Open Your Bible
Matthew 23:1-28, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, 2 Peter 1:3-11
Before the kids woke up yesterday, I read 1 Corinthians 9 aloud to my husband over coffee. We don’t always read Scripture out loud to each other in the mornings. Often, mornings are all about the baby, and the puppy, and the breakfast preferences of the children. (Who hates blackberries? Have you eaten anything other than peanut butter this week?) But when I do read Scripture in the morning, I always end up reading it out loud—because it gets me so emphatically stirred up.
Within this passage, I took a startled pause at verse 27: “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1Corinthians 9:27). I shouted to my husband, “Now, that’s not the gospel I know!” He looked at me in alarm because the children were absolutely still sleeping, and said, “I think Paul is talking about his qualifications as an effective minister.”
The gospel that I know is one of grace and faith, not a gospel of works. The “work” is already done by Christ’s sacrifice, death, and resurrection. There is nothing I can do to make God love me one iota more or one tick less. Hallelujah! Full stop. So how dare Paul talk about disqualification? And his reference to the physical training of the body, makes my sweet, soft, motherly self feel even more uncomfortable. I know that the gates of heaven don’t require me to qualify by running a mile in four minutes. But what does Paul mean? Because I’d like to skip over this bit and get back to the part where God is comforting me and telling me not to be afraid.
But Augustine of Hippo said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” Okay, right. Noted. Those are dark, deep, waters in which I do not wish to swim.
So what is the role and value of self-control in the life of the believer? It is not the grounds of salvation, but it is the outpouring of a sanctified heart. “Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we have an imperishable crown” (1Corinthians 9:25). The self-control of athletes is laudable. So the Holy Spirit equips us to exercise self-control in our minds and hearts minute to minute as we encounter our days. This self-control is the practical outworking of genuine faith. We run as if to win, because we value the great salvation we already have in Christ—He has already won it for us.
We all know exactly where we can show more self-control: show more restraint, be less controlled by emotions, etc. But it’s probably personal and different for each of us. But I do not have the strength and self-control to pull myself together. If my resolve were strong enough to give up sugar and be a perfect parent, I would have already done it. But our self-control, our qualifications, and our strength come from walking in step with the Spirit. As we walk, our hearts will be changed and the courage and strength to exercise control over our weak and fragile minds and bodies will grow. Walk with the Spirit. Run to Christ and He will make you whole.