The Crown Of Righteousness

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 9 March 2012

 

“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).

The second letter of the apostle Paul to Timothy is perhaps the most moving of all the epistles in the Bible.

In was written when Paul was imprisoned in Rome for the second time. First time he was imprisoned in Rome, he was eventually released. He went on his 4th missionary journey and wrote 1st Timothy and Titus. But he re-arrested, and this time, he would not be released. He would be beheaded for his testimony of Christ Jesus his Lord. This letter was written by Paul as he awaited his execution. So this was probably the last letter he would ever write.

Paul was imprisoned in a cold, unmarked cell, all alone. This was why Onesiphorus had to search for him when he came to Rome (cf. 2 Tim 1:17). The condition in his cell must have very been bad. There was probably no heating system to keep the prisoners warm during winter. They were going to be executed anyway.

So we read of Paul urging Timothy to visit him before winter (4:9; 21), and to bring his cloak (4:13) with him.  Could it be that Paul was not sure if he would survive winter in the cold dark cell even if he were spared execution up till then?

Could it be that Paul wrote this letter with a sense that this might be his last letter? It is hard to read this letter without a sense of poignancy in the heart.

And yet, ironically, at the same time, it is hard to read this letter,—as a believer,— without a sense of triumph.

You see, though Paul was suffering, he knew that it would soon be over; and not only over, but replaced by a glory that is stupendously beyond comparison to the suffering that he had to endure (cf. Rom 8:18).

This is the promise that he clung on to as He waited on the Lord. It is a promise that finds expression in a couple of verses in this letter.

The Lord helping us, in this study we want to look at one of these verses, namely, chapter 4, verse 8—

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Let’s consider what Paul is saying under 4 heads using the interrogatives: When, What and Who. Let’s ask: (1) When? (2) What? (3) Who Gives? (4) Who Receives?


1. When?

Paul is speaking about receiving a crown of righteousness.…

But when will it happen? Well, most of us will be familiar with the context. Paul knew that he was about to be executed. He says, verse 6-7—

6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…

Thus, when Paul says, “henceforth…” he is, no doubt, referring to what will happen after his execution. But take careful note of what he is saying.

He says: “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord,… shall give me at that day.” Can you see how there are two steps involved? The first step is the confirmation, and setting aside of the crown of righteousness. The second step is the conferment of the prize. The first step would occur at his death. The second step would occur in “that day.” When is that day? No doubt, Paul is referring to the day of the second coming of Christ, for in the same breath, he speaks of those who love the appearing of Christ.

Paul was finishing his race, he knew that the prize awaited him. He knew that as soon as he finished his race, the prize would be secured. It would be laid up with his name. It is his already. But the day is coming when it would be given to him officially.

The day when he gives up the ghost would be the day he finished his final exam. He would in that same day hear the chief examiner tell him that he passed and that he did well. But the conferment of the degree, or the convocation would have to wait for another day, even the day when Christ returns again.

Oh what a glorious day that will be! It will be glory upon glory, and joy upon joy!  What a day it will be when the prize is finally given officially and publicly.

But…

2. What?

What is the prize? The prize as Paul put it is the crown of righteousness. The Bible speaks of many crowns. The Lord Jesus Christ wore a crown of thorns (Kn 19:5). The apostle Peter speaks about the crown of glory (1 Pet 5:4). James and John refer to the crown of life (Jas 1:12; Rev 2:20). Here in our text, Paul is speaking about the crown of righteousness.

Is this a literal crown? Well, the crown that the Lord Jesus wore was a literal crown, even a crown that brought him much pain and suffering as it was forced down his head. But the crown of righteousness, like the crown of glory and the crown of life are probably not literal. How can we possibly wear three crowns even in heaven?

What then is the crown of righteousness? Well, I believe that it is essentially a public recognition of the Lord that comes with His blessings of everlasting value. It may not be a crown of metal and jewel, but it is real and eternal. It confers far more joy and glory than a crown to wear on the head.

But why is it a crown of righteousness? Not doubt it is called the crown of righteousness because it is a reward for those who labour in the cause of righteousness. It is the recompense, as it were, for the sacrifices, struggles and sufferings of those who seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

It is, of course, not a crown of ambition for the servants of God to fight for. Rather, it is a reward, a display of royal recognition for those who not only seek to be holy and righteous because they bear the name of Christ; but also seek to promote the way of righteousness and holiness in the world.

But remember that this is a reward of grace. It is not something we deserve because all our righteousness are filthy rags in the sight of God. We are righteous before God because of the righteousness of Christ covering us; and we are able to do any righteousness because the Holy Spirit indwelling us enables us to do good.

But now…

3. Who Gives?

Who is he who gives the crown? It is clear isn’t it? It is “the Lord, the righteous judge,” that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, unto whom is committed all judgement. “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” says our Lord (Jn 5:22).

But as He is the righteous judge, so he is also the righteous rewarder. He says in the book of Revelation, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rv 22:12). The Lord will judge righteously and fairly.

Consider the Parable of the Talents. The Lord Jesus is clearly referring to himself when he spoke the Parable of the Talents. In the Parable, the master of the slaves said to the two and five talent servants:

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Mt 25:21, 23).

This is part of the crown of righteousness. It is not given to the one talent man, or He would not be a righteousness judge! So the extra talent is give to the five talent man rather than to the two talent men though they receive the same commendation. Why? Because He is a righteous judge! Though He commend us according to our faithfulness, he adds a little more for those who suffered more and laboured more having been given more talents.

But finally, we must ask…

4. Who Receives?

Who are the crown of righteousness reserved for and given to? Paul makes it clear. He was expecting to receive it. But it will be given not only to him but also to all them that love the appearing of the Lord!

In the Grecian games which Paul alludes to here and in 1 Corinthians 9:24, there is only one winner. And the winner was given a perishable crown or rather wreath made of olive leaves, pine, or parsley.

But in the Christian race, it is totally different. There will be many winners. All who truly love the appearing of the Lord Jesus will receive the imperishable crown of righteousness.

In the Grecian race, the participants are competitors. They compete with one another. They do not co-operate with one another. There are no friends on the track. If I win, you will loose. If you win I will loose.

Not so in the Christian race. In the Christian race, no one will be exclude just because another is successful. There is no competition in the Christian race. Indeed, one who helps others on in their race would receive a greater reward than one who tries to put out another because of a competitive spirit.

Beloved brethren and youths, are you one of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and love His appearing? Remember that believing that the Lord will return is not the same as loving his appearing.

The five foolish virgins who were looking forward to the return of the bridegroom but made no preparation for it, love not his appearing. They expect him to return and believe that He would return, but they do not love his appearing unlike the five wise virgins.

If you love the appearing of the Lord Jesus and demonstrate it in your life by gratitude and obedience, then the promise of the Crown of Righteousness is unto you.


Conclusion

The day is coming, beloved brethren and children. The day is coming when we will finish our race and all who fight the good fight and love the appearing of the Lord will receive the crown of righteousness. We know that we do not deserve any good from the Lord, but thank God for his promise. Thank God for His encouragement of reward and hope to spur us on to persevere on to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness in all aspects of our life. May he Lord help us. Amen. W