First Corinthians 9:24-27 is a fitting passage to consider when thinking about the fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 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.
The context of these verses is Paul’s teaching about the exercise of Christian liberty. Specifically, he calls us to choose love over liberty, which requires the exercise of self-control. The illustration he chooses comes from the ancient competitions of Paul’s day. In addition to the Olympics and two other major events, the Corinthians would gather in their coliseum to watch what was known as the Isthmian games. They were called this because the location of the games was on the narrow on which the city of Corinth was built. The Isthmian games were
…ancient Greek competitions that formed part of a religious festival for Poseidon, god of the sea….The Isthmian Games were founded in 581 B.C. They were held every other year on the Isthmus of Corinth…the competitions included boat, chariot, and foot races as well as boxing and wrestling…All winners received palm boughs and crowns of celery leaves as prizes.World Book Encyclopedia
Therefore, these races and the training required to win provided a perfect illustration of the intensity that is required to succeed in the race of the Christian life. That is the setting for Paul’s exhortation to run with self-control, which comes near the end of Paul’s lengthy explanation as to why it is better for a Christian to choose love over liberty, when it comes to areas of difference of conviction.
Incentive to Run with Self-Control
Paul’s commitment to discipleship, and his compulsion to preach the gospel to the lost were incentives that led him to choose love above liberty. He could have been so enamored with his Christian liberties that he chose them over love and, in the end, lost the race of evangelism. Instead he chose the way of self-denial, which he knew would eventually lead to the ultimate victory in the race that he was running for God—doing all things for the sake of the gospel.
Definition of Self-Control
Self-control is the discipline of mind, heart, and life that grows when we increasingly choose to die to self and live for Christ and others.
The development of the passage is as follows: it begins with the exhortation to run with self-control followed by three examples of self-control, and concludes with a warning about the end result of failing to exercise self-control.
- Listen to the present exhortation to self-control (v. 24).
- Learn from the past examples of self-control (25-27a)
- Look to the future examination of self-control (27b)
Success in the Christian life requires intense self-discipline and training. It’s the only way. If we are going to win the Christian race then we must ruthlessly lay aside the sin which so easily entangles us. We must take charge of our bodies and whip them into submission to the mind of Christ. We must, in the power of the Holy Spirit, grow in self-control by being governed by love, which includes habitually denying self, by living for Christ and others.