The Crown of Everlasting Happiness
A couple days ago our nation, with several other nations around the world, celebrated St Patrick’s Day today it gets a little harder to decipher what we are celebrating since as the Babylonian bee comically pointed out, our nation celebrates by getting totally inebriated. Regardless, we here celebrate a Christian Missionary, who was a witness to the Irish, some of which had held him captive and enslaved him earlier in his life. As you might have heard before, he is accredited for using the three leaf clover as an illustration to explain the nature of the trinity, but he also did more for the faith. He ordained priests and he once wrote that he had baptized thousands of people. His ministry was met with a bit of difficulties, though. He wrote frequently about how much of the opposition that he had was from other fellow Christians. apparently they had accused him of some sort of financial scandal at one point since he would not accept payments offered to him for the baptisms, and other ministry work that he performed. By not accepting money, he wanted to make clear that the gospel is free--even to the wealthy. With this kind of witness, and the fact that his legend has stood the test of time, a believer is left to assume God will give him his reward. How might we know that for sure? Well, listen to the words of James in his epistle picking up at verse 12:
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.
As we saw last week, having just encouraged low believers to think of their high position in Christ and high Christians to think of their low position as mere mortals, James moves to a point that unifies and should thrill Christians of all stages in life. He writes of ‘the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.’
This construction “Blessed is the man who...” reflects the formal Hebrew usage seen throughout the OT wisdom literature and is expected with James’ heavy Jewish background. In the Greek, Makaros can be translated “happy”. So, we can read this passage as, “Happy is the man who remains steadfast.” This is the same term used in “the Beatitudes” of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5).
3 Blessed/happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed/happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 happy are the meek...
6 happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...
7 happy are the merciful....
8 happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 happy are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Makaros can also be translated as fortunate. None of the translations will ever say fortunate, because considering YHWH’s omnipotence are we ever really fortunate? No, we are blessed! Same idea applies to luck. We are never really lucky, we are really blessed!
“the man who remains steadfast/perseveres/endures under trial” This phrase “remain steadfast is just one Greek word, hupomeno, it’s PRESENT TENSE which means continually—even under trial. This should be familiar from verse 3 here in James.
Endurance, or steadfastness is not Que Sera, Sera (Whatever will be, will be) thinking; it is not passive resignation; Endurance is active engagement. It is not grin and bear it; it is finding a source of strength outside of the circumstances and ourselves.
James is not saying, “Get over it!” He is being sensitive; he knows that the only way we can deal with the pain is to replace the pain with joy that only comes from considering Jesus.
Now we know from growing up in children’s Sunday School that if you have a problem that the simple answer is Jesus. Jesus will rescue, Jesus will save; but when I am going through persecution, how can Jesus really help me? When does it go from a mental thing to a heart thing that keeps me going?
Hebrews 12:1b-3: Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
When going through trials it is not about “how long can you endure.” It is not about considering you or looking to your own strength; it is Considering HIM! (From the Head to the Heart)
It is looking to Jesus! Look how Jesus with great joy endured. To the degree that we see how He endured with the ultimate stickability is the degree we can endure.
He endured the full wrath of God for our sins,
he was rejected,
he was alone,
he went through hell
he withstood and remained.
Since He endured, we can endure.
C.S. Lewis was asked, “Why do Christians suffer?” He said, “Why not? They are the only ones who can take it.” When trials comes, this world recoils, escapes, becomes bitter; but we as believers can endure trials because Jesus endured the ultimate trial, the ultimate suffering for us on the Cross. It is because HE LIVES WE CAN FACE TOMORROW, TODAY AND FOREVER!
Stand the Test
Stand the Test
“for when he has stood the test/been approved” “Test” is the Greek word dokimos (cf. v. 3). It often implies “to test with a view toward approval.” This approval comes only through testing. It was used in ancient Greece for medical doctors taking a final test before graduating to live patients.
As I said recently last Wednesday night, this testing is not like when a teacher test a student to find out what he/she has retained. For if God really is omniscient (all-knowing) what’s the use of testing us as a teacher would? Rather, God tests us to prove to us where our faithfulness stands before Him.
