The Five Crowns of Reward for the Christian
February 18th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM
THE FIVE CROWNS OF REWARD FOR THE CHRISTIAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
2-18-87 7:30 p.m.
It is a joy for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a part of our dear congregation, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Five Crowns of Reward for the Christian.
It is a message on the judgments of Almighty God, with an emphasis upon the judgment of the saints of the Lord, of us who call upon the name of our Savior. There are three future judgments distinct and definite in scope and character, and they are revealed to us in the New Testament.
There is no soul that lives but that some day shall stand in the presence of Almighty God in judgment. The three that are distinctly described in the New Testament are first that of Christian believers at the judgment seat of Christ, called the bema of Christ. All of us who have been saved will one day stand in the presence of our Savior at the judgment seat of our Lord [1 Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10]. The second judgment revealed to us in the Bible is that of the living nations, when the Lord returns in glory. Before Him shall be gathered all of the nations of the world, and the Lord shall sit on His throne, and they will be judged [Matthew 25:31-46]. The third is that of the lost and impenitent sinners who are raised from the dead and appear at the great white throne judgment. These are they who spurned overtures of grace, who refuse the goodness and love of our Savior, and who die impenitent and lost [Revelation 20:11-15].
We are going to look at them for a moment in reverse order. First, those who appear at the great white throne judgment of Christ; this judgment is described in Revelation 20:11-15. It comes at the end of the day of the Lord. It comes at the end of the millennium, after the one thousand years. At the end of the millennium, at the end of the thousand-year reign of our Lord on earth, Satan will be loosed for a season [Revelation 20:1-3, 7]. When he is finally incarcerated in the lake of fire [Revelation 20:10], at that time, the dead who have been refusing the overtures of Christ’s love and grace, the lost, at that time the dead who are lost will be raised and brought before the great white throne of our Lord, and there will be judged and then will be cast into the lake of fire [Revelation 20:11-15]. That judgment is the judgment of God upon the works of the unbeliever, to what extent he will be in tragic hurt and punishment. Not all lost people will suffer alike. There will be degrees of punishment, and those degrees will be set at the great white throne judgment at the end of that millennial age.
The second judgment is described for us in Matthew 25:31-46. This passage describes the judgment of the living nations, and it takes place at the conclusion of the great tribulation and at the beginning of the day of the Lord, the millennium, when, at that time, in the glory of the Father, Christ comes to the earth to establish His kingdom [Matthew 25:31]. The judgment reveals the blessing of God upon the spared Gentiles in the earth [Matthew 25:32-40]. The basis of the judgment is the attitude of the Gentiles toward the King’s brethren. Among them would be the one hundred forty-four thousand evangelists who were sealed [Revelation 7:1-17]. They were beyond the ableness of a wicked world to destroy. God set them apart, and they went forth preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. These and others like them will be the evangelists of the world during the dark, terrible days of the great tribulation, at the end of which time, the Lord will come. He will gather the Gentiles of the world before that throne, and they will be judged according to how they have received the witness—the saving witness of these evangelists [Revelation 7:1-17].
The other judgment concerns us. In 1 Corinthians 3:8-15, there we are told of the judgment of believers. It consists of an appraisal of the believer’s works in the day of Christ, when Christ descends from heaven to raise the dead and to rapture the living saints, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. In this passage that we read, in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” That word translated “judgment” is most significant and pertinent. The word is bēma. It suggests nothing of a tribunal, such as Pilate’s judgment seat in Matthew 27:19 or Caesar’s judgment seat in Acts 25:10. The bēma, the word bēma, refers to an altogether kind of a judgment seat [2 Corinthians 5:10].
The bēma is not a trial to ascertain whether we are innocent or guilty, whether we are saved or lost. That judgment is in your lifetime. It’s in your day. It is this moment. You’re either saved or lost this second. There is no judgment ever in the world to come concerning whether you’re going to be saved or whether you’re going to be lost. That judgment is now.
