The crown of righteousness is a reward earned by the already saved. It is not to be confused with the righteousness of God given to the believer when he becomes a Christian; at that time, the believer is "made the righteousness of God in Him." 11Cor 5:21.
This saving righteousness is a gift to be accepted by the lost at the moment of salvation.
2Co 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
2Co 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
The believer who looks for, and loves the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ, it will affect his whole life. They will be motivated and empowered to be a vital witness for Christ-in spite of obstacles, obstructions, or persecutions. Paul and the apostles are an example of this love of His appearing.
Ti 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
2Ti 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
The B.W. Johnson commentary gives some good analysis of this:
I have fought the good fight. The figure is drawn from the Grecian games. Literally, "I have striven a good strife."
I have finished my course. Drawn from the games also. The race is run to the end.
I have kept the faith. In spite of every opposition and affliction he has remained true. How true, his who life shows.
Henceforth there is laid up for me. As the successful competitor in the games receives a crown, so the crown awaited him.
The crown of righteousness. The crown given for righteousness.
The righteous judge. He was about to die by the sentence of an unrighteous judge. The higher Judge would reverse the sentence and give him a crown.
And not to me only. All can have the same hope. All who serve him, and would love to see him come as their best friend, shall have the same crown.
Let's expand on this:
(1) "I have fought a good fight"- He fought a spiritual battle throughout his Christian life, and won. He never surrendered to the enemies of righteousness. Eph. 6:12
(2) "I have finished my course." He had a course to travel, and he did not detour the hard places; neither did he look back. He finished his course with his eyes fixed on Christ. Luke 9:61, 62, Phil. 1:6.
(3) "I have kept the faith." He preached all the counsel of God-never betraying any of the great doctrines. Acts 20:24-31. The Apostle looked ahead to the "Judgment seat of Christ" where the "Crown of righteousness" will be given to those who "love His appearing". It is important for the believer to look with a heart of love and expectation for the Second Coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that he may receive the "crown of righteousness".
A sad observation I've seen over the years is the waning by many Christians of a desire to see the coming of the Lord. A great majority do not want to hear of the Lord's coming anymore. Some of this is because of the many false predictions over the years of when He would come, and didn't. A lot of teaching and false prophecies have "cried wolf" too many times, and help bring an apathy, and "here we go again" mentality. Peter talks of this and says:
2Pe 3:3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
2Pe 3:4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
Peter goes on to explain in the next verses that these are of the same kind who scoffed before the flood, and were destroyed.
God waited seven days before He shut the door of the Ark, and the floods began to cover the earth. He waited that long to see if anyone would change their mind- and get in. No one did. This speaks volumes to me about what it's going to be like before Christ returns again- I don't believe there will be very many waiting, wanting- or caring to see Him come. I believe it will be very few, in comparison to the world population. There's going to be a lot of people who went to church every Sunday- who won't make it either.
2Pe 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
2Pe 3:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
Those who scoff and laugh now, may find themselves over-run when the Son of Man appears in glory, and sets up His kingdom again on this earth. Before that happens there's going to be a great deal of turmoil and destruction.
2Pe 3:7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
2Pe 3:8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2Pe 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
2Pe 3:11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
2Pe 3:12 Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?
2Pe 3:13 Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.
Today for the believer to run their race, and finish their course as Paul did, it's going to take a great deal of mental exercise and skill-in order to keep above the schemes and manipulations of the devil, which he uses a great deal in the technologies in every area of life. The lust of the eyes, the pride of life, and temptations for money run everything, and just about everybody is ruled by their control, and aren't even aware of it. Propaganda, brainwashing, the drug culture and programming has done a good job of channeling the populations to spending their money, energies, and time in all the things that bring in revenue for Hollywood, crooked government organizations, and media sources. There's a small group of people who live outside this and watch it as an observer, and we who look at it from God's perspective see the end result-it's only a matter of time before one day God says it's enough and sends Jesus back, to receive His people and rule this earth, as He promised.
When a society can't distinguish sin, doesn't know what sin is, or believe it even exists, and cannot define it; we are in trouble. Today, neither can we define sin, nor even a person's gender-we have been given over to a culture the bible calls a reprobate mind. I'll let you search out what this means, according to the dictionary, and what the bible says about it and then examine this world's culture today, and see if it doesn't fit.
On a September night in 1978, which was a Friday, I attended a local prayer meeting with a small group of people who met that night at a camp at Hebb's corner, at Hall's pond in Vermont, and we spent several hours singing, praying, sharing scripture together. During the prayer session, the Holy Spirit came upon several of us, and there were a couple of prophetic utterances. I was given a short message to speak out, very simple, but profound- "Behold, I'm coming quickly, are you ready?" God confirmed this was from Him in several ways that night-and as Paul, I can say, I'm looking forward with anticipation for the day Christ returns. I do not know if it will be in my lifetime-or if he will tarry a while longer. But, the signs are much greater than when that short message was given, and when Paul gave his epistles and instructions in scripture concerning the Lord's return.
As time goes on, we who are looking for the Lord's appearing will continue to be looked at by the world with unbelief, scorn, and can expect the same treatment as the early disciples, but we were told of this and so we endure the hardness, as good soldiers for the Lord.
Many millions down through history have followed in Paul's steps, and are now waiting in heaven for that great day, when Jesus tells them to "saddle up", and ride with him to descend to this war-torn and polluted planet, and restore it, as He reigns on it-with all those of us who have loved his appearing.