1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ~ 20140406 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
04/06 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Disqualified; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20140406_1cor9_24-27.mp3
19 Ἐλεύθερος γὰρ ὢν ἐκ πάντων πᾶσιν ἐμαυτὸν ἐδούλωσα, ἵνα τοὺς πλείονας κερδήσω· 20 καὶ ἐγενόμην τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις ὡς Ἰουδαῖος, ἵνα Ἰουδαίους κερδήσω· τοῖς ὑπὸ νόμον ὡς ὑπὸ νόμον, μὴ ὢν αὐτὸς ὑπὸ νόμον, ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον κερδήσω· 21 τοῖς ἀνόμοις ὡς ἄνομος, μὴ ὢν ἄνομος θεοῦ ἀλλ’ ἔννομος Χριστοῦ, ἵνα κερδάνω τοὺς ἀνόμους· 22 ἐγενόμην τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν ἀσθενής, ἵνα τοὺς ἀσθενεῖς κερδήσω· τοῖς πᾶσιν γέγονα πάντα, ἵνα πάντως τινὰς σώσω. 23 πάντα δὲ ποιῶ διὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, ἵνα συγκοινωνὸς αὐτοῦ γένωμαι.
24 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ ἐν σταδίῳ τρέχοντες πάντες μὲν τρέχουσιν, εἷς δὲ λαμβάνει τὸ βραβεῖον; οὕτως τρέχετε ἵνα καταλάβητε. 25 πᾶς δὲ ὁ ἀγωνιζόμενος πάντα ἐγκρατεύεται, ἐκεῖνοι μὲν οὖν ἵνα φθαρτὸν στέφανον λάβωσιν, ἡμεῖς δὲ ἄφθαρτον. 26 ἐγὼ τοίνυν οὕτως τρέχω ὡς οὐκ ἀδήλως, οὕτως πυκτεύω ὡς οὐκ ἀέρα δέρων· 27 ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι.
1 Corinthians 9 [ESV2011]
19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
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. 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.
The Corinthians are insisting on their rights. We all have our rights. We have the right to be treated a certain way, to be listened to, the right to be respected, the freedom to do what we want to do. Paul makes a case for his own basic rights, his right to food and provision, and his freedoms, and then he holds himself up as an example of how a follower of Jesus should use those freedoms and rights, not for self interest, but for the sake of the gospel.
Centrality of the Gospel
Central to all of Paul's living is the gospel. His life has been transformed by the good news that Jesus, fully God, stooped to become man and suffer to save us. His heart has been transformed by the gospel of a God who left his throne in glory to come down to so identify with us that he bore our sins in his own body on the tree so that we might receive the gift of his perfect righteousness. God became man, became sin, to save sinners. Paul is willing to become like Jews to win Jews, to become like Gentiles to win Gentiles, to become weak (because we all are truly weak and helpless in our sin), in order to save those who are weak. Having been transformed by the gospel, his life is now shaped by the gospel. He begins to follow his Master and Lord who, being free from all, took on the form of a servant in order to rescue those who were slaves to sin.
Cultural Flexibility in Evangelism
Paul models for us the principle of cultural flexibility for the sake of evangelism. In order to win Jews to Christ, the Jew did not have to abandon his cultural heritage. Neither did Gentiles have to become Jews to be saved from their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus do not have to become Western to come to Jesus. When bringing the gospel to lost people across the street or around the globe, we must be careful to discern what is the unchangeable core gospel message and what are the flexible cultural externals. We, we who have been transformed by the cross of our Lord Jesus are to be the ones to move to bridge the cultural divide for the sake of the gospel. We are not to stand on our culture or preference or style or tradition and demand that lost people come to us and become like us. We are to go to them. That Christ, the promised Messiah-King died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, that he presented himself alive to many eye-witnesses, that is the gospel message. What you eat, what you drink, what you wear, where you meet, what kind of music you prefer, those are issues in which we are free to move toward lost people in order to win them to Christ.
