In Matthew 25:14–30, Jesus told a story of three men who were asked to steward their master’s treasure while he was away. When he finally arrived back, the master asked the stewards how they had managed his finances.
The first servant told his master that he’d doubled his treasure and now he had ten talents to give back. The second man had doubled his portion as well and now he had four to offer. The landowner was delighted with both of them.
He then turned to the third servant, who had been given a single talent. This servant had been afraid to take a chance, so he had buried his talent in the ground, then returned it to his master. Poor guy. You can almost feel his shock at what comes next. His master exploded in anger: “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?” (Matthew 25:26 NIV). Then he added, in effect, “And yet you buried my gold so that now you’re giving me back only what is mine?! Those who risk nothing, do nothing, invest nothing, and fail to obey my command, I will take away even what they have.”
If you think Jesus was trying to get our attention with that story, you’re right. Read on. In the very next sentence, He tells of the day of judgment when the Son of Man, surrounded by all His holy angels, will separate the sheep from the goats. To those who have obeyed the Master, however great or however small their initial gifts, the very gates of heaven will fling wide open. It is not the size of the talent that matters at this point but the faithfulness of the servant. Those who have obeyed will be welcomed with open arms and abundantly rewarded. Those who have disobeyed, however, and those who simply sat on their treasure will be shown to the nearest exit. This is not a salvation by works but a revelation of responsibility. This declares how the saved are to steward God’s resources.
I can offer no more sobering challenge than Christ’s own words, not mine. Our Lord Jesus says, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
Oh, that we pastors might take that admonition to heart and obey His Word so that we might rejoice in our Father’s love!
Last week, we began our look at five eternal “crowns” set aside for God’s servants. After listing the first three crowns again, I’ll add the final two and offer a brief explanation of each.
1. The Imperishable Crown (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
2. The Crown of Exultation (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20)
3. The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7–8)
4. The Crown of Life (James 1:12)
This wonderful reward awaits those saints who suffered in a noble manner during their earthly life. The significance of this reward is not only related to the words perseveres under trial but also the words those who love Him. This crown is not promised simply to those who endure suffering and trials . . . but to those who endure their trials, loving the Savior through all the pain and anguish! Therefore, loving the Lord and having the desire that He be glorified in and through the trials become the dual motives for the believer’s endurance. Those saints who qualify (and the Lord is the Judge!) will receive the crown of life.
5. The Crown of Glory (1 Peter 5:1–4)
This reward is promised to those who faithfully “shepherd the flock” in keeping with the requirements spelled out in verses 2 and 3. Those faithful under-shepherds who fulfill these qualifications (willingness, sacrificial dedication, humility, an exemplary life) will receive this crown of glory.
After receiving these crowns, what then? Is that all there is? Look at Revelation 4:9–11:
And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
What a scene! All God’s servants are before His throne. What are they doing?
- Strutting around heaven displaying their crowns? No.
- Separated from one another, like peacocks, proudly displaying their tangible trophies? No.
The servants are bowing in worship, having cast all crowns before their Lord in adoration and praise, ascribing worth and honor to the only One deserving of praise—the Lord God. What a scene that will be!
As those who serve the living God, we occasionally need to consider the eternal “crowns” being set aside for God’s servants. What an intriguing study!
There are at least five specific crowns promised in the Bible. For our purpose here, I will simply list the eternal crowns mentioned in the New Testament and offer a brief explanation of each. We’ll cover three today and the other two next week.
1. The Imperishable Crown (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
This reward is promised to those who victoriously run the race of life. Taking into consideration verses 26 and 27, that is, the “buffeting” of the body, it is clear that this reward will be awarded those believers who consistently bring the flesh under the Holy Spirit’s control, refusing to be enslaved by their sinful nature. In other words, those who carry out the truths of Romans 6:6–14.
