Having reviewed his past with gratitude, Paul now looks forward to the future with much anticipation. He knew that his Lord would award to him “the crown of righteousness” (v.8). Here, Paul continues his metaphor of the Christian life as a race. The winners in the Greek Games would be honoured with crowns made of olive or laurel leaves. It was a great achievement to be able to wear this victor’s crown. When the champions returned home, they would be welcomed with great fanfare.
The crown that Paul would be given would be a different kind. Firstly, it “will never fade way”, but will “last forever” (1 Peter 5:4; 1 Corinthians 9:25). The crown won at the Games would eventually wither—this is the fate of all earthly crowns. But the crowns in heaven are eternal.
Secondly, the heavenly crown would be awarded by the “righteous Judge” Himself. His judgement is perfect and final, full of wisdom and justice. All earthly crown-givers would pale in comparison to the One who gives the heavenly crown.
Thirdly, the heavenly crown would be worn with great humility. It cannot sit comfortably on proud and self-congratulatory heads. In a heavenly scene that the apostle John witnessed, the 24 elders seated on thrones would fall down before Jesus. “They lay their crowns before the throne” (Revelation 4:10). The crown would not be a sign of personal achievement, but of God’s mercy and grace.
Fourthly, the crown would be given to “all who have longed for his appearing” (v.8). It would not be for the elite only, but for everyone who believed in Jesus and obeyed Him, waiting for His return. In other words, while everyone in heaven will have a crown, there will be no hidden competition over who has the best crown. The attention will not be on the crown wearers, but on the glorious crown Giver.
Those who mistakenly see the heavenly crown as a trophy given for religious performance will be sorely disappointed. It is not something earned, but something given graciously by the God who “sees what is done in secret” (Matthew 6:4). The reward will not be earthly honours and possessions, but the uninterrupted presence of Jesus and the joy of seeing His face (Psalm 27:4).
What does the Bible teach about rewards in heaven? How do Christians often misunderstand such teaching? How do you think you will be rewarded in heaven?
Which of the four points about the heavenly crown speaks to you most powerfully? Why? Read the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1–16. What does it say about God’s rewards?