1 Corinthians 9:27 – Disqualified for the Prize?

Paul_running_vsI’m a bit of a runner. Last year I clocked up 500 miles in runs around my neighborhood. No marathons or ultras or anything like that. Just regular 5 mile runs and the odd 10k race.

I’m not particularly fast and I’m not going to win any gold medals, but I am pretty confident that my physical discipline is earning me big points with God. The Bible says so:

I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor 9:27)

I hope you can tell I’m joking. Physical training has some value but doesn’t figure much in the eternal scheme of things. And yet, to listen to some, apparently it does.

“Join God’s Gym and sweat your way to salvation”

I’ve heard people use the verse above to sow fear and insecurity into the hearts of God’s children. They say, “If the mighty apostle Paul was worried about disqualification, you should be worried too!”

Well, okay, but if that’s what you’re going to preach, then preach the whole verse, not just the tail end. Tell people they need to buffet their bodies to stay qualified and then turn your church into a gym. Forget the cross – you’ve gotta sign up for CrossFit!

What a sad joke.

I hope you can see that Paul is speaking metaphorically. In fact, he is comparing the Christian race to running in the Olympics:

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. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Cor 9:24-25)

If you conclude from this passage that not every Christian will make it – some will be disqualified – then you must be consistent and say, “only one gets the prize.” In other words, only one Christian will win this race. And since that will probably be Paul himself, or maybe Reinhard Bonnke, the rest of us might as well give up now.

Of course Paul is not saying that! His point is that just as runners are motivated, so are we. In fact, we should be more so, not because 99% of us are going to fail, but because we’re in this for an eternal crown that lasts forever.

Now here’s the important bit – the bit where the metaphor breaks down: we don’t get the crown because we run well, rather we run well because there’s a crown in store for us. Paul makes this clear in the next verse:

Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. (1 Cor 9:26, NKJV)

Sadly, many Christians are running with uncertainty and insecurity. Will I make it? Will I finish? Not Paul. He ran with certainty and purpose. Many Christians are aimless and worried about disqualification, but Paul ran with a clear and certain purpose.

How can we lose?

Now that we see that Paul is not threatening the saint’s salvation, we can ask, What is the disqualification that Paul is referring to? The context of this passage is Paul’s rights as an apostle and preacher of the gospel:

Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. (1 Cor 9:16-17)

The Corinthians hadn’t been generous in supporting Paul’s ministry and Paul’s response is two-fold:

(1)    I have a right to receive material support from you (see verses 3-12, 13-14), (2)    I happily waive this right if doing so promotes the gospel (see verse 12, 15)

It’s a delicate subject, this business of paying preachers, but Paul’s words reveal something splendid about his heart for the lost:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law… To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Cor 9:19-22)

And then, just in case we might miss the point, Paul plainly states his motive:

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Cor 9:23, NASB)

This is a very important scripture and you may want to check it out it in your own Bible. Note that some translations omit the word fellow but that’s the key word. Paul isn’t travelling around the world and preaching to Jews, slaves, and the weak to become a partaker of the gospel – he’s already a partaker – but to become a fellow-partaker. He’s doing it because he wants to share the blessings of the gospel with others:

And I do this for the sake of the good news (the Gospel), in order that I may… share in its [blessings along with you]. (1 Cor 9:23, AMP)

The Corinthians were stingy but Paul wasn’t worried about the money. As long as he got to preach and lead people to Jesus, that was reward enough. Jesus died for people not money and Paul wanted to make sure Jesus got what he paid for:

For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Th 2:19-20)

To re-cap: Paul is not saying we can be disqualified or lose our salvation anymore than he is saying we are saved by going to the gym. He’s speaking metaphorically. Unlike Olympic runners, our crowns are assured – all in Christ win because Christ has already won.

So the wrong question to ask is Can I be disqualified? (You can’t.) A far better question is…

Why does Paul do the things he does?

Why does Paul buffet his body and run with purpose and pretend to be an Olympian? Why does he pretend to be a slave, a Jew, and under the law? Here is my paraphrase of Paul’s answer:

I’ve got a great and wonderful job – preaching the gospel. This job has its rewards and I want them. I want to see people set free for Jesus. That’s my passion. It’s what gets me out of bed each morning.