But this bēma is like a judgment at a state fair, such as our Texas State Fair. It is a judgment to reward meritorious achievement. Those that have done well receive a blue ribbon. Those that have not done so well receive a red ribbon, and then so on down. The reference of bēma, the word bēma, is to the Olympian Games from which the rules of the game were enforced and to which the successful contestants come to receive their prizes. It is the reward seat of Christ, before which we are to be manifested. In the Greek games, those Olympian Games, after the contest, the players stood before the bēma, an elevated seat on which the judge or emperor sat. And there the winner received his crown of reward. In nowise were those who failed to win the race punished or cast out. They failed to receive a reward, a crown of laurel leaves in that day.
It is possible, according to 1 Corinthians chapter 3, for us to come to the bema of Christ and receive nothing. Our works are wood, hay, and stubble. And when they’re tried, they’re burned up by fire. And we enter into the everlasting kingdom of Christ naked, without anything, no reward at all [1 Corinthians 3:11-15].
What a tragedy that so many of those who have confessed faith in the Lord and who have actually been saved, do not grow in grace, do not work for our Savior, have no trophies of love to lay at His gracious feet, and at the bēma, receive nothing. It is a tragedy. So we who believe in Christ are not sent to hell from the bēma, but we are rewarded according to our works. Now we are not rewarded when we die.
Whenever you hear a preacher or a pastor say, “This man who has died has passed to his reward,” the man is not speaking correctly. He’s not speaking according to the revelation of the Scripture. There is no bēma before which we stand when we die. Our works continue after our death. That’s why we do not stand at the bēma of Christ until the end of the age [2 Corinthians 5:10].
Let me illustrate that. When I was in college, I went there with a dear friend, a dear friend. He and I were in the same Sunday school class in the same church. When we went to college, to my amazement, this dear friend of mine turned to be an infidel and a blatant one. I went to see him one night to talk to him about the Lord. And when I walked into the room where he was, he was seated there under a lamp reading Tom Paine, the infidel, Tom Paine’s Age of Reason.
Tom Paine has been dead since the Revolutionary War. But his works continue to this day. That young friend of mine was reading the Age of Reason by Tom Paine, though the man’s been dead for years and years and years. The works that he has done continue on in a tragic way, ultimately to damn him. What a tragedy. On the other hand, think of the wonderful good of the continuing work of these who have found love and mercy and joy and gladness in the service of our Lord.
There was a layman named Major Penn who preached the gospel. What a marvelous thing he did. One of his converts here in Dallas was a telegrapher. His name was Edgar Young Mullins, the greatest theologian our people, Baptists of the South, have ever produced. President of the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, converted here in Dallas in a revival meeting under Major Penn. Another, Major Penn was holding a revival meeting, and there came into the service a blatant, young infidel. God touched his heart. He was saved. It was B. H. Carroll, who founded the seminary in Fort Worth, who was head of the Bible department at the university in Waco. Think of the marvelous good that man did, though he’s been in heaven for years and years and years. We don’t die when we die. Our works continue on. And that’s why the bema, the judgment seat of rewards, is not when you die, it is when we come to the end of the age and history is finished and all of the influences of our lives have worked to their ultimate good.
Now the rewards bestowed at the bēma of Christ are characterized as crowns. Crowns, as you would know, are the symbols of royalty; and the saints, according to the Bible, are to reign with Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6:2 and in Revelation 20:6, we are to be kings with our Lord. We’re going to reign with Him. He is our elder brother, and we are in royalty with our Lord.
Now of these crowns of honor and reward, five are mentioned by name in the New Testament. God grant that all of us strive for all five of these crowns. We are admonished to strive for them. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, we are to run this race for our Lord. We are to agonizōmai, we are to strive to serve our Savior, to win His approbation and His commendation and His loving acceptance at the bēma one of these glorious days. Now the five crowns of reward that are named in the New Testament: first, the crown of life; that’s the crown we receive because of what we do under trial. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man that endureth—peirasmos—trial, for he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised them who love Him.” And in Revelation 2:10: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Even if it costs your life, be faithful unto the Lord. Sometimes that’s referred to as the martyr’s crown. This is a special reward for the patient endurance of trial, and difficulty, and discouragement, and hardship when it is not easy to be a Christian.
