Series: Great Doctrines
This morning I hope that all of you will take your Bible in your hand and follow me as I go through this morning’s message. Now I will tell you the verse and the chapter and the book that I want you to look up. If I refer to a scripture, do not turn to it unless I ask you to—unless you are quick to do it and can do it even as I speak. The subject this morning is The Five Crowns Of Reward. It is the crown of reward that the Christian shall receive at the coming of the Lord.
In the [second] chapter of the Book of Hebrews, he, quoting from the Old Testament, the author says of man, of us, “Thou crownedst Him with glory and honor” [Hebrews 2:7]. In the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter and the tenth verse, Paul says, “For we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” [2 Corinthians 5:10]. He is writing to a church, he is writing to Christian people, and he says, “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
And in the passage that I read, that we read together just now, the third chapter of the first Corinthian letter, it says there that the foundation upon which all of us build is the Lord Jesus Christ [1 Corinthians 3:11]. There is not any other foundation upon which a man can build his life except the Lord Jesus Christ. Not for us; anything else, the Bible says, is on sand [Matthew 7:24-27]. The only foundation, the only rock upon which a man can build his life is Christ Jesus [1 Corinthians 3:11].
Now on that foundation we can build out of fine materials; gold, silver, precious stones [1 Corinthians 3:12]; as you remember, I told you it is not a good translation because “precious stones” to us are rubies and diamonds and gems. What he’s talking about is fine building stones, like marble or porphyry or granite, beautifully cut and sized [1 Corinthians 3:12]. Now on the foundation of Jesus Christ, on our conversion we can build a superstructure, a life of service. And we can put in that building fine material—noble deeds, gold and silver and finely-cut stones—or we can place in that superstructure wood, hay, and stubble; core material [1 Corinthians 3:11-12], sorry material. Then at that final day of the Lord, at the judgment day of Christ for the Christian, God is going to try our works, He is going to judge us and it will be by fire, says the Lord Jesus [1 Corinthians 3:13].
Now, when the fire is applied to that building you have built, if it is made out of wood and out of hay and out of stubble, it will burn up; there will be nothing left, there will no reward at all [1 Corinthians 3:15]. If a man’s superstructure is built out of gold and silver and beautiful precious stone, it will withstand the fire. Then shall the man receive a reward for the good that he did [1 Corinthians 3:14]. But if his house burns up, he does not have any reward at all, though he himself is saved—like a man running out of a burning building with nothing at all, running out naked [1 Corinthians 3:15].
Now the reward for the Christian has nothing to do with his salvation. When you are judged according to whether you are saved or lost, that’s when a man sits back there in his pew and decides for or against Christ. You are not going to be judged concerning your salvation; you are judged now. You are either saved or lost now; you are either condemned or approved now. You are either in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], or you are lost now; that judgment is now. But there is a coming judgment for us who are Christians—at the coming of the Lord, when we are taken up to be with the Lord, and that’s the end time for us, that’s the taking out of the world all of God’s people, His bride, the church of the Lord Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]—and there, before the Lord at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9], we are going to be judged according to our works. And each man is going to receive a reward according to what he has done [1 Corinthians 4:5].
Now that thing of the judgment seat of Christ, the Greek word for it, for “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” [2 Corinthians 5:10], the word there is bēma, b-e-m-a, bēma. Well, bēma is the judgment seat of Gallio, when Paul appeared before the proconsul of Achaia which is at Corinth: why, he appeared before the bēma [Acts 18:12]. But that word bēma also was used to refer to another judgment seat. In the great Greek games, which sort of held together the whole Greek civilized and cultural world, there was an umpire who sat upon an elevated seat. And after the contest all of the contestants that were running in the race—or the discus, or the javelin, all of those Greek games—the contestants were gathered there before that elevated seat. And the rewards were given to the victors; now that was called a bēma, a judgment seat. But you see, the judgment seat upon which the umpire sat, the judgment seat was not whether a man was guilty or innocent, it was not a trial according to whether he was good or bad, but it was a seat of reward.
