While fear can be a strong motivator, God’s primary method of motivation is love. Therefore, God describes ways in which He will reward Christians who go “above and beyond.” Every student is familiar with the concept of “extra credit.” It is usually a question at the end of an assignment or an exam that is not required but provides the student an opportunity to receive bonus points, usually to make up for other questions that the student might have gotten wrong. Teachers, as well as parents and employers, understand that the promise of reward can be a strong incentive to a better effort. In a sense, God has laid out an “extra credit” program for Christians. God’s extra incentives are referred to in the Bible (Scripture) as “crowns.” Although the exact nature of these five biblical crowns and what they entail is not specifically stated, and the behaviors for which they are credited are elsewhere recommended for all believers, a brief discussion of them is relevant.
The five crowns are:
1. The incorruptible crown: given for exercising self-control and striving to be the best you can be for the Lord (1 Cor. 9:25 KJV).
2. The crown of rejoicing: given for winning others to Christ (1 Thess. 2:19 KJV).
3. The crown of righteousness: given for loving his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8 KJV).
4. The crown of life: given for enduring under trial (James 1:12).
5. The crown of glory: given for eagerly, faithfully, shepherding the flock (1 Pet. 5:4).
The incorruptible crown is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:25 in the context of athletes who go into “strict training.” The NIV says that it is a “crown that will last forever.” The Amplified Bible reads: “Every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things.” Athletes train hard to be the best they can be. Good athletes do not settle for “good enough.” They endeavor to constantly improve. God wants Christians to have that kind of attitude and behavior. The goal of the Christian should not be only to avoid sin, but to excel in righteousness—to “hit a home run,” so to speak. While it is wonderful to live a godly life, it is more wonderful to aggressively seek personal improvement and advance the purposes of God. God has an incorruptible crown for those who endeavor to excel.
The crown of rejoicing is for those who win others to Christ. The NIV calls it “the crown in which we will glory.” Reaching others with the Word and bringing them to the point of salvation is something that every Christian should want to do. It is an act of compassion because death in the lake of fire is the fate of those who reject God and His Son. If people are going to believe and receive salvation, someone needs to speak:
Romans 10:13 and 14
(13) for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(14) How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?
How will they hear and believe unless someone speaks? Men and women who, without hesitation, would risk their own lives by running into a burning house to save someone are often so intimidated by the fear of rejection, or the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing exactly what to say, that they will not talk to people about Jesus. Yet the end of someone who is not saved is exactly the same as a person trapped in a burning house—death by fire. Although not everyone is called to be an evangelist, everyone is called to “tell the Good News.” Witnessing to others can be challenging, intimidating, and occasionally risky because the hearer is not always appreciative. God knows this and rewards those who make the effort to win others to Christ by giving them the crown of rejoicing.
The crown of righteousness is given to those who “love his appearing” (KJV). There are Christians who are so well adjusted to this world that it really does not make much of a difference to them when Christ comes back. They are usually healthy and have comfortable lives, and they do not see how the Lord coming back would really help them. There are also Christians who do not have a strong desire to live a godly and obedient lifestyle, perhaps because doing so will bring them persecution (“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”—2 Tim. 3:12). Many of these Christians do not want Christ to return because they do not want to quit their sin or face the Judgment. Christians who “long for” (NIV) Christ to return from heaven are not primarily vested in this world and usually have a lifestyle that is godly.
The crown of life is given to Christians who endure and stay faithful through trials and temptations. The Bible and history both teach that it is very difficult to remain faithful to a Christian commitment all through one’s life. Too frequently, people “on fire” for the Lord “cool off” and abandon their commitment. Unfortunately, the cooling off is often a result of what they see around them in Christianity and the way they are treated by other Christians. It is no secret that many Christians are hypocrites, and this can be very discouraging to those who are sincere in their efforts to live for God. Since the beginning of Christianity some 2,000 years ago, it would not be an exaggeration to say that millions of Christians have backed off from their Christian commitment because of what they have seen in the Church and/or because they were treated badly by fellow Christians. Others have cooled off when faced with trials and temptations. Trials and temptations come in many forms but fall into two broad categories: pressure (persecution) or pleasure (the “pleasures of sin”—Heb. 11:25). One reward for Christians who stay faithful throughout their lives is the crown of life.
The crown of glory is given to those who willingly shepherd God’s people, not because they are paid for it or because they are “lords” over a group of people, but because they are eager to serve and help people maximize their spiritual potential. Christians can be quite ungrateful and dissatisfied. Almost every leader has at one time or another been at his wit’s end as to how to keep people godly and blessed. More than one pastor, elder, or overseer has resigned, not because he or she did not love God, but because it just seemed too difficult to work with people in the Church. There are even Old Testament records of God Himself being disgusted with His people’s attitudes and behaviors. At points He was on the verge of abandoning them altogether. God recognizes that it is hard and often thankless work to shepherd people, so He offers a crown to those who will carry out the task in a godly manner.