Blessed Tears of the Apostle Paul

THE TEARS OF PAUL

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:31

W. A. Criswell
W. A. Criswell

And once again a tremendous privilege, God-given, blessed of heaven in our dear First Baptist Church of Dallas, to share this evening hour with the uncounted thousands and thousands of you who are listening to the service over KRLD.  And tonight, because of the inclement weather in our part of the world, I suppose there are more thousands of you who are listening than in any Sunday night in which we have ever broadcast these services.  Then of course over KCBI, the radio station of our Bible Institute, welcome.  And God open your heart as the message is delivered tonight by the pastor entitled The Tears of Paul. 

In your Bible, if you will turn to the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, Acts chapter 20, we shall begin reading at the thirty-first verse and read to the end of the chapter.  And wherever you are tonight, if it is possible, get your Bible.  Open it to the Book of Acts; turn to chapter 20 and beginning at verse 31.  Read it out loud with us, Acts chapter 20, verse 31.  All of us now reading it aloud together:

Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 

And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all of them which are sanctified. 

I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. 

Yea, ye yourself know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 

I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed give than to receive. 

And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. 

And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him. 

Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.  And they accompanied him unto the ship.

 

 [Acts 20:31-38]

 

There are by far more personal details revealed to us in the life of the apostle Paul from the pages of the Bible than revealed in any other personality that moves across the pages of this sacred Book.  His feelings, how he responded, his suffering, his tears—the innermost life of this apostle and missionary of Christ is revealed.  And we can see him, how he thinks, how things affected him, how he responded in so many of the situations that developed in his missionary life and missionary journeys.  You could ask, “Why is the Bible so filled with these pages and chapters and books—opening to us the innermost life and heart and soul of this apostle of Jesus Christ?”  And when you think of it and look at the life of Paul, the answer is very evident. 

Paul wrote in the first Corinthian letter chapter 11, the first verse, “Be ye followers of me, as I am a follower of Christ.” So closely identified was Paul with the life, and heart, and love, and outreach, and atoning grace of our blessed Savior, that to follow the work and to give dedicatory subservience and surrender to the will of Christ was identical:  following Paul, we follow the Lord.  That is why, in the providence of God, so much of the innermost life of this glorious exponent of the faith and missionary statesman is revealed to us in the Bible.  Looking at him, following him, patterning our life after his example, we pattern our life and follow the blessed example of our Lord. 

Paul was a man of such diverse feelings and emotions and characteristics.  He was a man of tremendous energy, and yet filled with weakness.  He speaks of the weaknesses “…messengers from Satan to buffet him.”  And when he took it to the Lord, God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”  “Therefore,” wrote the apostle, “I take pleasures in” necessities, and deprivations, and trials, and persecutions, and sorrows, and heartaches, “for when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. 

What a conflict in life and personality, so tremendous a man, and yet bowed in such weakness.  He was a man of such tremendous energy.  It’s almost unthinkable what he did in spreading the gospel of Christ in the Greco-Roman—the civilized world.  And yet with all of his dynamism and all of his tremendous force, he is as gentle as a woman.  He will weep, he will cry, he will be moved, he will be hurt, he will lament, he will love his people so much that when they fall into error or into mistake, it is as though the Lord Himself was grieving over His derelict children.  What a difference in the personality of the man!  He is a man of tremendous convictions: laid down his life for the faith, accosted Simon Peter face to face when he was to be reprimanded.  Fearless, a man of infinite conviction, dedication and yet at the same time, he has the heart of a child: humble, teachable, malleable, listening to the voice of the Spirit of God.  This man has the drive of a king, of a general, and at the same time has the gentleness and the softness and the preciousness of a woman. 

Well, when you look at him and think of him as the pattern for our own life, you immediately come to the conclusion, “He’s not a Stoic, he’s a Christian!  And he can be moved by the sufferings and the derelictions of humankind.”  And that’s we, we are not to be stoics! We also can be hurt and moved and can be full of sorrow and tears by the trials and the sufferings and the derelictions of our people. 

