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The Garland Of Glory

Every four years, the world observes the Olympic games. This custom replicates an ancient practice among the Greeks, which began as early as 776 B.C. [1].

In the modern games, winners receive a medal of either gold, silver, or bronze. However, in ancient Greece victors received an ornate wreath (stephanos) that wrapped around the head. Usually, this garland was made of pine, wild olive, parsley, ivy, and celery leaves. In time, the emblem became known as “the victor’s crown.”

Recipients of this auspicious prize were immortalized. Winners took the garland home where they wore it around town with pride. However, after a few days the “crown” withered and discolored. Hence, Paul described the wreath as a “perishable crown” (1 Cor. 9.25).

Drawing upon this athletic metaphor, New Testament writers spoke of our Christian faith as a race, the completion of which comes with the promise of “the crown (stephanos) of glory” (1 Pt. 5.4), the “crown (stephanos) of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4.8), or “the crown (stephanos) of life” (Ja. 1.12; Rev. 2.10). Again, this “crown” does not allude to the royal diadem (diadema, cf. Rev. 12.3) but to the garland of victory. This spiritual crown is the emblem of God’s approval for a race well run. However, unlike the “perishable” wreath of the ancient Greeks, our garland is “imperishable” (1 Cor. 9.25). Indeed, it “does not fade away” (1 Pt. 5.4).

How do we receive this token of triumph?

First, we must enter the race (i.e., convert to Christianity). No one can cross the finish line of heaven without first crossing the starting line of Christ (cf. Jn. 3.3, 5; Mt. 18.3; Acts 3.19). See “Your First Steps To Heaven” for how to become a Christian.

Second, if we want the garland of glory, we must run “according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2.5). Those who attempt to find shortcuts and loopholes to heaven will be “disqualified” (1 Cor. 9.27). So let us “run well,” without being “hindered” from “obeying the truth” (Gal. 5.7), lest we “run in vain” (Phil. 2.16).

Finally, we must exercise self-control so that we can get into spiritual shape and run with endurance (cf. Mk. 13.13). It takes dedication and discipline to be a disciple of the Lord (1 Cor. 9.25-27). Since that is so, we must avoid sinful habits that add cumbersome “weight” to our spiritual legs, constricting us from running effectively (Heb. 12.1). If we rid our lives of sin and keep “looking unto Jesus,” we will be able to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12.1-2), enabling us to “finish the race” (2 Tim. 4.7) once and for all.


Victors in the ancient games became lifelong celebrities, yet their names no longer grace the lips of adoring fans. They are long since forgotten and gone.

But victors in the race for the Messiah have their names immortalized in the pages of the “Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21.27; cf. Lk. 10.20; Phil. 4.3), for in

“that beautiful city with its mansions of light,

With its glorified beings in pure garments of white;

Where no evil thing cometh to despoil what is fair,

Where the angels are watching, yes, my name's written there.[2]

Though hardship, weariness, and mourning be ours to endure, yet Christians know we have “a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the cloak of praise instead of a disheartened spirit.” (Isa. 61.3, NASB). This is the Christian’s present reality. May this also become our eternal destiny.

End Notes

[1] Encyclopædia Britannica. “Olympic Games.” Retrieved April 29, 2009.

[2] M. A. Kidder. “Is My Name Written There?” Retrieved February 10, 2023.



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