A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
So, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Phil 3:13-16)
After we’re saved, we have the opportunity to win rewards, or crowns, which will be presented to us immediately after the Rapture. (1 Cor. 4:5) Jesus Himself will make the presentation in what will be the biggest awards ceremony ever in the history of mankind.
This awards ceremony is sometimes called the Bema Seat judgment, after the Greek word for judgment, because of the similarity. In the ancient Olympics, judges awarded ivy crowns (called stephanos) to the winners of the various contests at the “Bema Seat”, or judges stand, just like they award medals in our time.
The New Testament lists five categories in which crowns will be awarded to qualified believers.
These crowns are identified as the Everlasting Crown (Victory) in 1 Cor 9:25, the Crown of the Soul Winner in Phil 4:1 and 1 Thes 2:19, the Crown of Righteousness in 2 Tim 4:8, the Crown of Life in James 1:12 and Rev 2:10, and the Crown of Glory in 1 Peter 5:4.
The Everlasting Crown (Crown of Victory)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
This passage most clearly defines the context in which crowns will be awarded, so it’s a good one to look at first. The Crown of victory is also the one that the Bible has the most to say about because it’s one that every believer can win. Paul used a sports analogy to help us understand the rules for winning so we wouldn’t be confused about how this works.
As in events like the Olympics, winning the Victors crown requires that competitors qualify and then compete. For us, qualifying means being saved, because these crowns are for believers only. Then we go into “strict training” in order to increase our chances for victory. Olympic athletes are not satisfied just to qualify for the games. They want to win the event they qualified for. In the same way Christians should not be satisfied just to be saved, even if it does mean gaining eternal life. That’s just the beginning. We should also want to win crowns. It’s a way to express our gratitude for the gift of salvation and be rewarded at the same time. And in going for this crown we’re not competing against each other, but against our old selves, also called “the flesh”.
Achieving victory means putting the flesh to death; getting rid of our selfish desires, our bad habits and attitudes, and any behavior that puts the Lord to shame. One of the places where the Bible has much to say about what it takes to win this crown is Ephesians 4-6. In fact every one of Paul’s letters to the Church exhorts us to compete for this crown, out of gratitude for what we’ve been given. Gaining victory over the flesh is the best thing we can do to show the Lord how thankful we are that He saved us.
As in all competitive events there’s no penalty for losing, only a reward for winning. And failing to win in one event does not mean that we forfeit rewards legitimately won in others. But we have to win fair and square, (2 Tim. 2:5) and more than anything else, our attitude has to be right. Any thought of recognition or personal gain, or even of making points with the Lord will disqualify us. The only acceptable motive is bringing glory to God. (1 Cor. 3:12-15 & 4:1-5)
If we’re in Christ we’re a new creation in God’s eyes. (2 Cor. 5:17) We’re now royalty in training. Our challenge is to live up to what we’ve already become by acting like who we are in Christ. Those who succeed will receive the Crown of Victory.
The Crown of the Soul Winner
Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends! (Phil. 4:1).
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy (1 Thes 2:19).
Paul was happiest when he thought of all the people who had come to the Lord through his teaching, writing, and church planting. And the harvest of his labors has continued unabated through out the entire Church Age. Since there’s no number stated as a qualifier we don’t have to be intimidated by Paul’s unbeatable results. We just have to make the most of every opportunity the Lord brings across our path. And remember, we’re judged here by our effort, not our results. Each person bears the responsibility for his or her own choice regarding salvation. So we don’t have to be argumentative or coercive or manipulative, we just have to make a clear and concise presentation of the gospel and then pray that it’s received. This is the model Paul established for us.
The Crown of Righteousness
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Tim 4:8).
Since our righteousness is derived from our faith, this Crown is not for those whose lives have been the most pure. You can’t get purer than God, whose righteousness has been imputed to us by faith. When we long for the Lord’s return we’re demonstrating our belief that He’s coming for us. We’re not afraid that we won’t measure up but are absolutely certain that when He comes for His Church, we’ll be among those He takes.
A person who depends on the righteousness of his or her own works can only feel either arrogance or fear, not longing. Some are arrogant enough to believe that they deserve entry into Heaven because of their exemplary life. Their pride keeps them from longing for the Lord because they’re getting so much satisfaction from feeling superior. They’re like the Pharisees who looked the Lord right in the eye and chose to rely on their own works rather than His Grace.
Others live in fear that they’ll be rejected at the last minute for some forgotten failure. They don’t long for the Lord because they’re scared to death of being rejected.
Only the one who depends exclusively on God’s Grace can long for the Lord. Since they know we can never measure up, they long for the day when we can no longer fall short.
The Crown of Life
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (Jas 1:12)
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)
This crown is for believers who’ve faced persecution and suffering for the Lord, even to the point of death. We’re familiar with the trials and tribulations of the First and Second Century believers, but even in our time hundreds of believers die for their faith every day, and many more thousands are evicted from their homes, incarcerated, or forced to live in fear for their lives. They will win the Crown of Life.
The Crown of Glory
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Only those who are called into ministry can qualify for this crown. The requirements are clear, and many loyal shepherds of the Lord’s flock will finally get the recognition they so richly deserve. Others, who’ve lorded it over the believers entrusted to their care, or strapped heavy yokes of legalism to their backs, will be forced to stand aside and watch as the Lord rewards those who’ve stayed true to His word.
These are the five crowns listed in the New Testament. Some of us may receive all five of these crowns, but every one of us can qualify to receive at least one. And like I said above, there’s nothing we can do that will bring the Lord more pleasure than to reward us for striving for these crowns. And after all He’s done for us, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1). Selah 05-26-07