By Robert Halsey Pine
“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:16-27 NRSV).
Paul would have made a great boxer. If his commitment and training for Christ were an indication, he would have been a champion. And he was a champion for Christ. We must admire his dedication. From the moment that Christ got his attention on the road to Damascus, Paul never looked back. He put his head down and drove forward for the rest of his natural life. With all of his faults, Paul is our great human example of a lover of the Lord who wants everyone to share in that love.
Paul was obedient to his trainer. If Jesus said run two miles a day to be my champion, Paul would run three. Paul’s opponent was “non-belief.” He dedicated his life to beating “non-belief.” How is your training going? I’ve been working on mine, but I find that I’m still willing to compromise. Not everyone thinks of me as a devout Christian. There are still some natural world things that I don’t want to give up. I am not always a good athlete never mind a good Christian. I don’t exercise self-control in all things.
To practice what we preach is the challenge. I’m not “punishing my body and [enslaving] it.” I’m too comfortable in my Christianity. I want to manage things from my “director’s chair.” I want to be the trainer and tell someone else how to fight. I can visualize Paul the boxer now; bloody lip, swollen eyes, a cut over his eyebrow, his arms so tired that he can hardly lift them, sweat dripping off of every part of his body. That is the kind of messenger for God that he was. Ready to fight to the death if need be in his mission for the Lord.
Paul’s life challenges me. Will I proclaim the gospel to others? After I have proclaimed it, have I then prepared myself in such a way as to avoid disqualification? As Paul said to the Corinthians, “If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!”
Robert Halsey Pine was born at Newark, Ohio in 1943. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and completed the program of Theological Education by Extension: Education for Ministry, School of Theology, the University of the South.