This is our tenth message in the “Heaven and Hell” sermon series. Over the course of this study, we have briefly explored the Biblical doctrine of each place. We have learned some physical characteristics of both, God’s purpose for both, the duration of both, possible locations of both, the three different variations of both, and more. Today we will wrap-up our teaching on Heaven with a message titled “Rewards in Heaven”.
As you may recall, earlier in this series we talked about possible degrees of punishment in Hell. But what about Heaven? Does the Bible have anything to say about different types of awards there? As a matter of fact, it does! Scripture mentions various rewards in Heaven, including five distinct crowns, that will be granted to those who’ve earned them. Each of these crowns has unique characteristics that we will discuss in today’s message.
Before we begin analyzing them individually, let’s first explain that these crowns are not like those worn by kings and queens. This is a common misconception. The Greek word stephanos, which has commonly been translated as crowns, actually means wreaths. It refers to prizes that were awarded during public sporting events, most notably the ancient Olympics. Small wreaths or garlands of leaves were placed upon the victor’s heads indicating that they’d won the contest. Like athletes who had competed well and earned a crown for their efforts, so also we as Christians can receive crowns for various accomplishments on earth.
I. THE IMPERISHABLE CROWN
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The imperishable crown, also called the incorruptible crown, is awarded to those who exercise godly self-discipline or self-control. They have conditioned or trained their flesh to submit to their spirit. In other words, they have learned to “deny themselves” just as Jesus instructed His followers. Their own carnal desires have given way to God’s will for their lives. All Christians who surrender themselves fully to Christ and faithfully follow His commands may receive this crown. Such people will accomplish much for the cause of Christ - they will bear fruit. Thus, we are urged to live with purpose and run to win. Some have called this reward the victor’s crown.
I admit it - I’ve never been much of an athlete. When I played sports back in the day, it was usually just for fun. I lost many more games than I won. I just did not have a strong passion for winning, or the necessary desire to practice hard. Years later, I’ve seen this type of attitude sometimes creep into my walk with God. Like me, there are many believers who struggle at times with lazy or complacent Christianity. We are okay with losing. We like to remind ourselves that salvation is not based on works, but we fail to remember that we’ve been saved to do good works. As such, our performance does matter. Jesus calls us to be conquerors, and this requires discipline and determination. We are expected to achieve.
II. THE CROWN OF REJOICING
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation [rejoicing]? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? - 1 Thessalonians 2:19
Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved - Philippians 4:1
Paul stated that the Thessalonian Christians themselves, who would someday return with Jesus at the second coming, were the reason for his hope, his joy, and his crown of rejoicing. Paul and his counterparts had founded this church during his second missionary journey, having first led many of these Thessalonians to faith in Jesus. As a reward for sharing the gospel with them, Paul stated that he’d receive a special crown. For the same reason, he also called the Philippian church his crown. It seems that this award is given to those who lead lost people to faith in Christ.
The crown of rejoicing is sometimes called the soul-winner’s crown. There is a strong connection between these two things. As a Christian, my single greatest source of joy is the assurance that I’ve been saved. The Bible teaches that there is great joy in Heaven whenever a lost person comes to Jesus. If you have ever led a person to Christ, you’ve certainly experienced the tremendous joy that Paul is talking about in these verses. The crown of rejoicing is available to every believer who intentionally shares the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost.
III. THE CROWN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
In the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing. - 2 Timothy 4:8
As his death approached, Paul looked forward to a receiving crown of righteousness that Jesus would give to him “on that day”. He stated that this crown would be given to him and to all who have loved His appearing. Stated another way, this prize is reserved for those who eagerly long for Christ’s return. This desire to see Him is indicative of their sincere love for Him. I like to think of this trophy as the lover’s crown.
Those who truly love Jesus will be anxious for His return. Sadly, there are many Christians whose love for the Lord is mediocre at best. They may have placed their faith in Jesus and say that they love Him, but in truth they feel very little affection for Him. They love other things much more than Him. They aren’t in any hurry for Jesus’ return - they’d much rather He wait. Thank God we are saved on the basis of His love for us, rather than our love for Him. If it were the other way around, we’d be in a heap of trouble.
IV. THE CROWN OF GLORY
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. - 1 Peter 5:1-4
The crown of glory has also been called the elder’s crown. There are multiple perspectives among Christian denominations regarding the Biblical role of elders. Most Southern Baptists identify the elder as the pastor (or a pastor) of the local church. As such, we believe that the crown of glory is reserved for pastors who shepherd their flocks well. Arguably, this award could be given to other church leaders and individuals who serve in a similar capacity. Peter suggests that the crown of glory is set aside exclusively for pastors and/or other elders who are leaders within the church.
The local church, in many ways, is an extension of the pastor himself. His faithfulness to God and care for the flock entrusted to him is critical to its success. Those who lead their congregations well are required to pour themselves out sacrificially on behalf of their people. They face unique challenges within the ministry that most others don’t appreciate or understand. Church leadership is a tremendous responsibility, but is also a special blessing. The local church is and should be the glory of the pastor, which is why this crown is so named.
V. THE CROWN OF LIFE
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. - Revelation 2:10
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. - James 1:12
The crown of life is closely associated with suffering and even martyrdom. It is given to those who endure severe persecution for the cause of Christ. In many cases, God’s children have been killed for their uncompromising faith. Isn’t it fitting that those who’ve suffered mercilessly - some even to the point of death - would be given a crown of life? Some have called this reward the martyr’s crown.
Credible organizations estimate that approximately 90,000 Christians were martyred last year. These numbers have remained consistent for the past decade. Christianity has been and continues to be the most heavily persecuted religion in the world. Many nations around the globe are extremely hostile toward those who follow Jesus. Churches are forced to operate in secret or underground. When a Christian is discovered in these countries, they are often executed if they refuse to renounce their beliefs. In the United States we don’t commonly see this level of persecution - but we may someday soon.
The Bible speaks repeatedly about rewards which will be given to those in Heaven. These include the five specific crowns, or wreaths, that we’ve learned about today. Crowns will be awarded to those who have disciplined their flesh, led others to Christ, loved the Lord’s appearing, endured extreme persecution for His sake, and led their flocks honorably. I trust that many of us here today will be recipients of one or more of these crowns.
In the end, however, the greatest reward by far will be Jesus Himself. Though He will give crowns to many people for their faithful service in this life, they will seem trivial items in light of the Lord’s presence. Scripture pictures the redeemed in Heaven casting their crown’s at the Savior’s feet as an act of worship and submission to Him. While these five crowns are something we can and should strive for, these aspirations are not for our own glory. Ultimately these awards will pale in comparison to the majesty and splendor of Christ.