It was like out here at the fair: when we have a state fair here in Dallas and the judges gather together, they give those rewards for meritorious achievement. Now that’s what the apostle refers to here when he says that all of us are going to appear before the bēma of Christ, the judgment seat of Christ [Luke 19:11-27]. All of us are going to gather there before the Lord, and He is going to give us our rewards. If we did well, we shall have a great reward. If we did sorry, we shall have a poor reward. If we have done nothing at all, we shall have no reward at all, but we ourselves will be “saved yet so as by fire” [1 Corinthians 3:15].
Now, in your Sunday school lesson—I thought it was this Sunday but I asked Dr. Fowler here, and he said it’s next Sunday’s lesson—next Sunday’s lesson, you’re going to study about that in the parable of the pounds. And I wish your teacher was wise enough in the Scriptures to teach you that lesson wonderfully. The people were given a pound; all of them were given a pound. All of us are given opportunities. Now some of our opportunities may be great and some small, but all of us are given an opportunity.
And when the king comes back, why, he gathers before him the servants to whom he has given his pound. Now one of those men did wonderfully. And the Lord said, “Why, you have gained ten pounds here with your one pound. You are going to be over ten cities” [Luke 19:16-17]. And another man came: and the Lord looked at him, and he had gained five pounds for his one pound, and the Lord said to him, “I am going to put you over five cities” [Luke 19:18-19]. Of course, that fellow that hid it [his pound] in a napkin, he did not get anything at all [Luke 19:20-26].
Now, up there in glory, in this world that is to come, God is going to have a city and a country—the Bible says so, and it is going to have an administration. There is going to be a prime minister who sits at the right hand of the Lord Jesus Christ [Matthew 20:23]. And that is reserved for somebody, maybe we will be surprised who it is, but there will be somebody seated at His right hand, the prime minister of glory. There will be somebody at His left hand [Matthew 20:23], and there will be gradations all through the administration of that vast world that is to come. And some of us are going to be rulers over large provinces, and some of us administrators over smaller provinces; and some of us are not going to be administrators of anything, we are just going to be there and that’s all—just naked without a thing in the world, we will have no reward [1 Corinthians 3:15].
Now, there are five crowns of reward that you will find in the New Testament. When we come to that great and final day of the Lord and His people are there—now bear in mind, this has nothing to do with whether you are saved or lost, and I think we understand that now—when the Christian is tried, when he is judged, it is for meritorious achievement. We don’t have anything to face; no more. The wrath of God, and the judgment of God, and the damnation of God, and the condemnation of God, and the hell and all of the fire and the burning: when a man accepts Christ, that’s over! [John 3:36]. That’s all past. He’s in the Lord now, the judgment day is passed for him now as to whether he is going to be lost or damned. That’s all gone. Right now, the judgment that faces us is just this one of what we have done, how have we done, the day of the reward.
Now I say in the Bible there are five crowns of reward that are offered to the Christian, when we gather there before that wonderful day of Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:10]. So let’s turn to the first one: your first one will be found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, that is your first crown. That is your first crown, and it is the victor’s crown, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. There are only five of these now, just five of them in the New Testament. Now this is the first one, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth a prize? So run, that you may obtain.
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest by any means, when I preach to others, I myself should be a castaway [1 Corinthians 9:24-27].
Now do you see that first crown? “Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” [1 Corinthians 9:25]. That’s the victor’s crown, and he uses the illustration there of those Greek games. Whenever a man strives at any kind of an athletic contest, he prepares for it. He goes through rigorous training. That’s true of these football teams that are practicing now for next fall. And that’s true of these basketball teams that are in their contests right now. They have diets, and they have exercises, and they have gymnastic trainings of all kinds; they’re getting ready for the contest, they’re trying to win the crown. Now Paul says that ought to be the way the Christian is. He ought to be trying, and working, and training, and disciplining himself in order to win the victor’s crown!
