|The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 232)|
I Discipline My Body and Keep It under Control
“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.”
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)
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)
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
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?
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.
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.