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24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.


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24. Know ye not—The Isthmian games, in which the foot race was a leading one, were of course well known, and a subject of patriotic pride to the Corinthians, who lived in the immediate neighborhood. These periodical games were to the Greeks rather a passion than a mere amusement: hence their suitableness as an image of Christian earnestness.

in a raceGreek, "in a race course."

all … one—Although we knew that one alone could be saved, still it Would be well worth our while to run [Bengel]. Even in the Christian race not "all" who enter on the race win (1Co 10:1-5).

So run, that ye may obtain—said parenthetically. These are the words in which the instructors of the young in the exercise schools (gymnasia) and the spectators on the race course exhorted their pupils to stimulate them to put forth all exertions. The gymnasium was a prominent feature in every Greek city. Every candidate had to take an oath that he had been ten months in training, and that he would violate none of the regulations (2Ti 2:5; compare 1Ti 4:7, 8). He lived on a strict self-denying diet, refraining from wine and pleasant foods, and enduring cold and heat and most laborious discipline. The "prize" awarded by the judge or umpire was a chaplet of green leaves; at the Isthmus, those of the indigenous pine, for which parsley leaves were temporarily substituted (1Co 9:25). The Greek for "obtain" is fully obtain. It is in vain to begin, unless we persevere to the end (Mt 10:22; 24:13; Re 2:10). The "so" expresses, Run with such perseverance in the heavenly course, as "all" the runners exhibit in the earthly "race" just spoken of: to the end that ye may attain the prize.

25. striveth—in wrestling: a still more severe contest than the foot race.

is temperate—So Paul exercised self-denial, abstaining from claiming sustenance for the sake of the "reward," namely, to "gain the more" (1Co 9:18, 19).

corruptiblesoon withering, as being only of fir leaves taken from the fir groves which surrounded the Isthmian race course or stadium.

incorruptible—(1Pe 1:4; 5:4; Re 2:10). "Crown" here is not that of a king (which is expressed by a different Greek word, namely, "diadem"), but a wreath or garland.

26. I—Paul returns to his main subject, his own self-denial, and his motive in it.

run, not as uncertainly—not as a runner uncertain of the goal. Ye Corinthians gain no end in your entering idol temples or eating idol meats. But I, for my part, in all my acts, whether in my becoming "all things to all men," or in receiving no sustenance from my converts, have a definite end in view, namely, to "gain the more." I know what 1 aim at, and how to aim at it. He who runs with a clear aim, looks straightforward to the goal, makes it his sole aim, casts away every encumbrance (Heb 12:1, 2), is indifferent to what the by-standers say, and sometimes even a fall only serves to rouse him the more [Bengel].

not as one that beateth the air—instead of beating the adversary. Alluding to the sciamachia or sparring in the school in sham-fight (compare 1Co 14:9), wherein they struck out into the air as if at an imaginary adversary. The real adversary is Satan acting on us through the flesh.

27. keep under—literally, "bruise the face under the eyes," so as to render it black and blue; so, to chastise in the most sensitive part. Compare "mortify the deeds of the body," Ro 8:13; also 1Pe 2:11. It is not ascetic fasts or macerations of the body which are here recommended, but the keeping under of our natural self-seeking, so as, like Paul, to lay ourselves out entirely for the great work.

my body—the old man and the remainders of lust in my flesh. "My body," so far as by the flesh it opposes the spirit [Estius] (Ga 5:17). Men may be severe to their bodies and yet indulge their lust. Ascetic "neglect of the body" may be all the while a more subtile "satisfying of the flesh" (Col 2:23). Unless the soul keep the body under, the body will get above the soul. The body may be made a good servant, but is a bad master.

bring it into subjection—or bondage, as a slave or servant led away captive; so the Greek.

preached—literally, "heralded." He keeps up the image from the races. The heralds summoned the candidates for the foot race into the race course [Plato, Laws, 8.833], and placed the crowns on the brows of the conquerors, announcing their names [Bengel]. They probably proclaimed also the laws of the combat; answering to the preaching of the apostles [Alford]. The The Christian herald is also a combatant, in which respect he is distinguished from the herald at the games.

a castaway—failing shamefully of the prize myself, after I have called others to the contest. Rejected by God, the Judge of the Christian race, notwithstanding my having, by my preaching, led others to be accepted. Compare the equivalent term, "reprobate," Jer 6:30; 2Co 13:6. Paul implies, if such earnest, self-denying watchfulness over himself be needed still, with all his labors for others, to make his own calling sure, much more is the same needed by the Corinthians, instead of their going, as they do, to the extreme limit of Christian liberty.