The apostle Paul resembled the Christian life with that of an athlete’s race (1 Corinthians 9:24). Contesting for the victory in the Grecian games meant more than the making of a trivial effort; it was a relentless struggle for the mastery of the body. To have any hope of victory in the games, a competitor must be able to do his best. He must be temperate in his desires and appetites, abstain from all that would stimulate and weaken the body such as intoxicating substances and all the licentious indulgences. He must have self-control in all things, not only in those that are absolutely harmful, but even in the use of things not harmful of themselves.
In like manner, the believer who is determined to obtain the prize of eternal life must follow a program similar in many ways to that of the athlete in the Greek games. Hard work, perseverance, and self-denial are as necessary for him who wants to have eternal life as they are for the athletes who compete for earthly temporary rewards (Matthew 24:13; Philippians 3:13–15; 1 Timothy 6:12).
In the Christian race, everyone who fulfills the training requirements can receive the reward (Revelation 2:10; 22:17). Though eternal life is entirely a gift of God, it is granted only to those who apply themselves in heart, mind and soul (Romans 2:7 also Hebrews 3:6, 14).
The motive of love
The believer who is filled by love for the Savior will not permit his appetites and passions to control him, but will in all things follow God’s principles in mental, physical, and spiritual living. The appetites of the body must be under the power of the mind, which is under the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:12).
God wants his children to realize the need for reform in these things and to be serious about firm self-control in all the areas that affect the health of body and mind. A person is not free to indulge himself in the unhealthful living; he has been bought by God, and is obligated to take care of his body and mind in the best possible condition (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; 10:31).
The harmful effects of alcohol, smoking and drugs are obvious samples of the things that Satan has led man to use, and causing him weakness of physical and spiritual matters. It has prevented him from being a candidate for the eternal reward offered to all who are willing to be temperate in all things (Proverbs 23:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 6:10). The only safe way is to remember that the body must be kept in subjection in all things all the time until Jesus comes (Romans 7:18, 23, 24; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Philippians 3:20, 21).
Earthly rewards versus heavenly rewards
There is a very great difference between the reward of the athlete in the Greek games, and that of the triumphant believer! How enthusiastically people often strive for a brief success, and to what extent of bodily discipline and even pain they are willing to endure to obtain that fading glory! If they are willing to do this for an earthly prize that soon passes away, how much more serious and determined should be the striving for eternal life!
The blessing of eternal life, which is likened to a crown (Revelation 2:10), will not be given to those who view this present life as a time for the indulgence of the appetites and passions and the gratification of every wish and desire of the carnal nature. God will give eternal life only to those who use this present life as an opportunity to gain the victory over everything that would interfere with mental, physical, and spiritual health, thus demonstrating their true love for, and obedience to, the Savior, who endured so much for them (James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10).
In His service,