2. The Crown of Exultation (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20)
This crown will be one over which its recipients will glory and rejoice! This is the “soul-winners crown.” It is claimed by Paul regarding two bodies of believers whom he had led to and discipled in Christ Jesus . . . the Philippians and the Thessalonians. Our Lord will distribute this crown to those servants who are faithful to declare the gospel, lead souls to Christ, and build them up in Him. And remember: the rewards at this judgment will be based on the quality not quantity of our earthly works (1 Corinthians 3:13).
3. The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7–8)
The crown of righteousness will be awarded those who live each day, loving and anticipating Christ’s imminent return . . . those who conduct their earthly lives with eternity’s value in view. Kenneth Wuest captures the complete meaning of verse 8 with these words:
To those who have considered precious His appearing and therefore have loved it, and as a result at the present time are still holding that attitude in their hearts, to those the Lord Jesus will also give the victor’s garland of righteousness.
Those who qualify for this crown anxiously look for His return from one day to the next.
Are you an aspiring Superman?
I’m not talking about pulling on a pair of blue tights and a red cape and putting a fancy “S” on your chest. I’m talking about an attitude: “I am self-sufficient,” “I need no one else,” or “I will show no weakness or admit any inadequacy.” These betray the presence of the Superman Syndrome—that particular peril for pastors who go it alone.
Funny thing is, I’ve rarely seen anyone lose ground by admitting inadequacy or weakness. The best professors I ever had said, “I don’t know, Chuck, but when we come back together I’ll try to have that answer for you.” I deeply respect that attitude in a person. Kids acknowledge weakness all the time and never feel as if they’ve lost face.
As pastors, we set ourselves up for letting people down when we pose as Superman. I remember a young believer in our church who gushed, “I don’t know of anybody I admire as much as I do you.”
“Stop right there,” I interrupted. “I appreciate your admiration, but always remember: When it comes to one another on this earth, never put anyone on a pedestal.”
“I never thought about that before,” she replied.
“Only one person deserves to be on a pedestal, and He’ll never fall off. That’s Jesus. You can respect me,” I continued, “but please don’t put me in that place where I’m sure to let you down.”
By the way . . . have you heard what the mother ape said to her baby ape? “Watch out about climbing on those high poles. The higher you get, the more they’re gonna see your rump.” Remember, when you’re up high, you’re a big target. You’re on display. So it’s essential to say, “I can’t handle this myself.” Or, “I need you guys right now.” Didn’t Jesus do this at Gethsemane?
As 2 Corinthians 2:16 asks, “Who is adequate for these things?” Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: We are not self-sufficient. We need other people. It’s wise for us to ask for help. We should never leave the impression that we don a cape and tights.
Let’s get practical. Ask for help! Hardly a day passes that I don’t ask someone to assist me in doing something. Also, make sure that when someone helps with a project, that person gets the credit. If a guy comes up with a great idea, and the whole church applauds it, let the people know it was his idea. Why leave any other impression?
Admit weaknesses and failures. Acknowledge your own fallibility. Don’t buy in to the Superman Syndrome. You can’t carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders. Someone else already has that distinction.
Paul wrote with urgency, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1–2). In other words, stick with the preaching plan God has promised to bless and use: preaching the Word. Deliver the biblical goods! Be a man of the Book!
Did you notice something here? This exhortation is not addressed to the hearer; it’s for the speaker. The one who is to obey this command is the one proclaiming the message. That’s you. That’s me. That’s all who are called to stand and deliver.
We’re to be ready to do it in season and out of season. Being ready implies being prepared both mentally and spiritually. Don’t try so hard to be so creative and cute that folks miss the truth. No need for meaningless and silly substitutes for God’s Word. They may entertain but rarely convict the lost or edify the saved. Teach the truth.
In essence, Paul says, “Don’t be lazy. Do your homework. Don’t stand up and start with an apology that you didn’t have adequate time to prepare. That doesn’t wash.” And prepare your work faithfully—when it’s convenient and when it’s not.
Sadly, in an alarming number of churches today, God’s people are being told what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They are being fed warm milk, not solid meat. A watered-down gospel will attract large crowds (for a while), but it has no eternal impact. I’ve not been able to find any place in the Scriptures where God expresses the least bit of concern for increasing numbers. Satisfying the curious, itching ears of our postmodern audiences is an exercise in futility.
