Summary: All Christians should discipline themselves spiritually like athletes training for a contest.
In business, school, athletics, you name it – those who succeed are those who discipline themselves to perform the tasks that are necessary for success. And the same is true in our spiritual lives. Although we celebrate the fact that our salvation is not something we can earn – it’s important for us to realize that maturity in Christ ONLY comes through the same route that success comes in any other area – and that’s through discipline!
With this idea in mind, Paul writes the following words to his friends in the church in Corinth. As I read, try and identify the things Paul instructs us to do if we are to be successful in the most important aspect of our lives – the spiritual.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
What is the prize anyway? When Paul was talking he was most likely referring to the Ishthmian Games, which happened every 2 years in Corinth. The prizes for winning the games was a coveted crown of fir branches. As Paul says, this crown is only temporary – but followers of Christ are promised rewards that are eternal IF you run the race of your life the proper way.
Just to make sure we’re on the same page – there are two judgements coming at the end of time. 1 is called the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20). It is the time when all people whose names are not written in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire. Following that judgment is a 2nd judgment for all who survived the first. It’s known as the Judgment Seat of Christ or the Bema Judgment (referred to in 1 Cor 3 and 2 Cor 5). This judgment is a rewards judgment, where those who have honored God and whose lives have borne spiritual fruit will be rewarded, and those who squandered their time on earth after their conversion will suffer loss. Again – this does not affect one’s salvation – wer’re talking about the rewards that you’ll receive from Christ for the way you ran the race laid out for you in this life.
TRANS: So Paul tells us to be sure and run the race we’re given in such a way as to win the prize. The question is, how can we run the race God has given each of us in such a way as to win the prize?
1. Train yourself through discipline. (1 Cor 9:25-27)
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”
Remember “Rocky” – I know it’s an old movie, but can’t you just hear the music…. Can’t you see the images of Rocky doing situps, pushups, hitting the punching bag, and best of all, racing to the top of the steps of the library?
Training is hard work. It takes sweat. It takes effort. It takes determination to do what you know it will take to get you to your goal.
I love it when I hear testimonies of people who were miraculously delivered of a sinful habit such as alcohol addiction or drugs or pornography or gambling. But you know what? That’s not the norm. The normal way to defeat sinful habits is by BREAKING THOSE HABITS one decision at a time, one moment at a time, by choosing to plug into the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you want to run in such a way as to win the prize that God has for you – you need to take a look at your life and identify those areas that need some “shaping up” and bring them under spiritual discipline. Just like you look in the mirror and notice the areas of your physical body that are needing a bit of work, each of us needs to identify those areas in our spiritual lives where we need to exercise more discipline.
Notice that in verse 27 Paul says “I beat my body and make it my slave…”
This is no easy miraculous one time answer to the problems of being tempted to live for himself. What he’s talking about is a moment by moment, day to day decision to live your life according to God’s commands. To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. To love your neighbor just like you love yourself.