EHR 8: Develop a Rule of Life
12/1/2017 12:09:48 AM
Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
November 26, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Watching that video of NHL players working out made me tired. Just watching it made me aware of how little I exercise, how out of shape I am. I was tired just watching them work out. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it, how hard they work their bodies, toning, building and shaping them to be tools to achieve their goals? While they are training, self-control and self-discipline are the name of the game. Their dedication to one thing means saying no to many other things, even things that are good.
Think about all the hard work that goes into competing at the highest levels of athletic competition! It’s profound. It’s mind boggling. And imagine, after all that work, you have a situation like the second video, the Monty Python video of the 100m race for people with no sense of direction. Isn’t that such a waste? Can you imagine working so hard just to run around in the wrong direction when the starter’s pistol went off? It’s ludicrous! The Monty Python video is silly in and of itself, but when you consider how much work would go into preparing for the Olympics, the contrast makes it even more absurd.
What are you dedicated to? Is there anything in your life that you are so dedicated to that you would put that much energy into it?
Why do athletes compete so hard? Why do the NHL players in that video train so hard? For them, it’s to win. Not just to win games, but eventually to win the Stanley Cup. Along with winning, of course, comes fame and fortune. They would all say that their goal is to win the cup, but I’m sure part of the motivation for working so hard is that they can sign larger, more lucrative contracts. Top players, like those in the video, make tens of millions of dollars. They make money from their teams, but they also make millions in sponsorship contracts. Companies like Nike and Reebok pay millions for athletes to wear their products and to be seen, photographed and filmed using their products. (Some of the footage we saw in the video is from such commercials!) Why? Because if these “great” athletes, these winners, use products we are more likely to use those products too!
Imagine winning the Stanley Cup. For those of us near Toronto, imagine what it would be like to be a Toronto Maple Leaf and to win the Stanley cup for playing for Toronto for the first time in over 50 years! Wouldn’t that be awesome? You’d never have to buy a meal in the city again! Other people would pay for your meal wherever you went, even though you’d have piles of your own money! Imagine the posters, the commercials, the tweets and Facebook posts! Eventually, there would be at least one statue of you in the city, if not more than one, especially if you were one of the stars on the team. Children would want to wear your jersey. They would have your poster on their wall. Your image would be the wallpaper and screensaver on their computers and phones. It would be amazing!
A hundred years from now, would anybody care? A hundred years from now, would people still be singing your praises? A hundred years from now, would children want to wear your jersey? Not likely. Do we even know who played for the Leafs 100 years ago? Nope.
So your fame, fortune and status as the star of the Maple Leafs when they won the cup would be great, but it would not be permanent. It would fade. It would pass away. Maybe, down the line, one of your great grandchildren would tell his or her friends and coworkers that you were their great grandfather. But in 100 years that would be it.
These professional athletes train so hard, they are so dedicated, so committed to something amazing, but something that would fade, something temporary.
You know what lasts longer? Do you know what’s eternal? You know what would be even more amazing than winning the cup for Toronto? Seeing God. Entering God’s presence is even more awesome than winning the cup! That’s eternal. That’s divine.
What are you prepared to do in order to train yourself for that encounter? What are you prepared to do for something that is actually eternal? Not just a lifetime, not just something your grandchildren will talk about, but
We have two texts today that talk about dedication in the Christian life and the goal for which we are striving. Our Hebrews passage begins with the “why.” It tells us what has happened which forms the basis and motivation for a “what,” for what we are told to do.
Our second passage, in 1 Corinthians, contains two metaphors from athletic competition and training. These metaphors centre on the need for dedication and self-discipline as well as the nature of our goal, our ultimate reward. If athletes train so hard for temporary prizes, we, who have an eternal prize, should be just as dedicated and self-controlled.
What It Says
The book of Hebrews uses a lot of images from the Old Testament. We can’t do a thorough analysis of this passage and all its OT roots. The book is too rich for us to do that justice this morning.
