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1 Corinthians 9:27

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

But I keep under my body - ( ὑπωπιάζω hupōpiazō). This word occurs in the New Testament only here and in Luke 18:5, “Lest by her continual coming she ‹weary‘ me.” The word is derived probably from ὑπώπιον hupōpionthe part of the face “under the eye” (Passow), and means properly, to strike under the eye, either with the fist or the cestus, so as to render the part livid, or as we say, “black and blue”; or as is commonly termed, “to give anyone a black eye.” The word is derived, of course, from the athletic exercises of the Greeks. It then comes to mean, “to treat anyone with harshness, severity, or cruelty;” and thence also, so to treat any evil inclinations or dispositions; or to subject one‘s-self to mortification or self-denial, or to a severe and rigid discipline, that all the corrupt passions might be removed. The word here means, that Paul made use of all possible means to subdue his corrupt and carnal inclinations; to show that he was not under the dominion of evil passions, but was wholly under the dominion of the gospel.

And bring it into subjection - ( δουλαγωγῶ doulagōgō). This word properly means, to reduce to servitude or slavery; and probably was usually applied to the act of subduing an enemy, and leading him captive from the field of battle; as the captives in war were regarded as slaves. It then means, effectually and totally to subdue, to conquer, to reduce to bondage and subjection. Paul means by it, the purpose to obtain a complete victory over his corrupt passions and propensities, and a design to gain the mastery over all his natural and evil inclinations.

Lest that by any means - See the note at 1 Corinthians 9:22. Paul designed to make every possible effort to be saved. He did not mean to be lost, but he meant to be saved. He felt that there was danger of being deceived and lost; and he meant by some means to have evidence of piety that would abide the trial of the Day of Judgment.

When I have preached to others - Doddridge renders this, “lest after having served as a herald to others, I should myself be disapproved;” and supposes that there was allusion in this to the Grecian “herald,” whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, to display the prizes, etc. In this interpretation, also, Macknight, Rosenmuller, Koppe, and most of the modern interpreters agree. They suppose, therefore, that the allusion to the games is carried through all this description. But there is this difficulty in this interpretation, that it represents the apostle as both a herald and a contender in the games and thus leads to an inextricable confusion of metaphor. Probably, therefore; this is to be taken in the usual sense of the word “preaching” in the New Testament; and the apostle here is to be understood as “dropping” the metaphor, and speaking in the usual manner. He had preached to others, to many others. He had proclaimed the gospel far and near. He had preached to many thousands, and had been the means of the conversion of thousands. The contest, the agony, the struggle in which he had been engaged, was that of preaching the gospel in the most effectual manner. And yet he felt that there was a possibility that even after all this he might be lost.

I myself should be a cast-away. - This word ( ἀδόκιμος adokimos) is taken from “bad metals” and properly denotes those which will not bear the “test” that is applied to them; that are found to be base and worthless, and are therefore rejected and cast away. The apostle had subjected himself to trials. He had given himself to self-denial and toil; to persecution and want; to perils, and cold, and nakedness, and hunger. He had done this, among other things, to give his religion a fair trial, to see whether it would bear all these tests; as metal is cast into the fire to see whether it is genuine, or is base and worthless. In doing this, he had endeavored to subdue his corrupt propensities, and bring everything into captivity to the Redeemer, that it might be found that he was a sincere, and humble, and devoted Christian. Many have supposed that the word “cast-away” here refers to those who had entered the lists, and had contended, and who had then been examined as to the manner in which they had conducted the contest, and had been found to have departed from the rules of the games, and who were then rejected. But this interpretation is too artificial and unnatural. The simple idea of Paul is, that he was afraid that he should be disapproved, rejected, cast off; that it would appear, after all, that he had no religion, and would then be cast away as unfit to enter into heaven.

Remarks On 1 Corinthians 9:27.)

5. The fact that a man has preached to many is no certain evidence that he will be saved, 1 Corinthians 9:27. Paul had preached to thousands, and yet he felt that after all this there was a possibility that be might be lost.

6. The fact that a man has been very successful in the ministry is no certain evidence that he will be saved. God converts people; and he may sometimes do it by the instrumentality of those who themselves are deceived, or are deceivers. They may preach much truth; and God may bless that truth, and make it the means of saving the soul. There is no conclusive evidence that a man is a Christian simply because he is a successful and laborious preacher, any more than there is that a man is a Christian because he is a good farmer, and because God sends down the rain and the sunshine on his fields. Paul felt that even his success was no certain evidence that he would be saved. And if Paul felt thus, who should not feel that after the most distinguished success, he may himself be at last a castaway?

