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Intro: Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 – Where do you most often hear these scriptures? These are the words we often hear at the funeral of a Christian. They tell us about the hope beyond the grave. Those in Corinth who were denying the reality of a resurrection from the dead, left themselves with no hope. This was contradictory to the very heart of the gospel message. If there is no resurrection, then Jesus did not raise from the dead. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then we have no hope beyond the grave because His resurrection was the winning blow in the battle against death.
- The apostle’s point is based on the image of a battle that is won – a victory. When death arrives, it would seem as though we have lost the battle. Who can bring the dead back to life? But Jesus did come back to life, never to die again. He has won a personal battle with death. He is the victor.
- Last week we considered the crowns of Jesus. Jesus wears both the stephanos, – the wreath, or the crown of the victor, and the diadayma (Dee-ad-ay-mah), or diadem -the crown of a king.
- In Revelation 1, the vision pictures Jesus as One robed in white garments with 7 stars in His right hand, a powerful sword coming out of His mouth, shining like the sun. When John sees Him He falls down at His feet as a dead man. Jesus is the great conqueror returning from His victory. In Rev. 1:18 HE says, I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. John sees One who has one a personal victory over death, but He also has taken control of death from now on. He holds the keys. He wears both the crown of victory and the crown of the authority.
- The O.T. quotation in 1 Cor. 15:54 is from Isaiah 25:8, where the prophet depicts God as “swallowing up death” – the terminology pictures an absolute defeat and overthrowing of death.
- But there is more for us in 1 Cor. 15. Paul is telling these Christians that they are victors as well. (v. 57 – But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.) We share in the victory of Jesus, our King.
- Jesus’ coronation is basis on which we are promised a crown as well.
Rev. 2:10 – Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
I. The Crown of the Christian: The image of the crown is used to portray a reward. The Bible clearly teaches that God will reward those who are faithful to Him to the end. This does not contradict the fact that our salvation is a gift of God, provided through grace. We do not earn our salvation through our good works. But it does clearly tell us that the gift of salvation is conditional on our continued faithfulness and obedience. The reward of God also emphasizes the justice and goodwill of God. He motivates us through a promised reward, and provides us with the hope of victory through the struggle.
The word crown, as the promise of God, is used metaphorically in the NT, and does not depict a physical crown. But it does depict that which is real. The crown God promises stands for all the real blessings of Christ’s victory that He allows us to share in. The giving of a crown was a statement of accomplishment, and designed to honor the one to whom it was given (trophy). Consider a few ways that this is expressed in the scriptures:
A. The crown of present spiritual accomplishment–Phil 4:1 – Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. During his earthly ministry Paul declared his converts were to him a stephanos—a crown representing a victory. An emblem designed to honor the one who accomplished his goal.
1. The apostle recognized the enormous challenge the Philippian Christians had faced and the obstacles they overcame by serving Christ faithfully. They were truly “victors” themselves and emblems of his own victory. They would be even more “in the day of Christ” – at his second coming. For on that day it will be seen that that he did not run in vain or labor in vain (Phil. 2:16).
2. “I have known no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”(3 Jn. 4)
3. It is because Paul had such a view of his converts that he could say in 1 Thess. 2:19 – For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Do you have any crowns of victory? Where are the spiritual success stories among us? What is the source of our joy? For what are striving?
B. The crown of future spiritual victory – But as we might expect the word “crown” is most often used in the New Testament in connection with the future – to the crown that God will give to the faithful on that final day when the race is over and the battle is won. Let’s consider some of the ways that the Spirit saw fit to describe our promised crown.
1. An imperishable crown. 1 Corinthians 9:25 – 25 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. Consider the context of this verse:
a. Paul had just encouraged the Corinthians to be willing to waive their personal rights to help weaker Christians, and to save their own souls. 1 Cor 9:22-23 – 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. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you. Paul’s call for personal self-discipline reminded him of the popular athletic games of the ancient world.
