Ron Graham was called home on March 14, 2013. He began writing this commentary before his death and had asked me, Nathele Graham, to continue his service to our Lord by finishing what he began.
Various crowns are mentioned in the New Testament, which will be awarded to Christians at the Bema Seat of Christ. One of those is the Crown of Rejoicing.
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
For the apostle Paul, his glory and joy was his converts. How is it with you? If you run into a little opposition when it comes to sharing the gospel, do you clam up? Run scared? Paul didn’t. He had a passion for sharing the gospel and never backed down. Many times he was beaten, arrested, stoned, and left for dead, but nothing stopped him from sharing the gospel.
Paul didn’t start out in a way that would hint of his later calling. He studied under the most influential and knowledgeable Hebrew teacher of the day, Gamaliel.
“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3).
We see more about Gamaliel when the Jews had arrested Peter and other apostles, and were trying to decide what to do to them. It was Gamaliel who said:
“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).
Little did he know that his star student would become very prominent in spreading, the gospel. Paul, who at the time was known as Saul, despised this new group who preached openly that Jesus is the Messiah. He held the cloaks of the men who stoned Stephen and then obtained written permission to hunt down these seeming blasphemers:
“And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4).
Once Paul met Jesus his life was forever changed. The zeal he had for murdering those who followed Jesus changed to zeal for preaching the gospel and winning souls for Christ. He didn’t have the benefit of the New Testament. In fact, a large portion of it was written by him, his letters are invaluable to us today. His knowledge of Christ did not come from the teachings of the apostles, but directly from the Holy Spirit. Some believe that during the three years he spent in Arabia that he was directly taught by Jesus Himself.
Paul did not have an easy time when he began his ministry. After all, he was now trying to be a part of the same group that he had tried to arrest and kill. They were uncertain of him. On the other hand, the group he had been a part of now persecuted him because he had switched sides. What about you? When you met Jesus, how was your life changed. Do you now preach to the unsaved group you were once a part of? Or do you just try to fit in somewhere and not make waves? This is one area where we earn rewards.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Our salvation cannot be earned by anything we do, but we can earn rewards. These will be given to us after the Rapture and one of those rewards, or crowns, is the Crown of Rejoicing referred to in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, above.
The word for crowns here is not “diadem” which is a king’s crown, but “stephanos” (a crown of achievement). It must be noted that “stephanos” is also the word used for the crown of thorns placed on Christ’s head as He was being mocked.
After a few years, Paul and his fellow servants of Christ began making missionary journeys. These were specifically to preach the gospel. Today we see many missionaries establish hospitals or orphanages, which are good causes, but Paul had a higher calling.
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).
He won souls to Christ. In these converts he found joy, and they were, his Crown of Joy.
What about those who preach the Word today? You might think that a man becomes a pastor because of his passion to see people come to Christ. That is not always the case. Many pastors today have no passion whatsoever. They only go through motions that biblically ignorant people will perceive to be genuine. The fruit trees of their lives are conspicuously devoid of fruit.
On the other hand, a pastor who devotes his time and energy to feeding his flock with the whole counsel of God and who makes that premise his passion─will indeed spend a lot of time rejoicing over the converts who have come forward and surrendered themselves to Christ. These new believers will be his “joy and crown.” Too often, though, winning souls can be a selfish endeavor…a tally mark on a scorecard of one’s own accomplishments.
Rather than seeing these new converts as souls won for Christ, a pastor may see them as just another number on the membership roster. He may see it as a personal victory that looks good to the elders or on a job application, rather than giving the glory to God. That’s when the Crown of Joy is tarnished and lost. The victory is in Jesus, and the crown will be laid at His feet when the time comes.
“The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:10-11).
The elders are representative of Christ’s Ekklesia, and He is the one who deserves any crown we earn.
Our motives for earning a crown cannot be selfish.
“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath build thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
Wood, hay, and stubble are things done for our own glory and will be burned. The gold, silver, and precious stones are things done for Christ and will last for eternity. A celebration should be the order of the day whenever a pastor stands with a person who has just become a new creation in Christ. As they stand before God and His angels and the new convert confesses his or her faith in Jesus Christ the pastor’s passion and joy should be visibly apparent, as well as that of the whole congregation.
No one should dismiss that occasion as trivial. Do we merely congratulate the person and perhaps shed a tear of joy, or do we celebrate? Truly celebrate? This is a victory. The one who just accepted Christ has stepped from eternal death to eternal life. That’s a big deal! There should be joy unbounded!
God and His angels rejoice in heaven each time Satan loses another follower to our Lord Jesus Christ. “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Since there is joy in heaven shouldn’t the Ekklesia rejoice here on earth? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” That would be the passion Paul spoke about and the crown of rejoicing. Paul did not leave those he converted alone. He wrote letters of encouragement and of admonition. He checked in to be sure all was well with them. He corrected errors in their ways and encouraged what they were doing right.
How often do we see people walk up the aisle and give their lives to Christ, and then the congregation leaves them alone? No fellowship with them. No encouragement. No guidance in removing sin from their life. We need Paul’s passion. We need to see these new babes in Christ as a Crown of Joy, not to our glory, but to God’s. Paul took joy in each person who he led to accept Christ’s free gift.
“Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” (Philippians 4:1).
Each of us needs to examine our lives to see where our joy is. Is it your joy to share the gospel with others? Will a Crown of Joy be awarded to you as you stand before the Bema Seat?
God bless you all,