1 Corinthians 9
PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
|Food Offered to False Gods|
|The Rights of an Apostle||A Pattern of Self-denial||Paul's Rights As an Apostle||Rights and Duties of an Apostle||Paul Invokes His Own Example|
|Paul is Free to Waive
His Apostolic Rights
|Saving All Men||9:15-18||9:15-18||9:15-18|
|Striving for a Crown||9:23-27|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 9:1-27
A. This chapter is related to chapter 8 in the sense of seeking a balance between Christian rights and responsibility in love (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13 and I Cor. 8:1-11 and 13:1-13).
B. It is obvious from the context that Paul's leadership was being attacked by some group or groups in the church at Corinth.
1. rhetorically trained Jewish itinerant teachers
2. incipient Gnostics
C. There is a variety of personal pronouns (and verb forms) used in this chapter.
1. First person singular, in vv. 1-3,6,8,15-23,26-27
2. First person plural, in vv. 4-5,10-11,25
a. since Barnabas is mentioned specifically in v. 6 he is probably to be assumed in v. 4-5
b. in vv. 10-11 Paul seems to include Apollos and possibly other visiting preachers, even Peter
c. often Paul used the editorial plural "we" to speak of himself
3. Second person plural, in vv. 13,24 refers to the Corinthians who claims such "full" knowledge of the things of God
4. Paul's use of pronouns is notoriously difficult and the source of many Greek manuscript variants
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:9:1-2
1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
9:1 "Am I not free" There is a series of questions in this context. USB4 has fourteen, NASB has sixteen, NKJV has fifteen, NRSV has sixteen, TEV has fourteen, and NJB has twelve. It is uncertain if these are statements or questions (cf. Ellingworth and Hatton, A Handbook on Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, p. 193). The questions in vv. 1-2 all expect a "yes" answer. The question in vv. 6,7,10, and 11 are stated so as to expect a "no" answer.
This is the use of "free" in the sense of spiritual freedom in Christ (cf. 9:19; 10:29), not Roman freedom (i.e., political rights). In Christ the believer, now indwelt by the Spirit, now informed by the gospel, has the freedom "not to"! The power of the "fallen self," the "me first" of Genesis 3 has been replaced with "others first"! Freedom in the gospel is not "freedom to. . .," but "freedom no to. . ."! It is very different from political freedom which is really the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Fallen humanity cannot handle "freedom"! Neither can immature believers!
▣ "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord" This is Perfect active indicative, which implies that a past action has resulted in a current state of being. Paul's apostleship was being attacked because he was not one of the original Twelve. The qualifications for an apostle were that one had been with Jesus during His earthly life and had seen the resurrection (cf. Acts 1:15-26). Paul asserts that he had seen the resurrected Christ (cf. Acts 9:3,17,27; 22:14; I Cor. 15:8). Paul's call was by a special act of Christ for a special mission to the Gentiles, which demanded special revelation (cf. Acts 18:9; 23:11).
Paul not only encountered Jesus personally on the road to Damascus, but several times during his ministry Jesus, or an angel as Jesus' representative, appeared to him to encourage him (cf. Acts 18:9-11; 22:17-21), in Acts 27:23.
▣ "Are you not my work in the Lord" The evidence of Paul's apostleship was the numerous churches he had formed, of which Corinth was one (cf. 4:15; II Cor. 3:1-3).
9:2 "If" This is a first class conditional sentence, which shows that Paul's authority was rejected by several different factions in the early church (cf. Acts 15 and Galatians).
▣ "for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" A seal in the ancient world was a warm blob of wax into which a signet ring was pressed to seal a letter or package. It was an assurance that the contents had not been opened; it showed who owned the contents; and it showed the genuineness of the contents, that it was sent by the right person. This type of seal became a metaphor of Christian certainty (cf. John 3:33; Rom. 4:11).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:9:3-7
3My defense to those who examine me is this: 4Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? 6Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?
9:3 "My defense" This term (i.e., apologia) was used of a "legal defense" (cf. Acts 19:33; 22:1; 25:16; Phil. 1:7,17; I Pet. 3:15). Syntactically v. 3 may go with v. 2 or v. 4. The USB4, NRSV, and TEV show it to go with v. 4, while the NKJV and NJB do not break the paragraph at either point.
