Commentary on First Corinthians

 January 27, 2013

Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #7: Questions Concerning Christian Freedom, 1 Corinthians 8.1-11.1

 

 

Lesson 7.6: Discipline of Christian Freedom
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 9.24-27


1 Cor 9.24-27 (KJV)

24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27 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.


Introduction

To share in the blessings is one thing, but to receive a prize is another. If the abandonment of personal rights and the identification of oneself with others for their spiritual blessing were desirable, then the Corinthians were sadly lacking. Not only would they fail to share with others in the blessing of the gospel to the extent that the apostle desired, but in the Christian race they were lagging far behind. As a stimulus to renewed consecration and effort, Paul gives yet another illustration. He makes two points the motive for competing—to gain the prize, and the means employed—self control.

In this passage Paul sets out a kind of brief philosophy of life.
1) Life is a battle.
2) To win the fight and to be victorious in the race demands discipline.
3) We need to know our goal.
4) We need to know the worth of our goal.
5) We cannot save others unless we master ourselves.

Commentary

24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

Paul’s exhortations in the previous verses—for the believers to give up their own rights, to think of others first, to be wholehearted in their focus on bringing others to Christ—called upon Christians to deny themselves as they looked forward to future reward. Paul compared this to a race picturing the public games, called the Isthmian games, which were held every three years, very close to the city of Corinth. The Olympic Games were already operating in Paul’s day. The Corinthians were very familiar with these games, since the Isthmian games were second in popularity only to the Olympic Games. Such occasions were more than contests between athletes—they were great national and religious festivals. Athletes would come from all over Greece. Only free men could enter the games, and then only if they satisfied the officials that they had undergone the allotted period of training and were physically capable and fully trained to participate in the games.

When the games began, each participant was introduced in a festive manner, the country he represented was named, and his family was highly honored. When the victor returned to his hometown, a breach was opened in the wall of the city, and he was allowed to enter the city through the breach. This was a symbolic gesture indicating that this was a place so honored that it needed no walls to defend it from the enemy. The name of the victor was them immortalized by some famous Greek poet.

When Paul told the believers to be like those athletes, he did not mean that the believers were all running against each other with only one actually winning. Instead, he wanted every believer to run in such a way that they would win. In other words, every believer should be putting out the kind of effort for the reward of God’s kingdom that an athlete puts out to merely win a wreath made from ivy or pine leaves. To that end, Paul says, “So run, that ye may obtain (Gr. “fully obtain”).” That is, “Be faithful, be dedicated, and be consecrated— that you may obtain the prize.” Paul wanted his children in the faith to receive a full reward at the judgment seat of Christ. With that in mind, Paul willingly gave up certain privileges which might otherwise be his to enjoy so that he could win the prize. The prize Paul desired was not the temporary crown (stephanon) bestowed by men (in the Isthmian games near Corinth the crown was a pine wreath) but the eternal crown bestowed by Christ: “Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward” (1 Cor 3:13-14; KJV); “ For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor 5:10; KJV). Paul’s crown would be the fruition and culmination of the reward—“What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel” (1 Cor 9:18; KJV)—he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to glory before Christ in those he had been able to win: “As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor 1:14; KJV).

Paul reminds the Corinthian believers that it is possible for each believer to receive a reward if in this life he fulfills the conditions required of a good steward of Jesus Christ; but it is also possible for a believer to lose his reward, or to receive only a partial reward: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor 10:1-5; KJV). “Careless (lackadaisical) Christians will not receive a full reward. There are many, many verses in the New Testament which clearly teach that each believer will be rewarded according to his faithful stewardship—not according to the amount (how much he may do), but according to the faithfulness with which he exercised his duties as a good steward.

The Christian does not run the race in order to get to heaven. He is in the race because he has been saved through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the spiritual birthright of every believer to enjoy abundant life here, with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, and also receive a full reward at the end of life’s journey. The awards that God gives does not swell your bank account down here and remain here when you leave; they will be for your eternal enrichment.

25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.

“…Temperate in all things…” The Greek verb translated “is temperate” is a word used figuratively in the Greek, referring to the rigid self-control, self-denial, and dedication practiced by the athletes who participated in the games. Typically their rigid training took place over a period of ten months before they were allowed to enter into the competition. While in training the athletes denied themselves many pleasures in order to prepare and be in top condition for the competition. Each one put forth his greatest efforts during the contest, setting aside all else in order to win the prize.  The coveted prize, and the honor that went along with it, meant the world to these athletes. They would give up everything else in order to obtain it. Believers are God’s runners, God’s soldiers; and our training will last throughout our lifetime. Self-control should be practiced by all believers, and those who do not practice self-control will certainly suffer loss at the end of Life’s journey. With the goal of pleasing God, self-denial seems like nothing compared to the eternal, imperishable reward.

“…they do it to obtain a corruptible crown.” The Greek word used for “corruptible” in this verse means “liable to decay.” The participants in the Grecian games went through rigid training and self-control for months, trying to win a wreath made of leaves—something which, at best, could last only a short while. History did not bother to record the names of those who won such crowns.

“… But we an incorruptible.” Here is stated very clearly that rewards earned through faithful stewardship, given to believers by Christ at the judgment seat, will never fade away; they will last throughout eternity. In the light of this tremendous truth, how foolish it is for believers to be unfaithful, bring reproach upon the Lord’s name, and dishonor Him in their service, thus running the risk of losing that incorruptible, eternal reward; but to those who are faithful in their responsibilities, God’s Word promises “a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet 5.4).

26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

I therefore so run, not as uncertainly;
What Paul is saying here is that he is not running like a person without a definite goal in mind; he is not running without knowing why or where he runs: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:10-14; KJV).

