Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 5, 1992
Purpose: To familiarize us with the crowns that are available to us, and encourage us to do what needs to be done to earn them.
Most of us like to be in style--maybe not always wearing the very latest fashions since not many people can afford to do that--but at least reasonably stylish. If I were to wear a zoot suit into the pulpit or an English barrister's wig, you would probably laugh me right out of the room, because they are clearly not in style. And if I were to wear a crown in here today, you would probably think me a little weird, because crowns are not in style.
But there's a day coming when crowns will be in style, and the person without one will be out of style. The Apostle John foresaw that day in a glorious vision of heaven. He saw a magnificent throne, surrounded by an emerald-like rainbow. It was the throne of God.
Read Revelation 4:4. "Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads."
Those 24 elders represented us--the church of Jesus Christ. And they're wearing crowns. Not a diadem, the ruler's crown, but a stéphanos, the victor's crown, like the pine wreath given to the winners in the ancient Olympic games--only made of gold. By the way, in verse 10 (Revelation 4:10), there comes a time when they lay those crowns before the Lord Jesus, saying, " Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power."
But it seems as though not every Christian will have a crown. For example, look at Revelation 3:11. Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown."
Evidently, it's possible to have crowns and lose them. It seems as though it's possible for somebody to take away our crown.
Entrance into heaven is a gift; we know that from the Scripture. It can't be earned. It is received by admitting our sinfulness and putting our faith in Christ as Savior from sin. But not everybody who enters heaven will get the same thing. As we are discovering in our study, our rewards in heaven depend on what we do on earth. Some will be in style and have crowns; some evidently will not. Crowns have to be earned.
I read a story about a young soldier who was boarding an airliner when a little girl noticed the marksmanship medal pinned to his uniform. Throughout the trip, she stared admiringly at the decoration. Finally she couldn't contain her curiosity any longer. "Where did you get the medal?" she asked. "The Army gave it to me," was the soldier's reply. He was polite but rather disinterested. No longer impressed, the little girl replied scornfully, "Well, in my Brownie troop, we have to earn ours" (Reader's Digest, 11/82).
And that's the way we get our crowns in heaven--the old fashioned way. We earn them.
And they're worth working for. Unlike the pine-wreath crowns of the Olympic games that turned brown and brittle, the crowns are imperishable--not subject to corruption, corrosion, decomposition or decay (1 Corinthians 9:25). In other words, they will last forever.
That's more than you can say about any crown on earth. The crown of Queen Elizabeth II of England is extremely valuable. It has 2,783 diamonds, 277 pearls, 18 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies--all precious gems (Tan, 5100). But someday it will be gone. That crown is going to be burned in a fire, did you know that? Everything on earth is going to be burned with fire.
You see, the crowns that we earn are far more valuable than Queen Elizabeth's crown, because they will endure forever. And they will bring us a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure in heaven, just as a soldier's medal or an athlete's trophy bring them satisfaction and pleasure here on earth.
There are four crowns mentioned in the New Testament, in addition to that reference to crowns being imperishable in 1 Corinthians 9. We studied one of them last week: the crown of life for those who patiently endure through times of trial and suffering (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). Let's look at the other three today and find out how we can earn them, so that we can be "with it" when crowns are in style.
1. The Crown of Rejoicing:
For Believers who Faithfully Share their Faith, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, Philippians 4:1
The Christians in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica had come to know Christ through the personal witness of the Apostle Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:13). You always feel a little closer to people whom you are privileged to introduce to the Savior. So Paul had a special love for those folks. And now they were suffering for their faith (1 Thessalonians 2:14b). Our first reaction when someone we love is suffering is usually to go to them. That's exactly what Paul wanted to do (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18). "We wanted to come to you, time and time again, but Satan has hindered us." And he goes on to explain why he feels so strongly about them.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. "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."
Those Thessalonian believers would be Paul's crown of rejoicing in heaven. There is very little more thrilling in life than leading someone to Christ and seeing them grow in the Lord. But beyond the joy that it brings in this life, it will also be the basis for a reward when we see Jesus.
It looks as though the people themselves will be our crown. "For what is our...crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" Those people may earn us one of those imperishable crowns we wear on our head, and lay before the Lord in adoration and worship. But in addition to that, they themselves will be with us in heaven throughout eternity. Their very presence will be an honor for us, and a testimony to our faithful witness.
