We love the word game, Quiddler, produced by Set Games. It’s a fantastic game for people who love words, and we use it with our English students to develop their vocabularies and spelling skills. The same company makes another game, which we haven’t played, called, Five Crowns
That’s an interesting name in light of James 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.
The New Testament speaks of five distinct “crowns,” or rewards, God will give His children for their faithfulness. The “crown of life” is one of them. “The Greek word translated “crown” is stephanos (the source for the name Stephen the martyr) and means “a badge of royalty, a prize in the public games or a symbol of honor generally.” Used during the ancient Greek games, it referred to a wreath or garland of leaves placed on a victor’s head as a reward for winning an athletic contest. As such, this word is used figuratively in the New Testament of the rewards of heaven God promises those who are faithful.”*
In 1 COR 9.24, Paul–evidently a sports fan–uses an allusion to the ancient Isthmian Games to illustrate how these crowns figure in the life of the believer: “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.” Paul is not suggesting that only one of each kind of crown will be awarded in heaven, but that every believer should view his or her life as a race and run to win.
The crowns mentioned in the New Testament are not the wreaths of the Greek games, which were already dead when they were placed on the heads of the victors. Instead, they are “imperishable” rewards that will last for eternity. (1 COR 9.25)
The second kind of crown is the “Crown of Rejoicing,” (1 THE 2.19) or literally, a “Crown of Boasting.” Paul purposed not to boast in anything but his identity in Christ, and in this text he suggests that the Thessalonian believers will give him cause to boast in the grace of God when he gets to heaven because they will be with him there for all eternity.
Paul writes that the third crown, the “Crown of Righteousness,” will be rewarded to “all who have loved his appearing.” (2 TIM 4.8) He is writing at the end of his life, just before he is martyred by the Romans for his faith in Christ and his earth-shaking ministry throughout the Roman world. Given the chaos and evil of our day, all believers in Jesus should “love his appearing,” the instantaneous removal of true Christians from the earth just before the horrific “Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” Sadly, some do not.
Given the chaos and evil of our day, all believers in Jesus should “love his appearing.” Sadly, some do not.
1 PET 5.4 mentions a fourth crown, the “Crown of Glory,” which will be awarded to those who faithfully, eagerly, selflessly “shepherd the flock of God.” While the rewards on earth for this work may be few and small, the reward in heaven will be glorious beyond all imagination.
The fifth crown is the one we see here in James 1.12: the “Crown of Life.” It is mentioned in REV 2.10 in the same way: as a reward for steadfastness in the midst of suffering. First Century followers of Jesus were being put to death by the thousands in unspeakably horrible ways, and all of these writers were well acquainted with this reality. Paul was martyred by the Romans shortly after he wrote his second letter to Timothy. John died alone in exile on the island of Patmos just after writing Revelation. Historians tell us James was killed in Jerusalem in 62 A.D. by being thrown off the roof of the temple and then stoned.
In our text, James 1.12, we should notice several important things.
STEADFASTNESS IN TROUBLE IS A BLESSING
Just as when he exhorted his readers to “count it all joy” when they encountered all kinds of trials, James reminds them that doing so–remaining “steadfast under trial”–will result in their blessing. Endurance, like joy, is not contingent upon the intensity of the trouble, but on the faithfulness of God. Further, steadfastness in the midst of affliction yields more than “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (PHI 4.7)–a blessing in itself, given the array of things which would rob of us of peace. It also ensures us this mysterious, glorious “crown of life.”
STEADFASTNESS IS ONLY POSSIBLE IN TESTING
Obviously, if there is no test, there is no reason to be steadfast. The very word implies stress, trouble, pain, sorrow, heartache, and any number of other nouns we could use to describe human experience during its darkest hours. Aspirants to the “Crown of Life,” Beware!
STEADFASTNESS DEMONSTRATES LOVE FOR GOD
Notice how James connects endurance and love: the one who remains steadfast in trial will receive the crown of life, which God will give to all who love him. Clearly, then, steadfastness is a way in which we demonstrate true love for God. As it has been throughout history, the crown of life may be inextricably joined to the sentence of death. Our friend Chet Bitterman understood this. He was killed for his faith in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1981 after 48 days in captivity. “There was found an entry in Chet’s journal written nearly 2 years before his death that read. ‘The situation in Nicaragua is getting worse. If Nicaragua falls, I guess the rest of Central America will too. Maybe this is just some kind of self-inflicted Martyr complex, but I find this recurring thought that perhaps God will call me to be martyred in His service in Colombia. I am willing.'”
Even as I write this post, we are hearing reports of the unthinkable brutality of ISIS in Iraq and elsewhere. We have precious friends from Iraq–from the Kurdish region as well as from elsewhere in the country–and our hearts go out to the suffering citizens of this blood-soaked nation. These fanatical, bloodthirsty extremists have demanded that “infidels” convert to Islam or face immediate death, and it has been reported that hundreds of what I call “CNN Christians”–those who claim allegiance to Christianity or who are thought to be Christians simply because they are not something else–have capitulated.
No crown of life for them.
I pray that God would empower those who are truly His to remain “steadfast under trial” and “faithful unto death.”