“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”(1 Corinthians 9:27)
The Corinthian church gave Paul the apostle grief in certain areas … seems like there was a small but rebellious group within the fellowship that thought it necessary to challenge him regarding his style and his approach to ministry. Therefore, Paul the apostle thought it important to biblically explain and defend his actions. In doing so, he set the tone for all future ministers of the gospel.
Their issue with Paul centered around his rights as a minister. Among other things, they claimed that he (and Barnabas) should not be allowed to refrain from working (to wholly dedicate themselves to preaching and teaching). In other words, they had no right to full-time financial support.
Paul’s response presented a masterful scriptural case that paves the way for preachers of the gospel to receive material support in their ministries (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-14).
But this privilege is accompanied by responsibility (1 Corinthians 9:15-23). Even though the minister can and may receive a salary, it’s not a given that he do so. In Paul’s case, he refused financial support so he could offer the gospel free of charge. He reasoned that because this was his calling from God and the stewardship he’d received from Him, he should approach things this way. Woe to him if he didn’t preach the gospel! In fact, his ministry required him to radically adjust to each group he sought to reach. He would become all things to all men, that he might save some.
Paul’s approach to ministry is an example to all who minister in Christ’s name. And, Paul’s example requires a great deal of self discipline. A minister who develops a love for the world’s flavors will have a hard time avoiding self-indulgent attitudes. A minister who fails to see his calling as a mandate and stewardship will think that his service is optional, and that he is free to live for himself.
As a pastor of many years, I have observed a lot just by watching (quote from Yogi Berra). In some cases, I have seen leaders devolve into having the wrong vision for their service. They start to focus on the development of the organization, instead of the development of the people. As the organization grows, so does the capacity for them to draw a nice salary, live in a nice home, drive nice cars, and have a very comfortable lifestyle. If they’re not careful, this becomes their new treasure, and their heart will most surely follow (Matthew 6:21). Instead of valuing God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of the Great Commission, they value the “growth” of the church, which usually means growth in numbers and budgets and buildings and programs.
It requires self-discipline to maintain the correct vision and goals in life. After all, what are we here for?
Paul compares his own personal approach to self-discipline with that of a high-level athlete (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The athlete runs to win; the athlete is temperate (has self-control) in all things. The athlete competes for the crown at the end of the race. In other words, the athlete will do whatever it takes to compete and win.
So it is with us. First, we assess the goal of our life. Should not that be to hear these blessed words: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)? Should not our goal be to discover the Divine purpose for our lives, our calling, and our stewardship?
If we maintain the correct goal (i.e. treasure), we must then give ourselves wholly to the fulfillment of it.
Thus, the need for self-discipline.