Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air.
I. ILLUSTRATIONS OF CHRISTIAN SERVICE.
1. St. Paul was as a runner in the Isthmian games, and so ran "not uncertainly." Suppose one to attempt that course without his mind made up as to the reason why or the goal to which he should run, moving without spirit or purpose, looking to this side and to that; he could take no prize. One must have a clear course and a definite aim in the race which is set before the servants of Christ.
2. St. Paul was as a boxer in the arena, and fought not as one "beating the air." The poet Virgil has the same expression in describing a boxer who missed his antagonist: "Vires in ventum effudit" ('Aeneid,' bk. 5:446). To do so is to waste force. He fights well who plants his blows skilfully and makes them tell. The apostle was a man of peace, but he needed boldness and firmness, as well as love and patience, for his hard service. He had journeys to make, trials to bear, testimonies to raise, controversies to conduct, difficulties to adjust, calumnies to refute, sorrows to assuage - a great and arduous career; and, by the grace of God, he put all his force into it, ran his race of duty with ardour, fought his fight of faith with resolution.
II. TRAINING AND DISCIPLINE FOR SUCH SERVICE. "I buffet my body, and bring it into subjection." He who would subdue evil in others must suppress it in himself. Now, the apostle found that the gospel was hindered, not so much by intellectual objection, as by moral depravity. The flesh lusted against the spirit. He had felt this in himself, and knew that the flesh prevailed by fastening on the organs of the body and inducing indulgence or excess. So he brought himself into good training for active Christian work by bruising the body and "mortifying its deeds." He would not surfeit or pamper it, lest he should stupefy the soul. This is something quite different from that "neglect of the body" which St. Paul elsewhere mentions among the superstitions of a delusive piety. To deprive the body of necessary food and sleep is to disable the powers of the mind in hope of purifying the soul. Such has been the practice of men and women in the ascetic life, and at one time it took the form of a frenzy, when the Flagellants traversed a considerable part of Europe in long processions, with covered faces, chanting penitential hymns, and continually applying the scourge to one another's naked backs. Those fanatics meant well, and, indeed, supposed that they were following the Apostle Paul. But to such foolish and cruel actions few of us are prone at the present day. Our danger lies on the opposite side. We do not hold the body sufficiently under control. We give it ease and luxury and ornament; we allow dangerous scope to those cravings and passions which have a physical basis, and so our spiritual life languishes, and we can put no glow of feeling or strength of purpose into the service of Christ. Corinth was a city notorious for profligacy. The Christians there must have known that, if a young athlete did not hold himself apart from the vices of the place, he could win no distinction in the public games. Every such competitor had to resist indulgence, and bring his frame to a firmness of muscle and a full strength of vitality which would enable it to bear the fatigue and strain of the Isthmian contests. In like manner St. Paul, for a higher purpose, restrained and governed himself, cultivated simplicity in the tastes and habits of his outward life, studied to keep himself in spiritual health and vigour, that he might run well and fight well for his heavenly Master.
III. AN EYE TO CONSEQUENCES. To sustain his purpose, St. Paul kept in view the prize of success and the disgrace of failure.
1. The prize would be an incorruptible crown. In desiring this, the good servant is not open to any charge of selfishness or vain glory. He thought of no prize, conceived of no praise or glory for himself which was not wrapped up in the praise and glory of Jesus. He had no desire to sit by himself on a high seat, with a chaplet or garland on his brow, drinking in his own praises. To see the people who had been converted to Christ through his labours safe in the kingdom would be to him a crown of rejoicing. And to see Christ praised and magnified would be to the good servant a great recompense of reward.
