The Promise in Pastoral Weakness

Desiring God 2014 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches: The Remarkable Reality of Union with Christ

If you will turn in your Bibles, please, to 1 Peter 5. First Peter 5 would be helpful if you have the first half there of the chapter. We’re going to be looking at 1 Peter 5:10–11 for the bulk of this talk, but I’ll be referring to bits and pieces of the first nine verses of that chapter. So you might want to just have it there if you have your iPod, iPad, or your Bible page open. Let me read 1 Peter 5:10–11:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

This is the word of the Lord.

Sermon Interrupted

Well, yesterday morning, like many of you, I preached at my home church, Middletown Springs Community Church. This is a covenant community that I have the great privilege of pastoring in rural Vermont. I was preaching. We’ve recently begun a series through the book of Genesis, and we just started after the new year. Yesterday morning, I was preaching from Genesis 2:4–17, preaching on man’s reason for existence.

And in the introduction to my sermon, I said this, and I would encourage you never to say something like this in your sermon. It wasn’t even in the manuscript; it just came out. So later, I had to ask myself, “Did I really say that?” And I was told, “Yes, you really said that.” This is what I said in the beginning of the sermon: “If you survive to the end of this sermon, you will hear the meaning of life.”

Now, when I had gotten to my fourth point of five points, naturally, I began to realize that the assortment of people in the congregation busying about were not simply restless in stretching their legs, but they were actually congregating around a particular area. We don’t have a very large sanctuary. There are seats for about 120. We usually have an attendance on Sunday morning somewhere between 90 and 110, something like that. So you see everything. There’s no way to be inconspicuous in the sanctuary. There was no way for this event to carry on without interrupting the service. We ended up having to call 911 for an older fellow who had slumped over in his pew and looked like he had passed away.

So there’s a long break in the sermon. While we prayed over him, we have several nurses in our congregation who were all attending to him, ministering to him. We waited for the ambulance to come in. The paramedics rushed through the back door and through the sanctuary to help him in the back of the sanctuary. You should know, I don’t want to do what Paul does and just devastate you without giving you the ending of the story. They’re running some tests on this man today at the hospital.

It appears all is well. It was somewhat of a fainting spell that had a very complicated word related to a nerve that comes off of the heart or something like that. But what we all got yesterday morning in our church in a sermon in which I highlighted man’s place as subordinate creature made of dirt in relation to God’s place as sovereign creator and in which at the outset I practically dared somebody to die. An opportunity to come face to face with the prospect of eternity that any next breath may be our last, that none of us has guaranteed even the 91 years this fellow has accumulated thus far.

Extraordinary man. I actually got to meet him for the first time. He’d been attending church for a while for the first time in the hospital yesterday afternoon, 91 was a help cat pilot in World War II on the ground floor of children’s evangelism fellowship in Vermont, former street preacher. A great man of God that I got to meet. But we’re not guaranteed a life like his. We’re not guaranteed a next breath. And if you think the way of the world, the world that is passing away, is predicated on the idolatry of youth and vigor, the forestalling of the reality that we are going to die, which I think all of the world’s pursuits of pleasure and fulfillment are really all about.

Idolatry and Weaknesses in Evangelicalism

I would propose that this same idolatry is epidemic in the evangelical church and it is a great temptation for evangelicalism’s pastors. I think one of the chief evidences we have for this, one of the chief evidences we have that pastors try to avoid our own dusty creatureliness is in the ways we talk about success and failure, how we define success and failure and where we go, you and I, where we go, what we think, what we trust in, the tone that our affections take, the direction that our affections go when we are laid low, when we are weak.

The modern church, in fact, seems practically allergic to weakness and failure. We cannot abide it; it makes us all itchy. That’s for those churches — the declining churches, the failing churches. It’s certainly not for the churches where God is at work, because if God were at work, there would not be weakness.

And yet, the pattern throughout all of the scriptures is a rehearsal, over and over again, of the weakness of man exploited to great glory by the power of God. Indeed, God has ordained human weakness as a way to magnify himself, and this was true even before our disobedience brought the weakness of mortality and moral corruption. We were not Gods before the fall. God had given Adam an even credible freedom, immense dominion, even a special glory.

