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The Spirit’s Fruit; Self-Control like Jesus

08/20 The Spirit’s Fruit; Self-Control Like Jesus Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170820_self-control-like-jesus.mp3

Self Control. The Fruit of the Spirit is self control. What is self control? Why do we need it? Do we need it? How do we get it?

What is self control? The Greek word is engkratia [ἐγκράτεια ]. It is a compound of two words [ἔν] which means ‘in’ and [κράτος ] which means power or strength. Engkratia points to an inner strength, an inner mastery, a command or control of self.

The Problem of Powerlessness

There is a negative of this word in the New Testament with the negative ‘a’ prefix [ἀκρασία] that means a lack of power or mastery, lack of self control. This opposite word shows up in places like Matthew 23:25, where Jesus says:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Self indulgence is this word powerlessness or lack of self-control. The Pharisees looked good on the outside, but they lacked this inner strength of character.

It shows up in 1 Corinthians 7:5 warning married couples not to deprive one another of marital intimacy

1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive one another, …so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

He says a few verses later

1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

This inner strength word often but not always refers to the power to overcome sexual temptation. In a 2016 Barna research study, nearly half of young adults said they come across porn at least once a week—even when they aren’t seeking it out. Temptation is real, and it is more available than ever before. About 27% of Christian men and 6% of Christian women said they seek out porn at least once or twice a month. 14% of pastors and 21% of youth pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn. We desperately need this inner power, this fruit of self control which is produced by the Holy Spirit.

The negative adjective [ἀκράτης] shows up in the list of evils in 2 Timothy 3 that characterize so much of our society.

2 Timothy 3:2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

This lack of inner strength, this problem of powerlessness, is part of our society, and sadly is part of the experience of too many followers of Jesus.

The Hope of Victory

The Bible is clear.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

First, the Bible is clear that pride is precarious and no one should think of himself as exempt from or above temptation. Spiritual pride is lethal.

Second, temptation is common. Everybody experiences temptation. It is part of the human experience. This takes away one of our favorite excuses, that my struggle is extraordinary and unique. You are clearly not tempted as intensely or as frequently as I am. If you were, you would fall too. No, temptation is common to us all.

And third, God is faithful. Notice where the Apostle goes for hope in the face of temptation? He doesn’t go inside. He doesn’t say ‘You’re not that kind of person that falls like that. You shouldn’t stoop to that kind of behavior. You’re better than this – don’t let yourself give in because you’re better than that. No, in fact, that’s the kind of spiritual pride he warns against. He says everybody faces temptation, and nobody is above failure, but God is faithful. He turns us away from confidence in self and points us to the unfailing character of God. By the way, self control is not the same thing as self confidence or being self sufficient or self reliant. In another place Paul says ‘we put no confidence in the flesh’ (Phil.3:3). Don’t believe in yourself. You will fail. Put your confidence in God who will never fail.

1 Corinthians 10:13 …God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. He will not permit testing above your ability. Are you being severely tempted? You have access to the power that can overcome that temptation. God is faithful. With the trial he will make the escape so that you have the ability to endure. The power is not within you. God is faithful. God provides the escape and the ability to endure. It is yours to resist, to stand firm, to endure, but it is God who supplies you with all the power necessary to successfully stand.

Idols and What We Treasure

Let’s understand this verse in its context; this is the conclusion of an argument, not against sexual temptation, but against idolatry. The next verse gives the conclusion:

1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Paul speaks to sexual temptation in chapters 6-7. Chapters 8-10 deal with idolatry. In Corinth the idolatry was literal pagan temples and restaurants that served meat sacrificed to the idols in these temples. There was tremendous social pressure to do what everyone else was doing, to be invited, to be included, to show up and feel part of things. We all are tempted to idolatry. Idolatry can be anything we value, anything we honor. Our idol is whatever we treasure most. The Corinthians were tempted to treasure social status, acceptance, a sense of belonging; they were tempted to value these things above Jesus. They prized their knowledge, their theological understanding more than a relationship with God. They treasured their God given freedoms more than they treasured the God who gave them these freedoms.

In Chapter 9 Paul uses himself as an example of surrendering rights, God given rights, good things, for the sake of the gospel. Paul is willing to sacrifice his rights, his freedoms.

