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I think quite a bit about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Paul’s using athletic imagery. In the Isthmian games, winners were awarded garlands, but only if they disciplined themselves to win. If athletes could master themselves for the sake of a garland, Paul writes, then we ought to be prepared to give up our rights for the sake of a greater, imperishable prize.

According to Paul, you can be an apostle, plant churches, and suffer for Jesus and still end up disqualified. “A man in Christ cannot lose his salvation, but he can find that his service for Christ has been followed through with his own resources and for his own glory,” writes David Prior. “That is supremely what Paul feared.”

According to Paul, you can be an apostle, plant churches, and suffer for Jesus and still end up disqualified.

I fear the same thing. In particular, I fear two kinds of failures.

I fear a catastrophic failure. You know what I’m talking about: the sudden revelation of secret sin that’s been concealed. We’ve seen a lot of this in recent years. I used to think that it couldn’t happen to me; now I’m convinced that nobody is immune. This kind of failure begins with small compromises, but sin doesn’t respect its boundaries. The sin creeps and takes over and eventually becomes big enough that it can no longer be hidden. I know I’m in danger, as all of us are, and that the place to begin to prevent catastrophic failure is in dealing with the small sins before they gain a foothold in my heart. I may be able to conceal them now, but they will eventually come out and bring dishonour to my God. I don’t want that to happen.

I also fear a second failure: the gradual cooling of my affection for God and my willingness to selflessly serve him. In 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to be addressing this kind of failure. He doesn’t seem to be talking about moral failure as much as a decline in one’s willingness to put the gospel ahead of personal rights. We may start out with a focus on the gospel and end up living for ourselves, prioritizing our comfort over sacrifice.

One of my friends talks about the day that we’ll be able to stop suffering for God’s sake. One day we’ll be able to rest, he says, but that day is not now. I try to remind myself of this often. I’m at the age at which it’s easy to begin to coast. But I’m not done yet, so it’s not time to cool off in my willingness to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake. His glory comes first; my comfort comes much later.

I don’t want to disqualify myself through blatant sin. But I also don’t want to disqualify myself through a gradual decline in my love for God and obedience to him. I want to keep on growing in my love for my Saviour, seeing more and more of his glory, and becoming more consumed with living for him.

I want to run to obtain the prize. I don’t want to be disqualified by blatant sin or the cooling of my affections.