For the last month, we as a church, have been praying about what God is calling us to do in the upcoming year. God has gifted each and every person who calls Britton Christian Church ?home.? He desires that we use the gifts that He has given us to bring glory and honor to His name, and to serve and bless His people. Paul wrote to the folks in Rome and said,
4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to ll the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8 NIV)
Each of us has a body and there are many parts that make up our bodies. If one of our body parts doesn?t function properly, then the whole body is affected. So it is with the church. We, at Britton Christian Church, are one body. For BCC to be the church that God has called us to be each of us must be an active part of this body.
This is a foreign concept to most people in the church today because our modern-day understanding of church is that ?church? is a place that we visit to get fed?period. Stop and think for a moment with me. Why do you feed your physical body? Is it just to eat or is it to provide your body with fuel to do what you need to do? Being fed is a means to an end. We have places to go, people to see, things to do right? To do all of this you must provide your body with fuel to do these things.
This is also why we feed our minds and spirits. We study God?s Word and seek to learn His will for our lives so that we can live out His will, so that we can get to know Him, serve Him, glorify Him, honor Him, and serve His people.
We want to be fed because it is going to benefit us, but when you talk about serving others then we become uncomfortable. Why is that? I think I know the answer. We become uncomfortable because it is going to cost us something. If I am serving others then I may have to give up some of my personal time. If I am using the gifts God has given me to bless His name then I may have to step out of my comfort zone. Serving God, using the gifts He has given me, is going to cost me something.
I hear folks talk about wanting to do something significant, wanting to get better at something, but my question to you this morning is ?Are you willing to pay the price?? You may ask, ?What price?? ?How much does it cost?? ?Will I get anything out of my service?? I commend you on your questions. Those are important questions for anyone to ask before we say ?yes? to such a tremendous undertaking. I need to tell you the cost is high, far higher than any price you?ve ever paid in the past. The commitment is exacting, it will cause you to strain and struggle like nothing you?ve ever experienced. The tenure of your exacting commitment will be limited, but the reward will be eternal. Now, I must ask you again, ?Are you willing to pay the price??
This morning I have come here to sign you up if you are willing to pay the price. This morning you and I are not being registered, recruited, or enlisted into a paltry political campaign. We are not trying to boost our membership rolls to look good to surrounding organizations. Our signing day is not like major college athletic programs that seek out only the fastest, strongest, and most capable. It?s not like the Ford Modeling Agency who recruit only the sleek, beautiful, pedigreed populace who have all of the promise of success and fame. This morning God is calling men, women, boys, and girls from every walk of life to become a servant of the King.
I came to ask you today, ?Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to pay the price?? I?ve been listening to some of you talk. You say, ?I want to be a better Bible student,? but I rarely if ever see you in Sunday school or Bible study. Occasionally you?ll drop in on worship to soothe your guilty conscience, to try and bargain with God, or to try and keep up your appearance as a committed follower of His. You say, ?I want to be a better husband or wife.? But you?ve always got time for things that matter least while never having time for the things that matter most. You say, ?I want to be a better giver, I want to be more generous.? Yet, you spend on yourself like Brittany Spears and treat God like a back alley beggar. You say, ?I want to be an Elder or a Deacon.? Yet, your desire is to obtain a title rather than a testimony of service to our King and His people. You say, ?I want to feel close to the Lord.? Yet you are passionate about so many other things that you have no passion left for the One who desires your company. I?ve heard all of these statements and more and yet I have to ask this morning, ?Are you willing to pay the price??
I want us to focus our attention this morning on a little four verse slice of God?s Word. A portion of God?s Word which overflows with meaning and application for us today as we come to the end of this season of prayer about what God is calling us to do in the New Year. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
(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. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV)
What a powerful little section of Scripture for us as we consider whether or not we are willing to pay the price to enlist in the King?s army, to lay down our lives in service to our King.
I love the way Paul uses athletic imagery to communicate spiritual truths to us. I believe there is no other field which so poignantly demonstrates for us the exacting commitment, determination, and zeal of living the Christian life than the arena of athletics.
Just this past week I watched several football games on television. I watched superbly gifted athletes excel and fail on the field in competition. One athlete who excelled was never expected to excel beyond his high school career. Wes Welker played football at Heritage Hall High School right here in Oklahoma City. He had an amazing high school career, but he wasn?t recruited very heavily by colleges because they said he was too small.
