Self-controlled [disciplined]
Titus 1:8

A 26-Mile Run

When our daughter Robyn was a student at Baylor University, she decided to compete in her first marathon. She launched into a strict training program, running an average of six miles a day and 20 miles every Saturday. During this period, I well remember spending a day mountain climbing with her in Montana. I thought I was in fairly good shape physically, until I tried to keep up with her pace. By midafternoon I was in deep trouble; fortunately, I made it down without having to be carried off the mountain on a stretcher. She was prepared. I wasn’t.

Robyn continued this regimen for several months. Frankly, I was rather amazed at her commitment and self-discipline. It paid off, because she completed her first race averaging an eight-and-a-half minute mile. What impressed me even more was her physical condition after she had run nonstop for 26 miles. Within five minutes, she was breathing normally and experiencing very little muscular discomfort. Because of her strict training program, she was in excellent physical condition. She not only disciplined herself by running, but also in a number of other ways, including her diet.

Temperate, Self-Controlled, Disciplined

As Paul concluded his maturity profile in his letter to Titus, he used the word egkrate, which is translated “temperate” in the King James Version, “self-controlled” in the New American Standard Bible and “disciplined” in the New International Version. Personally, I prefer the word “disciplined” for two reasons. First, this basic concept is used in ancient Greek literature to describe a person who is strong and robust. Second, Paul used this word in several athletic illustrations to describe the importance of being disciplined when living the Christian life.

The Greek and Roman Games

Paul was particularly intrigued with the athletic analogy. This is understandable. He grew up in Tarsus, a great center for athletic contests. Though a Jew, Paul grew up understanding Greek and Roman culture, particularly the commitment to develop physical strength and mental concentration in order to engage in vigorous competition in the various Olympic and Isthmian games.

The Isthmian games, second only to the Olympic games, were held every three years at Corinth. This is apparently why Paul used an athletic metaphor to make a spiritual point in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians. He used a form of egkrate in his letter to draw a parallel between living a disciplined Christian life and being a disciplined runner:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control [self-discipline] in all things (9:24-25).

In essence, Robyn’s story is a modern-day elaboration on the metaphor Paul used in 1 Corinthians to illustrate what it takes to live a victorious Christian life. We cannot reach the goal of becoming mature without being disciplined “in all things.” This is why Paul exhorted Timothy, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). Here Paul used the word gumnazo, which means to exercise vigorously, either the body or the mind. In athletics, both are involved.

Physical exercise, when it is done properly, is definitely beneficial. It adds to our endurance, and it helps us to be more mentally alert and emotionally stable and resilient. There is evidence that it may add months, and perhaps years, to our lives. But, as Paul implies, physical exercise benefits us only in this life. On the other hand, maintaining a healthy spiritual life “holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).

Spirit and Soul and Body

We are integrated beings. This is why Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians that they might be sanctified completely, that their “spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).