▣ "to those who examine me" Paul was being criticized by some group or theological faction at Corinth (cf. 2:15; 4:3). They were claiming
1. that he was not a true apostle
2. that he changed the Jerusalem apostles' message
3. that he only preached for money
These charges are not specifically stated, but assumed from the historical setting and from the subjects Paul chose to address.
9:4 This begins a series of questions (cf. vv. 4-7) where Paul asserts his right as an Apostle to be supported by the local churches. However he personally chose not to exercise his rights (cf. 9:15,18; I Thess. 2:6), but he affirms the rights of other Christian workers.
9:5 "to take along. . .even as the rest of the apostles" The context is not directly asserting the right of the Apostles to have wives, although this is surely implied, but the right of the Apostles to have the church support them and their wives.
The term "apostles" can refer to the Twelve or the wider usage of the term (cf. Acts 14:4,14; Rom. 16:6-7; I Cor. 4:9; Gal. 1:9; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 2:25; I Thess. 2:6). Because Peter is named separately, the latter group is implied. It is also possible that a group (i.e., one of the factions) in this church was elevating Peter's Apostleship (cf. 1:12; 3:22).
NRSV, NIV"a believing wife"
NEB"a Christian wife"
In Greek there is a double pair of nouns, "a sister, a wife," which was idiomatic for "a believing wife." The historical problem is how is this related to
1. the women who accompanied Jesus and the Apostolic group and helped them (cf. Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40-41)
2. the woman discussed in 7:36-38 (i.e., a daughter or a virgin companion or a fiancee)
3. the ministry of the wives of church leaders similar to deaconesses of Rom. 16:1 or the "widows roll" of the Pastorals (cf. I Tim. 3:11; 5:9-10)
Probably all of the original Twelve were married because singleness among Jews was very rare. Jews would marry because of the commandment in Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7.
▣ "even as the rest of the apostles" The term "apostle" has several connotations in the NT.
1. those who were called by Jesus and followed Him during His earthly life
2. Paul called in a special vision on the road to Damascus
3. an ongoing gift in the church (cf. Eph. 4:11), which included several people
The textual issue here is what do we make of Paul's list.
1. the rest of the apostles
2. the brothers of the Lord
4. Barnabas and Paul
▣ "the brothers of the Lord" Jerome (a.d. 346-420) believed these were Jesus' cousins; Epiphanius (a.d. 310-403) said they were children from Joseph's previous marriage. Both of these interpretations are obviously related to the developing Roman Catholic presuppositions about Mary and not to the NT. Mary had further children after Jesus (cf. Matt. 12:26; 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3,5,10; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19).
It does imply that Jesus' half brothers, who were active in the church, were considered leadership. As a matter of fact, one of Jesus' relatives was the leader of the Jerusalem Church for several generations during the first century, starting with James.
▣ "Cephas" This is the Aramaic form of the Greek Petros. It meant a large boulder or rock (cf. Matt. 8:14; John 1:42). Cephas was married (cf. Mark. 1:30).
Paul calls Peter "Cephas" in I Cor. 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5 and Gal. 1:18; 2:9. But in Gal. 2:7,8,11,14 he calls him Peter. There seems to be no theological distinction, rather, probably literary variety. He is called Peter everywhere in the Gospels except John 1:42.
It is interesting that the church has made so much of the connection between Peter (i.e., Petros) and "this rock" (i.e., petra) in Matt. 16:18. Jesus spoke Aramaic and there is no distinction at all between the two terms in that language.
9:6 "Barnabas" Barnabas is also called an apostle, which shows a wider use of the term (cf. Eph. 4:11) than simply the initial Twelve (cf. Acts 14:14, 18:5).
NASB"not have a right to refrain from working"
NKJV"who have no right to refrain from working"
NRSV"who have no right to refrain from working for a living"
TEV"the only ones who have to work for our living"
NJB"the only ones who have no right to stop working"
The rabbis asserted the dignity of manual labor. All rabbis had to have a secular job because it was considered sinful to receive money for teaching YHWH's truths (cf. Pirke Abot 1:13; 4:7). Paul chose not to take advantage of his rights as a preacher of the gospel (v. 18), possibly because of (1) his Jewish heritage or (2) the attacks of those who claimed he manipulated people for money (cf. Acts 20:33; II Cor. 11:7-12; 12:14-18).