However, we do need to look a little bit at where these images come from. The Most Holy Place was the very centre of the worship in the temple. Separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain, it was the place where the ark of the covenant was kept (until that was lost). The Most Holy Place was where God would dwell with his people. The Holy Place was the very presence of God!
It was where the high priest, once a year, would enter with the people’s atonement sacrifice. This was the high point of the religious calendar! Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and then, only once a year. If anybody else entered, or if the high priest entered at another time, they would die!
I remember reading that the practice was to tie a rope around the high priest’s ankle because if he went in there and died (perhaps being struck down by God, or for other reasons) there was no way to get him out without another person going in! That wasn’t allowed, so they tied a rope to the high priest’s ankle so they could pull his corpse out if he died in there.
But our passage doesn’t begin with the inaccessibility of the Most Holy Place. It actually says something quite the opposite! It says, “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place….!” What is this?!? How do we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place? That’s the place that was off limits!
It is through the blood of Jesus that we can enter. Through his body and blood we are made clean and we can enter the holy place. That is, we can enter the very presence of God! Jesus bodily sacrifice has made a hole in the curtain separating us from God. God’s presence has changed from being “no access- authorized personnel only” to “here’s an all access pass!” God’s unholy, sinful people can now come into his presence because of the forgiveness of sin and the righteousness provided by Jesus!
And these verses indicate we are to not only enter God’s presence, but to do so boldly, confidently and continuously. Remember the Lord’s Prayer begins “Our Father.” We are to approach God as a child approaches a loving father!
This is remarkable! This is incredible! This is, sadly, something we often take for granted. This, however, is the “Why” of Christianity. It is because God wants to be in relationship with us that he sent Jesus in the first place to redeem us from sin. But we take this for granted, we forget the amazing privilege it is to enter God’s presence and we forget.
As you may recall, in September our series was on gratitude. It was about “Thank God” that he redeems us, adopts us, changes us and renews us. This is the foundation for our gratitude to God. That gratitude should then shape our lives into a living response to God.
Jesus, our “great high priest” is our intermediary with God. That was the role of priests in Israel- they served as mediators between the people and God. The high priest was the chief example of this. Now, with Jesus as our great high priest, we need no other mediator. Now, with him as our mediator, we can approach God ourselves having been purified by Jesus.
Given this profound theological truth, this profound change in our spiritual state, what are we to do? We are to hold fast to our hope for the future! We are to hold unswervingly to our hope of being with God in person, of being resurrected and spending eternity in God’s presence physically. This should shape our daily lives in light of our future experience.
That is, this should lead to a kind of dedication we see in professional athletes. They shape their whole
lives around the hope of maybe, possibly, winning a championship. Our future is secured! Jesus has already “won the cup” so to speak! God is faithful and our hope will not be disappointed.
Also, we are not to just think in terms of our own experience, our own hope for the future. We are to think carefully how we can spur on another onward. Why? Because relationships matter! Perseverance is hard. Professional athletes have trainers, coaches and teammates spurring them onward. We need teammates, coaches and trainers to spur us on to.
What are we to spur one another towards? Love and good deeds. Because this is how we live out the reality of our new relationship with God. And we are not to give up on fellowship with one another, and worship with one another, especially in light of our goal- spending eternity with one another worshipping God! Church now is a kind of “eternity practice.”
And this encouragement cannot happen in isolation. Too often as Christians we think it’s just about the truths we hold. We fail to work on our relationships. We live in isolation, or perhaps just surrounded by friends who are Christians. When, in fact, we are responsible to one another in a much broader capacity. “Christians have a high calling to care for one another and stimulate one another spiritually and morally.” [George Guthrie, Hebrews, p. 345]
The Christian life is about agape love, a relationship word. Agape love means we are primarily concerned with the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being. This includes not only non-Christians, but fellow believers too! We are responsible to one another for support, encouragement and lifting one another up. This is why church services and church community is so important. This is the context in which we live out God’s love. It’s hard to be a Christian on your own. We need one another.
