I’m no shadow boxer 1 Corinthians 9-10

“Fight the good fight of the faith,” Paul says 1 Timothy 6 :12. We Christians don’t like fighting. Somehow we think we ought not to fight. And we aren’t any good at fighting. But there’s one fight we can’t escape from. There’s one battle God really wants us to fight and indeed to win, and that’s the fight against temptation. God calls Christians to follow Jesus and to become more like Him – to become holy as our heavenly Father is holy. And we can only do that by winning in the battle against temptation. A holy life is a succession of holy moments. We need to learn to say yes to God and no to sin, more and more every time. And that’s a fight, a struggle, a battle!
Oscar Wilde spoke for us all when he said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Sometimes we are still surprised when we fail God, when temptation overwhelms us and we give in so easily. But we shouldn’t be surprised. The Bible is very clear:
As Christians we are caught up in the cosmic battle between good and evil, between God and the devil and his minions. The whole world is a battleground, and especially if we are Christians our lives and our bodies and our minds and our hearts are the battlegrounds. We saw this in our sermons on Romans.
Romans 7 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. …. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Last week Europe was looking back seventy years to the events of D-Day. That war was fought on three fronts, land, sea and air. In our battles we are also attacked from three directions.
The world around us – putting us under pressure to fit in.
The flesh – our fallen sinful human nature which can be especially challenging for a person who has only become a Christian later in life.
The devil – deceiving and lying and leading people away from God.
We are in the middle of this battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, and the apostle Paul took that battle very seriously indeed.
1 Corinthians 9 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul is saying we need to be like athletes in training. Following Jesus can’t just be one hobby amongst many. Some people view being a Christian a bit like life insurance, or should I say “after-life insurance.” They think that as long as they turn up to church occasionally and pay their subscriptions into the offering box now and then everything will be OK.
But the Bible says we need to be like athletes training for a competition. The Corinthians would know all about that. In the ancient world every three years the Isthmian Games took place in Corinth, and they were second in importance only to the Olympic Games. Like those athletes, Christians need to be in strict training to win the prize of the crown of life which will last forever. Just like athletes, Christians need to make sacrifices and exercise self-control in all things, They should give up not only unhealthy pleasures but even legitimate passtimes if they interfere with training and make the body or the mind flabby. And we know that spiritual battles are so much more important than winning a race.
So Paul says, 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I’m not just a jogger! I do not fight like a man beating the air. I’m no shadow boxer! Paul took the battle against temptation seriously and so should we.
I’ve waffled on before about what was required to represent my university at the crazy sport I used to play. Not only the matches on Saturdays, which meant travelling all round the South of England. There was the team practice on Wednesday afternoons, skills training on Monday lunchtimes and circuit training in the gym on Thursday lunchtimes. We need to do our spiritual press-ups and star jumps if we want to be fit for the spiritual battles we face.
Let me offer two specific examples of spiritual exercises which help Christians be ready to say yes to God and no to sin.
One general principle – a simple lifestyle. Seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness in all things. Delighting ourselves in God and not in our possessions.
1 John 2 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
We each need to take our stand against the pull of that creeping enemy materialism. Only buying things for their usefulness and never for their status. Developing the habit of giving things away. Refusing to be conned by the hidden persuaders of advertising. Living more simply so that we learn to depend on God and not on that false god Money.
One specific practice – fasting. Like Jesus did in the wilderness. Like Moses and David and Elijah and Esther and Daniel and Paul. Like the early church did, and Luther and Calvin. Committed Jews in Jesus’s time fasted two days a week and John Wesley urged the first Methodists to do the same, and refused to ordain anyone as a minister who didn’t practise fasting.
Fasting is a powerful aid to prayer, but fasting is also a valuable training ground for the battle against our selfish human nature. By fasting we learn to surrender to God instead of to the demands of our bodies, preparing ourselves for the battles against temptation. The world thinks that happiness consists of having all our desires met immediately. Fasting replaces selfishness with self-denial. We need an antidote to self-indulgence and fasting helps us develop self-control. Try fasting from food. Or from TV. Or from texting or from the internet. Like athletes in strict training, Paul says
26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave
Paul subdued his body and its desires – developing a simple lifestyle and the spiritual practice of fasting can help us to do the same! All to make sure we are in tip-top spiritual shape and that when the time of temptation comes we can
When temptation strikes we shouldn’t panic and we shouldn’t give in. Because help is always at hand.
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
It’s true. Our temptations are only the same as those which others have faced. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus himself was tempted in every way as we are, yet He did not sin. But instead of pointing to the life of Jesus, Paul points to the examples of the Israelites in the Old Testament and gives them a number of warnings of sins to avoid.
10 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
This is a stern warning! The Israelites were God’s chosen people, rescued from slavery in Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land. They were miraculously sustained and protected by God, yet many of them fell into sin.
6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.”
Remember the Israelites who made a Golden Calf to worship even while Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the ten Commandments! Beware of the sin of idolatry, the modern idols of money and shopping and entertainment.
8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
The temptations to immorality are as powerful today as they have ever been.
9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.
Putting God to the test, moaning about God’s provision and doubting His promises.
10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
Grumbling may not seem to us to be a very big sin – but complaining and rebelling against God are still easy traps to fall in to. Some people are never satisfied. The more God blesses some people, instead of becoming more grateful the more they take him for granted.
There are so many other examples of sins to avoid which Paul could have chosen from the Old Testament. Pride, greed, lust, murder, jealousy, hatred, divisiveness. Sin is all around us and the devil attacks us all from every side. But whatever the temptation may be, we have God’s promise of help, a way of escape.
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
But we often misunderstand that verse. We can so easily take it out of context. We read it as a promise, but the context shows us that the emphasis is very different.
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
What Paul is saying that all these Old Testament warnings of sins to avoid challenge us.
But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
The way out of temptation God offers is not a promise we can choose to claim if we feel like it. It is a way out we are obliged to claim whether we feel like it or not! This is not just an encouragement to weak Christians who are battling against temptation and losing. This is a challenge to strong Christians, who think they are standing firm. God’s way of escape is there. Make sure you take it and don’t fall into sin like the Israelites did! You ought to take God’s way out of temptation. You don’t have to sin – make sure you don’t!
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
So this verse is both a promise and a challenge to us all. Fight the good fight of the faith. There is a spiritual war on. Get stuck in to the battle against sin and temptation. Don’t just give up the struggle. Get fit like athletes in training. God loves you. Christ has died for you. You have been forgiven. And God isn’t in heaven keeping score every time we fail Him. Jesus has died for all our sins – the sins we committed before we are Christians and the sins we still fall into today. But your heavenly Father does rejoice every time we take the way of escape He has provided in Jesus. So stand firm. Don’t just be a shadow-boxer! Fight the good fight!

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