God’s Saints, The Crown of Rejoicing

October 29, 2017 / No. 3904

Dear Radio Friends,
Every minister of the gospel and every saint ought to take time to study and contemplate the Word of God in the verses we consider today. In I Thessalonians 2:19, 20 we read, “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? For ye are our glory and joy.” This Word of God expresses something very beautiful: the bond that unites preacher and his congregation in love. In our series of sermons on Thessalonians we have already considered the calling that is laid upon the shoulders of the minister to preach. Having been put in trust with the gospel, the minister must preach it without deceit, uncleanness, or guile. He must seek to please God and not men with the Word he proclaims. We also considered the calling of the members of the church toward faithful preaching. The saints in Thessalonica received the preaching of the gospel not as the word of men, but as the Word of God itself. This Word of God is powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, and it works effectually in the hearts of God’s people. This is the way, then, that God’s people must view the preaching. If all of this is true of both the minister and his congregation, then it follows, does it not, that a blessed and close relationship will develop between pastor and church.
That is what happened in the short time Paul had labored in Thessalonica. “Ye are our glory and joy!” is what Paul wrote of this church. What a beautiful claim for a preacher to make with respect to his church and congregation! Yet, there was something else that no doubt prompted this claim. Paul points out in this chapter that this Gentile church in Thessalonica followed in the footsteps of the churches in Judea. This Gentile church was suffering by the hands of their fellow countrymen as did the Christian churches in Judea by the hands of their fellow Jews. Paul then explains that these unbelieving Gentiles who had forced him to leave did not please God and were contrary to all men. The implication in these verses is that the saints in Thessalonica ought not to listen to the taunts or accusations of these unbelievers. They might say that Paul had come to Thessalonica to gain to himself a following for the sake of power or money, for some selfish reason, and when the pressure was on, he ran away and was no longer interested in this church in Thessalonica. Paul meets such accusations head on. First, he tells the saints that it was his earnest desire to return to Thessalonica, but he could not, since Satan hindered him. Second, he tells the saints in the verses we consider today that he indeed looked for gain in his labors, but the gain he sought was the Thessalonian saints themselves! They are his joy and boast. We are going to contemplate that beautiful claim of Paul today: the bond of love that exists between a minister of the gospel and the members of his church.
I. The Meaning
There are two groups of people referred to in this Word of God before us. The first is the “our” mentioned at the outset in our text: “For what is our hope or joy?” This group includes Paul himself. The other group is the “ye” he mentions in the next phrase of our text: “Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord.” It’s not hard to ascertain who these groups were. The “our” refers to Paul, Silas, and Timothy: those who preached in Thessalonica. The “ye” refers to the saints in the church institute established in Thessalonica. This is obvious enough. But we are interested in examining these members of the church from the viewpoint of the verses we consider. Paul writes this concerning the members of the church in Thessalonica: are not you in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? It is important for the proper interpretation of this phrase to understand that these saints would not stand as condemned in the presence of Christ when He returns. The members of the church of Jesus Christ belong to their faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has accomplished their salvation. They are in the presence of Christ at His second coming as the redeemed of God. This is evident in the three names Paul uses here: Lord, Jesus, and Christ. These are Christ’s chief names. These names of our Savior reveal to us the work Christ has performed for His people, who will stand in His presence at His coming.
The name Jesus refers to salvation and deliverance from sin in general. The angel told Joseph that he must name Mary’s son Jesus, for He would save His people from their sins. Jesus suffered and died on the cross to take away the guilt of sin and make us righteous. He has died and was risen again to break the power and dominion of sin in our lives, to make us holy before God. This work that Christ has performed for His people makes sinners saints. Being cleansed in the blood of Christ they are righteous and holy. Paul then calls our attention to another name of Jesus, that is, Christ. This name refers to the manner Christ has performed our salvation and deliverance from sin, that is, as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Christ was ordained and anointed to this threefold office. Through His work as our divine officebearer Christ has sacrificed Himself for us, works in us by His Holy Spirit that we might know the things of the kingdom of heaven, and reigns in us that we might live a life of godliness. God’s people as a result of this threefold labor of Christ have become saints, a holy and peculiar people who are set apart from the world and are consecrated unto the service of their Lord. Their Lord. This third name of our Savior speaks of Christ’s rule and headship in the lives of His people. He is Master, we are His servants to do His will. As Christ rules in God’s people they live a life of servitude to God and His commandments. They live a life of thankfulness. That then is the one group to which our text refers.