But then he places that other tree in the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and he says, “Don’t eat that fruit. All the other fruit you can eat, but this fruit you do not eat.” And so I imagine Adam and Eve every day before the fall, seeing that tree, the tree forbidden of them, and it’s serving as a reminder that for all of the power that God had given them, all of the dominion that God had given them, all of the authority and glory, all of the immortality and lack of corruption, all of the freedom, it would be a reminder that you are not God.

So the power of the Creator has always prevailed over the created. Compared to God, even before the fall, we were weak because only God is omnipotent. And of course, after the fall, the creator continues to prevail over the created. In 1 Peter, Peter turns his letter to the churches of the dispersion in 1 Peter 5 to address the pastors, exhort the elders among you. He exhorts them, he warns them, he encourages them, and in closing his address to these elders, beginning in 1 Peter 5:10, he says this, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself.” That’s important: “will himself.” It’s not going to farm out this work. “Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. That we need restoration, confirmation, strengthening, and establishing presupposes we will have experienced brokenness, doubt, weakness, and failure.

Based on this verse, 1 Peter 5:10, and the nine verses that come before it in 1 Peter 5, Peter is assuming that the elders have experienced conflict within the church and persecution outside the church. He assumes the pride of the flesh is being constantly crucified in 1 Peter 5:5–6. They’re waging war against their flesh. He’s telling them to do this. He assumes that they have endured overpowering anxieties in 1 Peter 5:7. Cast all of your anxieties, all of your cares. I know you have them. Cast them like Paul speaking elsewhere all of the anxieties he has for the churches.

He assumes that they have been assailed by the accuser, 1 Peter 5:8–9. Be sober, watchful, look out for the enemy. And just as in 1 Peter 5:4, if you have it before you, you can glance at it. In 1 Peter 5:10, he brings to the daily reality of pastoral weakness the promise of the eternal reality of God’s sustaining, satisfying, saving grace in the glorious Christ. Just as there are infinite glories bound up in and emerging from the infinitely powerful Christ, there are an infinite number of ways Christ meets the needs demanded by our spiritual depravity and our incompetence and our inability. But I want to give you just four from 1 Peter 5:10–11. Just four. I pray you will survive to the end.

Christ Will Be Your Strength

The first is this: In the weakness of suffering, Christ will be your strength. In the weakness of suffering, Christ will be your strength. When I think of all of the benefits of the growing gospel renaissance in Western evangelicalism, I think perhaps the most important may be that we are rediscovering in the word but also in the Reformers and the Puritans and others that we are reading right now, the biblical teaching on suffering.

Because a prosperity gospel light has crept into the evangelical church. The prosperity gospel is not just the dominion of those cartoons on television. It comes into every sermon where we preach, do this and God will be happy with you and leave out the imputed righteousness of Christ. We have been training our people to think of suffering as a part of this prosperity gospel light, as a part of this shiny new legalism, to think of suffering as meaningless or random or contrary to, quote, unquote, walking in victory, or that it may even be preventative of a Christian’s impact in the world. How can you be a blessing if you are depressed?

How can you be a blessing if you are weak? How can you be a blessing if you are poor? Suffering hits, and we find it strange, which the apostle tells us not to do. Don’t think it’s strange when you suffer. What is this strange thing happening to me, as if the default mode should be comfort? We find it strange, as if the normal Christian life should be characterized by ease. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promises (John 16:33). It is coming. If you have not yet suffered, just wait. It will come. And you don’t have to necessarily get sick to suffer. Suffering may fall out of the air when you get that terrible phone call like the one Paul talked about.

Or when you wake up in the middle of the night smelling smoke. When you’re sitting next to your spouse or cradling your child in your lap while the doctor explains a horrible diagnosis. When you wake up one morning and walk face first into the news that people in your congregation have been conspiring against you or that your wife simply doesn’t love you anymore.

