Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, a late 19th century evangelist and associate of evangelist D.L. Moody, once spoke about what he called “my rule for Christian living.” It was: “Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult, is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it.”
The Apostle Paul was concerned, too, about anything that would detract him from finishing the course set before him. He wanted to finish well, and so he testified that “I keep under my body and bring it into subjection.” (I Cor. 9:27)
The Christian life, if lived as modeled for us by Christ and mandated through His Word, is ideally a life of discipline. Christ is our coach. The goal of winning is an incorruptible crown that is set before us. (I Cor. 9:25) The fact that victory is possible has been established in the exhortation, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebs. 12: 1,2) Paul used the language of an Olympian when he urged the Corinthian Christians to “run that ye may obtain” the prize. (I Cor. 9:24). He himself was running: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainty; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body.” (Cor. 9:27)
Are you running to win? If the Apostle Paul wanted to obtain an incorruptible crown of righteousness by fighting a good fight, finishing the course and keeping the faith to win, ought not we? (2 Tim. 4:7, 8) It will, however, require some measure of personal discipline, as it did for Paul—who said that he had disciplined his body in the running of the race, lest he himself would become a castaway.
We should accept Paul’s challenge for many reasons, the first being that to do so evidences that we are trusting God, His wisdom, His Word, and His way. He is the One who has set before us our course, just as He did in the life of Paul, who referred to “my course.” We each have a God-planned course set before us to the finish line. We are trusting God when we run that course with patience. We cannot see the twists and turns, nor do we need to. But we can know that God does see well ahead of where we are each moment, and we can trust Him to provide and to guide. Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame football coach, said to his players that if they would not keep the rules that he had set before them, they could not play on his team. “I will put you on the bench…Remember this, I can see further ahead than you, and there is good reason for my insistence.” (From “Riches in Romans” by Earl Edwards) So it is with each believer: God sees the future and has promised to guide us to glory. We must commit ourselves to keeping His rules and running the course with discipline until we cross the finish line. Disqualification will bring disgrace to His cause and kingdom.
Paul spoke of a crown “laid up for me.” (2 Tim.4:8) It was a crown of righteousness. He spoke of this just having said that he had fought a good fight, finished his course and kept the faith. We ought also to strive to finish our course so that we will look forward to receiving that crown, which “the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give…unto all them also that love His appearing.” (2 Tim.4:8) If we choose to be undisciplined in our Christian walk and work, we will not “love His appearing.” We will be ashamed at the thought of standing before “the righteous judge.”
Chuck Swindoll, Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, told of a time when he was serving the Dallas Cowboys as Chaplain and the legendary Tom Landry was coach. During a break in practice, the pastor/educator asked the coach how he was able to forge a group of individuals into a winning team year after year. The coach replied that he made it his job to get the men to do what they did not want to do in order to achieve what they’d always wanted to achieve: a Super Bowl ring. Swindoll made the apparent application: the players did not want to engage in grueling work but were willing to submit to the discipline required to achieve what they had always wanted. So it is with followers of our Lord and Savior. Denying self; making one’s self a “servant unto all” (I Cor.9:19); being made “all things to all men” (I Cor. 9:22)—these things do not appeal to the flesh. But submitting as Paul did—“that ye may obtain”—is worth the sacrifice, the denial, the discipline required so that, as with Paul, we might say “that I might by all means, save some.”
Discipline: it does not sound appealing, but seen in the light of eternity, it attracts earnest followers of the Lord Jesus who desire to not only cross the finish line for our heavenly Coach; and to not only receive a victor’s wreath for having finished well without being disqualified or becoming another “castaway,” but to hear those welcomed words, “well done, good and faithful.”
It will require discipline of body, mind, and spirit. Discipline, physically and spiritually. Discipline as a way of life, not merely as a spiritual fad. Discipline to the end of the race, or until life’s final flight.
A plane, some years ago, crashed on its approach near Charlotte, North Carolina, killing scores people. The recovered flight recorder revealed that the pilot was chatting about various mundane matters and likely was distracted at a crucial moment, resulting in the crash. In the language of the profession there had been, that day, a “cockpit breakdown.” May there not be, in our home-bound journey, a breakdown between us and our “Air Traffic Controller.” Let us be faithful. Dutiful. Disciplined. All the way to and across the finish line.
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.3:14)