b. Every two years the Isthmian Games were conducted in Corinth. These games rivaled the Olympian games that were held in Athens every four years. In each contest there was only one winner. Every serious contender was willing to sacrifice whatever it took to compete. The effort needed was a matter of extreme personal discipline. Mike Willis states… “As with modern athletes, the Grecian athlete thought there was no sacrifice too great for him to make if it gave him some advantage over the other competitors. His mental disposition was not that of one who desired to use every liberty which he possessed; rather, his attitude was that of a man who willingly sacrificed many rights in order to gain” the advantage over the other competitors (Willis, 250);
c. The word translated compete here is stronger than it might appear. It is the word agonizomai (ag-o-nid’-zom-ahee) – which means to struggle, to contend with an adversary, to fight, labor fervently, strive. Are you tempted to complain about this? – about how hard, how inconvenient it might be to sacrifice your liberties for the sake of others or how hard it was to control their fleshly appetites. Self-discipline is hard.
d. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 –26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (cast away) We notice as well that Paul was concerned that if he did not continue to strive, agonize and discipline himself, he could be disqualified from receiving this crown.
e. God motivates us see it through by reminding us what awaits us if we endure to the end. Human athletes are prepared to struggle to win a prize that is of a far lesser value than the prize we are aiming for. “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
• The box is labeled “perishable”. It will not last. Our world is fading away. It is a place where “moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt 6:19). The beautiful wreath of the victor was made of olive leaves, oak leaves, ivy or flowers. They could not be preserved. But what God gives His children remains untouched by time or any weapon of Satan. This corresponds to Peter’s words…
2. An unfading crown of glory. In 1 Peter 5 the apostle Peter commands elders to shepherd the flock among them and to do their job for the right reason; not because they are compelled by others, but willingly; not for money, but eagerly. He then says that if they serve faithfully God has a reward for their work. 1 Peter 5:4 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown (stephanos) of glory that does not fade away.
a. Notice the Peter also says this spiritual laurel will not disintegrate or fade away. The word “unfading” is from a Greek word that means: “not subject to withering.”
b. The word glory appears to involve brightness and splendor. Hence the glory or the splendor of this crown is such that it will never wither or fade away – it will remain fresh!
3. A crown of righteousness. 2 Timothy 4:8 – 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. Notice that the crown that Paul anticipates will be given to him on “that day” – a clear reference to a single day of judgment.
a. It is the crown of righteousness. The crown does not bestow righteousness, but rather is given to those who have been declared righteous through Jesus Christ.
b. His crown becomes the basis for our crown: From the first to the last, He is our means of righteousness. Without His sacrifice for our sins we could never be declared innocent.
c. Paul says in Romans 3, that we are justified (pronounced innocent) through redemption that is in Jesus (He paid the price to set us free). Jesus was made to be a propitiation (satisfaction) by His blood, to demonstrate that God is righteous in forgiving those who have sinned. Thus we are made righteous because we are forgiven of our sins. This is the gift of God. We share in the victory of His blood. The righteousness He provides is our crown.
4. A crown of life – When do we get the crown? When is the victor acknowledged? After the contest is over. Much of what the Bible says about our reward emphasizes the importance of persevering to the end. James tells us to count our trials as joys, and warns against the temptation to give up or seek our goals through material pursuits. James 1:7-8 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
a. James 1:12– 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. Those who persevere under trials, who “keep on keeping on,” who never give up “will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
b. This is the promise we noticed earlier that was made in Rev 2:10 to the saints in Smyrna who were about to undergo severe trials. The Lord tells them …‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
c. The “life” under consideration is eternal life. It is the life of God, not just eternal in duration but quality. He who has the Son has the Life.
d. Later, in another image of the victor’s crown in the book of Revelation, the Spirit commends the Christians in Philadelphia for persevering to the end, and promises to keep them from the coming trials. Rev 3:11 – Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.
Conclusion: These crowns are not separate rewards. These verses describe in differing images the single reward of heaven. There is great day coming when the Lord Jesus will descend and reward his servants who have finished the course with a victor’s crown – a crown of unfading glory, which is also called crown a life and a crown of righteousness.
What will you do with your crown? Will you wear it for eternity? Let me suggest another purpose. Our promised crown – all that God gives us and does through us – is not for us. Consider the meaningful picture of the 24 elders and their crowns in Rev. 4 – a great throne room scene – a throne in the center, One sitting upon the throne in great brilliance and power. This throne is surrounded by 24 thrones with 24 elders sitting on their thrones with their crowns on their heads. Four living creatures are also there, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” night and day. This is a scene of unrestrained worship and adoration for the One in the center. Then this… Revelation 4:10-11 “10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”
The crown that waits you is designed at last to be cast down before the One who receives all glory, praise, and power.