1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says,
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
The word “I” is used six times in verses 26-27.
I do not run aimlessly.
I do not fight like I am beating the air.
I discipline my body and make it my slave.
I have preached to others.
I myself will not be disqualified.
This is Paul writing about his approach to communicating the gospel of grace to people .
Paul’s goal was to reach more and more people with the good news of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 4:15)...the good news about all God has done for us through Jesus (complete forgiveness, righteousness, and reconciliation to God).
Paul passionately desired to teach people about the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
He wanted to see people come to faith in Jesus and be transformed by his grace.
Paul was given the assignment by the ascended Jesus of going into cities to tell people about the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:23-24).
In carrying out his assignment, he encountered much difficulty.
These difficulties took a toll on his body.
Under brutal conditions, his body took a beating.
He describes these extreme conditions his body endured in the following verses.
1 Corinthians 4:11-13
“To this very hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are vilified, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer gently. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-12
“We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always consigned to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our mortal bodies. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
2 Corinthians 11:23-27
“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”
These verses reveal to us the harsh conditions Paul’s body endured so he could reach others with the good news of God’s grace.
Because of the pressure and pain to his body, it would have been very easy for Paul to withdraw from his assignment of traveling from city to city to tell others about God’s grace.
But he did not withdraw.
Instead, under these extreme conditions, he continued to travel from city to city to tell others about God’s grace
freely given to them in Jesus.
How did Paul continue on, even though his body was taking a beating day after day after day?
He answered this question in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 when he writes, “I discipline my body.”
Paul did not allow his body to dictate to him how he would run his race of telling people about God’s grace.
Paul took charge of his body...Paul took control of his body...he told his body to keep going, to keep moving, to keep enduring, to not give up, to not quit, to not withdraw.
What motivated Paul to discipline his body to continue on under such severe conditions?
Paul focused on the assignment Jesus had given him to complete when he wrote, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26)
Paul’s life had purpose, and he focused on his purpose rather than the pain his body experienced.
Also, Paul focused on the prize he would be awarded for completing the assignment Jesus had given him.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
He did not want to be disqualified for the prize by withdrawing from his assignment.
“No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
So how did Paul do?
Did he complete the race?
Did he receive the prize?
About thirty-five years after being given the assignment by Jesus of going into cities to tell others about God’s grace (Acts 20:23-24), Paul wrote his final letter.
In this letter, written to his friend Timothy, Paul wrote the following:
“...the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept [protected] the faith [the body of truth about grace]. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Yes, Paul did complete the race and was looking forward to receiving a prize from the Lord himself.
Because Paul disciplined his body, the grace of God was delivered to many people, changing their lives...including ours.
Today, nearly 2000 years later, we are thankful to Paul for disciplining his body...for staying in the race...for running with purpose as he focused on fulfilling the assignment Jesus gave him...the assignment of telling others about the good news of God’s grace.