Christianity is never said to be a relaxed social club, a philosophical
society where one can discuss some new thing (Acts 17:21), a psychological
grouptherapy session where one can get in touch with oneself
rather than with God, or a pharmaceutical placebo where one can
think he is being successfully treated for guilt and fear of hell
and at the same time make no hard changes in his life, changes
such as come through repentance and conversion (Acts 3:19). The
away" is described as a warfare (1 Tim. 1:18), a fight (1
Tim. 6:12), a striving or contending (2 Tim. 2:5; Luke 13:24).
It is not for couch potatoes and sissies. We are charged by Jesus
this way: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34).
The Solution to Careless Living
Paul said of one phase of Christianity:
And I do all things for the gospel's sake, that I may be a joint
partaker thereof. Know ye not that they that run in a race run
all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run; that ye may attain.
And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth selfcontrol
in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown;
but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly;
so fight I as not beating the air: but I buffet my body, and bring
it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached
to others, I myself should be rejected (1 Cor. 9:2327).
I will argue that the solution to the strong tests of Christianity
lies in ourselves. Paul said, "And not only so, but we also
rejoice in our tribulations: knowing that tribulation worketh
stedfastness; And stedfastness, approvedness; and approvedness,
hope" (Rom. 5:34). We need patience and stedfastness,
and it seems God gives us tribulation to help us absorb such virtues.
However, is there anything you can do to gain those virtues besides
just weathering the storms when they come, "hunkering down"
and enduring them? Yes, it seems the Bible says there is a part
we play in Christian warfare and contests, and something you can
do when tribulation comes.
You noticed in the passage in 1 Corinthians 9:2327 that
Paul said he buffeted his body and brought it into bondage. The
word for buffet is hupopiazo, from hupo (under)
and ops (eye). It implies you beat your face black and
blue under the eye, or give yourself a black eye. In one of Louis
L'Amour's books a child asked Conager who gave him the black eye.
He grinned and said, "No one son; I earned it." Well,
that's what I'm going to ask us to do. Let's all begin to buffet
our body and get it under control so we can exercise patience
when trials come. We can all work on selfcontrol or temperance.
Selfcontrol and patience are translations
of the word enkrateia. It is from kratos (strength).
Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 9:25 for the athlete practicing
rigid selfcontrol. As well as in spiritual duties, practice
it in getting out of the chair and exercising your body, turning
off TV and reading a good book, stopping eating before you are
stuffed, going to bed a little earlier so you can get up earlier
and read the Bible and pray. Flabby soldiers cannot win battles.
A fat cat catches no rats. And Jesus said, "Deny yourselves"
(Mark 8:34). Perhaps it is not the work of a day or hour. We learn
any skill by practice, constant daily practice. Practice selfcontrol.
Make yourself do what you should do but don't want to do. Someone
said, "A thought becomes an act, an act a habit, habit character,
and character destiny." It is so simple. Powerful selfcontrol
comes by practice, and persistent practice overcomes regular failures.
Remember, what you can do tomorrow, start today. What you can
do today, start right this moment.