Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, August 17, 2018
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We Too May Fall

1st Corinthians 9:24-10:13

 There is no such thing as lasting success without discipline, in any area of life.  Of course, it’s possible to have some success without discipline.  There are always people who are unusually gifted and can have some success without discipline.  But there’s no lasting success without discipline.

 We can’t be successful in school without the discipline to read and to study and to do our homework.  If we’re naturally intelligent, we’ll do well for a while, but eventually, it will catch up with us.

 We can’t be successful in business without the discipline needed to put in long hours, to stay on task, to keep learning so we can keep up with changes in our industry.

 We can’t be successful in athletics without the discipline to keep our bodies in good shape and to practice our sport.  When I was in college, I played rugby for two years.  I enjoyed it.  And it was a club sport, meaning that we had to pay our own way for everything, and there was no real pressure on us to win.  But I wasn’t very good at it.   Because I didn’t like to practice.  It wasn’t fun to practice.  It was fun to play, but practice was no fun.

 A few years ago, the Oakland Raiders drafted a quarterback by the name of JaMarcus Russell.  He was a huge guy, 6’6”, about 275 pounds.  And he could run.  And he had an arm like a cannon.  I think I heard he could throw the ball 80 yards.  At the time, I knew a fellow who was a Raiders fan, and he was so excited about this guy.  Well, it turned out, he was a huge bust.  He wouldn’t study his play book.  He didn’t like to practice.  He didn’t put in long hours.  He let himself get out of shape.  For all his potential, for all his God-given talent, he was a failure.  But that’s okay; since he played for the Raiders.

 All of this is also true in the Christian life.  We can’t be “successful” at the Christian discipleship if we have no discipline.  I was reading for this sermon, and I came across a quote that I liked.  The fellow said, “It’s not enough just to love Jesus.  We need discipline too.  Without discipline, we are always more likely to choose the course that gives us pleasure rather than the one which benefits us the most.”  It’s true.  Without discipline, I’d rather turn on the TV than read my Bible.  One gives me pleasure; the other benefits me.  Without discipline, we can’t be successful.

 We need discipline to stay the course.  I’m convinced it is very hard to stay the course as a Christian.  I think it’s hard to follow Jesus for a lifetime.  I think that’s the reason a lot of people who follow Jesus at one time or another, fall away from Jesus.

 When Paul wrote to the Corinthians on this subject, he turned to an image that was very familiar and meaningful to them: Athletics.  Of course, we think of Greek athletics, and we think of the Olympic Games.  But Corinth, located on the Isthmus of Greece, hosted the Isthmian Games, which were the second most famous Greek games.  Paul used the images of running and boxing, both of which are sports that require hard, painful discipline.  

 Paul makes an argument here from lesser to greater:  If Greek athletes are willing to endure such discipline for the sake of a wreath of greens that withers away in a few days, how much more should we endure discipline for the sake of a crown of life that lasts for eternity?  

 What is Christian discipline?  Let me try to give it the broadest possible definition.  A Christian discipline is any activity engages us with God in such a way as to be likely to spur our growth as a Christian.  This year in the FAITH Class has been studying Christian disciplines.  Here are just some of the disciplines that we’ve been talking about:  Devotional reading, prayer, Bible study, meditation, worship, fasting, service, Sabbath-keeping, giving, forgiving, stewardship, confession, simplicity, solitude, silence, and so on.  There are a great variety of disciplines we can do as Christians to help us grow.  The key is that we need to find the ones that are meaningful to us, helpful to us, challenging to us, and do them.  

 Because we don’t want to fall away.  I am convinced that if we don’t keep growing in our faith, our faith has a tendency to wither.  It stops being vital to our lives.  

 We can’t rely on the past to safeguard us.  We can’t rely on something that happened a long time ago and say that “Because of such and such, I have nothing to worry about.”  

 Paul uses the example of the Israelites in the wilderness.  Of course, this is one of the negative examples that come out of the Old Testament.  And I think we have a tendency to read these negative examples with a judgmental attitude:  I can’t believe those people.  How could they do such a thing?  I would never do that.  Remember:  We are as human as they were.  

 The Israelites that came out of slavery in Egypt all experienced the same salvation.  They were brought out of Egypt by God’s mighty hand.  They experienced the guidance of God in the cloud of smoke by day and fire by night.  They were “baptized” in the Red Sea.  They ate sacred food, manna, and drank sacred drink, the water that God provided from the rock.  In Jewish

tradition, it was said that this rock that provided water followed the Israelites through the wilderness.  And Paul takes this tradition a step further and says Christ was the rock.

