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Crowns/Rewards

I am going to get more crowns in heaven than you are. See I work harder at my faith and God puts a lot of value on my good works. When I stand before Jesus he is just going to give me all five of those golden things and put them on my head and I will just shine compared to all of you who probably will get just one if you are lucky. See I can suffer better than most of you, I can teach well, and I have been responsible for some people being saved. It is only fair that I am properly rewarded for all my effort. Scripture says so.

Now that I have gotten all that sarcasm out of my system, I must tell you why the above is such a travesty. We are dealing with “crowns.” We are talking about rewards that that our doctrine tells us some will receive for special service when they arrive before the Lord on Judgment day. If you do a search on the internet, you will find, with few exceptions, this doctrine of Christian rewards/crowns in Heaven for various good works that we perform on earth. Some will receive the crown and others will not.

This is an amazing doctrine to me. As I have written and Scripture attests, human hands and all our works will not serve God. Christ is our everything. He is our source for all things good in our lives. He is our motivation and our accomplishment. Where is there room for human reward? The Glory is all Christ’s not ours. What is the Scriptural basis for this doctrine? Does it support the concept of rewards for the select, for those who serve the Lord in some special way? We will take a look at the verses and see if we can build the doctrine.

There are a number of verses in Scripture that refer to crowns. I will select only those that apply to the Crowns that are earned by believers. This is not an exhaustive list, but I think the point will be made. I am using the ESV.

1Co 9:23-26  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.  (24)  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.  (25)  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  (26)  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.

Paul has made himself a servant so that he can teach the Gospel. That is his calling. That is what God empowers him to do. He wants to share in the blessings of the Gospel and he uses an analogy to show his focus. This is about Paul who encourages others to win the imperishable crown. Paul is focused on his hearers receiving the prize of his teaching and that prize is eternal life as they receive the Gospel of Christ. Notice carefully that this is not a real crown and that every person who receives Christ obtains that crown. I will note that it is not good practice to build theology on analogies.

Php 4:1  Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

1Th 2:17-19  But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face,  (18)  because we wanted to come to you–I, Paul, again and again–but Satan hindered us.  (19)  For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?

Not a lot of comment needed. Paul’s brothers in faith are his joy and crown. This does not advance the doctrine.

2Ti 1:8-12  Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,  (9)  who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,  (10)  and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,  (11)  for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,  (12)  which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

2Ti 2:3-5  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  (4)  No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.  (5)  An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.

Paul has a calling and an empowering to preach the gospel for which he pays a price in his suffering. He encourages Timothy to soldier with him and to stay focused on who has called him. He uses the analogy of an athlete performing within the rules to receive his crown. It is that focus that Timothy is called to. We are dealing with another analogy. No strong argument here for the rewards doctrine.

2Ti 4:7-8  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  (8)  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.

Well at last that exclusive crown of righteousness that only some believers will receive when they get to heaven. Sorry, I was carried away wasn’t I. Do you love the Lord and are you more than grateful for his appearing. Of course and you will receive the crown of righteousness through Christ on that day that you stand before the Lord. There is no exclusionary crown or special reward on view here. This doctrine cannot get any traction anywhere.

Jas 1:12  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.

Is there a theme here? You love the Lord. I know you do and you will have eternal life when you get to heaven. Once more, there is no support for the rewards doctrine.

1Pe 5:1-4  So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:  (2)  shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;  (3)  not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  (4)  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

I guess the elders get special treatment and a crown of glory. Most believers are not elders so this does not apply to most believers. What does apply is Paul’s statement “Christ in you the hope of glory.” So perhaps we have some kind of doctrine of reward for elders. It is rather limited and unsupported by other verses and we all receive Christ’s glory.

Well there you have it. I have not exhausted every verse referring to crowns, but I have covered the major ones and what do we have at the end. There is certainly not the case for crowns that a few will receive and others will not. The crowns seem to come with the territory; they are a part of our Christian experience. The word crown is often used as an analogy to something else. In those cases the crown is not even a real crown. Glory, faith, righteousness, life, incorruptibility are qualities all believers share in and will have when they stand before the Lord on that wonderful day. The doctrine of rewards just cannot find traction in Scripture yet it is universally accepted throughout Christendom.

I have a few final words. Paul asserts that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Can you imagine standing before the Lord and watching people coming before Him and the condemnation one would feel if they received no crown. I can not imagine such a humiliating process before our loving Lord.

The doctrine of rewards diminishes the work of the Cross. Jesus paid the price for all our sins, for all our failure to walk to God’s standard. Christ has become our measure, our accomplishment, our everything needed for our good standing before God. That fact alone should call into question the doctrine of crowns/rewards.

 

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