Gospel Wakefulness

As I have written before on the concept of personal revival that I call gospel wakefulness, I continue to hear from readers who say, “I want that. How do I get it? What shall I do to be gospel awakened?” First Thessalonians 1:6: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

The answer is this: “You don’t turn on gospel wakefulness any more than you turn on revival.” I mean, you understand that, right? I mean, you don’t put revival on a sign outside and then God goes, “Oh, I forgot. Thank you for the reminder. I’ll bring revival on that date and that time.” Gospel wakefulness comes from beholding the glory of Christ in his gospel for you in the midst of deep brokenness. And so you cannot turn on gospel wakefulness anymore than you can turn on affliction. They happen to you, and then these folks who inquire will admit mostly, usually. I don’t think I’ve encountered that kind of affliction yet. One of the questions I ask is, “Have your legs been knocked out from under you yet?”

I remember one fellow who’d been in ministry a long time said, “I don’t think so.” To which we say they will. Just wait. You will suffer. You must suffer. But in 1 Peter 5:10, we have the promise: “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself strengthen you.”

If he has saved you through his death, manifesting all of his divine power in his own human weakness unto death, do you not think he can be your power and your suffering unto death? His willed weakness becomes the means of our victory. He will be our strength in the eternal life that he gives us. And eternal life means just that, eternal.

In Light of Eternity

This means however much you may suffer, even if it be for all of your life and even if your life of suffering is very, very long. It will be nothing but a blip on the radar compared to eternity. “After you have suffered,” says Peter, “a little while.” A little while? Peter is looking through the lens of glory. I mean he shows us that right there in the verse.

He’s called to eternal glory. So he’s looking through this lens of eternal glory, and so he is able to say, “after you have suffered a little while.” Peter, do you know how long I have suffered? The pain is unbearable. I’m crying out with the psalmist. “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1). It has been years. It has been decades. How long? Peter says, “Just a little while. Just a little while.”

The context of eternity he gives us is the length of our union with Christ, and therefore it is of unexpiring duration, and therefore the duration of our security is uninspiring. This should color our suffering so that Paul could refer to his missional life of suffering in 2 Corinthians 4 as a light momentary affliction. Doesn’t that bug you? It bugs me because Paul suffered way much more than I ever have and probably ever will. And for Paul to have endured what he endured to say, “I consider it a light momentary affliction.”

How can he do so? Because he says it’s not even worth comparing to the eternal weight of glory. It is the sustaining vision of eternal life in Christ that fixes even a lifetime of suffering to a very fine point. If you’re looking on the line of eternity, which goes on forever. That’s why it’s called eternity. This little while, this light momentary affliction, this even long life of suffering becomes this little dot. A fine point that in the last day will be eclipsed by the glory of the radiant Christ.

Perhaps even distilled down to a jewel placed amidst your treasures in heaven or more properly placed in the crown of Christ as we offer up our suffering to him in our fully sanctified state. Truly, finally, legitimately not loving our own lives even unto death. But Peter is not simply promising the escape of suffering or escape from suffering. He’s promising the sustenance through it.

Just as Paul prayed three times, take this from me, take this from me, take this from me, and God said, “No, my grace is sufficient for you. Christ will be your strength in the midst of your suffering with sustaining grace to persevere. He is there. He is with you. He is around you. He is beneath you. He is over you. He is in you and beside you, and you are in him, and there is no furnace so hot that Christ will not walk into it with you.”

Reminded of the passage in the hiding place is Corrie Ten Boom with her father contemplates the prospect of torture and death ahead. “I burst into tears. I need you. I sobbed. You can’t die. You can’t.” Corrie, he began gently. “When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?” “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly, and our wise Father in heaven knows we’re going to need things too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need just in time.”

When the train of suffering comes, Christ will give you the ticket then. In the weakness of suffering, Christ will be your strength.

Christ Will Be Your Validation

Secondly, in the weakness of failure, Christ will be your validation. In the weakness of failure, Christ will be your validation. There are so many pastors, perhaps even in this room right now, who in the midst of a difficult pastorate, church conflict, you’re in a hard mission field, ministering in hard soil, or you’re just exhausted, you’re just tired, or you’re frustrated. People aren’t growing the way that you think they ought to. And as a result, you contemplate your calling.

