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Sunday Night Live Sermons


1 Corinthians 9:26-27

22nd November 2003

Today, being the final of the Rugby World Cup, between England and Australia, most people have their eyes focused only upon sport, albeit the game they say, that is played in heaven. It is not without significance that this week millions of people voted to chose Australia's Idol -ironically a committed Christian. There are many references to sports and idols, particularly in the writings of St Paul. This week, hundreds of millions around the world are focused upon Rugby in our city, and our Australian idol, yet we meet to discuss the Victorious Christian life.

That phrase refers to an evangelical spiritual movement proclaiming the possibility and the means for attaining immediate freedom from every known sin. There are many Christians and denominations who oppose such teachings. It was a movement that grew up out of the American Wesleyan and Holiness tradition which spread to England, and from there to other parts of the British Empire towards the end of the 19th century. From 1875 the conference with continuous preaching was held at Keswick in the English Lakes district. Through the evangelist D.L.Moody, the Keswick movement spread throughout America, sponsored by Moody Bible Institute. Keswick meetings were held in all states of Australia. The Victorian Keswick Convention every year is attended by thousands of Christians seeking the Victorious Christian life. But in Sydney, the Anglican Diocese basically took it over and turned it into the Katoomba Convention. Most of the mainstream denominations avoid the convention style theology of the victorious Christian life.

The Victorious Christian Life teaching emphasizes two steps in obtaining spiritual victory in every day life, over the world of sin, both without the Christian and within. The first is the total surrender of personal ambition, pride in personal achievement and every known sin; and secondly, complete faith in God's promise of the Holy Spirit who can fill the believer. It is axiomatic that people who believe in the Victorious Christian Life, would oppose all those movements within the mainstream churches seeking to adapt themselves to the trends of this modern world, and to all attempts to accept homosexual activity as normal by a Christian. People who rejoice in the Convention ministry for Victorious Christian Life usually emphasize the filling of the Holy Spirit, but reject speaking in tongues and many other gifts regarded as Pentecostal. There is a very careful selection of hymns to reflect evangelical theology and the use of second coming and dispensational theology with a preference to such outlines of Biblical events as found in the Thompson's Chain Reference Bible, and the pre-millennial teachings of the Scofield Bible published in 1907, which emphasized the complete separation of law and grace, and stressed the centrality of the Jews in Christ's return, millennial reign, and ultimate triumph.

The Victorious Christian Life movement played an important part in the life of evangelical Christianity in the twentieth century. Many famous churches like the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Prairie Bible Institute and many para-church organisations such as Campus Crusade, grew out of the conventions.

The Victorious Christian Life Conventions grew up in the evangelical churches, but were rejected by most mainstream churches, ignored by the Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran denominations, and is found mainly where missionaries using Scofield Bibles ministered. So is there adequate scriptural teaching on the Victorious Christian Life? Scripture emphasizes personal holiness, our need of self-discipline, of full surrender, our desire to overcome the attractions of the flesh, and our need to have victory over sin through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The stress on the Holy Spirit's presence without the need of speaking in tongues, is a positive correction to much erroneous Pentecost teaching. Is some of this teaching relevant to a world obsessed with sport and Australian idols?

In the time of the early church the world was also obsessed by sport and idols. Herod built stadiums in Palestine. The Greeks had celebrated the Olympics for 500 years. Rome was dominated by the newly built Colosseum. Corinth, where Paul lived from 50-51 AD, was the home of the Isthmian Games. In Paul's time many of the public structures were used for sports and associated with the worship of idols. These included the temple of Apollo, built about 550 B.C., seven of whose columns are still standing today. Nearby was the shrine to the goddess Athena. A temple stands to the Corinthian princess, Glauke, and in Paul's day small statues in baked clay were thrown into the Fountain of Glauke. This ceremony was a development from earlier human sacrifices made there by the Corinthians. The goddess Hera was worshiped in a small temple nearby. Another shrine to Apollo had a large paved court with a statue of the god in the center.