1 Corinthians 9:12 …Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Paul understood that even rights and freedoms and good things can become idols if they are held too tightly. What Paul treasured as the one thing of surpassing worth was Jesus, knowing him, being found in him, seeing him glorified as others enter into a relationship with Jesus. In verse 22 he says:

1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Then he uses an athletic metaphor to help us understand what he is getting at.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In the Isthmian games held near Corinth, all the Greek city-states competed. There was great pressure to take home the honor of a victory for one’s city. There was a goal. There was a prize. There was one thing. And here Paul brings in this idea of self-control. Every contestant exercises self control in all things. There is inner strength. There is discipline. The one thing is rigorously maintained as the one thing, and that means denying competing desires. Athletes love ice cream and lounging around in fuzzy slippers and jammies all day as much as the next person. But the athlete has his eyes on the prize, and that means letting go of lesser desires. Winning athletes exercise amazing levels of discipline and inner strength to keep the main thing the main thing and to set aside those lesser things that would entangle and get in the way of the prize. But we look forward to hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ from the King of kings. How much more should we use this inner strength to keep focus and move toward the goal? I do not run aimlessly. I keep the prize always in view. I do not waste punches. I specifically target those things that would compete with the primary desire. My body is my slave that I lead around to pursue the one thing. This is what inner strength looks like. The ability to set aside competing desires so that we can focus on the primary desire.

Then he concludes in chapter 10 by saying that we must be on guard against pride and temptation. God will supply the strength to endure. So flee idolatry.

Temptation, Opportunity and Desire

For temptation to be successful, there are three things that must come together. The temptation must combine with desire and opportunity to be effective. I have a deep love for cookies, In the middle of the night it suddenly comes to me that I need a cookie. I am tempted to sneak down to the kitchen to steal a cookie. But if I find there are no cookies in the cookie jar, the temptation is empty. There is desire and temptation but no opportunity. If the next day, there are cookies in the jar, and I walk through the kitchen and see them, the desire is still there; I love cookies, and the opportunity is there, the cookie jar is full, but I’m busy with other things and it doesn’t cross my mind to take one, I have desire and opportunity, but I am not tempted to steal a cookie. On the other hand, I might walk by the cookie jar and see the cookies and be tempted to steal one; The temptation and the opportunity is there, but if my desires have changed, I won’t steal a cookie. If last week I ate so many cookies that I threw them all up, I may no longer have a taste or desire for cookies. Temptation we have little control over. Jesus encourages us to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ (Mat.6:13)

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

We have little control over the urge or inclination. We have little control over the opportunity. I can go around asking everyone to stop baking cookies because I have a cookie problem. But at some point the opportunity will be there and I will be tempted. I believe the key to victory is in our desires. It is true that people do what they want. People will do what they want when presented with the opportunity. If I love cookies, if I want to eat cookies, then when I have the opportunity to eat a cookie I will do what I want. If I want to sleep in, I will sleep in. If I want to not be fired or fail my classes, then I will drag myself out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed and go to school or work. What is it that I want more? That is what I will do.

Jesus taught us to go after our desires. Jesus said to the religious:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and [without inner strength].

The focus of law is on conformity to measurable standards. But Jesus is after our hearts. The law says do not murder, but Jesus says do not be angry with your brother (Mt.5:21-22; 1Jn.3:15). The law says do not commit adultery, but Jesus attacks our desires and says do not lust in your heart (Mt.5:27-28). Jesus says

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

If we only put locks on our phones and computers that keep us from looking at certain things, but our desire is still for those things, at some point we will be presented with the opportunity, and we will fall to temptation. People do what they want to do. We can lock up a criminal and remove his opportunity, but if his desires have not changed, when he gets out he will do what he wants.

Changing Desires

So how do desires change? How do we gain this inner strength to set aside lesser desires to pursue the one desire? The one thing must outweigh everything else. All our desires must be overshadowed by a superior desire. What is that one thing? This is where it gets dangerous. We must replace our desires with the right thing.