Understand, also, that there are clear limits to our flexibility. Paul never said that to the idolaters he became an idolater, or to win the sexually immoral he became sexually immoral, or to reach the drug addicts he began to use drugs, or to win the gossips he became a gossip. With the Gentiles he could eat a pulled pork sandwich, and with the Jews he could eat a kosher hot-dog because Jesus had declared all foods clean (Mk.7:19). But he was not free to hate or lust or covet or be proud or grumble or gossip. He was under obligation to love. Love God and love others.
Could an Apostle Go to Hell?
Paul raises a question in verse 23 that he fleshes out in the rest of the chapter. He says
Paul says that he becomes all things to all people with the purpose of winning them to the gospel, and he does this in order that he might become a fellow-partaker in the gospel. Does this mean that he fears he will not participate in the gospel, that he will not share in gospel benefits if he didn't life his life to win as many as possible? Is it possible for an apostle who was assigned by Jesus to preach the gospel to fail in the end to be saved by that gospel? It was Jesus who said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.10:22; 24:13; Mk.13:13). Paul holds himself up as a dire warning for the Corinthians and for us to examine our own hearts to see if we are walking in the gospel. The Corinthians felt they had freedom in the gospel to participate in idolatry. Paul has warned them of the danger their participation posed to those with weak consciences who might be led astray, those for whom Christ died. Now he warns that by their participation in idolatry, they themselves might be disqualified.
Paul is comparing the Christian life to an athletic contest. The Corinthians were rolling out their lawn chairs and sipping umbrella drinks. Paul is saying 'wake up! Start running! You are in the race! You are in danger of being disqualified!' The Corinthians were very familiar with the Isthmian games, second only to the Olympic games and held every other year just outside of Corinth. The Corinthians loved their sports, and they understood what it cost to compete as an athlete. No one showed up on race day in their toga and flip-flops, finishing off their milkshake and pizza expecting to do well in the race. There were at least 10 months of rigorous training, strict diet and spartan lifestyle leading up to the games. The life of the athlete was characterized by the most severe self-discipline and self-denial for the purpose of winning the prize. No one entered the stadium to run with the goal of coming away with a t-shirt that read 'I ran in the Isthmian games'. There was great honor for the winner, so much so that one emperor complained that the sports hero received more honor than the general returning from battle victorious. Every athlete has his eye on the prize. Every athlete that enters the race runs. Every athlete runs to win. And the prize at the Isthmian games was a wreath of wilted celery!
Agonize for the Prize
Paul is placing their beloved sporting event next to the race that every follower of Jesus has entered. The word translated 'athlete' in verse 25 is (ἀγωνίζομαι) which is where we get our English word 'agonize'. This word paints a picture of an intense struggle with an adversary. Following Jesus is not easy. It is a struggle. The Christian life is often compared in Scripture to an athlete, a farmer, a soldier. Difficult, demanding, grueling, exhausting. That is what we have signed up for. But take heart, comrades, it is worth it. There is a prize to win. It is of infinitely more value that a wilted stalk of celery. Remember in the context, what Paul is out to win. He becomes all things to all men for the sake of the gospel, in order to save as many as possible. He intends to win Jews, to win those under the law, to win those outside of the law, to win the weak to Christ. Our prize is not a stalk of wilted celery, our prize is eternal fellowship with those we have won to Christ. We will share with them in the blessings of the gospel for all eternity.
Jesus taught in the parable about the soils:
Genuine believers bear fruit. We were created to reproduce. In the beginning, God made all creatures according to their kinds and blessed them and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Healthy followers of Jesus will multiply. Healthy followers of Jesus will produce more healthy followers of Jesus. Jesus said:
Run to win. Win as many as possible to Christ. We do not run to receive a perishable wreath. We run to increase our joy in the gospel by sharing the gospel with as many as possible.
