Intro: It is a big day in America today it’s the Super Bowl. I wonder if everyone is tested for steroids that they will all pass the test. I don’t know if this is prohibited in this game but in the Olympics it is prohibited for an athlete to take this “performance enhancing” drug. There were a number of athletes in the past who were disqualified because they broke the rules. That simply is cheating. There was one who won the gold in the Olympic track and field and after many years was guilt stricken and confessed that she took steroids and gave up her medal. We are continuing today the passage we looked into last Sunday about the mission of kingdom citizens.
“Victory is in Jesus”
Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all these.” 2 Tim. 2:1-7
After the apostle Paul compared serving for the kingdom like a soldier with one focus to please his commanding officer, he moves to use an athlete as another example in the service of the King. He had in mind competing in track and field to win the price. But this is more of the marathon. Before one enters to compete in this sport one has to be physically fit and has spent days and years of hard training. Unlike the 100 meter dash, the marathon is a test of endurance in fact everyone who competes is a winner if he completes the 26 mile course. Of course in any competition there is a rule to keep. I will now shift to using the Christian life instead of Kingdom life that mean the same. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians he wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets a price? Run in such a way as to get the price. 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. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly. I do not fight like a man beating the air. 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 Cor. 9:24-27 So we see what is necessary is preparation through hard training and knowing the rules to observe in running the race. Is this race a competition? I believe what Paul is driving at is we are competing with ourselves. In the Christian life our battle is within ourselves. We have the flesh and we have our spirit who is now alive. Before we got saved we were controlled by our sinful nature referred to as the flesh. But now we have two natures, the sinful nature and the divine nature because of the presence in us of the Holy Spirit. This is where the competition is. The flesh wants to do what is contrary to the Spirit. Here is how Paul explained this to the Christians in Galatia, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Gal. 5:16-18
Isn’t this true? When you read in the Bible a command and the Holy Spirit gives you the understanding, immediately the sinful nature will resist the change and the battle begins. Your spirit wants to do what Christ wants you to do but the sinful nature will resist and also wants you to do what is contrary to the Spirit. So now what do we do? Go back to the gospel.
“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Run to the cross and crucify your sinful nature and believe this truth.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20
When you consider that your sinful nature has died then who lives? Christ. Then the Holy Spirit gives power to our spirit to obey whatever command the Lord gave us. The passage where Paul said he beats his body to make it a slave, he was referring to making his body a slave to righteousness and no longer a slave to sin. Remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees, they teach and make people obey the law yet they themselves do not do what they preach. Likewise whatever I preach to you and I do not live what I preached I disqualify myself for the prize. That is not losing my salvation but I will lose my reward for the service I did. The prize is not salvation. The prize is the crown for winning the race that I will receive from Christ. That’s why pastors and teacher will be more accountable to God because they preach and teach and when they fail to do what they preach they will lose their reward. They stand to be called hypocrites. But did this discourage Paul? Not at all, that’s why he said I beat my body. Just like what Jesus said, if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out, or if your hand causes you to sin cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with one eye and one hand than be thrown into hell. What Jesus is saying is you don’t fool around with sin. That’s how serious sin is that’s why people go to hell because of sin. So then, is being a teacher or a preacher something to be avoided and refused? Paul said,
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.” 1 Tim. 1:12
When God call teachers of the law and preachers is a great privilege God gives those who have prepared themselves and trained like an athlete. This could be any of you when you have grown in your spiritual life and are ready for the assignment, God will call. You have a race to run.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Heb. 12:1
Sin is a hindrance and if it is not dealt with we will miss the prize. It is like a trap that if we allow ourselves to fool around with sin we will be caught and the picture is we get entangled and hard to get out. The cloud of witnesses are people watching us both Christians and unbelievers. Satan can only tempt us to sin and shame the name of Christ and destroy our testimony, that’s why we have to be very careful and be alert that we do not fall into sin. The only way to fight this battle is our response to the gospel and avail of its power always recognizing that self has to die.
“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” 2 Tim. 2:11-12
Now we go to the hardworking farmer. I have never been a farmer but I do not need to be one to know what they do. Farming is hard work. It is even harder when you start with a field that has not yet been prepared. The ground is hard, filled with rocks and bushes to clear. Then when the land is cleared then it is plowed to break the soil before planting the seed. Then we wait for the right time to plant so that the harvest will also be at the right season. Especially here it is very important that the harvest will not be during winter. This is the picture of work in advancing God’s kingdom. When the Paul was called and given an assignment, he was going to farm in a virgin land with unprepared soil. He went to the Gentiles where they haven’t heard about Christ, to a pagan world where hearts were hard. It needed a lot of watering first to soften the ground before seed can be planted. Water in the Bible represents the Word among other things. Paul was a church planter and he had to go to an un-churched area. But here was his confidence and what he was relying on. First he realizes how he got saved and what he has became,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Cor. 15:10
This was the compelling reason that drove him to work hard for his Master. We have just learned from our study yesterday in “Experiencing God” that what God initiates he completes.