What we ought always to remember, a peirasmos, a trial is something that God allows in your life. It can take ten thousand different faceted forms, but we all have them. All of us do. There is no one of us who escapes that peirasmos, that trial in his life. It can be marital. It can be physical. It can be anatomical. It can be financial. It can be any one of ten thousand things in our lives; the trials that come to us in life.
What is the most un-Christian thing for us ever to do is to be bitter because of the peirasmos, the trial. Find fault with God, as Job’s wife said to him, “Curse God, and die” [Job 2:9]. Find fault with God. Find fault with providence. Find fault with your wife, find fault with your husband, find fault with the children, find fault with the church, find—just—just live a life of bitter reaction. That’s one way to do. But it is the opposite way of the Christian. The crown of life, God says, is given to those who with patient endurance accept the peirasmos of life [James 1:12; Revelation 2:10].
I—there she is. I spoke to that sweet, precious girl over there in that wheelchair. I praise God for her beautiful Christian life and her precious testimony. God be honored and glorified in such a beautiful witness as she has for our Lord. I cannot imagine being confined to a wheelchair all of the days of my life, she is: a peirasmos. And then just think of all of the other kinds of trials that we know. God says, “If you will endure it patiently, at the end of the way, at the bēma of Christ [1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10], you will receive a crown of reward” [James 1:12]. And may I remember that when trials come in my life, and may I ask God for strength to bear the peirasmos graciously, and beautifully, and prayerfully, humbly, devotedly, worshipfully, whatever the trial may be.
The second crown at the bēma of our Lord is the victor’s crown. That crown is given because of our mastery over the flesh and the weakness of human nature. It is called the incorruptible crown. It is described in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, and I’m going to read it, 24 to the end of the chapter:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize, the crown? So run, that ye may obtain.
And every one that agonizōmai, that strives, that agonizes for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; a crown that they win in this world; but we an incorruptible crown at the bema of our Lord.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so strive I, not as one that beats the air:
I keep my body, bring it into subjection: lest by any means, when I preach to others, I myself should be a castaway.
[1 Corinthians 9:24-27]
This is the reward for a victorious Christian life. Now, we are not running a race and striving for mastery in order to be saved. Salvation is a free gift of God [Ephesians 2:8-9]. We are like those Greeks running in the race. Only a freeborn Greek citizen was allowed to compete. We are running for a prize, for a reward, for a crown [1 Corinthians 9:24]. And when Paul says, “Lest I myself should become a castaway” [1 Corinthians 9:27], a castaway, that has no reference at all to losing our salvation. The word is adokimos, adokimos, disapproved.
You have the word in James 1:12: “Blessed is the man that endureth peirasmos, for when he is approved, dokimos, he shall receive a crown of life.” Or 2 Timothy 2:15: “Study to show thyself dokimos, approved unto God.” Put an alphaprivative in front of that dokimos, approved, and it becomes “not approved, disapproved.” It’s a technical term used in the Greek games for those who break the rules. So, in my running for the mastery, in my striving to serve the Lord, I am to do it in an approved way unto God, lest I should be adokimos, disqualified, not approved [1 Corinthians 9:27]. But in nowise does it refer to the losing of my salvation. I cannot lose my salvation. That is a gift of God! [Ephesians 2:8-9]. It’s placed in my heart by the Lord, and it’s there forever! I may backslide, and I may follow like Peter afar off [Matthew 26:58], but if I am ever genuinely saved, that life will be in my soul forever and ever and ever, and I can’t get away from it.
If you’ve ever been saved, you just try to get away from that gift of life in your heart. For one thing, you’ll be the most miserable somebody in this earth. Out there in the world, they’ll drink and carouse and live like the devil and just shout and sing and be happy, but you can’t. You can’t. Put you in a situation like that, and you’ll be the most miserable somebody you ever could think for in your life. Even the smell of them stinks. You won’t like it. You won’t like it. You don’t ever lose that life. It’s something God does on the inside of you, and you’re changed forever.
