Written by: Nico Bougas
Article source: JOY! Magazine

Crowns have always played an important part in historical events of the past. Many dignitaries wore crowns. In paganism the priests were crowned as a badge of office. Similarly the religious oracles, such as the oracle of Delphi, were crowned as a mark of authority. Children marching in a religious procession wore crowns. Politicians also bore crowns, which were a foretaste of the royal crowns of Europe. From about 800 BC onwards, Olympic victors were crowned with laurel wreaths. Soldiers in ancient Sparta likewise were distinguished by crowns. On her wedding day a bride wore a crown. Sometimes even corpses were crowned. Thus a crown was a common symbol in the ancient world.

Now the Bible tells us that at the judgement seat of Christ all those who have put their faith and trust in Him will receive rewards for their works. It will be a crowning day. The New Testament teaches that there are five such crowns to be given.

1 – The incorruptible crown:
“And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” – 1 Corinthians 9:25.

Here Paul has in mind the athlete in the Roman arena. Before the contest each participant practiced self-discipline, being temperate in all things. There were undoubtedly many pleasures and pastimes that the athletes might have entered into and enjoyed, but they denied themselves these things in order to do their best. A crown awaited the victor. The incorruptible crown for the Christian is the victor’s crown for those who keep their body under and bring it into subjection. If an athlete must subject himself to many months of rigid discipline and training to obtain a corruptible crown, how much more should we bring our bodies into subjection for a crown that is incorruptible? 

We have to pay the price
The Christian does not run the race in order to get to Heaven. He is in the race because He has been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Only Greek citizens were allowed to participate in the games, and they had to obey the rules both in their training and in their performing. Any contestant found breaking the rules was automatically disqualified

In order to give up his rights and have the joy of winning lost souls, Paul had to discipline himself. That is the emphasis of the entire chapter. Authority must be balanced by discipline. If we want to serve the Lord and win His reward and approval, we must pay the price.

Paul did not want to lose his rewards
Paul said that he had one real fear: that is that having preached to others, he himself would become a castaway. At the Greek games, there was a herald who announced the rules of the contest, the names of the contestants, and the names of the cities of the winners. He would also announce the names of any contestants who were disqualified.

Paul saw himself as both the herald and the runner. He was concerned lest he get so busy trying to help others in the race that he ignores himself and find himself disqualified. Again it was not a matter of personal salvation. The disqualified Greek athlete did not lose his citizenship, only his opportunity to win a prize. The whole emphasis is on rewards, and Paul did not want to lose his reward.

What are you sacrificing?
Only one runner could win the olive wreath crown in the Greek games. But every believer can win an incorruptible crown when he stands before the judgement seat of Christ. This crown is given to those who discipline themselves for the sake of serving Christ and winning lost souls. They keep their bodies under control and keep their eyes on the goal.

We must, of course, avoid extremes. On the one hand, religious asceticism is unhealthy and of no value spiritually. But on the other hand, there is something to be said for disciplined eating, exercising, and resting and a Spirit-directed life of balance. We smugly congratulate ourselves that we do not smoke or use alcohol, but what about overeating, and overweight? Any many Christians cannot discipline their time so as to have a consistent devotional life or Bible study programme.

Paul had one great goal in life: to glorify the Lord by winning the lost and building up the saints. To reach that goal, he was willing to pay any price. He was willing to even give up his personal rights! He sacrificed immediate gains for eternal rewards, immediate pleasures for eternal joys. Martyred missionary, Jim Elliot, was right: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

2 – The crown of rejoicing:
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20.

This is the soul-winners crown. The first thing that a Christian should pray for and seek to cultivate is the desire, ability, and wisdom to win lost souls to Jesus Christ. Paul was confident that when he would stand before the judgement seat of Christ, the Thessalonian converts would guarantee a crown for all those who shared in bringing them to Christ.

The fact that we shall one day stand at the judgement seat of Christ ought to motivate us to be faithful in spite of difficulties. We must remember that faithfulness is the important thing.

