Agonizing Discipline

As I focus on a “no dairy, no sugar” fast for the month of September, I’m striving to be d.i.s.c.i.p.l.i.n.e.d. It seems when we become adults, we downplay it in ourselves but expect it of our children. However, if we modeled a disciplined life in front of our kids, I dare say they would fall in-line much quicker.

A disciplined life shows the world we are fighting to win. It’s bringing our thoughts and actions into subjection to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the Christian race, we aren’t matched against opponents but rather we “compete” against ourselves. We can all be winners if we run in such a way as to win the prize (2 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

“Competes” is a translation of agonidzomai from which we get the English word “agonizes.” To receive the prize of our Lord’s “well done” we need to give all our effort. We also need to exercise self-control. Competitors in the Isthmian Games had to train for 10 months. An athlete in training denies himself or herself many lawful pleasures to gain an extra edge of superiority. Likewise, we may need to limit our liberty for a higher goal as spiritual athletes.[1]

1 Corinthians 9:27 –

but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected [ASV].

Rather, I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others [CEB].

It is my own body I fight to make it do what I want. I do this so that I won’t miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it [ERV].

But I beat down my body, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means after that I have preached to others, I myself should be reproved [GNV].

but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified [NASB].

The Apostle Paul uses strong language in conveying the need to mentally and physically discipline our bodies and practice self-control so that we are not disqualified from service. He isn’t referring to salvation. Once saved always saved. But we do earn rewards for our service, and we can be disqualified in that service. The Apostle Paul was not naive as to think he was incapable of being disqualified. A chapter later he writes “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

To achieve this, Paul would not let his body master him (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12); sometimes he denied even its demand for rightful privileges and pleasures (8:9) for a greater good (10:33).2

How much more should we be actively seeking to bring our bodies into submission for the work of the Lord if even the Apostle Paul had to agonize in disciplining his body? Jesus should be front and center shining forth from our lives. Our whole lives should shine for Jesus. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” Is your light reaping you an imperishable reward or a disqualification slip?

[1] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), 1 Co 9:25.

2 David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 525.

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