“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 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. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 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 Corinthians 9:24–27)
The text before us shows us Paul’s passion for preaching Christ. It shows us his desire to be a blessing to others. It shows us that Paul recognizes the need for temperance in order for us to be a blessing to others. Sadly we can fail to have the same passion and the same life as Paul did.
Paul compares the effort to be a blessing to athletic competitions. We are told that we must run if we are to win the prize. In the effort to win a competition, each competitor exercises self control. There are things we must deny ourselves, and there are things we must do in order to have a chance to win. Those who compete in athletics do so in order to win a prize that will not last forever. Our desire is an eternal reward. For this reason, Paul states that he runs with certainly, fights by landing blows instead of shadow boxing, and forces his body to yield and submit in order to win. Why? Because, if he does not exercise this self control, he may become a castaway, or one who is disqualified.
Not every competitor wins his event, and not everyone who crosses the finish line first is qualified. A few years ago, Lilly King competed in the Summer Olympics and won her race; however she was disqualified. King had broken the rules. For this cause, though she won her race, her disqualification caused her to lose the competition: she was not qualified to win. Sadly we can do the same thing in our Christian lives: we can fail in such a manner that, contrary to all appearances, we do not receive the crown. The salt can lose its savor, Jesus said (Matthew 5:13); and the best runner can be disqualified.
In our day we have those who are loudly and boldly asserting that one cannot disqualify himself from Christian service, that the minister can always fill the pulpit and carry God’s Word. This text belies such statements. Can one fail and be forgiven? Can one fall and be restored? Can one sin and be forgiven? The answer is, yes. The fact of the matter remains that there is great loss that goes with moral failures. First Timothy chapter three gives us a list of qualifications for pastors. If one must meet these qualifications to be a pastor, he who does not meet these criteria is disqualified, no matter how well he speaks or how much he is loved and forgiven. Forgiveness does not automatically qualify a person, if it did, the novice who has just been forgiven his sins is qualified. If forgiveness automatically qualifies one for the pastorate, then the qualifications for 1 Timothy 3:1-11 are useless and wrong. This is a grave mistake to make, when one decides to begin rejecting various truths of Scripture in order to maintain a Christian façade, or to retain an office. It is far better to acknowledge the truth, repent of one’s sins, step down from the ministry from which one has been disqualified, and uphold the veracity of God’s Word and the sanctity of the pastoral office.