So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Avoid Disqualification Through Discipline
Even as a young boy, I could immediately identify with the following text:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
—1 Corinthians 9:24–27
In first grade, I was the fastest boy in my class in Bureau Junction, Illinois. As a second-grader, I won a gyroscope, which was the first-place prize for a sprint at the church picnic at a park in LaSalle. In seventh grade, I took delight in outracing the eighth-grade boys in Maynard, Iowa. I was the only ninth-grader to letter in track in Clarissa, Minnesota. As a high school senior, I broke Gene Daly’s record in the Lake George Run, also breaking the school record in the half-mile at Tech High School in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Receiving a prize for running: I get that. I can reach back in my memory and feel it, taste it. I don’t have to wonder what Eric Liddell meant when he said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
An otherwise good athlete can be disqualified. Disqualification can come from being too old: high-schoolers are not allowed to compete in junior high track meets. It can come from gender: no men on the women’s volleyball team. It can come from injury: thousands if not millions of athletes end their careers because of one injury or another. It can come from breaking the rules: Ben Johnson had his Olympic gold medal stripped because of doping. It can come not just from committing a foul, like Ben Johnson, but by being fouled, like Jim Ryan, who was bumped off the course in the Olympics.
Paul is exhorting us to watch out for disqualification. That takes discipline. And discipline requires that an enabling power from outside the self bring the self under control. Something other than the body has to govern the body’s impulses to rest, to take shortcuts, to be pampered, to quit. And something outside the soul has to overcome the soul’s own tendencies to sloth, to sin. Left to its own devices, the body and soul of sinful man conspire to produce disqualification.
We press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.