1Cor. 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
1Cor. 9:24 ¶ Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.
1Cor. 9:25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
1Cor. 9:26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air;
1Cor. 9:27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
Paul is an all or nothing sort of man. Everything that he does in life is about the gospel -- the "good news." Every situation in which he finds himself has something to do with sharing the good news which he knows will have a direct effect on himself and others. However, along the way he has also learned that there must be spiritual discipline and this he sees in light of the athletes around him. If we can be this disciplined in our personal life, why can't we also apply it to our spiritual life? Therefore, we shouldn't live our spiritual lives as if there were no greater purpose in mind, but we ought to live every day, disciplining our very bodies for the good news!
A little over a year ago I was traveling from Athens to Corinth. Along the way it was pointed out where the major sporting event was held during the time of Paul. We actually know it was held during the years that Paul would have been there. I had always imagined Paul as a man who made ugly, rugged tents. Suddenly I saw him in a different light. Paul would have been at this sporting event, making tents of all kinds of gorgeous colors for the different athletes and dignitaries who were attending. Just imagine, he was in the center of it all -- day in and day out. He would have watched the discipline of these athletes as they tried to prepare for the race. They weren't just racing for fun, but rather, they were racing to win. If they won, they were given a wreath to wear on their heads. The beauty and freshness of this wreath might last a day or two. Somehow I think he saw this as rather absurd, that they would beat their bodies into submission to earn a wreath that would be gone the next day.
We can imagine that as he watched this adventure unfolding before him, as he created beautiful tents for the competition, that he imagined himself as a spiritual athlete. He recognized that if he were to participate in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he would to have to apply the discipline of an athlete to his spiritual life. I would guess that thought makes most of us uncomfortable. However, I'm afraid that we have made Christianity too easy, or maybe even cheap. We don't want our spiritual life to encroach much beyond the bounds of the Sunday morning worship hour. Once we're finished with that, we can go back to our daily routine.
Is there truly a cost to discipleship? Yes, I think there is and spiritual discipline is a part of that cost. Just as we might carve out time during the day to jog, ride a bike or do P90X, we must carve out time for development of our spiritual lives. There must be a serious commitment to reading the word and spending time in prayer. It can't just be at our convenience, but must be a discipline to which we commit. It's time that we develop our spiritual athleticism.
Lord, help me to be disciplined in my life -- for you. Amen.