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The Best Retirement Plan

Are you a young person pondering a career? Have you considered becoming a pastor
or a Christian day school teacher? This twelve-part series is meant to coincide with the work of the  President’s Committee on Partners in the Public Ministry (CPPM). Its aim is to help you think more deeply about the great importance—and many blessings—of the public teaching and preaching ministry.

“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” (2 Timothy 4:8 ESV)
One of the first gifts I received from my father-in-law was a T-shirt that had these words printed on the front: “I work for the Lord. The pay isn’t great, but the retirement plan is out of this world!” It’s supposed to be a humorous way to present the blessings of serving in the public ministry. Unfortunately, it implies a theological error of the worst kind. The implication is that those who work in the public ministry are compensated by the Lord with eternal life in heaven. Holy Scripture is perfectly clear that eternal salvation is a gift of God’s grace and that the only One who earned salvation for us is Jesus Christ. This He did by His work of living a perfectly righteous life and then by becoming the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:7 ESV)
If we are to think of heaven as a “retirement plan,” then we should mentally disconnect it from any work that we perform, including the work of serving in the pastoral ministry. The Apostle Paul did, however, express confidence in what awaited him on the Last Day, writing to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV) Paul expresses how this crown of righteousness would be awarded. He speaks of having kept the faith. That faith of which he speaks is faith in Christ Jesus, the world’s Savior. Paul’s confidence is not in how faithfully he served in the ministry, and not even in how earnestly he fought the good fight or how strongly he finished the race. His confidence was in the faithfulness of the One in Whom he believed, namely the Lord, the righteous Judge.
James expresses this same idea when he writes, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12 ESV) There are many trials that come with service in the ministry. The only way to remain steadfast under those trials is by relying on the grace and promises God makes in His Word. Therefore, this “crown of life” which God promises is made in connection with that grace that comes to us through Christ.
At the end of one’s life, it is only such promises of grace that provide any comfort and any true rest. Every faithful minister of Christ will look back on his efforts and work as littered with many faults and failures on his part. What he has earned is only condemnation. What Christ has earned —what God promises—is a gift of grace. This is God’s retirement plan, one which we public ministers of the Gospel will share with all who trust in that grace and those promises.

Frank Gantt is pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Loganville, Georgia.