Lets say I have a problem with anger. I blow up, lose it, get out of control, and verbally and maybe even physically hurt the people around me. I begin to see I have a problem and I go to get counsel. The counselor tells me to identify the triggers, the things that make me angry and avoid them. Don’t put yourself in those situations where you get angry. That’s great. Remove the opportunity. But what if it’s my wife that makes me angry? ‘Get a divorce.’ What if its my kids that make me angry? Do I get rid of them? That’s bad advice. I will never be able to avoid every situation that might trigger my anger. So I go back to the counselor. She gets my wife to take a video of me the next time I get angry and lose it, and the counselor plays it back to me and says ‘look at what a fool you made of yourself. See how idiotic you are acting? And your outburst doesn’t stop the person from pushing your buttons. In fact they may be pushing your buttons intentionally just to see you blow.’ It works. I don’t want to look like a fool. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of pushing my buttons. So I change. I have replaced my anger with a different desire. But its the wrong desire. Now I want to have the upper hand. I don’t want anyone to control me. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of pushing my buttons. I want to be perceived as better. I change, I have less outbursts of anger, but I become proud, condescending, aloof, spiteful, vengeful. I don’t get mad, I get even. You see, it matters what you replace your desires with. If they are replaced with wrong desires you may go from bad to worse.

Desiring God

How do we change in a healthy way? How do we get mastery over our desires and what is the one thing that pushes out all lesser desires?

Look at Jesus. In Matthew 4, he was in the wilderness, and he had been fasting for 40 days and nights. He was literally starving.

Matthew 4:3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Jesus had the desire. He was hungry. He had the opportunity – as the Son of God he had the ability to speak anything he wanted into existence. He was tempted. Satan himself was doing the tempting. But Jesus has true inner strength. Look at what he says:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Do you see what he does? He has a legitimate desire. In his case he had a desperate need. He was hungry. But Jesus says “I have something better. I delight in the voice of my Father more than my taste buds delight in food. He has a greater treasure than food; a greater treasure than life itself. Jesus treasured his relationship with his Father more than life itself. He desired his Father’s glory more than his own.

When temptation, desire and opportunity combine (and they will), you must have the weapon of a superior desire sharpened and ready. Jesus is treasuring his Father. He has been spending time meditating on his Word. He has been enjoying communion with his Father in prayer. He has been tasting and seeing that the LORD is good, so that when temptation came, he was able to compare it with what he had already been enjoying and turn it down flat. God is faithful.

Hebrews 12 tells us:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

What competing desires, what sins, what good things, are getting in the way of the one thing? Do you want the one thing enough that you are willing to lay secondary desires aside? If you don’t think you have the strength, cry out to Jesus for help. God is faithful. He will perfect your faith.

What is your one thing? If you don’t have the one thing clear, you will be aimless and make little progress. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Look to Jesus, who endured the cross, who rejoiced to obey his Father, who lived (and died) to bring him glory. Fix your eyes on Jesus, taste and see that he is good, experience that he is better, allow him to be your one desire.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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August 22, 2017 Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Disqualified

04/06 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Disqualified;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140406_1cor9_24-27.mp3

1 Corinthians 9 [SBLGNT]

19 Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω· 20 καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω· τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω· 21 τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους· 22 ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω· τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω. 23 πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.

24 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἐν σταδίῳ τρέχοντες πάντες μὲν τρέχουσιν, εἷς δὲ λαμβάνει τὸ βραβεῖον; οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε. 25 πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται, ἐκεῖνοι μὲν οὖν ἵνα φθαρτὸν στέφανον λάβωσιν, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄφθαρτον. 26 ἐγὼ τοίνυν οὕτως τρέχω ὡς οὐκ ἀδήλως, οὕτως πυκτεύω ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα δέρων· 27 ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι.

1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

 

The Corinthians are insisting on their rights. We all have our rights. We have the right to be treated a certain way, to be listened to, the right to be respected, the freedom to do what we want to do. Paul makes a case for his own basic rights, his right to food and provision, and his freedoms, and then he holds himself up as an example of how a follower of Jesus should use those freedoms and rights, not for self interest, but for the sake of the gospel.

Centrality of the Gospel

Central to all of Paul’s living is the gospel. His life has been transformed by the good news that Jesus, fully God, stooped to become man and suffer to save us. His heart has been transformed by the gospel of a God who left his throne in glory to come down to so identify with us that he bore our sins in his own body on the tree so that we might receive the gift of his perfect righteousness. God became man, became sin, to save sinners. Paul is willing to become like Jews to win Jews, to become like Gentiles to win Gentiles, to become weak (because we all are truly weak and helpless in our sin), in order to save those who are weak. Having been transformed by the gospel, his life is now shaped by the gospel. He begins to follow his Master and Lord who, being free from all, took on the form of a servant in order to rescue those who were slaves to sin.