You ask the question, maybe I’m not in the will of God. This is a good thing to contemplate. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask these questions. Maybe you’re not called. Maybe you’re not doing what God has called you to do, but let us never base the legitimacy of our ministries on the level of easiness of those ministries. Where do we get the idea that if God has called us to something, this calling will be evidenced by comfort and ease and success? It’s not in the Bible.

You don’t find it there. Do we see God’s calling to ease in the history of the patriarchs? Do we see God’s calling to ease in the prophets? Do we see God’s calling to ease in the ministry of Christ in his disciples? Do we see it in the acts of the apostles in the history of the church on mission? In one of the most famous passages of missionary calling Isaiah 6, the Lord God calls out to the prophet who will go for us, and we love the reply of Isaiah so much we want to put it on the team T-shirts. “Here I am. Send me.”

Yes. And we stop right there. But God calls back, “Okay. I am sending you to a people who will not listen. I am sending you to a people who will revile you, whose seen will not see and hearing will not hear. I mean, he runs the numbers for Isaiah. He says, “You’re going to lose 90 percent of them.” Only a remnant of 10 percent will remain. Now, which one of you, if God came and said, “I want you to go there and you’re going to lose 90 percent of the people who would sign up for that mission.”

We don’t want Isaiah’s ministry. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t want anyone’s ministry that we find in the Bible. We want the guys on Twitter. We don’t want Jeremiah’s ministry. We don’t want Moses’s ministry where God holds out the glorious vision of the promised land for years and years and years and leads him around doing great things for him and through him and then at the end of his life takes him to the cusp of the long-awaited territory and shows it to him only to say, “This is not for you. You will die before you go in and Joshua will lead them in.”

Failure as Part of God’s Plan

Is that the kind of ministry that we want? Would we feel successful in that kind of ministry — the ministry of preparation, the ministry of loss, the ministry of weakness, the ministry of apparent failure? Many of us wonder will we ever see great growth in success in our church? Holding on for the prospect of revival or mass conversions. We’re plugging away, but our hope is gradually being set not on Christ above but on what we see on Sunday morning.

We may never see what we want to see on Sunday morning. In fact, it’s a losing game. As soon as you arrive at the place you think is the place, there is now a new place to reach. It is constant dissatisfaction. So don’t mistake difficulty for lack of calling. The whole idea that difficulty would mean lack of calling is antithetical to gospel ministry. The idea that God’s calling is sure only when a minister is comfortable, prosperous, and happy is not a scriptural one. So let us not confuse a difficult season in our ministry with a lack of calling to a particular place or to ministry altogether. It could be that God has actually called us precisely to failure. I know that’s a hard word. Not to his failure; the Lord never fails.

In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway’s character Henry insists to the priest as they have a heated argument about the war, “Where will victory come?” And Henry insists to the priest, this is the layman lecturing the religious professional, and says, “It is in defeat that we become Christian.” Even Jesus’ ministry endured this reality. In John 6, he feeds the five thousand, but they all disperse when he starts preaching. Been there.

We have pizza show up. I just want to talk to you guys for a little bit. Suddenly, they’re heading for the door. At one point in explaining the hardness of hearts to his teaching, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 6. Some will hear and not hear. Some will see and not see. And in fact, he doesn’t say this may happen; he says, “I am speaking so that they won’t hear.” You ever thought about that, that somehow them not hearing may be a part of God’s sovereign plan and therefore, if that is true, then perhaps weakness, failure, lack of what we would define as success may be part of God’s plan?

Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.” He is assuming there are times and places where the gospel or perhaps the gospel minister is simply out of season. How will we respond in out-of-season times? Will we believe that God may have called us to what we consider failures even if our failure will serve the greater success of the kingdom? Are you protecting your turf? Is God doing a new thing near you that you are begrudging and resentful of because he’s not doing it through you?