The Bible deepens the meaning of how God blesses the people to include a deep joy that comes from receiving God’s favor. As athletes persevere in training in order to improve their abilities and endurance for competition, so Christians persevere in spiritual training as they patiently endure testing that will bring maturity and completeness. Today’s trials will seem like training when we face tomorrow’s challenges. The way to pass God’s test is to love Him and stay faithful even under the pressures of life.
“he will receive the crown of life” The crown of life! What does it mean?
This is the Greek term stephanos, which was a wreath of either metal or twigs, worn on the head as a symbol of civil prominence or athletic victory. It is the word from which we get the English name Stephen.
Crowns, crowns, and more crowns
Crowns, crowns, and more crowns
A crown as a wreath:
Metal Crowns were mainly worn by monarchs as symbol of royal authority. But the Greeks also wore wreaths, worn on joyful occasions, such as a wedding:
Song of Solomon uses the wedding example.
There was the crown of the high priest Exod. 29:6; 39:30
And you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban.
They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.”
Then a wreath of laurel leaves were worn by the winner of an athletic event which the Apostle Paul refers to in a few of his epistles.
And we are all familiar with the wreath used as a mock crown made of thorns that they put on the Christ’s head:
and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
But that is not the only Crown Jesus will wear since John on the Island of Patomos told us:
The word ‘Crown’ is also used figuratively to indicate honor and blessing in both the OT & the NT:
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Paul uses stephonos to refer to fellow believers: Php 4:1
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Some theologians believe that James could be drawing on something with which all his readers would be familiar with, namely, the realm of sports. Here are some runners preparing for a race as the illustration usually goes. They strip off everything that would weigh them down and step up to the starting line. Every muscle is tense and every nerve ready as they await the signal. Each puts every ounce of strength and energy into the race, straining for the finish line. What does the winner receive? He or she is crowned with the victor’s wreath. While this is very plausible, another option is worth looking at.
Because of the Jewish background of James, our passage might not refer to an athletic victory wreath at all, but actually follow the Septuagint’s rendering where stephanos is used mainly as a royal or priestly crown (although many of his original readers still could have the mental images of the athlete). This reference is then consistent with the believer exclusively as we are the royal priesthood heirs to our High Priest, Jesus!
But still, there are other crowns that are only for the redeemed to wear in scripture.
First then, the crowns referred to in scripture that represent the honor and blessing which faithful believers will receive from God:
2Ti 4:8; 1Pe 5:4; Rev 2:10; 3:11; 4:10
Henceforth 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.
(1) “the crown of righteousness”
And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
(2) “the crown of glory”
the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
(3) “an imperishable crown” (cf. 1 Cor. 9:25).
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Then finally comes in our passage “the crown of life” which also appears in Rev. 2:10:
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.
A potential misstep has to do with the idea of reward as an inducementor enticement for faith and behavior. If we stand the trial, James says, God will reward us with the promised “crown of life.” Particularly in the Protestant tradition we are most comfortable with “salvation as a free gift.” To us the idea of a reward for living the Christian life seems distastefully--like a bribe offered by God.
We must distance ourselves from our modern idea of “bribe” and recognize that the New Testament is comfortable with its idea of reward. Back in that verse that we just looked at in 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 Paul employs the metaphor of a race to illustrate the Christian life, and he concludes with a startling statement: “I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself might not be disqualified. disqualified for what? for the prize.”
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
In Philippians 3:14 he speaks of pressing on to the goal and prize for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus. Even Jesus spoke of reward: “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12). The New Testament idea of reward is not akin to our notion of a bribe. Rather, it is a reminder of the dignity, gravity, and integrity of the calling of God to which we have responded. It is an appeal to our pure inclination and a reminder of the example of the saints who have gone before.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Trust The Lord
Trust The Lord
“which the Lord has promised” I wonder how many Christians (even here at Grace) out of sheer obligation, obey, serve, and even persevere unto the Lord but not trust in His promise of reward. Even I am, at times, guilty enduring a long hard trial, yet not really expecting or believing that God would really reward me for it. I simply endure just because I have to, but how much better would living through the trial be if I really trusted that my faithfulness will be rewarded? and really the reward of eternal life, makes any trial seem trivial. Paul has the same sentiments, when he tells the church in Rome that the pain we suffer in this lifetime does not compare to the glory, the joy, and the riches in eternity. Our Creator Lord has promised us the crown of life--eternal life! If you trust in Him, I want to see you smile right now!
