No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Cor 9:27
Hardship and self-denial is a fact of the Christian life. We are to be purposeful and diligent in bringing others into right relationship with the living God, so they may share in the grace He gives to everyone.
In the scripture above, the Apostle Paul paints a picture for the Corinthians to show how he lives it out. (1 Cor 9:19-27)
I love how it's explained in the Amplified Bible:
But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit]. 1 Cor 9:27
I now understand what it means to buffet my body like a boxer, because I have one - I have a boxer. Her name is Robin and she was in training for the 2012 Olympics, until a recent shoulder injury knocked her out of the trials. She comes to my house twice a week to punish (train) me, Terri and my daughters.
I hired her because a friend who'd endured a double mastectomy credited strength training with quicker recovery. I wanted to do the same for my hysterectomy, but now that I've trained for five months, I'm keeping her for as long as I can.
To look at her, you'd never know she's a human punching bag or that she could beat you to a bloody pulp. However, once you get past the beautiful face and take in her chiseled physique, you can tell she's an athlete. Her calm response and ability to ignore you, as you plead for mercy and assure her of your imminent death by heart attack, attests to her dedication to discipline.
It's not that she doesn't love you, she just believes in you more than you believe in yourself. She remains firm and calmly orders another set even as your sweat sprays across her shoulders. If I puke - and I've come really, really close - I'd bet she'd be willing to hold back my hair and hand me a towel before the next round.
While she's helping (torturing) me, I pray (often) and think of the Apostle Paul, enduring shipwrecks, harassment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, imprisonment and more. (2 Cor 11:16-33) Instead of complaining about hardships, which is mild compared to those truly suffering, I handle myself roughly and allow myself to be trained in order to fulfill God's purpose for my life.
Handling myself roughly doesn't mean just tending to the health of my physical body, it means battling the enemies of my mind: laziness, complacency, distraction, pride and various random thoughts and emotions.
It means saying, "I will" instead of "I can't."
It means taking on the attitude of a servant...everywhere and in everything.
It means rising before the sun, being kind when I feel crabby and doing the work he's called me to do even though I'm incompetent.
If Paul was worried about disqualification....(gulp).