You do enjoy it when somebody introduces you as the person who made a significant contribution to their lives, don't you? Maybe they say, "This is the guy who got me through school." Or, "This is the gal who was always there when I needed her." Think of what it will mean to you throughout eternity when people introduce you by saying something like, "This is the faithful friend who is responsible for my being here in heaven, who told me about Jesus and led me into a personal relationship with Him." These "walking crowns" as we might call them, will be the source of supreme and unparalleled joy throughout eternity. That's why they are called the "crown of rejoicing."
Paul earned a number of these crowns, by the way. He also called the Philippian Christians his "joy and crown" (Philippians 4:1). How about you? Have you earned any of these crowns? Are you going to have a crown of rejoicing in heaven?
It isn't just going to happen, you know. You will need to make it one of your priorities in life and exercise some self-discipline in order to cultivate relationship your relationship with Christ, and make friends with unbelievers--to prove your friendship to them, to win the right to be heard, and then to present the gospel with grace and tact. You're going to have to make it a priority and discipline yourself to do it, or you won't do it.
That's the major point of the imperishable crown passage in 1 Corinthians 9, and I'd like you to turn back there if you would, please. The context is about witnessing.
Read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more"--that's what this passage is all about: winning people to Jesus--"and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you."
So you see, it's all about witnessing. And when he mentions disciplining himself (down in verse 27), so as not to be disqualified from receiving his crown, he is referring primarily to disciplining himself in this matter of witnessing. That's the whole point of the passage. He doesn't want to do anything that would turn anybody away from the Jesus. And he wants to do everything he possibly can, whatever it cost him, to attract the lost to Christ. And so he disciplines himself. That's what it takes. Have you begun to discipline yourself to share the gospel with unbelievers?
There are so many ways to witness. You can invite a friend to church when you know the gospel will be presented. You can invite unbelievers to your home for dinner and begin to build bridges. You can have a dessert social in your home and invite a special speaker to give a testimony. I know a number of people who have done something like that for their neighbors and had the joy of winning someone to Christ by that means. You can start an evangelistic Bible study at home, or at work during lunch break (not on the boss' time, but on your time), that is non-threatening and specially designed for the non-Christians. You can give out tracts to people you meet. And you can demonstrate the character of Christ in all your relationships with unbelievers. That will probably do more to attract them to Christ than any other single thing. There are lots of way to share Christ.
A minister closed his sermon with a gospel appeal, and a woman of wealth and high social standing responded. She asked permission to say a few words: "I want you to know just why I came to Christ," she said. "It was not due to anything the preacher said, but the influence of that little woman sitting over there. Her hands are rough and her shoulders stooped from years of hard work. She has served as my housekeeper for many years. I have never known her to become impatient, to speak an unkind word, or to do anything dishonorable. I know of countless little acts of unselfish love that she has performed. I'm ashamed to say it, but I have openly sneered at her faith. Yet when my little girl died, this woman helped me to look beyond the grave and shed my first tear of hope. The gentle magnetism of her life has drawn me to Christ. I want what has made her life so beautiful."
That housekeeper will have the imperishable crown of rejoicing to relish for eternity. Will you? Have you introduced anyone to the Savior? Has your gracious manner of life and your tactful word of witness attracted anyone to Jesus? Does anybody even know you're a Christian? Make use of the time you have left on this earth to earn this crown of rejoicing when you enter the presence of Christ, and crowns are in style.
The next crown we want to talk about is the crown of righteousness. You'll find it described in 2 Timothy 4, so let's turn over there. This one is for believers who faithfully stay on course.
In 2 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul has been encouraging Timothy to carry out God's plan for his life. See it in verse 2? "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2).
That wouldn't always be easy to do, because people would not always respond positively to Timothy's ministry. A couple verses later in 2 Timothy 4:5 he says, "But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."
"Fulfill your ministry"--that is, faithfully perform the task that God has called you to do, follow the plan that God has designed for your life, finish the course that God has laid out for you. Some Bible teachers have taught that God really doesn't have a specific plan for each of our lives, that God's will only relates to the moral issues mentioned in the Scripture. I don't agree with that.
God had a unique plan for Timothy's life, designed especially and exclusively for him. Paul calls it "your ministry." And Paul encourages him to stay on course, to carry out the plan, to accomplish God's goals for his life. That's what "fulfill your ministry" is all about: faithfully perform the task that God has called you to do.