Paul not only preached the gospel message and encouraged the believers to practice self-discipline and self-denial; he also practiced what he preached. He too had to live by the gospel and he too had to practice self-denial like the athletes just described. Paul did not run the race aimlessly nor was he like a boxer who misses his punches. Instead, he kept his eyes focused on the goal, running straight for it, with purpose in every step. He did not allow himself to be sidetracked and he did not waste time by becoming lazy. He kept on, disciplining and training his body. Paul pictured life as a battle. Believers must not become lazy—because Satan seeks to cause them to stumble, sin continues to buffet, and sorrow and pain are a daily reality (see Romans 7.14-25). Instead of being bound by their bodies, believers must diligently discipline themselves in their Christian lives in order to stay “in shape.”

The believer who runs well should make Jesus Christ the all absorbing object of his heart’s desire, and focus all his energy and activities on His interests and His glory. When all we do is done for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus, the Lord will delight to give us a full reward on the crowning day

so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
Paul is thinking here of boxing, which was one of the events in the Grecian games. A good boxer makes sure that his blows hit the spot on his opponent that will do the greatest damage. But Paul is speaking of a spiritual boxing match against the devil and the emissaries from hell; and as he fought, he did not fight like one who “beat the air.” He was determined that each blow against the enemy would land in the right place.

27 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.

But I keep under my body,
The Greek verb used here for “keep under” is hupopiazo, and the literal meaning is “to strike under the eye, or beat the face black and blue.” Paul is not speaking here of literally beating himself black and blue; he means he is determined to keep his body under control, for fear that passion and lust overcome him. He means that he practiced rigid self-denial in order to keep himself spiritually fit for the Christian race, and the fights that are sure to come in the life of a believer. Paul realized and preached that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 12.1 he pleads with believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is the reasonable service of every Christian.

“…and bring it into subjection:
What he is saying, is that he treated his body as a bondslave, refusing to gratify the desires of the flesh and the lust of the world. If the body gets the upper hand on the spirit, then the believer suffers loss and brings disgrace upon the name of Jesus and the cause of Christ. Every believer should have complete mastery over the flesh, and in order to Be master of the flesh we must rely upon the Holy Spirit. He is willing, but we, too, must have determination and be willing to respond to his leadership. The children of God are led by the Spirit of God; and He leads into paths of right living; but we must be willing to follow. If we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. That is what Paul is teaching the believers in Corinth, and that is what we need to learn in this day and this hour. The body may be a good servant, but it is a bad master. Bring it into subjection—or bondage, as a slave or servant.

“…lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
“By any means” points to the idea of “in any way possible.” Paul could not allow the flesh, the world, or the devil to get the upper hand in his life and ministry; he simply must not. So he buffeted his body daily, and brought it into the position of a slave.

“When I have preached to others” signifies the act of giving out the good news. Paul was a herald of the gospel, giving out the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again to save sinners. We should keep our eyes centered on Jesus—and as we look into His face we should also be looking upon the fields that are white unto harvest, and we should go after unbelievers for His name sake.

The Greek word adokimos , translated here as “castaway,” does not mean to be cut off from Christ. It means to be disapproved of not standing the test of faithfulness in stewardship (What you do with the gifts God has given you)—rejected from the standpoint of stewardship, not redemption. There are those who refuse to accept this translation, but outstanding Greek authorities declare that this word does not mean “cut off from Christ” in that Paul was not afraid he would be lost; but rather that his stewardship and ministry would be rejected. It has to do with loss of reward, not loss of the soul. This passage describes the spiritual maturation process, the period of growth during believer’s lives on earth when they are living “in” the world while not being “of” it. The time between a person’s acceptance of Christ as Savior and his or her death is the only time when growth in Christ can occur. Paul wanted to grow thoroughly and receive a reward from Christ when He returns. Paul did not want to be like the person who builds his or her life on shoddy materials only to be saved “like someone escaping through a wall of flames: “If any man's work shall be burned, he will suffer loss: but he will be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:15; KJV).

Paul’s greatest problem, in the contest, is himself. Distractions and hindrances arise chiefly within (the body). Here synonymous with bodily desires, is the flesh, through which Satan so easily strikes: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:6; KJV); “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3; KJV). Paul overcomes this, not through religiosity—“Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh” (Col 2:23; KJV)—but through utter dedication in training, the constant employment of himself in the service of Christ. If Paul had to continually watch over himself and deny himself so much, is it not important for us to do the same thing, so that we might win the prize?

The very thought of losing our reward should frighten us who name the name of Jesus, if we should entertain any idea of giving Him our second best or proving untrue to Him in testimony or stewardship.  We should hear Paul’s admonition and we should follow his advice. We should follow in his steps as he followed in the footsteps of Christ, whom he met on the Damascus Road, and who commissioned him as the apostle to the Gentiles. Again, it is not a matter of losing salvation, which Paul and all believers have already received as a free gift of grace given by God. The whole emphasis is on rewards, and Paul did not want to lose his reward.

Do you have any questions or comments?

 During game four of the 1996 World Series, Ted Turner bought a hot dog while the Braves were hosting the Yankees in Atlanta. To see him carefully count out three $1 bills you would have never thought he actually owned the Atlanta Braves. When he went over to the condiment table he was overheard commenting to a stranger, “Three dollars for a hot dog. Can you believe it?” A fan who heard the complaint and recognized Turner said, “Then do something about it!” If we have the means to make things better, let’s “do something about it” instead of just voicing our complaints.

Houston Chronicle, Oct. 27, 1996, p. 16B

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