1Co 9:24-27 “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.”
Public games were a big deal in Paul’s day, just as they are today. Men strove to be champions in running and fighting to prove their prowess and to receive a crown of plaited branches or vines. This was something the Corinthians would be very familiar with, and possibly involved in.
As such, they would certainly know that all who aspired to win the prize had to run. There was no prize for just showing up on race day. No one was going to be standing and cheering for the people who just thought about running. Even if you ran, there was no guarantee that you would win the prize. However, the people most likely to win were those who were making preparation from one race time to the next.
Every man that truly competes for a prize (striveth for mastery) exercises a great deal of self-control. Any athlete who is serious about winning doesn’t just start to prepare the day before the game. They are dedicated to gaining the prize, and therefore they have a regular exercise regimen, a certain diet they follow, and healthy habits they form to keep themselves in the very best condition they can be in; and they do all this for a corruptible crown.
Paul says running that we may obtain is the only way to run. We are to be pressing “toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Php 3:14).” This is not a goal that can be achieved by simply thinking how nice it would be to have it. It is not a goal that can be reached simply by showing up and filling a pew on Sunday morning: running a race is not a spectator sport.
If we are going to run this race of faith, then we need to run it like people that intend to achieve the prize. In order to do this, we are going to have to be temperate. We need to set aside time to study and meditate on God’s word. To gain the prize, we have to have the discipline necessary to give time to prayer. We are going to need a steady diet of the preaching of the gospel. It is imperative that we have the temperance to say no to the many distractions that this world will foist upon us.
We cannot run as though we have no idea why we are running. Paul said the goal was clear (he did not run uncertainly). Neither are we fighting shadows or simply making a show of striking out against ungodliness (beating the air). God has called us and enabled us to be His servants. That means we have the strength to keep the carnal man under subjection to the spiritual man.
The literal meaning behind “I keep under” according to Strong’s is “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist), that is, (figuratively) to tease or annoy (into compliance), subdue (one’s passions).” This does not indicate that the task is necessarily and easy one. Paul is literally saying that he gave his carnal nature a black eye rather than let it have control over him. He did not do this so that he could boast of His mastery.
We should certainly seek mastery in our service to the Lord of glory. This requires us to exercise control over our flesh, even when it would be easier not to. We do this for the incorruptible crown of the gospel, and for the fellowship of God’s people in that gospel. We do so in order that, after sharing this glorious gospel with others, we do not lose sight of the cause of Christ. How sad it would be to allow our carnality to cause those with whom we have shared this gospel to reject us as worthless and hold the word of God as contemptible because of our failure.
May we use the strength and grace that our Heaven Father has given us to be temperate so that we might run to win, rejoicing in the fellowship of the gospel and the crown incorruptible!