The Pastor’s Reward
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
(A sermon at the installation service for Brian Bill as the pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church, Rock Island, IL.)
When I was student at Dallas Seminary four decades ago, I spent a lot of time in the library. I’ve always been fascinated by old books, especially old books that are not well known. One day I was browsing in the stacks of the Mosher Library when I came across a little volume called Quiet Hints to Growing Preachers in My Study. It was written by Charles E. Jefferson, a man almost completely forgotten today but who in the early 1900s was a highly-regarded pastor in New York City. It is a measure of his importance that when Warren Wiersbe published his book Walking with the Giants, he devoted an entire chapter to Jefferson and his ministry.
It was a little book, and from the looks of it when I pulled it from the shelf, it appeared that no one had checked it out in many years. That fact alone proved irresistible to me. So I checked it out, read it, and decided I needed a copy. That was long before personal computers, the Internet, and long before you could order books on Amazon. So I gathered my change and did the only thing I could do in those days. I took the book to the copy machine and copied every page. Eventually I collated it using one of those plastic punch binders. I carried the book with me through all three of my pastorates in Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago. Over the years I came to regard it as one of the best books on how to be a good pastor I’ve ever read.
I mention all this because we are met today for a high purpose. We are here to install the next pastor of Edgewood Baptist Church. That’s no small thing. It’s a big thing we’re doing here, and we ought to think of it in a big way.
It is always a big thing to install a pastor, but this is a special moment because you don’t do this very often. Your previous pastor served here for 44 years, a record that is hard to match anywhere. It’s a wonderful thing when a church and a pastor get along so well that they can last that long together. Pastor Mel Brown set a high standard not only of longevity but of pastoral faithfulness.
Use your ministry to build your people
Said another way, we ought to have a big time this weekend because we don’t expect to do this again for a long time. While it’s true that Brian may not be here for 44 years, I do believe he has come to a very great church, and I fervently hope and pray that he will be here a long time.
On that point, though this is not particularly important, I had the pleasure of helping in the installation service at Brian’s previous church, an event that took place about 14 years ago. Since I am 60 years old, I want Brian to know that I do not expect to be available to help him out 44 years from now.
Live as close as possible to your people
And that brings me back to Charles E. Jefferson and his book of “quiet hints” to growing preachers. One of my favorite chapters is called “Near to Men, Near to God,” which is Jefferson’s advice on how to be a good pastor to your congregation. Let me give you a few nuggets of his wisdom:
“A preacher of Christianity must live as close as possible to men. Isolation to him is fatal.”
“Knowing men is the preacher’s first and most important business.”
“It is the man in the street whom the preacher must know, and if he does not know him no other sort of knowledge will make him a successful preacher.”
“If a preacher really deserves to serve his people, he will not count time lost which is spent in their company.”
“The closer he comes to them the larger his opportunity to give them what they need. What they are fearing and hoping, feeling and thinking, enjoying and suffering, loving and hating, reading and dreaming, all this can become known to him only as he comes into contact with them, and to know these things is more important than to know nine-tenths of all the books can teach.”
“In short it is the gospel of love which the preacher is most in need of. Not until he loves is he truly born of God.”
There is a lot there to think about, and much more in the chapter. Even though Jefferson wrote his book in 1901, what says is just as true today. It is good for a pastor to consider these things as he begins a new ministry. Perhaps you have heard it said this way, “No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.” I think the operative phrase is the last part—“Till they know how much you care.”
The Shepherd’s Heart
In the nature of the case, pastors do many things because there are many things that need to be done. These days the pastor must have some understanding of administration, finance, social media, cultural trends, local news, national news, politics, social issues, theological trends, and he needs to know something about history, literature, science and sports.G
Give yourself to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Above all else, the pastor must be a man of the Word. He must know the Word, love the Word, and immerse himself in it so that when he stands on Sunday, he has a message from heaven for his people. He must give himself to prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
Pastors have a lot to do, so much so that a man has to make some decisions. What will be important to him?