I also want you to notice that this crown in our passage
(1) is promised by God, but
(2) comes through the believer’s victory over trials and temptations.
As always God deals with mankind through covenant “if … then” categories expressed here as a “who…when…which”. God provides, initiates, and empowers, but we must respond and continue to respond by repentance, faith, obedience, service, and perseverance. We must first trust the Lord, and prove that trust with obedience.
“to those who love Him” Jesus says that loving Him is shown by obedience to Him, there is no excuse for disobedience (cf. Luke 6:46). So James says that this reward is only to those who consistently obey YHWH. Don’t misunderstand me, James is not and I am not referring to sinless perfection here, but even Jesus, Himself points out if you make it a habit not to obey Him then He’s not really your lord
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
don’t let these words refer to you! But if they do, see one of the deacons right after this service without delay!
James offers a summary of what he has already taught, namely, that Christians should persevere when they encounter trials. He then introduces a new element, that of future reward. Christians have the hope of true everlasting life, the “crown of life,” which God has promised to those who stand firm. We should therefore be loyal to him and so prove our love for him forever.
Through this imagery James was affirming that Christians are either crowned in an incomparable glory or running a race that will end in glory. Maybe it is more like BOTH…AND in our case! That is where the finish line is!
But there is a difference. All Christians are winners as they cross that finish line to the afterlife. There the Lord God himself will greet them and will crown their efforts with eternal life.
No matter how large a number is, it is always finite: it is always possible to mention a number that is larger. If given eternity, you can alway keep counting up in numbers. Scientists speak of the “googol.” It is a one, followed by 100 zeros. The googol is inconceivably large. But then think of the “googolplexes” which we believe is the googol raised to the googol-th power. It is said, that if this number were written out, there would not be space on earth to contain the pages required. In fact, the googolplex exceeds the number of atoms in the known universe, so supposedly it cannot represent any known thing. Eternal life extends way beyond the googolplex in years. And to think that we will be in the presence of the glory of the most high God for that whole time and more! If you stopped smiling, you can start smiling again!
And in glory there will be no rich Christians and no poor Christians. There will simply be believers in Jesus who are astonished and amazed that the God of glory was gracious enough to forgive them their sins.
The key for us in this life is to keep our eyes trained on the finish line in glory. How very easy it is for us to get our eyes on the wrong things! How very easy it is for us to look with disfavor on fellow-Christians because they are lower than we are, or because they are higher!
If we keep our eyes fixed on eternity, these lesser matters will be seen as lesser matters. In eternal glory, all of God’s people will experience the ‘high Christian life’. They will be as high as they can possibly go, and nothing will ever be able to bring them down.
So let us keep eternity in mind even to the point that we daily repeat the prayer of Joseph Bayly: ‘Lord, burn eternity into my eyeballs!
I want to leave you this morning with a reminder of the words that our Lord left with the church in Philadelphia from Rev. 3:11:
I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
There is a finish line. There are successes along the way—spiritual progress has its mile markers. But the trials of this life are confined to this life. Someday the test will be over. James teaches us that God’s long-term goal for us is maturity and completeness, but his eternal goal for us is the crown of life, a rich expression of hope. The believer who patiently endures by trusting God will have a life that, though not full of glory and honor, is still truly abundant, joyful, and victorious. Standing the tests of life gives believers even now a taste of eternity, looking forward to that wonderful reward, and to the one who will present it to us, can be a source of strength and encouragement in times of trial. Christians can consider themselves truly blessed, no matter what their outward circumstances, because they have been promised the crown of life.