Pastor David B. Curtis

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Self-Discipline

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Delivered 03/08/1998

We need to lock the doors so nobody can leave. When I announce my subject this morning, I don't want everybody to run. I want to talk to you this morning about self-discipline.

Proverbs 25:28 (NKJV) Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.

I think the New American Standard is a little more clear on the actual meaning of this verse:

Proverbs 25:28 (NAS) Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.

In ancient times, the walls of a city were its main defense; without them the city was easy prey to its enemies. So is a man without self-discipline an easy victim when attacked by his desires and impulses. We are going to spend our time this morning discussing the subject of self-discipline.

For the last four weeks we have been looking at the subject of "fundamental disciplines," those subjects that are basic to our Christian life. We looked at the issues of Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism. If we are to grow in our spiritual lives, these disciplines are fundamental.

There are believers that read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis, they also have intimate fellowship with other believers and they are involved in reaching others for Christ. They have a dynamic growing and glowing Christian life. They are an influence for Christ where ever they go and what ever they do. I'm sure you know some believers like that. Then there and many other believers who rarely, if ever, read their Bibles or pray, they have very little fellowship with other Christians and they never share their faith. These believers have no testimony, they are not a positive influence in any one's life for the cause of Christ, their Christian life is stagnant and weak.

What is the difference between these two types of believers? I think the difference can be summed up very simply as self-discipline. The effective believers are self-disciplined and the others are not. We all desire to have a strong testimony, to live a victorious Christian life. We would like to spend time each day in the Word of God and prayer. We would like to be involved in the fundamental disciplines of the Christian life, but we don't feel like doing the work at the moment, so we put if off, and all to many days, it doesn't get done.

Proverbs 13:4 (NKJV) The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.

The slothful desire the gains the diligent get, but hate the pains the diligent take; therefore, they have nothing. It is beyond dispute that most of us are living lives which are seriously lacking in self-discipline. I saw a vivid illustration of a lack of self-discipline this past week on television. Julie came running down the stairs, grabbed the TV remote, and put on the Jerry Springer show. On the show was a woman who had not been out of bed in ten months. She weighed an estimated 1600 pounds. They were interviewing her via satellite from her bed. She had been hospitalized in the past, and lost 700 pounds in about 6 months, but as soon as she was released from the hospital, she put the weight right back on. She was so fat, she could hardly breathe. She could not get out of bed, she just laid there and ate. This is an extreme case of a lack of self-discipline. Now, I don't think that we have to worry about our lack of self-discipline going that far, but our lack of self-discipline costs us, just as her's cost her.

Many Christians would say, "I just don't have the time to read my Bible and pray as I would like to." But the truth is, we all have time. If we have time to do other things, like read the newspaper, magazines, or watch television, we have time. What we lack is self-discipline.

Contemporary American culture, and much of the rest of the world, is losing sight of the need for self-discipline. Our society is into relaxation and recreation. I was counseling a couple who was having marriage problems, and the wife was feeling overworked and underappreciated. The husband would come home from work and park in front of the television all night while she continued to take care of the children and the household. I'm sure that that situation is not something that happens in your homes. When I questioned the husband on his behavior, he defended his actions by saying to me, "I take my leisure time seriously." Isn't that a good defense? I told him he was being lazy and loveless.

A lack of self-discipline causes many problem, not only in our home, but on our job and in our walk with the Lord. Self-discipline is the ability to regulate your conduct by principle and sound judgement rather than by impulse, desire, high pressure, or social custom.

Most people don't know how to control themselves. They do whatever they feel like doing without concern for consequences. Now, for the believer, we can define self-discipline as the ability to regulate your conduct by the principles of the Word of God. It means bringing my desires and emotions under the control of the Spirit of God so that I can live a life of obedience to the principles of God's Word.

Is self-discipline really that important? I think it is. The importance of self-discipline in the life of a believer is clearly stated in the words of the late Dr. M.L. Jones who said, "I defy you to read the life of any saint that has ever adorned the life of the Church without seeing at once that the greatest characteristic in the life of that saint was discipline and order. Invariably it is the universal characteristic of all the out standing men and women of God. Read about Henry Martyn, David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, the brothers Wesley, and Whitfield - read their journals. It does not matter what branch of the Church they belonged to , they have all disciplined their lives and have insisted upon the need for this; and obviously it is something that is thoroughly scriptural and absolutely essential."

