(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

Paul has been dealing with the rights of an apostle. He claimed the right or freedom to preach the gospel without charge. In the concluding verses of chapter 9 Paul turns to the responsibility of the apostle to: (a) Win souls. (b) Save his own.

(B) Paul's commitment to the salvation of others.

(1) Indications of the totality of Paul's commitment.

He was:

    (a) Available.
    Paul wrote: I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. v19. He was available to everybody to preach, teach, advise and counsel - without charge! Paul was undoubtedly an expert but unlike today's consultants his advice came free.

    Paul was the most approachable of men. He was easy to find during the day - sitting at his work, mending tents. Paul was never shut away in some plush office with security men and secretaries restricting access. Day after day anyone in Corinth could chat with Paul about whatever spiritual problem they had. His amazing energy and boundless commitment was at the disposal of all and sundry. Paul was a very public man.

    (b) Accommodating.
    It was Paul's proud boast: I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. v22.

    Paul didn't take the view, like some Calvinists, that there was nothing he could do to save a soul. He aimed to remove barriers to belief, such as, ignorance, prejudice and bias. The little apostle did all he could to make belief easier. So with:

      (I) Jews he respected their customs. If Paul was invited to a meal in a Jewish home he would respect their diet and the ceremonial washings. He would observe the Sabbath when among Jews. Paul made frequent references to the Old Testament in teaching his own race.

      (II) Gentiles he ate whatever they ate. He neither insisted on ceremonial washing before a meal nor strictly observed the Sabbath. Paul happily quoted pagan poets in his discourses (See Acts17v28) and used illustrations that would be meaningful to Greeks. We see this in the passage under consideration. Paul used a wonderful illustration taken from the Isthmian games which was held every other year just outside Corinth. The games were anathema to Jews because the athletes performed nude. But I am so glad Paul employed this illustration because it means as much now as it did then.

      (III) The weak he became weak. He lived like a slave among the slaves. He had a simple message for the intellectually challenged. Paul preached Christ crucified. The apostle did his best not to offend Christians with tender consciences.

    If we follow Paul's example we shall be accommodating to different age groups, cultures and life styles. For instance I read that the Japanese find it difficult to relate to the fatherhood of God because fathers are rather remote figures in many Japanese families. It is very much the mother who takes responsibility for children. So it might be better to talk about the motherhood of God to Japanese. The padre to Hell's Angels dresses in leathers and rides a powerful motorbike. An evangelist to travellers really needs to share their nomadic lifestyle. Paul would be well suited to this task!

    (c) Adventurous.
    Paul took risks to win souls. This was a dangerous policy because the Corinthians were very quick to criticise him. For example they later accused him of:

      (I) Inconsistency. The Corinthians discovered that Paul who had exercised the right to preach without payment to them did accept money from the Philippians. The Corinthians believers were very indignant at Paul's lack of consistency. See2Cor11v7to9.

      (II) Dubious integrity. It appears that Paul said he would visit the church at Corinth but, then did not turn up. This annoyed the Christians in that city. See 2Cor1v15to24.

    It is very likely that Paul's detractors in Corinth would accuse him of inconsistency and lack of integrity because his behaviour varied so much depending on the people he was with.

    We know that Paul was highly principled and took a resolute stand on things that really mattered. He spoke sharply to Barnabas and Peter because they stopped eating with Gentiles after the arrival of Judaisers from Jerusalem in Antioch. (See exposition on Acts15v1to15.)

    Paul was probably aware that his behaviour would be questioned especially by the legalistic element at Corinth and so he covers himself against accusations of unprincipled behaviour by writing: Though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law. v24.

    The new commandment that Jesus gave his followers was: "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Jn13v34. If we love lost souls we will take risks to win some - even if our reputation suffers.

(2) Paul's awareness that not all would be saved.

Paul endeavoured to win as many as possible and by all means win some. vs19and22. He clearly recognised that whatever he did, however dedicated, accommodating and prayerful his efforts, some would not believe.

This mixed response to the gospel can only be because God respects men's freedom of action and freedom of choice. Our Father works unceasingly to prepare men for salvation but he does so under the constraint of leaving men free. This means, as God knew it would from the beginning, that not all men will accept Jesus as their Saviour. It is in this sense that some are predestined to salvation and others to condemnation.

Paul never, never, blamed himself for men's disbelief. Nowhere in his epistles does he write that he could have done more, tried harder or prayed longer. It is not all down to the evangelist! It is not a case of getting everything right and then conversions will inevitably follow, as some Arminians seem to think. God plays his part in preparing men for salvation. This is difficult work. Some are beyond all redemption!

(C) Paul's commitment to his own salvation.

(1) Paul didn't take it for granted.

