James told us before to be steadfast. In fact, this verse has three words to show us James is referring back to his opening theme in verse 2: trial, test and steadfast (persevere in NIV). We are to consider it joy to face trials knowing that they produce steadfastness which makes us complete. Here he says God blesses us when we are steadfast under trial. Steadfastness and perseverance in the faith is the proof of our salvation. Jesus said “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. James says the same thing here. Those who endure the trials and keep the faith will be saved.
James speaks of that reward in a metaphor. He compared the Christian life to a race. The winner of a race in the Greek games received a crown. It was a wreath of laurel leaves worn on the head. Here is a picture:
In a long race, the runner must endure trials. He or she will experience fatigue, pain, thirst, hunger, sunburn and other unpleasant things. To finish, you must endure those without giving up. If the runner endures and finishes, he or she receives a crown. These days you get a medal or a shirt.
James called this the crown of life. He said God has promised one to those who love him. Only one who loves God will endure trials and suffering to the end.
The crown of life symbolizes eternal life. One who believes in Jesus endures to the end and receives eternal life. (John 3:16) Jesus said the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)
Paul referred to a crown of righteousness. As he saw his execution approaching, he said:
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, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (1 Timothy 4:8)
Eternal life comes with many blessings:
1. Life in the presence of God (Father, Son and Spirit) (Revelation 21:22);
2. experiencing worship with the saints of all times; (Rev. 22:3);
3. No sin or sinful people (Rev. 22:15);
4. God’s kingdom will be visible (Rev. 22:3);
5. Imperishable, glorified; powerful; spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44);
6. bearing the image of Jesus (2 Cor. 15:4)