The task of Christian leadership is a great burden. Paul, after writing about all his physical suffering in 2 Corinthians 11, finishes by saying his greatest pressure is the “daily anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:29).
Pastors are leaders who have been given the great responsibility of being under-shepherds of Christ Himself. It moves leaders to ask, “who, whether man or angel, “is sufficient” to open “the wisdom of God in a mystery”. . . to bear the fearful weight of the care of souls?” Jonathan Edwards’ vision of the glory of God helps strengthen leaders in their task. This task of leadership will only be sustained by the glory of God and the joy found in Him, especially in areas of poverty.
Where Godly Leaders Get Strength
Firstly, Edwards reminds leaders that their strength is in God, who is sufficient for all things. In his dissertation The End, he argues that God created the world as an overflow of his perfect and infinite goodness and blessedness. Thus, God does not receive anything from humans in creation, but humans are totally dependent on Him. This is important for leaders to remember. Leaders are completely dependent on God for their strength. They are insufficient for the task, but God is sufficient. As Spurgeon writes, “Seek then strength from the Strong One, wisdom from the Wise One, in fact, all from the God of all.”
Further, the absolute dependence of leaders on God for strength brings glory to God. In fact, God delights to strengthen leaders for the task of soul-winning because God’s work in the world is to glorify Himself. As Edwards puts it, “Leading and guiding in the way of safety and happiness, restoring the soul, the forgiveness of sin; and that help, deliverance, and salvation, that is consequent therein, is for God’s name.”
The beauty of leadership is that God uses sinful creatures to magnify His own name. He glorifies Himself through “jars of clay” (2 Cor 4:7). This reminds leaders that it’s not their work, but God’s alone. Leaders in the Christian church talk grandly about building God’s kingdom, but the reality is that God is the one building His kingdom through sinful vessels, so that He might receive all the glory. He, the all-sufficient one, serves us, and uses us to accomplish His grand purposes for his own name’s sake.
Therefore, leaders must remember that this task is not a right, but a great privilege. It should humble them to think that God has not only redeemed sinful leaders, but also that He calls them to be stewards of the mysteries of Christ. Leaders can rest, nay have confidence, in the truth that Christ will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail (Matt. 16:18)!
Secondly, the glory of God supports and comforts leaders in times of suffering. When Jesus is but a few days away from the cross, and His soul is overwhelmed with trouble, he prays in John 12:27–28: “‘Father, save me from this hour’? But, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Jesus’ ultimate desire here is to glorify God, and this strengthens him for the difficult task that he is going to undertake. If God’s glory was not at stake, then He would have left the cross behind. But, the highest end of the cross was the glory of God, and this thought was “the proper fountain of all support in this case.”
This is true of leaders too. The sufferings in ministry are worth it because the Lord is glorified through them. Therefore, the glory of God supports, comforts, and strengthens leaders.
A Reward That’s Eternal
Thirdly, and finally, the glory to come strengthens leaders in the trials and burdens. In Edwards’ sermons, he constantly pointed his hearers beyond the sufferings of this present world towards “a realm in which God dwells gloriously and powerfully.” Edwards said in this world “you are not to expect outward ease, pleasure and plenty; nor are you to depend on the friendship and respect of men; but should prepare to endure hardness, as one that is going forth as a soldier to war. But they are higher things than these, more excellent benefits than the world can afford, that Christ offers to those that approve themselves to him in this work.” In other words, leadership is tough but the eternal rewards far outweigh the struggles.
In particular, the beatific vision of God sustained Edwards’ joy in leadership. Edwards, writing about heaven, says: “They shall see that he is their Father and that they are his children . . . therefore they shall see God as their own God, when they behold this transcendent glory.” In this world we see the face of Christ dimly, but in heaven we will see Him clearly. In heaven we will gaze upon “the Father and Son within the Holy Spirit.”
This is an exciting picture to think upon. Often, Christians have this boring view of heaven that they will be sat in the clouds drinking Shloer and listening to naked cherubs playing harps. However, heaven is where we see the beauty of our Triune God in all his fullness for eternity. And this vision of God is not a static vision like a painting, but “an eternally increasing union of the saints with God. . . .” The glory of the Triune-God will overflow to the Christians soul for eternity, and they will revel in the love of Christ. As Piper writes: “Heaven will be a never-ending, ever-increasing discovery of more and more of God’s glory with greater and ever-greater joy in him.”
Therefore, Edwards would urge leaders to remember that their present struggles “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to [them]” (Rom 8:18). He would encourage them to remember the brevity of life and to remember the “happiness of heaven.” Edwards would challenge the leader: Endless joy awaits. Press on!
Jonathan Edwards, MS Sermon on Rom. 2:10 (1735), [L.44r-L.44v], transcript supplied by Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University. Cited by Kyle Strobel, “A Spiritual Sight of Love: Constructing a Doctrine of the Beatific Vision,” Union Theology