 Yet even after all this, most of them fell away.  Back in the fall, we looked at the Book of Exodus, and we learned how the nation ate and drank a sacred meal in the presence of God at Mt. Sinai.  But just 40 days later, they ate and drank again in front of idol.  They engaged in prostitution with the pagan people around them.  They tested God by sinning again and again. They grumbled and complained about what God had done for them, saying, “We should have stayed in Egypt.”  

 They experienced salvation, and then they turned away from God.  We can too.  We can’t look back at the past and say, “I have nothing to worry about.”  We must continue to choose God daily.  We can’t rely on something that happened long ago if we haven’t kept walking in that decision.  We must choose daily to follow Jesus.  And that requires discipline.

 In verse 12, which I have always thought to be one of the most powerful verses of Scripture, Paul says, “If you think you’re secure, if you think you have nothing to worry about, look out!  You too may fall!”  Don’t let pride blind you.  Sin can overcome us when we are not watchful.  

 In the book of Revelation, Christ speaks to the Church in Sardis and reminds them to be watchful.  Of all places, they should have known that.  The city of Sardis was built around a rocky mountain, and there was a citadel built up high on the mountain.  It seemed invincible because three sides were built on sheer cliffs.  But in the 6th century BC, Cyrus, the Emperor of Persia conquered the city.  The way it happened is that the soldiers of Sardis only bothered to watch the one side of the citadel that they thought was vulnerable.  One day a Persian soldier saw a Sardinian drop his helmet off the cliff.  He watched as the man climbed down a narrow path on the cliff face to recover it.  That night, the Persians climbed up by the same path and found that side of the citadel unguarded.  They killed the Sardinian soldiers in their sleep, and the city was taken.  Pride makes us blind to the ways that we can fall.

 When we think a thing has no power over us, we’re in trouble.  Never, never say, “I would never do such-and-such.”  That’s our natural reaction when he hear about something terrible that has happened.  “I would never do that.”  Don’t say that.  When we blind ourselves to temptation and deny its power, we’re setting ourselves up to fall.  

 How many times have we heard about people who were looked up to as men and women of God, and then they fell?  I’m willing to bet most of them never thought they could be tempted by the things that brought them down.

 Several years ago, there was a pastor in our conference who was arrested, and subsequently “defrocked,” after making sexual advances toward an underage girl over the internet.  I am willing to bet he probably didn’t think he would ever be tempted by something like that.  I didn’t know him myself, but I knew some other pastors who did.  And everyone said, “I can’t believe that.  He never seemed like the kind of person who would do something like that.”  Maybe the better reaction would be to say, “He could do something like that, because all of us are capable of it.  All of us are capable of terrible sins.”  If we deny that, then we’re setting ourselves up to be taken in a “sneak attack,” just like the soldiers of Sardis were.  

 But we can overcome temptation.  Verse 13:  The temptations that come into your life are no different than those that come to everyone.  If others fall to them, you can too.  But if others overcome them, you can too.  If we have the Holy Spirit, we can overcome temptation.  God is faithful.  He will not let us be tempted beyond our abilities.  We can resist temptation.  There is always a way out.  And sometimes the way out is to know that certain things are likely to trip us up and to stay away from them.  If you struggle with alcohol, then they way out is not to go into the bar and see if you can resist.  It’s to stay out of there in the first place.

 One last word:  In verse 13, all of the “yous” are plural.  This is addressed to Christians as a whole, not just as individuals.  We cheat ourselves when we don’t take advantage of the strength that we can find in the Christian community.  If you are being tempted, don’t fight that battle alone.  Get together with other believers who will help you and pray for you to overcome temptation.

 One of my firm convictions as a Christian is that every believer should be a part of a small group.  It could be a Sunday School class or a Bible Study or the Church Choir or a parents group or any number of things.  But I am convinced that every believer should be a part of a group of Christians who gather to encourage each other and to help each other grow.

 If you want to be successful as Christian, if you want to stay faithful, if you want to overcome the temptations in your life, you need to have discipline.  If you want to walk with Christ for a lifetime, you need discipline.  And the best way to practice discipline is to practice it together with other believers.

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