Paul was encouraging a rather difficult and easily distracted church. They were young in faith and slow to grow to maturity. Putting on his Pastors hat, Paul encourages his friends in this fellowship to pursue their sharing of the gospel and growing in their faith. But how do you inspire them to strive for better, than just settling? For better than what they see around them in their culture?
Pauls comes up with an idea. He relates their situation to the Isthmian athletic games that were hosted in the city:
24 Don’t you know that when people run on the race-track everybody runs, but only one person gets the prize? Run in such a way that you’ll win it. 25 Everyone who goes in for athletics exercises self-discipline in everything. They do it to gain a crown that perishes; we do it for an imperishable one. 26 Well then: I don’t run in an aimless fashion! I don’t box like someone punching the air! 27 No: I give my body rough treatment, and make it my slave, in case, after announcing the message to others, I myself should end up being disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
When we train for fitness or a race or to climb or achieve a goal, there is always a cost. Our bodies may not wish to do what we ask, but we need to discipline it so that it builds strength to achieve our goals. It often doesn’t like it though our bodies complain for a few days afterwards, letting us know that. The result though, if we persevere, is we achieve those goals and obtain the rewards.
We can apply this idea to finances, mountain climbing or whatever goal we have in mind.
I wonder though do we look at this the way Paul intended? Do we require of our bodies sacrifice to search deeper into God? Do we get up before everyone in the family for that quiet time? Do we fast and pray to see that family member saved or return to following the Lord?
Paul encourages us that like a top athlete we should never stop training, we must never stop pursuing and obeying God.
How much will we accomplish if we do not embrace the Lords purpose for our lives and live out this purpose with consistency and dedication?
Part of being a disciple is discipline. Pauls inspiring us with the reason for why we are being disciples, why we are ‘Jesus following athletes’, to obtain the blessing God has for us not for earthly recognition but to receive those blessings the Lord has for us as faithful seekers of God.
As we watch those Olympians receive their medals for the extra, they achieved, think about what we don’t see. The cost of toil and hours of early starts and discipline, that may get them a gold by the smallest of margins and remember Pauls encouragement: Pursue God with that same intensity because the prize is imperishable.