The point Charles Jefferson makes is quite true. The ministry is about people. At some point the pastor mast make a basic decision. Either you use your people to build your ministry or you use your ministry to build your people.
The ministry is about people
Brian, I know you well enough to know where your heart is in all of this. You have embraced the call of God to be a shepherd. When George W. Truett served as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, he was offered the position of president of Baylor University. He declined the honor with these words, “I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart.”
What exactly is the shepherd’s heart? Tucked away at the end of 1 Thessalonians 2 are some beautiful words that help us answer that question. Listen to verses 19-20:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
There are two parts to this:
In these words we have delightful glimpse into Paul’s heart. How did he feel about the believers at Thessalonica?
They were his hope—because he kept thinking about what God was going to do through them.
They were his joy—both now and in heaven.
They were his crown. The word refers to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of an athletic contest. He means that his reward in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.
Is anyone going to be heaven because of you?
J. Vernon McGee applied the truth this way:
Is anyone going to be in heaven who will come up to you and thank you for having a part in giving out the Word of God? Have you given your support to missions? If you have, someone you have never known, someone from the other side of the earth, may come up to you and thank you for your support of missions. He will thank you for being interested in getting out the Word of God because the Word reached him and enabled him to be saved. That, my friend, is going to be part of the reward that we will get in heaven. We need to recognize that. It is a wonderful hope to look forward to the time when Christ Jesus takes the church out of this world. It is even more joyous to know that someone who trusted Christ because of your witness will go along with you to meet the Lord!
The New Living Translation says, “You are our pride and joy.” Not just in heaven, but right now you are the most important thing in the world to us. We think about you night and day, we pray for you, we never stop telling others how proud we are of you.
“You are our pride and joy”
Every new parent understands what Paul means. What happens when a baby is born? You can’t wait to tell the good news. You have pictures and statistics and stories about how he has his daddy’s chin and his mother’s eyes and how smart he is and how it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, you know he smiled at you. He’s the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born. And you’ve got pictures to prove it!
That’s exactly how Paul felt about the Thessalonians. Even though he was separated from them and even though he couldn’t return any time soon, they were always on his heart, always in his thoughts and prayers.
Love These People
Brian, my counsel to you is this. Love the people to whom God has called you. Today you know them a little bit. Tomorrow you will know them better. The day after tomorrow they will be like family to you. Before long they will become as precious to you as your own flesh and blood. No doubt they will sometimes vex you and worry you and confound you the same way your own children do. And you will sometimes exasperate them the way parents sometimes exasperate their own children.
We see Jesus in the church!
This is all well and good. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked that church is where all illusions are shattered. We see each other up close and personal so we see all there is to see. It’s not always a pretty sight. But that is okay too. Through our pain and tears, in good times and in bad times, as we laugh and play and pray together, in our singing and in our serving, we discover each other, and somehow we see Jesus. I would remind you that when Paul says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), he uses the plural, not the singular. It’s not as if he’s talking about one person only (though Christ does indwell us individually), but it is also Christ in you and among you, in the whole congregation, in the whole messy glorious gathering we call the church.
We have our good days and we have our bad moments.
We doubt and worry and fret and fuss and question.
We rejoice and we exult and we glorify God together.
Christ is there in all of it.
Sometimes that’s where you see him best.
So I say, enjoy all of it, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the positive and the negative, for as Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, there is a time and a season for everything.
What Matters Most
If we stand back and look at this passage, it challenges us to think about eternal values.
Someday Jesus will return.
Christians everywhere agree on this.
We differ on the details, but we are united on the main truth that our Lord Jesus will one day return to the earth. Paul himself speaks of standing in the presence of the Lord Jesus “when he comes” (v. 19). That leads me to ask a very personal question:
“I wonder who that guy was?”
What will you have to show for your life when you stand before Jesus Christ?
A good job?
A college degree?
Money in the bank?
Lots of friends?
A large reputation?
