1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 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. 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. KJV
Paul has written to these Corinthian believers and to all of us that "in Christ" he is free and that all things are lawful for him "in Christ" but he will not be mastered by anything. Paul as we just learned in the previous study made himself a slave to all men with the desire that some of them would come to Christ through his preaching of the gospel. Paul was not speaking of himself as a slave to clean for them or to work on their farms or any other type of work required by the slaves in that day, but rather Paul was "Christ slave" and it was Christ who said, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). This was Paul's motivation in declaring himself a slave to all men because as we declared in the last study Paul saw every lost sinful man as a potential brother of his "in Christ" and so he was never afraid of, ashamed for, or above any sinful man as not to present the gospel of grace to that man and pray that God the Holy Spirit would bring about conviction of sin and a new creature "in Christ" would be made.
Paul now gives the Corinthian believers and us a perfect word picture illustrating the life "in Christ" he purposes to live out daily before our Lord Jesus and also before all sinful men and women. Paul says, "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" (1 Corinthians 9:24). Paul describes, details, and demonstrates for us in the form of this illustration, drawing no doubt from the many Greek games he witnessed when he attended them just as many other fans of those contest did, how he is determined to live out his Christian life with the same focus as every one of those runners had when training the many days, weeks, and months before their big race. Paul likens his Christian life to one of these runners as he says, "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" (1 Corinthians 9:25). The English phrase "that striveth for the mastery" is translated by one Greek word agonizomai which is where we get our English word agonizing from. Agonizomai means to struggle or to contend or to fight; figuratively it means to contend with an adversary; generally it means to endeavor to accomplish something.
Paul knew he had an adversary in the devil as he described him later on in the second letter to these Corinthian believers when inviting, invoking, and imploring the Corinthian believers to willingly and lovingly receive back into their fellowship the man who was having sex with his father's wife, Paul writes these words, "Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes" (2 Corinthians 2:6-11).
Paul also knew he must contend or fight or war with his own flesh for he was brought to the complete understanding of his own sinfulness as he declared this of himself, "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:14-23).
Paul goes on to illustrate how the well-trained athletic runners in those games he attended made sure their bodies were in the best physical shape possible before their big race. Paul uses the English word temperate to describe what they did leading up to every big race which is translated by the Greek word egkrateuomai which means to be strong in a thing or masterful or self-controlled or to exercise self-restraint in diet and chastity a figure drawn from athletes, who in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence. Paul is saying to these Corinthian believers and to us that if an athlete is willing to put his physical body through so many restrictions, confinements, and limitations to win a corruptible crown or trophy or prize that will only fade into nothingness over time, then Paul says how much more will I live out my Christian life every day being pleasing to my Lord, Master, and Savior Jesus Christ who sees all of my thoughts, intents, motives, and every action and he stands at the ready to dispense to Paul and to the Corinthian believers and to you and me the crown of life, the crown of righteousness, the crown of glory (all incorruptible), just to name a few so that we might have the privilege and honor of laying these crowns before His Feet in Heaven as we come to forever worship Him.
With these images or pictures of these athletes in Paul's mind, he concludes by saying, "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" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). Paul uses very demonstrative language to describe what he does to his own body as he has already used the runners as his illustration. Paul uses the English word fight to illustrate what he does with his own flesh that he so vividly spoke of in Romans 7:14-23 this word is translated by the Greek word pukteo which means to box with ones fist just as the boxers at the games Paul attended. Paul fought his flesh or old man by yielding himself to the Power of God the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit, for Paul knew that just as no athlete wins his corruptible prize without competing in his event according to the rules of his game, so Paul knew that in order for him to receive any of the incorruptible crowns from our Lord Jesus Christ he likewise must live his daily Christian life under our Lord Jesus' Authority as he declared in this manner to brother Timothy, "Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules" (2 Timothy 2:5).
Paul used the English phrase "I keep under" my body and that English phrase "I keep under" is translated by the Greek word hupopiazo which means to bring into subjection or to subdue one's passions or to beat black and blue or to handle it roughly or to discipline by hardships. Paul knew what he was up against and just as the disciplined athlete goes through grueling physical exercise and training, so did Paul recognize the ugliness of his own flesh and like a tough boxer he beat down his flesh as he wrote in this manner to the Roman believers, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13) and likewise he wrote in this manner to the Colossian believers, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). Paul was determined to not allow his life to be a testimony of hypocrisy, pretense, or acting in the face or presence of unbelievers, but instead he lived a life controlled by the Spirits Power and not out of his own efforts in his flesh.
Paul did not want to live in this wicked, sinful, and dark world and be looked upon as a castaway and this English word castaway Paul uses is a very strong word translated by the Greek word adokimos which means to be considered rejected, unapproved, worthless, useless, disqualified, a reprobate, or a counterfeit. Paul knew he was truly a regenerated born again child of the living and True God Jesus Christ our Lord, but he wanted his daily life to so reflect the transformation Christ Jesus our Lord had wrought in him that he worked (with the Holy Spirits Power) to live out the newness of life void of the enslavement to sin that our Lord Jesus purchased for Paul at Calvary and for the Corinthian believers and for you and me, as he wrote in this manner to the Colossians, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach--if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister" (Colossians 1:21-23) and as our Lord Jesus Himself declared for us in this manner, "So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free'" (John 8:31-32).
"If people would work half as hard to gain the highest object that a man can set before him, as hundreds of people are ready to do in order to gain trivial and paltry objects, there would be fewer stunted and half-dead Christians amongst us. 'That is the way to run,' says Paul, 'if you want to obtain.'" Alexander MacLaren
"A holy fear of himself was necessary to preserve the fidelity of an Apostle; and how much more necessary is it to our preservation? Note, Holy fear of ourselves, and not presumptuous confidence, is the best security against apostasy from God, and final rejection by Him." Matthew Henry
"Paul like any top notch athlete exercised discipline in his own flesh, so that he would not live a life marred by sin and at the same time declaring Christ's Name to the whole world." Clifford D. Tate, Sr.
If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and His amazing healing power, pray this from your heart to the Lord Jesus Christ (you speaking directly to Him), Dear Lord Jesus, I confess to You that I am a sinner and I need Your forgiveness. I believe You shed Your Blood and died for my sins. I believe that You rose from the dead proving that You alone are God. I repent of my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I ask You Dear Lord Jesus to come into my heart and take control of my life. I want You to be my Lord, Savior, and my God. Amen...
Sincerely in Christ,
Clifford D. Tate, Sr.
Author of "Silent Assassins of the Soul - Are you Broken by Pornography and Masturbation? You can be Restored by the Lord Jesus Christ and brought into Deliverance, Freedom, and Victory! A Guide for Men and Women in the Enemy's Crosshairs" e-book available now @ Amazon Kindle, @ Apple I Bookstore for IPod, Barnes and Noble for Nook, Reader Store for Sony Reade, Kobo, Copia, Gardners, Baker and Taylor, and eBookPie