1 Corinthians 9:24-27
As a Father’s Day challenge, we are going to take a break from our series “Eternal.” Together we are going to unpack these four verses of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 in an intentional act of faith to “raise the bar” for ourselves in the ongoing journey of this community’s faith and the battle against the spiritual forces of darkness and the natural circumstances of life. In staying consistent with the two metaphors of this text (the runner and the boxer), let me share this. For quite some time, Reunion has been delivering strong and powerful blows to the enemies of God’s kingdom – we have reclaimed many lost lives (spiritually), and re-established an authentic spiritual authority over many specific areas of our character and our personal faith. The enemy is angry this movement towards the Word of God and is responding by using natural and real-life circumstances to dishearten and frighten us, and to divide, dilute, and neutralize our spiritual movement towards God and His Kingdom. The apostle Paul’s challenge to the Christians of Corinth is as relevant to us today as any scripture can be. Please hear my heart and receive the Word of the Lord today.
Text: ESV Translation – Original Greek and Transliteration
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Inductive and Syntactic Reasoning
24] Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
I. Every man enters into the arena/stadium known as – life.
II. Every man is in the race – but not every man wins.
III. It is not enough to be in the race, or to simply run – we run to win the race.
25] Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we – an imperishable.
I. Athletes learn to train for the purpose of self-control – mind-body-spirit.
II. We cannot win the prize when we live mind-body-spirit out of control.
III. We seek this self-control not to win the prize of this world – but to win the prize of the world to come.
26] So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
I. Do not run just to run – run with a plan and a purpose.
II. Run how you were taught – you run how you trained.
III. Don’t fight enemies and battles that do not exist – no shadowboxing.
IV. Fight the good fight of faith against the real powers of darkness.
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I. Make yourself ready for service – train (mind-body-spirit) to do what they should do, not what they want to do.
II. Do not dance with the devil or sleep with the enemy.
III. Run in a way that rightly teaches and intentionally builds others up to run.
IV. Run hard – run righteous – run to finish.
Key Words and Sematic Range
[Prize]; grk – βραβεῖον, brabeion ου n: a gift received as a prize or reward as the result of having won in a competition—‘prize, reward; in a race all the runners take part in it, but only one of them wins the prize’ 1 Corinthians 9:24; the literal context βραβεῖον refers not to a physical prize or reward but ultimately to a spiritual one, as in Philippians 3:14 ‘the prize which is God’s call through Jesus Christ to the life above’.
[Obtain]; grk – καταλαμβάνω, katalambano: to seize, grasp, acquire, with the implication of significant effort—‘to acquire, to attain, to obtain, to take.’ οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε ‘run, then, in such a way as to take (the prize)’ 1 Corinthians 9:24
[self-control]; grk – ἐγκρατεύομαι; ἐγκράτεια, enkrateuetai panta: to exercise complete control over one’s desires and actions—‘to control oneself, to exercise self- control, self-control.’ ἐγκρατεύομαι: πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται ‘everyone who competes in an athletic contest (or ‘in the games’) exercises self-control in all things’ 1 Corinthians 9:25.
[imperishable]; grk – ἄφθαρτος, aptharton: pertaining to being not subject to decay and death—‘imperishable, immortal.’ καὶ οἱ νεκροὶ ἐγερθήσονται ἄφθαρτοι ‘and the dead will be raised immortal’ 1 Corinthians 15:52
[aimlessly]; grk – ἀδήλως, adelos: pertaining to being without a special goal or purpose—‘without purpose, unintentionally, aimlessly.’ ἐγὼ τοίνυν οὕτως τρέχω ὡς οὐκ ἀδήλως ‘I, then, do not run like a man running aimlessly’ 1 Corinthians 9:26. In a number of languages ‘aimlessly’ may be rendered simply as ‘without having some goal’ or ‘without some reason’ or ‘without trying to accomplish something of value or purpose.’
Deductive Questions and Conclusive Responses
QUESTION—What answer is expected to this rhetorical question; “do you not know”?
The question expects a positive and logical reply – run to win.
QUESTION—Does run ‘in such a way’ refer to backward or forward?
Seriously? Run forward to the prize – reach for the prize – run in such a way that you may win the award.