9:7-14 In these verses there are several examples from everyday life used as analogies to show the appropriateness of gospel workers receiving a living wage from the churches they served (cf. Rom. 15:27): (1) a soldier, v.7; (2) a vineyard owner, v. 7; (3) a shepherd, v. 7; (4) the ox, v. 9; (5) a plowman and thresher, v. 10; (6) a sower, v. 11; and (7) a priest, v. 13.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:9:8-14
8I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 12If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? 14So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
NASB"according to human judgment"
NKJV"as a mere man"
NRSV"on human authority"
TEV"to limit myself to these everyday examples"
NJB"merely worldly wisdom"
The Greek text has "not according to man" (i.e., anthrōpos, which refers to humans). Paul uses these contrasting phrases several times (cf. 3:3; 9:8; 15:32; Rom. 3:5; Gal. 1:11; 3:15). It was his idiomatic way of contrasting earthly human ways with his new Spirit-led (i.e., Jesus' teaching or Spirit's insight) way of thinking and acting.
9:9 "it is written in the Law of Moses" The Jewish way of settling the question was with an authoritative quote, if possibly from the writings of Moses (i.e., Gen. - Deut.); therefore, Paul quotes Deut. 25:4 (cf. I Tim. 5:18).
SPECIAL TOPIC: PAUL'S VIEWS OF THE MOSAIC LAW
▣ "You shall not muzzle the ox" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Deut. 25:4. The term "muzzle" is phimōsies, which occurs in the Greek manuscripts P46, א, A, B3, C, Db,c, K, L, P, and most later minuscule manuscripts. This is also the term used in Paul's quote of the same text in I Tim. 5:18.
However, the UBS4 editors preferred the variant kēmōseis, which also means "muzzle," found in MSS B*, D*, F, and G. Their reasoning was that the less-used word (possibly a slang term) was probably original because the other one was expected from the Septuagint and the quote in I Timothy so why would a scribe have changed it? The term chosen as original makes no interpretive difference, but it does illustrate the textual principles by which modern textual critics evaluate Koine Greek manuscripts in an attempt to recover the original wording of the autograph. See Appendix Two.
SPECIAL TOPIC: TEXTUAL CRITICISM
NASB"God is not concerned about oxen, is He"
NKJV"Is it oxen God is concerned about"
NRSV"Is it about oxen God is concerned"
TEV"Now, is God concerned about oxen"
NJB"Is it about oxen that God is concerned here"
Verses 9 and 10 show how an OT text was expanded (i.e., to draw out the significance or application) to meet the needs of a new day (cf. Rom. 4:23-24;15:4; I Cor. 9:10; 10:6,11). The OT exhibits special care for animals (cf. Exod. 21:33,35; 27:10-13; 23:5,12; Duet. 5:14; 22:4). Jesus alludes to this care of animals (cf. Luke 13:15; 14:5, where He applies the "light and heavy" rabbinical principle). This is not to imply that God does not care about animals, but that He also cares about people, and in this context, gospel workers (cf. I Tim. 5:18). This is similar to Matt. 6:26-34. Jesus uses God's provisions in nature as a way of asserting God's provision for humanity made in His image. This was a typical rabbinical technique known as "lesser to greater" or "light and heavy," which was one of Hillel's principles (cf. Aboth. de Rab. Nathan XXXVII and Tosefta Sanhedrin c. 7). Remember, Gamaliel was Paul's rabbinical teacher (cf. Acts 5:34; 22:3). See Appendix Three (Rabbinical Hermeneutics) in Hebrews at www.freebiblecommentary.org.
NASB"Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written"
NKJV"Or does He say it altogether for us? For our sakes no doubt, this is written"
NRSV"Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake"
TEV"Didn't he really means us when he said that? Of course that was written for us"
NJB"or is it not said entirely for our sake? Clearly it was written for our sake"
Several times Paul asserts that the OT was written as an example for NT believers (cf. Rom. 4:23-24; 15:4; I Cor. 9:10; 10:6,11). Paul's rabbinical training taught him to apply the Law to current situations. Here he is using the rabbinical argument called "light and heavy" or the "lesser to the greater."
In the context of Deut. 25:4 this application would have been unknown and unnecessary. The hermeneutical question is, "Was Paul using the original intent of the inspired writer?" The answer is clearly, no! But is he using a valid application of a principle? Paul is inspired! He sees truth at a level we cannot! However, we are not inspired, but illumined by the Spirit. Modern interpreters cannot reproduce the hermeneutical method of the NT authors. Therefore, it is best to let them speak, but restrict ourselves to the historical-grammatical approach, which seeks the intent of the original author as the determinant meaning, but allowing many applications which are related to the original intent! See the Special Topics, Illumination and Inspiration, at the beginning to I Corinthians 2.