Now as I look at our people, most of them, let me give you an illustration. Mr. Souther, I don’t know whether you intended for me to read that part of it or not, he may have had something else outlined, but he put on my desk the paper of a certain church. I think maybe you wanted me to see the Sunday school attendance or something else, I don’t know what it was. But anyway, in that paper—in that paper, the pastor was writing his column. He doesn’t call it “The Pastor’s Pen,” but he called it something else—and in that column he started off with great adulation and great commendation for his people. The Sunday before, it had rained and he was congratulating his people and commending his people that such and such number of them had braved the rain; actually had braved the rain and had come out to Sunday school and to church. Brother, that’s a great martyr for you, isn’t it? Brother, what great heights of sacrifice have we finally come to in our day and in our generation! Yes sir, for the cause of Christ and for the name of the Lord, we will even get out and brave the rain, some of us—boy what stuff we are made of! Wouldn’t that win a crown for you? Wouldn’t that win a contest for you? Noble stuff, noble stuff; most of our Christian people are so weak and pusillanimous and sorry that if they were placed against Coach Morgan’s freshman team out there, his freshman team would walk all over us, much less the varsity.
Now he [Paul] is talking about here the stuff that victors are made out of; that means you are not discouraged. That means the harder the opposition the more we try! That means we pour into this contest our best, because nothing else than that will ever win. Now he says here they do it to win! It seems to me this thing is high or something, is it? Or am I just talking loud? They do it to win a laurel crown; he calls it a “corruptible crown,” but the thing we are trying to win is a crown that doesn’t ever fade away [1 Corinthians 9:25].
Now if I could exhort just a moment, we must go on. If I could exhort just a moment, it would be this: blessed people, let’s enter this thing to win. That’s what Paul pleads for here, let’s do it to win! If bringing a Bible to church—some of you don’t have your Bible—if bringing a Bible will help us, bring your Bible. If getting out of bed and coming here at eight-thirty will help us, get out of bed and come at eight-thirty. If taking part in the program of the church will help us win, take a part in it. If knocking at the door and visiting will help, do that. If having a devotional every day will help us win, do that. If saying grace at the table will help us win, do that. If talking to somebody about his soul will help us to win, do that. Whatever it is, Paul says, “So run, that you may obtain” [1 Corinthians 9:24], so do that you can win. And I think anybody that had any spark of life or quickening in him at all would want to be that way. When we get in the race, let’s run a good race! Let’s do a good job! That’s the victor’s crown; that’s the first one.
All right, let’s hasten. The second crown is a martyr’s crown. Turn to Revelation 2, the second chapter of the Revelation, the second chapter of the Revelation. The second crown is the martyr’s crown, second Revelation; Revelation 2:10. Look at that:
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer:
behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried;
and you shall have tribulation ten days: but be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life [Revelation 2:10]
Now may I exegete here just a minute? Do you have your Bible open to that verse? Now let’s look at it. Revelation 2:10: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Now let me show you how an Armenian will exegete that. May I show you how he’s wrong? That is the man who thinks that he is saved by hanging onto God; the man who believes in falling from grace; the man who believes he can be saved and lost and saved and lost. Now you look at him as he will read that: he will say it says in the Bible, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. And here is the way he [the Armenian] translates it, “Be thou faithful unto death. Cling onto God all through your life until you die. Cling onto Him. Hang onto Him. And if you will hang onto God until you die, you will be saved. You will be given the crown of life.” And he interprets the crown of life to mean the salvation, life itself. So he makes his salvation depend upon his hanging onto Christ. “If I can just hang onto Jesus and not fall away, if I can just hang on until I die, I will be saved. I will be given the crown of life,” which he says is salvation, life itself. Now that’s what he says, the man who believes in falling from grace—that you can be saved and then fall away—you can, unlatch; you can turn loose and be lost and be damned.