Cultural Flexibility in Evangelism

Paul models for us the principle of cultural flexibility for the sake of evangelism. In order to win Jews to Christ, the Jew did not have to abandon his cultural heritage. Neither did Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved from their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus do not have to become Western to come to Jesus. When bringing the gospel to lost people across the street or around the globe, we must be careful to discern what is the unchangeable core gospel message and what are the flexible cultural externals. We, we who have been transformed by the cross of our Lord Jesus are to be the ones to move to bridge the cultural divide for the sake of the gospel. We are not to stand on our culture or preference or style or tradition and demand that lost people come to us and become like us. We are to go to them. That Christ, the promised Messiah-King died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he presented himself alive to many eye-witnesses, that is the gospel message. What you eat, what you drink, what you wear, where you meet, what kind of music you prefer, those are issues in which we are free to move toward lost people in order to win them to Christ.

Understand, also, that there are clear limits to our flexibility. Paul never said that to the idolaters he became an idolater, or to win the sexually immoral he became sexually immoral, or to reach the drug addicts he began to use drugs, or to win the gossips he became a gossip. With the Gentiles he could eat a pulled pork sandwich, and with the Jews he could eat a kosher hot-dog because Jesus had declared all foods clean (Mk.7:19). But he was not free to hate or lust or covet or be proud or grumble or gossip. He was under obligation to love. Love God and love others.

Could an Apostle Go to Hell?

Paul raises a question in verse 23 that he fleshes out in the rest of the chapter. He says

23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Paul says that he becomes all things to all people with the purpose of winning them to the gospel, and he does this in order that he might become a fellow-partaker in the gospel. Does this mean that he fears he will not participate in the gospel, that he will not share in gospel benefits if he didn’t life his life to win as many as possible? Is it possible for an apostle who was assigned by Jesus to preach the gospel to fail in the end to be saved by that gospel? It was Jesus who said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.10:22; 24:13; Mk.13:13). Paul holds himself up as a dire warning for the Corinthians and for us to examine our own hearts to see if we are walking in the gospel. The Corinthians felt they had freedom in the gospel to participate in idolatry. Paul has warned them of the danger their participation posed to those with weak consciences who might be led astray, those for whom Christ died. Now he warns that by their participation in idolatry, they themselves might be disqualified.

 

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul is comparing the Christian life to an athletic contest. The Corinthians were rolling out their lawn chairs and sipping umbrella drinks. Paul is saying ‘wake up! Start running! You are in the race! You are in danger of being disqualified!’ The Corinthians were very familiar with the Isthmian games, second only to the Olympic games and held every other year just outside of Corinth. The Corinthians loved their sports, and they understood what it cost to compete as an athlete. No one showed up on race day in their toga and flip-flops, finishing off their milkshake and pizza expecting to do well in the race. There were at least 10 months of rigorous training, strict diet and spartan lifestyle leading up to the games. The life of the athlete was characterized by the most severe self-discipline and self-denial for the purpose of winning the prize. No one entered the stadium to run with the goal of coming away with a t-shirt that read ‘I ran in the Isthmian games’. There was great honor for the winner, so much so that one emperor complained that the sports hero received more honor than the general returning from battle victorious. Every athlete has his eye on the prize. Every athlete that enters the race runs. Every athlete runs to win. And the prize at the Isthmian games was a wreath of wilted celery!

Agonize for the Prize

Paul is placing their beloved sporting event next to the race that every follower of Jesus has entered. The word translated ‘athlete’ in verse 25 is (ἀγωνίζομαι) which is where we get our English word ‘agonize’. This word paints a picture of an intense struggle with an adversary. Following Jesus is not easy. It is a struggle. The Christian life is often compared in Scripture to an athlete, a farmer, a soldier. Difficult, demanding, grueling, exhausting. That is what we have signed up for. But take heart, comrades, it is worth it. There is a prize to win. It is of infinitely more value that a wilted stalk of celery. Remember in the context, what Paul is out to win. He becomes all things to all men for the sake of the gospel, in order to save as many as possible. He intends to win Jews, to win those under the law, to win those outside of the law, to win the weak to Christ. Our prize is not a stalk of wilted celery, our prize is eternal fellowship with those we have won to Christ. We will share with them in the blessings of the gospel for all eternity.

Jesus taught in the parable about the soils:

Matthew 13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Genuine believers bear fruit. We were created to reproduce. In the beginning, God made all creatures according to their kinds and blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Healthy followers of Jesus will multiply. Healthy followers of Jesus will produce more healthy followers of Jesus. Jesus said:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Run to win. Win as many as possible to Christ. We do not run to receive a perishable wreath. We run to increase our joy in the gospel by sharing the gospel with as many as possible.

