On Sunday, May 21, 2023, my wife, Luella, and I had the unique privilege of worshipping with the grieving congregation of Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the east side of New York City. You could feel the congregation’s love for their pastor, Timothy Keller, who passed away two days earlier, on May 19.
We watched a video of Tim’s last words to the people he loved so much. His words of counsel going forward were classic Keller, but I was particularly taken by his very last charge. He told his congregation not to seek reputation. Quoting Jeremiah’s exhortation to his secretary, Baruch, “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not…” (Jeremiah 45:5)
These were the final words of wisdom from a humble pastor to the people he had served for so many years. It was not just good biblical counsel, but a picture of Tim’s personal life, even amid his own worldwide recognition.
I sat in the service thinking that there are few things more beautiful than a long-term pastoral ministry that is driven and shaped by a love for Christ and a love for his church. Being a pastor is hard, with its peaks and valleys, hopes and heartaches, supporters and detractors, and seasons of sorrow and seasons of joy. But it is also beautiful to experience the growing and deepening bonds of love, see lasting gospel fruit, watch seekers become disciples, celebrate lost ones falling in love with Jesus, and organize ministries of mercy to meet people in need.
The beauty of such long-term pastoral ministry is made even more beautiful when it is scandal free, without the building of a personality cult, where what drives ministry is the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the establishment of a brand. For all that Tim was known for, this is the thing I esteem the most (and not just Tim, but also his wife, Kathy, who ministered to him and with him for all those years).
I cried when I heard the news of Tim’s homegoing. Not because we were close friends. Yes, we are the same age, shaped by very similar influences, and our ministries connected at several points throughout the years. No, I was emotional because a bright shining gospel light had gone out, as all human lights eventually do. From a distance, Tim pastored me, giving me hope and reminding me of why I do what I do.
Tim was a brilliant communicator of the gospel, something I aspire to every day. His preaching was effective because it was shaped by the Two Great Commands. Because of his love for God, he was a lifelong student of Scripture, exegeting it with clarity for his people. And because of his love for people, he was a lifelong student of his congregation and the culture they lived and worked in. In his sermons, Tim exegeted people’s lives for them, with the gospel of Jesus Christ as his primary tool.
Both in age and in who influenced our thinking about the gospel and ministry, Tim Keller and I are “peers,” but I would never be so bold as to call him my peer. No, for me, Tim is one of those gospel heroes that God puts in your life to remind you what the main thing is, and to be a beacon of hope when the going gets hard.
I will miss Tim, but the Rock on which we all stand didn’t die with Tim, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Paul David Tripp
1. How has God used Tim Keller to shape your Christian life? If you have not read or listened to Keller, how has God used another person (either living or in glory) to influence your walk with the Lord?
2. In what ways have you been “seeking great things for yourself” over the last year? What are you actively seeking that might be exclusively for selfish gain? How are you justifying these pursuits in your mind to ease your conscience?
3. How has this pursuit interfered with your love for God and love for others?
4. Why is it right to grieve death in this fallen world? How does the promise of heaven give us hope in the face of loss?