Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
I shared this verse with a friend who is facing a difficult season of trial recently…and God’s promise stuck in my craw. I thought to myself, “How would I receive this verse in such a time? Would I find comfort is some ethereal promise of a ‘crown of life’? What the heck is that anyway, and is it tangible and powerful enough to fortify me in times of trouble?”
To be frank, I actually somewhat regretted sharing the verse; I figured if such a promise was lost on me it would come across to my friend as one of those Christian euphemisms that doesn’t apply to present reality.
I haven’t seen anyone in a crown lately, and I would probably laugh if I did. After all, a crown is not something an American gives weight or value to; we are rebels of the crown.
It’s in these times that God is like the Verizon guy for me, putting the notion of crown in front of me relentlessly every day since, and whispering, “Can you hear me now?” Both in my own reading of the Word and as part of my Bible study I’ve encountered crowns everywhere I turn:
- Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. Revelation 2:10
- I am coming soon. Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. Revelation 3:11
- He has sent me …to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:2-3
There are several Greek words used to refer to crown. The one used in all of these texts except Isaiah is stephanos, which refers to a literal crown, a mark of royal or exalted rank, the wreath or garland given as a prize to victors in public games and “the eternal blessedness which will be given as a prize to the genuine servants of God and Christ: the crown (wreath) which is the reward of the righteousness.”
The other words for crown are nezer which refers to consecration and priestly separation, also a woman’s hair; and diadema, which was a blue band marked with white and worn as a turban by Persian kings. It is similar to the word used in Isaiah, pe’er, or turban.
If this is all Greek to you, let me share with you what God has shown me this week. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul teaches:
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.
Our lives are defined by striving and competing, whether as students, athletes, professionals, parents or in other roles. Whatever vocation you’ve been called to it is human nature to execute and excel to the fullest of your potential, and when you’ve hit your max to buckle down with discipline in order to increase your potential.
The question becomes “Why?” Why do you do what you do? Why do you strive so hard? Where do you find your reward? (I can already hear the whispers of conviction gaining strength as the dots begin to connect.)
When I strive for a worldly crown I typically come up short of the mark, not capturing the grade, title, salary or recognition I hope will validate my worth.
On the other hand when my striving is to serve the Lord I am showered in His abundance. For example, God recently called me to lead a small group in prayer. Like manna in the desert God is faithful to provide a scripture passage daily that aligns with the need at that time and focuses us in unity. The process of studying His word and meditating on it with “other-centeredness” stokes my endorphins more than any race I’ve run.
Do you remember when you were a child and you did something that delighted your parents? I remember those moments as some of the happiest of my childhood. It was the joy of pleasing them, of feeling their joy wash over me, and experiencing a sense of accomplishment by earning the approval of the only authorities who mattered in my life at that time.
That is what God invites us into with his offer of the crown of life, the stephanos. Whatever it is He is calling you to do today, whether to serve, to witness to another, to persevere and endure, or to soar, look to Him as you do so.
What you will see is a Father who delights in you, who approves of you and whose joy will wash over you in trial or tribulation because of His great love for you, his very precious child. That is the true, unmatched and unsurpassable pleasure available to us in this life, and miraculously offered.
- What is the motivation for your choices, activity and words today?
- What is God calling you to do today?
- What would it look like if you made God’s delight the goal of your work, suffering or service?
- Will you allow yourself to feel His pleasure and lower your head to accept the gift of His crown of life?
And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown (stephanos) of thorns, and put it about his head.