Will we believe that Christ himself will be enough? That it is God who gives the growth, that we are not called to achieve success? We’re not even called to test the soil, but just to scatter the seed. We are called to faithfully proclaim the gospel, plant or water, but never for a second believe the growth is dependent on you. And if you never enjoy a sanctuary that is bursting at the seams, if you never enjoy a scoreboard broken from tallying all of the conversions, if you never enjoy accolades and adulation, if your ministry seems to be fruitless and thankless, and success-less, and hopeless, this is what Peter says to you: the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore you.

Pastor, it is possible that your ministry, hear this please in the way that I mean it, it is possible that your ministry exists only to set up the successes, revivals, and harvest to come after you are gone. It’s possible that you are called to die to fertilize the ground for success after. Perhaps you are only planting or watering. Perhaps you are preparing the way for others to run. Perhaps you are tilling soil for others to reap. Perhaps you are riding a ship for others to sail.

The question always is, will Christ be enough? The God of all grace will himself restore you. So in the weakness of your failure, Christ will be your validation.

Christ Will Be Your Justification

Thirdly, in the weakness of sin, Christ will be your justification. In the weakness of sin, Christ will be your justification, and please don’t misinterpret what I mean by the weakness of sin. We are not victims of sin so much as we are perpetrators of sin. We are rebels. We are disobedient. I do not mean that sin is like something that we caught from somebody.

We are workers of iniquity. We are sinners, and that sin makes us frail, vulnerable, susceptible, temptable. I have in my study on a bulletin board over my desk this printed quote from Martin Luther: “The minister must know the gospel well and beat it into the heads of his congregation continually.” Now, the “beat it into their heads continually” part, I’m really good at. I’m very good at that part. It’s the “minister must know it well” that I’m learning more and more as the days go by, that I need to revisit.

I think that I have figured out, and in moments of clarity and moments of Spirit-guided clarity, I have figured out, and I hope that you have figured out, what the biggest problem in my ministry is. It’s not my congregation. It’s not their preferences or their expectations or their petty demands or their sinfulness. The biggest problem in my ministry is me. And the biggest problem in your ministry is you. It’s not them, it’s you. You are your biggest problem.

Personal Responsibility in Ministry

And what we see throughout the New Testament’s practical instruction to elders is the primacy of their own personal responsibility. Constantly, as there is judgment being meted out or there are exhortations, or there are warnings, we are told judgment begins in the house of God, and who is over the house of God? The undershepherds who are under Christ. Judgment begins with the elders, with the pastors. God does not chiefly tell elders how to sort out the problems of others. He primarily tells elders how to get their own lives in order.

In the introduction to his excellent book, Jesus-Driven Ministry, Ajith Fernando writes, “You will see that most of the ministry basics discussed here have to do with personal lifestyle. I make no apologies for this. There is a great interest in ministry technique today, and technique is important in a world that places high value on excellence and quality.

Our ministries must reflect a professional excellence that will favorably adorn the gospel and commend Christ to this generation.” Paul also recommended excellence in ministry to the young minister Timothy. But I believe the greatest crisis facing Christian leadership today concerns lifestyle. Always the burning issue. The well-known evangelist D.L. Moody has reported to have said that he had more trouble with D.L. Moody than with any other person he had met.

Now, what Fernando is emphasizing as lifestyle, by which he means, I think, to make primary personal holiness over, not to neglect, not to the neglect to, but that we would place as primary personal holiness over intellect, giftedness, or professional ability. I would emphasize the need for the pastor to be constantly pursuing a deep settling of the grace of God provided in the eternal glory of Christ into our hearts.

The gospel that is well settled into the pastoral heart will then begin pumping grace out to all of these areas that we are more keen to see trouble with. Every day, pastors, you and I, we are seeking our own way, desiring results and recognition, and these manifestations of pride are constantly luring us and entangling us. And when we are laid low, whether by conviction of our sin or difficult circumstances or just that inner mopey, anxious depressive condition that almost all of us have.

