“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:26&27 NIV84)
I crack a fearful smile when I think about the fact that when I was a 20-something pastor I would hear these words from the Apostle Paul, “…so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” and I would say to myself, “No way!” But today, at age 55, I hear these words from Paul and I shudder inside. As a pastor I know I have preached and taught in such a way that I was bringing others to faith but was not sure whether at the same time I had a proper faith. I guess what I am saying is, just because you’ve become a Christian doesn’t mean you’re always a Christian. People can, and do, fall out of faith. Sometimes those very people are still within the church. Jesus Himself said, “Many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but I will say to them, ‘I don’t know you!'” Athletes disqualify themselves from their sport by breaking the rules, by playing by their own self-defined rules. The same is true for the qualification, and disqualification, in spiritual matters. Paul can speak to this topic because he knows it first-hand. There was a time in his life when he thought he was serving God but he was actually fighting against Him.
Disqualification comes when we begin to create a Christianity for ourselves that is of our own making. We begin to rest upon our knowledge and reason, rather than the grace and mercy of our God. Whether we are a new Christian or have been one for decades, whether we are a layperson in the pew or the pastor behind the pulpit, we must work to make sure that our faith is confidently rooted in Jesus and not ourselves. We need to cling to God’s truths and not our interpretation of those truths. We need to know that there is an enemy out there who will do everything he can to pull us away from the truth. We need to stay true to God’s Word. We need to stay in a Christian community that feeds our spiritual life. We need to discipline ourselves to hear the voice of Jesus (our Good Shepherd) over the voices of this world and even the voices within our own mind.
Let’s make sure that in the end we have fought the fight and run the race marked out for us by Jesus Christ.