God’s Long Horizon
What is the ultimate purpose of all our work in the church?
Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians with the immediate aim of restoring the relationship between this congregation and himself. Yet his ultimate purpose lay far beyond the present time: he wanted to bring these believers to final perfection at Christ’s return.
Already in 1 Corinthians Paul voiced this pastoral aim, declaring that Jesus “will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8). His eternal vision is also apparent in 2 Corinthians 1:13–14, where he asserts,
Now I trust you will understand…that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.
He speaks of that coming day of scrutiny when all people will be tested for their faithfulness to Christ and His Word.
Despite the troubles that have afflicted their relationship, Paul is confident that the veracity of their faith will be proven on that day when he will boast in them, even as they boast in their devoted pastor. For this great purpose Paul continues to work among the Corinthians. It is also his prayer for them: “And this also we pray, that you may be made complete” (13:9).
The Greek word for “completion” can be translated as “to put in a fit state,” “to restore,” or even “to perfect.” Paul longs that they reach a real maturity of faith so that they can be fully ready for Christ’s second coming. Similarly, he writes in 2 Corinthians 11:2, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” With all the affection of a father fiercely protective of the integrity of his daughter, Paul wants to see the church of Corinth eternally united to Christ in the most intimate of bonds.
Final perfection was not his pastoral purpose for the Corinthians alone. For instance, he writes to the Philippians that he was “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
For Paul, this makes all his ministerial sufferings endurable and even worthwhile: the reality of a beautiful eternity beyond the present circumstances. In 2 Corinthians 4:17 he says his current hardships are insignificant compared to coming glory:
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
This hope gave him a sure confidence, one that was based on the intrinsic splendor of Christ’s gospel and coming kingdom.
The deep affection that Paul has for the Corinthians also causes him to yearn for their final salvation. In chapter 4 Paul writes about “knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you” (2 Cor. 4:14). He looks forward to seeing the resurrected Corinthians in the presence of God and Christ. Finally, Paul’s relationship with this church will no longer suffer any of the effects of brokenness, and when they all will enjoy an unspeakable bliss.
Paul’s ultimate goal for the Corinthians can continue to give pastors today not only a certain sense of hope but also a firm purpose.
In the first place, ministers of the gospel can cherish the hope that while churches are always works in progress on this side of eternity, one day they will be completed.
As the handiwork of the triune God Himself, the church is a project that will definitely be finished to perfection. Despite the pervasive effects of sin, God’s saving purpose in Christ is unshakably firm.
Pastors may hold on to the hope that Christ is busy perfecting His people, that He is preparing believers for their arrival at a place that does not know sin and brokenness. It will be a place of perfect fellowship between God and His people, and a place of perfect unity among all believers.
In the second place, pastors can imitate Paul’s purpose in preparing believers for the return of Christ. This expectation gave an urgency to his work in the congregation of Corinth as he pastored and preached. Christians still await the final judgment—indeed, it is closer now than in the time of Paul—with the consequence that pastoral ministry must continue to look steadily toward the day of Christ.
There should remain in preaching, teaching, and counseling an element of urgency as pastors call their congregations to be reconciled to God through Christ. It is good for a pastor to periodically ask himself: Am I preaching every Sunday with the right note of urgency? By my teaching and my visiting, am I getting people ready to meet their maker, ready to appear before the Savior and Judge?
This eternal vision means that pastors should not look for instant results or expect perfect conclusions here below. Life can be terribly messy and broken, and it is not all going to get cleaned up and straightened out before Christ returns. Not that pastors should abandon all notions of spiritual progress or growth, but they should remember God’s long horizon. More than anything, a pastor wants his congregation to share by faith in Christ’s gracious gift of life everlasting.
It can take a long time to get there, and it can require an immense amount of trying work, but God’s promised reward in Christ is sure: “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Through Christ, we work in the church with a sure sense of hope and firm purpose.
[Excerpted from Weak Pastor, Strong Christ]