As you read about the apostle Paul in the New Testament, who I believe was the greatest Christian who ever lived, you'll see that his life was characterized by self-discipline. After Paul's statement that he does all things for the gospel, he said that his commitment to this course of ministry did not come easily:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Paul illustrated his earnest striving by referring to the Isthmian games held near Corinth every two years. The footrace was one of the major events and was taken very seriously by the contestants. In order to compete in the Isthmian games, an athlete had to prepare for ten months and stand before a statue of Zeus and swear that he had spent ten months preparing.

In the Isthmian games, only one athlete received the prize. If so many athletes struggled to excel, although only one could win, how much more should we be willing to strive for a far more valuable reward. "Run in such a way that you may obtain it." Paul interjected this like a coach urging a runner on to victory. Life is not a sprint; it's a long distance race.

What does it take to be a winner? "And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things" (vs.25). Any winning athlete knows that discipline is essential to preparing for victory. The Greek word used here for "competes" is agonizomai, from which we get our word agony. And the word used for "temperate" is egkrateuomai, to exercise self-restraint (in diet and chastity). Everyone who agonizes is self-disciplined.

In Scotland, during the early days of aviation, a stunt pilot was selling rides in his single engine airplane. One day he got into an argument with an old farmer who insisted upon taking his wife along on the ride -- at no extra charge. "Look," said the pilot finally, "I'll take you both up for the price of one if you promise not to utter a sound throughout the entire trip. If you make a sound, the price is doubled." The deal was made and they all clambered aboard. The pilot then proceeded to put the aircraft through maneuvers designed to make the bravest tremble. But not a sound came from the back, where his passengers sat. Exhausted, he set the plane down. As the farmer climbed out, the pilot said, "I made moves up there that frightened even me, and yet you never said a word. You're a fearless man." "I thank ye," replied the Scotsman. "But I must admit that there was one time when ya almost had me." "And when was that?" asked the pilot. The farmer replied, "That was about the time my wife fell out!" That is self-discipline!

If we could have asked a winner at the Olympian games in Corinth how he trained to win, he would have said, "Discipline!" For ten months before the games he would have denied himself every legitimate pleasure that would have interfered with his training. His diet was very strict, he exercised daily, he got the rest he needed, he submitted to the instruction of his coach. In order to win, the athlete had to deny all his legitimate, lawful rights that would hinder him. You will never succeed academically, spiritually, or physically anywhere, anytime, unless you are disciplined to that particular goal.

What great prize did the winner of the Isthmian games strive for? "Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown":a wreath or garland of green leaves was placed on the head of the winner. It soon withered away. What prize awaits the disciplined believer? "But we an incorruptible [crown]". This is in contrast to the quickly withering garland of leaves. An incorruptible crown is a special reward given to faithful runners, much like the "crown of glory" will be given to faithful elders, (1 Pet. 5:4) and the "crown of life" to faithful martyrs (Rev. 2:10).

With the incorruptible crown in mind, Paul said, "Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air". Paul ran the race of the Christian life with self-denial and hard work. He did not run uncertainly, without a clear sense of his goal. Whether in conforming to the life-style of anyone he was with, or in not demanding support from his converts, or in anything he did, Paul had a definite aim. He did not allow anything to hold him back from his goal. "So fight I" literally translates "So I box." He fought his opponent, rather than shadow boxing.

The disciplined person sets goals. The athlete is disciplined toward a goal. He is living a life of self-discipline for the purpose of reaching his goal. Many Christians, unfortunately, don't have any goals or objectives, they just drift through life. The self-disciplined person moves deliberately toward something specific. What are your goals? Most people work hard so they can buy things to make them happy. We are developing a concept of life that says the whole of life is a process of man meeting his needs. To many people, their goal is to have this or that material possession. Where does that mind set come from? Freud, humanism, which says, "Our existence is to satisfy ourselves, there is no God." And everyone is out to meet his own needs. What are your goals? The first step in goal setting is to identify your objective. I would hope that one of your main objectives would be to live a godly life. Notice what Paul told his son in the faith, Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.

