Pastoring is a privilege. One of the greatest privileges is the reward that awaits those who serve as pastors.
The Crown of Righteousness
Paul describes one reward in 2 Timothy 4:8: “Henceforth 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.”
As Paul approached his death, he looked forward to the crown of righteousness he would receive from the Lord himself. His friends had deserted him; Nero would find him guilty; but the Lord would render the ultimate verdict and vindicate him for his ministry.
Victors received wreaths expressing honor, achievement, and recognition. Paul looked forward to receiving this reward from the only one whose verdict matters: from Christ himself. But this reward isn’t exclusive to him or those in ministry. It’s for “all who have loved his appearing.” His is the only verdict that matters.
Robert Murray McCheyne said:
How sweet it will be, when Christ puts on the crown on a sinner’s brow! The just God and Saviour! Angels will shout for joy when they see the righteous Jesus crowning the sinners for whom he died. He will finish our redemption. He was crowned with thorns; he has been an advocate crowned with glory and majesty; but another step, he is to put on the crown of righteousness. All heaven and earth and hell own him faithful and true, and righteous in all his ways. Oh! how sweet to be crowned by Jesus.
I can’t wait for that day.
The Unfading Crown of Glory
In 1 Peter 5:4, Paul tells elders, “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Leafy crowns given after athletic victories or military conquests faded. In contrast, Peter says that the crown that elders receive will never fade. Human glory fades; the reward that elders will receive in eternity won’t.
The work of pastoral ministry is difficult. We often feel inadequate. Peter directs our attention away from all that would discourage us to where we can find hope. As John Calvin says, “To prevent the faithful servant of Christ from being cast down, there is this one and only remedy, to turn his eyes to the coming of Christ.” The prospect of our future reward motivates faithful service today.
Our hope is the eternal reward that we will one day receive from Jesus himself.
Recognition here is nice but not our ultimate goal. Congregations should value and honor pastors, but this won’t always happen, and the approval of people isn’t what ultimately matters. We get it wrong; we’re not always good at giving thanks. Even when we’re thankful, the rewards we offer are fleeting. No matter how well we serve, most of us will be forgotten before long.
But an eternal reward awaits those who serve God. We aim for the only approval that matters. His “well done” will be enough. That is the pastor’s reward.
Pastors will face challenges and hardships. They need motivation to keep going, even when it’s hard, and even when they feel like they don’t have enough. Both Paul and Peter give us a glimpse of that reward.
Keep serving. Keep hoping for that day. It will keep you going now, even when pastoring is hard, and even when you feel like you’re not up to the task. Your crown is waiting, so keep going as long as he gives you breath.