We do not run to receive the honor and applause of men, but of God. We run to hear these words:

Matthew 25:21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Self-Control

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

He specifically highlights the self-control necessary to compete effectively in the athletic world. There are things we must give up in order to win. There are things that are legitimate rights that we have that we must surrender if we are to win. Nobody says that the athlete does not have the right to stay out late the night before the big race eating and drinking. Nobody says that he doesn’t have the right to wear his bathrobe and flip-flops in the race. Nobody says he doesn’t have the right to carry a backpack filled with his most prized possessions as he runs. No one will say that he does not have the right to stop and text a selfie to his girlfriend in the middle of the race. He has the right, but everyone will tell him that he will never win if he enters the race weighed down, encumbered and distracted with all those things.

Every one who agonizes toward the prize does not walk around with a backpack, gathering up all his rights and entitlements. The athlete who wins lays down and lets go of everything that does not push him toward the goal. He has power over desires, pleasures, rights, appetites. He controls them; they do not control him. Paul holds himself out as an example.

26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Paul has the gospel always in focus. He does not wander here and there. He does not waste time on side pursuits. He adds the metaphor of fighting to that of running. He does not miss his opponent. He lands every punch. And the adversary he is fighting is his own body, his own appetites, his own desires, even his rights. He is ruthless in keeping his bodily appetites under control. Literally, he says I punch my body under the eye and lead it around as my slave. Because we are bodily creatures, often we allow our bodies to control us. We listen to our bodies. ‘I’m hungry, I’m tired, I need to be amused, I need to be pampered, I need a break’. We need to take charge over our bodies and say ‘enough! You have had enough. Now get up, there is work to do. There are lost people to reach. We have a race to win.’

Disqualified

The stakes in this race are so high. Paul says he does it all to avoid disqualification. In the context of winning others to Christ, preaching to others, saving others, his meaning is clear. There is the real possibility that the one who declares the message of the gospel to others, if he has not believed the gospel himself, if he has not been transformed by that gospel, in the end will not be saved by the good news that he has preached to others. Jesus warned:

Matthew 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This is a sobering prospect. In 2 Corinthians Paul challenges them to

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

The same word translated ‘fail to meet the test’ is translated here as disqualified. It means to be tested and proven false; demonstrated not to be genuine. The apostle Paul himself says that he aggressively exercises self-control “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Assurance of Salvation

Does this mean that the apostle lived in doubt and fear, uncertain of his own salvation? And what would that mean for us? No, this same apostle also wrote:

Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

He wrote at the beginning of this very letter to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 1:7 …our Lord Jesus Christ, 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Romans he wrote:

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And in chapter 8:

Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

The apostle John wrote

1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.

Paul never says that he fears that he might be disqualified or doubts his own salvation. He expresses bold confidence in Christ, in whose hands his eternity is secure. But he does say that he exercises self-control so that he will not be disqualified or tested and proved false. How does this fit together? If salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, where do our efforts at discipline and self-control fit? I think Philippians 2 gives us some help.

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

We are clearly commanded to work out our own salvation, and this is connected with obedience. We are not told to work for our salvation. Underneath our work of obedience is God’s prior causative work. We work because God works in us. God’s work in us is the cause both of our inclination and our energy to work. Our work is the fruit which grows out of divinely regenerated soil. Or as James would say it, our works are the outward demonstration of genuine faith. So, we do not sit still and do nothing because we say that salvation is all of grace. Instead, because salvation is all a gift of God’s grace, we run the race all the more diligently, because we know that it is God who freely supplies us with both the desire to run and the energy to run.

In 1857, the Princeton theologian Charles Hodge wrote:

What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation. This same apostle, however, who evidently acted on the principle that the righteous scarcely are saved, and that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, at other times breaks out in the most joyful assurance of salvation, and says that he was persuaded that nothing in heaven, earth or hell could ever separate him from the love of God. Rom 8:38, 39. The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, “O wretched man that I am;” and, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory,” Rom 7:24, 25. It is the indolent and self-indulgent Christian who is always in doubt.” (C.Hodge)

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

As followers of Christ, we must be willing to lay aside our rights and serve others in order to win them to Christ. We are not aimless, we are not purposeless. Our goal is clear. Strict self-control is necessary. Become all things to all people in order by all means to win some. 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

April 6, 2014 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment