Do you face temptations? Have you given in to some of them? Have you ever wondered if it really mattered whether you gave in to them? Are you ever discouraged because it seems like it takes an enormous effort just to not succumb to the temptation? Paul dealt with the same questions and provides some help in his letter to the Corinthians.
Today I was one of the coaches for my church's high school Awana Games team. For those who aren't familiar with the Awana Games, they are a series of athletic events that require speed, agility, and careful planning and preparation in order to do well. There are rules about how many events each team member may participate in, where they may stand or run during the event, and what they must do to complete the event. Breaking any one of those rules will result in the team being disqualified for that event.
During my devotions today, I was reminded of the passage in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 where Paul draws an analogy between his spiritual life, and competing in a race. Specifically verse 24, which says "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." and verse 27, which says "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." Paul was concerned that the Corinthians, and even himself, might be disqualified from receiving spiritual rewards. So, he reminds them that what we do in this physical life matters in the spiritual realm in much the same way that it does for an athlete. Just as an athlete spends time, and sacrifices, to train and discipline his body for a race; just we spent time, and sacrificed, to train and discipline our bodies for the games, we must spend time, and sacrifice, to train and discipline our bodies for our spiritual life. Just as a lack of discipline and control of our bodies can result in stepping over a line, or knocking over a pin in the Awana Games, resulting in a disqualification for that event, so also, what we say and do can result in a disqualification for a spiritual reward.
So when you're facing temptations, and wondering if it really is worth the effort required to not give in, remember that giving in can result in disqualification from a reward given in heaven. But that really isn't much help when you're in the middle of a temptation, is it? Paul doesn't just leave us there though, he continues in chapter 10, reminding us of the Israelites and many times that they were disqualified from some reward. And then he gets to verses 12 and 13 which say, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." First he warns us to be on guard, especially when we think we're doing well, so that we don't disqualify ourselves. In several of the events today, we were disqualified because the runner, confident in his abilities, cut or moved too close to the pin, and knocked it over. It is often when we are feeling strong, and confident in our abilities, that we are faced with a temptation, and give in to it.
But then Paul reminds us that God is there with us in the middle of the temptation, and has a way for us to endure it and not be disqualified from the reward. We are not left to our own resources, our own ingenuity, our own will power to resist the temptation; we all know that those are not always sufficient. Instead we are able to trust in God, to seek him, and he will provide for us. That may be a friend who encourages us, a passage in the Bible, prayer, or a myriad of other things that he uses to direct our focus from the temptation that we're facing back onto himself. And that is the real issue, many times the temptations that we face are so hard to resist because we aren't, in that moment, focusing on God. But as we choose to trust him and focus our attention on him rather than the temptation, as I've learned so many times myself, he faithfully brings us past that moment of temptation with out being disqualified, so that we may continue in this race called life.