2. The disgrace of failure would be the Master's disapproval. How mortifying for one who had been a herald to others to be excluded at last as unworthy of a prize! Paul had preached to others, and called them to the Christian race, like the herald at the public games of Greece, who proclaimed the rules and conditions of the contest, and summoned runners or combatants to the lists. Alas for him if, through self indulgence or want of thoroughness in his ministry, he should be disapproved by the great Judge at the close of the day! It is quite a mistake to infer from this that St. Paul was still uncertain about his ultimate salvation, and afraid of being cast away in his sins. That would, indeed, be strange and perplexing in the face of his strong expressions to the contrary in such passages as Romans 8:38, 39; 2 Timothy 1:12. The question here is not of a sinner's salvation, but of a believer's service of doing well or ill in ministry; and fear of failure was and always is the obverse side of the desire of success. St. Paul was a very favoured servant of Christ, but it was none the less necessary for him to remember the need of diligence and self government in view of the day when the Master will call all his servants to account, and either reward or disapprove them at his coming. Indeed, the remembrance of this is needful for all of us as a caution against presumptuous and careless living. If the doctrine of salvation by grace be taught alone, men are apt to abuse it, and become spiritually conceited and morally heedless. The corrective is the call to service. "If a man serve me, him will my Father honour." Be not half hearted. So run as to attain: so fight as to overcome. Be not faint hearted. Pray as you run: pray as you fight. "They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength." - F.
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly.
I. MEN MUST RUN. Multitudes can say, not "So run I," but, "So look I on." They are interested in the Christian story; but this is not enough. "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." "Almost!" is one of the saddest words in human experience.
II. MEN ADMIT THE UNCERTAINTY OF THE EARTHLY RACE, and so they run with this dread consciousness at their hearts. Who can tell whether health may not fail, just as honours hard-won are heralding reward? What impediments may come in the earthly path from the falsity, greed, or frivolity of others? If you seek apart from God, all is uncertainty! How different is the Christian struggle. Here all who run may obtain the prize. Men of culture and no culture; vigorous or of feeble health — for Christ has promised His own Divine aid to all who, laying hold on His strength, press toward the mark.
III. MEN SLIGHT DISTANT REWARDS. The goal! Let it be now, men say. The world of sense seems at first to have the best of it; but soon there comes the experience, common to all, that worldly reward is transient at the best. Earthly honours fade and wane. Even fame lives in few lives. One of the most renowned commanders of men, when the hour of triumph came, and the whole world seemed marshalled before him, was asked what the spectacle wanted? and he answered, "Permanence!" What a satire on human glory. "All flesh is grass," &c. But so firm is the apostle's faith, that with the heavens opened above him he calls the sons of men to seek the same incorruptible crown. The things we seek are all, like their Divine author, eternal in the heavens! As the voices of the redeemed fall from the celestial heights, they cry, "Not as uncertainly."
IV. MEN WAIT TO BEGIN. There are some who have long been close beside the course, who are hesitating and halting still. Much depends, in life's crucial moments, upon habits of decision of character. So wait I! too many say. But what for? When wilt opportunity be more golden? When will heaven's gates be thrown more widely open? Test the things that are this day more pleasant than God's salvation, and see if they are worthy to be weighed with the soul's immortal weal. Death may be nearer to us than we think.
V. MEN STAY IN THEIR COURSE. Some did run well, but they are hindered. Heroism cools; ardour faints. If religion were one sharp conflict, one martyr sacrifice, then how many would join the ranks? But ever in this sublunary sphere the rewards of earth and time are to the persevering.
AEsop was but a slave, and Homer but a poor man, and Columbus but a weaver, and they all, keeping their eyes on the earthly goal and pressing toward it, gained the prize. So in the immortal sphere — the feeble may become strong, and the last be first, through earnest faith.
(W. M. Statham.)I. YOU MUST ENTER THE LISTS.
1. You must be a Christian. An infidel, a pagan, cannot run this race, nor can a mere nominal professor. A sound faith must be united with an exemplary life.
2. Preparation is needed. The racer is careful in his diet. The Christian is to show sobriety, to be master of himself, subduing every passion. The athletes oiled themselves, both to give suppleness in motion, and to render it difficult for their antagonists to grapple them. The grace of Christ, the anointing of the Holy One, is indispensable to the believer. With the aid of Christ we can do all things.
