PAUL'S TEARS

 

The Women's Liberation Movement has perverted the truth, promoted sexual immorality, pressured every segment of our population into accepting their foolish notions and engaged in other sleazy activities. It would take at least a year's lessons on the International Gospel Hour to expose all the damage the radical feminists have done to our homes, to churches and to the nation. One example will have to suffice today. They argue that parents, especially male parents, tell their sons that big boys do not cry. I grew up with a male parent and with six brothers. Not one time did my mother or my father tell us boys—if I remember correctly—that big boys do not cry. Have there been parents who discouraged boys from showing emotions? There almost certainly have been, but my parents did not make that blunder. My dear Molly and I never tried to stifle our sons' emotions. We held them when they wept over the loss of family members and when they encountered other heartaches. Never did we tell them that big boys do not cry.

 

My father was not an especially emotional man, at least, not outwardly. But I remember as a small child sitting and listening to my father play his banjo and sing, "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again." His mother died when he was just fourteen years old. As he sang, the tears rolled down his cheeks. He made no pretense of hiding his tears. When my mother died at the age of sixty-seven, my father shed many tears, just as I have shed many tears over the loss of my dear Molly. I do not know how I could handle her death if I could not cry. I cry in the pulpit each time I preach on heaven.

 

Shedding tears, in my opinion, is a healthy response to tragedies. How could Americans keep from weeping when they witnessed the tragedy of 9/11? Millions of Americans did not know any of the people who lost loved ones in that absolutely inexcusable attack on innocent people. Nor did many of us have family members or friends who lost their lives in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City. But when we witnessed on television the destruction of so many lives, it was not easy to keep from crying. How can we keep back tears when we see children suffering and dying in these senseless acts of violence?

 

Every student of the word knows about our Lord's emotional response to the death of his dear friend Lazarus. One of the most magnificent incidents in the life of Christ involved his tears on that occasion. John said very tersely: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). The author of Hebrews tells us: "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, who is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:14-15). Our Lord suffers with those who suffer.

 

John used two other words in the story of Lazarus I shall examine briefly. John writes: "When Jesus therefore saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in his spirit, and was troubled" (John 11:33). The word "groaned" means to snort with anger like a horse. In his set of books, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1932), Dr. A. T. Robertson wrote: "The notion of anger is present in other examples of the word in the New Testament" (volume 5, 202). Why was our Lord angry? He was angry at the sorrow death brings into the human family. He was also probably angry with Satan for his part in introducing death into the race of men.

 

John also used the word "troubled" (tarrasso in the Greek). This is the same word John used of the troubling of the waters (John 5:4). It is also the word our Lord used when he comforted his disciples. "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me" (John 14:1). Our Lord was troubled because of the sorrow he witnessed on the part of Mary, Martha and others who had come to comfort Mary and Martha. Most of us can surely put ourselves in Christ's position. We know how people hurt when they lose loved ones or friends to death.

 

The church at Corinth had many problems. The church was shamefully divided (1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1 -3). Paul rebuked the church for its failure to discipline a brother who was guilty of incest (1 Cor. 5:1-7). The members of the body of Christ were going to law with brothers and that before heathen judges (1 Cor. 6:1-6). They were even misbehaving around the Lord's table (1 Cor. 11). Paul loved the Corinthians, but he had no choice except to rebuke them for their misbehavior. He criticized them for the confusion around the Lord's table. "Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse....Shall I praise you in this? I praise you not" (1 Cor. 11:17, 22).

 

No faithful preacher of the gospel enjoys having to rebuke his brothers and sisters for their sins. But if there are moral and spiritual problems in the church, does not love demand that we preach whatever is needed, even if many people think such preaching is too negative? Paul told the Corinthians: "For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).

 

Paul's great love for the Corinthians caused him to shed tears on their behalf. "I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you with heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then who makes me glad, but the same who is made sorry by me? And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice: having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all." Please listen carefully. "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you" (2 Cor. 2:1-4).

 

              If you are a parent, you fully understand the emotions Paul experienced in dealing with the Corinthians. He was the one who had taught them the gospel (Acts 18:1-8). In a sense, they were his spiritual children. He explained one of the reasons for his great concern for them. "For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). He did not want the great work he had done among them to be wasted (1 Cor. 3:14-15). He wanted them to repent of their wrong attitudes and actions. He prayed for their spiritual welfare. Should not all faithful Christians pray for their brothers and sisters?

 

Paul's tears for the Corinthians showed his great desire to have them change their lives and devote their gifts and abilities to the cause of Christ. Paul was not a sadist who loved to see his readers suffer from his sharp criticisms of their behavior. In his second letter he told them, "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will gladly spend and be spent for you" (2 Cor. 12:14-15). When we know how much Paul loved the Corinthians, we can understand why he shed tears for their failure to live as he knew God wanted them to live.

 

Acts 20 records Paul's farewell address to the elders of the Lord's church at Ephesus. Paul was on his way to the city of Jerusalem and apparently did not have time to go inland to visit the elders at the city of Ephesus. He must have sent runners ahead to have the elders meet him at the seacoast town of Miletus. When those elders arrived at the meeting place, Paul said to them: "You know, from the first day I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:17-21).