The task of ministry is to deliver truth. Frankly, I intend to continue doing just that, by God’s grace, until the day He calls me home. I believe that’s your passion as well. That’s why you became a pastor. Thankfully, there is an ever-increasing body of believers who long for nourishing messages based on the Word of God, not human opinion.
Will you answer the charge?
Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . . And surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV). There is no greater challenge and no more comforting promise. Believe it. Trust it. And by the grace of God, just do it!
I’m right there with you.
Many centuries ago, a woman thought things were too far gone.
She didn’t think there was anything she could do. It was only a matter of time before all the Jews would be exterminated.
You remember Esther. She was the Jewish wife of a Persian king, the man who was about to be tricked into making an irrevocable, disastrous decision. All of Esther’s people would soon be exterminated.
But just one person could turn the tide. One!
Esther’s adoptive father got her attention with these words,
“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
That did it.
She broke longstanding protocol and put her own life at risk. She marched into the king’s throne room, spoke her mind . . . and ultimately rescued the Jews from holocaust. One woman—only one voice—saved an entire nation.
As is true of every person who stands in the gap, Esther was willing to get personally involved to the point of great sacrifice. Or, as she said, “If I perish, I perish” (4:16). She didn’t think, “Someone else should be doing this, not me,” nor did she ignore the need because of the risk.
Sacrifice! It’s the stuff that people with true character are made of. They’re the ones who make a difference. Sacrifice is the quality that defines the servant’s heart.
Before you toss all this aside, saying to yourself, “Aw, that’s for somebody else. How much difference could I make?” just stop to consider the value of one.
Once you learn to approach each day with the heart of a servant, you soon find that one person really can make a difference. There is lasting joy and real peace in that way of living. And the good news is that the Lord is actively seeking those who are ready and willing to follow Him, no matter the sacrifice or cost.
A wonderful verse reminds us: “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
It’s a lesson every pastor should take to heart.
We all own an invention that is almost essential.
It is very revealing, and it never tells a lie. It says it like it is, yet it never makes a sound. All of us stand before it prior to going out in public. And if we didn’t, we should have. It is a mirror—especially a full-length mirror!
God’s Word calls itself a mirror. It reflects the truth. I’ve observed over the years that churches rarely stand before full-length mirrors to examine themselves. We pastors are often the same.
I’ve discovered that it’s helpful to back off occasionally from our activities, important though they may be, and just look at ourselves a little closer in the mirror. Do that with me for a moment, will you?
Look at what Paul wrote to a church obsessed with image: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1).
What we do is not about impressing others. The pastorate is not a place where an image is polished or where emphasis is placed on one’s self. Paul didn’t preach with overpowering oratory or philosophical arguments to wow his Greek audience in Corinth. He came as a simple man with a very basic, albeit, profound message regarding Christ.
In fact, what we say is all about exalting Christ. Paul continued: “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2). Look at your reflection in that verse. Do you see the person of Christ and the work of Christ on the cross in your ministry? Those two thoughts deserve center stage.
Ministry is not about my agenda. It is not about my personality. It is not about my charisma. “I came to know nothing among you,” says the apostle, “except Jesus and His work on the cross.” As pastors, we must step aside and remind the flock that it is Christ who is the Head, and it is His cross that is important.
If our congregations leave a service more in love with Jesus, it was a successful time of worship. If they leave impressed with another dimension of the cross, you and I have done a good job.
So this Sunday, as we stand to deliver—with our hair combed, our teeth brushed, and our messages carefully prepared—let’s remember that our purpose is not about impressing others.
It is all about exalting Christ!
I am the product of mentoring.
There have been men in my life, some of whom you would not know if I mentioned their names, who have made a major difference in my life. They saw potential where I did not. They encouraged me to become something more than I was. They reproved and corrected me. They modeled what I longed to become.