When the final recruit for the Texas Tech Red Raiders backed out of his commitment the scholarship went to Wes. Wes made the most of his opportunity. Over his 4 year career, he had 259 receptions for 3019 yards and 21 touchdowns. He carried the ball 79 times for 456 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also scored 8 touchdowns returning punts during his career. Wes holds the NCAA record for punt returns for touchdowns.
Coming out of college Wes heard the same argument by all of the NFL teams?you are too small. He wasn?t drafted, but he did sign a free agent contract with the San Diego Chargers. He was cut after the first week of the season. The Miami Dolphins picked him up and used him on special teams. Playing against the Patriots on October 10th, 2004 Wes became the second player in NFL history to return a kickoff and a punt, kick an extra point and a field goal, and make a tackle in a single game. Not too bad for a guy too small to play the game.
Wes was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the New England Patriots this year and he is having the best year of his career. He is on the leader board in receptions, punt returns, and kick-off returns. Not too bad for a guy who has always been considered too small to play.
How has Wes accomplished so much? Well, everyone knows the answer to that question. He just lays around the house and plays the latest Madden video game while he eats ice cream and watches ESPN. You know better than that. Wes has used the gifts God has given him; he has pushed himself, made sacrifices, refused to accept ?No? as a possibility, and pursued that which is important to him in life.
Where else can you find a better example of the diligence and commitment that is required of those who desire to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior? Paul uses the field of athletics as an illustration of the Christian life because as an athlete you can?t be a slacker and succeed. In athletics, you can?t have a half-hearted commitment and rise to the top. In athletics, if you waste your summers sitting on the couch and watching television instead of punishing your body to get it in shape then you will never achieve your potential. In athletics, if you don?t have the commitment to work hard in the weight room and bust your tail on the practice field you can still be on the team, but you?ll find yourself sitting on the bench. In our walk with the Lord you can?t make discipleship an after-thought and expect for God to use you. You can?t make worship a mere routine, just go though the motions, and expect to experience the power of the Holy Spirit made real in your life. You just can?t do it!
For those of us who have come here today and are wanting to begin the upcoming year in a new way then I have good news for you if you are willing to pay the price. If you merely want to gain something great by investing nothing, then you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Jesus never said that being one of His followers would be a Sunday afternoon stroll, a picnic, or a life of leisure. As a matter of fact, when Jesus described what it would mean to become one of His followers He spoke bold words which scared folks to death. Jesus said,
(37) “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; (38) and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39 NIV)
In Mark?s Gospel we find ourselves listening in on a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. Read along with me from Mark 9:35-38.
(35) Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (36) He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, (37) “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:35-37 NIV)
When Paul writes to the folks in Corinth he is echoing Jesus? words. Jesus? call, to those who desired to follow Him, was a call to absolute devotion. Jesus calls us to make Him first priority in our lives. Everything else in our life has to take a back seat to living our lives in devotion to our King.
I want to highlight some very important aspects of Paul?s message for those of you here today who want to pursue God?s call upon your life today. Paul begins in verse 24 by saying,
(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.? (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NIV)
The people that Paul was speaking to were very familiar with athletic competition. In Corinth, every three years, there was a competition called the Isthmian Games. Not everyone competed in the games, but those that did choose to compete underwent strict training so that they would be prepared to compete. Many people would line up at the starting line for the beginning of the race, but only one runner would cross the finish line in first place. The winner of each of the competitions in the Isthmian Games would receive a pine wreath which would be placed on their head to mark them as the champion.
The Olympic Games were conducted in much the same manner with the competitors training their bodies to be ready for the competition. Those who chose to compete in the Olympic Games had to swear by the Greek god Zeus that they would follow ten months of strict training before the day of competition. Ten months of punishing one?s body for a race that lasted only a few seconds. The winner would climb atop the platform reserved for the champion and be crowned with an olive wreath. Ten months of hard, exacting, sweaty, grueling work for a few moments on top of the winners platform and a wreath to wear on your head. That?s commitment my friend!
People didn’t have to sign-up to compete in the Isthmian Games or the Olympics. We don’t have to compete in the Kingdom games either. We can say ?no? to Jesus and His invitation to run to win for the Kingdom. As a matter of fact many today are rejecting the invitation of our Lord and Savior, there will be those here this morning who in hearing this invitation will walk away choosing to reject Jesus, but if we choose to follow Jesus then we should run in such a way as to win.
