Sunday Sermon – Meeting Our Maker pt. 4 – Growing in Christ Series

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If you are like me, you have enjoyed watching the Olympics. As I have watched men and women complete on a physical level, I have thought a lot about the spiritual application.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. ESV

Paul described the Christian life as a race. We’re all running in a race and we all have the chance to win. Many Bible teachers believe that there are at least five different crowns that a Christian may receive and numerous other rewards. What are these crowns and rewards and what does it take to win them? Over the next few weeks we will take a look at each of the crowns and many of the rewards. Today we will consider a crown that will last forever.

I. The Crown That Will Last Forever    

The first crown we will look at is we will call – ‘the Crown That Will Last Forever.’ What is this crown and to whom will it be awarded?

A. All of Heaven’s Rewards Will Last Forever    

On the one hand we can say that all of heaven’s treasures and rewards will last forever. Consider what Jesus said concerning heavenly treasures vs. earthly treasures.

Matthew 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Most people are living only for today, yet what they don’t realize is that today is temporary. James tells us that our life is like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. It is like the flower of the field that fades away with the dawn of a new day. Earth is temporary, but heaven is eternal. A century ago, a missionary by the name of CT Studd wrote a poem that says – “Only one life, ’twill soon be past;  only what’s done for Christ will last.”

B. A Crown That Will Last Forever   

In contrast to earth’s temporary treasures are the treasures of heaven. All of heaven’s treasures and rewards are eternal. Jesus said that even a cup of cold water, given in His name, will bring a reward. Just think, a million-billion years from now, the person who gave a cup of cold water in the name of Christ will have more joy than the man who obtained a million-billion dollars here on earth.

All of heaven’s treasures are eternal, yet many believe that there is one particular treasure that might be called the Incorruptible Crown, or the Crown That Will Never Fade Away. What is this crown?

1. Crowns That Won’t Last Forever

Currently the world is in the midst of the Summer Olympics. The first Olympic event was held over 700 years before the birth of Christ. The Greeks began what we now know today as the modern Olympics. Centuries ago, athletes from all over Greece would gather in order to compete in various athletic events such as running, wrestling, and boxing. As time grew on, they expanded their competitive events to include other things such as music, drama and even medicine. The Greeks were not only highly competitive, they also believed that a person should strive to be the very best they could be in every area of life; whether it be athletic competition or education. Therefore, every four years, they would gather together to compete.

Over time it became apparent that competing once every four years was not enough and so they began to establish other competitive events throughout the Grecian Empire. From these various events there arose four major competitions; one being held in the city of Corinth. It was from this event that Paul drew many of his athletic analogies. By so doing, he knew that every Corinthian Christian would be able to relate.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run , that ye may obtain. 25  And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

Athletes from all over Greece would gather to compete. To prepare themselves for their various events, they would eat strict diets and exercise extensively. Paul said that such athletes ‘striveth for mastery.’ In the original Greek, that phrase is actually one word and from that word we get the English word ‘agony.’ These world-class athletes agonized in their training. Many of them would leave home at a very young age in order to train just for these competitive events. Physically speaking, they were the most perfect specimens of humanity that could be found on earth. The English word ‘gymnasium’ comes from a Greek word which means ‘naked.’ Many of these athletes would compete in the nude in order to reveal the perfection of their bodies.

It was from these events that Paul also developed his description of what many call the Bema Seat of Christ. Located near the place where they would compete was a platform built out of stone. The ruins of one such platform still exist today in Greece. This platform was about three feet in height and it was called ‘the Bema.’ The phrase “Judgment Seat of Christ” is the Greek word ‘bema.’ It was from this Bema that an official would judge the games and reward the victors. At the close of the games, he would call all the winners to the platform and place on their head a crown made from a pine wreath.

I’m sure that was a great day in the life of many athletes. Most of them had given much of their lives for such a moment and to finally receive a reward must have been very fulfilling – for a while. But eventually the applause stopped and the pine wreathed crumbled and fell apart. Their great glory lasted only for a season and then it was gone. Next time someone else would be the victor and few would remember the previous winners. Earthly treasures don’t last.

2. Crowns That Will Last Forever

It was from this illustration that Paul drew his analogy concerning the Christian life.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run , that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

Paul’s thought was this – If men and women would strive over such temporary crowns, how much more should the believer strive for a crown that is eternal? If men and women are willing to practice self-control when it comes to their diet and lifestyle, just for a pine wreath; how much more should a Christian be willing to practice self-control for a crown that will shine forever?

Paul said that everyone runs in a race, but not everyone is declared a winner. He was not saying that as believers we are competing with each other or that only one of us can win the prize. He was saying that only those who are victorious will win the crown. The Bible tells us that there will be two types of crowns in heaven.

a)  The Diadem 

First there is the diadem. The diadem is a crown that signifies royalty. It says in Revelation 19 that when Jesus returns to this earth, He will be wearing many crowns. He will be wearing many diadems. He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. The anti-Christ will try to wear a diadem, yet in the end his diadem will be removed and he will be cast into a lake of fire. Only King Jesus is worthy to wear the diadem and thus the doxology says – “Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him, Lord of all.”

b) The Stephanos 

In heaven there will be the diadem of the Savior, but there will also be the stephanos of the saint. What is a stephanos?

