“Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
~James 1:12 (TNIV).
I make no apology for using a gender inclusive Bible when necessary for I believe God includes and involves men and woman equally in the Christian life, the ministry—everything. I believe us mere mortals have no way of telling what the Spirit’s doing the greater part of the time and to subsume faith as something that’s gender exclusive is a ridiculous notion. I say this in the light of the TNIV being axed; I’m a fan of the TNIV.
That said, let’s get on with it.
I believe James pivots on this verse. I see it as an “outcome” verse. It’s the very reason we’re involved with faith, with life, with God—besides being blessed to live eternally now.
So, I believe James is making this statement primarily as an end-of-life position we should hope to take—to strive in this life, so as to take our crown in the next, which God’s preparing for us now.
Many think that to qualify for this ‘crown of life’ they have to stand every test wonderfully, stoically, winsomely—well, that’s the devil’s rubbish right there.
We will fail—we will all fail. Indeed, failure, if we resolve it spiritually, marks us as a success!
True Christian theology turns failure toward us in rampant success. When we take pride in our weaknesses and failures—as Paul so eloquently discusses in self portrait in his Corinthian correspondence—and only in these, God sweeps through and gently marks the position of that crown atop our heads as we’re blessed with his guiding, comforting Presence in those moments.
Failure and weakness are certainly the requisites of humility; they’re also the very platform for spiritual resilience; this is a wonderful Christian concept hidden, unfortunately, to so many.
No one who steps aside during their trials, allowing God’s will to take over i.e. through them, will fail to see this. There’s no power like this to effortlessly travel through the test knowing God’s favour rests on us merely in our momentary but complete submission to his will. And again, this needn’t be an inactive thing; we will often be entirely active as we give way intuitively to God in the midst of trial.
And now, what will this crown look like? There is a fascinating litany of ancient meaning to the crown (stephanos) and James would most certainly be referring to this, at least in part. For instance, it marks us in festive joy, as royalty, the victor from the games and finally, it is a mark of honour and dignity. These are all ours; they’re promised to us now. For these, we exist now in pregnant hope.
The key thing we should bear in mind, however, is that persevering in our trials should be mostly seen as an end-of-life outcome event and our situational failures are simply opportunities to rest in the royalty of God—his strength in our weakness.
Our momentary failures don’t preclude us from receiving our crowns; indeed, they magnify our crowns!
We may lose battles (in his name) but we’re winning—and will win—the war.
We will fail and it’s in these very failures that God crafts our crowns by way of our responses.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.
 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, 2003), pp. 55-56.