2 Timothy 4:7-8 “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.”
The Christian life feels like a fight. It’s a battle to stay healthy. We scratch and claw to feed and clothe and house ourselves. Our values come under attack, and the world pounds away at our faith.
Paul could sense the end of this fight, the finish line in this race, and say, “I have kept the faith.” It’s not as though he thought he did this on his own. He knew that Jesus had carried him along all the way. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom,” he writes a few sentences later.
If Paul seems to take his end in stride, it is because he was convinced of what came next: “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 to all who have longed for his appearing.”
There are two different kinds of crowns mentioned in the Bible. One is the kind worn by king. It is a symbol of his power, wealth, and authority. In some passages we are promised that kind of crown when we get to heaven, too. But that is not the kind that Paul is writing about here.
The other kind of crown was a crown made of sticks and leaves, or made of precious metals molded to look like sticks and leaves. It was given to someone as a symbol of victory. Maybe they had just won an athletic contest. Perhaps a general or emperor had won a war. When our athletes win an event at the Olympics, we hang a medal around their necks. The ancients put a crown of laurel or olive on their heads instead.
Obviously, heaven offers us more than the right to wear some sticks on our heads. This is a crown of righteousness. In this world, here and now, we are declared righteous. God treats us as though we have no sin because Jesus forgave all our sins by his death on the cross. But we know that we are still surrounded by sin all the time–both in us and around us. It has infected and spoiled the entire world in which we live.
Our rich reward when Jesus returns is that we will actually be righteous. We will never be troubled by sin again. We will commit no sins of our own. We will be surrounded by people who never sin. We will live in a place which doesn’t know even the slightest taint of sin. Everything and everyone will be only perfect, all the time. We will only love and serve each other.
Our crown, the evidence of our victory, will be the righteousness that permeates everything we are and experience. In the time you have left, fight the good fight, run the race to the end, and keep the faith. Jesus is waiting with your crown at the end.