The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.” Isa. 14:24
Paul also confessed, that though he worked harder than all of the other apostles, God was the one who accomplished His purposes through him. If Paul claimed the glory for himself he would have lost his reward and disqualified from the prize. He acknowledged that it was the grace of God that enabled him to do what he did. How? Because Paul died to self and it is Christ living in him by the Holy Spirit who was doing the work. He even went through hardship, persecution and physical sufferings yet he endured and persevered to finish the race that was marked out for him. God has a plan and assignment marked out for every child of His. Every citizen of the kingdom has a purpose and work to do which God has already planned.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for work of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of God.” Eph. 4:11-13
This is God’s plan for His kingdom He reduced to many local body of Christ called the church. God continues to work through the body His purpose in growing all of us to maturity for He has an assignment for everyone to the level of their maturity. God saved each one of us for His purpose and the work that He will assign to each one.
“For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:10
As we grow in our love for Christ demonstrated by our obedience to His every command, God will work in us, and for us to work out.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Phil. 2:12-13
To summarize the passage Paul wrote to Timothy describing the Christian life as likened to a soldier, an athlete and as a farmer let us never forget why God saved us. We are saved for the glory of God. This is why we should do what we ought to do.
But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have summoned you by name; you are mine. I will say to the north, ‘give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isa. 43:1, 6b-7
As a soldier of Christ we are not to be involved in civilian affairs. Meaning that we have one single purpose and focus, to please our commanding officer, the Lord Jesus Christ. WE are to do what He commands. We are in the world but not of the world. We no longer live as the world does. There ought to be a distinction as to who we are from the citizens of the world. We are strangers, aliens and pilgrims on a tourist visa because our citizenship is now in heaven. We no longer live the way we use to live.
As an athlete, we need to grow strong spiritually through practice by living out what we know how this new life in Christ ought to be, conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. This needs a healthy diet of spiritual food, by reading and studying the Word of God. Then exercising by putting in practice what we have learned and as Paul said beating his body to be a slave to do what is right. To be very careful that we observe the rule by obeying exactly what the Lord has commanded us. Picture now a marathon race that there is a lead car that is followed by the runners. The closer you are to the car the possibility that you get lost along the way is zero. Those lagging behind and lose sight of the lead car can lose their way and go the wrong way. I see the picture of our good Shepherd who leads the way and have feet like the deer. The hind feet steps to where the front feet leave off. That is the safest place to be as close to the Shepherd.
And lastly we are to do the work as a farmer. A hardworking farmer will reap what he planted. He takes care of his crop and wait patiently for its growth until harvest time. Then gets the first to share the fruit of his labor.
I believe what Paul was emphasizing here is sharing the joy of those whom the Lord saves as a result of his labor. He wasn’t expecting his reward here on earth but to hear from his Master well done good and faithful servant. And it was enough for Paul to receive this share of the crop here on earth,
“For what is our hope and joy, or crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and our joy.” 1 Thess. 2:19-20
Paul was not giving glory to himself but in Christ for the privilege of sharing in the harvest of the crop. Everyone Jesus saved through the preaching of Paul, Christ was glorified. Paul was not proud when he wrote as inspired by the Holy Spirit that because he shared in the sufferings of Christ, he will also share in his glory. He experienced the glory of God in his life by the joy of seeing the harvest of souls that resulted from his labor. As the angels in heaven rejoiced over one sinner who repents, there is also this joy when God uses you to lead those He draws to Christ.
Jesus came to seek and to save His people who are lost. Now that He is in heaven, we are called to continue what He came for to seek, and He saves His people. So then, who will He use to seek them and are willing to be sent. I thank the Lord for those who will be attending an evangelism training tomorrow. I don’t know how far this will equip us but even just to whet our appetite and be challenged to be willing as farmers who will work hard to sow and harvest in the Lord’s harvest field. Will you come forward to the altar and consecrate yourselves to be used by the Lord for His glory.
The Lord may be calling you to be a part of His body by becoming a member, come and respond to His call.
You may be here and are not yet saved and born again and the Holy Spirit is convicting you of your sins and showing you your need to be saved and receive God’s forgiveness come. Come to Jesus.