Paul was a good example of someone who did just that. Read 2 Timothy 4:6-7. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race"--or the course. The word (spomos) is from the verb "to run," but indicates a course of life, a career, a course of occupation. Paul said, "I have finished my course. I have kept the faith."
You see, God had a unique plan for Paul's life, too. He also mentioned it in his conversation with the elders from Ephesus: "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24). And now as he came to the end of his life he could honestly say that he had faithfully carried out the plan. He had fought the good fight of faith right up to the end. He had stayed on the course God had laid out for him and finished the race, even though it was tough and tedious at times. And he had never lost his vibrant and confident trust in the person of Jesus Christ. He had faithfully done the will of God. He stuck with it to the end.
And there's a reward for that: a crown. It's in 2 Timothy 4:8. "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."
It is probably called "the crown of righteousness" because it is given for staying on course and living a righteous life to the end. And it's promised to all who have loved His appearing, because people who look longingly for the Lord's return usually do stay on course and faithfully live a righteous life to the end. Looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus is a powerful and motivating influence in our lives. It's the thing that's going to keep us on course.
That's was Paul did. He was faithful. He finished well. That's important even in the secular world. B. C. Forbes, of the Forbes fortune, said, "How you start is important, but it us how you finish that counts. In the race for success, speed is less important than stamina. The sticker outlasts the sprinter. In America we breed many hares but not so many tortoises."
I'm of the opinion that the same is true in the spiritual realm. Some have started the Christian race with enthusiasm, and run well for awhile, only to fall out on one of the final laps. They didn't stick with it. I hope that's not true of your life.
As you know, one of the most grueling of all races is the marathon. It takes its name from Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.--one of the most decisive battles in world history. In it, the Greeks were outnumbered nearly three to one by the Persians, but through superior skill and training they won a spectacular victory that changed the course of history. A Greek soldier ran day and night all the way to Athens with the news, straight to the magistrates of the city, where he gasped "Rejoice, we have conquered." And even as he delivered his message, he fell over dead. He had given everything. He had completed his course and finished his work (Barclay, 242). He was faithful to the end. And that's what we need to be, whatever it costs us.
You probably have some idea what God wants you to accomplish in life. If you have genuinely yielded your will to His will, and presented your body to Him as a living sacrifice, and programmed your mind with His Word, He has shown you His plan for your life (because that's what He promised to do in Romans 12:1-2). "You do those things," he said, "and you will know My good and acceptable and perfect will for your life." Now the question is, are you going to remain faithful to the finish line? Are you going to keep on doing the will of God? There's a crown for that. There's a reward.
A chaplain ministering to a seriously wounded soldier was requested by the dying man to write a letter to his former Sunday School teacher. "Tell her I died a Christian because of what she taught me when I was a teenager. The memory of her earnest pleas and the warmth of her love as she asked us to accept Jesus has stayed with me. Tell her I'll meet her in heaven." The message was sent. Sometime later the Chaplin received this reply: May God forgive me. Just last month I resigned my teaching position in Sunday School because I felt my work had been fruitless. How I regret my impatience and lack of faith! I'm going to ask my pastor to let me go back to teaching. I have learned that when one sows for God, the reaping is both sure and blesses!" (Our Daily Bread, October 25, 1987).
And the last thing we reap will be the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved His appearing, and have let that love keep them on course. Will you have this crown of righteousness to wear when crowns are in style?
So we have the crown of rejoicing for believers who faithfully share their faith, and the crown of righteousness for believers who faithfully stay on course. There is one more crown in Scripture: the crown of glory for elders who faithfully shepherd the flock.
Read 1 Peter 5:1. "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed."
The elders are the leaders of the local church. Whether they are laymen who volunteer their time, or trained professionals whose ministry is the livelihood, elders are the leaders of the local church. And Paul tells us that it is food for a man to aspire to this office (1 Timothy 3:1). We're going to get down to a crown for elders in verse 4, but let me just say this first: It doesn't say others in other leadership positions cannot earn this crown. It doesn't say that. Maybe others can; we don't know. Maybe Sunday School teachers, caring group leaders, and others who shepherd God's sheep, can earn it too. But the text only specifically mentions elders, so that's the way I have to deal with it.
What are elders supposed to do? Peter mentioned two things in 1 Peter 5:2a. "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers."
First they shepherd--or pastor. It's the same word, by the way. Shepherds lead their sheep, feed them, defend them, doctor them when they're ill, retrieve them when they stray, and discipline them when they become stubborn or rebellious. And that's what elders are supposed to do for the flock of God. Shepherd.