As we mentioned in previous broadcasts, the other group of men alluded to in our text is that of the preachers of the gospel. This group included Paul, Silas, and Timothy. This group includes every faithful preacher of the gospel today. We might add additional men to this group, the elders of the church, those who have rule and oversight of the church. These men, when they labor in the office of elder, concern themselves with the preaching of the gospel too. They are extremely interested in the spiritual welfare of the church, because they are called to take oversight of the preaching. So we include as well those who busy themselves in the preaching of the Word. These constitute the second group of people to which this Word of God refers.
Now, let us ask the question of us today: “What is the hope, the joy, and the crown of rejoicing of those who are called to labor in the preaching of the gospel?” Is it prominence, power, influence in this present world and society? Is that the minister’s hope, joy, and glory? Is it? Is that what Paul and his colleagues boasted in? Is it earthly riches, or the fact that the preacher was able through his ministry to amass to himself the goods and the security of this present life? Was that Paul’s joy in the work of the ministry? What is the answer Paul gives to this question in verse 19? This: it is not what is our hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing, but who is our hope and joy and glory? Verse 20: “For you are our glory and joy!” You who are committed members of the church of Jesus Christ, you yourselves are the glory and joy of those who labor in the gospel! You are! The Word of God before us today implies that we must be members of the church as it is manifest in the world today in the church institute. Of course it does! A minister of the gospel and elders in the church do not take joy in a people who do not belong to their church! Paul speaks specifically to the members of the church institute established in the city of Thessalonica. You, members of the church, you are our glory and joy! It is not what you give to the preacher, it is not what the preacher gains by having you as members of the church. You personally are the joy and glory of those who labor in the ministry. And that joy is found in your very salvation. Paul adds in verse 19, “you are our hope.” This means that God’s saints in the church are the expectation of the those who labor in the gospel; they are that upon which the preachers of the gospel wait anxiously. The ministers of the gospel find their joy, their blessedness, their happiness, not in external things, but in the lives of the saints. The saints are their crown of rejoicing. They themselves are the prize of honor in which those who labor in the gospel find their glorying. Every faithful preacher of the gospel and every elder that labors in the church can and should say that of the saints among whom they labor in their churches.
Let us take a moment to remind ourselves of this blessed truth. Pastors and elders do well to remind themselves repeatedly of this Word of God. All our labors on behalf of the church—all of them, without exception—must be for the saints. We may not labor for any other reason. We do not hold office in the church because we like the power and prestige it gives us. When we receive a call as a minister or when we are elected as officebearers it is not a popularity contest! When we labor in the church it is not in order to get people to like us and boast in us. We labor in the church for the benefit of the souls of God’s people. We labor to lead, guide, admonish, and instruct the saints—those for whom Christ gave His life’s blood. That is our joy. On the other hand, we as saints in the church also have great reason for rejoicing. We are those whom God loves and cherishes. We are the reason God has ordained men into the work of the gospel ministry in the church. We are of such extreme value to our heavenly Father that He ordains men that will care for our souls. What a blessed truth we who are members of the church in this world have! What a wonderful way to view the church and the work of the ministry in the church! If only we could always keep that viewpoint before us!
II. The Reason
Now, the question still remains, of course: why? Why are God’s saints the hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing of those who labor in the gospel? Why do ministers and elders wait for, long for, hope for the saints? Why do ministers have such great delight, such joy in the saints? And why are the saints the crown, the winning prize, in which ministers of the gospel find their glory or boast? The Word of God in our text answers these questions by placing before us another question: “are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” That is the answer to the question “Why?” The saints are the minister’s hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing because they are in the presence of Christ at His coming. This is where Paul begins, in this letter to the Thessalonians, instruction in the parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ. It is only mentioned here briefly, but already we receive instruction concerning Christ’s second coming. First of all, we are taught that Christ does indeed return. He is coming again. He has already come in His advent, in His birth. But He is coming again. At present Christ is in heaven. He went there in His ascension. But Christ is returning. Notice that we speak of Christ’s coming in the present tense. Not in the future. The Word of God does not speak of Christ’s coming as merely a future event. We as God’s saints are in the presence of Christ’s coming. Christ comes, and already now God’s saints are numbered according to God’s sovereign purpose and good pleasure among the assembly of the elect that will stand in Christ’s presence upon His return.
