At the outset of this passage (2 Timothy 4:1–5), Paul informs Timothy that he gives this charge in the presence of God (“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus”) and in light of the final Day of Judgment (“who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom”). Paul wants Timothy to be motivated by an eternal perspective.
During an NCAA college basketball tournament a few years back, I read the following excerpt from a press conference with Bob Huggins, coach of the West Virginia University basketball team:
Predictably, the first question Huggins was asked after his team’s victory had to do with how he felt about being one step from the Final Four so many years after his first—and only—trip to college basketball’s promised land.
“I never look back,” he said, deadpan as always. “I’ve just never been that way.”
Then he told a story. “When I was a kid growing up in West Virginia, I went to play one day,” he said. “I got in a pickup truck in Midvale with a guy and I noticed that he didn’t have a rearview mirror. I said to the guy, ‘Hey, there’s no rearview mirror.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Boy, we ain’t goin’ backwards.’ That’s the way I’ve lived my life.”¹
There is no rearview mirror in this passage, either. Paul draws Timothy’s attention to the future.
Paul had fulfilled this charge, and he eagerly anticipated his reward: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day” (v. 8). Those are truly remarkable words. Paul is absolutely certain that he will receive a crown of righteousness.
The Last Day
Pastor, when you imagine the last day, what do you picture? When you contemplate a once-for-all evaluation of your life’s work, do you feel sufficient? Or as you imagine that day, do your failures rise up and accuse you?
It’s easy for us to imagine Paul being commended by the Savior. And it’s easy for us to imagine the extraordinary pastors we know of being commended on the last day. But for us ordinary pastors, what easily comes to mind is a long list of failures, shortcomings, and sin. So often I don’t expect to hear “Well done”—I expect to hear “Nice try.”
Ordinary pastor, here’s what you can expect on the last day: a crown of righteousness. You—yes, you—can expect a commendation from the Savior.
Paul will undoubtedly receive commendation. But he writes, “There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” I am so glad he says “not only to me, but also to all.” If he had just said “I will receive a reward,” I would have understood that. Of course Paul will be commended by the Savior! But the good news for ordinary pastors is this: the reward is not unique to Paul. All who have been faithful to this charge will receive their reward. If we are faithful to preach the Word, faithful to fulfill our ministry, and faithful to the Savior, we too can look forward to receiving the Savior’s commendation on the last day.
How can this be? How is it possible that I—who have sinned and so often fallen short—will receive this crown? So much in my life is unworthy of him.
This is where the shadow of the cross falls across this passage. This reward is only possible because of the cross, where sins are forgiven and the service of ordinary pastors is sanctified.
Stop for a moment and think about that day. On that last day there will be a parade of ordinary men, whose names you have never heard, who will hear the following from the Savior: “Well done, good and faithful pastor.”
This post is part of a series entitled “Ordinary Pastors” and is adapted from a message I preached at T4G 2010, which was published in a compilation of sermons from that conference entitled The Unadjusted Gospel (Crossway, 2012. Used by permission.)
¹John Feinstein, “Bob Huggins Leads West Virginia to a Big Victory in the Sweet 16,” Washington Post, March 26, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/25/AR2010032504537.html.