3. The racer was presented in the circus. The Christian must free himself from everything that may hinder his progress.
II. YOU MUST RUN CERTAINLY.
1. Men fail who have no aim in life. One thing is needful. "Beware of the man of one book," it has been said. You cannot stand in discussion with him. Others are readers of many books, but forget their contents. Some are distracted with business, polities, and pleasure, and so lose the reward. Of course, if God gives you varied gifts, you are not to neglect them, but to subordinate all to one aim.
2. Having chosen that aim, be conscientious. It is your conscience, not that of others, which is to guide. Do not falter and be turned aside, as were David and Peter. Don't beat the air, as a gladiator who, through fear or lack of skill, swung clear of his foe, giving the air the blow instead of his adversary.
3. Be candid. Look to yourself. We all live in glass houses, and should not throw stones. Do not listen to a sermon for another, and think how well the reproof fits another, and say, "Bravo for the preacher who has nothing for us."
III. KEEP YOUR EVE ON THE GOAL TILL YOU REACH IT. We are to be "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith," for looking at Him will keep us from turning aside. We arc all running a race, willingly or unwillingly. Is it a heavenly one?
I. POSITION OF CONVERSION. The starting-point, not the goal — the enlisting of the soldier, not his victory. It places us on the ground, and bids us run. Enlists us in an army, and bids us fight (1. Timothy 6:12; Ephesians 6:10-17). Look at St. Paul.
1. Christ had arrested him as he was rushing to ruin (Philippians 3:12). Why? Not that he might stand still — sit down with folded hands, and wait for promised crown; but that he should run like racer in games, with no eye but for the goal — no thought but for the crown — all his powers concentrated on the one object, "to obtain" (Philippians 3:12-14).
II. A CONVERTED MAN MUST HAVE A DEFINITE AIM. St. Paul had "so run, not as uncertainly," vaguely, hither and thither, wasting time and strength. Not enough to run fast, perseveringly, energetically, we must run for the goal (Philippians 3:13, 14).
1. Our goal is likeness to Christ. So to win Christ, to put on Christ, to be found in Christ, that we may be one with Christ.
2. Christ also our crown. He is our "exceeding great reward." The rewards of conquering in Revelation 2:3 are Christ under different symbols.
III. A CONVERTED MAN MUST REALISE A DEFINITE ENEMY. "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air"; my blows well aimed, and they tell.
1. Discover your besetting sin, or sins, by self-examination, and set yourself to fight therein. To fight against sin in the abstract is to beat the air.
2. Train for the fight. "I keep under my body," &c. Self-indulgence fatal to victory. We must be masters, not slaves of the body and its desires.
3. Fight in Christ's strength — with your eye on Him who has fought and overcome, leaving us promise of victory. As He did, take "sword of Spirit" — the threefold "it is written" — whole armour. "Who is he that overcometh," &c. (1 John 5:5).
IV. A CHANGED MAN NOT NECESSARILY A SAVED MAN (ver. 27). St. Paul's words, "lest that by any means... a castaway," show us the precariousness of Christian life. So, too, the "stony-ground" hearers, "backsliders," &c. The Christian's safety depends on union with Christ. He must watch lest bosom sins cause him to relax his hold; lest unholiness clog the channels of the life-giving sap (John 15:4-6). No danger so great as to shut one's eyes against danger. Application — trust not to past experiences. Self-confidence is fatal to Christian life. It is true Christ's sheep can "never perish," &c. (John 10:28, 29). But who are His sheep? They that "hear His voice and follow Him."
(Canon Venables.)I. THE SUBJECT TREATED OF — eminent personal holiness.
1. Its spring. The Divine influence on the soul of man.
2. Its marks.(1) A constant keeping of the great end in view. The attaining a crown (ver. 25).(2) A habitual conflict with all difficulties. "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air." Paul felt that he had not to skirmish shadows.(3) The prevailing dominion of the Spirit over the flesh. "I keep under my body," &c.
