The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 232)

I Discipline My Body and Keep It under Control
Christian Living

“I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(1 Cor 9:23-27)

Serving God requires biblical knowledge; but beyond that, what is crucial is mature spiritual living. In order to achieve maturity and become vessels useful to God, we need to train persistently. As Paul warns us, to avoid being set aside as disqualified vessels, we need to “discipline (our) body and keep it under control.”

Believing in Christ Entails Change (1 Cor 9:23)
“Change” is difficult to accept, but inevitable. The truth is that whenever we move to a new environment or start a new job, we always need to change and adapt. The same applies when we do ministry. Why do we need to change? Paul says, “I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that others may share in the blessings of the Gospel.” We change for the sake of bringing Gospel blessings to other people.

In vv. 20-22, Paul says “….To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak … .” Paul is even willing to be a servant to all, that he might win more of them to Christ. He is not teaching us that we should change the Gospel message to cater to different audiences. Rather, he is telling us to use different methods to reach different people so that they may hear the Gospel.

When Hudson Taylor started his missionary work in China, he wore a western tailored suit as he went around preaching the Gospel. One day, he noticed a man nodding his head while listening to him preach. Happily, he thought to himself, “This man must be touched by the Gospel; that’s why he is nodding his head in agreement!” After he finished preaching, he went up to the man and asked, “I noticed you were listening to me very attentively and nodding your head. May I know what you thought about the message?” The man replied, “I was actually thinking that your clothes are very unusual. I don’t understand why you are wearing this, and so I was nodding my head and thinking about your apparel.” After hearing this, Hudson Taylor felt a deep sense of regret. From then on, he stopped wearing suits and started wearing Chinese long robes and he even braided his hair just as the locals did.

After we become Christians, we have to change for the sake of the Gospel and the Gospel ministry. A believer is, by his new identity in Christ, a consecrated person. Yet, the old sinful nature does not just disappear. We are still in the flesh and we are still prone to the sinful inclinations of the flesh. To be a living testimony of the Gospel, we need to change the way we live. We need to depend on the Holy Spirit to live out the new life so that when others look at us, they will see the wonderful change that the Gospel has wrought in our lives.

How Should We Change? (1 Cor 9:24-26)
Man has three enemies – Satan, the world, and his own self (Eph 2:2-3). Among these three, the biggest enemy is himself. There is also a saying among athletes, “To defeat your competitors, you must first defeat yourself.” Paul tells us that the secret to changing ourselves is to “discipline (our) body and keep it under control” (1 Cor 9:27).

To discipline our bodies means to deal with ourselves and gain control over our flesh. How do we do that? Paul gives us three pointers.

Have a Goal in Mind
As we seek to bring the Gospel to others through positive changes in ourselves, we need to run the race with the end goal in mind. Paul aptly uses the analogy of running a race to describe the pursuit of spiritual growth. When the runner sets his mind on the prize, he races to the finishing line without looking back. Before a person becomes a Christian, he lives for himself. After he becomes a Christian, he lives for the sake of the Gospel. He now has a new life and a new direction in life. Living out the Gospel and bringing the Gospel to others should be his new goal in life. For all of us Christians, this is the spiritual goal that we should set our hearts to.

Runners race to the finishing line because they want to win the prize. People in this world run their race with all their might to obtain their rewards. However, what they get are worldly rewards and perishable crowns. For us, we are running a spiritual race and what we get at the end is an imperishable crown.

Why should Christians run to receive the prize? Because we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. There are some who do not run the race after they believe in Christ. They stay where they are; not doing the Lord’s work, not pursuing spiritual growth. They think that as long as they are saved and are going to Heaven, that is good enough for them. Some of them even run back towards the world! Paul is very clear about this: Christians ought to run towards the finishing line to receive the reward from God. Therefore, we should be living out the Gospel, evangelising and doing the Lord’s work, so that we may receive the prize. A Christian who does not press on, cannot finish the race. How can he expect to receive any prize if he does not finish the race?

Self-control is “self-discipline”. Paul uses the analogy of athletic training. Before an athlete can run a race, he must focus on the goal, then train and prepare himself for achieving that goal. Besides the tough physical training that he needs to go through, he also has to have self-discipline. He needs to maintain a strict diet and rigorous training schedule. If he does not have self-discipline, he has little hope of winning the race.

Similarly, we must be self-disciplined and focussed in our spiritual lives and ministry. We must discipline ourselves to pursue holiness and to obey God’s commands; denying ourselves and not yield to temptation. We must cleanse ourselves from what is dishonorable and become vessels useful to God and ready for every good work.

As athletes run, they keep to their designated lanes as they race to the finishing line, or else they will be disqualified. Similarly, boxers do not box as one beating the air; they aim to land their blows well. When you are pursuing spiritual growth and disciplining your body, you must not do it aimlessly. If we do not have a clear objective, we will be overcome by the inclinations of the sinful flesh, which will hinder our ministry and our pursuit of spiritual growth.

The average person slacks off and succumbs to his fleshly inclinations when there is no discipline or direction in his life. For example, Christians know that they must be involved in corporate worship on Sundays; yet, there are those who give in to their desires to sleep in on Sunday mornings, thinking that it is fine to skip one or two Sunday services. Where there is no bodily discipline, you become a Christian who is irregular for Sunday worship.

Similarly, Christians also know that they must serve God. Yet, there are those who succumb to the desire to do well in their careers and have comfortable lifestyles. They end up prioritising the pursuit of worldly things, thinking that they can serve God wholeheartedly after they retire. The fact is, they have lost many opportunities to do the Lord’s work, as they do not participate in church ministries.

When it comes to evangelism, many Christians also push the responsibility to others. They assume that there will be others who are evangelising, and so it is fine for them not to join in tracting, and not attend Gospel meetings or prayer meetings.

Do not assume that rich spiritual knowledge is adequate for ministry. Bible knowledge is only useful and effective in the hands of those who pursue spiritual growth. If you only seek to have knowledge, and do not discipline your body and control it, you are setting yourself up for failure in spiritual growth and service. Therefore, we are to grow in knowledge and, at the same time, discipline our bodies by keeping the goal in mind, exercising self-control with focus so that we can pursue ministry and spiritual growth effectively. When we keep our bodies under control, we will please God and be able to do the work that He has given to us.

Tiang Thian Chiew
- Tiang Thian Chiew is an elder of The 'Fisherman of Christ’ Fellowship.This article was translated from the original written in Chinese.

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