This brings us to our other passage, from 1 Corinthians 9. Paul uses two examples from athletics. Paul was writing to the Christians in Corinth. Corinth hosted and sponsored a series of athletic games every 2 years second in size only to the Olympics! It was a big a deal! Winners of important events in the games, as well as sponsors or patrons of the games, had monuments and statues put up all around the city!
Paul’s first metaphor is that of a runner in these games. Only 1 person wins, so they all run hard! Paul says we are to run our Christian life like we want to win. We are to run like our life depended on it! (Because it does!) [Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, 1 Corinthians, p. 438] Paul’s purpose in this illustration is not that we have to exert great effort to be saved. No! That would be salvation by works. We are not saved by our great efforts but by Jesus’ great work! Instead, Paul’s emphasis is on self-control and the nature of the reward we will receive.
You see, to compete in the Corinthian games, you had to register 10 months beforehand. You went into strict training for those 10 months and the judges could disqualify you from competing if you violated the rules around training! These 10 months were characterized by self-control, dedication and self-denial. In order to be dedicated to one thing, you have to deny yourself other things, even good things! It’s like NHL athletes today that we saw in the video. They are clearly denying themselves many things, even good things, in order to dedicate themselves to their NHL careers.
But what did the athletes then win? What do athletes today win? Athletes in Corinth won crowns made out of withered celery! That was all they got! Well, they also got fame and maybe special treatment, but it was a temporary. Their crown would not last. In fact, it was already withering by the time they got it. Even today, athletes win prizes that are temporary. Their fame might be widespread, but it is not long lasting.
Our reward, by contrast, is eternal! Remember, we get to approach God himself! Now we do this in prayer. Then, we will do this physically, in body! For this reason, Paul does not run aimlessly. He doesn’t run in any direction like the silly video we watched. Rather, he runs with focus and purpose.
Similarly, Paul uses a second image- that of a boxer. Paul doesn’t beat the air. Instead, he beats his body to make it obey him, to make it his instrument to achieve his goals. Think of the NHL video again. Those men are training, shaping, punishing their bodies. Why? In order to make their bodies serve them, serve their goal of winning the cup.
Paul doesn’t want to be disqualified like an athlete who fails to be dedicated and devoted to the games. I remember back in 1988, shortly after moving to Canada, Ben Johnson won the Olympic gold medal in the 100m dash, making him the fastest man in the world! Then he failed his drug test! What a disgrace! What a
disappointment! So much training, effort and even money spent on preparation for the Olympics and he was disqualified! Or think of the British relay team in 2012 in London. They were disqualified for an improper baton pass from one runner to another. Such a simple little thing, bringing so many hopes and dreams crashing down!
Paul is talking about the potential of failing to persevere in faith. Our salvation is by faith alone in Jesus Christ. He obtains our forgiveness. But salvation is not about a moment of faith, but a life of faithful perseverance. Salvation is about living a lifestyle of repentance, not having a moment’s repentance. So how do we live a lifestyle of repentance? How do we live a lifestyle of orienting our life toward God?
Paul’s other illustration is of a boxer not wasting motion, not wasting energy by aimlessly beating the air or shadowboxing. Instead, Paul trains his body, shapes his life to be an instrument to pursue the reward he has in Christ. You see, our bodies are not the enemy of our spiritual life, they are the instrument of our spiritual life. We live our spiritual life in our bodies and through our bodies. In our bodies we pray, read scripture, serve one another, worship God, love one another.
The Corinthians were abusing their freedom in Christ and using the bodies as instruments for un-loving pleasure. They were engaging in sexual sins and insisting on their rights as Christians to participate in pagan feasts. They were not exercising self-control. They were not using their bodies as instruments of growing closer to God and showing God’s love to one another.
