Pastors face a myriad of trials and struggles while shepherding the flock. People they love and trust unexpectedly leave the church and cut off communications. Relationships can leave painful scars. Elders must routinely broach difficult topics and engage in uncomfortable conversations. Shepherds often help members address complicated issues in their lives. Exegeting difficult texts and clearly explaining doctrine regularly pose frequent challenges. Moreover, the faithful pastor must maintain his own commitment to family and personal spiritual disciplines. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16) can easily become their life verse (it’s a good one!).
This is part of a series of blog posts encouraging pastors to persevere in their labor (please share these posts with your pastors). This entry will highlight a very simple truth from 2 Timothy to help pastors endure. Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy to exhort him to continue in what he had learned and believed (2 Tim 3:14). Throughout this epistle, the apostle gives several instructions and commands to help church leaders persevere in their work. One of the simplest, clearest, and most profound of these commands is, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim 2:8). Following this simple command keeps pastors grounded in the truth of the gospel as they navigate the challenges of shepherding the flock.
Remember Jesus Christ, Risen from the Dead
A high school football coach I know was invited to watch the Indianapolis Colts workout and practice. He hoped to learn some new drills or special plays from the professionals. In the practice, however, the NFL coaches focused on the fundamentals of stretching, running, blocking, and tackling. He left a bit disappointed, but then realized an important lesson he had already known—even the greatest players at the highest level must practice the fundamentals of the game.
In Timothy’s distress, Paul reminds him of the fundamentals of the gospel and commands him to remember them. “Remember” is a present imperative verb meaning, “continually remember.” We specifically remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. Paul uses the perfect tense of the verb “risen,” which describes a past event with abiding implications for the present. This points to glorious spiritual realities associated with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was raised for our justification (Rom 4:25). Jesus’s resurrection fulfilled the Scripture and vindicated his teachings (Luke 24:26–27). His resurrection further identified him as God (John 20:28). His resurrection proved he had overcome the world and was given all authority in heaven and in earth (Matt 28:18). His resurrection gives us powerful truths to meditate upon—weighty realities to remember in the midst of our struggles.
Remembering requires mental exercise (as in the previous verse, 2 Tim 2:7). Thus, we must intentionally remember the resurrection of Jesus and the benefits we receive from him. In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges offers practical means of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. He writes,
What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day: As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Ps 103:12). I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins (Isa 43:25). All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6). Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin (Rom 4:7–8). There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). There are many others, including Ps 130:3–4; Isa 1:18; Isa 38:17; Mic 7:19; Eph 1:7; Col 2:13–14; Heb 8:12; and 10:17–18.1Bridges, Jerry. Respectable Sins. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2007, 30–31.
Many pastors become mentally fixated on the trials and struggles they face in ministry. Helping other Christians deal with the complicated issues in their lives requires a great deal of mental energy and can easily dominate one’s thoughts. Church leaders often remember the hurtful words or actions of others. Pastors can replay hurtful conversations or interactions in their minds. As sinners, we focus on our own failures or unmet expectations. Remembering Jesus Christ and the benefits of the gospel floods our mind with truth that will revive our soul (Ps 19:8). Meditating on the glories of Jesus’s resurrection helps dispel depraved thoughts.
Martin Luther writes, “Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished. But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won. On the other hand, if the Devil gets me involved in what I have done and left undone, he has won, unless God helps and says, ‘Indeed! Even if you had not done anything, you would still be saved by forgiveness.’”2Luther, Martin, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955, 106.
The difficulties of shepherding the flock can distract you from Jesus Christ. In the early years of my pastoral ministry, Dr. Don Whitney counseled me, “Don’t let the ministry keep you from Jesus.” To encourage perseverance, the author of Hebrews writes, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1–2). He calls us to look to Jesus and then explains the endurance and glorification of Christ. This author later calls us to mental exercise by writing, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood (Heb 12:3–4). Rather than being distracted by our trials and difficulties, we must look to Jesus and consider his suffering.
Describing pastoral ministry, John Calvin writes, “None can faithfully serve the church and sustain the task of feeding the flock unless he looks higher than men. In the first place the office of feeding is in itself laborious and troublesome. For nothing is more difficult than to keep men under the yoke of God, many of whom are weak, others are light and unsteady, others dull and sluggish, and yet others hard and unteachable.”3Calhoun, David B. “Calvin the Pastor.” In John Calvin: For a New Reformation. Edited by Derek Thomas and John W. Tweeddale. Crossway, 2019.
Life, relationships, teaching sound doctrine, practicing church discipline, etc. can present complex challenges. Pastors need to maintain the simple practice of remembering Christ as they engage knotty and complicated issues. The glory of Jesus and his resurrection outshines and outweighs the problems of this life. Just one glimpse of Him in glory repays the toils of pastoral ministry.
God has built into the life of the church a regular time for us to remember Christ. The consistent practice of the Lord’s Supper helps us follow Paul’s command in 2 Timothy 2:8. Jesus commands us, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:24). Then the Lord repeats this command by stating, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:25). This repetition emphasizes the importance of remembering Christ. Therefore, pastors have a regular time set aside to obey this command.
Encourage struggling pastors to remember Jesus Christ. This simple counsel comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul. Please share the resources you find on G3 with others.
|Bridges, Jerry. Respectable Sins. Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2007, 30–31.
|Luther, Martin, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955, 106.
|Calhoun, David B. “Calvin the Pastor.” In John Calvin: For a New Reformation. Edited by Derek Thomas and John W. Tweeddale. Crossway, 2019.