Training for the Race

(1 Cor 9:24-27 NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. {25} And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. {26} Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. {27} But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

You recall the Corinthians. They were a church located on a key commerce point between Greece and ancient Sparta. They were also a church which seemed to have more than their share of problems, the least of which seemed self restraint as the later teaching of Paul to them on the celebration of the Lord's Supper would indicate.

That makes this a key passage for present day America with its stated emphasis and purpose to promote "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And Americans by and large seem intent on majoring on the last one, our pursuit of happiness. We hear much about individual rights, sometimes it seems to the destruction of society as a whole.

But in the New Testament, we seem to find a different attitude prevalent, as least in stated purpose. Instead of making me happy, I am to "discipline my body." "What a terrible concept to promote," it would seem the average American would say to this statement. Disciple is not usually put into place unless there is a measurage and desirable goal to attain to. That is why Olympic athlete put in so much work, because they greatly desire the benefit of winning the goal metal. But what about the ambiguous metal of "spiritual growth" and closeness to God? Just what kind of discipline are we willing to put into that goal?

The Jews were people that fasted regularly. John the Baptist's disciples fasted. Even though Jesus' disciples did not, Jesus indicated that they would. It is also apparent that Jesus himself fasted, like the forty days in the wilderness and the long nights spent in prayer. And most telling is His statement concerning the inability of the disciples to cast out a demon, "This kind only comes out by prayer and fasting." He didn't mean that they should right then spend time praying and begin fasting, but that a lifestyle of continuous prayer and fasting is needed in order to have the grace and power of God to cast such demons out.

Fasting has never really been a well defined issue in my life. I knew it was suppose to be done, that it was good. But I had no idea just why, or what its purpose really was. Seemed it was something done primarily by people in the Bible, including those Pharisees that Jesus denounced for fasting where it became a show rather than a spiritual discipline.

Paul brings it into perspective for us. The purpose is to discipline our body and its desires. And we have seen plenty of examples of ministers who have fallen because they were unable to control their desires. They have, in a sense, become disqualified because of it. Paul's purpose, as stated in the preceding verses, was to by all means win some to Christ. He was not about to let an uncontrolled desire disqualify him from fulfilling that ministry. So he disciplines, one translation even says "beats" his body into submission. And what more fundamental and universal desire is there than hunger and eating? If we are in control of that one, it goes a long ways towards instilling within us the discipline to control the others.

This is a critical difference between Christianity and secular philosophy which basically says, "If the desire is there, then God put it there to be fulfilled!" Often is heard the familiar statement and rationalization for sinful behavior, "God made me this way." Well, not quite. He made us, but we sort of perverted it with the fall so that our desires tend to become the ruling factor in our life rather than God. The struggle that we have with them is an indication of that and to give into that philosophy is basically to say that original sin is what we need to fulfill. God didn't make us this way, we messed up the way He made us originally and now it can only be corrected by the grace of Christ's death on the cross once again giving us life, and once again enabling us to gain control over the desires through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit abiding in us.

But, this control is not an automatic thing, at least in this life. God has given us the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the breast plate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shoes of peace, and the sword of His Word. Once we have put these on and taken the sword in our hand, it is no longer time to sit at home on our chair and watch Baywatch. We must go to the fight. We must train for the battle. We must meet the Devil and do battle. It is not easy. It is not the "health, wealth, and prosperity" theology that we often hear from American pop- theology. It is work and we run the risk of getting hurt, even losing a few battles. But we have the assurance that the war will be won, even has been won, by Christ. So what if we lose a battle here and there. The important thing is that we are there in the battle and not going AWOL on Christ and His calling to our life.

What about it? Like Paul, are we willing to fast, to submit to spiritual disciplines so that we will be trained in war against the Devil, who by the way, is very adept at using our own desires and impulses to destroy us. Is there any better training for fighting against the Devil than learning control of our desires, our cravings, our "animal instincts"?

It is well to take heed of what God told Cain:

(Gen 4:7 NKJV) "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."

How much training do you put in to control your body? It could be a key in your spiritual growth in grace. Let's not be disqualified in the ministry that God calls us to because we cannot stand against the wiles of the Devil, simply because we don't have the spiritual strength to lift our shield of faith and swing the sword of His Word.

May His will be done in all of us. Amen.

In His grace,