QUESTION—What are the points of comparison in this metaphor of the runner in the race?
The running man is an athlete running a race and the topic is a believer living the Christian life. The point of comparison is doing something in a way to succeed – anything worth doing is worth doing right. Exerting all of one’s strength, fully resolving to succeed, the need of our greatest self-denial in preparation and the greatest effort in participation.
QUESTION—Is Paul saying that only one Christian will win the prize?
No, he is saying that all will not win it – not everyone is a winner. There are many winners in the race of Christian faith and service but all should run as a winner runs. The point of the metaphor is not that only one receives or wins the prize, but that it is necessary to have the training, the passion, and self-discipline to win the prize.
QUESTION—What does the ‘prize’ in the Christian life refer to?
It is our future salvation which was made possible by Christ’s sacrifice, which we all may obtain. The prize is God’s glory.
QUESTION—What verb is implied in the clause “exercise self-control.”?
The implied verb phrase is ‘do it’ or ‘do this’. Do What? ‘Exercise self-control.’ ‘Go the distance – put in the time – leave it all out there – go to the trouble’ because the reward is eternally worth it.
QUESTION—To whom does the word hemeis or ‘we’ refer to?
It refers to ‘we Christians’ – all of us, from then until now.
QUESTION—What is the context and why was it necessary for the Corinthians Christians to exercise some self-control?
Paul is challenging their insistent (rebellious) behavior on celebrating festive meals (paying homage-acknowledging) in the temples of pagan idols. His challenge is they should practice self-control and discipline over questionable and sinful activity, but everything and anything else that hinders their spiritual progress.
QUESTION—What relationship is indicated by ‘toinyn houtos ego’ (So I, or Therefore) to begin verse 26?
It is Paul’s logical and spiritually principled conclusion to the fact that a great deal of effort is necessary to succeed against sin, and that an imperishable award is waiting for those who do.
QUESTION—What is the point of comparison in these two (running a race and a boxing match) metaphors?
The point of comparison is purposefulness. A runner does not run without a goal (but toward the finish line), so I live my Christian life with a definite goal. As a boxer does not direct his blows at nothing (but at his opponent’s body), so I live my Christian life with a definite purpose. The point of comparison is controlled effort. As a runner keeps his direction or a boxer keeps his blows under control, so I live my Christian life under Christ’s control.
QUESTION—What is the meaning of the phrase ending verse 26, ‘as one beating the air’?
It is a litotes and means ‘striking home’ or ‘delivering a knockout’. He accounts for every blow and makes every blow count.
QUESTION—Does the figure refer to the boxing match, or to training for one?
This is (in the realm of the spirit – lived out the natural) – very real. Paul refers to an actual boxing match with an opponent not a simulation: “I do not box and only beat the air.”
It certainly can also refer to one’s training regimen: “I do not merely shadow-box, but I-punish my body.”
QUESTION—To what does ‘discipline my body’ refer?
This is human nature – the nature that is clearly opposed to God (Romans 6:6; 7:23). Paul refers to his mind, body, and spirit, the sensual nature, and tendencies of his heart and his flesh.
QUESTION—What are the points of comparison in this verse?
The point of comparison is self-discipline or self-control. to bring under complete control’ [TEV, TNT], ‘to bring under (strict) control’ [NJB, REB], ‘to master’ to bring into subjection’ ‘to make ready for service’
QUESTION—Does the verb keryxas ‘after preaching’ (verse 27) continue the competitors metaphor or is this simply refer to the proclaiming of the Good News of the Gospel?
The metaphor continues by Paul, as he says, ‘having called others to the contest’. The thought is that of a messenger who would call the competitors together and explain the rules to be observed in order for them to qualify for winning the prize. As the messenger calls together the competitors to the games and explains the rules – we compare that to calling men and women to the Christian life to disciple, train and teach them the Word of God.
QUESTION—Who, and what is the character of verse 27?
It is the both the messenger and the contestant who did not observe the rules and was disqualified from competing. It is runner or boxer who competed in the contest but was disqualified from winning the prize. The ones who could not finish strong. Lost heart, lost faith, lost discipline and self-control. One giving up and giving in. Could not finish in the mind-body-spirit to win.
The Last Word…
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary band lose heart.
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