Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE CROWN OF LIFE”

James 1.12

Since believers are exhorted to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, Second Timothy 2.3, it is reasonable to illustrate a principle in the Christian life using a military analogy. Envision yourself in a combat platoon that is taking heavy fire from the enemy. You are hunkered down and holding on for dear life while returning fire as often as you can. You were told in basic training and in advanced infantry training that each firefight you endured made you a better soldier, more durable, more dangerous, and more effective at achieving your objectives. Because of that military doctrine you were taught, you hold on tight, waiting for reinforcements to arrive. Therefore, there are two things going on in the middle of the conflict you find yourself engaged in. On one hand, you know that just being in it and not giving up makes you into a better soldier, a tougher soldier, and a braver soldier. That is the immediate benefit. However, there is also an eventual benefit, and that is when the cavalry comes and your reinforcements arrive to rescue you and save the day. Therefore, you see, there is both an immediate and an eventual benefit to holding on and not giving up.

Do you realize, Christian, that the same type of thing applies in the spiritual realm and the living of the Christian life? We have already learned that every child of God suffers through divers temptations, challenges to your faith in the form of afflictions that come at you from the most unpredictable directions. Further, we have learned that in the face of divers temptations you are directed to count it all joy because of the benefit during your lifetime of successfully enduring those challenges. The trying of your faith works patience, according to James 1.3, and does a perfecting work that leaves you perfect and entire, wanting nothing, verse 4. Therefore, there is a rather immediate benefit to holding up under such challenges, in the form of greater spiritual maturity and toughness as a child of God. You can better serve the Captain of your salvation. However, that is not all. One also acquires much needed wisdom to deal with the sometimes-overwhelming challenges that overtake you in the fight that is the Christian life. Therefore, after such experiences have occurred you will develop a repository of wisdom that will be invaluable not only to you in the days ahead but also to those who will allow you to bless them with your counsel and with your encouragement. A third immediate effect of successfully enduring divers temptations will depend upon your status. If you are a believer of low degree, you are exalted and if you are rich, you are made low, you are humbled. So you see, there are three rather immediate benefits and blessings that are directly related to you successfully dealing by faith with the challenges you face when a temptation, when an affliction, suddenly overtakes you.

Up to this point, James has written only about those usually unappreciated but rather immediate benefits to the Christian who experiences various kinds and degrees of suffering. These benefits accrue during the Christian’s lifetime. However, we who know Christ are aware that this life is not all there is. Of all people, we who are Christians look expectantly and with great anticipation to the future. It is the future that James refers to in our text this morning, which is James 1.12. Please find that verse in God’s Word and stand to read silently while I read aloud: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” When soldiers are holed up in a bunker and taking enemy fire, of course they are still engaged in the fight. Of course, they have not given up, and each minute they survive they actually grow more mature and experienced to deal with the struggle they are involved with. However, their expectation of rescue, their anticipation of the cavalry coming to rescue them from the intense fight they are caught up in, gives them optimism about their future. In a word, they have hope. In this verse, we see the eventual consequence of tested faith, we see reference made to love for the Lord, and we see the concept of hope described as something good in our future promised by our Lord. As the Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians 13.13, “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.”

There is so much that could be said about our text. However, let me confine my remarks to answering three questions:

First, TO WHOM IS THE CROWN OF LIFE PROMISED?

The verse very naturally falls into three parts, with the central portion being key, since it is the promise: “he shall receive the crown of life.” The person to whom the crown of life is promised is described in the first portion of the verse as well as in the final portion of the verse:

The first portion of the verse reads, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried.” The person to whom the crown of life is promised is here described in three ways: First, he is blessed. Some commentators explain this word as referring to being happy. However, I disagree, because happiness depends upon what happens, and blessed clearly has to do with one’s spiritual bounty even in the midst of great adversity. Notice the blessedness mentioned in Psalm 1.1: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Jeremiah 17.7: “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.” Then, of course, there is the Sermon on the Mount that begins with the Beatitudes. Jesus said,[1]

3      Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4      Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

5      Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

6      Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

7      Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

8      Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

9      Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

10     Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11     Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

