29
Oct
13

The Hard Work Of Spiritual Growth

The Apostle Paul wrote about the need for self-discipline toward the end of 1 Corinthians 9:

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)​
We are a nation that is obsessed with sports.  Sports Illustrated magazine called this country “NFL Nation” a few years back.  Billions of dollars are spent on our sports teams.  From tickets to merchandise to television programming to advertising.  That doesn’t even include the outrageous salaries for some of our athletes!  I am a HUGE Green Bay Packers’ fan and I am a big fan of Aaron Rodgers.  He signed a contract in the off season for over $100 million!  Why?  Because he throws an oblong shaped ball better than pretty much anyone in the NFL (although some might argue that Peyton Manning is the best.  I disagree.  Peyton is nearing 40 and Rodgers is not yet 30 – more upside.  But here I am arguing with you about something so trivial!  Thus proving my point about our nation’s obsession with sports!).
How does a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers keep his job?  He has to train hard!  He has to work out all year long.  He has to study the film of opposing teams.  He has to practice for hours on end.  If he were to sit around lazily and not train, he would not win the prize!
Of course, the glory of a Super Bowl ring only lasts so long.  Fans get impatient and start wondering when the next championship will come (of course, Cubs fans are wondering if the next championship will come!).
For Christians, we are called to go into strict spiritual training.  Not for temporary glory, but for an eternal crown!  1 Peter 5:4 (NIV) says:

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

So what can you do to train yourself to win an eternal crown?  We have to practice self-control and self-discipline.  We need to spend time in God’s Word and in fellowship with other Christians.  We need to fast and pray and meditate on Scripture.  We cannot sit around lazily waiting to grow and mature in our faith.  Spiritual maturity requires hard work and dedication.  In the end, it will all be worth it.

1 Corinthians 9

New International Version (NIV)

Paul’s Rights as an Apostle

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

3 This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. 4 Don’t we have the right to food and drink? 5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living?

7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? 8 Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?

But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. 16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Paul’s Use of His Freedom

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

The Need for Self-Discipline

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 someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

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