I Corinthians 9:24,27 Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? … Therefore I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.
It was inspiring to watch the world’s best athletes compete in the 2018 winter olympic games. Though all were good, those who won the prize had one thing in common: training, training, training. Without rigorous, focused training, no athlete has hope of reaching the top position.
Paul used the imagery of the ‘Olympic games’ to encourage early Christians to be active in their spiritual training. As a spiritual coach for so many in the race, Paul wrote that he needed to be careful to practice what he preached, lest he risk being disqualified. He clearly heeded the words of Christ regarding the beam and the speck. “First deal with the beam in your own eye, so you can clearly see the speck in your brother’s eye.” We cannot merely preach to others. We must look to our own spiritual condition as well.
I have a friend who was a professor of business at a European university. Every few years he would start a new business. His reasoning, “If I am only teaching and writing, I can’t be sure that I know what I’m talking about.” He needed to practice what he preached. The Apostle Paul’s concern wasn’t that his teaching might no longer be of value, rather – he didn’t want to risk being disqualified. His words remind us that we are not only coaching, we are all competing. If I coach from an armchair, I forget that I am no longer fit to compete. This prize is more important than the gold. I must train, teach, and compete to win that prize!