9:11 "If. . .if" These are both first class conditional sentences, which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.
The real question is who are the others who claimed the right to have the Corinthian church support them? Was it traveling false teachers or those who were part of the local leadership? It probably refers to the other local leaders who would not allow the church to support them (cf. J. B. Phillips translation).
▣ "sowed. . .reap" The OT agricultural setting of harvest becomes a spiritual principle (cf. Job. 4:8; Prov. 22:8; Hos. 8:7; Hag. 1:6; John 4:37; I Cor. 9:11; II Cor. 9:6,10; Gal. 6:7-9).
▣ "material things" This is literally ta sarkika, "the fleshly things," but not in a sinful sense, rather in a physical sense as that which humans need to survive in this world (i.e., water, food, shelter, clothing, etc. cf. Rom. 15:27).
9:12 "If" This is another first class conditional sentence. Other leaders were exercising the right (i.e., exousia) to be materially compensated.
▣ "do we not more" This is an allusion to the fact that Paul started this church. He was their spiritual father (cf. 4:15). Now they were rejecting his spiritual rights (vv. 11,14; Rom. 15:27), but allowing others to demand material compensation.
▣ "but we endure all things" This is a metaphorical use of the Greek word for "roof," meaning "to cover," "to conceal," or "to endure" (cf. 13:7).
▣ "hindrance" This was a strong military term. The word was used for breaking up a road to keep an enemy from using it.
▣ "the gospel of Christ" The term "gospel" is literally "good news." It involves several aspects.
1. the initial bad news of mankind's sin and rebellion
2. God's gracious provisions to deal with human sin (i.e., the death of Christ)
3. the open invitation for any or all to accept God's provision by repentance and faith
This good news about Jesus involves three aspects.
1. It is a person to welcome (i.e., Jesus).
2. It is truths about that person to believe (i.e., the NT).
3. It is a life which emulates that person (i.e., the Christlike life).
If any one of these three aspects is depreciated the gospel is damaged!
9:13 "those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple" This refers to OT priests and Levites (cf. Lev. 7:6,8-10,14,28-36; Deut. 18:1). Paul used a term that was used in the Septuagint for priestly work (cf. Num. 3:7; 8:15) as well as work in general (cf. Gen. 2:5,15; 3:23; 4:2,12; 29:27). Paul saw his gospel ministry as priestly service (cf. Rom. 15:16).
9:14 "So also the Lord directed" This must refer to Jesus' words in Matt. 10:10 and Luke 10:7. Paul always tried to allude to Jesus' teachings on a subject when possible.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:9:15-18
15But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 16For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
9:15 "But I have used none of these things" This is a prefect middle indicative. Paul never received compensation from Corinth, probably because there were those in this church who used anything to attack him. He did accept money from Philippi (cf. 4:15) and Thessalonika (cf. II Cor. 11:9), but only later, not while he was there.
▣ " for it would be better for me to die" What a strong statement related to accepting or refusing compensation. There is also a grammatical problem at this point that caused several Greek manuscript variants. Paul is very emotional about this subject. He took money and help from Philippi (cf. Phil. 4:15) and Thessalonika (cf. II Cor. 11:9), why not Corinth? Obviously because of this he is being personally attacked by some group, faction, or false teacher.
There is a suspension of Paul's thought in mid-sentence after "than." Notice how the NRSV and the NET Bible put a dash, while NJB puts dots, attempting to show the grammatical break. How this break affects the next phrase is uncertain. It seems he meant to assert that he would not take any money from the Corinthian church, but he leaves it unsaid! This is a highly emotional passage. Paul is hurting, reacting, pleading, not just teaching a point. His life illustrates the principle (i.e., all, everything, every time, with everyone for the gospel, cf. II Cor. 4:5-12; 6:3-13; 11:16-33)!
It is so hard to interpret Paul's letter when we do not have (1) the letter the church wrote to him or (2) specific knowledge about the local situation.
9:16 "if. . .if" These are both third class conditional sentences, which mean potential action.
▣ "I am under compulsion; woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" Paul felt compelled to preach because of Christ's special call on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:15; Rom. 1:14). He was like Jeremiah of old (cf. Jer. 20:9). He had to share the gospel (cf. Acts 4:20).