We tend to seek consolation anywhere but in Christ. When I think of all of my ministry regrets, the stupid careless things that I’ve said to people, I look back and think, “Why did I say that? Now I have to go apologize.” And then I don’t apologize, and then I regret that. I think of the selfish way that I’ve mishandled correction. Someone needed to be corrected, but I did it in a completely ungentle, unpassionate way. Or the self-interested counsel that I’ve given people, bits of advice that will make things easier for me, but aren’t necessarily helpful for them.

Or the defensiveness that I engage in when I’m challenged or criticized. Little defense lawyer pops up, thinks of all the reasons why they’re wrong. There’s a force field that keeps me from listening to hearing and testing all things and clinging to what is true. I think of my default arrogance that rears up when someone praises me. “Yeah, that’s right. You’re exactly right. That was a good sermon. Glad that you noticed.”

I think of my daily drift to laziness. I don’t understand you type-A people. I do not get it. I am so lazy. I think of my self-righteous frustration with how people are behaving. I think of my irritation when one more congregant finds such a blessing in a truth that they heard delivered from a popular preacher on the radio that I’ve been delivering every week for a succession of years that they’ve somehow not heard. You ever have that? “I read this great thing in a John Piper book.” I’ve been saying that.

I think of my quick retreat on difficult or depressive days. My quick retreat to food to comfort me or frittering away time to avoid people or even myself. I’m brought to the breaking point within myself to say, “How can I go on? How can I live? What will fix me?” Will the God of all grace will himself establish me? I picture myself on that last day. This may not be an accurate picture, but I think it’s pretty accurate. We’re all going to die with sin unrepented of because we are not perfect repenters. Does that make sense?

So that’s the theology that I’m working with. I believe that I’ve been counted righteous in Christ, but I’m still going to be battling sin. And in fact, the deeper that I get into the gospel, the more that I see the word of God, the more sanctification of the Spirit works in me, the more stuff I see I need to get right with and about.

I picture myself on that last stage just like crawling across the finish line, haggard tired and still with some sin that I have not conquered, wrapped around my ankle, pulling at me, tugging at me, biting into my ankle. And as I crossed that finish line just worn out and weak from my own sin and failure to repent as my leg drags across the finish line, I picture that sin dissolving as it crosses the threshold into heaven. And there I see my Redeemer standing before me.

I’m going to have to face my judge, and he will look down at me, and he will say, “Well done, well done.” And instead of arms crossed, they’ll be outstretched. Can you picture this? Instead of tsk-tsking, he’s going to be smiling. He will be my justification. He is my justification. The pastor’s security, control, and glory are in Christ. Indeed, they are Christ. In verse one of this chapter, Peter describes himself as a witness to the sufferings of Christ.

The Message of the Cross

Now, it is curious to me that Peter makes the sufferings of Christ his reference point. Yes, the apostles preached the cross, the message of the cross. The cross became in some way shorthand for the message of the entire gospel, including of course Jesus’s resurrection. When they say, “We’re preaching the message of the cross. I’ve resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.” This is somewhat of a shorthand, a linguistic shorthand for the gospel message because you don’t get to the resurrection except through the cross.

But for Peter to single out Christ’s suffering as his claim of integrity and of both parody as a fellow elder and of his authority as an apostle, I find galling because the moments of Christ’s sufferings were not the moments of Peter’s greatest honorability. And Peter was a witness to many, if not most of Christ’s earthly accomplishments. He was a part of the inner circle. He could have said that I was one of Jesus’s best friends.

He witnessed most if not all of the miracles. He witnessed the transfiguration. He could have said, “I witnessed the glory of Christ revealed in the transfiguration.” He witnessed the empty tomb. He witnessed the ascension. But Peter does not make any of these events or others the focal point of his witness. He issues his qualification as being a witness to the sufferings of Christ. But Peter messed up his witness to Christ’s suffering.

From the very beginning, his swordsmanship in the garden at Jesus’s arrest revealed the depths of his misunderstanding of Christ’s mission. And when Jesus’s suffering begins, Peter denies him three times. Why then would Peter pick this moment out of all of the moments on his resume as his grounds for qualification?

