Running for the prize: I Corinthians 9

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Today’s reading: I Corinthians 9-11.

“How can I be a successful servant of Christ?”

“The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.”– Ken Doherty

When Paul wrote I Corinthians he had been a Christian for twenty years. He was deep into his second missionary journey. He knew what it took to be a witness for Christ, but more than that he knew what fruitful ministry required.

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. I C0rinthians 9: 22-27

Paul had the spirit of ministry. Maybe not the greatest skill in speech-making, maybe not the smoothest personality, but he knew the spirit that was required, and the stamina. His spirit was one of selflessness. Paul wasn’t important. Christ was important. Winning the lost people of the world to Christ was important. Therefore he could make himself like the people he was serving in order to open the doors to greater ministry. He wasn’t being meek but skillful. He wasn’t doing anything immoral. His Christian liberty allowed him to follow the law if that was needed, or to live without the law among those who didn’t recognize it.

His spirit was also one of sacrifice. He did without in order to go about. He went without pay or earned his way through his trade of tent-making. He went without a home and often without any comfort or safety. He suffered every kind of danger and abuse. He did it for the Corinthians so that his ministry to them would not be hindered. He became a slave for the sake of the Gospel.

Paul could do all this because he had his eye on the prize, and the prize waited in eternity with Christ. He had the spirit of faith which saw through all the present difficulties to the heavenly success. He saw the kingdom in its glory even though many counted him as the scum of the earth. His faith wasn’t in himself but in Christ who made him able to do all things. Because he looked in faith to the future reward, he was also able to live with a spirit of discipline. He trained himself like an Olympic athlete, running for the prize, fighting against his own weaknesses, and always keeping his eye on the finish line. He also kept a keen eye on any wrong step that would take him out of the race. He did nothing that might disqualify himself.

Paul could have made a list of the things he didn’t do. That would also be instructive.

  • He didn’t insist on his own needs.
  • He didn’t quit when things were difficult.
  • He didn’t take it personally when others attacked him; he knew it was because of Christ.
  • He didn’t avoid taking a stand.
  • He didn’t work for financial security.
  • He didn’t stay away from risky or dangerous areas of ministry.

One final point about Paul. He didn’t just study or prepare (running aimlessly, beating the air); he did the hard work of ministry. He had the spirit to fight the good fight.

image by Nguyen Vu Hung on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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7 thoughts on “Running for the prize: I Corinthians 9

  1. I have often wondered why of all men God chose Paul to carry the gospel to the Gentiles. He clearly seemed to lack some qualities one would have been looking for if placed in charge of filling that position. Oratory does not appear to have been a gift. He had some impediment that limited him (the thorn in his side). So what made him the ideal choice in God’s eyes? For me it has always seemed to be his zeal. The same zeal with which he persecuted the early church became the zeal with which he carried out his ministry for Christ. And one of the chief aspects of his particular zeal was endurance:

    “Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-26

    Did he feel confident and assured that the prize was his?

    ” but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9: 27

    “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10: 12

    Ever heard the saying, once saved always saved? Scripture does not support it. There are many other passages even more compelling than these that refute that notion. The father of all lies already has the damned in his snares, it is the saved he pursues. I am never surprised when a spiritual leader falls, because I reckon they are the most pursued of all. We have no laurels to rest on. The prize is there waiting for us, but we have to run the race to its completion.

    • Like many things in scripture this is a conundrum. Salvation is a free gift, but I must work it out with fear and trembling. By grace are we saved, but we must have faith. Jesus said the ones his father had given him, no one could pluck them from his hand. He who began this good work in you will be faithful to complete it. Take heed lest you fall. It’s too simple to say you can’t lose your salvation; it’s too irreverant to say that God can lose us. For now I’ll err on God’s side and say he can’t lose us if we are truly his. Spurgeon said, when asked by one of his deacons if a new convert was truly saved, “Don’t ask me to judge in a moment what it will take a lifetime to reveal.”

      • Why would he judge at all? My guess is, he wouldn’t. Even God isn’t the judge of us. That right is left to the Son.

        It is a conundrum. A man is saved. Is he? He later falls away from the faith. One cries he was never saved to begin with, another that he was but that he fell away. In the moment he was saved, how can you tell the difference? You can’t. So better to appeal to the mercy of God in all things than to feel self assured about anything. ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ Luke 18:13

        There is a current story on the net about a Protestant minister who decided to live one year without God. At the end of the year what did he learn? That God wasn’t necessary. Was he ever saved? Who are we to decide? If he felt he was, I accept his claim. Satan knew God in real and personal terms, and revolted against him. Can we not do the same?

  2. God may not be necessary in this life (but oh how wonderful he is), but he certainly is necessary when this life ends. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words, “he who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my father in heaven, but he who disowns me before others I will disown before my father.” There, at least, is one criterion believers can use to judge their salvation. Here’s another: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Not could or might but will.

    • Interesting, is it not, that the very things cited, are actions, works if you will, not faith. Belief comes first, but as you point out, it appears we will be judged by our actions (or lack thereof).

      And what if you do those things for a time in your life, then reject God and fall away from the faith? Were you ever saved? Or is salvation an ongoing and variable process?

      • As you and I have discussed before, it is faith in action, faith that works, but certainly not faith alone. As for the variable process, that is sanctification, isn’t it? My Christian walk has not always been consistent, but “God’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.”

  3. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – Running for the prize: I Corinthians 9 | ChristianBlessings

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