And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NKJV)
Athletes that ran in the Greek games practiced series self-discipline. They started serious and strenuous training 10 months before the games began so that they could win when the time came. The put forth the necessary discipline before the race began so that they could do their best in the race and so that they would be able to finish.
This sort of training wasn’t easy. It required a great deal of effort from them. Their bodies would get tired and sore and yet they chose to continue the training so that they could complete the race. If they wanted to win the laurel wreath they would have to put forth the effort so that would make this possible. They couldn’t take the path of least resistance.
Just as it took discipline for the athletes to prepare, start and finish the races, it will take discipline for us to prepare, start and faithfully finish in our service to Jesus. That is the point Paul is making. What the NKJ translates as “temperate” the NIV translates as “strict training” and the NLT translates as “disciplined.” The idea is that we must be disciplined if we are going to live intentionally for Jesus.
There are a lot of things I could talk about when it comes to discipline, but the main thing I want to focus on is what to do when things get hard. The word translated as “competes” in the NKJ carries with it the idea of pain. The idea is that competing to win will often be painful. No matter how skilled or strong an athlete is, there will be times where competing hurts and those that win are the ones that are disciplined enough to push through the pain, stay in the competition and finish.
When we read the Bible it makes it pretty clear that there will be hard times in our service to Jesus. No matter how much we love Jesus, no matter how great our faith, there will be times when it hurts to stay faithful in our service and devotion to Jesus. There will be times when it feels as if everyone is against what we are trying to do. There will be times when we feel that what we are doing is a waste of time. There will be times where it seems that everything is just so very hard. This was true for virtually every prophet, apostle and genuine servant of God in the Bible. It will be and has been true for me and it will also be true for you.
There is no question that these times will come. The question is how we will respond when these times come into our lives. Will we choose to quit or will we have the discipline necessary to finish the race?
The reason we have to understand this is because it is so easy for us to say that we didn’t have a choice but to quit. I didn’t choose to quit, I was forced to quit. This however, just isn’t accurate. If I quit it is because I choose to quit. If you quit it is because you choose to quit.
Paul explains that the Greek athletes do all this for a crown that fades away. The laurel wreath crown they receive was made with fresh leaves. As such the wreath eventually withered and crumbled into dust. What we are striving for isn’t a crown that will fade with time. Instead we are striving for a crown that is eternal. We are striving for something that matters for eternity. Since what we are striving for is eternally better than what the athletes were striving for we should be much more disciplined than they are.
It’s easy to start a race, it’s easy to quit a race but it takes discipline to finish a race. It’s no different in being faithful in service to Christ. It’s easy to start, it’s easy to quit but it takes discipline to finish. This is especially true when it starts to get hard. If we want to be faithful to the end, then we must live a disciplined life.