Doing this job well requires I maintain my fitness and health, which I do. Like a runner or a boxer at the Olympic Games striving for the prize, I’m intentional about this. I’m not mucking about. I’m not like those runners who don’t qualify and go home early. Not me. I’m in this to win and win big. Lotta people out there and Jesus loves them all. He paid a high price to redeem them and I’ll do whatever it takes to get them. I’ll become a slave or a Jew. I’ll even act like I’m under the law – yeah, can you imagine me acting like I’m under the law?! But that’s how serious I am. No way I’m going to be short of friends in the age to come!

Those Olympians run for a wreath that doesn’t last. But we’re all getting a crown that lasts forever. We began this race at the finish line. Since God keeps us strong to the end, we can’t lose. So, my brothers, run hard and run well!

Amen!

34 Comments on 1 Corinthians 9:27 – Disqualified for the Prize?

  1. “We began this race at the finish line”. Bullseye!

    • janet cadieux // May 7, 2013 at 1:51 am // Reply

      Amen to that! God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him, would not perish, but have everlasting life. This ‘love’ had to be ‘perfected’. It is perfected when we believe the good news, and at that point, you cannot be ‘cut off’. Forever His, and ‘everlasting life’ has began. Perfect love casts out fear, unperfect love, or as the bible explains, uncomplete love works fear. It was God’s will that His love be perfected by our believing.

  2. June Atherton // May 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm // Reply

    Good word Paul, thank you! We’ve just heard teaching that the feeding of the 5 thousand may be taken metaphorically or literally? People seeing the spontaneous generousity of the lad were prompted to share what they had too. I Googled it and found pages in similar vein. From a child I’ve always believed in a literal interpretation and still choose to! Would you care to comment? J.A.

  3. Amen!

  4. Thanks Paul for the short message, it is encouraging which fills me with more energy.

  5. Thanks Paul for the edification on a this tough scripture for many. As well, just wanted to help ya out and point out a small typo:

    ” I have a right to (be) receive material support from you (see verses 3-12, 13-14)”

    Cheers!

    Michael

  6. Lol paul, ur picz look weird. I like the bits of humor and well written. You really should come to my church and preach, God knows my church needs to hear this kind of truth more often. Great topic cuz there are many that look at this scripture and interpret it so differently; with fear. Its like ur gift Paul is to reassure Believers of their eternal security and to rest in him completely; cuz its all been done for us.
    Yes, through experience, I know what its like to become all things to all of mankind to win them. I find people tend to open up more so thanks so much Paul for explaining this really well. All the topics you choose are so relevant and God bless you and ur love ones. I can imagine that Christ just smiling down at u cuz not many Paul, rightly divide the word of truth.
    Peace from our Lord Jesus Christ

  7. Adebare(Nigeria) // May 6, 2013 at 7:21 pm // Reply

    The best way to start my week! Thanks Paul! God’s multiplied blessings be upon you and all yours by Christ Jesus my Love! This, being my first comment since I got to enjoying the loving goodness of Jesus through your blog! Once more thanks, along side others who do the business of revealing only Jesus and His finished work!

  8. good post, I find it refreshing. when you hear things over the years that dont seem to fit,but the challenges make me search it out,and bingo it all begins to come together,again the enemy hates the truth,because it sets people free.

  9. Thank you Paul for your teaching. In my view Paul is using physical games as a metarphor to give a vivid picture of how he deals with his “body of sin/flesh” to keep it under subjection. I believe the apostle considers his body/flesh as an enemy with which he must contend & discipline; until it becomes a slave of his Soul or Spirit man, and not the Soul enslaved by the Body, which is the case in all unregenerate men. He implies that he made use of all possible means to subdue his corrupt and carnal inclinations; to ensure that he was not under the dominion of evil passions, but was wholly under the dominion of the gospel. His purpose was to obtain a complete mastery over his corrupt passions and propensities, and gain the mastery over all his natural and evil inclinations. By the Spirit & Word, Paul put to death the deeds of his flesh, destroyed strongholds & took every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. He made sure he was not conformed to the world but was transformed by the renewal of his mind, putting off his old nature. He did not take sin casually but he ran with purpose & fought like a good soldier with the discipline of an athlete competing for mastery. Figuratively, he lived like a slave to righteousness with no lukewarmness towards sin with a strong conviction never to use Grace as a licence to sin nor his freedom as a pretext of doing evil. Like an Athlete he pushed himself for more, more & more godliness till his body of sin/flesh was totally subdued!!! Though already assured of his Salvation, already translated into the kingdom of Christ, already sitted with Christ at the right hand of the father, Paul figuratively lived with such hatred of sin “as though there might ever be a possibility of disqualification”. Yes Paul kept striving for the goal (Perfection), putting to death all the deeds of the flesh & desiring a deeper knowledge of Christ as though he had not already known Him. What a Christian Life we have to live, Glory Halleluiah!