Second, they serve as overseers. Overseers are supervisors who see that needs are met, that people are properly cared for, and that things are done in an orderly manner. And again, that's what elders are supposed to do.
But not only are elders supposed to shepherd the flock of God and oversee the flock of God. They must do it properly. Look at the end of verse 2.
Read 1 Peter 5:2b-3. "Not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock."
There are three things here: First, with the right mind--not because they feel like they have to, but because they truly want to. Second, with the right motive--not for the sake of money or material gain, but simply to glorify the Lord. And third, in the right manner--not with high-handed domination and demands, but by godly example. Not being lords over them, but being examples to the flock.
All this may require a generous investment of time and a great deal of personal sacrifice. Someday elders will give account to God for how they serve. We're told that in Hebrew 13:17. And for those who carry out their God-given responsibilities in a way that pleases Him, there is a reward.
Read 1 Peter 5:4. "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away."
Every believer is going to share in Christ's glory, but for these faithful and godly leaders in the local church, there will be a very special honor and glory. That's why it is called a crown of glory. And it will never lose its beauty or attractiveness. They will have this wonderful crown to enjoy throughout eternity, when crowns are in style.
That should be all the incentive a man needs to grow in his relationship with the Lord and aspire to this high and honorable office, and serve faithfully if called upon to do so. And of course, it should be a challenge to all those who have any kind of shepherding responsibilities. Maybe this crown will be given to all who faithfully shepherd the flock, whether it's your own children in your own home, or in a 2-year-old's Sunday School department. A crown of glory.
In the 1976 Summer Olympics, 26-year-old Shun Fujimoto competed in the gymnastic competition for Japan. In a quest for the gold medal, Fujimoto suffered a broken right knee in the floor exercise. But his physical injury did not stop him from competing in his strongest event, the rings. His routine was excellent, but he astounded everyone by dismounting with a triple somersault twist and landed on his broken right knee. When asked concerning his feat, he said, "Yes, the pain shot through me like a knife. It brought tears to my eyes. But now I have a gold medal and the pain is gone" (Newsweek, August 2, 1976).
In the same manner, it may cost us something to earn these crowns. Whether it's the crown of life for believers who faithfully suffer with endurance, or the crown of rejoicing for believers who faithfully share their faith, or the crown of righteousness for believers who faithfully stay on course, or the crown of glory for elders who faithfully shepherd the flock--it will probably cost something. But you may be assured that the crowns we are privileged to enjoy throughout eternity will be well worth the cost. You can be sure of it. God will see to that.
So, what crowns will you have, when crowns are in style?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
May I remind you again that we have been talking about rewards we receive after we have entered heaven. Nothing we do can ever possibly earn us entrance into heaven. That was paid for in full by the death of Christ on Calvary's cross and is received by faith in Him. He provided for it fully. All we can do now is acknowledge our need and our sinfulness, and believe in faith. "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
Have you put your faith in God's Son? That's the issue. Let's bow before Him prayerfully right now.
With our heads bowed reverently before the Lord, let's talk about whether you know Christ or not. Do you have a personal, saving relationship? Have you acknowledged your sin and opened your heart to Him? That's what brings the guarantee of heaven. If you haven't made that decision, we'd encourage you to do it right now. Don't put it off even another minute. Right here where you sit, in the quiet of your own soul, you talk to the Lord Jesus.
"Lord, I'm a sinner." Tell Him that. "I do believe that Jesus paid for my sin at Calvary, suffered what I deserved, and died in my place, and now offers me eternal life. I believe that. Lord Jesus, I turn from my sin right now, in faith, to You and receive Your gift of eternal life."
Would you make that decision right now and assure yourself of entrance into heaven?
Now what you get in heaven will depend on how you live your life from this day forward. That's the incentive that the Lord holds out before us. Are you going to be faithful to Him and stay on course? Are you going to share your faith with others? Are you going to endure the trials of life with grace and trust in the Lord? Are you going to carry out your responsibilities faithfully--particular those of shepherding others? Maybe we need to make some commitments in these areas today. Would you do that right now?
Father, I pray, that You will turn the searchlight of Your word on our own hearts and souls right now. And help us to see what's there, honestly admit it, and then commit ourselves afresh to living in eternal surrender to Your will, and for living for Your eternal praise and glory. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to RW-07: Investing for Eternity