Paul points out the absurd contrast between the competitors in the ancient games and those who train their bodies for Kingdom work. He says in verse 25, ?They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.? It is interesting that the word Paul uses for ?crown,? the Greek word, ?stephanon” is the same used for the crown which was placed on the head of Jesus to mockingly proclaim Him King.
The winner?s of the Isthmian Games and Olympic Games were given crowns that would wither and die, but Paul says that we run a race for an ?incorruptible crown? which will never fade in its glory. In Revelation 4:4 there is a beautiful picture of the twenty-four elders seated around God’s throne wearing “crowns of gold.” (4:4) As the elders worship Almighty God they “cast their crowns before the throne” (4:10).
We run this race of life to bring glory and honor to God, and God alone crowns us with righteousness, joy, and glory so that we can then, one great day when we take our place at His throne, cast our crowns at our King?s feet. What a great day that will be!
My friend I want to suggest three things to you which I believe can greatly enhance your pursuit of living a new life beginning today. I believe with all of my heart that God has placed within each of us who belong to Him a desire to pour our lives out in service to God and His people. We need more than a desire, we need to follow through. I want to suggest three things that can greatly help you follow through if you have that desire to serve the Lord.
First, you need a plan. Second, you need purpose. Last of all you need the power. Let?s take a look at each of these individually.
This gift of life which we have been given by God is such an important “race” my friend that we can never take it lightly. When we feel called by God to make changes in our life we must pursue the goal God has set before us with a plan. Paul says, (26) Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. Here, in verse 26, Paul mixes the athletic competitions of track and boxing. He says, ?I don?t run like a man running with no direction. I don?t fight like a man shadow boxing.? If we are going to begin to serve the Lord then we must have a plan, we must have direction, we must have goals!
Long before I ever started serving the Lord I learned this lesson from athletics. As a kid I played every sport that was offered. I wrestled, played baseball, ran track, played football, and basketball. In each of those sports the same recipe for success applies. Our coaches had a plan, they worked us, they pushed us, and we succeeded. I?m grateful for all of the years that I was able to play sports, but I?m even more grateful for the opportunity to serve my King! Paul wrote to Timothy and said,
(8)?For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.? (1 Timothy 4:8 NIV)
Physical exercise is good. I know that. I have a plan for that portion of my life. I run five days a week. Those of you who struggle with exercising know that if you don?t have a plan then you are never going to stay consistent in exercising right?
If having a plan to keep our physical bodies in decent shape is important then don?t you think that having a plan in developing ?godliness,? in growing in our relationship with the Lord, is also important? Of course it is. We need a plan for living a godly life! You may be thinking, ?I can?t even plan out my day how am I going to plan to become more godly?? You ask such good questions. My friend, the plan has already been given, we just need to read it! God?s Word is the plan which has been handed down to us by Almighty God concerning how He desires for us to live, but we must read it, study it, meditate upon it, feast upon it, and take it to heart!
Every week coaches all across this nation sit down and study film after film in seeking to devise a game plan which will enable their team to be victorious in the upcoming contest. When the coaches come up with a plan it is given to the players for them to study and learn. If the players study the plan and take it to heart, follow it to the letter, then they will be prepared for the contest. If the players disregard the game plan set forth by the coaches then the game will be chaotic and they will most likely look like fools.
We need to study God?s game plan to live a victorious life. If you and I are going to see positive change come to our lives this year then we need to study the game plan set forth by Almighty God. God?s game plan is relevant and effective to bring about change in every area of our life.
Secondly, we need a purpose. We can have a great plan for getting involved in serving the Lord, but if we do not have something driving us, something that can help us move past the setbacks we will encounter along the way, then we are destined to fail. Paul said, (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.? (1 Corinthians 9:27) Paul?s statement that he ?beats? his body and makes it his ?slave? is something that seems so absurd to us. I mean, who would inflict such pain upon one?s self? The statement by Paul doesn?t seem absurd at all to athletes. Athletes push themselves everyday so that they can maximize their skills and better themselves at their sport. If athletes stopped when they encountered pain they would be like the rest of us couch potatoes who derive so much joy from watching them perform. It has been said that football is such a unique sport because you have 60,000 people in desperate need of exercise enthusiastically cheering on 22 men who are desperately in need of rest.
