Once upon a time, having a very “merit”-based view of theology and all things spiritual, I used to have a quiet but deeply passionate concern about “how big, how jeweled, how grand… will be my eventual ‘Crown in Heaven'”?
It seemed a legitimate question at the time, and recently I saw a very well-done post analyze the various “crowns” referred to in the New Testament (Crowns In Heaven-How’s That Work?). It is a really fine piece of work, looks at all the various references to New Testament crowns, discusses very reasonable assumptions about their similarities and differences, and what Christian godly behaviors merit their award.
And I found myself dramatically struck with… how little the question ever concerns me anymore.
In fact, amazingly… I find I do not want one anymore. Once upon a time, I did… I really did… and it was IMPORTANT to me. That’s why I was so amazed now, that not only was it no longer of any importance to me, but I actually no longer want one.
For one thing, the picture of a Crown… All shiny golden, pointy top, jewels all round… made me “itch” somehow. It didn’t “feel right” to me. So, being simplistic as I have become, I took the list of “crowns” and their scriptural addresses that was included in the article, and then looked them up in the inerrant form of Bible, the autograph… in original language.
All those referents use this word:
that which forms an encirclement; a crown, Mt. 27:29; Rev. 4:4, 10; wreath, conferred on a victor in the public games, 1 Cor. 9:25; met. a crown, reward, prize, 2 Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; a crown, ornament, honor, glory
In fact, doing a bit more digging, this word that we use as “crown”, stephanos… refers primarily to a “twined or twisted wreath”.
Jesus’ “Crown of Thorns” was a “stephanos”.
We, living in our 21st Century western culture, hear the word “crown” and we think of that gold, pointy, jeweled thing… worn by kings, queens, emperors, and such. A “Crown” carries Power, Authority, Control… legal, economic, social… all that with it. Someone who wears a Crown, gets to tell other people (without one) “what to do”! And NOBODY, except someone with a Bigger Heavier Crown, can tell THEM what to do. A Crown, in our culture, is a lifetime investiture of power, freedom, and authority!
Truth be told, this was why… when I was young… getting one was so important to me. I wanted to be recognized for what I had done, earned, sacrificed for. I wanted the freedom from my elders telling me what to do, and the power to tell my youngers what to do instead!
But when I looked at how Scripture was dealing with crowns, I saw something completely different.
If we were to put this Scriptural “crown concept” into our 21st Century reality… we’d be looking at a “Trophy”, a “Blue Ribbon”, or a “Medal”. All those scriptural “wreaths”, are awarded at the completion of an arduous or strenuous, task or journey. Like the Special Olympics awards a medal to every participant who crosses the finish line. Trophies, ribbons, and medals acknowledge appreciation for commitment, work, and persistence.
And that is GOOD, not bad! It is good to be recognized for effort. It is good to be appreciated for enduring trial and persisting at something hard. Absolutely!
But what do we do with them afterwards? We may put them in a display case, or on a wall, or on the mantle… but we don’t drape them all over ourselves and walk around that way day after day. Even military uniforms… you wear “medals” on your Mess Dress uniform, but abbreviated “ribbons” over a pocket on ordinary occasions.
Speaking of the military and medals… ever try to get a veteran to discuss his/her “valor” earning a particular medal? Hard to get them to say anything, isn’t it? They are normally the LAST ones who want it, or feel it’s earned. The most frequent response I hear in any such conversation is, “I was just doing my job. I did what I felt was needed for the safety of my unit. Nothin’ special.” But, for the encouragement of others, and to honor those who have gone before and since recognized for valor in that way, they will wear that medal (or ribbon) properly, when called for, as long as they wear the uniform. Some FAMILY MEMBER of theirs may put it in some big display case on the wall later, but THEY are most likely to keep those little boxes in a bottom dresser drawer somewhere. (I know that’s where my Dad kept his.)
Anyway, maybe 20 years or so ago, the entire issue just “dropped off my radar”. Somewhere along in there I slowly realized that “God was doing all the heavy lifting”. That I just didn’t feel like I was involved in any long, arduous, demanding race of endurance in this Christian Kingdom life. It all got… well… rather fun! Living in as “Gospel a way as I could” just made me happy! Much happier than lots of the people among whom I journeyed.
In fact, there was just so much LESS stress and strain, anxiety, burden… all that… that I’ve spent most of my time trying to help people join in to such a lifestyle so they can learn to RELAX more than they otherwise do. I mean, loving people, forgiving, shedding bitterness, dropping guilt and shame, treating others as sacred, and returning the love of a God who has created an entire Omniverse just to have the chance to be with us… um… where’s the downside of all that? Where’s the strain?
Have I known a trial or two? Yes, minor ones, to be sure. Have I been tempted to “strike back” when persecuted sometimes? Or to “fight fire with fire” when someone deals dirty with me? Sure, same as anyone. But once the immediate adrenalin wears off… well, moving on with grace is just so much healthier, easier, less draining, than entering in to a state of war! The Lord has never “left me hanging”, or failed to make good on His promises when I’ve constrained myself to honor Him.
I remember back a long time ago, thinking about this whole “rewards” thing. I concluded that I didn’t need any, certainly didn’t deserve any. Everything I currently have and enjoy, up to and including the air I breathe, and the heartbeats by which my life is measured… are utterly gift from Him. My very existence, my life, is gift from Him. The Joy I feel, with friends, with family, with you here… now… Well, you get it.
So, I think I’ve just sorta decided to skip that whole “crown” thing at the finish line. My plan is to hang near the water stand with the gatorade, and maybe hold the boxes of crowns for Him to grasp each and place it on the head of my brothers and sisters as they cross the finish line. (Hopefully, the boxes will be CLEARLY marked with each of their right “kind of crown” so I don’t mix them up. But maybe angels can help keep that straight.)
I suspect, that just as a graduating class throw their caps in the air upon conferment of degree, or completion of commissioning… perhaps we will all take our own crown(s) and joyfully fling them in adoration towards Jesus! We will Crown Him with Many Crowns… as the Worthy King!