JOE NAMATH vs. JIM ELLIOT
1 Peter 4:1-6
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 15, 2013
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
-- 1 Peter 4:1-6, ESV
Have you ever dreamed of having someone else’s life? Sure you have. We all, at one time or another, would rather be somebody else. It might be a beautiful movie star or singer, a great actor or athlete, a person of great wealth, a powerful politician, or in a few cases maybe even a famous missionary or preacher. All of us would like to be interesting (like the man in the beer commercial) and we often find great interest in other people’s lives.
Today I am going to give you a choice between two people. As I studied this passage in 1 Peter, both of them came to mind as near perfect illustrations of the text. So here is your choice: you can either be Joe Namath or Jim Elliot.
Joe Namath vs. Jim Elliot
Most people, even the ladies and the youngsters among us, have heard of Joe Namath. He was born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, starred on a national championship football team at Alabama, led the New York Jets to win the Super Bowl, and remains well known for his charisma, good looks, success, and place in the professional football Hall of Fame.
Namath lived a life of human passions. Driven by sensuality, he never said no to his passions for food, drink, sex, or a good time. His propensity for drunkenness was displayed in a not-too-distant episode of Monday Night Football during which he tried to kiss an attractive sideline reporter. I do not know if he participated in any orgies the way in which we may think of them, but the Greek term simply means carousing, or having sex with multiple partners, and Namath was famous for that. He certainly competed in drinking parties, literally drinking contests, as a collegian and as a pro. And as far as lawless idolatry goes, he no doubt served as his own god and became a god-like figure to many. I can’t think of any life that describes this text any better, and a whole lot of people in this world would have loved to have had this life. Joe Namath was cool.
Jim Elliot was a square, at least by the world’s standards. He was born in Portland, Oregon in the 20’s and died in the 50’s before he reached his 30’s. Like Namath, he was handsome, bright, and very athletic. He could have played college football, but chose to attend relatively tiny Wheaton College instead. Girls had crushes on him, but he never had sex with a woman until he was married. He never used drugs, he never got drunk at a beer pong party, and he turned down careers in which he could have excelled at making money to go and translate the Bible for a people-group in South America that had never heard the gospel. In return, the people whom he gave his life to reach, took his life with their knives and spears. His body was dumped in a river in the middle of a jungle.
Jim never won the Super Bowl, never made any money, loved only one woman, and is not famous to anyone except a small remnant of Christians who have read Elisabeth Elliot’s most excellent books. Now seriously, how many people in America, even in the American church, would want Elliot’s life compared to Namath’s?
The Flesh vs. The Spirit
These two men illustrate this text so well because this text puts forth the classic New Testament confrontation between the flesh and the spirit. All humans live in the flesh but only born-again believers live in the spirit. Lost people’s lives are dominated by the desires of the flesh and they generally live according to those desires, putting good feelings, happiness, and having fun above all else. Saved people have to deal with all of the same desires, yet temper those desires by the power of the Holy Spirit under the lordship of Jesus Christ. The two lives are as different as, well, Joe Namath and Jim Elliot.
But the key to mastering this epic battle between flesh and spirit is not found in two lives, but one. The life that really matters is the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. God became man for two reasons: to provide the perfect example for sinners and to perform the perfect atonement for sin. Salvation comes from the latter, but anyone saved by the sacrifice of Christ has a strong, spiritual desire to emulate the life of Christ. So how did Christ, who took on flesh, who lived in the power of the spirit, handle this epic battle?
Christ suffered in the flesh. On the cross? Sure. But the meaning here is that Christ suffered throughout His life by denying human passions in order to stay in the will of God. Ask a person who is trying to quit smoking what it feels like to deny himself a cigarette. Ask a person who is trying to slim down from being overweight what it feels like to eat broccoli rather than barbecue. It is suffering. This is the way Christ suffered, and this is the same way of thinking every Christian should share.
God loves us and does not want our God-ordained desires for food and drink, comfort and pleasure, even sex, to go unquenched. However, He also loves us enough to show us, by His word and His Spirit, how to fulfill them in an honorable way that does not lead to debauchery, meaning dishonorable to God and destructive for man. God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, got hungry and thirsty. He feasted on occasions and make His own wine, but He curbed His cravings and was not given to gluttony nor drunkenness. Jesus no doubt encountered a lot of attractive women in His day, but since it was not God’s will for Him to marry any of them, He curbed any desires for sexual intercourse and refused to violate another man’s wife, or potential wife. Jesus enjoyed His brief life to the full, all the while His spiritual desire to love and honor God and people overcame any fleshly feelings to gratify Himself at someone else’s expense. Neither your nor I can be Jesus; but, we can follow Him.
Christians, you’ve got flesh and you’ve got the Holy Spirit. One is infinitely greater than the other. And while it is not true to say that a Christian will never sin, I think it is safe to say that a Christian will never let sin get the best of him, nor live a lifestyle of debauchery in any form or fashion. It is a matter of God’s glory and our own Christian witness. It is a matter of life and death.
Death vs. Life
Do you want to be judged in the flesh the way people are, or live in the spirit the way God does? These words in context refer to Christians who have gone on to be with the Lord were were judged by lost people on earth as being square, or uncool, or religious fanatics who are now spiritually and totally alive with God for eternity. They believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and they proved it by being willing to delay gratification for the glorious prize before them. This prize is set before us all, all people, even people like Joe Namath and people like Jim Elliot.
Fortunately for Joe Namath, he is alive. I do not mean to be his judge, just someone who has inspected some of the fruit in his life. I do know he is still alive, and many like him, who still have the opportunity to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. No amount of pleasure on earth is worth surrendering your soul to an eternal Hell. I like Joe Namath and I hope he has come to believe the gospel, and I hope many others like him will, too. Fortunately, as long as we live, there is time.
Fortunately for Jim Elliot, he is dead. I am not saying his death was fortunate, for it was a great tragedy. He left behind a dear wife, a baby daughter, and a lifetime of mission service unfulfilled. However, the killers among the Auca Indian tribe that murdered Elliot and four fellow missionaries did eventually come to Christ. Their brave outreach, and the even more brave persistence of Elisabeth and the other wives, eventually established a church near the very spot where Jim Elliot died.
The real fortunate thing about Jim’s death was the moment he passed from this life into the actual and visible presence of God. At that moment, Jim was truly glad he had trusted in the gospel of Jesus for salvation. At that moment, it was worth it all to say no to illegal drugs and illicit sex. At that moment, it was worth it all to have passed over worldly riches in exchange for meaningful Christian service. At that moment, Jim was glad to be dead to this world and alive in Christ.
That moment, the moment we see God fact to face, is coming for Joe Namath, too. And for me and for you. What will it be like? It will be like Namath vs. Elliot, flesh vs. spirit, death vs. life, and Hell vs. Heaven.
JOE NAMATH vs. JIM ELLIOT
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org