“So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:26–27, ESV)
In 1969, I entered Drexel University to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. Frankly, I skated through high school by applying common sense and logical thinking. I did not develop good study habits before entering college. Thus, in college, I struggled for the first couple years. My problem was a lack of focus and discipline. You see, there were a lot of things to distract me while I was in college. These were things like dating, sports, parties, etc. When I tried to study, other things kept getting in the way. Yet, I did not go to college to major in these other things. I went there to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering. This was a problem of focus and focus has to do with discipline.
Things really turned around for me when I attended the Army Ranger School in 1973, between my Junior and Senior years. The training there taught me discipline. It produced in me a drive to complete a mission and to maintain focus on the task at hand. To accomplish anything well, we need discipline and focus.
Paul in the previous verses wrote about the Christian life as running a race. Here, he concluded this thought with some key principles. To live the Christian life and accomplish ministry well requires focus and discipline. Here he continues on with the metaphor of a track star running a race and then moves to another of a boxer in a fight. Both illustrate these two key principles.
He stated, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” Both of these pictures speak of focus. First, Paul related that he did not run aimlessly. He lived and served with a very specific goal in mind. That was to accomplish his calling well, glorifying God. He also indicated that he did not fulfill his calling as a boxer who was punching into thin air. In a boxing match, the one who does not connect any punches will definitely lose the bout. It is only by staying focused and engaging in the bout with purpose that the boxer can win.
Yet, no one will maintain focus over the long haul without discipline. Paul went on to write, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” He disciplined his body and kept it under control. The word “discipline” in this verse, hupopiazo, literally means to hit under the eye (Strong G5299). Paul would beat his own body if necessary to keep it under control. He would not let his fleshly desires get in the way of fulfilling his calling. This was so that after fulfilling his calling to preach the gospel, he would not be disqualified. He would not let anything undermine his calling to preach the gospel.
In today’s Christianity, this seems to be a major issue. I have seen many professing Christians in my day who say one thing and yet demonstrate another. They speak of the transforming power of the gospel, and yet live as those dominated by the desires of the flesh. These people do not walk the talk. The problem is that they have no platform upon which to speak. The platform to communicate the gospel is only on a life transformed by the gospel. Anything else is hypocrisy, something that the unsaved world sees right through. What is the solution? It is focus that is maintained through discipline over the long haul.