Judgment for Pastors
Faithful pastors submit to God’s word and herald it boldly. And they don’t pit the Jesus-breathed red letters against the God-breathed whole (2 Timothy 3:16). They don’t pervert biblical justice or condone immorality. Brothers, labor to teach God’s word to God’s people for the good of God’s church. And as you labor to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), serve as an example to the flock.
He lies motionless in the living room, his body gaunt and his breathing labored. His wife of over three decades stands close by. These are sober and holy moments.
I visited him at the care facility a week earlier. A month before that, we talked at the hospital. There he gushed over his wife and how she loved him. When I walked in, he was sharing the gospel with the interfaith chaplain. But now this dear saint is unconscious, days before his death. The psalm I read may be the last words he hears before he is face to face with the incarnate Word. The hymn we sing may be the soundtrack that ushers him into heaven. I cherish this moment.
I’m reminded of a quote from Richard Baxter: “I preached, as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men!” (The Poetical Fragments of Richard Baxter, 35). Our lives, and the lives of those we minister to, will come to an end. We serve and labor to prepare our people to meet Jesus. This is our primary task. All pastoral ministry labors in light of the end.
We all will die. We all will stand before Jesus. The apostle John describes the great white throne of judgment, where all the books are opened (Revelation 20:11–15). All will be judged for what they have done. No one will escape accountability. The apostle Peter charges the church, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Peter 4:7). In other words, live wisely in light of the end. Moses, likewise, prays for insight as he draws near to imminent death: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
We are dying, and so are our people. God has numbered our days. We are not guaranteed sixty, seventy, or eighty years of life. Eternity informs our labors in the present. We serve as men aware of judgment day, ready to stand before Jesus. We are dying ministers who minister to dying people.
The inescapable end keeps us sober — or it should. God will pronounce our labors as straw or gold (1 Corinthians 3:12). Will earthly ministry result in shame or commendation? Leaders watch over souls as those who will have to give an account to God (Hebrews 13:17). These are hard words with profound implications. Who is sufficient for such a task? The stakes could not be greater, nor the difficulty of the task more pronounced.
Within this sobering reality are embedded two beautiful and complementary truths: Jesus will judge, and God gives grace.