II. ITS IMPORTANCE TO THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER.
1. It is essential.(1) To his freedom. He is a soldier; the various indulgences which would enslave are not for him; the softnesses which would prevent his warfare are not for him. But that he may be thus free, he must be eminent in holiness (2 Corinthians 6:4-7).(2) To his happiness. The unhappiness of many ministers arises from the consciousness that they are not what they ought to be.(3) To a well-grounded assurance of the Divine favour and approbation.
I. THE GREAT END OF CHRISTIANITY — to transform man into the Divine nature. This being the case, we ought never to cease endeavouring till we are as perfect as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. Moreover, as we shall never in this life carry err virtue to so high a degree as that, it follows that in no period of our life will our duty be finished, consequently we must make continual progress.
II. THE FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF A SUSPENSION OF OUR RELIGIOUS ENDEAVOURS. A man employed in a mechanical art sets about his work and carries it on to a certain degree. He suspends his labour for a while; his work doth not advance indeed, but when he returns he finds his work in the same forwardness in which he left it. Heavenly exercises are not of this kind. Past labour is often lost for want of perseverance and it is a certain maxim in religion that not to proceed is to draw back.
III. THE ADVANCES THEMSELVES IN THE PATH OF HOLINESS. The science of salvation in this respect resembles human sciences. In human sciences a man of great and real learning is humble; he always speaks with caution, and his answers to difficult questions are not unfrequently confessions of his ignorance. On the contrary, a pedant knows everything, and undertakes to elucidate and determine everything. So in the science of salvation, a man of little religion soon flatters himself that he hath done all his duty. A man of lively and vigorous religion finds his own virtues so few, so limited, so obstructed, that he easily comes into a well, grounded judgment that all he hath attained is nothing to what lies before him. Accordingly we find the greatest saints the most eminent for humility (Genesis 18:27; Job 9:15; Psalm 130:3; Philippians 3:12).
IV. THE END WHICH GOD PROPOSED IN PLACING US IN THIS WORLD. This world is a place of exercise, this life is a time of trial, which is given us that we may choose either eternal happiness or endless misery.
So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.— The expression implies —
I. WANT OF SKILL. The boxer who strikes about wildly has never learned his art. This has to be studied —
1. Patiently. Day after day must the labour be repeated.
2. Practically. No theory will teach the various cuts and defences without actual trial. And yet there are persons who think that they can enter upon the spiritual contest without either.
II. WANT OF CONCENTRATIONS. The fighter who fights wildly loses his head and is lost, for his cool opponent seizes every opportunity, and calmly avails himself of every occasion of advantage. Does not our Christianity need a cool head, a concentration of purpose? Surely; and yet men suppose that any slipshod method, any wool-gathering frame of mind, will satisfy the requirements of that awful contest which is to win or lose eternal life. Should we not sit down sometimes amid the rush of life, and calmly inquire as to our position, difficulties, dangers, and progress? A merchant who acted aimlessly would soon come to grief; a ship's captain would soon wreck his vessel; a tradesman quickly come to the workhouse. And the Christian in the same way would soon fall a prey to the wiles of the devil.
III. WANT OF PREPARATION. The athlete lays aside every weight. Even his clothes are cast off. Alas! how often Christians are handicapped with weights! One has a heavy golden chain about his neck. Another has a load of worldly affections round his heart and almost stopping its pulsations. A third has rings on his fingers which prevent his grasp. A fourth has his thoughts, his time choked with business. Or again another is absorbed with the sweet voices of pleasure. It is impossible to win with these "weights," and he who attempts to do so will be like one "beating the air."
IV. WANT OF ENERGY. Activity is the soul of earthly business. How much more important is it in a contest such as a race or a fight And in spiritual matters energy is quite as essential.
