For they will be a graceful ornament on your head,
and chains about your neck.
We live in a time where people fight for equal rights. The right to vote, the right to work, the right to say what we want, marry who we want, do what we want, the right to live, and the right to die. It seems like we all want to be equal in our own eyes with everybody else with no one standing out among the crowd and no one having more than another.
This drive for equality has now invaded almost every facet of our lives. We don’t give trophies to the winners in Little League Baseball anymore. Why? Because everyone must be equal, which means no winners and no losers. So everyone gets a trophy for just participating, for simply showing up, for buying a glove and a pair of cleats. And by not honoring the winners, the ones who deserve the honor, who earned the recognition, it’s somehow supposed to make us all feel special.
We have to dumb down the tests in school because some students work harder than others and are more concerned about their grades and future. And others… well, not so much. So we make the tests easier and more generic for the less motivated students so they won’t feel bad or marginalized when others are rewarded for their diligence and study. After all, everyone should get an A. Everyone should feel good about themselves and no one should do any better than anyone else. Why? Because we’re all striving for equality. And equality always tends to settle at the lowest common denominator.
But that’s not how life functions in the real world. It’s the best and brightest, the ones who work the hardest, the ones who put in the long hours, and the ones who continually strive to learn more who are rewarded with the raise, the promotion, and the corner office. It’s not the sluggard, the lazy, the half-hearted that’s honored in our society for their accomplishments. The rewards and accolades go to the few who work diligently for them, and not to the many who don’t.
And as sobering as it may sound, the Kingdom of Heaven functions in much the same way.
The Rewards for Obedience
The father and mother in this Proverb have implored their young son to stay the course and keep focused on the things in life that really matter. They know that he is about to enter into the fallen world of sin and deceit and deception and they are giving him their final words of affirmation to keep him strong whatever he may face.
The father tells him: “My son, hear (or, listen and obey) the instruction (or, discipline, correction, chastening) of your father, and do not forsake (or, abandon, walk away from, to ignore) the law (or, direction) of your mother” (Prov. 1:8). In other words, remember how we’ve raised you. Remember what you’ve been taught. Remember the truth and do not walk away from it chasing other idols the world will try to tempt you with.
Remember and stay strong.
But why? Why should the son listen to the “instruction” of his father and follow the “law” of his mother? What will he gain from placing himself in a position that is sure to bring about ridicule and rejection from his peers? What’s the pay-off for this young man? What’s the upside from living a sin-free, committed life in Christ?
Proverbs 1:9 – For they (the “instruction of your father” and the “law of your mother”) will be a graceful ornament (or, a garland, wreath, a decorative headpiece worn as a sign of approval, honor, favor and acceptance) on your head (as a crown), and chains about your neck (or, a necklace of remembrance).
The graceful ornament symbolizes wisdom and prosperity coming from the father to the son and are his for the asking, if he obeys. It is, in a sense, the son’s reward for listening, heeding and obeying the words of his father.
Which leads us to draw a few conclusions about rewards and also raise a few questions.
But note first, we are not talking about salvation, which is given as a gift, freely, based on faith in the completed work of Christ on the cross as the payment for the penalty of our sins. No, in that we are all equal. We are simply one hopeless beggar telling another beggar where we found bread. What we are talking about are the rewards based on what we have done with the gift given us by Christ. How faithful have we been in Him while living on this side of eternity? And in regards to that, we can surmise the following:
One, the reward is conditional. If the son listens and obeys, the reward is his. And if he does not, does he still receive the reward? And if so, on what basis? Maybe for just participating? For simply being a member of the family? For being on the team? The context would say, no.
Two, the reward is for him alone. Nowhere is the promise given to the lost or disobedient or to those who are not the father’s sons. Does that mean that not everyone is entitled to this reward? Is it exclusive, reserved for some but not all and given only to the ones who meet the requirements of obedience? The context would say, yes.
Three, equality is not the issue. The reward makes the son special in the eyes of the father. It’s a recognition of his grace, favor, love and acceptance of the son based on the son’s faithful adherence to the instructions of the father. Does this mean not everyone is equal in the eyes of the father? Does it mean there will be some who receive rewards and some who do not? And, if that is true, is the granting of rewards primarily based, like in this verse, on obedience to the father? The context would say, yes.
In the New Testament we discover there are five crowns that the Believer can receive. But note, the operative word is can. These crowns are not guaranteed for just showing up. In fact, the word used for “crown” is stephanos and doesn’t refer to a Kingly crown as a Monarch would wear, but a “crown or wreath or garland that was given to the victor in the public games.” This is more of an overcoming crown given to those who have trained, fought well, and won. In Scripture we find what is called the “imperishable crown” in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. Next, there is the “crown of rejoicing” in 1 Thessalonians 2:19. Then the “crown of righteousness” in 2 Timothy 4:8, the “crown of glory” in 1 Peter 5:4 and finally the “crown of life” in James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10.
These crowns are not guaranteed for just participating, they are given to those who have met some sort of requirement. They are rewarded to those who have distinguished themselves among others. They are not for everyone, but for the few, those who have earned them. For example:
1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but (who) one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
This verse implies there are some who will not run the race heartily and will not obtain the prize or crown. The admonition is for you to be different, to not be like the crowd, to run to win.