Our bodies matter to God. We will be physically resurrected. Our bodies are redeemed by Christ. Our bodies are not the problem. Our bodies are the instruments through which we worship God and live for Jesus! So how will we use our bodies and our lifestyles to worship Jesus?
What It Means
So what does all this mean? The overall point of both of these passages is that, given our future reward based on a past reality, we should dedicate ourselves now to a life trajectory that will take us closer to God. And we should persevere in that lifestyle, not just as individuals, but as a community of believers.
Hebrews talks about the character of that reward- an all access pass into God’s presence! Paul speaks more of self-control and dedication as we look ahead to that reward. We are to keep our eye on the prize and live accordingly, especially because that prize is so much better than anything an athlete will win, and look at their dedication and perseverance in their competitions.
What is your spiritual goal? What is your ultimate long term spiritual goal? Mine is to hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” What am I doing to get there? How am I pursuing that goal? I tell you, it’s hard! It’s hard to be obedient. It’s hard not to get lost in the day to day of living, and I’m in ministry!
What is your life goal? Do your goals in life fit your spiritual goals? I suspect for many of us they do not. I suspect many of us have life goals that do nothing to contribute to our spiritual goals. And which goals are longer lasting?
We rarely succeed by accident. People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. People don’t decide one day, “I’m going to run a marathon,” and then, that day, with no preparation, they try to run one. It doesn’t work that way! We know that to run a marathon takes training, practice, dedication and self-control. Training for a marathon, you must deny yourself things that otherwise would be good. But you make those sacrifices for the sake of your goal.
In the marathon of Christian living, in the marathon of attaining our spiritual goals, what self-control do we exercise? What training do we undergo? What things, even good things, do we deny ourselves for the purpose of making our life our instrument for achieving our goals?
You don’t run a marathon by accident. You won’t mature as a Christian by accident either. You won’t achieve your spiritual goals by accident. You need a plan. You need dedication and perseverance.
Why don’t we do this? Because we too often take for granted the magnificence of what we have in Jesus Christ. How rare is it that we are awestruck by God? I know I take it for granted. How often throughout my day am I awestruck by God? It’s rare!
Hebrews tells us we have unlimited access to God. The curtain is torn! Does this amaze us? Does this shape how we approach each day? Too much of the time we are beating the air and running aimlessly. We have forgotten what we have in Jesus. We have forgotten our gratitude that we have been redeemed, adopted, changed and renewed. Like a great athlete, we have a great prize ahead of us. Jesus has opened the door to heaven!
Jesus has given us access to God! Our salvation is based on our faith in Jesus, not our works. But our perseverance, the endurance of our faith, is something we must participate in with the Holy Spirit. We need to cooperate with the Spirit if we are to maintain, nurture and grow or develop our faith in Christ by which we are saved.
And our responsibility is not just to nurture our own faith, but to help nurture one another’s faith as well! Remember, relationships matter. We have a responsibility to spur one another on in love and good deeds. Love is about making our primary concern the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being. This includes our Christian brothers and sisters! This is why church fellowship is vital. We are not to beat the air, wasting our time and energy. We are not to give up meeting with one another. Because it is in fellowship, in relationship, in community that we learn, grow and put into practice agape love.
This is why we are doing EHR at Priory. We want to learn loving relationship skills. We want to learn then and use them in our church family, so that we can learn how to use them with our biological families, with our friends, neighbours and coworkers. But it is in Christian community that we best learn how to use them. The skills we learn in EHR teach us self-control. They train us in loving one another. They equip us to grow to be more like Jesus who was loving and all about relationships.
We will not grow emotionally healthy relationships by accident. We have to be intentional to learn how to use this skills. We have to practice them, like a professional athlete practices, if we expect to be able to use them in tough situations, when under pressure and stress. I need to set a plan on how I will practice them and implement them into my life so that when tough times come and I’m stressing out, these skills become my “go to” behaviour instead of the usual, self-centred habits I have.