7. It will be a solemn and awesome thing for a minister of the gospel, and a “successful” minister, to go down to hell. What more fearful doom can be conceived, than after having led others in the way to life; after having described to them the glories of heaven; after having conducted them to the “sweet fields beyond the swelling flood” of death, he should find himself shut out, rejected, and cast down to hell! What more terrible can be imagined in the world of perdition than the doom of one who was once a minister of God, and once esteemed as a light in the church and a guide of souls, now sentenced to inextinguishable fires, while multitudes saved by him shall have gone to heaven! How fearful is the condition and how solemn the vocation of a minister of the gospel!

8. Ministers should be solicitous about their personal piety. Paul, one might suppose, might have rested contented with the remarkable manner of his conversion. He might have supposed that that put the matter beyond all possible doubt. But be did no such thing. He felt that it was necessary to have evidence day by day that he was then a Christian. Of all people, Paul was perhaps Least disposed to live on past experience, and to trust to such experience. Of all people, he had perhaps most reason to trust to such experience; and yet how seldom does he refer to it, how little does he regard it! The great question with him was, “Am I now a Christian? am I living as a Christian should now? am I evincing to others, am I giving to myself daily, constant, growing evidence that I am actuated by the pure principles of the gospel, and that that gospel is the object of my highest preference, and my holiest and constant desire? O how holy would be the ministry, if all should endeavor every day to live and act for Christ and for souls with as much steadiness and fidelity as did the apostle Paul!

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The apostle compares himself to the racers and combatants in the Isthmian games, well known by the Corinthians. But in the Christian race all may run so as to obtain. There is the greatest encouragement, therefore, to persevere with all our strength, in this course. Those who ran in these games were kept to a spare diet. They used themselves to hardships. They practised the exercises. And those who pursue the interests of their souls, must combat hard with fleshly lusts. The body must not be suffered to rule. The apostle presses this advice on the Corinthians. He sets before himself and them the danger of yielding to fleshly desires, pampering the body, and its lusts and appetites. Holy fear of himself was needed to keep an apostle faithful: how much more is it needful for our preservation! Let us learn from hence humility and caution, and to watch against dangers which surround us while in the body.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

But I keep under my body, etc. - This is an allusion, not only to boxers, but also to wrestlers in the same games, as we learn from the word ὑπωπιαζω, which signifies to hit in the eyes; and δουλαγωγω, which signifies to trip, and give the antagonist a fall, and then keep him down when he was down, and having obliged him to acknowledge himself conquered, make him a slave. The apostle considers his body as an enemy with which he must contend; he must mortify it by self-denial, abstinence, and severe labor; it must be the slave of his soul, and not the soul the slave of the body, which in all unregenerate men is the case.

Lest - having preached to others - The word κηρυξας, which we translate having preached, refers to the office of the κηρυξ, or herald, at these games, whose business it was to proclaim the conditions of the games, display the prizes, exhort the combatants, excite the emulation of those who were to contend, declare the terms of each contest, pronounce the name of the victors, and put the crown on their heads. See my observations on this office in the notes at Matthew 3:17.

Should be a castaway - The word αδοκιμος signifies such a person as the βραβευται, or judges of the games, reject as not having deserved the prize. So Paul himself might be rejected by the great Judge; and to prevent this, he ran, he contended, he denied himself, and brought his body into subjection to his spirit, and had his spirit governed by the Spirit of God. Had this heavenly man lived in our days, he would by a certain class of people have been deemed a legalist; a people who widely differ from the practice of the apostle, for they are conformed to the world, and they feed themselves without fear.

On the various important subjects in this chapter I have already spoken in great detail; not, indeed, all that might be said, but as much as is necessary. A few general observations will serve to recapitulate and impress what has been already said.

  1. St. Paul contends that a preacher of the Gospel has a right to his support; and he has proved this from the law, from the Gospel, and from the common sense and consent of men. If a man who does not labor takes his maintenance from the Church of God, it is not only a domestic theft but a sacrilege. He that gives up his time to this labor has a right to the support of himself and family: he who takes more than is sufficient for this purpose is a covetous hireling. He who does nothing for the cause of God and religion, and yet obliges the Church to support him, and minister to his idleness, irregularities, luxury, avarice, and ambition, is a monster for whom human language has not yet got a name.
  • Those who refuse the laborer his hire are condemned by God and by good men. How liberal are many to public places of amusement, or to some popular charity, where their names are sure to be published abroad; while the man who watches over their souls is fed with the most parsimonious hand! Will not God abate this pride and reprove this hard-heartedness?
  • As the husbandman plows and sows in hope, and the God of providence makes him a partaker of his hope, let the upright preachers of God's word take example and encouragement by him. Let them labor in hope; God will not permit them to spend their strength for nought. Though much of their seed, through the fault of the bad ground, may be unfruitful, yet some will spring up unto eternal life.
  • St. Paul became all things to all men, that he might gain all. This was not the effect of a fickle or man-pleasing disposition; no man was ever of a more firm or decided character than St. Paul; but whenever he could with a good conscience yield so as to please his neighbor for his good to edification, he did so; and his yielding disposition was a proof of the greatness of his soul. The unyielding and obstinate mind is always a little mind: a want of true greatness always produces obstinacy and peevishness. Such a person as St. Paul is a blessing wherever he goes: on the contrary, the obstinate, hoggish man, is either a general curse, or a general cross; and if a preacher of the Gospel, his is a burthensome ministry. Reader, let me ask thee a question: If there be no gentleness in thy manners, is there any in thy heart? If there be little of Christ without, can there be much of Christ within?
  • A few general observations on the Grecian games may serve to recapitulate the subject in the four last verses.
  • The Isthmian games were celebrated among the Corinthians; and therefore the apostle addresses them, 1 Corinthians 9:24; : Know ye not, etc.
  • Of the five games there used, the apostle speaks only of three.
  • Running; 1 Corinthians 9:24; : They which run in a race; and 1 Corinthians 9:26; : I therefore so run, not as uncertainly.

