Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Crown

Check out 2 Timothy. This is the last letter of Paul that has been preserved. As Paul awaits execution in a cold, damp cell (note his request for a cloak, and for Timothy to come before winter: 4:13, 21), he says to Timothy, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come." Is Paul defeated? Has he lost hope? By no means! He continues triumphantly, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day." As he shivers in his cell, he is comforted by the knowledge that he has conquered. Not only has he conquered, but in conquering he has earned his crown.

 Note that I am not saying he earned his salvation. I am saying that after his salvation, his actions, the manner in which he lived his life, have made him worthy of receiving special recognition, possibly above and beyond that which may be considered "normal." In other places, Paul emphasizes the role of the Lord in our every day life: Galatians 2:20 is a good example of this, where he says, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." However, there are other places where he emphasizes his own role and responsibility in life, such as this passage in 2 Timothy. He says, "I have fought... I have finished... I have kept the faith." These are things he has done. Additionally, when speaking of his crown of righteousness, he does not say it will be given to him by the God of Grace. That would imply a crown he did not deserve--it would be a pure gift. Instead, he says it will be awarded to him by the God of Righteousness. He emphasizes God's role as a righteous judge, who weighs the facts and judges appropriately. The crown is awarded to Paul, in the same way that medals are awarded to war heroes: they have earned them, and in that sense they are not gifts.

This should make a difference in how we live our lives, I think. We are not mere actors moving listlessly through a pre-determined script, where the actor playing the hero will receive the fake crown for having pretended to do something. Paul tells the men of Athens that one of their poets was right in saying that in God we live and move and have our being. We live, we move, and in doing so we have the choice of whether to finish the race or fight the good fight. Even if we fall, we can get back up, and if we drop our sword, we can take it up again. We are warriors, soldiers of the cross, and God has given us obstacles to conquer, allowing us to be like Christ even in victory and conquest.

"The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Rev. 3:21

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