A successful career?
The praise of others?
If that’s all you’ve got to show for your years on planet earth, then you really don’t have much going for you. Sooner than you think, you’ll be lying in a box six feet underground with grass growing over your head. And all the things of this life won’t matter at all. Someone else will have your money and your job. Your fame will fade, your glory will disappear, and everything you owned will belong to others. You will eventually be forgotten except by those people who stumble on your gravestone a hundred years from now and say, “I wonder who this guy was.”
Only Two Things Last Forever
Howard Hendricks said it this way: “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Word of God and people. It only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever.”
The Word of God will last forever.
People last forever.
Everything else disappears.
I heard Dr. Vernon Grounds say that whenever we are faced with a major decision, we ought to ask ourselves, “What difference will this make in 10,000 years?” Most of the things we worry about won’t matter in 3 weeks, let alone 3 months or 3 years. We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal. But 10,000 times 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you invested your life for Jesus Christ.
Twill Soon be Past
The only investments that last forever are the investments we make for Jesus Christ.
–Your future may be secure as far as this world is concerned.
–Your investments may be growing at 15% a year.
–Your children may all turn out good.
–Your marriage may last for 50 years.
–Your may have a retirement plan so you do not fear old age.
–You may be the very picture of health.
–You may have a good job and a bright future.
–You may plan to live 40 more years. I hope you do.
But what of the Lord Jesus and his coming? What do you have invested for that day? When everything earthly is left behind, will there be anything left at all?
What of the Lord Jesus and his coming?
No one here will ever regret . . . .
giving your heart to Jesus Christ,
offering him the very best that you have,
serving the Lord with all your heart,
sharing the gospel with others.
An earlier generation said it very simply: “Only one life, Twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
The only thing you can take to heaven is someone else. Everything else will be left behind. So I say, “Let’s get a big crowd and take them to heaven with us.” Why leave anyone behind? Let’s tell everyone about Jesus!
My Closing Thought
I close my time with this thought. Brian, you have come to a great church. You have an open door for ministry in this place. I exhort you to do these two things:
Preach the Word.
Everything else is just details.
Everything else is just details.
I commend to all of you what Charles Jefferson called the “gospel of love.” It is sorely needed in these confused days. As the songwriter told us,
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”
People are desperate for love, and they will do almost anything to know they are loved. Therein lies a great opportunity for any congregation. Let us love the people God sends us, and let us love the people who are not yet in the church. Let’s tell them the great gospel of God’s love. It’s the best news the world has ever heard.
Brian, use your ministry to build your people.
If you do, they will become your pride and joy.
And someday you will meet them in heaven.
And to the church I say, pray for your pastor and pray for his wife.
Brian and Beth need your prayers.
They will prosper as you pray for them.
Pray for your pastor and for his wife.
I have a feeling that something big is about to happen here.
If I could say anything to the Quad Cities, it would be:
“Get ready! A new day is dawning at Edgewood Baptist Church.”
This church has a great history.
We pray that the best days may be yet to come.
In my note to Brian I told him that I called this message “The Pastor’s Reward.”
What exactly is that reward?
It is the awesome privilege of shepherding a congregation like Edgewood Baptist Church.
Brian, I pray you will have good health, clear vision, bold words, a servant’s heart, and much joy as you serve the Lord in this place. I pray that God grants the church unity, vision, conviction, brotherly love, passionate service, hearts on fire for God, and tenacious, winsome courage to do great things together for Christ and his kingdom.
What will be your joy?
What will be your crown?
Only two things will last forever—the Word of God and people.
Let it not be your programs, good though they may be.
Let it not be your budget, as important as that is.
Let it not be your buildings, as impressive as they are.
Only two things will last forever—the Word of God and people.
When Jesus comes again, you will remember that in these happy days you ministered the Word of God to the people in the Quad Cities and around the world.
And that will last forever.
Congratulations to this church and to its new pastor. May the Lord bless your union for many years to come. Amen.
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