Friday, January 31, 2014

Crown of Life

I shared earlier this week how I was struggling with memorizing last weeks verses. Dare I say, I do believe I've got them now - or at least close enough to feel better about being on a new week!

For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. - James 1:11-12

Actually, I think the reason that last weeks verses are coming around for me has more to do with the context and application of this weeks verses. 

Moving on to this week, in study and in prayer, I've felt a need to explore this crown of life. In reading verse 12 we see that this is given to the person who perseveres in trials, who stands through testing. Even going back to the earlier verses in James 1 - who considers it pure joy whenever facing trials of many kinds, who lets perseverance be made mature and complete, who doesn't lack anything, who seeks Christ when lacking so that He may give what is needed, who believes and doesn't doubt, who lives humbly - this is who receives the crown of life.

I've read that this could also be considered the martyrs crown, that only those who lay down their lives standing firm on the gospel receive this crown. I would need to go and study in depth the original language to see that for certain. I don't discount that it could be the case, especially when looking into the related verse found in Revelation. 

What I am fairly sure of is that this crown of life is a reward (from the Greek, stephanos.) It isn't the gift of eternal life - eternal life in Christ is given freely to all who confess Him as Lord and Savior. That's it. There is no fine print to read, no "act now" conditions. When we decide to follow Jesus, when we see that through his broken and bleeding body there is forgiveness for all of sin, when we see that this way is the only way, the only truth, that is where we find eternal life. This crown of life seems to me to clearly be something else, something more. 

We see through the new testament that crowns will be given to believers when we finally reach Jesus at the judgement (bema) seat. Now, this judgement seat isn't about condemnation. This judgement seat is only for believers (at least that's how I understand it... I'm not Bible scholar... I should probably ask my husband to read over this before I publish it!) This is where we will fall at Jesus' beautiful feet, where He will say "Well done, my good and faithful servant." This is where He will show me where, through faith, I persevered and loved Him fully, loved His people, and answered the call. I think this is also where He'll show me where I didn't do those things. Where I didn't persevere. Where I gave up, gave in... where I leaned on my own strength and understanding rather than seeking Him first. Because honestly, I've fallen short and I know - ashamed as I am - I know that I'll have to answer for that. But I don't think that is where the focus will rest. Yes, I believe He'll call it to account, but I think the focus will rest in these crowns. Crowns of rejoicing for those who answer to the call of sharing the gospel and leading the lost to Christ. Crowns that are given for those who stand firm in their faith, incorruptible, for the sake of the gospel. Crowns of righteousness, for those who live according to the Word of God. Crowns of glory for those who teach and preach - the overseers who shepherd God's people. And crowns of life for those who persevere through trial, temptation, and persecution. 

So what does this all mean? How do I apply this? Are we justified by faith or works? (James will challenge this again in the book!) 

These works that earn these crowns, they aren't about me. They aren't about how decorated I'll be, how honored I'll be. Because really, no matter the number of crowns that may or may not be placed on each bowed head, the only honorable mention will be Jesus.

BUT... as a follower of Christ, as someone who has made Him Lord over my life, who has accepted Him as Savior and Lord, these things should just happen. Loving Him. Standing firm. Sharing the gospel. Reaching the lost. Living according to His Word. Persevering. It should just happen naturally and selflessly in the life of every believer.


Life happens. I get caught in a tangled mess of me and myself and my flesh. And I battle this and that. BATTLE. It's in these times that I must believe and not doubt. It's in these times that I should not back down, that I shouldn't turn away. That I should stand firm and hold fast, hold tight. And sometimes... sometimes I don't keep focused on Christ. My knees wobble and I loosen my hold. And there goes a crown. But sometimes... sometimes I do hold tight and I do stand firm.

oh Lord, may I surrender these struggles into Your hands. May I stand firm and hold fast, hold tight. May a live a life worthy of these precious rewards, rewards that I can not fully understand on this side of heaven. May I live to see Your glory in it all. Not that MY reward would be my focus, but that YOU would be glorified above all else. Forgive me where I waiver. Steady my knees, illuminate that solid ground. For You. Always for You.  

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