Because he knows what Christ’s suffering purchased for him. Total forgiveness, total security, total justification. Peter brings to mind Christ’s death on the cross as the central point in his own pastoral vision and connects the vision to his status as a verse one partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. And while he is yet suffering as he writes this letter, as he is being prepared for more persecution and his eventual martyrdom, Peter was presently partaking in the glory yet to come.

Peter was a believer in the gospel. Because of the reality of the gospel, Peter is saying, “Because the God of all grace has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,” you too are a present partaker in the glory to be revealed. A future partaker in the crown of glory and a beneficiary of God’s total saving dominion. You are free and you are empowered to shepherd the flock of God among you, and you are justified in doing. Isn’t this the wonder of justification? You are justified in doing so despite your repeated failures and sins.

Purely based on the imputed virtue of Christ’s perfect pastoring of the church. I mean, do you get that? Christ loves his bride perfectly and even that virtue is counted to you as yours through faith. Perfect pastoring. I declare it yours. So here is the justification for the sin-prone pastor, by which I mean pastor, because of Christ’s perfect work on your behalf, your failure, your daily anxiety, your unwillingness, your stress, your sin, your brokenness, your ineptitude, your ignorance, your awfulness, your regrets, your pride, and your arrogance is no match for the deep and abiding grace of God.

It was given to you before time began and it is given to you even now where you sit and it is given to you forevermore. In the weakness of sin, Christ will be your justification.

Christ Will Be Our Glorification

Finally, last point. Number four, everybody is still alive. From the weakness of the flesh, Christ will be our glorification. From the weakness of the flesh, Christ will be our glorification. Justification then speaks to the removal of our guilt. We are declared righteous. We are counted righteous.

Glorification then speaks to the removal of our sin. He doesn’t stop in saying, “I am reckoning you sinless.” He says, “I’m going to make you sinless.” So justification speaks to the removal of the guilt of sin. Glorification speaks to the removal of the sin itself. I like to think of the manner in which justification is connected to glorification this way. And perhaps you will resonate with it. When you and the wife have had an argument and it’s your fault, and she’s angry, and she’s hurt, and you’ve been excoriated and you’ve been expelled from the garden of intimacy, you slink, don’t you? You’re on eggshells.

If you’ve been properly humbled, convicted, you shuffle. You feel that weight in the pit of your stomach. You can’t eat. Everything just seems gray. Everything is very tender. You speak softly. You don’t know what to say, you don’t know how to say it. You’ve been chasing. You don’t want to step on a landmine. You don’t want to cause more hurt. And there’s that silence that hangs over you.

The Gospel’s Embrace

Even as you have small talk, you can’t have a normal conversation because it’s there dividing you, this offense, this hurt that you have caused. Men, you just want to be found favorable again. You just want her to forgive you. Maybe you go to bed at night and you lay down with your backs to each other. She, because you assume, because she’s angry. And you, because you don’t want to presume, you don’t want her to feel like you’re expecting anything, you talk or anything, so you lay with your back to her and you just feel heavy with guilt and shame, and regret. Why did I say that? Why do I keep saying that?

You keep saying the same thing and you’ve known for years that, “I don’t like that. I don’t want that. You should know me by now.” And you are thinking in the clarity of the guilt. At first you’re defensive, but in the clarity of the guilt, you’re thinking she’s right. I should know her. And that weight is there, that heaviness is there. The silence is there. And then you feel her shifting behind you.

She’s turning over and you think she’s just changing sides. And then you feel her hand on your back. Right? Or she puts her arm around you. If you’re lucky, you feel her face on the back of your neck and that warmth comes into your chest. Maybe there’s a little shutter through your bones. She has turned to you. She has welcomed you back. She has forgiven you. She has received you. She’s signaling now I’m ready to embrace you.

She has, in essence, set you free from the complaint that she has against you. Is that not a glimpse of the gospel? Like our heavenly Father’s turning to us in love, pardoning our iniquities, covering our shame, receiving us into his arms. But the effect of the process is more than simply being declared forgiven. As precious as that is, the touch, the embrace, the reception, it changes you.

