“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, after I have preached Christ to others, I myself should become disqualified.” – I Corinthians 9:27
You’ve gotta appreciate Paul’s honesty. Here’s the great apostle/evangelist admitting that even at this point of his life and ministry, self-watch is essential. After preaching Christ to others, he realizes he could step outside God’s approval, and here, I think, he’s warning all of us to remember that whatever has been attained needs to be maintained.
I saw this principle in action when running into some old friends I used to work out with. The gym I joined in 1983 was populated by serious body-builders, some of them national competitors; an amazing assortment of physiques that graced the covers of fitness magazines and nutrition ads. And while I never at my most buff came within light years of their muscularity, I did find that working out with such committed athletes upped the intensity of my own training considerably. They were really something, these gym rats, and while I admired them I also left each workout painfully aware of my own contrasting geek status.
Flash forward twenty plus years, when I ran into a few of them at a local supermarket. Now well into middle age, they’d all entered the corporate world, leaving the rigors of advanced bodybuilding behind. And, plainly put, it showed. Snarky old me threw a few silent alleluias to the throne as I noticed the gap between my physique and theirs had wonderfully narrowed. What had been attained had clearly not been maintained.
I know, of course, that we are ultimately kept by the power of God, not our own efforts. (I Peter 1:3-5) I know that even the will to do God’s will is imparted, not innate (Philippians 2:13) and that if my spiritual growth is determined only by my maintenance efforts, it’ll be non-existent. (Galatians 3:3) Still, there’s a principle of sowing and reaping to be considered. Whether it’s flesh or spirit I sow to, there will be corresponding results, and the decision to choose where my sowing efforts go is my own, given by the God who ordained free will just as surely as He offers grace. And while I revel in grace like a hog in his favorite mud puddle, maturity requires me to also apply myself, with whatever ability God has given me, to invest in growth. Bible reading, prayer, mortifying the flesh, confession and accountability don’t determine my right standing with God, and I’m not one to frustrate His grace by trying to add to the Cross. (Galatians 2:21) But a stronger, vibrant, fruit bearing Joe simply won’t happen without them. That’s life; that’s final.
We’ll all answer, at the judgment seat of Christ, for the way we’ve accepted or rejected the call to faithfully steward these bodies, gifts and capacities we’ve been entrusted with. (II Corinthians 5:10) God grant that before then, we embrace Paul’s celebration of grace and his zeal for self-watch. They’re both essential.