Summary: To show how the crown of life is awarded to believers who endure hardship for the cause of Christ.
The Crown of Life
Introduction: Last Sunday evening we considered together the matter of faithfulness and the possibility of winning the incorruptible crown. But there is one aspect of faithfulness, that we did not touch on last week, which I want to consider tonight, and that is faithfulness in suffering. James wrote, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” You may recall from our studies in James, earlier in the year, how the word “ temptation,” is better translated “ trial.” James says, “Blessed, or happy is the person who perseveres under trial, who stands his ground.”
Now how can we rejoice in the midst of pressure? For three reasons: First of all, no trial lasts forever. Notice, James says “for when he is tried”, in other words “once the trial is past.” Trials are for a purpose, the term here conveys the picture of a precious metal being heated until it is liquid and its impurities rise to the top and are scraped off. Only pure metal is left. So the pressures of life, though sometimes painful, are designed to purify us, to draw us closer to God. Secondly if we endure them, literally, if we stay the course and are faithful in them, we shall win he crown of life. This is one of three victor’s crowns. Thirdly, the crown rests upon a promise – the promise of God’s Word, the promise of the God who cannot lie.
Here we read of the church at Smyrna. Smyrna is now known by it’s Turkish name, Izmir, and has a population of three million people, making it Turkey’s third largest city and second largest seaport, and, believe it or not is the only city in Turkey to this day that reflects a Christian heritage. Turkey is 99.8% Muslim and 0.2% Jewish & Christian, and Izmir is the last remaining stronghold of Christianity in that land to this hour. Perhaps in part that has something to do with the commitment of the early church there to remain faithful in the face of unspeakable sufferings. In fact, even today, the church in Izmir still suffers, but we will say more about that later.
Now in addressing the church the Lord Jesus introduced Himself by two titles:
He calls Himself, “the first and the last”. That’s a title of deity. See Isaiah 44:6 (quickview) . This name intimates the eternality of Christ, and it is fitting that the Lord should use it when speaking to the church at Smyrna. You see He is going to say again and again, “I know…” How does He know? He knows because He is eternal, without past or future, ever present in every age. He knows where we have been and all we have been through, and He knows where we are going, not only in this life, but also in the life to come. Nothing is hid from His view.
The second title He employs to describe Himself is as the One, “which was dead, and is alive.” Literally, “I became a corpse, yet I live.” In a few moments he is going to ask them to be faithful unto death, but first he wants them to know that he also suffered death for them. But now he is alive, In other words he suffered and survived. When we are suffering it is always good to know that others have survived the thing we are suffering. And so Jesus reaches out to this church with resurrection hope, and He says to them, you may have to die for me, but remember I died for you, but not only that I rose again, and you shall rise also. Death is never the last you will see of a Christian.