We must not be passive
Paul said that the believers themselves would be his crown when he met them at the judgement seat. To be sure, some of the believers in the church were not living as they should, and some were a burden to Paul. But when he looked ahead and saw them in glory, they brought joy to his heart.

This joy of greeting believers in heaven also brings with it a solemn warning. We will lose joy if we go to Heaven empty-handed. The Christian who has not sincerely tried to win others to Christ will not experience this glory and joy when Christ returns. It is not enough to wait for His Son. We must also witness for God and work for His Son, so that when we get to Heaven we will have trophies to present for His glory. There is a special joy and rewards for the soul winner.

“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” – Daniel 12:3.

3 – The crown of righteousness:
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” – 2 Timothy 4:8.

In spite of the fact that Jesus said He would come again, there are many people who scoff at the thought of Jesus appearing. This and other truths have brought suffering and hardship, and in some cases death, to those who insisted on preaching and teaching them. But how wonderful to know that God has prepared a special reward for all those who look for that blessed hope, who wait for His Son from Heaven, and who love His appearing.

Jesus is the righteous judge who always judges correctly
Paul’s judges in Rome were not righteous. If they were, they would have released him. How many times Paul had been tried in one court after another, yet now he faced his last judge – His Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. When you are ready to face the Lord, you need not fear the judgement of men.

The crown of righteousness is God’s reward for a faithful and righteous life; and our incentive for faithfulness and holiness is the promise of the Lord’s appearing. Because Paul loved His appearing and looked for it, he lived righteously and served faithfully. We are not called to be apostles; yet we can win the same crown that Paul won. If we love Christ’s appearance, live in obedience to His will and do the work He has called us to do, we will be crowned.

4 – The crown of life:
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” – James 1:12.

The crown of life is reserved for those who have given their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Not all of our Lord’s witnesses have been called to suffering and martyrdom. Not all would willingly pay with their lives to take the message of salvation to the lost. Our heavenly Father has prepared a martyr’s crown for those who suffer persecution for Christ’s sake.

James gives us a little beatitude of his own here. “Blessed is the man that endures temptation…” This is a great encouragement because it promises a crown to those who patiently endure trials. He is not saying that the believer is saved by enduring trials. He is saying that the believer is rewarded by enduring trials.

How is he rewarded? First, by growth in Christian character. This is more important than anything else. He is rewarded also by bringing glory to God and by being granted a crown of life when Jesus Christ returns. First the Cross, then the crown. First the suffering, then the glory. God does not help us by removing the tests, but by making the tests work for us. Satan wants to use the tests to tear us down, but God uses them to build us up. 

5 – The crown of glory:
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” – 1 Peter 5:4.

There are many who have been called and ordained by God to preach and teach His Word. These are the under-shepherds who care for the flock of God during the absence of the Chief Shepherd. They should give themselves without ostentation to the care of the sheep and His pasture, for the crown of unfading glory awaits us when the Chief Shepherd shall appear.

If a pastor ministers to please Himself or to please people, he will have a disappointing and difficult ministry. It must be hard to keep all these people happy. A visitor told a pastor after a church service. “I don’t even try to keep them happy,” he replied. “I try to please God, and let Him take care of the rest.”

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who died for the sheep (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd who lives for the sheep (Hebrews 13:20-21). He alone can assess a man’s ministry and give him proper rewards. Some who appear to be first may end up last when the Lord examines each man’s ministry.

What do you strive for?
Today a Christian worker may labour for many different kinds of rewards. Some work hard to build up personal empires; others strive for the applause of men; still others seek promotion in their denomination. All of these things will fade one day. The only reward we ought to strive for is the “Well done, good and faithful servant!” of the Saviour and the crown of glory that fades not away. The true disciple is motivated to serve Him. One day every knee will bow before Him. One day we will cast our crowns before Him – lost in wonder, love, and praise. One day all earthly rewards will seem irrelevant and insignificant.

Nico Bougas is the International Director of Development of  Hellenic Ministries. Email him on Nico@bougas.info, visit hellenicministries.com

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