The Greek word translated here as "exercise" is gumnazo, it means to train or discipline. It is where we get our word gymnasium. Paul is telling Timothy that if he is going to be godly, he must discipline himself to that end. An undisciplined life will drift into ungodliness.

Other objectives might be to be a good husband or wife, or to be a good parent, or a good employee. Once the objective is understood, step two is to set priorities needed to reach that objective. If your goal is to be a godly person, then you would make it a priority to spend time in the Bible and in prayer. If your objective was to be a good husband, then you would make it a priority to spend time with your wife, learning what her needs are and what her love language is. You would arrange your priorities to reach the objective.

Once we understand our objectives and have set our priorities, we need to set a schedule. A schedule is a device to help us get where we want to go. It is the test of the sincerity of our priorities. I want to be a godly individual, so I must schedule time in the Word and in prayer. My experience has taught me that if I don't schedule it, it won't get done. This would include scheduling time with your spouse and children, if your objective is to be a good spouse or parent.

Once you are on a schedule for several weeks, you will create a habit.

Hebrews 5:12-14 (NKJV) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

The word "use" is the Greek word hexis, which means habit or practice. The word for "exercised" is gumnazo, which means disciplined or trained. By discipline you create habits. We are creatures of habit, but we must use discipline to form godly habits. Do you remember the first time you drove a car? Was it a scary experience? There are so many things you must think about and do all at once. Years later it has become a habit because you disciplined yourself to practice. Now you can drive down I-64 at 55 miles per hour dodging in and out of traffic while discussing superlapsarinism.

Spiritual growth is the result of developing godly habits: Bible study, prayer, witnessing, and fellowship. We must schedule these things until they become habits.

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Discipline not only involves goal setting, but endurance. Discipline is from the Greek word, hupopiazo, which means to "bruise the face under the eyes" or to buffet. In the Greek "to bring the body into subjection" literally means "making it my slave." We must control our bodies and make them serve us, not let them control us. This is not a one time battle, you must have endurance. Our bodies cry out for their rights. Most believers are slaves to their bodies. Their bodies tell their minds what to do. Their bodies decide when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat, when to sleep and get up, and so on. An athlete cannot allow that.

We must have endurance to maintain a disciplined lifestyle for a life time. You must have the toughness to continue to take the bumps and bruises of the battle. A.W. Tozer wrote, "I doubt if God can use a man greatly until he has been hurt deeply." We must have endurance to carry us through the long haul, through difficult and painful times.

"Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (KJV), disqualified (NKJV)". Paul was aware that even though he had preached to others, he needed to endure till the end in his own running of the race. After making it as far as he had, he knew that if he didn't continue to endure, he could be disqualified.

Proverbs 24:10 (NKJV) If you faint in the day of adversity, Your strength is small.

Failing to endure under pressure shows how limited one's strength is.

Psalms 78:9 (NKJV) The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, Turned back in the day of battle.

They had everything that they needed, but they lacked endurance. "Let's quit" are household words because we are desperately lacking in discipline and endurance.

If you are living your life in your own strength, you are sure to fail. Self-discipline or self-control is fruit of the Spirit and is manifest in our lives as we live in dependance on the Lord.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

We can endure when we are trusting in Him. Paul put it this way:

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Let me give you some suggestions that may help you in developing self-discipline.

1. Start small - start with reading one chapter a day, or praying five minutes a day. Or maybe, by keeping your room clean. What ever your goals are, begin small.

2. Be on time- If you are supposed to be somewhere at a specific time, be there on time. Develop the ability to discipline yourself to be on time.

3. Organize your life- don't just react to circumstances. Plan, set goals, organize. Don't say, "I'll read if I have time." Plan the time.

4. Practice self-denial - don't give your body everything it asks for: food, sleep, relaxation. Make your body do what you want.

Cultivating discipline in the physical realm will spill over into the spiritual realm.

Do you see yourself as a Christian athlete who is striving in the race of life in order to glorify God? Too many of us are spectators who need to get out of the stands and in the race. Are you a disciplined believer? Are you denying yourself for the advancement of the kingdom? Apart from self-discipline, we will never accomplish much in this life. Are you disciplined to live a godly life for advancing the cause of Christ?

1 Corinthians 15:57-58 (NKJV) But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

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