Hands down, one of the most significant men in my life has been Dr. Howard Hendricks. “Prof”—as his students affectionately called him. He retired after completing sixty fruitful years of teaching in the seminary classroom.
That’s not a typo . . . sixty years! Prof has since gone home to be with the Lord.
Near his retirement, I had the privilege of participating in an interview with Prof that I’d like to share with you. The video’s dialogue lasts just a few minutes . . . but its lessons continue to linger in my mind. In fact, they are life-long.
That’s where you come in as a pastor. I urge you not to underestimate the impact your ministry is having on those who hear your words and—more importantly—on those who observe your life (see 1 Timothy 4:16). Week after week . . . month after month . . . year after year—you are making an eternal impact on the lives of countless individuals. Never forget that.
I will always esteem Prof Hendricks as a personal hero because he committed his entire life to building into the lives of others.
That, my friend, is what the ministry is all about.
Can’t watch the video? You can download the audio file instead.
One of the greatest privileges of my early ministry was to become acquainted with a man named Jim Petersen. Through his capable leadership and sterling character, the ministry of the Navigators expanded greatly in São Paulo, Brazil, where he and his wife, Marge, served for more than twenty years.
Cynthia and I first met Jim and Marge at Glen Eyrie, the Navigators’ headquarters in Colorado Springs. I was new to ministry at the time—and far too naive—and I was looking for some type of formula for success in God’s service.
“How do you do it, Jim?” I asked him. “Tell me the secret of ministering to people.” I expected him to say, “Always set the pace,” or, “Be strong no matter what,” or, “Model the truth, and stand against the adversary as he attacks you.” I got none of that.
Jim just smiled in his inimitable, casual way and answered, “Chuck, let people see the cracks in your life, and you’ll be able to minister to them.”
That’s it. That’s the distilled essence of all he told me.
As we left their cabin that cool evening, I felt somewhat like the deflated, rich young ruler, who had just asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Like Jesus’s surprising answer to the ruler, Jim’s reply was not what I expected. Frankly, it convicted me. I was looking to minister from my strengths. Jim challenged me to serve in weakness.
He made that statement to me over fifty years ago, and it remains one of the greatest lessons I have learned in ministry. I have never forgotten it.
I never will.
For this post, I want to share with you why I’ve written my book, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. Truth be told, part of the reason I wrote the book is because of you, my fellow pastors.
Ours is a whole new world, and nothing has been more adversely affected by postmodernism than the church and its relationship to God’s Word. When the Bible loses its central place in the church’s worship—even if good things replace it—the fallout is biblical ignorance. The longer substitutes replace the preaching of the Word as the centerpiece of Christian worship, the more we will witness the intensifying drift into ignorance. Over time, a congregation that is distant from the Word of God seeks more entertainment and less biblical truth.
The slumbering evangelical church has now bought into this way of thinking. I have worked hard to explain why and how in this book. But let me add that I have not written this volume just to point out all that’s wrong. That is not my intention. My writing has always had an emphasis on grace, which is God’s emphasis in the Bible. Each chapter addresses solutions—not just problems—and points to the hope that God offers in His Word.
I have written The Church Awakening primarily to two groups of people. First, to serious-thinking churchgoers, who know there is a better way. In the Bible there was a group of clear-thinking, tough-minded men called the “sons of Issachar” (1 Chron. 12:32). They were those who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We need that same clear-headed discernment today in the church. And along with discernment, we need an equal supply of courage. My aim is to ignite that passion within those who are willing to think seriously.
I am also writing to you pastors, especially to those who are on the fence, who need a voice of permission to buck the tide and to put the preaching of the Word of God back in its central place of the church’s worship.
In my over fifty years in ministry, I have never been more passionate, or hopeful, for The Church Awakening—that is, for the church to wake up, to see how far it has drifted, to begin walking with God, and to engage the culture for Jesus Christ.
It is my hope that God will use this volume in a powerful way to contribute to the master plan Jesus is building. He was the One who promised: “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).
P. S. If you want to pick up a copy of the book, it’s available in The Book Shoppe. You might also enjoy watching the video below.