The apostle Paul often wrote about striving for “the crown of incorruption,” and I believe that receiving this crown (knowing such incorruptibility) is a reward for SELF-DENIAL. Paul’s favorite allegorical illustrations for this “striving” are of foot-races and of gladiatorial contests, those things being tests of great strength and prowess and things that men “striveth for the mastery of.”
The phrase “striveth for the mastery of,” as that is used by Paul, is actually translated from one Greek word from which we get our word “agony.” This bespeaks of competing in a contest, but it also suggests the idea of competing with such effort that every muscle and every nerve is strained to the breaking point. This is obviously not just a little game that someone wants to play for a while and then is over, but rather, this is about “a game” in which even the very life of the contestant can be lost except by victory in the game.
Now, as far as I understand it, the “incorruptible crown” in Christ is given to those who walk in union with the Spirit and therefore no longer give into the temptations of self-will and self-initiative. This is “the mastery” for which we must strive in our walk today, not by trying real hard to overcome the flesh, but (mostly) by learning obedience through the things that we suffer (allow). Even Jesus learned obedience, not by trying to avoid trials, tribulation and temptations, but rather by suffering them (allowing them), and by walking with the Father ON THROUGH THEM unto full and complete victory.
I hope that this ministers (in heart) to some of you today.