Today we are continuing to consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about running a race in such a way so as to obtain the prize. We’ve already looked at running with perseverance and running with discipline. Today our focus is on running with self-control. Anyone who has home schooled their children for any length of time knows that we are given many opportunities each day to practice self-control!
1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV) – “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
The original word used in that verse for “self-control” is variously translated into English as: strict training, strict discipline, disciplined in training, controls himself, temperate, practices self-control, restrains his mind, refraineth himself, and practices abstemiousness. The actual Greek word, “egkrateuomai”, may or may not sound a bit like “egg crate – oh my!” and reminds me that self-control is often what you need in order to take good care of yourself and the other precious people in your life.
But seriously, the literal meaning of running with self-control has to do with exercising dominion from within. As the athletes of Paul’s day prepared themselves for the games, they practiced self-control, self-denial, and self-mastery in all things. The struggle for self-control is all about saying “no” to the things we want so badly in the moment but turn out to be less than God’s highest and best in the long run.
1 John 2:16 (NLT) – “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” And again in the ESV – “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” I was curious about the original meaning of the words in this verse, and noticed the word “pan” – we know this root word well in pandemic, pandemonium, pancreas, pantaloons . . . and in the Greek it means what we know full well it means – everything, all, the whole thing, every kind of. It’s hard to swallow, probably one of those verses we’d rather gloss over or sidestep in order to give in to our cravings. But it’s pretty clear – ALL of our cravings for pleasure, achievement, possessions are from the world and not from the Father. Note that it does not say that everything that brings us pleasure, every achievement, or every possession is evil. It says that the craving of them and the pride that results come from the world, not from God. The Lord does not want to deny us these things. They’re not bad things. He simply wants us to experience His absolute best, the abundant life, which is only possible when we set our affections on Him, not on the good things He’s created for our enjoyment. He has so much more in store for us! Ephesians 3:20 (The Message) – “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” His highest and best for us are so far above these temporary things we often think we need.
“No” – such a little word, and so hard to say, especially when it comes to our cravings for pleasure, achievement, or possessions. Whatever we crave ends up having mastery over us, because then we’re thinking about it all the time, wanting more of it, putting all our energy towards it. God keeps things pretty simple – He calls us to worship Him first and best because He is the only One worthy of our worship. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. In worshiping God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, He is our one and only master. And He’s good. He’s the best Master around. We have to choose who we’re going to serve. Then we live that out by exercising self-control when it comes to our cravings.
Back to the Isthmian Games about which Paul wrote – even though there was nothing inherently wrong with the food, drink, or other pleasures necessarily, serious athletes chose to partake in these only if those things best served their goal of winning the prize. They lived simply, underwent the most severe training, and controlled themselves so that they would not later give way, give out, or give up. Our home schooling adventures are often long, arduous, and winding roads. We need to practice self-control so we’ll be able to run the best race we can for the glory of God.
The “crown” awarded in each contest of the Isthmian Games – 10 months of grueling self-control, discipline, and training leading up to a 10-minute contest – was a simple pine wreath from a sacred grove that lasted less than 10 days before withering away. How much more valuable the prize we’re going for – the incalculable inheritance Peter portrayed:
1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT) – “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.”
We receive the crown of eternal life as a gift from God (freely given to all who put our faith and hope in Jesus Christ), but we still have to wrestle and run, as contending for a prize.
I honestly did not plan this or even think about it, but when I began this five-part series within the marathon series about how to run in such a way as to obtain the prize, I did not realize that this month’s focus, self-control, would occur during Lent, which is the 40 day period leading up to Easter observed by well over 1.5 billion Christians worldwide. The purpose of Lent is to prepare the Christ-follower for Easter through prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and fasting. It is customary to give up certain luxuries in order to replicate the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days. Many also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw nearer to God.
I’m starting a new Bible study adventure with a great bunch of Christ-following women this Friday, just two days before Palm Sunday. Again, I’m in awe of how the Holy Spirit orchestrated the timing of all these things. We’ll be studying “The Emotionally Healthy Woman” with the tagline of “Eight things you have to quit to change your life.” Sounds like another invitation to practice self-control! I invite you to join me in running with self-control by taking baby steps in the direction of quitting these eight things:
• Quit being afraid of what others think
• Quit lying
• Quit dying to the wrong things
• Quit denying anger, sadness, and fear
• Quit blaming
• Quit overfunctioning
• Quit faulty thinking
• Quit living someone else’s life
The Renovaré website (a Christian nonprofit that models, resources, and advocates fullness of life with God experienced, by grace, through the spiritual practices of Jesus and of the historical Church) says, “Disciplines do not earn us favor with God or measure spiritual success. They are exercises which equip us to live fully and freely in the present reality of God – and God works with us, giving us grace as we learn and grow.”
Self-control is all about changing the way we think on the inside, exercising dominion from within, having encounters with truth (which sets us free), and then letting those changes flow out of us into changed words, changed actions, changed lives.