  10. ZeGerman // May 8, 2013 at 3:20 am // Reply

    This might sound simplistic, but I know that what you, Paul, (and Andrew Wommack and lots of other grace preachers) say is true because it makes me WANT to please God more, it makes me WANT to go out and share the gospel, it gives me such hope and such longing and faith.

    I cannot bear any longer going to churches who squish the gospel to a Ten Commandments Redux, Sprinkled with Jesus. This is the only difficult thing – trying to find a church which you won’t leave completely depressed after the service because of all the life-drenching ‘yes, but’s’.

    Thank you Paul, keep it coming!

    • Cannot agree more. Hearing the ‘proper’ Good News just awakens the Spirit inside you a weird way – almost as if the Spirit inside you is testifying to the Truth! Anything else puts a damper on and does not have the same effect. Enough said – those who know will know…

    • You hit the nail on the head. I call it “blenderizing” the truth. They preach Paul’s gospel plus a little of the LAW to the ( “Gospel of the Kingdom” ) message. To then sprinkle some of Peter’s teaching to the Jewish churches, including ( the Jewish nation works of repentance toward God and John’s baptism) and then finish it off with the harsh warnings from Christ to the (7 Jewish synagogues in Rev)………….
      Oh yes can you spell spiritual indigestion?
      I am not surprised at the confused state of christendom today, Why? Well because preachers use a blender to prepare a “contemporary sermon.” on Sunday, to promote their denomionation’s conviction. On the other hand, Paul commanded that all believers were to study and divide the word of God themselves. Instead of blending or trying to force fit “wrest” scriptures to prove a point or a man made doctrine. All scripture is for our learning, but all of scripture is not for our doctrine! Paul said he did not recieve “HIS GOSPEL” from man.But Straight from the Risen Lord……. Peace.

  11. Cliff… i totally get what your saying about Paul and i agreee that he was striving for perfection. It seems to me, though, that many religions get that confused with trying to earn what you have already been given for free. At least thats the way i see it and it really messed me up because in my mind he was striving instead of resting in what Jesus did. Still seems like performance to me. Striving for perfection to me is like striving to catch the wind, you’ll never get there but you’ll die trying and it’s already been done. What i don’t understand is why was Paul trying to be perfect when Jesus already made him perfectt?

    • hi Tricia: I think it can be explained by the fact that when the agape love begins to take over and your identity begins to form from it,it becomes like a addiction,it just gets better and better,it sounds like Paul was bathing it.

  12. Ok…thanks for your insight, Earl. That helps a lot. I couldn’t understand it.

    • Hi Tricia… I agree religion brings the perfomance trap. trying to earn what has already been given to you… Mis-appropriated Grace on the other extreme can be mistaken for a license to sin or rather using one’s freedom as an excuse/covering to sin…resulting in living anyhow. I agree with Earl agape love provokes a response to simply love God back. U can not help but want to live right, not to earn his love because it has already been freely given but I believe its the natural response of our Spirit when we trully grasp the depth of his Love towards us. His Love, His grace achieves what the Law could not achieve, “a loving response to our Heavenly Father…” Though we have a blessed assurance of our salvation, His unfailing Love & guaranteed forgiveness for whatever sin or shortcoming, (If we fall & we will sometimes) yet WE CHOOSE NOT TO SIN & subdue whatever sinful tendences we might have. I believe thats what Paul has in view… He did that with such vigour as if there was ever any room for him to be disqualified. That is not trying to add to what Christ did but it is walking in the light of what Christ has accomplished for us …OUR VICTORY OVER SIN. Resting in Christ’s finished work does not imply friendliness with sin, rather on the contrary, WE ARE FREE NOT TO SIN. But if ever we do sin, we still have the victory in Christ, yet we continually choose not to… by subdueing our bodies & keeping them under subjection…. Wow, Talking of true Freedom, Empowerment & Security!

      • Hi Cliff
        I believe Pauls fight was more simple , his only problem with his body was that it served as a witness to mortality , his mind and spirit had already been renewed to who he was and what inheritance he already had, his body was the only witness against this. This is a very frustrating position to be in. I do not believe sin was ever an issue for Paul. He was to intimate with sin and knew it very well.

