And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
– 1 Corinthians 9:23-1 (NAS)
Playing hockey has become an increasing larger challenge as I get older. My body simply will not do what my brain tells it to do and while that is perfectly normal it is still fun to play. However, in order to truly participate and enjoy the game at all I have to make some additional sacrifices in life. I know if I do not have a regular workout routine that playing would be virtually impossible. I have no interest in skating once up the ice, watching everyone skate by me like I am a walrus wallowing around on the ice, and hyperventilating like I am about to pass out because I am in no shape to handle the stress and demands of the game. Not that some of those things don’t happen anyway (having people skate by you like you are laying on the ice like a walrus) and not being able to keep up to all the young speedsters, but it is wonderful to do something that I grew up with and love to participate in for fun. It is amazing the young guys allow us to occupy space on the ice and participate with them (obviously I am only speaking for the over the hill gang).
So what is required in any similar situation is regular exercise to train our body to respond properly to the demands and stresses of these kinds of activity. If I make time to train and go through what often feels like a brutal regiment of regular, consistent training then I can be safer, less vulnerable to injury and healthier to enjoy participating with these men and the sport. Obviously this does not guarantee that nothing will happen like an injury but certainly helps me enjoy the sport better.
Paul understood this principle about life from a spiritual perspective. We have to have a purpose or reason for training. For Paul that was doing everything for the sake of the gospel. Many Christians have no focus and therefore no real purpose for training. The gospel is too overwhelming so the goal might default to anything from “fixing self” or “doing better at reading my Bible” or “sinning less”. But those goals do not always translate into a strong, spiritual workout in order to participate in the mission of Christ.
Secondly, Paul knows that transformative training requires discipline and self-control. You cannot accomplish any goals without movement and that is impossible without discipline and self-control. Change will NOT just happen by only thinking about it or wishing God would just “make it happen” without my participation and involvement. God is the catalyst, motivation and coach for us but every act of obedience involves my action through faith. What I find…curious at times is people who want change without doing anything. Some really do desire change and growth but typically fall victim to what Jesus observed with the disciples, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
Paul’s final thought is that self-discipline is essential because there is a real danger that after preaching to others that he would disqualify himself because of a lack of focus and commitment to the goal. Sadly there are many Christians who are disqualified from truly experiencing the power and provision of Christ because they have disqualified themselves from the process. Change does not have to “be everything” but it does need to focus on something. Do you know why you are in training? Do you know how to get to what God calls you to be? Do you know what it takes to get to what calls you to do? All important questions in this journey with God.