2 Timothy 4:8 – Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to (who) all who have loved His appearing.
But what if you don’t love the reality of His appearing? What if you’re so enamored with this world you are of no good to the Kingdom? What if you love this world (1 John 2:15) and not the certainty of His appearing? Do you still qualify for the crown?
James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who (what) endures temptation; for when (what) he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
And what if you do not endure temptation, what happens then? Are you still given the crown? Or have you, by your own actions, disqualified yourself for the prize, the promised crown, by not meeting the requirements? And what are the requirements of being “approved’? Is it simply our love for Him? And, if so, how is that manifested daily to make us approved or accepted in Him?
Many of us who have been brought up in the “everyone is equal so there’s no need to try too hard” morass of our fallen culture have come to believe that working for crowns or rewards is a futile effort since we don’t get to keep them anyway. After all, Revelation 4:10-11 shows the twenty-four elders, which represent the church, the redeemed, you and I, actually “casting their crowns before the throne” in a profound act of worship.
We then reason, “So if I’m going to cast my crown, my reward that I worked real hard for at the feet of Jesus, geez, like what’s the point? Then I’ll be just like everyone else who doesn’t have a crown. So why try? Why should I work for something I can’t keep? Seems like a big waste of time to me.”
But that only shows the depravity of our love and commitment to our Lord. We give Him the glory with our lips as long as we can keep the rewards to make us feel special and important among our friends. And how selfish is that?
But don’t be deceived. Salvation is a gift given freely by grace through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. In this, we are all equal. But what we do with that gift, how we live our lives in Christ and for His glory, is another matter indeed. And to this fact, the Scriptures have much to say about how truly unequal we may be in His Kingdom. Consider these passages:
Matthew 5:12 – “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, (why) for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
But “great” is a relative term. Great is compared to something less than great. Those who are persecuted for the name of Christ will have a “great” reward in heaven compared to other rewards or compared to those who receive no rewards. In other words, their reward will be greater than others. Otherwise, why the admonition to be “exceedingly glad” in the face of horrific persecution and even death?
1 Corinthians 3:14 – If anyone’s work which he has built on it (what) endures, he will receive a reward.
And if it doesn’t endure? Exactly.
Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each (how) according to his works.”
And that reward is applied “according to his works” in differing degrees based on differing degrees of works. Just like it is in the real world.
You also have Jesus rewarding the faithful steward of ten coins with “being over ten cities” and the faithful steward with five coins of “being over five cities” and the unfaithful steward entrusted with one coin with nothing (Luke 19:15-26). Jesus even went so far as to reward the steward with ten cities even more by giving him the one coin from the unfaithful servant. Was that unfair? Was Jesus playing favorites? What about the faithful steward who was given five coins? Was there something wrong with him? Or was Jesus simply rewarding the most faithful with more?
And so it is with you and I in His Kingdom.
Jesus is Coming Soon
Jesus is coming soon and He is bringing His rewards with Him. He says so in Revelation 22:12: “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to (who) every one (how) according to his work.”
That’s “everyone according to his work.”
To those who “hear” and are faithful to listen and obey “the instruction of your father” and not “forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8), the reward for their obedience will be a “graceful ornament on your head, and chains about your neck” (Prov. 1:9). Why? Because our Lord is a “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). He rewards the diligent, the committed, the single-focused, the sold-out, the passionate, the faithful, the devoted, those that seek Him “as the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God” (Psalm 42:1). But He never promises to reward the slack, half-hearted, lazy, slothful, indifferent, or the apathetic. Never. And neither would you.
Those that put heaven first and this life last will see great reward. And those that don’t, will suffer shame.
As C.S Lewis said, “If you read history, you will find that Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Let’s strive to be so heavenly minded we are of no earthly good.
Will you join with me?
1. What are you committed to? What’s the driving passion of your life? Be honest with yourself. You don’t have to give the Sunday School answer. Do you know what you’re committed to? And, if so, how do you know?
2. How much time do you spend on what you’re committed to? How much of your life is tied up in that pursuit? Can others see your commitment? And are you known to others by that very commitment? How has that passion impacted the other areas of your life?
3. Have you received any rewards for your passions? Have you received any notoriety or recognition because of what you’re committed to? How did that make you feel? Was the feeling lasting? Was the end result worth the time you spent to get that special recognition? Was it all worth it?
4. Have you thought about how temporal and short-lived all the things we’re committed to in this world, either good or bad, truly are? Our jobs, our degrees, money, fame, a good-looking physique, a new car, stylish clothes, a fat retirement account, a second or third vacation home? Even if those things are noble causes like ending world hunger or bringing about world peace, it will still all pass away. Have you considered the only wise thing to commit your life to is the reality of the next world, the eternal world, and your life in Christ? And, if so, what are you waiting for?
5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?
Next Step Challenge
Take your Bible and look up the five crowns listed in the New Testament and read them in context. You will find them below.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
1 Thessalonians 2:19
2 Timothy 4:8
1 Peter 5:4
James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10
What are they saying? Can you obtain these crowns for yourself? And, if so, how? What would you have to do or not do to meet their requirements? Are you interested? Does this seem like something to commit some time and introspecting to?
And, if not, why? What is more important to you than receiving a reward from the Lord Jesus and joyously, as an act of worship, giving it back to Him? Won’t you feel embarrassed to have nothing to cast at His feet?
And if so, what are you prepared to do about it?