(J J. S. Bird.)1. To fight wisely is not to fight at a venture, but with a definite aim. Ahab, indeed. was shot by an arrow sent at a venture; but this is told us to magnify the Providence of God, who, in His designs, can direct the aimless shaft whithersoever it pleases Him; not to teach us that aimless shafts are likely on common occasions to be successful. Yet what is the warfare of many Christians but the sending of shafts at a venture?
2. The first work of the politic spiritual warrior will be to discover his besetting sin, and having discovered it, to concentrate all his disposable force before this fortress. Just as each individual has a certain personal configuration, distinguishing him from all other men, so there is some sin or sins which more than others is conformable to his temperament, and therefore more easily developed by his circumstances — which expresses far more of his character than others. This bosom sin is eminently deceitful. Its especial property is to lurk.(1) The besetting sin of many is vanity. Who knows not how it apes humility, so as really to impress its possessor with the notion that he is humble? Intensely self-satisfied in his heart of hearts, he depreciates himself in conversation. What follows? Men say to him, as in the parable, "Go up higher." He has been fishing for compliments, and compliments have risen to the hook. Is it not so? For would he not have bitterly resented it had any of the company taken him at his word?(2) Some men cannot bear to be second. Whatever they do must be done seas to throw into the shade all competitors. The world dignifies this with the name of honourable emulation, and accepts it as a token of fine character. But, judged by the mind of Christ, how does the sentiment sound, "Because I cannot outshine all rivals, therefore I will be nothing"? It jars strangely with those words, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them," &c. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory," &c.(3) A bosom sin, that it may the more easily escape detection, will wear the mask of another sin. Indolence, e.g., is a sin which carries with it omissions of duty. Prayer or Scripture reading is omitted or thrust away into a corner, because we have not risen sufficiently early. Things go cross during the day in consequence, and we trace it all up to the omission of prayer. But the fault lies deeper. It was indolence which really caused the mischief. One of the first properties, then, of the bosom sin with which it behoves us to be well acquainted, as the first step in the management of our spiritual warfare, is its property of concealing itself. In consequence of this, it often happens that a man, when touched upon his weak point, answers that whatever other faults he may have, this fault at least is no part of his character. It is to aid in bringing to light these secret sins that we make the following suggestions —
I. Praying heartily for the light of God's Spirit to know thine own heart, OBSERVE AND REASON UPON THE RESULTS OF SELF-EXAMINATION. When this most salutary exercise has been pursued for a certain time, you will observe that the same failures are constantly recurring. The conclusion is almost inevitable that there is something serious beneath these constantly recurring failures. What is it? — selfishness, indolence, vanity, anxiety, &c. Remember always, that in the symptom, and on the surface, it may look like none of these, and yet be really and fundamentally one of them.
II. LET US HAVE OUR EYE UPON THE OCCURRENCES WHICH SPECIALLY GIVE ITS PAIN OR PLEASURE. They will often be the veriest trifles; but yet, be it what it may, the probabilities are that, by tracing it to its source, we shall get to the quick of our character, to that sensitive quarter of it where the bosom-adder lies coiled up.
III. WHEN THE DISCOVERY IS MADE, THE PATH OF THE SPIRITUAL COMBATANT BECOMES CLEAR, HOWEVER ARDUOUS. Your fighting is to be no longer a flourishing of the arms in the air; it is to assume a definite form, it is to be a combat with the bosom sin. Appropriate mortifications must be adopted, such as common sense will suggest. If indolence be the besetting sin, we must watch against slovenliness in little things; if selfishness, we must lay ourselves out to consider the wishes of others; if discontent, we must review the many bright points of our position, and seek our happiness in our work. But the great matter to be attended to in each case is, that the whole forces of the will should be concentrated for a time in that one part of the field, in which the besetting sin has entrenched itself. Thus point and definiteness will be given to Christian effort.