The third crown is the soulwinner’s crown. It’s called the crown of rejoicing. It’s the joy of leading another to the Lord Jesus. In Philippians 4:1: “My brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” Proverbs 11:30 says, “He that winneth souls is wise.” And Daniel 12:3 says: “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever.”
You young people who are here in this service, back up there singing in the choir, down here playing in the orchestra, Clarions—right there, there’s their son. I daresay you have never heard anyone shout in church. I would think that. You’ve never heard anyone shout in church. When I was your age, I would go to services in the church, and I’d hear people shout up and down the aisles and go out the door and shout up and down the streets. You can’t imagine the joy of the overflowing heart, and almost always it was when one of the loved members of their family or one whom they loved as a dear friend was saved. Almost always, it was over someone being saved.
I don’t know how to explain, I don’t know how such a thing could have developed as the stodginess of our modern worship of the Lord. I’m just saying that when I was a youth, when I was a teenager, I used to hear people shout, just praising God all over this place. I don’t have time to recount it, but there was a time in this church when people shouted, “Praise God.” Well, anyway, that is the soulwinner’s crown. Just infinitely happy, gloriously glad over someone whose come to the Lord Jesus [1 Thessalonians 2:19-20].
The fourth is the crown of glory. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, he speaks: “When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” This is Christ’s reward for ministering in the household of faith. It is God’s recompense to all the faithful undershepherds who seek the spiritual welfare of God’s people; they who share in the ministry of blessing. The first named here, of course, is the pastor, the elder of the church. But beside him there are those also who help and work in the ministries of the Lord. What a beautiful thing, to accept some place of service in Christ, and in our faithful ministering before the Lord, someday to receive from His precious hands a crown, a reward [1 Peter 5:4].
The last, and the fifth one, is the crown of righteousness. It’s for those who love our Lord’s appearing. In 2 Timothy, in the swan song of our wonderful apostle Paul:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:6-8]
The crown of righteousness for those who love His appearing [2 Timothy 4:8]; some do not love the thought of the appearing of our Lord. Some scoff at it. They are described in 2 Peter chapter 3:3-4. It’s a dreadful thought to them: the coming of the Lord. They leave behind all of this world, and they have their inheritance in this world. Every interest, every investment, is all in this world, and the thought of the coming of Christ and their separation from this world is an awesome thought to them, a dreaded thought to them. But to us who love the Lord, the thought of seeing our Savior face to face, the appearing of our Lord [2 Timothy 4:6-8]; could anything be sweeter than such a thought to the Christian? “I will see my Lord someday.”
Oh, think of what that could mean! Here’s a blind man, and Jesus comes, and he can see. Here’s a crippled man, and Jesus comes, and he can walk. Here is a suffering soul, and Jesus comes, and that suffering soul finds balm and healing and blessing. Here’s an aged man, and Jesus comes, and he is strong and well again. Here’s an outcast, or here’s one who has wronged, one who is lonesome, one who is despairing; O God, how sweet is the thought when Jesus comes!
I’ll be whole. I’ll be well. I’ll be strong. And all of the afflictions we’ve known in this life will be passed away forever: “He which saith these things, behold, I make all things new” [Revelation 21:4-5], a new body, a new home, a new life. Dear me, how the Christian looks forward to the day when Jesus comes again [2 Timothy 4:6-8]. And because you do, there is a crown of rejoicing and gladness and righteousness for you who loved the thought of His appearing: a beautiful word and promise from our Lord [2 Timothy 4:6-8].
Now we’re going to sing us a song of appeal, and while we sing it, someone you here tonight to give himself to the wonderful Savior, come and stand by me. I’ll be right here. In the balcony, there’s time and to spare. In the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, tonight, I’m giving my heart and life in love and faith to the blessed Savior.” Or a family you, coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church; or a couple you, as God shall say the word, speak the appeal, answer with your life. Make the decision now, and when we stand to sing, come. That first step will be the most meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. Do it tonight. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.