All right, let’s look at what the Bible says: that’s what we want to know, isn’t it? Not what an Armenian says—that is, an Armenian theologian—what we want to know is what does God’s Book say? What does the Bible say? All right, now look at it. Now, look at it, “Be thou faithful until death.” Is that what it says? Turn to it. Turn to it, Revelation 2:10—it’s in the back of your Bible; not the front—Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful” not until you die but, “be thou faithful unto death.”
There’s a lot of the difference between “until” and “unto.” Be thou faithful unto death; that is, if it costs you your life, be faithful to Christ if they cut off your head, “Be thou faithful unto death” [Revelation 2:10]. If they put you in prison, you’re still faithful. If they beat you, you’re still faithful. If they take away all of your property and confiscate it, you’re still faithful. “Be thou faithful unto death,” if it costs your life, “and I will give thee,” not life itself; you got that when you were saved [John 3:36], “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee,” the reward, the crown, “I will give thee the crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. And that’s what the Bible says; you stay with the Bible.
There is no such thing in the Bible as being saved and lost, and saved and lost, and saved and lost. And there is no such a thing in the Bible as a man’s salvation depending upon his hanging onto Christ. We don’t have a hold of Christ, Christ has a hold of us! [John 10:26-28]. We are not kept by clinging to God; we are kept by God’s clinging to us! [John 10:29-30]. The thing is turned around in the Book. And this is it, “Be thou faithful unto death,” if it costs you your life, and I will give thee the martyr’s crown, “I will give thee the crown of life” [Revelation 2:10]. That’s the second reward. Most of us here in this congregation will never have that reward, we will never have it. But a lot of people do, and a lot of people are receiving it today, especially beyond those iron and bamboo curtains.
All right, now the third reward: let’s take the third one. Now I am going to talk about me, I am going to talk about me. Turn to 1 Peter 5, 1 Peter, the fifth chapter. The third crown is the elder’s crown or the pastor’s crown; the fifth chapter of 1 Peter, look at it. First Peter 5; this is the third one:
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
You elders, you pastors, feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind:
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.
And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away [1 Peter 5:1-4].
The third crown mentioned in the New Testament is the pastor’s crown. It’s the elder’s crown. If a pastor will take his congregation, “not by constraint, but willingly,” love to do it, love to do it, “not for filthy lucre,” not for what he gets out of it but because his mind is dedicated to the call of God; nor for the prestige of it, in order to walk like a peacock among the people, lording it over God’s heritage, but leading the flock, walking in front of them, examples for the flock. “When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, he shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” [1 Peter 5:2-4]. That’s the pastor’s crown. God has a special reward for a true and a faithful minister. May the Lord grant that I might be like that, working not for what I get out of it; but because I love God and I love the flock, seek to lead them in a marvelous way of achievement for the Lord. That’s the third one.
Now the fourth crown. Turn in your Bible to 2 Timothy, the fourth chapter—the last chapter of 2 Timothy, the last thing that Paul ever wrote. This is the crown for those who love the Lord’s appearing: 2 Timothy, the fourth chapter, now the seventh and the eighth verses. Let’s start at the sixth; 2 Timothy 4, start at the sixth:
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing [2 Timothy 4:6-8]
Look at that, 2 Timothy 4:8: “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day,” when He comes again, “and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.” That’s the fourth crown, to those who love His appearing. “Well, pastor wouldn’t everybody love the appearing of the Lord?” Oh, my soul! Hardly anybody does, hardly anyone. You tarry with me just for this moment, you listen to me: the appearing of the Lord.
