The Reward of a Faithful Minister
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?”—1 Thess. 2:19.
I do not know any part of the Scriptures in which we have a more lovely picture of a true pastor and true Christians than is contained in this chapter. Though the picture is drawn by the apostle himself, he could appeal to God for its correctness. It exhibits him and his brethren as bold in proclaiming the gospel; sincere in their doctrine; acting as in the sight of God; faithful to their trust, and to the souls of their hearers; unostentatious; gentle and affectionate; disinterested; and consistent in their deportment, not only among unbelievers, where even hypocrites will preserve appearances, but also among the people of their charge. Let ministers look at this picture, and at themselves.
We have also the character of primitive Christians. They received the gospel, not merely as the message of the apostles, but as “the word of God;” it wrought in them effectually; and they were the determined followers of the very earliest Christians, though at the risk of persecution, and even of death. The apostle sums up all by a solemn appeal to them and to God, that if he and his brethren had any reward in their labours, it consisted in their salvation: “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye?”
The import of this passage is, that the salvation of his hearers is the reward of a faithful minister. In discoursing on this interesting subject, I shall endeavour to explain it—account for it—and apply it.
I. I shall endeavour to explain the object which every faithful minister accounts his hope, and joy, and crown. It is you, even you, in the presence of the Lord. There are two things designed by the apostle in this language:—
1. To disclaim all sordid and mercenary ends on his part.—It is “not yours, but you.” Of course we have a hope, and expect a reward of some kind. They that run must have a prize, a joy, a crown; but it is not any thing carnal or worldly. Men may, indeed, engage in the ministry with the desire of obtaining lucre or fame; or from the love of power, or the love of ease: but not so Paul; not so any true minister of Jesus Christ. As to Paul, he had voluntarily resigned every thing of this kind, for the sake of the gospel, as those to whom he wrote very well knew. The language, therefore, peculiarly became his lips. And no true minister of Christ, though supported by the people, (and it is fit that those who devote their lives to an object should be supported in it,) will enter on the work for the sake of this; nor will he be satisfied with this alone, however liberal.
2. Another object of the apostle was to show the necessity of true religion, and a perseverance in it, in them.—There are some who are our hope, who are not our joy; and others who are our hope and joy too, for a time, who will never be our crown; who hold not out to the end, and therefore will never be our rejoicing in the presence of the Lord, at his coming. Some are under serious impressions, and excite a hope and joy, like that felt at the sight of blossoms in the spring, which yet are afterwards blighted. There are some that have even made a public profession, and yet, like the thorny and stony-ground hearers, produce no fruit. The object desired, therefore, is not only your setting out, but your holding on, walking in the truth, and holding fast your profession to the end. Then, indeed, you will not only be our hope and joy, but our crown of rejoicing.
II. I shall endeavour to account for its being so:—
1. If we are faithful ministers, we shall be of the same mind as Christ.—And this was the reward which satisfied him, Isa. 53:11. He endured all things for the elect’s sake; and so shall we, if we be of his mind.
2. If we are faithful ministers, our love to Christ will make us rejoice in every thing that honours him.—The highest honour to which John the Baptist aspired was to be the Bridegroom’s friend; and to see him increase was enough, though at the expense of his own popularity. This fulfilled his joy! What labour and pains will men take at an election to procure votes for the candidate to whom they are attached! And how grateful to him to see his friends, each on the day of election, bring with him a goodly number of votes! Much more we, if we be faithful ministers, shall, in the day of the Lord, be admired in all them that believe, and that love his appearing.
3. If we be true ministers of Christ, we shall love the souls of men as he loved them.—And this accounts also for the language of the text. All of you have souls of infinite value. Some of you are the children of those whom we have loved, and with whom we have taken sweet counsel, and walked to the house of God in company, but who are now no more. And what is our hope now? Why, that you may follow in their steps. It is strange that we should long to present you with them before the throne? Some of you have professed to be the spiritual children of your pastor; and you are his hope, and his joy too. See to it that you form a part of his crown.
III. Allow me to apply the subject.—You may think this subject mostly concerns ministers; but be assured you have a deep interest in it.
1. If it be our duty to obtain volunteers for Christ, it is your duty to give us an answer.—God is saying, by us, “Choose ye, this day, whom ye will serve.”
2. If your salvation be our reward, still is it no concern of yours that we should be rewarded?—You would scorn to deprive your servants of their wages, or your minister of his salary; but this is not enough: this will not satisfy us; you must not put us off with your money; for we seek not yours, but you. The salvation of your souls is the only reward which will satisfy a faithful servant of Jesus Christ.
3. The personal interest you have in this matter is far greater than ours.—If we be faithful, our loss will be made up in the approbation of God. Though you be not gathered, we shall not go unrewarded. But your loss will be irreparable.
4. You must be presented in some way,—if not as our joy and crown, as rebellious children, to be dealt with as such. We shall have to say of you, These our hearers were stubborn and rebellious, and would not listen to our message of love. They would not come to Christ that they might have life.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 542–543). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.