9:17 "if. . .if" These are both First class conditional sentences, which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.
▣ "I have a stewardship entrusted to me" This is a perfect passive indicative. Gospel workers have both a covenant privilege and an awesome responsibility (cf. 4:1; Gal. 2:7; Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25). See fuller note on stewardship at 4:1.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:9:19-23
19For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
9:19 "For though I am free from all men" This is the emphasis on proper Christian freedom (cf. 9:1; 10:29; Gal. 5:13). Martin Luther has said, "A Christian man is free lord over all things and subject to nobody. A Christian man is a ministering servant in all things, subject to everybody." See notes from Romans 14 and 15 at I Cor. 6:12.
▣ "I have made myself a slave to all" This is the emphasis on proper Christian responsibility (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13; II Cor. 4:5). Because Paul was a slave of Christ, he was a slave of all who Christ came to serve and save, both the believer and the unbeliever. See Special Topic: Servant leadership at 4:1.
▣ "so that I may win more" This is the term "gain" (i.e., kerdainō). It is used in a variety of senses in the NT. In this context Paul uses the term in an evangelistic sense (cf. 9:19,20,21,22 and I Pet. 3:1). This is the proper evangelistic goal of all of our actions (cf. vv. 22-23). Evangelistic intentionality in every area of our lives, not a particular methodology, is the key to a proper balance between Christian freedom and Christian responsibility.
9:20 This verse expresses Paul's intentionality. Paul's main concern was evangelism (cf. vv. 20-23; 10:31-33). Therefore, he circumcised Timothy so as to work with Jews (cf. Acts 16:3), but would not circumcise Titus (cf. Gal. 2:3-5) so as not to compromise the freedom of the gospel among Gentiles.
▣ "though not being myself under the Law" It is interesting that the Textus Receptus (i.e., known as the Western Text), which is known for its expansionistic tendencies, does not include this obviously original phrase. It is found in the Greek manuscripts P46, א, A, B, C, D*, F, G, P and the Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian translations. We must relate Paul's words here to Jesus' words in Matt. 5:17-20. Paul is not doing away with the Mosaic Law, but seeing its true fulfilling in Christ. The Law is not the means of salvation, but it is still (1) a true revelation and (2) a reflection of God's will for humanity in society. It functions in progressive sanctification, but not justification. See Special Topic at 9:9.
9:21 "but under the law of Christ" This is a NT way of referring to the New Covenant of Jer. 31:31-34. There are several different ways it is phrased by Paul and James ("the law of the Spirit of life," Rom. 8:2; "the law of Christ," Gal. 6:2; "the perfect law, the law of liberty," James 1:25 and 2:12; "the royal law," James 2:8).
9:22 "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak" The meaning of "weak" is uncertain here because it has been used in this context for over-scrupulous or superstitious Christians (cf. 8:7,10). It possibly relates to superstitious pagans (cf. v. 21). The Williams' translation even translates it as "the over-scrupulous," which is a good rendering. See Special Topic: Weakness at II Cor. 12:9.
▣ "I have become all things to all men so that I may by all means save some" Notice the number of "alls" (i.e., forms of pas) in this phrase. Paul's inner self has been transformed from self-centered to gospel-centered. He is free to serve Christ, to serve the gospel, to serve the Kingdom (cf. Rom. 6:11; 7:4). Flexibility, intentionality, and love are crucial aspects of Paul's life and ministry!
Paul's mind was always on evangelism (cf. Rom. 11:14; I Cor. 1:21; 7:16; 10:31-33; I Tim. 1:15). However, it is sad to say that the last phrase gives a hint that most who heard him did not respond in faith to his message. Why some hear (with spiritual ears) and some do not, is the mystery of election and free will!
9:23 This is a summary verse, a transition verse. It can go with vv. 19-22 or 24-27 or stand alone. This verse is not advocating a salvation by works. Paul is not saved because he evangelizes. He does it because he has accepted the gospel and knows its peace and urgency.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:9:24-27
24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
9:25 "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things" Paul is using athletic metaphors from the Isthmian games held in Corinth every two years. The emphasis here in on the supreme effort used by competing athletes, not half-hearted attempts (cf. Heb. 12:1-3). The Christian does not compete to win salvation, but because he has experienced salvation.
We have won the race in Christ, now run the race for Christ!
