I’m no shadow boxer – revisiting 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:13

As part of our series on Spiritual Warfare I am revisiting this passage once again. Although this sermon begins as last time, it goes on to consider the Armour of God from Ephesians 6 and the place of fasting in Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry.

“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 every human being 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. 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.
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 a long time ago 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?
We are in a spiritual battle. The second world war was fought on three fronts, land, sea and air. In our spiritual battles Christians 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.
THERE’S A WAR ON
EPHESIANS 6 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Human beings are caught in the middle of this spiritual war between God on the one side and the cosmocrats, the devil and all his demons on the other. The devil has already been defeated by Christ on the cross. But although he has lost the war the devil refuses to give up. And Christians especially are caught in the middle of the fight. So we need to be on our guard. There’s a war on!
13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
We aren’t call on to defeat the devil. Christ has already done that. We are called simply to stand firm in our faith, to resist the devil so that he flees from us.
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist,
In the face of all the lies and deceptions of the devil, which we thought about last week, we need God’s truth
with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
Without God we are all trapped in sin. We have no righteousness of our own. Only Christ’s righteousness which God gives us as his free gift can save us. So we cling to that righteousness.
15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
We need gospel shoes. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. (NRSV)
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
We thought last week about the sin of stubborn disbelief, which is flaunted by some so-called preachers but is actually rebellion against God. With all the pressures to doubt and question we need to cling to our faith, the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints. In the midst of all the spiritual battles we keep on trusting in God.
17 Take the helmet of salvation
When the going gets tough and the devil tempts us to doubt God, we need to cling on to the glorious fact that God has saved us, and is saving us and will save us to the uttermost!
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Faced with all the lies of the devil, we need to cling to the truths revealed in Scripture. Particularly, we fight spiritual battles using the Word of God, our two edged sword, the only item in the armour of God which is designed for offence as well as for defence and the weapon which God has given us to confront and resist and rebuke the devil.
The devil has so many tricks up his sleeve. But we are not ignorant of his devices. In this battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms we need to put on the full armour of God so we can take our stand against all the devil’s schemes. And Paul has more advice for us as we battle to resist temptation.
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.
In the battle to be holy in an unholy world, 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. We should be prepared to 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 around 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.
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 Facebook 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 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 resist the devil’s traps.
As we prepare for our Week of Prayer and Fasting let me say two more things about the place of fasting in Spiritual Warfare. If we find ourselves confronting the powers of evil, and even called by God to drive out demons, we need to remember that we are doing so in obedience to the commands of Jesus and in His all powerful name. Here is what Jesus said about his own deliverance ministry.
MATTHEW 12 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 ‘Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
In that little parable, the strong man is the devil and Jesus is the one plundering his possessions by driving out demons. And Jesus was able to command the demons because he had already “tied up” the devil. And Jesus accomplished that at the very beginning of His ministry when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted. But He did not give in to temptation. Jesus was the first human being ever who did not give in to the devil’s temptations. He proved there that He was stronger than the devil. So it was there in the wilderness that Jesus “bound the strong man”. Demons would have to obey Jesus! We will return to the victory of Christ over the devil and especially through his death on the cross again, but for tonight let’s just notice that for forty days before and then during those temptations Jesus was fasting. Fasting was important in Jesus overcoming the devil and disarming the strong man. Because Jesus fasted, we should fast too! Fasting is important in our battles with the forces of evil.

One more reference to the place of fasting in spiritual warfare. After Christ was glorified in the transfiguration, Jesus, Peter James and John came down the mountain to find the other disciples had been unsuccessfully trying to drive an evil spirit out of a deaf and dumb boy. Jesus immediately drove the demon out of the boy.

Mark 9:28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.
It should be obvious that prayer is vital in any confrontation with the powers of evil. But the point of interest here is the footnote which tells us that some of the ancient New Testament manuscripts add two more words, so it reads that Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” Fasting keeps us close to God. Not only prayer but also fasting are important weapons in spiritual warfare, and fasting is of great value especially in deliverance ministry.

STAND FIRM
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. But let’s be clear. The way out of temptation which 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!
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 – and don’t neglect fasting as a spiritual discipline. So stand firm. Don’t just be a shadow-boxer! Fight the good fight!

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