Joy and crowns

“Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved” (Philippians 4:1 NKJV).

There is an innate human tendency to measure one’s life by his or her accomplishments. This may take the form of awards, accumulated wealth, promotions, status, or a check-list of notable achievements. Architects may point to outstanding structures of their design; physicians and surgeons to lives saved, and lawyers to difficult cases or large settlements won.

I have known a few (thankfully only a few) preachers who apparently fell prey to that tendency. They listed baptisms and responses from meetings or local work in a way sometimes to remind one of the proverbial notches on a gun-slinger’s pistol. The impression given to observers is “look at me; didn’t I do great?”

Do not misunderstand. There is a wonderful thrill to being an instrument of God in the process of another’s salvation. No privilege is greater than that of leading someone to a knowledge of truth and witnessing their surrender to God’s grace. Paul speaks of the reward given to the builder (preacher) whose work (converted souls) lasts (1 Corinthians 3:14). Yet nowhere is it suggested that such achievements confer earned merit.

When Paul refers to the Philippian church as his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1) he is not suggesting that they are some sort of trophy which he has won. They themselves constituted a great blessing (reward) for Paul. Their obedience brought him great pleasure and satisfaction; this was itself a worthwhile reward for the apostle’s labors.

I recently met a worker from a different country in Nepal. He mentioned a man he had met in a particular village in the mountains. The foreign worker asked the Nepali how he had happened to become a Christian. The believer answered, “Several years ago a man named Mike Brooks came to our village preaching the Gospel and my father was baptized. My father then later taught me.” It would be difficult to overstate the joy which that story brought me (I had never discussed the younger man’s conversion with him). There are indeed wonderful rewards which come to those who teach others God’s truth.

In another place Paul describes Christians as “our epistle written in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2). This was in contrast to letters of commendation such as some had presented to prove their authority to teach. Paul stated that he had no need of such authorization, because they knew personally who he was and what he taught. They themselves were the proof of his apostleship.

Being able to claim that one has baptized hundreds or thousands is not in itself evidence of exceptional ability or service (see 1 Corinthians 1:14-17). On the other hand, the fact that one’s ministry has resulted in souls saved and churches planted or matured is cause for great joy and that joy is one of the rewards that God grants those who serve him.

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