First we should note that the name ‘Stephen’ comes from this word. The name Stephen is a reference to this crown. The name Stephen means {one who is crowned}. Whereas the diadem is the crown of royal, the stephanos is the crown of victory. The winner of the Olympic events received such a crown. The pine wreath placed upon his head was a stephanos and it declared him to be the victor.

Note once again Paul’s words –

1 Corinthians 9:24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run , that ye may obtain. 25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

One of the greatest glories in heaven is reserved for the child of God who finds victory. Victory over what?

C. Victory Over the Flesh  

1 Corinthians 9:26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

The first battle a world-class athlete has to win is the battle with himself. Before he can win a competition on the field, he must first win the war with his fleshly nature. The training of world-class athletes involves at least two things:

1. The Development of Skill and Strength

First of all, there were hundreds of hours spent in training. Many of you are familiar with the name – Michael Phelps. As you know, Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time. As I am preparing this message, he has won 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them being gold.

Recently I read that he spends at least 6 hours a day, 6 days a week in training (Christmas and Thanksgiving Day included). He swims on an average eight miles a day, or fifty miles a week. Michael Phelps has a lot of raw, natural talent; yet that talent would have gone to waste if he had not had the self-discipline to train rigorously.

In addition to the extensive training, there must also be a proper diet. A world-class athlete has to eat things that will fuel his body. The Christian athlete must eat things that will fuel his spirit. One of the reasons many believers are so weak spiritually is because they invest very little in their spiritual development. Bible study, prayer time, church attendance, involvement in the ministry – all take a backseat to almost everything else in life. The Incorruptible Crown is for those who master their flesh. Rather than letting their flesh rule them, they rule their flesh. And the way they do so is by living life with intended purpose.

Note Paul’s words –

26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

Paul said – “I’m not running through life, not knowing where I am going. I’m not fighting the air. I know what my battles are and I know where I am going. I live my life with intended purpose – God’s purpose.”Does it pay to live life with God’s purpose? Romans 8:28 says –

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Romans 8:28 is a great promise, yet it can be claimed only by those who are living their lives according to God’s purpose. We should learn to go through life with the prayer – “Lord, what is Your will for me today?”

2. A Denial of Things That Rob Would Rob Him of Strength

Secondly, and equally as important, is the denial of things that might drain our strength. This seems to be the primary thought in Paul’s mind –

1 Corinthians 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

A literal translation of Paul’s words might be – “I beat my body black and blue to keep it in subjection, lest I come to the end of my life and discover that many of my decisions disqualify me from God’s approval.” Rather than letting their flesh rule over their spirit, their spirit has ruled over their flesh. They have made their flesh be submissive to the will of God.

Recently I read that today is a day of open-mindedness. We are increasingly becoming more and more open-minded about our traditions, sexuality, values and morality. There is nothing wrong with being open-minded – if our open-mindedness is under the authority of God and His Word. We must never forget that in the end, God is the One who is going to have the final say-so. In the end, what’s going to matter the most, isn’t our open-mindedness, but the eternal will of the One who made us.

Romans 14:10 …For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

In the end, everyone is going to bow their will to the will of God. Everyone is going to give an account of themselves to their Maker. And the ones who are going to obtain His Imperishable Crown are those who not only knew the truth, they also lived by the truth.

Conclusion

Have you ever heard the name – Eric Liddell? Eric Liddell was from Scotland and he competed in the 1924 Olympics which were held in Paris, France. Liddell was a runner and his best event was the 100 meter race. Yet as the qualifying trials grew near, Liddell learned that the 100 meter time trial would be held on Sunday. Liddell was a very devoted follower of Jesus Christ and even though he was a favorite to win, he went to the Olympic Committee and quietly withdrew from the race. When asked why, he informed them that Sunday was the Lord’s Day and a time he set aside for worship.

Modern day Olympics had been in existence for less than 30 years and to that point, no one from Scotland had ever won a medal. Liddell was a favorite in the 100 meters and therefore many criticized him for withdrawing. Then someone suggested that he compete in the 200 and 400 meter races. Liddell agreed and  began to train.

It is said that on the day of the race, someone slipped a piece of paper into his hand. On that piece of paper was written – “1 Samuel 2:30 Those who honour me I will honour.” Liddell ran and won the 400 meter race and set a new world record.

Eric Liddell’s parents were missionaries in China and so he eventually went to China to become a missionary himself. He died on February 21, 1945. It is reported that his last words were – “It’s complete surrender.”

The Imperishable Crown is for those who live lives of complete surrender to God’s will and purpose. You don’t have to be a pastor or a missionary to win this crown. Stay at home moms can and so can construction workers. Parents of pre-schoolers can win this crown and so can teenagers and young adults. Any believer can win this crown – if they choose to live a life of complete surrender to Jesus Christ. Will you today get in the race for such a crown, or will you stand on the sidelines and watch?

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