That is the second fact of Christ’s return of which we learn here in these verses: we will all stand in Christ’s presence when He returns. When Christ returns on the clouds of glory He is going to call aloud to the dead who will then be raised in the final resurrection. At the same time, Christ will send forth His angels to gather His elect saints from the four corners of the earth. These will meet with those who are resurrected. After this, everyone will stand in the presence of Christ. Where? In judgment. The saints will be present in judgment in that day of our Lord. The saints of God from all ages and from every nation, tribe, and language of this world will be there! A multitude that cannot be numbered, great and glorious in her beauty—the royal bride of Christ. This is why God’s saints are the crown of rejoicing. God’s ambassadors labor in the Word of God with this hope, that in the day of days when they stand before God and must give account of all their labors, the very fruit of their labors will be standing there with them! How beautiful! Heartwarming! Those to whom was administered the gospel will be standing side by side with those who labor in the gospel! When the officebearers are called upon to give account of themselves before God, God’s saints will be there too as a living testimony of the labors ministers and elders have performed in the church. That too is why you are their joy. God’s saints give the greatest joy to those who labor in the Word and gospel—the greatest of all joy! When those who labor in the gospel know that God’s saints will stand with them in the end of time, they labor now joyfully, cheerfully, with enthusiasm and zeal.
Further, God’s people are the crown of rejoicing of those who labor in the gospel. They are their glory. God’s saints are the honor, the praise, the excellence of those who labor in the gospel. When the preacher stands in judgment before Christ, it will not be his earthly popularity that will be to his praise. Christ will not be interested in how large a congregation a man had in this life, or how well liked he was in this world. All worldly fame and fortune will perish when a man dies. These things do not impress Christ. What will praise a man is when Christ will look upon the excellence of a man’s labors in the faces of God’s saints who stand with him in glory among whom he labored in this life. This will be to his praise and glory. These saints will honor those who labored on their spiritual behalf. No wonder the preacher’s calling is a high and lofty one. The last day, when Christ comes again, will be the completion of Christ’s labors to build His church. The day of judgment will be a glorious day for all those who labored to that end.
III. The Reward
It is then that God’s servants will be openly rewarded for their labors. They will receive the crown: the ornament of honor—the prize that a man receives at the end of the race when the victory is won. This crown will be the crown of rejoicing, that is, the crown of boasting, the crown of glorying. That crown of boasting will be granted God’s ambassadors. Of course, this does not mean any preacher can boast in himself. This crown of glorying or of rejoicing is not a glory found in the preacher himself. The preacher does not save. It is the Word of God He preaches that works effectually in the hearts of God’s people. The rejoicing of which Paul speaks here is a rejoicing or a boasting found in another. The preacher may receive the crown, but the boasting, the glorying, is in the one who blessed the preacher’s labors. It is in Jesus Christ alone! We preach and God gives the increase through the Spirit of the risen Lord. All boasting, all honoring, all praising belongs to God and to the Lamb. Worthy is the Lamb to receive all these things.
But that does not diminish the beauty of the crown that those who labor in the gospel will receive. They will indeed receive their reward. God will say unto them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of my rest!” Now you understand why the faithful preacher labors the way he does. His reward awaits him in the day of days. If he builds on the foundation of the church hay and stubble, he shall receive his reward. If he builds upon it gold and silver he shall receive his reward too. Woe to that preacher who sees his labors as nothing more than a monotonous and drab work. But blessed is that man who labors with zeal and enthusiasm. When this happens, the reward in this life is that a pastor and his congregation rely on each other. There is a bond of love that develops there that is hard to break. God bless His church in this way. May all who faithfully attend to the church and her preaching someday stand in the presence of Christ together as a living testimony of God’s power in the preaching.