▣ "a perishable wreath" The winners of the Corinthian's athletic contest received wreaths of pine (at Athens an olive wreath; at Delphi a laurel wreath), which soon withered. Believers receive the crown of (1) rejoicing (cf. I Thess. 2:19); (2) righteousness (cf. II Tim. 4:8); (3) life (cf. James 1:12; Rev. 2:10); and (4) glory (cf. I Pet. 5:4). These are wreaths that never fade. Should believers' commitment and enthusiasm be any less than athletes? They strive for that which cannot last. We strive for that which cannot fade!
9:26-27 "I run. . .I box. . .beating" These are athletic metaphors to illustrate the need for rigid self control and discipline. The Christian life does have some rules and requirements. These relate to rewards, not salvation. Paul must have enjoyed the sporting events of his day, he uses them often as metaphors for the Christian life.
SPECIAL TOPIC: DEGREES OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENT
9:27 "I discipline my body" This term, discipline, literally refers to being hit in the face just below the eyes. It is used figuratively in Luke 18:5.
Paul was serious about self-control in the Christian life. The body is not evil, but it is the battleground of temptation. If believers do not control the flesh/body it will control them (cf. Rom. 8:1-11). This is not an easy one-time victory, but a long-term marathon of self-discipline for the cause of Christ. Self-control is the final virtue of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:23.
The term "body" (sōma) refers to Paul's entire person. It is not one of three aspects of mankind. It often stands for the whole person (cf. 7:4; 13:3; Rom. 12:2; Phil. 1:20). The Bible presents mankind as a unity (cf. Gen. 2:7), not a dichotomy or trichotomy (cf. George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, pp. 464-466. See fuller note at 7:34.
NASB, NKJV "so that. . .I myself will not be disqualified"
NRSV"I myself should not be disqualified"
TEV"to keep myself from being disqualified"
NJB"I, myself may be disqualified"
This term "disqualified" is a metaphor related to breaking the rules of the athletic games and thereby being unable to win the contest (cf. I Tim. 6:12; II Tim. 4:7). It is from the root "to test" with a view toward approval (i.e., dokimazōi), but with the alpha privative, which negates it (cf. II Cor. 13:5).
This does not refer to Paul's salvation (although it is used in this sense in II Tim. 3:8); even though the previous paragraph seems to (cf. vv. 19-23). This would violate too many other doctrinal passages by Paul, especially in Romans and Galatians. He is discussing in this paragraph his fear of being undisciplined and being rejected as a proclaimer of the gospel. The NT records several who were disqualified (cf. I Cor. 15:12; I Tim. 1:20; II Tim. 4:10). Paul wanted evangelistic fruit from converts and churches.
The training of young men for Greek games is mentioned in (1) Ars Poetica, 412 and (2) Ad Martyres, 3. It entailed ten months of strenuous physical, dietary, and social restrictions and regimens. Yet there is another valid way of viewing this text (cf. Hard Sayings of the Bible, by Kaiser, Davids, Bruce and Branch):
"In so writing the author strikes the balance found throughout the New Testament. The New Testament authors write out of an experience of the grace of Christ and a firm conviction that they are on their way to a greater inheritance in heaven. At the same time, they write with a concern that they or their readers could apostatize and thus lose what they already have. So long as people are following Christ, then the New Testament authors never express any hope that without repentance such people will enter heaven. This is a sobering, but not a fear-producing, type of tension seen in Paul (I Cor 9:27; Gal 5:2, 7-10; Phil 3:12; 2 Tim 4:7, sometimes speaking of the tension in his own life and sometimes speaking of his concern for others), James (James 5:20, the purpose of the letter being to 'save [a sinner, meaning a believer who has turned to the world] from death'), Jude (Jude 23) and John (I Jn 5:16-17 KJV, the emphasis being on praying for people before they commit the 'sin unto death'). The call to the modern reader is to pay attention to the warning and 'to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised' (Heb 6:12) so that the author would say of us as well, 'We are confident of better things in your case-things that accompany salvation'" (p. 683).
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.
1. How is chapter 9 related to chapter 8?
2. Is it proper for a preacher to receive support from the church?
If so, why did Paul not allow this church to support him?
3. How can Paul act differently toward different groups and not be considered a hypocrite?
4. In verses 24-27 the athletic metaphor is emphasized. How does this metaphor apply to our Christian lives?
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