1 Corinthians 9:24
Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain.…
As victory in the games was the incentive which stimulated the youth of Greece to attain the perfection of physical strength and beauty, so there is laid before us an incentive which is sufficient to carry us forward to perfect moral attainment. The brightest jewel in the incorruptible crown is the joy of having become all God made us to be. But there are men who when opportunity is given them to win true glory turn away to salaries and profits, to meat, drink, and frivolity. The incorruptible crown is held over their head; but so intent are they on the muck-rake, they do not even see it. To those who would win it Paul gives these directions: —
I. BE TEMPERATE (ver. 25).
1. Contentedly and without a murmur the racer submits to the ten months' training without which he may as well not compete. The little indulgences of others he must forego. His chances are gone if in any point he relaxes the discipline. So if the Christian indulges in the pleasures of life as freely as other men, he proves that he has no higher aim than they and can of course win no higher prize.
2. Temperance is complete and continuous self-rule. No spasmodic efforts and partial abstinences will ever bring a man victorious to the goal. One day's debauch was enough to undo the result of weeks in the case of the athlete; and one lapse into worldliness undoes what years of self-restraint have won. One indiscretion on the part of the convalescent will undo what the care of months has slowly achieved. One fraud spoils the character for honesty which years of upright living have earned.
II. BE DECIDED. "I run," says Paul, "not as uncertainly," not as a man who does not know where he is going or has not made up his mind to go there. We have all some kind of idea about what God offers and calls us to. But this idea must be clear if we are to make for it straight. No man can run straight to a mere will-o'-the-wisp, or who first means to go to one station and then changes his mind. Paul had made up his mind not to pursue comfort, learning, money, &c., but the kingdom of God. He knew where he was going and to what all his efforts tended. What then do the traces of our past life show?
III. BE IN EARNEST. "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air," not as one amusing himself with idle flourishes, but as one who has a real enemy to encounter.
1. How much of mere parade and sham-fighting is there in the Christian army! We seem to be doing everything that a good soldier of Jesus Christ need do save the one thing: we slay no enemy. We are well trained: we could instruct others; we spend much time on exercises which are calculated to make an impression on sin; but where are our slain foes?
2. Even where there is some reality in the contest we may still be beating the air. Many persons who level blows at their sins do not after all strike them. Spiritual energy is put forth; but it is not brought into contact with the sin to be destroyed. Paul's language suggests that the reason may be that there remains in the heart some reluctance quite to kill and put an end to sin. We pray God, for example, to preserve us from the evils of praise or of success; and yet we continue to court them. Therefore our warfare against sin becomes unreal.
3. The result is detrimental. Sin is like something floating in the air or the water: the very effort we make to grasp and crush it displaces it, and it floats mockingly before us untouched. Or it is like an agile antagonist who springs back from our blow, so that the force we have expended merely racks and strains our own sinews and does him no injury. So when we spend much effort in conquering sin and find it as lively as ever, the spirit is strained and hurt. It is less able than before to resist sin, less believing, less hopeful, and scoffs at fresh resolves and endeavours. Finally, Paul tells us that the enemy against which he directed his well-planted blows was his own body. Every man's body is his enemy when, instead of being his servant, it becomes his master. When the body mutinies and refuses to obey the will, it becomes our most dangerous enemy. The word Paul uses is the word used of the most damaging blow one boxer could give another. It was probably by sheer strength of will and by the grace of Christ that Paul subdued his body. Many in all ages have striven to subdue it by fasting, &c., and of these practices we have no right to speak scornfully until we can say that by other means we have reduced the body to its proper position as the servant of the spirit. There is a fair and reasonable degree in which a marl may and ought to cherish his own flesh, but there is also needful a disregard to many of its claims and a hard-hearted obduracy to its complaints. In an age when Spartan simplicity of life is almost Unknown, it is very easy to sow to the flesh almost without knowing it until we find ourselves reaping corruption.
(M. Dods, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.