The rewards we will receive in heaven are often referred to as crowns. The idea of crowns was taken by Paul and other writers from the athletic games of the first century. Those who won the various events were given wreathes as crowns on their heads. This is what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 9, when he writes, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (ESV Verse 25). Many translations call it a “crown.” The important image to understand is that it’s representative of the believer’s victory over the “trials” of life. The victories will be eternal. They are not the kinds of trophies we might win in our lives today that are eventually thrown out. They are victories from which we will reap the rewards forever.

You might notice that Paul was writing to the Corinthians. In the first century the Isthmian Games, forerunner of the Olympics, were held in Corinth. He was addressing his audience with an illustration that all could relate to and understand. Contestants from all over the world would come to Corinth to compete in these athletic events. The month immediately preceding the events, Corinth was filled with athletes training for their particular competition. The streets were filled with those athletes running to prepare themselves. Paul used the image of the running athletes to illustrate the Christian life with one great difference. The rewards that they are struggling to win are all perishable. According to David Jeremiah, “In the Isthmian Games, the prize was a simple pine wreath wrapped around the head. Contestants wanted that wreath because honor went with the award. But that honor was just as perishable as the wreath itself. The cheers and recognition and fame and sense of accomplishment faded all too quickly.”

Peter gives us a different perspective on the race that we are running also. He tells us in 1 Peter 1:4-5, that God has “…caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” Our heavenly rewards will last forever. David Jeremiah concludes that when we get to heaven “…earthly wreaths and trophies and newspaper clippings and Super Bowl rings will be long forgotten. They’ll be no more important than brushing your teeth or buying a newspaper at the corner store. But what we do for eternity—even the smallest of deeds—will count forever.” Henry C. Morrison, after serving for forty years on the African mission field, headed home by boat. On that same boat also rode Theodore Roosevelt. Morrison was quite dejected when, on entering New York harbor, President Roosevelt received a great fanfare as he arrived home. Morrison thought he should get some recognition for forty years in the Lord’s service. Then a small voice came to Morrison and said, “Henry—you’re not home yet.”