             

               Why the tears mentioned in verse 19? Was it because some of the members were dying for their faith? We do not know because the divine record does not tell us, but we know there were thousands of faithful Christians who were being imprisoned and even killed for their commitment to the gospel of Christ. Persecution has been the lot of millions of people since the day of Pentecost. Even today countries like China, Cuba, the Sudan, and other nations are killing those who have professed faith in Christ and who live by the precepts taught in the New Testament. Would people have died for their faith in ages past and would they be dying today if they took the position that one religion is just about like all others? It is the exclusiveness of Christianity that has led to the deaths of countless thousands.

 

Could Paul's tears have been related to the defection of men and women from the faith? We know what occurred among the Galatian churches. Paul explains: "I marvel (literally, I am amazed) that you are so soon removed from him who called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there are some who trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6-7). Paul asked the Galatians: "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain, be if it yet be in vain" (Gal. 3:1-4)? Paul accused some of the Galatian Christians of forsaking the gospel of Christ for the law of Moses. When they turned away from the gospel, they had fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:1-4).

 

Anyone who has preached the gospel for any length of time can sympathize with Paul's feelings. When we see men compromise the gospel message or turn their backs on the Lord altogether, we may not actually shed tears, but we grieve for their souls. Several years ago I knew a man who had great promise as a preacher and a scholar. He was a rising star among gospel preachers. I do not know exactly what happened to cause him to embrace religious pluralism, but that is exactly what happened. I also know that thousands of members of the body of Christ grieved that one so capable and with such great promise would forsake the gospel of Christ and preach error. It certainly was a time for tears.

 

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul warned: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one of you night and day with tears" (Acts 20:29-31). Paul knew, as all of us should know, that false teachers can do enormous damage to the cause of Christ. He wanted the Ephesians to be alert to the dangers of false teachers from outside the church and apostates from within the church. So he warned the Ephesians night and day with tears.

 

There may have been people in the church at Ephesus like some modern church members. They may have thought Paul was too excited and too apprehensive about false teachers. They may have believed that nobody knows the whole truth. So why not be tolerant toward those who teach different doctrines, especially if the teachers and their adherents are sincerely committed to their beliefs? But Paul had witnessed—although not necessarily at Ephesus—the enormous damage false teachers can do to the cause of Christ. He knew what had occurred at Corinth, among the Galatians and in other places. He had seen churches split over the influence of false teachers. He did not want that to happen at Ephesus.

 

But was not Paul's preaching too negative? He was simply imitating his Lord and Savior. We do not know if Christ shed tears over false teachers, but we know of his great concern about them. He said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You shall know them by their fruits" (Mt. 7:15-16). Jesus did not specifically identify the false teachers, but we know what some of them did. In his sermon on the Mount of Olives, he warned: "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many...Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Mt. 24:5, 23-24). We know false prophets present a real danger to the church or neither Jesus Christ nor the apostles would have taken the time to warn us.

 

Both Peter and John also warned of the danger of false prophets. Peter knew of the false prophets that had arisen among the Jewish people. He told his readers that false prophets would arise among them. Those false teachers would bring in on the sly destructive heresies and even deny the Lord who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1). John wrote: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: for many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). We must not be gullible and believe every smooth-talking teacher who conies along. The word "try" in this verse means to examine with a view of either approving or disapproving. If the man is teaching the truth, we should support him. But if he is preaching error, we must vigorously oppose him.

 

Paul worked with some outstanding younger preachers, such as, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Trophimus, Silas and others. One of those younger men was a man named Demas. In his letter to the church at Colosse, Paul listed Demas as one of his faithful co-workers (Col. 4:14). But somewhere along the line, Demas became so enamored with the world that he forsook the work of the Lord (2 Tim. 4:10). We do not know the circumstances, but we know it had to be a great disappointment to Paul. Did Paul shed tears over Demas' defection? I do not know, but I know Paul was the kind of man who grieved when anyone turned back from following the Lord.

 

              I have spoken today primarily about Paul's tears, but the tears of one other man are also mentioned in Paul's writings. One of Paul's closest companions was a young man named Timothy. Paul had the very highest regard for Timothy's commitment to the cause of Christ, as you can learn by reading Philippians 2:19-24. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with a pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of you in my prayers night and day; greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy" (2 Tim. 1:3-4). Timothy's tears, no doubt, were a result of his long separation from his great mentor and spiritual father, the apostle Paul.

 

Tears are a part of this life because of the sin and suffering and death that exist in our world. But the day is coming when God's children will be in that perfect land where tears—at least, tears of sorrow—will no longer flow. The last book of the Bible assures us that in that heavenly city we shall no longer weep nor grieve nor shed tears of pain. "For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Rev. 7:17). The apostle John reports: "And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4). What a day that will be!

 

Robert Arnold's song, "No Tears in Heaven," captures the thoughts of the passages from Revelation. The first stanza of that song reads: "No tears in heaven, no sorrows given, all will be glory in that land. There'll be no sadness, all will be gladness, when we shall join that happy band."

 

I have one question for you to consider as our study on "Paul's Tears" comes to a close. Are you prepared for the day when you will meet the Lord in judgment? If you are not a Christian, I urge you to confess Christ before men so that he will confess you to his Father in that great and glorious day (Mt. 10:32-33). Will you turn away from sin and be baptized in the name of Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38)? Continue to walk in the light as Jesus Christ our Lord is in the light so that you may continue to experience the forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:7). I want to meet you on that day.

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334