In 2 Corinthians 9:24-27 the Apostle Paul uses athletic competition to illustrate the importance of spiritual training. As the Olympics begin, it goes without saying how these athletes did not wake up the night before and decide to participate. They’ve spent the past year, and some a lifetime, training and conditioning for the next three weeks.
Lessons on Spiritual Training
#1 “24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run that you may obtain it.”
This lesson is in giving maximum effort. To win the race, we must go all-out. Spiritual training is hard work. We need to train like it’s the most important task we can accomplish in this life because it is!
Once this race is over, it’s finished. There are no do-overs’. There are no restarts. No one is given the benefit of the doubt because we have been given grace to get back up when we fail.
#2 “25Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.”
This is a lesson in discipline. During those days an athlete would train for ten months in preparation for the competition. Self-control was a make or break discipline. It required them to be all-in.
As a Christian, self-control or the lack of it will have a profound impact on your relationship with God. Self-control is defined as; to keep one’s emotions, impulses or desires under control, to command one’s desire, abstain.
our prayer life will struggle,
our faith grows weak,
our carnal appetites suppress our spirit.
Galatians 5 teaches that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, which means we need a relationship with the Holy Spirit for self-control to prevail in our life. Without the Holy Spirit, we are left with will-power and that’s not enough to overcome the power of sin.
Let me deflate any pressure you feel about self-control; no one is perfect. All the training in the world will not make you perfect. But self-control is to be the norm, not the exception.
#3 “26I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air.”
Godly living requires a heavenly mindset. To “not run aimlessly” means to run straight towards the finish line. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the price if we are going to win the race.
Paul goes on to say, “I do not box as one beating the air.” This is a reference to someone who is unskilled. The lack of training is visible by not landing a punch. A boxer who doesn’t land a punch cannot win the prize. We train so that we can win, not just compete.
#4 “27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Intention and action are worlds apart. Paul is aware that all his talking about God is no substitute for running the race, fighting the good fight and finishing the race.
My two oldest boys are exceptional runners. During my oldest son’s first cross-country race he was stuck behind two runners who were running shoulder to shoulder.
I asked him why he didn’t go around them. He replied, “If I did, I would have stepped out of bounds and would be disqualified. I waited for an opening big enough and then went around them.” We must train hard and race within the bounds God has established or possibly be disqualified.
Now I understand there are a variety of thoughts on the idea of being disqualified or losing your salvation but let me share some verses with you because if I’m wrong, then it’s no big deal, but if I’m right, then this needs to be considered.
Paul says to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Philippians 2:12
We need to give care and attention to how we are living and lest we swerve from the faith. As a Christian, we are called to live by the Spirit and not the flesh.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” 2 Corinthians 13:5
Paul urges us to examine ourselves, to look carefully at our life to see if we are “in the faith.” The implication is that there’s a possibility that we could be outside of the faith and not know it.
“18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,” 1 Timothy 1:18-19
There was no question as to whether Timothy was in the faith. He was undisputedly a disciple and faithful leader in the church. Yet Paul urges him to hold faith (not let go) indicating that some have rejected the truth and have “shipwrecked their faith.” Later in 1 Timothy 6:21 Paul explains how “some have swerved from the faith.”
Sin is not the disqualifier of those who are running the race. Abandoning a life of faith and pursuing the desires of the flesh is. Sin was resolved at the resurrection of Jesus! “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all,” Romans 6:10
Paul urges us to; run like only one person will win the prize, live a disciplined life, exercise self-control and walk the walk. God’s grace will assist us along the way to live a godly life. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit, which brings life and peace, Romans 8:5-6.