Keeping our bodies under

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But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Cor. 9:27

When Paul says that he kept his body under, he is using the language of a pugilist. It is almost as if he is saying (according to the Greek word he is using) that he was beating it black and blue in order to bring his body into subjection. Of course this is metaphorical language, but like our Lord's striking call to pluck out the wandering eye or to cut off the sinning hand, it is meant to make an important point about the Christian life: do whatever it takes to fight the sin in your life.

Now, he mentions the body here. This is because our bodies can become an instrument of sin (cf. Rom. 6:13; 8:13). And therefore, when Paul says that he keeps his body under, he is saying that it is a part of Christian discipleship to exercise self-control on the level of the physical appetites. This is not legalism; it is just a part of normal Christian living. This does not mean that we stop keeping the heart with all diligence (Prov. 4:23). Of course we guard the heart. But the eyes and the hands and the belly can easily becomes inlets for heart sins, and we are kidding ourselves if we think that we can do whatever we want with the appetites of the body without affecting the desires of the heart.

So let us not live for the indulgence of the flesh, but rather let us discipline ourselves, body and soul, so that we are living sacrifices for the Lord (Rom. 12:1). The consequences of failing to do this are indeed serious. The apostle says that he did this, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." Paul did not want to make shipwreck of his witness and his ministry. It is a needed reminder especially when we begin to think that we can sin with impunity. We can never sin with impunity; there will always be consequences, and the more serious the sin, the more serious the consequences. As Paul will warn Timothy, "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after" (1 Tim. 5:24).

Nevertheless, the primary motivation is not the judgment but the reward. Why do we discipline ourselves? Why put ourselves to the trouble? A couple of verses before, the apostle had made a comparison with the Olympic athletes of his day: "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible" (1 Cor. 9:25). We don't do this for human applause or earthly gain; we do it because we are citizens of heaven and we are living in light of the age to come. We are to live so that the glories of the age to come shape our perspective for the present.

For the Christian, self-control and self-denial are not ends in themselves. We deny ourselves lesser pleasures to gain greater. So, brothers and sisters, let us follow the worthy example of the apostle. Let us live in light of future glory and present our bodies, not as temples of idolatrous desire, but as temples of the Holy Spirit, as living sacrifices to the Lord. For such indeed is our reasonable service to the one who died for us so that we might be forever his, body and soul.

By: Jeremiah Bass