concerned for “these who worked for one hour and received the same pay as these who worked twelve hours.”

With further examination of the connection between the two chapters, Criswell explained how Jesus presented the standard which all workers for the Lord should seek. When the rich young ruler was told by Jesus to sell his earthly possessions in order to be perfect before God, Criswell explained the Greek meaning of that word indicates “achieving the purpose for which you were created.”

“If you would be all that God intended for you to be, go and sell what you have and give to the poor,” Criswell translated the passage. He wondered at the disappointment those who were with Jesus must have felt to see “the best prospect they had ever imagined” walk away in sorrow.

Noting Peter’s reminder the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, Criswell said, “There’ll be something in your life you must turn aside from in order to follow Jesus. The Lord said to Simon Peter and the rest that there is no one who does not give up anything to follow, but shall be rewarded one hundred fold.”

“God does not want us to work for him for what we get out of it or some kind of reward or promotion,” Criswell said. “God wants us to work for him just for the love of the Lord and leave the reward to him.”

In his years of pastoring, Criswell said he met many people who wanted to be recognized, promoted and exalted for the work they did. Many of the pastors he has known would have loved to have had a church that paid them more and provided a pulpit of prestige and recognition. “How the Lord says in his heart, ‘I wish he worked just for the love of God,’ not for any reward that could be bestowed upon him, just for the love of Jesus.”

Often, when asked how he felt being pastor of one of the most famous pulpits in the world, Criswell said he relates that his first church had 18 members paying a salary of $20 a month. “And I worked as faithfully and sought to preach as carefully and minister to those people in that little congregation as earnestly and prayerfully” as at First Baptist in Dallas.

Having avoided thinking in terms of a salary, advancement or the fame of the pulpit, Criswell said he poured his life into a ministry and found the Lord had blessed him beyond anything he had dreamed.

Relating the account of a missionary couple returning home after a lifetime of service in Africa, Criswell told of the man’s discouragement that a cheering crowd awaited the arrival of fellow passenger Theodore Roosevelt who was returning from an African safari, while no one greeted them. As the missionary poured out his frustration to God, Criswell said the man was reminded that his reward had not yet been given because he had not yet arrived at his home in heaven.

He called upon those gathered at the seminary to commit themselves to “any kind of ministry, anywhere and anyhow the Lord would call you.” Criswell also committed himself to pray for Coppenger, expressing “deep and profound gratitude for this godly man who has outlined the purposes and dreams in his heart for the evangelization of Midwest America.”

Criswell told seminarians Coppenger “has it in his soul to prepare you and others of your kind to preach the gospel and found churches throughout this great Midwest America, and for that purpose I will devote my whole life of prayer and intercession, remembering you in what you are dedicated to do.”

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  • Tammi Ledbetter