Our Lord was like that, moved in His heart, moved to tears—crying.  I don’t read in the Bible that He ever laughed.  There are places in His conversation that lend itself to humor.  He was so pointed in some of the words that He said as He observed the life of the religious leaders, but in the Bible never a word that He laughed, nor that He even smiled.  But three different times in the life of our Lord it is said that He cried.  He burst into tears, as the Greek word has it, He wept. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus, in the grief of Mary and Martha [Luke 11:35]; when He beheld the city from the brow of Olivet, He cried over the lost city [Luke 19:41]; and we are told that in Gethsemane, He wept before Him who was able to deliver Him from death and learned obedience in the things that He suffered—the will of God that He die for our sins.  This is our Lord! And this is the apostle Paul. 

In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, it is said three times.  He speaks three times of his tears.  In verse 19, he says, “serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and many tears and,” translated here, “temptations,” trials, peirasmos: tears and trials.  Then in verse [31], “remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears,” and then in verse 37, “and he kneeled down, and prayed with them all, and they wept.”  In that parting prayer; these three times in this small address—his short address of our apostle to the pastors at Ephesus—three times is he presented there as crying, as weeping. 

Against the life and missionary work of the apostle Paul, there is always that overtone of sorrow and heartache and tears.  Look at it.  It says in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts that Paul and Silas, after they were beat, scourged, flailed, placed into the prison in Philippi in stocks and in chains, and at midnight, beat as they were, they praised God and sang hymns to the Lord [Acts 16:25].  And the whole story is one of victory and uplift and triumph!  And you feel it when you read the story; it’s just almost incomparable in literature, the spirit, the triumphant spirit of this man, singing and praising God in prison.  But when you look at the story and look at an overtone, you know what you read?  It says in the Book; the Philippian jailer, noticing the blood clots on the back of the apostle, where he had been beat unmercifully by those Roman lictors, the Philippian jailer, now converted, noticed those blood clots on his back.  And it says in the Bible that he “washed their stripes” [Acts 16:33].  That is just incidentally said; just incidentally mentioned; but it is always that overtone of suffering and affliction—washing stripes, the beat, bloody backs of Paul and Silas. 

All right, look at it again.  I suppose that in the fourth chapter of the second letter to Timothy, the swan song of the apostle Paul, I suppose that in that chapter you will find one of the most triumphant words in the Bible, a victorious salutation, benediction. Do you remember it?  “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me in that day: and not unto me only, but unto all of them also that love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:7- 8], one of the great, great avowals of faith, commitment, triumph to be found in the whole Word of God! 

All right, the overtone now, you read that chapter.  And writing to Timothy, he’ll say, “Timothy, when you come, bring the cloak that I left in Troas with Carpus” [2 Timothy 4:13].  That is, “This dungeon is cold and damp, and when you come bring the cloak, the coat that I left in Troas with Carpus,” in prison, dark, damp, cold! 

Take again, in the Book of Philippians, he will write one of the most beautiful letters in the Bible.  It is a love letter, literally.  Imprisoned in Rome, they send him a gift and he writes this letter back—sends it by Epaphroditus—thanking them for their remembrance of him in his need, in prison in Rome.  Then, as he writes this letter, saying, “Rejoice in the Lord, and always, I say, rejoice!” [Philippians 4:4].  Rejoice always in the Lord! That’s the tone of the letter, but as he writes it you can hear the overtone, the clanking of the chain as he writes in prison chained to a Roman soldier.  And he speaks of that in the first chapter of the book: how his chains, his bonds have been made known throughout the Praetorian Guard [Philippians 1:13], chained all day, all night, every day, every night; the overtone of his life, one of trial and affliction. 

Take again; He will write in the Corinthians letter about his self-sufficiency.  He works with his own hands.  He pays his own way.  He is not chargeable to strangers.  And he preaches the gospel, supporting himself.  He mentions it here in the passage that we have read.  “Ye, yourselves know, how these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and them that were with me.”  And I have showed you—I have given you example how that so laboring, ye ought to support others, remembering, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” [Acts 20:34- 35].  That is the apostle Paul: self-sufficient; not chargeable to strangers; working with his own hands; taking care of himself. 

Yet, look at him.  In that same Corinthians letter, he will write an overtone in his life.  He mentions the fact and he notices that Cephas, Simon Peter, and James the Lord’s brother, and the other apostles all have wives.  And as they move in their missionary work, their wives go with them.  But he mentions the fact that he is alone.  There’s nobody to comfort him and strengthen him and be a companion with him in a home.  He is by himself, alone; the overtone in the life of sorrow of the apostle. 

