Rewards of the Christian Life
By Steve Stillman
The Christian life is portrayed as a race by the writer of Hebrews. "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1,2. Many Bible Scholars feel that the Apostle Paul was probably the writer of Hebrews because verses like these are closely related to many of his other writings. In other cases, Paul compares himself with the racers and competitors in the Isthmian games which were celebrated in the city of Corinth. This comparison made an allusion which was well known to the people of Paul's day and therefore was a great teaching metaphor.
The competitors who ran in these games were duly qualified both by character and ability. The distance and width of the course were clearly marked out. The prize that was to be won was set forth. Judges were chosen and sworn to judge impartially. The starting signal was given and the race was run. The winner was carried to the judge, the prize was given and a crown placed on the winner's head. The name of the winner was proclaimed to the great assembly of people.
The Christian race is so compared. The Christian must be qualified both by character and ability. The Christian must pursue the course with patience and perseverance. After completing the race the successful Christian is brought before the Judge where he/she is rewarded and crowned with glory.
The Christian race is not any race, but a particular race. It is, "The race set before us". The course of the race is the road of life. The length of it is a lifetime. The width of it is the size of the world. This course has many challenges and many temptations to turn the runner aside. The riches and cares, the company and amusements, the pleasures and influence of the world are all dead weights which must be "laid aside" so they don't hinder the Christian runner.
The progress of the Christian in this race depends on several things. The Christian must keep to the course and not turn out of the way. Some run the race well for a while and then turn aside. The Christian must stay on course. The middle of the course is the safest place to run. Constant progress must be made and the runner must continue patiently under all difficulties. The prize must be kept in view.
The nature of the prize in the Christian race is different from worldly races. Scripture represents this prize as rewards under the figure of a trophy or crown. There are various crowns that may be rewarded to Christians when they complete this race of life.
The Incorruptible Crown - I Corinthians 9:24-25. "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishible crown. " In the Christian's duty, all run that they might obtain this crown. All that finish get the prize, not just the winner. The Christian runner is described as being "temperate in all things". Much self-denial was practiced by the Olympic runners Paul mentioned. They kept to a strict diet and discipline. Should not the Christian much more curtail themselves of their liberty for the glorious prize set before them? Christians must deny self and keep the body under "bringing it into subjection", (I Corinthians 9:27). The Christian runner faces hardship and is always in close combat just as any competitor. Paul mentions one enemy of the Christian runner (the body) which must be brought under subjection. Paul is referring to those fleshly appetites and inclinations.
The Crown of Life - James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the "crown of life" which the Lord has promised to those who love Him". This reward is given to the Christian who endures and who with patience and constancy goes through all trials and difficulties in the way of his duty. It seems that in the duties of Christians they sometimes run across difficulties and disappointments so much that they begin to lose interest and hope of their duty. They may even wonder if it is worth it all to continue the race. The enduring of temptations and trials must be from a principle of love to God and Jesus Christ, otherwise there is no interest in the Crown. This reward should enforce the idea that Christians will eventually be approved by God for all their trails. It will be the Christian's blessedness to finally receive the Crown of Life.
The Crown of Glory - I Peter 5:1-4, "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the Crown of Glory that does not fade away". This reward is specifically given to pastors, elders, presbyters, spiritual leaders of the Church. It is promised to those who "feed the flock" by preaching and teaching God's Word. It is for Christians who "take oversight thereof"; who take time to minister personal care over the flock committed to their charge. It is for Christians who are "examples to the flock"; those who practice holiness, self-denial, and all other Christian duties. It is for those who share in Christ's sufferings. Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd of the flock. He bought them, rules them, defends them, and saves them. Jesus is also Chief Shepherd over all other shepherds who obtain their authority from Him, act in His name, and are accountable to Him. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, shall appear to judge all ministers and under-shepherds, to call them to account, whether they have faithfully discharged their duty both publicly and privately according to His directions. To those that are found to have done their duty shall receive what is infinitely better than temporal gain. They shall receive from the Chief Shepherd a high degree of everlasting glory - A Crown of Glory that will never fade away.
The Crown of Rejoicing - I Thessalonians 2:19,20. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy". This Crown of Rejoicing is won through soul-winning. Christians must take time in their race to listen to the Holy Spirit and share with others what they have in Jesus. What a glory and honor it is go be used of the Holy Spirit to lead others into a saving knowledge of the Son of God.
The Crown of Righteousness - 2 Timothy 4:7,8. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing". This crown will be the recompense of all the services Christians have offered, which God is not unrighteous to forget. This crown will be given "at that day", at the time when the Christian's holiness and righteousness will be perfected. It is the day Christ returns. It will be given by the righteous Judge and not only to apostles and prominent ministers, but to all those that love His appearing. It should be the character of all Christians to look forward to the appearing of Jesus Christ with love and to long for it. This Crown is laid up for all believers. It is given to those who have finished their course by fighting a good fight. In a good fight one may lose a few rounds, but is is how hard one fights that makes a good fight. It is given to those who have kept the faith. It is given to Christians who never allowed their faith to falter, but have always looked to their faith for their final victory.
Christ will come again to judge the works of believers and to give these rewards that they are entitled. The Christian will be judged as to the use of his talents and opportunities that have been given to him. The Christian will be judged on how he has used these talents while running the Christian race.
Paul says that while Christians are saved by grace, they are saved unto good works, Ephesians 2:8-10. In other words, the Lord has given His people an opportunity to lay up treasures in heaven now. This should help Christians overcome discouragements.
Stephen Stillman, husband, father of 2, grandfather of 4, and Hospice Chaplain.