Many boxing fans consider Mohammed Ali to be the greatest fighter who ever lived. It wasn’t so much his boxing skills, which were exemplary; nor was it his knack of keeping opponents off-balance with a stinging jab; nor was it his capacity to take a punch. Ali had something inside him that only the great ones possess: a champion’s heart. He had a resolve to do whatever it took to win a fight.
One of the primary things Ali was known for was his conditioning: his willingness to push himself when he trained. Skill alone won’t win a fight. A good boxer knows that if he doesn’t conquer himself in the gym, he will never overcome his opponent in the ring. The loafer runs two miles rather than ten; he quits his workout when he gets tired; he picks sparring partners who aren’t a challenge. The fighter who has gotten into the habit of going the easy route has trained himself to be a loser. No matter how skilled he might be, when he gets into that ring, his lack of self-discipline and his unwillingness to suffer is going to become evident to all.
The truth is that boxing is the devil’s idea of fighting. The entire sport is built around pride, greed and violence. The boxer is trained to be merciless: Do unto the other guy before he does unto you. This is not the kind of fighting God takes pleasure in. No, it is precisely the opposite of this.
As believers, we face a determined foe. He relentlessly stalks us in the ring of life. He is a brilliant strategist and times his shots. He seems to know just when to unleash his barrage of blows against us. However, as is the case with the boxer, the believer’s real battle is fought out in the pre-fight conditioning period; in other words, in the daily grind of life. If he keeps himself conditioned spiritually, he will be able to withstand the assault of temptation “in the ring on fight day.”
The apostle Paul was certainly one of the greatest champions of the Christian faith the world has ever known. He constantly beat the devil because he had first conquered the daily temptation to live to please himself. He prayed. He fasted. He soaked himself in God’s Word. He gave his life away for the sake of others. He suffered deprivation, persecution and even belittlement by his own followers. He constantly fought the temptation to give in, to go with the flow, to live for self. Paul had the kind of champion’s heart that Muhammad Ali could never understand. “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called...” he told Timothy just before he was beheaded. (I Timothy 6:12)
Sluggards always do what is easiest. Visit any boxing gym in the country and you will find the “hangers-on” who will never amount to anything in the world of boxing. They aren’t willing to pay the price required to be a champion. They have trained themselves to quit when the going gets tough. One can only imagine how many extremely gifted fighters never made it to the top because they lacked the resolve—the champion’s heart—to win the battle no matter what the cost might be.
Every believer has the opportunity to make a name for himself in God’s Kingdom. Whether we like it or not, we are in the boxing realm of the kingdom of God. Many battles lay ahead of us. The question isn’t whether we will get into the ring or not, but what will happen when we do. One day, the great fighters will be recognized for their efforts. The Lord Himself will raise their hands and acknowledge their victories. For, you see, the Kingdom of Heaven isn’t built upon those who live a soft life of ease. No, its champions are the fighters: those who refused to go the easy route, refused to quit, and refused to be denied the victory.
It is true; Mohammed Ali was one of the greatest boxers the world has ever known. There have not been many men who could stand in the ring with him. He had what the world loves in its fighters: that deep sense of pride that refuses to be beaten. But what does he have to show for it today? Mohammed Ali is an old man now and will soon stand before Jesus Christ to give an account for his life. As his entire life is played out before him, I’m afraid that the one thing that will stand out will be this: Here was a man who lived for self. Was he the greatest fighter who ever lived? No, it seems that he was one more who went the easy route. The real champions are those who laid down their lives for the sake of others. Among Paul’s final recorded words are these:
I am already being poured out as a drink offering,