May I point out just one more?  The apostle has the signs of an apostle—miracles, healings.  It is wonderful!  Even from his person they would take handkerchiefs and lay them upon the sick, and the sick would be healed.  Glorious! But always that overtone in his life; he loved Timothy, but he did not heal Timothy.  He loved Trophimus; he left Trophimus at Miletus, sick.  And of himself, a thorn in the flesh; in the flesh some kind of physical ailment, hurt, illness.  He couldn’t heal himself, and he lived his life with that buffeting of Satan in his flesh [2 Corinthians 12:7-10].  In the life of the apostle Paul, you will find those overtones of sorrow and tears and triumph. 

And now the three that he mentions here in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts.  “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and” with many tears, and peirasmos, “trials” [Acts 20:19].  The life of the apostle from the beginning was that.  The Lord said to him when God called him into the apostleship, into his discipleship, into his ministry, the Lord said to him, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16].  And his whole life was that. Do you realize that most of the life of the apostle Paul as a minister of the gospel of the Son of God, most of it was spent in prison?  What an unusual thing!  And yet when you study it, it was only out of a life that was buffeted, and beat, and bruised, and tormented that such letters could have been written, as we have here in the New Testament from the pen of the apostle Paul.  “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” That was his call into the ministry, and his whole life is that. 

When he began preaching at Damascus, that he might be spared, they let him down over the wall in a basket.  When he came to Jerusalem, there was stirred up against him such vicious and violent and vitriolic opposition that they sent him out to Cilicia, to Tarsus where he came from.  When he began his preaching in the first missionary journey in Lystra, they dragged him out for dead; stoned him, they thought, to death.  At Philippi, beat and in prison; spending three years in prison in Caesarea, in Judea, and finally sent to Rome, as a prisoner chained to a Roman soldier.  Most of his life as a preacher was spent in bonds, in chains, in manacles, and stocks, in prison:  “Show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 

And here in the Corinthian letter, he writes of those sufferings.  Listen to him as he says:

In labors abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons frequent, in deaths oft.  

Five times of the Jews received I forty stripes save one. 

Thrice was I beaten with Roman rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;  

In journeyings often, in perils of waters, 

in perils of robbers, in perils of mine countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 

In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

[2 Corinthians 11:23-27]

 What a ministry! God calls him, and into what?  “I will show him,” says the Lord. “what great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16]. 

Now, an inevitable question; why doesn’t he quit?  Why doesn’t he quit?  “Lord, Lord if this is my assignment and this is my work, I refuse!” Why doesn’t he quit?  All right, he speaks of that.  He says in 1 Corinthians 9:16:

For necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!.   If I do it willingly, I have a reward; but if my will is not in it

Oikonomia, a dispensation is committed unto me” 

“Whether I want to or whether I don’t want to, this is God’s call for my life and necessity is laid upon me, the oikonomia, the dispensation, the stewardship of God.”  That’s what it is to serve the Lord.  We’re not doing it for what we get out of it.  We’re not doing it for pay.  We’re not doing it for prestige.  We’re not doing it to be honored.  We’re not doing to be elected.  We’re not doing it to be furthered.  We’re not doing it to be praised or even acknowledged.  We’re doing it for Jesus!  He called us!  This is His assignment for us: “Necessity is laid upon me.” 

In the years gone by when I was in Oklahoma, I heard of two Southern Baptist missionaries in Oklahoma.  One was named Hogan and the other was named Bradford Hays.  And in the midst of an awesome trial, Hogan said to his friend Hays, “I am quitting.  I am resigning.  I’m going back home.  This is too much.”  So Bradford Hays said to his friend and fellow missionary, “I understand, and I know, but before you go, would you sit down and sing just one song with me?”  And Bradford Hays got his guitar, and he strummed the tune, and they sang:  

Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name? 

 

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas? 

 

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To carry me on to God? 

 

No, I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word. 

[“Am I a Soldier of the Cross?”; Isaac Watts]

 And when they got through singing the song, Hogan turned to Bradford Hays and said, “I’m staying.  I’m staying.”  

God never called us to flowery beds of ease.  God called us to be His workmen and His servants and His witnesses, and however it may turn in His gracious hands, to God be the glory.  Here I stand, so help me, amen; the tears of his discipleship, apostleship. 