How would I translate this concept of being blessed? Though God is blessed,[2] with His blessedness being one of His essential attributes, God’s creatures that are blessed are those of us who are favored by God to be partakers of His divine nature.[3] We who know God, who are numbered among the redeemed, who have a new name written down in glory, are those who are blessed. If you are a Christian, having trusted Jesus, you are blessed. If blessed is what a man is who is promised the crown of life, notice what the man who is blessed actually does: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation.” The blessed person endures temptation. Endureth translates a verb indicating that his practice, his habit, what he characteristically does is endure temptations.[4] That is, though you may fail, though you may stumble, though you may give up, it is not what you usually do. What you usually do with the issues of life that are flung at you is to by God’s grace deal with them. You may not get it done easily. You may not get it done elegantly. You may not get it done perfectly. However, with scratches, abrasions, bruises, and frequently with tears, you do by God’s grace get it done. You are the believer who is tried, usually without quitting. You are usually resilient. You are typically faithful. You are predictably reliable. However, what you are first and foremost, that enables you to endure and that causes your trials of faith, is that you are blessed.

The last phrase of our text is also a description of the one to whom is promised the crown of life: “which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” The Lord Jesus Christ has made a promise that He will keep. It is a promise made to His own, a promise to those given to Him by the Father, a promise made to those who are His sheep who hear His voice and who follow Him.[5] How do we know Jesus will keep His promise? He is the truth, is He not, John 14.6? As well, Psalm 105.42 declares, “For he remembered his holy promise.” That it is a promise Jesus has made to His own makes it the hope of the believer, since hope is the confident expectation of future blessings based on the promise of God. Therefore, we have here faith that is tested coming together with hope in expectation of a promised blessing to those who love Him. Faith, hope, and love. “This is the first mention of ‘love’ in the epistle of James.” It “portrays a group characterized as loving God. The ‘blessed man’ is thus united with those identified by their continuing love for God . . . Their love for God is the outcome of their faith in Him which produces willing endurance for Him (1:2-4). Love is the essence of true faith.”[6] To whom is the crown of life promised? It is promised to the blessed, to the believer. It is promised to the one who endures temptation, the one who is tried, whose faith is tested. It is promised to those who love Him. Who loves Jesus? “We love him, because he first loved us,” First John 4.19. That leads to the question, what is love for Him? “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments,” Second John 6. Therefore, the crown of life is promised to that person who loves Jesus, whose love is demonstrated by obedience to Him. Only implied in our text, we see more clearly the interaction of faith tested and love in Romans 5.1-5, where Paul wrote,

1      Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

2      By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

3      And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

4      And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

5      And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

When the Christian is severely tested, his love for Christ deepens. When the unsaved person suffers, he becomes embittered and angry towards God.

Next, WHEN IS THE CROWN OF LIFE PROMISED?

Though the crown of life is revealed in our text to be the future promise of the blessed, of the one who endures temptations, the one who is tried, the one who loves Christ, we are not told in our text when the crown of life will be given. For that, we must look elsewhere in the New Testament. For the last two Sunday evenings, I have brought messages with Philippians 1.6 as my text, in which the Apostle Paul raised the issue of God both beginning and completing the good work that He performs in the life of every believer. In that verse, Paul states that the day of Jesus Christ will be the culmination of God’s good work in the believer.

I am convinced that the culmination of God’s good work in the believer coincides with the fulfillment of the promise to give to the believer the crown of life. Therefore, tonight’s message dealing with the Day of Jesus Christ will also address when the crown of life is given to the believer in Jesus Christ. For now, let me point out notable judgments referred to in the New Testament that are yet future events. There is the Judgment Seat of Christ, which will be Christ’s judgment of Church Age believers.[7] There is the Judgment of the Nation of Israel.[8] There is the Judgment of the Gentile Nations.[9] There is the Judgment of the Fallen Angels.[10] Finally, there is the Great White Throne Judgment.[11] I believe the Lord Jesus Christ at that judgment referred to as the Judgment Seat of Christ will give the crown of life.

Finally, WHAT IS THE CROWN OF LIFE?

If you remember that those James is writing to are Jewish Christians, then it becomes obvious that the reference to a crown was not meant to evoke images of laurel wreaths such as were given to Olympic athletes who won an athletic contest. Such imagery would be abhorrent to Jewish Christians because of the association of such crowns with the public nudity and gross immorality that was always so characteristic of those contests. James would have in mind imagery from the Hebrew Scriptures that would not offend Jewish sensibilities.[12] Even with such imagery in mind, it is not likely that James is referring to any sort of prize that could be worn or held. To be sure, victory would be in mind. As well, honor would be in mind. However, rather than a reward being given for winning any kind of competition, this would be a reward given for faithfulness in the face of adversity and for the relationship the believer has with his Sovereign.