As a church, we need to be intentional to practice them, we need to look for ways to implement them as a church family, so that we can encourage one another and help one another learn them so we can put them into practice in tough times under stress.
The final skill, the final session, is called “develop a rule of life.” A rule of life is a structure around which we organize our life to attain a goal. Think of a training regimen for athletes. They don’t randomly do different exercises depending on their mood in that moment. No! They work with a trainer to set a schedule and make a plan to succeed.
Historically, the term “rule of life” comes from the word for “trellis,” upon which a vine or plant could grow. The trellis provided structure which helped the plan grow bigger and healthier and produce more fruit. Order of monks would develop a “rule of life” or schedule and plan for spiritual devotion and development. Think of it like a spiritual “training schedule” including things like learning, practicing, resting, etc.
I think one of the important things any of us need in a spiritual training schedule is to set aside time to be awed by God. We live in a very distracting society. But we have access to the Most Holy Place! Access to God himself! If you never plan to be awed by God, you will rarely be awed by God. You need to set aside time to let God amaze you, set aside time to consider God, ponder God, learn about God and hear from him. Otherwise, his amazing love for you will be drowned out. This is one area the Daily office can really help. It makes you set aside time for God, to hear from him, ponder him and be amazed by him. But if you don’t set aside time for God you won’t be often amazed by him.
I know I’m often guilty of “keeping up with the gerbils.” Satan likes to keep us busy, like gerbils running on a wheel. It keeps our minds on the immediate instead of the eternal. Are you willing to make time in your life for God? Are you willing to make time in your life to let God love you? To amaze you? To change you?
I read this fascinating passage this week in preparation for this message. “In an incisive article call ‘Fast Folk,’ which appeared in . . . Harper’s, Louis T. Grant dissects an article published earlier in Woman’s Day, in which the lifestyle of one working mother is praised and presented as a model of sorts. Listen to this woman’s life. She rushes from home to work in the morning, eating yogurt in the car for breakfast; has lunch at the spa where she works out; leaves child care to her husband, who also has a managerial position forty miles the other side of home; pilots a small plane in her leisure time for pleasure; teaches on the side a class at a local women’s college; leaves the kids with Grandma, leaves the kids with sitters, leaves the kids…. Grant likens this lifestyle, which he calls ‘fast folk,’ to keeping up with the gerbils. In his immensely perceptive piece, he illustrates the shallowness of
relationships in a “fast folk” family. There’s no time in such a family for one another, for intimacy, for communication, for listening. That’s for slowpokes. And, the author points out, ‘children are slowpokes.’” [Guthrie, p. 350]
This busy lifestyle sounds like today. But the original article was written in 1979! Do you think our culture has slowed down since the 80s? Or have we gotten more frantic? Are we more or less likely to be keeping up with the gerbils today? Are we all “fast folk” now?
God wants to teach us how to love one another. One way we can cooperate is by learning EHR skills, and putting them into practice. They are about putting the well-being of others on the top of our priority list. But this takes time. It takes listening to God. It takes self-control and even self-denial.
Are you willing to make time to let God teach you? Are you willing to make time to let God amaze you? Are you willing to make time for God to change you? Are you willing to make time to let God change your relationships? Because these are the things of eternal value. These are the prizes that last forever.
What is your plan to make the time to let God do these things in your life? What is your plan to grow? What is your plan to persevere?
Decide today to make a plan. Decide now what one of your spiritual goals is. Write it down. Ask God, “What do I need for this goal?” When will you practice EHR skills?
We don’t plan to fail. We fail to plan. So make a plan to grow in your spiritual walk. Make a plan and make the time to let God transform you into the person he made you to be in Christ Jesus. Don’t run aimlessly. Don’t beat the air. Make your life an instrument to achieve your spiritual goals and obtain your eternal spiritual prize. Amen.
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