Number two: the tears of his compassionate and shepherdly and seeking heart, “remember, by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” [Acts 20:31].  “Testifying both to the Jews, and to the Greeks” from house to house, “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21].

  Now, once again may I present the apostle Paul?  I don’t know how many times, world without end, do I hear at a convention, at an evangelistic conference, at a pastor’s meeting, read it in a Book, “This man is the greatest preacher since Paul!”And they will speak of some marvelous orator, some man of distinguished presence and majestic mean and glorious perorations.  I know what they mean when they say that, “This man is the greatest preacher since Paul!”  They think of a man of tremendous oratorical ability and glorious forensic presence.  In the tenth chapter, in the tenth verse of the second Corinthian letter, Paul describes what kind of a preacher he was, and how people responded to him when they saw him and heard him.  Paul quotes them saying, “His bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible.”  That is what they said about him when they saw and heard him—greatest preacher since Paul, “weak and contemptible in presence and in speech.” 

Well, how did he do his work?  I would suppose that the greatest revival meeting outside of Nineveh that the world has ever seen is the revival meeting of the apostle Paul in the city of Ephesus.  All Asia, the Roman province of Asia, was turned to the Lord.  The seven churches of Asia were founded in that ministry.  The whole province was moved God-ward.  Well, how did he do it?  He tells these Ephesian elders, “Remember,” and then he describes it, ”by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” [Acts 20:31]; pleading from house to house, “testifying… repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:19-20].  Can you conceive of a ministry like that?  With tears from house to house; pleading the cause, the faith, the blessing, the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What an amazing ministry! 

I don’t see men like this much anymore, but when I was growing up, as a youth I would listen to L. R. Scarborough, president of our Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  And as I would listen to him at school, at the university, in revival, in a conference, my heart would be so moved and I remember so many things that he said. 

This is one.  He was holding a meeting in Hillsboro, down there in Central Texas, and there was a godly physician in the church who had a young partner, a young doctor, who was not a Christian.  And that older physician, the older partner prayed for the young doctor and took him to church.  And Dr. Scarborough preached that day on John 6:37: “He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.”  And the young fellow was saved.  The young doctor came forward and gave his heart to Jesus.  And Dr. Scarborough said he let the young man testify, “How were you saved?”  And the young physician replied, “I was saved by the explanation of the preacher of John 6:37 and by the tears of this beloved physician who stands by me here.”  Isn’t it remarkable how little things like that stay in your heart?  “I was saved by the preaching of the gospel and by the tears of this beloved physician here. “ Did you know I have seen that world without end in my own work as an undershepherd? 

I remember one time going to a home to try to win a boy to the Lord Jesus.  I sat by his side in the living room and I opened my Bible and I talked to that boy about the Word of God.  How we are lost, God says so.  How we are to be judged for our sins, God says so.  And how in pity and mercy Jesus came to the world to make atonement for our sins, God says so.  And now He commands us to repent, to turn, and to accept the Lord Jesus, and to receive Him as our Savior.  And as I talked, I never saw a boy more indifferent, hardened like an old man.  I sat there and talked to that lad in despair!  Do you know, while I was speaking to him and falling into abysmal discouragement, there came into the living room his older sister.  And she took a chair and kind of sat by his side, kind of at an angle.  And as I continued to speak and plead with that boy, she buried her face in her hands like that, and the tears rolled between her fingers and dropped to the floor.  And as I spoke, that sister buried her face in her hands, prayed, and cried.  That boy would look at his sister and those tears dropping between her fingers.  And he would look back at me.  And he would look at his sister, and he would look back at me.  In no time he was under deep conviction.  And in no time, he was in the kingdom of God, saved by the testimony of the preacher, the Word of God, and by the tears of that sweet girl seated there.  There is power in it!  Paul describes it as such.  That was the basis, the reason for the great revival meeting in Ephesus: “Day and night with many tears, from house to house, testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Third, “And when he had spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.  And they wept sore” [Acts 20:36- 37], tears of love and affection for the people of God.  This morning, I spoke about that in the message My Life and My Church; describing how I feel in other countries with people of a different language, of a different culture, different nationality, moved by their presence and their love for Jesus.  And now, because the sermon is to be placed in the third volume of my Expository Messages on Acts, I want to recount in closing why it is that we sing “Blessed be the Tie that Binds” at the close of our Lord’s Supper; moved by the spirit of the love and affection and fellowship of God’s people. 