Life is a struggle. All of life is a struggle, but especially that part of life which calls us to walk in faith before a holy and righteous God. My dear friend, listen to me closely and let my words sink deep into your heart and soul. When you decide that you are going to live sold-out to Jesus Christ, you are going to encounter pain and struggle like you have never experienced it before. Earlier, in verse 25, Paul spoke of those who ?compete? in the games. Paul uses a very interesting word which is translated ?compete? but which means something altogether different. The Greek word, ?agonizomai” means ?to struggle, to be a combatant in the public games, to contend, to fight, to strive earnestly.? It is a word which carries such great sweat and struggle with it that it ought to make us wince even to say it. It is the word from which we get our English word, ?agony.? The athletes who compete are willing to undergo such incredible pain to gain their perishable crown.
Paul describes his pursuit of serving the Lord in the same way. He says that he beats his body and makes it his slave. He won?t allow his body to determine how far along he gets in his pursuit of the crown set before him.
The word used for ?beat? is an interesting word used in the field of boxing which means, ?To give a black eye to.? When Paul?s body screams at him to stop, Paul screams at his body to press on! My friend you are going to encounter pain if you commit your life to serving the Lord. You are not always going to be appreciated by those you serve. You are going to have to say, ?No? to some of the things you would like to do in order to follow through with your commitment. You might even feel overwhelmed at times, inadequate at times, unworthy at times. Those are painful experiences.
Our encounter with pain is what drives us back to the couch and keeps us enslaved to our old ways and our lax way of living. The moment you encounter pain will be the telling moment, the pivot point of your life. Will you turn back and go back to what is comfortable, what is easy? Will you press on through the pain to the other side where victory rests? If you have some purpose beyond yourself which drives you then you will be much more likely to press on to victory.
If you have a purpose beyond yourself, namely, to glorify the Lord and serve His people, then you have a much better chance of seeing lasting, positive change take place.
Lastly, you need the power. You and I not only need a plan and a purpose, but we need the power to see real change take place. Where do you get the power do such great things as God has set before us? You?ve tried before and every time you try you fail, so you have simply given up. Right? Right! The power that you and I need is already available to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His followers,
(16)And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever?(17) the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (18) I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18 NIV)
When we are weak and at our wits end, the Holy Spirit will strengthen us and enable us to press on and press through those most difficult of days so that we can taste victory one great day! My friend you have the power if you have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, but you must allow the power to flow through you and work in your life.
Many years ago in Greece there was an annual marathon race which was the most highly regarded and recognized event in the land. There was one young man who was the hometown favorite and most gifted of all the runners. There were those supporters of the race that hung around the athletes to try and make money off of their popularity and these men targeted the young runner. They said, ?Son, let us represent you and if you win we promise that you will have more notoriety, fame, and fortune than you could ever imagine.? The young man said, ?Sir, I am really not interested.? Then the men said, ?You just don?t understand. If you win the race you will win a wreath, some petty cash, and few days in the limelight. We want to make you wealthy and famous!?
The young man walked away from the men that day and later ran the race. He won decidedly. After he had accepted his prizes for his great accomplishment and the crowd around him had begun to disperse, the men who wanted to be his promoters approached the champion. They said, ?See, look what you have missed out on. We could have made you the most recognized person in the land. You would have wanted for nothing.? At that time the young man looked at the men and said, ?You don?t understand. I didn?t run that race for the wreath, for the money that I was given, or for the opportunity to be the most recognized man in the land. The only reason I ran the race was for a chance to stand next to the King.?
I tell you today that I have chosen to run the race, I am willing to pay the price, I am willing to press through the pain, to stare down the heartache, to refuse to flinch at the prospect of failure, to take on the trouble — not for the people of Britton Christian Church, not for my family, but only for a chance to stand next to the King! I?m not running this race to win the plaudits and popularity of people. I?m not running to win the approval of men. I?m not running to gain notoriety, but I?m running, I?m pressing, I?m working, I?m straining, I?m preaching, I?m teaching, I?m sharing, I?m caring — only for a chance to stand next to the King! Will you stand with me?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
November 11, 2007
1 Corinthians 9:24-27