Michael Buffer may be the most well known ring announcer in history for his booming cry at the beginning of boxing matches: “Ladies and gentlemen, l-l-lets get ready to rumbl-l-le!” Dozens of sports franchises have invited Mr. Buffer to utter his trademarked call before a game, to fire up the home fans. We’ll come back to rumbling in a moment.
As we embark on yet another year of life given us by the hand of our loving Lord, let me ask you two questions:
In looking back over the past year, how did you do?
In looking forward into the New Year, how different do you want it to be?
I learned the definition of insanity many years ago, the hard way! Insanity may be simply described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Make no mistake, if you want something you have never had, you must commit to doing something you have never done. I recognize that the only person who likes change is a wet baby, but we will have to embrace change if we are to grow into the person God is calling us to be in 2010. If that kind of growth is one of your heart’s deepest desires for the year ahead, please read on.
The apostle Paul often used athletic metaphors to exhort Christians to exercise the discipline that victorious Christian living requires. Paul described two different types of contests in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: an Olympic style marathon “running” race and a boxing “fighting” match:
Do you not know that in a race, all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we are imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Having spent most of my life involved in sports, from participation to coaching, I find these athletic analogies quite instructive for every committed Christian. Paul’s passionate plea was directed to a group of believers who were exhibiting everything but disciplined Christian living. Paul challenged the believers in Corinth to rise up out of lethargy and laziness, to live a life marked by self-discipline, and to consistently choose the highest good in a world filled with unlimited choice.
He issues the same challenge to us today.
In Paul’s running analogy, we glean several golden nuggets of wisdom about successful Christian living:
1. Life is a race. A marathon race is in view here, not a sprint.
2. The race is to be run by all. Christianity is not a spectator sport; watching from the stands is not an option!
3. Self-control must be exercised in all things. This includes lawful pleasures as well as the sin that so easily entangles us. For example, get up early to exercise, rather than roll around in bed an extra hour in the morning. Go to bed at a reasonable time, instead of staying up late watching television.
4. Paul argues from the lesser (the “perishable”) to the greater (the “imperishable”) crown of victory. If athletes can practice so much self-control for a crown that is here today and gone tomorrow, how much more self-control should we practice for the crown that will last forever?
5. Finally, run with purpose! If you don’t know where you are going, you will never know when you’ve arrived.
It is important to understand the meaning of “but only one receives the prize.” To be sure, Paul is not referring to salvation and the crown of eternal life, purchased on the cross by the Lord Jesus Christ for all who have believed in His inexpressible gift. Paul is merely telling us to run like the winner runs, to the absolute best of our God-given ability, for the absolute glory of our God. May this be truly said of all of us at the end of 2010: We ran the race that was set before us, to the best of our ability, for the glory of God! Running for the His glory and not for ours is a race that simply cannot be lost.
From Paul’s boxing analogy, we gain more godly wisdom about victorious Christian living:
1. Do not box by beating the air. If your goal is to win the boxing match, you will have to hit more than air. To be sure, you can get a good workout by beating the air, but you can never achieve victory. In every area of life, you have to take the time to identify goals or targets that you are aiming at, or you will never hit any of them.
2. Discipline your body. Do not be a slave to your body, which is the way of most people who let the desires of the body run their lives. Boxers with the goal of winning the fight must take charge of their own bodies, not for appearance’s sake, but for the practical goal of achieving a state of peak performance.
3. Discipline demands two things, suffering and mastery. When Paul says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control,” he is telling us to expect suffering in our training, which will lead us to a level of mastery or dominion, as we make our bodies our slaves, rather than being enslaved by our bodies.
Let’s return to Michael Buffer and his famous line, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” As you stand at the threshold of 2010, I want you to imagine that you are stepping into the boxing ring for a championship fight. The Bible has made it clear what you must do if you are to win the fight. Are you ready to rumble? Are you ready to make this year your best year ever? Are you ready to advance confidently into the perfect plan and purpose God has for your life? Are you ready to do it now, instead of looking back at the end of this year, wishing that you had? Then let me give you the one key that will unlock the door leading to victory God’s grace!
Paul freely admitted to the Corinthian Christians, “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10-11). Paul made it clear that his disciplined example was not the result of his strong will or work ethic, but only the evidence of God’s amazing grace: what God did for Paul in Christ, and for you and me. He nailed all of our sins to that dirty tree; that’s Grace. We are free to live a life “sold out” to Him, regardless of the cost or circumstances. That’s our response to His grace.
That’s when you know that you are already acceptable in God’s eyes, and that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. That’s right, nothing (see Romans 8:38-39). Then you can get off the performance treadmill of trying to gain God’s acceptance and affection. Unafraid of God’s rejection, you can get on with running the race and fighting the good fight, regardless of how many times you have fallen in the past.
Let’s get ready to rumble! Knowing there is nothing you can do to earn God’s favor frees you up to give all you have to the life He has called you to live, for His glory, rather than for your gain. It is my prayer for you over the next twelve months that you will walk further in and further up into His grace
the true source of living a disciplined Christian life. Never forget that. Amen!
Rev. Tommy Boland is the Minister of Men’s and Sports at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He teaches adult Sunday school. For more information, including Bible study resource materials, please send email to: [email protected] or [email protected]