Have you ever thought about the idea that in order to be a parent you must first be a child? In order to be a teacher you must first be a student? In order to be a boss you must first be an employee? In order to teach others how to obey you must first know how and be willing to obey? In order to bring something into submission you must know how to live under submission? Or in order to have authority you must first know how to be under authority? It seems there is a pattern of needing to be under in order to be over.
This got me thinking about how hard it seems for Christians to let the Word of God dictate their thoughts and actions. In other words, how difficult it is for us to live under the authority of the Word so that we can stay over our circumstances. So I began to seek answers in the Word when I saw this under/over pattern continue as a centurion said to Jesus “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers come under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”(Matthew 8:9) This man was desperate to get healing for his paralyzed and tormented servant. Jesus was willing to go heal him but the centurion did not feel worthy of Jesus coming under his roof. Yet he believed in Jesus’ authority over himself and disease and knew the sickness would go under the authority of His spoken word in the same way his servants moved under his authority.
Then I came to Paul’s words about keeping under our bodies and bringing them into subjection in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (KJV) “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.” This version is one of only two translations to use the phrase “But I keep under my body” with all the others reading “I discipline or beat my body.” Keeping “under” my body didn’t sound quite right yet God was showing me the under/over pattern continue. There is definitely a different “feel” about the verse when we read it as “keeping under our bodies” rather than “disciplining our bodies”. Just as the centurion’s servants went, came, and did because they were under him, our bodies must go, come and do what we command because they are subject to us. BUT, this is because the centurion was under authority himself, just as we are under the authority of Jesus Christ and keep under our bodies.
Keeping under our limited bodies but not being limited by them almost sounds like an oxymoron but it is just like God to teach us a truth in this fashion. Following this train of thought, in order not to be limited by our bodies but instead bring them into subjection we must first know how to keep under our bodies. “Keeping under” means we know the danger our bodies and minds present to our spirits with the potential to tempt and lure us into treacherous territory where we might willingly yield to our fleshly lusts and appetites. If we do not make the choice to keep under in order to rule over our bodies they will make that choice for us because none of us are spared the problems inherent in mortality. By keeping under this knowledge we will be less likely and willing to satisfy and pamper our flesh, acquiesce to its’ powerful inclinations, or give it dominion over us.
Paul went through great pains to subdue and keep under his bodily inclinations so that he could rule over his body and bring it into submission to the will of God. Paul, more than any other person, knew the difficulties of living in a body, therefore knew the importance of keeping under. Paul’s physical suffering far surpassed what most of us will ever experience. He received thirty-nine lashes five times, was beaten with rods three times and was stoned. He was shipwrecked three times, kept in dungeons and caves, suffered many perils in the country, city, and on water. He suffered at the hands of robbers, foreigners, his own people and enemies. He labored hard, went without sleep often, was weary, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, and in need most of his life. He was verbally abused, rejected, scorned, ridiculed, questioned in his lifestyle, persecuted for his message and words, and challenged in his call as apostle. We cannot begin to fathom the “after effects” of all this physical and emotional pain, torture, suffering, and persecution and can in effect conclude he lived with persistent pain and suffering. Paul faced the ravages of sin, the world, and the devil. He did not experience one big “overcome” and never have to face another challenge but rather created a lifestyle of living under his body so he could bring it into daily subjection, literally making it his slave through buffeting and disciplining it harshly.
Friends, living in Christ does not remove us from the effects of aging bodies and minds, from persecution and affliction, or from suffering and enemies. But it does give us the privilege of rising above them and their effects every day we live and breathe. We need not be controlled by them nor do we “live” under them. We keep under the knowledge of them in order to learn discipline, steadfastness and reliance on the One who overcame so that we can overcome, Jesus! Though we live on earth in bodily tents we are indeed citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) therefore we rule with that mindset. We know as long as we live on this earth we will have tribulations and afflictions but there is coming a day when He will transform our lowly bodies to be conformed to His glorious one and we will no longer need to keep under these or bring them into subjection. (Philippians 3:21)
But for now we must keep under to stay over our fleshly inclinations which want to lead us into places we dare not go. We need to be led by the Spirit of God and walk by faith not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) In the same way we do not escape the effects of living in a sin-ridden world while living in Christ, walking by faith and not by sight doesn’t eliminate our ability to see things here on earth. We are not blinded to what our eyes see nor do we stop feeling our bodies when we walk by faith. Instead, we choose to walk by faith in a God we believe and trust in any and every circumstance in spite of what we see and feel. We choose faith over sight; We choose to keep under while walking over! Walking over means we keep circumstances under our feet and speak faith over them. We must not betray our faith in Christ by speaking common idioms like “Under the circumstances I am doing great” or “I’ve been feeling a little under the weather”. We may think these are just “figures of speech” but they carry much weight in our thought lives. I don’t know about you but when I am “under” things and then talk about being under them it is very difficult to bring “them” into subjection because “they” have the upper hand. We do not want to get under too many things in this life because the next thing we know we can’t find our way over and out.
On a side note: Idioms are “expressions” which are naturally understood by a particular group of people but the meanings cannot be easily deduced by other people groups. I was thinking then that Christians should take care not to so “naturally” use these worldly idioms but trade them in for biblical ones. Just a thought!
Friends, we do not want to lie about our circumstances or be in denial of the struggles we face but at the same time we need to stand up and speak in faith. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:27 teach us to tell the truth and tell the truth. Yes, you read that right (or I wrote that right)! We can tell the truth about our bodies and we can tell the truth about our dominance over our bodies. To deny the fact our bodies are real or do not present challenges to our walk of faith is simply ignorance or deception. But to let them deter us from or forsake our walk of faith is equally ignorant and deceptive. So again, we keep ourselves under our bodies in order to bring them under us. That might not sound right but it is and it also eliminates all arguments that would suggest Christians can bypass the natural enemies of life while at the same time reminding us we overwhelmingly conquer those enemies.
Besides the “personal” daily benefits we gain by adopting this under/over lifestyle, we also know we win the big prize, an imperishable crown of life! 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” AND we gain credibility to share the Gospel message with others. Paul was running a race of faith with the whole purpose to share the Gospel message so that he and all people could receive the imperishable crown of life. He did not want to be disqualified, miss heaven, or have people “count him out” by thinking he could not relate to them. 1 Corinthians 9:27 “…lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Paul had to deal with the same physical and mental battles as everyone else only he ran with purpose and aim because he knew what was at stake, an imperishable crown and he didn’t want to miss it. Paul was not ignorant of the powerful inclinations of the body to pull him out of the race, out of the battle, so he chose to remain under his body so that he could take authority over it. Paul maintained a holy fear of God, not getting presumptuous as though he was immune from the trials and tribulations of life or safe from disqualification. This kept him faithful to a holy God and completely reliant on His strength. Can we say the same?
We need to keep under our bodies, disciplining and bringing them into subjection. We need to overcome day after day, time after time, struggle after struggle. We run with the sole purpose of winning the prize – staying in faith in Jesus Christ and receiving our crown of life which is imperishable. We are to fight with a purpose not just beat the air, grasping at straws, trying new ways of overcoming. AND, the best news of all! Jesus Christ has made a way for us to do all these things through Him because He strengthens us! We are not alone! We can be under because we are over! And we can be over because we are under! Isn’t God amazing?
Father God, I pray these words penetrate into the very depths of our beings rather than us trying to understand the fullness of truth with our minds. I pray that You would by the power of Your Holy Spirit saturate us with Your holy presence and power to receive what You have for us today! We want to be in You at all times and in all places! Teach us how to rise above by staying under! In Jesus’ Name! Amen!