For the past couple of weeks, the world’s focus has been on
29th Olympiad from Beijing, China. Despite the
deceptions by the Chinese government during the opening
ceremonies, and the usual controversies with the judges, it
generally has been fun to watch. The networks seemed
to do a better job this year also, actually showing some of
the events rather than endless profiles of the participants.
That said, the highlight for me was the special feature by
Mary Carillo on Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary who
was born in China and competed for Great Britain at the 1924
Olympics in Paris, France. He is best remembered for
the 100 meter event that he didn’t run, withdrawing because
it would require running on the Sabbath. He was able
to switch events with teammate Harold Abrahams (who went on
to win the 100 meters) and Eric won the 400 meters in world
record time, a huge upset. He ran the race clutching a
sheet of paper that someone slipped into his hand at the
start of the race which said “Those who honor me I will
honor” (1Sam 2:30). His Olympic triumph was
portrayed in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.
At the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Scotsman Allan Wells became the
first winner from Britain in the 100 meter dash since
Abrahams in 1924. When asked after the victory if he
had run the race for Harold Abrahams, Wells replied, "No,
this one was for Eric Liddell."
Upon completion of the Olympics, Eric began his life's work
as a missionary to China, following in his parents
footsteps. After the Japanese invaded China, and the
British government strongly urged its citizens to leave,
Eric elected to stay, but sent his wife and children back to
safety. Eric was imprisoned in a Japanese internment
camp in 1943, where he developed a brain tumor that was
inoperable under his current conditions. In spite of
tremendous pain, he maintained his faith and continued to be
an inspiration for others before dying in January 1945 at
the age of 43, shortly before the camp was liberated.
In 1991, a memorial headstone was erected by Edinburgh
University at Liddell's previously unmarked grave in Weifang.
The stone’s inscription (from the book of Isaiah) read
"They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run
and not be weary."
Returning to the 29th Olympiad, with improved technology
and training techniques, the athletes keep getting better
and the world records continue to fall. The training
and preparation to compete becomes a full time endeavor.
The Apostle Paul was familiar with the Olympic Games, held
every four years in Greece. In a letter to the
Corinthians, he wrote:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but
only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the
prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into
strict training. They do it to get a crown that will
not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever
Since this letter was written to the Corinthian Church, he
was probably referring to the Isthmian games, held every
five years in the city of Corinth. For almost an
entire year preceding the games, athletes trained and
measured every decision (eating, sleeping, relationships
etc) against a single goal, winning the prize.
We can just imagine that, for an athlete to make this kind
of extreme sacrifice, the price must have been magnificent
and of enormous value. Actually, it was a garland
wreath that died in about a month. Now, if these
athletes focused and dedicated their life to obtaining a
perishable award, how much more should we run our race such
that we may receive an eternal award?
We might wonder, why is it that more of us don’t run this
race to win? I think that one of the primary reasons is that
it takes discipline. Simply going through the motions
won’t get the job done (just as buying a jogging suit
doesn’t make you a runner). Another obstruction is
procrastination. “I should have… I’m going to… I need
to…” won’t get us across the finish line. Perhaps, the
most common obstacle is that we get distracted by our job,
hobbies and other temporal activities. Paul refers to
distractions and singleness of purpose in his letter to the
Romans, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a
great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that
hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run
with perseverance the race marked out for us (Rom 12:1).
This doesn’t mean that we should quit our job or abandon our
hobbies. Our job, when done unto the Lord, becomes
part of our worship, and Scripture speaks of our
responsibility to take care of our families, our church and
the less fortunate. We were also made with a need for
relaxation in order to refresh our minds and bodies.
God established the Sabbath as a day of rest and worship.
Paul is speaking of priorities.
There are many reasons for us to run this race, not the
least of which is that God commands it, as we’ve seen above.
Another great reason is to do it in appreciation of what
Jesus has done for us. He came to earth, bore our sins
and died for us. The least we can do is to live for
Him. One final consideration for running a good race
is that, ready or not, a payday is coming.
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For we must all appear before the judgment seat of
Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the
things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2Cor
The Judgment Seat of Christ is also known as the Bema Seat,
a concept that comes from the ancient Olympics, where a
judge would sit on the raised Bema Seat at the finish line.
The judge's purpose was to determine what position the
runners finished, insure that all the proper rules were
followed, and to give out the appropriate rewards. At
the 1988 Olympics, in one of the most publicized and
dramatic races of the decade, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson
beat American (and my fellow University of Houstonian) Carl
Lewis in the 100 meter final in world record time.
Three days later, Johnson was striped of his medal after
testing positive for steroids and the gold medal was awarded
to Lewis. So, we must not only be concerned with
winning the race, but following the proper rules (as found
in the Holy Scriptures).
While athletes are judged solely on their performance and
conformance to the rules, Christians are additionally
evaluated by the condition of our hearts. For the
Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward
appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1Sam 16:7).
At the Bema Seat, we’ll not only be judged on the
faithfulness of our deeds, but on our words, thoughts,
attitudes and motivations as well. Our judge will be
the omniscience (all knowing) Christ, so as Pastor Tony
Evans would say, “shuckin” and “jivin” won’t work on that
Paul wrote that, at the Bema Seat, our work will be shown
for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.
It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the
quality of each man's work. If what he has built
survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned
up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only
as one escaping through the flames (1Cor 3:13-15).
The Bema Seat judgment is not to be confused with the Great
White Throne judgment of Revelation 20, which is a judgment
of non-believers prior to being cast into the lake of fire.