When my wife turns towards me in forgiveness and wipes the slate clean as it were, I’m not just relieved that the burden of guilt is taken away. I want to be the kind of man who doesn’t hurt her again. I don’t just want my guilt gone, I want my sin gone. I want that impulse, that reaction, the harsh words or the not listening, whatever that is, I want it out of me. So this will never happen again.

So when she puts her hand on my back, there is a touch of glory in that embrace. The God of all grace has called us to his eternal glory in Christ. I’m picturing this. Jesus doesn’t do things halfway. He’s not like you. And so if you are called by his grace, you’ll be justified by his grace. And if you’ve been justified by his grace, you’ll be glorified by his grace.

Isn’t this the promise that beats all promises? Isn’t this the promise enough for a lifetime of those pitiful Mondays? Your weakness is no hindrance to the Lord. Your sin is no match for his grace. Your flesh is not God’s kryptonite. And so if he’s leading you through fire after fire, you can be certain it is because he is burning off the dross. Peter closes these words to pastors with 1 Peter 5:11: “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” It’s not your turf. It’s not even your church.

THe Lord’s Dominion

He brought you there and he can take you out. Front to back, the ministry is the Lord’s because the world is the Lord’s. It’s his ministry, not ours. Our people are first his people. And so it’s his dominion and not ours. At first this is a very bitter pill, I know because it becomes sweet to those later who will get through the bitterness. Those who have been seasoned by weakness, finding satisfaction on the call to God’s glory. It is difficult for control freaks like pastors to remember that they are not in control, but there is a great contentment to be had and finally realizing that the salvation of the souls of those in his care is not ultimately up to the pastor.

I find that liberating, extremely liberating. I am asked to be faithful. By God’s grace, I will be faithful. I am not asked to be successful. When you hear someone asking you to be successful, be it a pastor or a congregant, you are hearing the call of the enemy to put a burden on you that Christ has not put on you. He will be successful. You be faithful.

It is liberating then to realize that the spread of God’s kingdom is not ultimately dependent on the work of a pastor. So here is the takeaway for us. In shutting the mouths of lions. Maybe that’s the ministry God has called you to. Or dying in obscurity. Whether in overseeing a ten-campus multi-site megachurch or retiring and being known from ministry only by the fifty people in your parish. There is contentment and joy to be had right now and forever after because Christ is king with total dominion.

Simple faithfulness to his kingdom is success. And the reality through the finished work announced in the gospel is that Christ’s lordship makes every faithful ministry, even the smallest one, eternally epic. He has given us the keys to the kingdom. Whatever we bind or loose is bound and loosed in heaven. The God whose angels rejoice at one sinner saved, rejoices over your ministry, whether it’s massive or mediocre, and he does so with the great delight and approval of a beaming father. He is not setting up the hoops for you to jump.

So when the chief shepherd appears, Peter writes up there in 1 Peter 5:4: “You will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Everything else is cheap imitation. The unfading crown of glory. We treasure such piddly things in our ministries, big attendance, big buildings, big followings, big book deals, big paychecks, big platforms, big deal poultry stuff compared to the glory of Christ.

All of these crowns we keep collecting are like those Burger King cardboard trinkets. They’ll be burned up in the last day. The temporary achievements of pastors will fade like the glory on Moses’s face. We should not attach our affections to such things. They will let us down always in forever. But Christ’s glory, the glory to which we are actually called, it will swallow us up and exalt us forever.

You are right now seated with him in the heavenly places. I mean you’re here, but you’re also there. That union with Christ is mystical, does not mean it’s theoretical or fake or unreal. He will illuminate us with his glory. He will set us in the new heavens, in the new earth forever. So don’t be afraid of weakness, brothers. You can’t avoid it anyway. But steward it well and boast in it as you received Christ Jesus, we are instructed. So walk in him. This is how I read that. How did I receive Christ Jesus? Well, I was very low, I was very weak and I was very broken. So if that’s how I received him, that’s how I ought to walk in him. We must decrease. He must increase.