  13. Thanks for the Healing You offer to my Soul, I was a little tied up in this.

  14. Much love my brotha. Love your ministry. A lot of the times, with grace people get afraid to run hard, to be relentless, to be in it to win it, to go for it all, to actually work hard. I love that it all comes from a place of passion and a compelling to do so, not out of earning but out of pure passionate love of Christ.🙂

  15. Wow! Awesome blog topic! Thank you for posting it, for the Lord used it to open my eyes to see this passage in a whole new (and freeing) light. I’m telling you- it’s downright uncanny how my mind is able to skip over certain words for years (such as ‘fellow’) that seem so insignificant at first glance, but are actually highly critical, important pieces of the puzzle. lol What a difference a single word can make. I can hardly fathom that tonight was the first time I ever ‘saw’ it (head slap). Thank you!

  16. Thanks for the sound teaching. I have been studying the Bible for a very long time. I use these Keys to divide the scriptures. To whom was it written to? What were the circumstances? What and how does it relate to believers today. I truly believe the best way to get the big picture on scripture. is to understand what the Holy scriptures say…..and does not say! Peace.

  17. Michael Jenkins // December 10, 2013 at 4:54 am // Reply

    Thanks so much, this really helped me. There are some study Bibles that makes it seem like the Christian race is a marathon and only “some” will get in. I remember reading “only the overcoming ones.” I remember thinking I thought we were all overcomers? Thank you for this!

  18. Loved reading this post. I am a runner and this metaphor speaks loud and clear. I have learned so much about my faith as a runner! I’m so inspired by the insights of faith God has shown me that I’m writing a devotional book for runners. God bless you!

  19. Hi dear brother in Christ, As I keep pouring through your blog, I am sure the Lord led me here, the scales of the law have been falling off my eyes! I was set free and saved by Grace [Jesus] in 2002, experience the total tangible and unconditional love and acceptance of the Lord, but then a few months down the line, bam!, I was chained backed by the Law preachers of my church. I had given up on my Christian walk, subconsciously, because I couldn’t match up with the requirements of the Law and my church, and yes, we were preached the verses regarding “finishing the race” and condemned to the core for not living up to it and letting down the Lord in many ways. Under the law, just like the rest of my church, I was joyless, hopeless, very judgemental of people, cranky, spiritually arrogant, etc., and yes I did sin “behind closed doors”, but put up an “holy, self-righteous, got-it-all-covered act” to the world. The Lord led me to the Grace messages of Joseph Prince in 2010, but I kept resisting it, because it was just too good to be true! But now, God has been getting His way through and the Truth of Grace [Jesus} has set me free from guilt, condemnation, and even sin, and that too effortless! It’s like walking on air! And guess what? The joy and peace of the Lord is back in my life! Yay! Yepieee! All these years in spite of listening to Grace message and now reading through your blog, I just couldn’t see Grace. It was there, but I just could not see it, but now I see it by His grace! Thank you Jesus! Hallelujah! Whoo Glory! I can vouch for that preaching of the Law binds the believer and keeps them captive in sin (been there and done that), and also I can vouch for now that the Grace message is the Truth indeed and that Grace [Jesus] has the power to set people free from sin and defeated life and condemnation and empower us to live a victorious life in and through resting in the finished work of Jesus Christ! God bless U Bro. Paul and your family. You have been a real blessing. Words aren’t enough. All glory to Jesus alone for you and your family.

    In Christ,
    With lotsa love from India,
    Victor

  20. John Moseti Ombasa // November 15, 2015 at 8:45 pm // Reply

    Great sermon to share

  21. Also v 26: aimlessly – part of what Paul considers “going off course” involves temptations to “fall from grace”, or rely on law in any way for salvation, but “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2) – not relying on himself in ANY WAY, but recognizing God at work in him – not getting blown about by winds of doctrine that teach human effort, but resting in God’s pure grace.

  22. GOD’S WORD® Translation (1 Cor 9:23)
    23 I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers.

    Also…

    GoodSpeed Translation (1Cor 9:23)
    23 And I do it all for the sake of the good news, so that I may share in its blessings along with the rest.

  23. Wow, what a wonderful explanation Paul. God is good. Been hearing this scriptures preached by different preacher for so many times and i knew in my spirit that their explanation wasn’t aligned in the Word of God. Now, i got a clearer explanation. THANK GOD for your life. Be blessed

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