"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" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Paul, in order to have Christians realize the danger of losing their reward or salvation, uses the example of the Grecian games. It is not that salvation comes by competition; but that all who strive to go to heaven run successfully. Therefore, the admonition is given: "So run, that ye may obtain." To enable us to do this, Paul gives three directives in the text under consideration.
1. Be Temperate: Practice Rigid Self-Control. "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things" (9:25). The Grecian runner was temperate; for a period of time before the race he submitted to the rules of the trainer; exercising his legs, controlling his eating, drinking and sleeping. He did this gladly in view of "a corruptible crown." Modem day athletes still attend training camps to prepare for the coming sports season, be it baseball, football, basketball, etc.
The Christian must maintain self-control. There are rules he must submit to if he hopes to gain an "incorruptible crown" (cf. Matt. 16:24; Col. 3:5ff; Gal. 5:19ff). It is not an "on again, off again" situation that many experience while trying to diet. It is a daily task. One day's lack of training in the sports realm is enough to destroy weeks of training. So one lapse into sin will undo years of training; and in most cases a scar will be left. When such occurs the Christian must seek God's forgiveness and start training anew. The apostle Peter knew this lesson too well. He lost control, denied the Lord and lapsed into sin. However, he repented, came back to the Lord, lived a life of faithful service and died for the Lord (Matt. 26:33-35, 69-75; John 21:15-19). This lapse into sin left its scar. But Peter came through this crisis stronger. He could later write, with a clear conscience and experience that a Christian must exercise self-control (2 Peter 1:6; cf. 1:12-15).
2. Be Certain: Understand and Know Why You Are in the Race. "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly" (9:26). A runner who enters a race uncertain as to the rules and direction in which he must run will never win the race. The Christian needs to be certain of the course that he is running the race of life upon. He should ever keep the goal, the crown of life, before his eyes. Sadly, many, both non-Christian and erring Christian, will come to the finish line (i.e., the end of life), only to learn they were on the wrong track and/or followed the wrong set of rules (Prov. 14:12; Matt. 7:13, 14, 21-33; 2 John 9). There is no excuse for the uncertainty that exists in the minds and lives of many Christians (cf. Eph. 4:14; Phil. 3:13; 2 Tim. 4:6-8).
3. Be Effective: Let Your Life Be of Value to the Lord... so fight I, not as one that beatest the air: but I keep my body" (9:26-27a). Paul, in fighting the good fight of faith, made his blows count. He made every effort to keep his body under control. He fought himself in bringing every thought and evil inclination into subjection to God's will (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Cor. 10:3-5). By doing such he was able to let his light shine and bring glory to the Lord (Matt. 5:16). Self is our worst enemy. Unless we bring ourselves into and under the control of God, we shall not be accepted.
By following these admonitions given by Paul we will gain that mastery over self and be better equipped to fight the "good fight of faith" (I Tim. 6:12). Solomon described a self-controlled person as being better than one "that taketh a city" (Prov. 16:32b). One final thought, while you may have the control not to engage in any of the works of the flesh, do you have that control that makes you get out of bed on Sunday morning and be present at Bible study with your lesson prepared? The small matters count too!
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 22, p. 4