IV. FOR EACH ONE OF US, NO BUSINESS CAN BE OF MORE URGENT IMPORTANCE THAN THIS DISCOVERY OF OUR BESETTING SIN. In conclusion, he who prays, "Show me myself, Lord," should take good care to add, lest self-knowledge plunge him into despair, "Show me also Thyself." The course recommended will probably lead us to the conclusion that our heart, which showed so fair without, is an Augean stable, which it requires a moral Hercules to cleanse; but the love of Christ and grace of Christ are stronger than our corruptions.
I. SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHRISTIAN STRIFE.
1. Its individuality. It is the personal struggle of each man against the enemies of his salvation. Of the ultimate issue of the great strife of all time there is no doubt. In other warfares each soldier receives a certain amount of glory from the success of the host — but not so here. Each man for himself must fight the good fight, and by God's grace lay hold on everlasting life.
2. Its reality. There was a time when the Christians were "everywhere spoken against" — when Paul knew that in every city bonds and imprisonment awaited him; and in the altered state of the times, and the change in feelings of men towards the gospel. Now the flesh is not less carnal, the world less alluring, the devil less Satanic.
3. Its variety. It is manifold in power but one in purpose. So is it —(1) With the outward and visible conflict. Sometimes it is a mere strife of opinion, or it is a struggle for the assertion of the rights of conscience, or it is the resistance of virtue to some form of iniquity, or the manly effort in the cause of right to break the chains of tyranny.(2) With the inner conflict of individuals. Some have to contend only against intellectual difficulties — in others it is the insidious growth of the world-spirit which they have to watch and resist. Others, again, have to contend against the self-righteous temper, or the mean, envious spirit, or the fierce passion. But, whatever phase the conflict assumes, we are contending against an enemy, who adapts his attacks to meet our individual cases, and the issue at stake is exactly the same.
4. Its bitterness.(1) There is an intensity in the opposition directed against the gospel, which at first is not easy to explain. If the Bible be not true, our faith inflicts no injury to others. It is true that Christianity pronounces a certain doom on unbelief, but if it be, as infidels would have us think, a human invention, these threatenings need awaken no anxiety, and provoke no opposition, Yet there is no weapon that can be employed against the gospel that is not put in requisition.(2) So with regard to Christian practice. If Christians are striving after too high an ideal, they are the sufferers. Why employ against them the weapons of ridicule and calumny — why not treat them as weak enthusiasts to be pitied rather than seriously opposed? Yet it has never been so. The light will ever be hateful to those who love the darkness.(3) As in the world, so in the Christian's heart. Here is a battle of life and for life, where no quarter will be given, and no compromise can be attempted. This is, of all kinds of contests, the most fearful. It is not one of those mock encounters of the tourneys of chivalry, where knights sought to prove their prowess, without receiving or inflicting deadly injury. But it is a deadly wrestle with the foe in which we must conquer or die.
II. SOME QUALITIES OF THE CHRISTIAN SOLDIER.
1. Perfect consecration. A whole-hearted service is what the "Captain of our salvation" expects from all who follow Him. This warfare must be the one business of his life who would "fight a good fight, and lay hold on everlasting life."
2. Simple faith. This is emphatically the "good fight of faith." It is the struggle between the love of "the things that are seen and temporal and the things which are unseen and eternal," and only through faith can the spiritual principle be victorious. Faith in the leader, not in the excellence of the cause — in a person, not in a principle — in Christ Himself and not in any creed, will give us the victory. Even in earthly conflicts nothing seems to breathe such spirit into a host as the presence of a favourite captain. Have faith in Christ, and neither earth nor hell can prevail against you.
3. Undoubting assurance as to the issue. This is the grand distinction between this and all earthly toils. There a man may be faithful and diligent and yet fail. But here we "run not as uncertainly, we fight not as one that beateth the air." "He who hath begun a good work in us will perform the same until the day of Jesus Christ." Conclusion: This is a conflict in which no man can be a mere spectator. We are all fighting under the banners of the King of kings or of the Prince of darkness; to which host do you belong? The question is surely not to he lightly dismissed, since on it hang the issues of life and death.
(J. Guinness Rogers, B. A.)
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