“But I discipline my body and keep it under control,
lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV)
I haven’t been running since February. I have a list of excuses, but that’s all they are. The simple fact is, I’m not disciplined enough right now. This is evident in my lack of exercise, and in every other area of my life.
It seems that when I’m not running, not disciplining myself in that one area, all other discipline goes out the window too. I’m not very careful about what I eat, nor when. I get lazy with my time, time and work and home. I don’t floss as regularly as I should.
But the lack of physical conditioning carries over into the spiritual, too. When the physical discipline is gone, I notice that my prayer life is anemic, my daily reading and personal study dwindles, and my general disposition towards ministry is grim. I find myself relying on my own strength, running on my own steam, and finding that I’m full of a lot of hot air.
I don’t think this is exactly what Paul had in mind when he wrote about disciplining the body so as not to disqualify his preaching. Read in context, we see that Paul is making a powerful argument about what true freedom in Christ looks like. In Corinthians chapter 6, Paul addresses sexual immorality, in chapter 7, the principles of marriage and singleness, in chapter 8, what to do with food sacrificed to idols. Chapter 9, however, Paul emphasizes the fact that, for the sake of others, he surrendered his rights for the sake of the gospel. He did not claim his rights to receive payment for his work, He did not throw his authority around so that others would serve him. Instead, Paul became all things to all people, and a servant to all that he might win more of them. He kept himself from that which was rightfully his, and did not take his freedom in Christ as license for indulgence, so that he would not disqualify himself and his preaching.
Still, without discipline, I run the risk of disqualifying myself and my preaching. If the well runs dry, the people will turn elsewhere to find water. If, by lack of discipline and self-control, I lead myself into the barren wilderness of spiritual neglect, how can I ever hope to serve as your pastor? My sermons will become just that, my sermons, rather than a faithful, and prayerful proclamation of the Word of God.
If, by never taking time to delight myself in the presence of God through pray and the study of His word, how can I ever hope to share in your joy in the Lord?
There is an old hymn that you all know:
Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey
As an evangelical Christian, I’ve got the trust down. I trust in Jesus for my salvation. I know that I am secure in Him, that my sin has been forgiven, that my guilt is taken away, and that, by God’s grace, I now live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same power that raised Christ from the dead. I love Him, and so I trust Him entirely with my life.
I guess my trouble is with the obey part. If I love Him, won’t I obey Him? Won’t I be listening and watching for the guidance of His Spirit as I attend to His word and kneel in prayer? If I love Him, won’t I want to live my life in a way that shows my love and my gratitude for His tender mercy and lavish grace?
I know that there is in me a desire to walk closely with the Lord, to be found faithful in His eyes, and to live for His glory. In that knowledge, I know that God’s Spirit is working in me, for if I was content in my lack of discipline, then I would be worried. Still, I hear the words of Paul, encouraging me to compete for the crown, to exercise self-control that I might receive the imperishable crown of glory. I know I must be renewed in discipline.
And I find myself in good company. Jonathon Edwards, while known for many things, is also famous for his list of resolutions. I wanted to share just a couple with you here:
Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done.
Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance.
And so I resolve to be more disciplined in my life, physically and spiritually. And while I make this resolution, I also hear the words of another great Puritan, John Owen, who wrote, “To suppose that whatever God requires of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” I make my resolution, trusting solely in the grace of Christ to strengthen and support me, for I know apart from Him I can do nothing.