Our busyness in our ministry can turn out to be a danger to our spiritual life. We can unwittingly end up letting it take the place of our solitude with God. Sometimes, we can be so engrossed enjoying what we are doing for God that we prefer that to what God is doing for us. We would rather God do His work through us than in us. If we do not watch out, despite our zeal in what we are doing for God, we risk a gradual decline in our spiritual life. We often zealously share the gospel but forget to live out the gospel. We try to change the lives of others but not ours through the gospel.
Paul was well aware of this danger. He knew that what God works in us is as important as what God works through us. Everyone needs to watch over his or her own Christian life and ministry. The reason for this is "so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27b).
Paul illustrates this aspect by analogy with a race, in which the Greeks were very familiar with, as sports was very much a part of their culture.
What must an athlete do in order to win a race, to receive a crown? What attributes must he cultivate? He needs to discipline himself, and cultivate self-control and focus.
Self-Control (v. 25). Self-control here refers to the determination and ability of an athlete to stick to a strict and proper diet; adhere to a specific training schedule or routine, regardless of weather conditions; etc. Self-control is very important because there are so many temptations; delicious junk food, hedonism and laziness. The sight of somebody else living leisurely in comfort can pose a challenge to the athlete’s self-control. The athlete frequently faces the temptation to tone down on his training or even to abandon it altogether.
Focus (v. 26). An athlete must focus on every step he runs so as to ensure it does not go to waste; it must take him one step closer to the finishing line. He does not run aimlessly. Varying his analogy a little, Paul goes on to say a good boxer will focus on ensuring each punch he gives does not go to waste, so that it will not literally end up "beating the air" (v. 26b).
How are we doing as God’s athletes? Are we watching over our Christian life and ministry? Are we disciplining ourselves, and cultivating self-control and focus to run the race well?