Suppose I were to be able to announce this morning, “Tomorrow at noonday, at twelve o’clock, Jesus is coming again.” Suppose I could make that announcement. Oh, what consternation in this world! There would be a board of directors meeting of the bank down there, and they would say, “What are we going to do with all of these stocks and all these bonds? Jesus is coming at noon on Monday!” Think of all of the terror that it would strike into the hearts of this world. There’s the gambler, what’s he going to do about his gambling? And there’s the bootlegger and the dope peddler, what’s he going to do about his bootlegging and his dope peddling? And there’s all of that nightclub life, what are they going to do about their stripteasing, and about their drunkenness, and their dancing, and their debauchery? What about that? And there are all of those who have given themselves to no other thing than to put their arms around the world and get the world into their souls and grasp, what about them? Do you think this announcement would bring joy to their hearts? [It would] bring nothing but terror and horror; it’s the giving up of everything that they’ve known in their lives. They don’t love the appearing of the Lord.
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8]. Who loves the appearing of the Lord? I will tell you who loves the appearing of the Lord: some of these blessed, sweet, devout Christians—some of them are members of our church, and they pore through this Bible, and they love its pages. Some of them get early in the morning to read it. Some of them look upon its pages last thing before they go to bed at night, and they read in there these wonderful promises of the Lord. And they bow their heads, and they pray, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. They love His appearing.
Why, we have people who think you are a crackpot and a fanatic even to talk about the coming of the Lord! They don’t love His appearing—to them it’s an offense, to them it’s a scandal—they don’t love His appearing. Who loves His appearing? I know some Christians that are so torn and deformed by disease and racked with pain, if I could come in and say, “Tomorrow at noon you will be well again,” oh, what it will mean to them! They love His appearing. We have got two members of this church that are blind. If I could go to them and say, “Tomorrow at noon you will be able to see again,” they would love His appearing. Some of our people are old and invalid, if I could say, “Tomorrow at noon you will be young again, and whole again,” they would love His appearing. They would love His appearing. Most of you who are out here in this audience this morning, when you pray, “Thy kingdom come, the King come,” you love His appearing [Matthew 6:10; 2 Timothy 4:1].
And there is a crown for you, “The crown of righteousness, which the Lord shall give me at that day; and not me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8]. Isn’t that a strange thing for him to say? “Those who love His appearing!” Why didn’t he say, “Not to me only, but unto all them also that do great good for God, that testify, who live right, that magnify the Lord?” Oh, I don’t know what all he could have said, but what he did say was, “There is a crown of righteousness God is going to give me in that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8]. Looking for the Lord, believing in the Lord, trusting in the Lord—that He lives and that someday He is coming again—that’s what he says, “that love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8], would rejoice if the announcement were made right now, “Tomorrow, He is coming, tomorrow!”
Now the last, and I cannot expatiate on it, I just point it out to you. In the first Thessalonian letter, turn to it and look at it, then we’ll stop. First Thessalonians and the second chapter, look at the last verses of the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Look at it, look at it: second chapter, 1 Thessalonians, the last two verses. This is it:
What is our hope, our joy, our crown of rejoicing?—
that is the last one, the fifth one: our crown of rejoicing—
Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
For ye are our glory and our joy. [1 Thessalonians 2:19-20]
That is the soul-winner’s crown.
What is our crown of rejoicing when the Lord Jesus appears? When He comes, what is it? This is it: you! You, whom we have won to the Lord, you are our glory and our joy! The crown of rejoicing! The soul-winner’s crown: you! Won you to the Lord, introduced you to Jesus; that is our crown of rejoicing! That’s our reward when we get to glory: the soul-winner’s crown. Philippians 4:1: “Ye are our joy, ye are our crown.” Ah, the eternal reward, introducing somebody to the Lord Jesus.
Now Billy, we sing one stanza of a hymn, one stanza. And while we sing it, somebody you, immediately into the aisle and down here to the front and by the side of the pastor—immediately, just on the first note of this first stanza, into the aisle and down here by the pastor—while we sing one stanza, either to give your heart to Jesus or to put your life in the church, while we make this appeal, you come.
For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com