1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Discipleship Verses Fun
I do not generally recommend secular books in these devotions, but there is one book published several years ago that became an instant classic and changed the way I saw the world. That book was Neil Postman’s, Amusing Ourselves to Death. His thesis was simply that the media used to carry a message profoundly influences that message. He then argued that in twentieth-century America, that medium is entertainment, meaning that Americans believe that any activity in which they engage must be entertaining, or fun, to have any value. Thus, Americans think that education should be fun, work should be fun, church should be fun, worship should be fun, in short, Christianity should be fun. We sometimes use the word “relevant” in place of “fun” or “entertaining,” but the result is the same.
These Corinthians did not see that the Christian faith should cramp their lifestyle. They enjoyed frequenting the pagan temples for a good steak dinner, regardless of the idolatrous ceremonies that attended the temple feast, and regardless of the spiritual danger this might prove to their weaker brethren. It didn’t even bother them that they had immoral activity among their members. Their idea was that the Christian faith introduces us to a god who forgives our sins on the cheap, liberates us to do whatever we want to do, and should never require anything of us like self-control or discipleship, and certainly not sacrifice. Where would be the fun in any of that!
The disciples learned that following Jesus had horrendous consequences, as countless Christians have experienced all though the ages and even today. Discipleship is not fun. Fulfilling? Yes. Rewarding? Yes. Blessed beyond measure? Yes. Joyous? Yes. Some have experienced joy to the extent of rapture. But fun? Such an adjective is too cheap to describe our faith. Paul teaches us here using metaphors from the athletic world that the Christian life is one of continual self-control and denial while constantly aiming for an imperishable goal. Now this does not mean asceticism which Paul rejected, but it does at least mean giving up meals at the pagan temples, putting my brother ahead of myself, and going without for the sake of the gospel. When we consider Paul’s life and the way some of these Corinthians were living, the contrast could not be more glaring. Granted, comparing anyone to the apostle is unfair. But this short passage does indeed call us to examine ourselves. Are we running the race like an Olympic athlete? Are we running aimlessly? Or worse, do we foolishly think that discipleship is supposed to be fun? Heaven is the prize; it makes the training worth it.
Yes, another addendum. But there is so much to say, and this to ministers. Paul’s last line should be a serious check to every minister of the gospel: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Did you hear that: “I myself should be disqualified?” Apparently, it is entirely possible that we as ministers could preach and teach, write books, establish programs, erect buildings, become famous and adored by millions—and then hear the words, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” When the day comes, none of those wonderful things we did will amount to anything if we never knew Him. This will be evident in the private lives our hearers never saw, in the integrity that was never there. I guarantee you that the pastor who falls to sexual sin or some other career-ending indiscretion was one who wasn’t pursuing the path that Paul describes here: self-denial, self-control, and general sacrifice in life for the sake of others. Ministers must spend more time in the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6:4) which in turn will teach them self-denial and sacrifice, and less time building those visible things which people will exalt them for. In this way, we guard our hearts and minds. The devil has ministers in his crosshairs. Tricking us into foregoing spiritual and bodily discipline, and slipping inch by inch into private sinful behaviors will manifest itself before long. And when that happens, it is actually a blessing, for better to be disciplined here than there. At any rate, we can be “disqualified” for not running according to the rules, and we ministers need to hear that message and walk in the fear of the Lord.