Listen to J. Vernon McGee’s explanation of what the crown of life is:

It is my conclusion that the crown of life means that you are going to have a degree of life in heaven which someone else will not have. There are a lot of folk who have gone through this world without doing anything for God. I thank God there was one thief on a cross who turned to Christ, but I cannot imagine that he will get very much of a reward, especially when I compare him to a man like Paul the apostle. Imagine what it is going to be like some day when Paul receives the crown of life![13]

 

Along that same line of thinking, John MacArthur believes “it denotes the believer’s ultimate reward, eternal life, which God has promised to him and will grant in full at death or at Christ’s coming.”[14]

What is my own view of the crown of life mentioned in our text by James? I substantially agree with J. Vernon McGee and John MacArthur on this point.[15] “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 6.23. However, we Christians are not yet in full possession of every aspect of the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. For example, Ephesians 1.14 declares that our indwelling Spirit of God is the earnest of an inheritance that we do not yet fully possess. Though we are going to get it all, we do not yet have it all in our hands, so to speak. In like manner, I think James is pointing out in our text, by using the phrase “the crown of life,” the culmination of what God began when we first trusted Christ. It certainly will not be our crowning achievement, though it might be described as our crowning experience, when those who have been saved from the penalty of sins through faith in Christ, who are presently being saved from the power of sins by God’s grace given even in times of affliction and suffering, and who will when we are safely delivered from the very presence of sin experience what James chooses to describe as a crowning (not the coronation of a king, certainly), the full and final delivery at the hand of our King our long anticipated arrival in His presence.

The imagined Jewish brother in Christ I have previously spoken of in the introductory portions of previous sermons, who has long since died and gone to heaven, has escaped the persecution in Jerusalem by fleeing to a city he thought was somewhat safer. For a time it was safer, but then the old anti-Semitism re-ignited in the hearts of the Gentiles, and added to that was the ferocious antagonism of the unconverted Jewish people in the city he had fled to. About the time he was filled with wonder and frustration at what was happening to him, the letter from James arrived and was read to the congregation he worshiped with. He was to count it all joy, he learned. These divers temptations were not unexpected to God, but were used by Him in Christian’s lives to try the believer’s faith to produce patience, to bring about maturity and deeper spirituality. To be sure, wisdom would be needed to negotiate these trials, but wisdom was available for the asking. What God insisted on was single-mindedness and the realization that God worked in different ways in the lives of different Christians. The lowly was to rejoice in that he was exalted, while the rich was to rejoice in that he is made low. Maturity, wisdom, exultation, humility, and even more profound love for Christ was all the immediate result of enduring the various afflictions and trials in the Christian’s life.

However, that is not all. There was something else to look forward to in addition to those relatively short-term blessings. After immediately there comes eventually, and James termed it the crown of life. It is the crowning event in the Christian’s experience, promised to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose. What is it? It is our arrival. It is entering into our eternal rest. It is our entrance into eternity and the presence of our glorious Savior. If the soldiers who are in the fight of their lives can hold out until the cavalry arrives, certainly we can keep on keeping on, remaining faithful to the end, either reaching the end of our life here on earth and experiencing physical death or still being alive when King Jesus comes for us. Oh, that will be glory for us.

Are you one of us? Can you sing the words, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus?” Oh, how wonderful it is to be a Christian, to have your sins forgiven, to know that on the other side there awaits you a most glorious eternity, to know that you will then see the One who until now you have loved without seeing.



[1] Matthew 5.3-11

[2] Mark 14.61; Romans 1.25; 9.5; 2 Corinthians 1.3; 11.31; Ephesians 1.3; 1 Timothy 1.11; 6.15; 1 Peter 1.3

[3] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 610-611.

[4] Ibid., pages 1039-1040.

[5] John 10.27, 29

[6] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle Of James, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), page 100.

[7] 1 Corinthians 3.13-15; 2 Corinthians 5.10;

[8] Matthew 25.1-30

[9] Matthew 25.31-46

[10] Jude 6

[11] Revelation 20.11-15

[12] Hiebert, page 99.

[13] J. Vernon McGee, James, (Pasadena, CA: Thru The Bible Books, 1978), page 26.

[14] See footnote for James 1.12 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1927.

[15] I disagree with John MacArthur's positions concerning the issues of the blood of Christ and Lordship salvation.



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