Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians about the work he has done as an apostle, as one who shares the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ with all different kinds of people. He then uses the analogy of athletes who exercise self-control in all things, who run and compete, and he points out that when athletes compete in a race, only one runner can win the race. Those who run to win a race do it for a perishable wreath, trophy or ribbon, all of which will fade or tarnish with the passage of time. Then he says, “But we [receive] an imperishable one.” The ‘we’ here refers to we who are followers of Jesus Christ. We exercise self-control in our race of faith, but we are not competing for a perishable prize, and there is not just one winner. All who decide to follow Jesus fix their eyes on things not seen and the prize for all who persevere is eternal life.
So what is self-control for those of us running this spiritual race? When an athlete—or a Christian—exercises self-control, are they seeking to control the world around them or the world within? Many people feel a need to be in control of all that is happening around them. It’s easy to do! I imagine you have felt that impulse on different occasions and to different degrees. Yet, usually when we believe and act on this belief that we can control things around us, life eventually teaches us we were mistaken—and trying to control things doesn’t truly solve our problems. No, the self-control about which Paul is talking, that which is a fruit of the Spirit, is not our control of the world around us, but is the guarding of our selves from wayward impulses and drives. It is growing in the ability to let go of our ambitions and human instincts to act in a certain way and to practice trust in God rather than in our own selves. As we listen more to God’s Spirit, as opposed to our own, we discover that self-control is truly a fruit of the Spirit that He can cultivate in our lives.
A prayer for today
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP, pg. 832)