It is futile for Calvinists to assert that when Paul writes: 'So that after I have preached to others I myself will not be disqualified for the prize'; he isn't referring to the possibility that he could lose his salvation. He is. This is backed up by what he goes on to write in chapter 10. Christians are like the Israelites of old - delivered from slavery, under God's protection and drinking from the fountainhead. The warning is clear: many Israelites perished in the wilderness and never entered the Promised Land.

Paul and the writer to the Hebrews both considered that the Christian life is like a race - a race that ends with a prize - a crown that will last for ever. v25. In his epistle to the Philippians Paul wrote: I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. Phil3v14. See also 2Tim4v6to8. The prize Paul strove for, and which he encourages all believers to strive after, is resurrection from the dead and life eternal. See Philippians3.

The view that Paul was concerned lest he lose everything is supported by his use of the word 'disqualified'. Professional athletes were disqualified from the games (Olympic, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian) if they broke training. One of these great athletic events took place every year. The competitors did 10-month training stints. They were in training almost permanently. A suspension of effort ended their careers.

Paul is warning that Christians who neglect to keep in shape spiritually, who abandon the means of grace, are in grave danger of falling away and forfeiting the prize.

(2) Paul took the Christian life seriously.

Paul taught that Christians must keep spiritually fit just as the runner or boxer keeps physically fit. To hammer home this point Paul referred to the training regime of:

    (a) The athlete. Paul stated: Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly. v26. No runner training for the Olympic games jogs about aimlessly. He or she has a set purpose and a carefully planned and rigorously executed training schedule. Today, everything is organised meticulously to bring the athlete to peak fitness at the right time.

    (b) The boxer. Paul claimed: I do not fight like a man beating the air. v26. He didn't just shadow box in training. He says: No, I beat my body and make it my slave. v27 Today the professional boxer would say, "I've punished my body to get ready for the fight." The little phrase translated: 'make it my slave' means literally: 'to get a smack in the face.' Strangely, it is the expression the unjust judge used of the importunate widow seeking justice in Christ's parable. He worried that the widow would give him a smack in the face!! This doesn't sound quite right. The judge was actually concerned that the widow's persistent badgering would wear him out. I imagine that 'a smack in the face' was a colloquial term used by boxers. In training they may have practiced on a revolving punch bag until their guard dropped due to exhaustion and they got hit in the face. So, the expression 'a smack in the face' came to mean going on to the point of exhaustion.

    Paul, then, is saying: 'I punish my body - to the point of exhaustion - like the professional boxer in training.

    (c) The lessons:

      (I) The Christian's body should be under discipline. The bodily desires must be kept under control. It is so easy to be self-indulgent over: sleep, food, drink, sex and bodily comfort.

      (II) We should keep in shape spiritually through prayer, Bible study, worship, good deeds and witnessing. It is only as we engage in these activities that we keep in good spiritual condition. If we stop exercising we gradually become flabby and unfit for purpose.

(3) Paul's chief priority.

The apostle leaves us in no doubt what his chief priority was: 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. v24.

Christians should run the race set before them like an athlete in the Olympic games runs for gold. This has clear implications:

    (a) The Christian life is not a fun thing; it isn't a lark. We're not in a fancy dress race. I can remember once turning up to a staff football match against the pupils and my colleagues were in fancy dress. I went back into school and got changed. I took sport seriously!

    (b) As Christians we must give of our best instead of barely exerting ourselves, scarcely raising a sweat and doing everything to avoid discomfit. The annual cross country race at my old boy's grammar school was compulsory! There was always a sizeable minority of youths at the back of the field who ambled round the course - picking daisies!

    I used to be exasperated by pupils who did the bare minimum. They never excelled as scholars. We cannot do the bare minimum as Christians and get by. There is no way to heaven on flowery beds of ease!

    (c) Christians should avoid being distracted during the race. It is so easy on big race day to be put off by our critics, assorted onlookers and by the other competitors. Charles H. Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, said many years ago that we shouldn't be kicking each other while we raced. Tragically, Christians spend far too much time worrying about the style of their fellow competitors and kicking those they don't like. We shouldn't think, either, that it is good enough to keep up with old X or believe we can give up running because others do. Run, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith - pressing on to the finishing line.

    (d) Christians have to push on through the pain barrier. It is not good enough to give up if our legs ache, our chest is tight or we feel sick. We have to keep running until we get our second wind. Don't get slack and half-hearted when it is hard to be a Christian. When obstacles arise, disappointments abound and there is the whiff of failure in the air just run and run and run.

(4) Paul competed for high stakes.

Christians do not compete for a crown that will not last like the wreath of dried celery given to victors in the Isthmian games outside Corinth. Paul knew the stakes for the Christian were very high. But we do it to get a crown that will last for ever. v25.

            Since I must fight if I would reign,
            Increase my courage Lord!
            I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
            Supported by Thy word.

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