Will You Wear a Crown?
Not all believers in Christ
will have a crown;
rather, the crown will be
a reward to those who were
faithful to follow and
It may be hard for some believers, namely those who have heard only the teaching of God’s free grace, to accept the fact that the Lord might discipline us in a serious, though temporary, way at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10; see “Just What Is the Outer Darkness?”). So, to introduce the principle that we will indeed answer to Christ for how we live our Christian life, it may be best to consider, not how we might be disciplined by the Lord, but instead, how we may at least fail to gain a reward from Him; that may be easier for some to accept.
This matter of our reward relates to whether or not we will receive a crown when we meet the Lord.
The New Testament speaks of “crowns” in relation to the believers a total of eight times, and in each instance the crown is a reward given in addition to the gift of salvation. That is, we receive salvation as a free gift based on our believing in Christ, but we receive a crown as a reward based on our faithfulness in following and serving the Lord.
So while we should, as the believers in Christ, surely desire to gain a crown, it is by no means certain that we will do so.
Consider, first of all, the case of the Apostle Paul himself.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul uses the example of the ancient Olympic games to illustrate how he was running a race to gain the crown; in verse 27 he even expresses his concern that he, the Lord’s own apostle, might be “disqualified” regarding this reward if he does not run the race in a proper way.
Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19 are a somewhat different case, because in both of these verses Paul is speaking in a metaphorical sense of the believers being His crown before the Lord, since he had labored to help them be saved and to grow in the Lord. Still, the same principle applies of the crown being a reward rather than a gift, for how could Paul have had such a “crown” if he had never labored with the saints as he did?
Then in 2 Timothy 4:8 the aged apostle, at the very end of his life, makes this declaration:
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.
Only at this point, on the very eve of his martyrdom, did Paul have the assurance that he had won the crown.
And why could he say this now? It was based on what he had declared in the previous verse, that he had “fought the good fight, …finished the race,” and “kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7); therefore, the Lord would give him the crown.
So, the crown here is not given by “the merciful, forgiving God,” but by “the righteous Judge.” That is, Paul will not receive his crown because of God’s mercy, but because of the righteous judgment God will make that Paul earned his crown.
And indeed, while the NKJV, cited above, says that the Lord will “give” Paul this crown, the Greek word, apodidōmi (Strong’s #591), includes the meaning of “to requite, recompense, in a good or a bad sense” (Thayer’s). So, the NASB and ESV both say that the Lord will “award” this crown to Paul; the RcV says God will “recompense” him.
Finally, Paul also notes that this same crown will be given, not to all those who have believed in the Lord, but “to all who have loved His appearing,” just as Paul did. Such a love for the Lord’s appearing will surely cause us to follow Him as we should! In contrast, if we do not love and look for the Lord’s appearing, but instead love the world and its pleasures, how can we gain this crown?
Other New Testament writers also speak of the believers receiving crowns.
James refers to the “crown of life,” which will be given to those who have endured trials and been approved through such testing (James 1:12). So again, how can we gain this crown if we fail to endure in the trials we pass through? (cf. Matt. 13:20-21).
Peter speaks of those who shepherd the flock of God being rewarded by the Chief Shepherd, when He appears, with the “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4). How then can we receive this crown if we have never shepherded the saints?
Revelation 2:10 also speaks of the crown of life; there the Lord
promises it as a reward to those believers who are faithful even unto death. And what a reward that will be to such faithful followers of Christ!
The final mention of a crown for the believers is in the Lord’s word to the church in Philadelphia. Here the believers had gained the crown already by their faithful standing for the Lord. Still, He warns them:
“Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
— Revelation 3:11
In each of these instances we see the principle of the believer’s responsibility before the Lord, for none of these crowns are given, or kept, solely as a matter of grace. Rather, our gaining of the crown is conditional; if we are faithful to the Lord we will win the crown, but if not, we will fail to gain the crown. And how we will regret, if we appear before the Lord and do not receive a crown!
Lord, grant us to follow You and serve You faithfully, so that we may indeed gain the crown when we see You!
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— 3 May 2023 —