Giving-up is easy, but perseverance is difficult. James has already told us that God allows our faith to be tested so that we can develop perseverance (James 1:3); and that without it, no Christian can grow to maturity (James 1:4). Now he says that God will bless the person who keeps holding onto Jesus by faith, despite all the trials. Indeed, without enduring the tests, this special blessing cannot be given! A blessing is not just a nice thought, but God's powerful Word which promises to do the person good in the future. That future culminates in the Day when Jesus returns, and He rewards those who have stood firm through the trials - because they were trusting in His promises.
The 'crown of life' is best pictured as the laurel garland given to Olympic champions. Its value is not in itself, but in what it represents. Although we may think of the modern Olympic Games, the original contests of physical skill were started in Olympia, Greece, as early as 500 BC and continued through the days of the Early Church. The events included running, wrestling, boxing and equestrian events. Olympian heroes, then and now, are made by years of exhausting, muscle-aching, mind-focussing self-denial - to become the best that they can be. And they do it for the honour and pleasure of their country (1 Corinthians 9:24). Heaven's 'laurels' or 'crowns' are awarded for self-sacrifice in honour of the King of heaven, who has sacrificed all for them - and it is Jesus who personally expresses His pleasure in welcoming home those who have run the race well (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
God's training programme for us will include the many difficulties we face at work and in the community, at home and with our finances, and also with our health and even persecution. Yet each trial is designed to enable us to trust Jesus and refuse to retreat (1 Peter 1:7). The tests may be either directly from the Lord as He gives us the opportunities to demonstrate our faithfulness to Him in service despite difficulties (2 Corinthians 13:5-7), or may come from those temptations and challenges from Satan which the Lord allows … so that we may demonstrate that Jesus, and not the world, flesh or devil, is our Lord (James 1:13-15).
But what motivates the embattled believer to keep holding firm to Christ? The Word of God tells us of this promise of blessing spoken over us, that He will personally reward every faithful Christian with expressions of His pleasure that will last for ever (Psalm 16:11). The Holy Spirit who indwells every believer (Romans 8:9) is our Comforter, Guide and Interpreter of the Scriptures. He assures us that we really do love Jesus (Romans 5:5) leading to that inner conviction that we really do love Jesus and we must not let Him down. Think about it, and it will shape the way you assess and deal with troubles today!
© Dr Paul Adams