There was also in Paul's time the temple of Aphrodite; a Pantheon, or "temple of all the gods," a temple of Heracles; a temple of Hermes; a temple to Octavia, the deified sister of the Emperor Augustus; the temple of Jupiter and the temple of Asklepios, the god of healing. Sick people offered clay replicas of parts of the body that needed healing. Paul may have had in mind such sicknesses when he declared to the Corinthians the truth of God's triumph over decay and death when at the resurrection the Christian dead "will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" 1Cor 15:52-55 On the Acrocorinth, the rocky pinnacle behind ancient Corinth was the famous temple of Aphrodite in whose service were one thousand prostitutes. On the Acrocorinth's north slopes facing the city were other temples, in honour of the Egyptian gods, Isis and Serapis, and a temple of the goddess Demeter that had been in use from 600 BC to 350AD. This structure contained a number of dining rooms and a public restaurant, which may account for Paul's warning about not being a stumbling block by "eating in an idol's temple" 1Cor 8:10

With idolatry and immorality dominating the life of Corinth, Paul was concerned for Christians not to be reckless in exercising their freedom to eat meat sold in butcher shops after it had been offered to some idol and consecrated in pagan worship in the city. Also, that is why Paul disciplined himself 1Cor 9:19-27 in refraining from eating meat sacrificed to idols or in doing any other thing by which he would disappoint the Lord or offend his brothers in Christ. Paul wanted the Corinthians to be disciplined and faithful Christians. He offered a victorious Christian life without an obsession with idols and sport.

Paul refers to the Games held in the city where he once lived and worked, and to which he was now writing. Paul uses himself as an example and employs athletic metaphors familiar to the Corinthians at their own Isthmian games, which were hosted every second year by the people of Corinth. The particular events he refers to are running and boxing.

He writes: 1 COR 9:24-7 "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. 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."

Paul makes four emphases that are relevant to our lives today.

  1. We should live with an expectation of victory. "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." Christians are meant to be the most positive of all people. The ultimate victory has already been won by Jesus upon the Cross. Our task is to make sure that in the race we each have to run, we run so as to gain the prize. Whatever your race, run your best, confident that with God's help you will win. Christians are meant to do their best in every avenue of personal and public life. They are to run to win.
  2. Living victoriously demands strict training. "Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." For the Christian, our spiritual training is simple. We should meet with other Christians regularly for worship. We should join in a Bible study so we grow in our knowledge of God's Word that both strengthens us and guides us. We should pray, preferably with a group of other people where we learn how to pray. We should partake of Holy Communion which provides us with inner spiritual strength.
  3. Our rewards are eternal and heavenly. "They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." The rewards for being a Christian are out of this world. The Olympic winner's crown, will wither and die, but the Christian is promised a crown in heaven that is eternal. Athletes train vigorously for a "crown that will not last." In the Greek games it was a laurel or celery wreath to place around their heads. At Sydney Olympics it was a bunch of Australian native flowers. That too withered. But the Christian's crown, eternal life and fellowship with God, lasts forever.
  4. We must learn to discipline ourselves. "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." Earlier he said living the Christian life victorious requires "strict training". Paul now refers to the athlete's self-control in diet and his rigorous bodily discipline. Strict training and personal discipline are essential for any athlete, and for a victorious Christian.

Paul says of himself that he does not contend like an undisciplined runner or boxer. He states that he aims his blows against his own body. The picture is graphic: the ancient boxers devastatingly punished one another with knuckles bound with leather thongs and nail studs. So by disciplining himself, Paul ensures he will gain the Christian prize. Too many Christians have led undisciplined lives. They have become involved in sexual immorality, or financial impropriety and have found themselves rejected and guilty. The victorious Christian must exercise self-control and personal discipline. The way may be tough, but the victory is worth it!

In a city like ours, at fever pitch excitement with the World Rugby Cup and the Australian Idol final, Christians are called to remain faithful to their beliefs, not to be seduced by the idolatry of sport, to keep our eyes fixed upon the heavenly Crown, and to be so disciplined as not to lose our destiny. The cities of the ancient games became centers of immorality and idolatry. Our city certainly is a center of immorality and idol worship. We are a center of idolatry, with people worshipping the gods of alcohol, chance, gambling, sex, wealth and power. In such an environment, Christians are to live like athletes in training. We must run to win, exercise self-control, discipline our bodies, and keep clear of idol worship. The victorious Christian Life can be our if we only learn the lessons of the Scriptures.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.