 A few months after the Second World War, I was in Munich, Germany.  And the devastation was so vast, a wilderness of rubble, and our Baptist church in the city of Munich, of course, destroyed, bombed out, and the people scattered; so many of them killed.  And in the few months afterward, I attended the service, preached there—a little handful of people returning back to the city.  Their church had been utterly destroyed.  It was a heap of rubble.  And in some kind of a lean-to, propped up, with lanterns, the little wretched, miserable, destroyed, beaten group had regathered.  And I preached to them the best that I could.  How could you forget a service like that and a night like that? 

 Well, a few years passed, and I was back in Munich.  And Sunday morning, I attended the church alone, by myself.  No one knew that I was present.  I just quietly entered the church and worshipped with those dear people alone.  They had rebuilt their sanctuary.  It wasn’t finished; everywhere it was still in the making.  But they had rebuilt it enough in which they could hold their services.  And the pastor conducted them.  He was much crippled—he was very crippled.  I asked about him.  He had been grievously hurt in the war and was there leading the congregation as their pastor—so very wounded and crippled from that raging conflict. 

Then after the service was over, they observed the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, as we had planned to do here tonight.  And after the service was over, they all stood up, and I in their midst, and they joined hands, and I joined hands with those on either side of me, and they sang that song: “Blessed be the Tie That Binds.” 

Dear people, I couldn’t understand the services.  I’m not that proficient in German.  I couldn’t understand the sermon.  I could only know the hymn tune, the melody that they were singing. But as I sat there in the service, not understanding a sentence the preacher said, and as I sat there and listened to the singing, and as I stood there in joined hands with those dear people, singing the melody of, 

Blest be the tie that binds

Our hearts in Christian love;

The fellowship of kindred minds

Is like to that above,

 

And when we asunder part, 

It gives us inward pain; 

But we shall still be joined in heart,

And hope to meet again.

[“Blest Be the Tie; John Fawcett]

 

Why, bless your heart, I felt there with those strangers, I didn’t know anybody, not a soul could I name, couldn’t even understand the language, but as I sat there and listened, and stood there joining hands, my heart was in the presence of God Himself.  And I felt the communion and the fellowship, the koinonia, the sweetness of being with God’s people.  That’s what happened here; he kneeled down, and prayed, and they all wept tears of love, tears of joy, tears of gladness, tears of praise, tears of affection.  And that’s why when I came back home to Dallas, beginning at that next service of the Lord’s Supper, we stand and join hands and we sing:  “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.”  It’s a fellowship like heaven.  It’s God’s presence in our midst.  It’s the people of the Lord loving Him and loving one another; the tears of Paul.

We’re going to stand and sing our invitation hymn, and while we sing it a family, a couple, a one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus, to put your life with us in the church; how welcome, how loved you will be.  This is God’s house.  These are God’s people.  The Lord moves in the life of our dear church.  He bids you come.  If you’ve never made a confession of your faith in Jesus, He waits, inviting just you.  If you already know the Lord, would love to be with us in this precious church, come, and welcome.  God speak to your heart; speak to your soul, that somebody lives on the inside of that house.  God bless you and please that you answer with your life.  Do it now.  Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand, stand up walking down this aisle.  “Pastor, I’ve decided for Jesus.”  Or, “Pastor, putting my life in the service, and ministry, and love, and prayers of this wonderful church,” welcome, and angels attend you in the way while you come, as we stand and as we sing. 

Copyright © 2015 The W. A. Criswell Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

W. A. Criswell

Author: Editor

An ordained Baptist minister. Worked for 10 years with a Christian publishing ministry where I was the circulation manager for a growing publication, The Sword of the Lord. I also did most of direct mail fundraising and promotion. I have pastored churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Arkansas. I served for some four years as Vice President of The Spoken Word of God ministry, Orlando, FL. This ministry was active in church planting in India and broadcasting the Scriptures via Trans World Radio and other radio outlets. My associate in this ministry later invited me to join him and his dad in starting a business working with churches providing multimedia equipment. I have done this work for the last 16 years. This blog, hopefully, will scratch an itch I have for communicating the Word of God to a broader audience via the Internet. I would be honored to hear from you via email.

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