Paul often drew analogies and illustrations from well-known events or individuals to present spiritual truths. When he wrote to the Corinthians, he used the athlete as an example. When he wrote to Timothy, he used two additional figures–that of a soldier and a farmer. But with all three, he stressed something which was necessary for success–discipline. The athlete had to discipline himself to develop a body strong enough to survive the challenge. The soldier had to discipline himself to stand his ground and face the enemy, and the farmer had to discipline himself by working long, hard hours.
All three–the athlete, the soldier, and the farmer–disciplined themselves to accomplish something different–physical strength, victory over an enemy, and long hard labor. Discipline seems to have gone out of style today, but the path to the top hasn’t really changed, though we prefer to take the shortcut, which may mean drugs to enhance our strength and endurance or dance around the rules to get there.
Who was this one giving the advice to “endure hardness” and to practice discipline? What did he know about discipline? Far more than you might think. Long before his bar mitzvah at the age of 12, a Jewish lad studied the scriptures. To become a rabbi as was Paul required long years of studying. Remember, Paul studied under Gamaliel, one of the most respected rabbis of the first century (Acts 22:3). This required memorizing vast sections of scripture in addition to having an understanding of the oral and written laws which governed Jewish life.
Additionally, rabbis learned a trade so they could be self-sufficient. Paul was a tentmaker, and no matter where he went there was a demand for someone who could make and repair tents. He worked with his hands, not dependent on the contributions and free will offerings of his followers.
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 Corinthians 9:27
In his personal life, Paul also knew discipline without complaint. Speaking of his own body, he wrote, “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 Corinthians 9:27). And when he used the word translated “disqualified” he used the Greek word adokimos, which means “failing to meet the test, disqualified, worthless, or corrupted” when it spoke of the mind. Pretty strong word! Fruit and vegetables were inspected before they were brought into major Greek cities, and when the produce failed to measure up, the shipment was stamped adokimos–unacceptable.
Paul also practiced self-discipline in his moral and spiritual life. Paul was a widower who knew what it was to hold a woman in his embrace. How so? He was a member of the Sanhedrin, and membership requirements include being at least twenty years of age and married. Yet he was celibate as a single following the death of his wife. He condemned sexual promiscuity in scathing terms, and he practiced what he preached as well.
Paul had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and on the road to Damascus, his life was forever turned around. The one he had hated became his Lord and Master, and he served Him with all diligence.
So where does this leave us today? What’s the point of today’s guidelines? The timeless principles you find in God’s Word work today just as they did 2000 years ago. What Paul wrote will give you moral fiber and what he demonstrated in his personal life gives you an example to follow.
Don’t think that you can’t do what God expects of you! Look beyond the sordid examples which so often becloud the issues today and do what only you can do. Discipline is your part; grace is God’s. Both are necessary.
Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 9