The Bema Seat (or Judgment Seat of Christ) will be for
believers only, those whose eternal position in the Kingdom
has already been secured. This judgment will actually
be more of an evaluation of how we lived our life here on
earth, since there is now longer any condemnation for
those in Christ (Rom 8:1). Still, it will be
either a day of loss or a day of triumph. Our works
will be tested by fire, and only those performed with the
correct attitude in accordance with God’s will and in
obedience to His Word, such as furthering the gospel,
building up fellow believers, and showing benevolence toward
our neighbors will survive. All our other deeds will
be consumed by the fire. The Scriptures are clear that
our faithfulness during our present life will affect the
quality of our eternal life in heaven. We’ll discuss
both the White Throne and Bema Seat judgments in greater
theological detail in other articles, so let’s move on to the rewards.
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We now see why we should run the race to win, but we might
also ask, “What are these eternal crowns mentioned by Paul
when he writes we do it to get a crown that will last
forever" (1Cor 9:25). There are two Greek words
used for “crown” in the New Testament (NT) of the Bible.
The most common is stephanos, which Thayer’s Greek
dictionary describes as "the wreath or garland which was
given as a prize to victors in public games”. The
English word Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr,
is also derived from this term. The other word for
crown, diadema, from which we get our English word
diadem, is used to denote royalty and is found only in the
Book of the Revelation. The NT actually mentions a
dozen or so crowns in all (for example, Jesus’ crown of
thorns), but we’re only concerned here with the ones awarded
This first believer’s crown, to which we’ve previously
referred, has been called the “incorruptible crown” or the
“crown of mastery”. As we’ve also noted, this crown
will be given to one who competes in the race in a
disciplined and godly manner. Do you not know that
in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?
Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who
competes in the games goes into strict training. They
do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get
a crown that will last forever (1Cor 9:24-25). The
Greek word translated “competes” is agonizomai, from
which we derive the English word agonize. This
pictures a person straining every muscle to discipline his
body in order to master his sinful nature. Paul
advised Timothy to train yourself to be godly. For
physical training is of some value, but godliness has value
for all things, holding promise for both the present life
and the life to come (1Tim 4:7-8).
Crown of Rejoicing
For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our
Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our
glory and joy. (1Th 2:19-20 ESV).
This crown of rejoicing, aka the “crown of boasting” is
awarded for faithfulness in the work of evangelism for those
making winning others to Christ a passion in their lives.
Someone once said that “the people we win to Christ will be
our welcoming committee in heaven”.
Crown of Glory
Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving
as overseers--not because you must, but because you are
willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but
eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you,
but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief
Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that
will never fade away (1Pe 5:2-4).
The crown of glory will be given to those individuals who
faithfully fulfill their calling as shepherds of the flock,
those who lead and disciple others and help them grow to
maturity in Christ. Leading the flock also involves
living a life that others will desire to follow. I
believe that this crown is not just limited to pastors and
teachers, but is available to any Christian who faithfully
ministers in this sphere of activity.
Crown of Righteousness
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I
have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the
crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge,
will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also
to all who have longed for his appearing (2Tim 4:7-8).
This crown, described by Paul shortly before he was
beheaded, is awarded for faithfulness in ministry in light
of the promised “glorious appearing of the great God and
our Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Many Christians don’t look forward to Christ’s inevitable
return because they are not ready, not in the sense of
concern for their salvation, but in the sense of the things
that have been left undone. When we are faithful, we
can say without hesitation, “come anytime Lord Jesus”.
On the other hand, many Christians are so focused on His
return that they neglect their present earthly duties (like
the Thessalonians, for example). Perhaps the best
analogy I’ve heard on balancing our focus came from someone
(whose name I can’t recall) comparing our earthly existence
to a voyage on a ship. This wise person stated that we
should “prepare for a journey of a thousand years, but be
prepared to abandon ship at any moment”.
Crown of Life (Martyr’s Crown)
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you
the crown of life (Rev 10:2).
This final award is given for faithfulness in suffering to
those who endure trials and persecution for the sake of
Christ. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount,
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness'
sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are
you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for
so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt
5:10-12). Sometimes we feel all alone during hard
times, but rest assured that your circumstances do not go
unnoticed in heaven. In addition, we have the
indwelling of Holy Spirit to help us endure.
James, the brother of our Lord, wrote “Consider it pure
joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith develops
perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so
that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives
generously to all without finding fault, and it will be
given to him (Jas 1:2-5).
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The great news is that these crowns are not just for the
super saints and do not require any special theological
knowledge. We should strive to study our Bibles, since
the more we know about God, the easier it is to please Him
by discerning and doing His will. Then, winning the
crowns simply becomes a matter of being faithful to our
calling. If we yield our lives daily to the control of
the Spirit of Christ, He will do the work through us and we
get to collect the prize.
I’ve heard many people say, “I don’t care about the rewards,
I just want to be a good servant”. While this
statement is usually humbly intended, it is not biblical.
The Scriptures encourage us to strive for these crowns, not
so that we might boast of ourselves, but so we may boast in
the Lord, then lay them at the feet of Jesus, the One who is
truly worthy of them.
Paul writes from his prison cell toward the end of his life,
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold
of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind
and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the
goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward
in Christ Jesus (Php 3:13-14).
Notice he says to forget what is behind and keep looking
forward. This does not mean to completely forget our
past since we should learn from our mistakes, but to the
extent possible, we should not allow our past to control our
future. Many people never get in the race because they
think it’s too late for them, or they’ve done too many bad
things in their life. We can’t change our yesterdays,
but we can let the Spirit control us today, which will lead
to a new and better tomorrow. Remember the parable of
the workers in the field (Mt 20:1-16). Don’t worry if
you’re getting a late start. God puts a premium on how
you finish. Get in the race and go for the gold!
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