We do not run to receive the honor and applause of men, but of God. We run to hear these words:
He specifically highlights the self-control necessary to compete effectively in the athletic world. There are things we must give up in order to win. There are things that are legitimate rights that we have that we must surrender if we are to win. Nobody says that the athlete does not have the right to stay out late the night before the big race eating and drinking. Nobody says that he doesn't have the right to wear his bathrobe and flip-flops in the race. Nobody says he doesn't have the right to carry a backpack filled with his most prized possessions as he runs. No one will say that he does not have the right to stop and text a selfie to his girlfriend in the middle of the race. He has the right, but everyone will tell him that he will never win if he enters the race weighed down, encumbered and distracted with all those things.
Every one who agonizes toward the prize does not walk around with a backpack, gathering up all his rights and entitlements. The athlete who wins lays down and lets go of everything that does not push him toward the goal. He has power over desires, pleasures, rights, appetites. He controls them; they do not control him. Paul holds himself out as an example.
Paul has the gospel always in focus. He does not wander here and there. He does not waste time on side pursuits. He adds the metaphor of fighting to that of running. He does not miss his opponent. He lands every punch. And the adversary he is fighting is his own body, his own appetites, his own desires, even his rights. He is ruthless in keeping his bodily appetites under control. Literally, he says I punch my body under the eye and lead it around as my slave. Because we are bodily creatures, often we allow our bodies to control us. We listen to our bodies. 'I'm hungry, I'm tired, I need to be amused, I need to be pampered, I need a break'. We need to take charge over our bodies and say 'enough! You have had enough. Now get up, there is work to do. There are lost people to reach. We have a race to win.'
The stakes in this race are so high. Paul says he does it all to avoid disqualification. In the context of winning others to Christ, preaching to others, saving others, his meaning is clear. There is the real possibility that the one who declares the message of the gospel to others, if he has not believed the gospel himself, if he has not been transformed by that gospel, in the end will not be saved by the good news that he has preached to others. Jesus warned:
This is a sobering prospect. In 2 Corinthians Paul challenges them to
The same word translated 'fail to meet the test' is translated here as disqualified. It means to be tested and proven false; demonstrated not to be genuine. The apostle Paul himself says that he aggressively exercises self-control “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Assurance of Salvation
Does this mean that the apostle lived in doubt and fear, uncertain of his own salvation? And what would that mean for us? No, this same apostle also wrote:
He wrote at the beginning of this very letter to the Corinthians:
In Romans he wrote:
And in chapter 8:
The apostle John wrote
Paul never says that he fears that he might be disqualified or doubts his own salvation. He expresses bold confidence in Christ, in whose hands his eternity is secure. But he does say that he exercises self-control so that he will not be disqualified or tested and proved false. How does this fit together? If salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, where do our efforts at discipline and self-control fit? I think Philippians 2 gives us some help.
We are clearly commanded to work out our own salvation, and this is connected with obedience. We are not told to work for our salvation. Underneath our work of obedience is God's prior causative work. We work because God works in us. God's work in us is the cause both of our inclination and our energy to work. Our work is the fruit which grows out of divinely regenerated soil. Or as James would say it, our works are the outward demonstration of genuine faith. So, we do not sit still and do nothing because we say that salvation is all of grace. Instead, because salvation is all a gift of God's grace, we run the race all the more diligently, because we know that it is God who freely supplies us with both the desire to run and the energy to run.
In 1857, the Princeton theologian Charles Hodge wrote:
“What an argument and what a reproof is this! The reckless and listless Corinthians thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin, while this devoted apostle considered himself as engaged in a life-struggle for his salvation. This same apostle, however, who evidently acted on the principle that the righteous scarcely are saved, and that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, at other times breaks out in the most joyful assurance of salvation, and says that he was persuaded that nothing in heaven, earth or hell could ever separate him from the love of God. Rom 8:38, 39. The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, “O wretched man that I am;” and, “Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory,” Rom 7:24, 25. It is the indolent and self-indulgent Christian who is always in doubt.” (C.Hodge)
As followers of Christ, we must be willing to lay aside our rights and serve others in order to win them to Christ. We are not aimless, we are not purposeless. Our goal is clear. Strict self-control is necessary. Become all things to all people in order by all means to win some.