“Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24).

       It is the desire of God the Father’s heart to give honor to those who serve God the Son (Jn. 12:26; Rom. 14:18; Col. 3:2-4).

      There is coming a time when each and every servant of Christ will be honored for their faithful service. The issue concerning reward is not salvation but service. All believers are saved but all believers are not servants. Only those faithful, following, servant-believers will be honored by Christ and rewarded. Those who have not served and persevered risk forfeiture of reward (1 Cor. 4:1-5; 3:12-15).

Much of what the Bible says about the believer’s rewards are illustrated by calling attention to the riches and rewards paid to the victor in the ancient Olympic Games (1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8). In these Grecian games, those who receive the honor were given the stephanos or “Victor’s Crown.” This was not a king’s crown (diadem—Rev. 19:12), but a wreath crown of exaltation woven of oak, ivy, parsley, spruce, myrtle or olive. The  Bible names five crowns to be given to honor the servants of Christ.

A Crown of Rejoicing

This is not a crown in the literal sense that we normally think of a crown; rather, this crown consists of people—people that the believer has led to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 2:19; Phil. 4:1; Dan. 12:3). This is the soul-winner’s crown for evangelism.

A Crown of Glory

This is the crown for discipleship. Here the faithful pastor, who works diligently for the care and feeding of the believer, is rewarded. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, by way of interpretation, the Kingdom-Church pastors are in view and promised a reward. By way of application, there is no Scriptural or dispensational reason why pastors of the Grace-Age Church should not anticipate a similar crown for the care and feeding of the assembly of believers.

A Crown of Righteousness

This crown speaks of the righteous nature of the life lived in view of the return of Christ (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Here the honor is to be bestowed upon all “who love His appearing.” This crown is given as a reward for a life that was lived consistently “in season and out of season” – in good times and in difficult times – pressures, anxieties, frustrations, persecutions, and afflictions. The believer’s consistency and faithfulness to duty is born out of the hope and anticipation of the return of the Lord Who brings his reward with Him (Isa. 62:11; Rev. 22:12).

A Crown of Life

This crown is probably the bestowment of the highest quality of eternal life in honor of the one who gives up his life for the cause of Christ (Mt. 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24; 17:33).

Over the centuries of time, millions of Christians have sacrificially given their lives because of their stand for Christ and love for Him (Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10). Again, this is not a crown limited to the martyrs of a select dispensation, but to all who “love Him” and “love not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11).

According to Fox’s Christian Martyrs of the World, pages 24-35:

¨  Paul was beheaded by Nero shortly after he wrote the words of 2 Timothy.

¨ James was beheaded in Jerusalem in A.D. 44.

¨ Philip was scourged and then crucified.

¨ Matthew was killed by the sword in A.D. 60.

¨ Mark was dragged through the streets of Alexandria Egypt by his feet and then burned to death.

¨ Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece.

¨ James the Less was thrown from a tower of the Jerusalem Temple, and then beaten to death in the  streets below.

¨ Matthias was stoned and beheaded.

¨ Andrew was crucified on a cross, and for three days preached the love of Christ to those who passed by.

¨ Peter was scourged and then crucified upside down, at his request, believing he was not worthy to die in the same position as his Lord.

¨ Thomas was thrust through by a spear in India.

¨ Jude was crucified in A.D. 72.

¨ Bartholomew was beaten to death with clubs.

¨ Barnabas was stoned to death by the Jews in Selonica.

¨ John, the Beloved, died in exile on the Island of Patmos.

A Crown of Mastery

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul specifically refers to the Olympic foot race at Corinth. This was a race for the mastery! This was the most popular race and the one for which was given the greatest reward. It was the most eagerly-desired prize of the Olympic games. Training for this is described as follows:

 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. The word ‘strict training’ is the Greek agonizomai. We get our word ‘agony’ from it. It was a technical, Greek athletic term for getting in shape to participate in the games. The athletes were selected by local elimination trials, after which they submitted for ten months to rigorous training under professional trainers. After their arrival for training, they were examined by the officials, and then they took an oath swearing to obey all the rules. If an athlete left the gymnasium once during the ten months of training, he was disqualified and could not participate in the games. His diet consisted of cheese, figs, and dried meats. No wine was allowed. If he was caught violating the diet, he was disqualified.

 Every morning there were two trumpet calls. The first was the warning trumpet. When it blew, the athlete’s personal trainer came and rubbed him down with oil. The second trumpet was the signal to begin the daily workout in the exercise square called ‘the agony.’ As he exercised, there were ‘marshalls’ observing his effort. If he caught an athlete loafing just once during this entire ten months, he was disqualified. If an athlete missed one trumpet call the entire ten months, he was disqualified from the games. The athletes trained and competed naked, regardless of the weather or temperature.

 Now why did they do all this? First and foremost, they did it to obtain a spruce wreath on their head! Each winner bound a woolen cloth about his head, and the judges placed the crown upon it. Then a herald announced the name and the city of the winner, a custom continued in the Olympiads of our day. This wreath was the only prize given at the games, yet, it was the most eagerly contested distinction in Greece. However, there was more to it than that. After the victory celebration, great honors were heaped on the athlete when he returned home.

 A breach in the city wall was cut. This was to signify that the protection of the wall was no longer needed now that an athlete of this stature had returned home. The winner was then placed on a chariot and led through the city in a festive procession Many cities voted substantial sums of money to the victors. Some made them generals, and  the crowd idolized them so openly that the Greek philosophers complained. Poets were hired by the victor and his parents to pen odes to his greatness. They were sung to by a chorus of boys in the procession that welcomed him home. Sculptors were paid to capture the athlete in his most athletic pose. Some cities  fed the athlete’s children and wife at public expense for the rest of their lives. The children were allowed to enter the best university in the ancient world, all at civic outlay. The athlete was given a seat of honor on the City Council and a box seat at the Isthmian games for the rest of his life. Last, but definitely not the least, he was exempt from all income tax!”

(Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 2: The Life of Greece, pg. 213)

 The Apostle Paul does not give this crown a name; it was a crown awarded to those who have fought against the flesh. In doing so, the believer brings the body into subjection and through self discipline, not allowing fleshly desires of the world to conquer them. The victorious Christian wins what the Apostle referred to as an “incorruptible crown.” It is a crown for those who have mastered the body.

How tragic it would be for one who has instructed others in the rules for obtaining the prize to find that, when the race is over, he would be disqualified for the prize for failing to keep the rules he himself taught.