    Wrestling, 1 Corinthians 9:25; : Every man that striveth; ὁ αγωνιζομενος, he who wrestleth.

    Boxing, 1 Corinthians 9:26, 1 Corinthians 9:27; : So fight I, not as one that beateth the air; οὑτω πυκτευω, so fist I, so I hit; but I keep my body under; ὑπωπιαζω, I hit in the eye, I make the face black and blue.

  • He who won the race by running was to observe the laws of racing - keeping within the white line which marked out the path or compass in which they ran; and he was also to outrun the rest, and to come first to the goal; otherwise he ran uncertainly, 1 Corinthians 9:24, 1 Corinthians 9:26, and was αδοκιμος, one to whom the prize could not be judged by the judges of the games.
  • The athletic combatants, or wrestlers, observed a set diet. See the quotation from Epictetus, under 1 Corinthians 9:25. And this was a regimen both for quantity and quality; and they carefully abstained from all things that might render them less able for the combat; whence the apostle says they were temperate in all things, 1 Corinthians 9:25.
  • No person who was not of respectable family and connections was permitted to be a competitor at the Olympic games. St. Chrysostom, in whose time these games were still celebrated, assures us that no man was suffered to enter the lists who was either a servant or a slave, ουδεις αγωνιζεται δουλος, ουδεις στρατευεται οικετης· and if any such was found who had got himself inserted on the military list, his name was erased, and he was expelled and punished. Αλλ 'εαν ἁλῳ δουλος ων, μετα τιμωριας εκβαλλεται του των στρατιωτων καταολου . To prevent any person of bad character from entering the list at the Olympic games, the kerux, or herald, was accustomed to proclaim aloud in the theater when the combatant was brought forth: Μη τις τουτου κατηγορει; ὡστε αυτον αποσκευασαμενον της δουλειας την ὑποψιαν οὑτως εις τους αγωνας εμβηναι· Who can accuse this man? For which he gives this reason: "that being free from all suspicion of being in a state of slavery, (and elsewhere he says of being a thief, or of corrupt morals), he might enter the lists with credit." Chrysost. Homil. in Inscript. Altaris, etc., vol. iii. page 59, Edit. Benedict.
  • The boxers used to prepare themselves by a sort of σκιαμαχια, or going through all their postures of defense and attack when no adversary was before them. This was termed beating the air, 1 Corinthians 9:26; but when such came to the combat, they endeavored to blind their adversaries by hitting them in the eye, which is the meaning of ὑπωπιαζειν, as we have seen under 1 Corinthians 9:27.
  • The rewards of all these exercises were only a crown made of the leaves of some plant, or the bough of some tree; the olive, bay, laurel, parsley, etc., called here by the apostle φθαρτον στεφανον, a corruptible, withering, and fading crown; while he and his fellow Christians expected a crown incorruptible and immortal, and that could not fade away.
  • On the subject of the possibility of St. Paul becoming a castaway, much has been said in contradiction to his own words. He most absolutely states the possibility of the case: and who has a right to call this in question? The ancient Greek commentators, as Whitby has remarked, have made a good use of the apostle's saying, Ει δε Παυλος τουτο δεδοικεν ὁ τοσουτους διδαξας, τι αν ειποιμεν ἡμεις ; "If Paul, so great a man, one who had preached and labored so much, dreaded this, what cause have we to fear lest this should befall us?"
  • On the necessity of being workers together with God, in order to avoid apostasy, Clemens Alexandrinus has some useful observations in his Stromata, lib. vii., page 448, Edit. Oberthur: Ὡς δε, says he, ὁ ιατρος ὑγειαν παρεχεται τοις συνεργουσι προς ὑγειαν, οὑτως και ὁ Θεος την αΐδιον σωτηριαν τοις συνεργουσι προς γνωσιν τε και ευπραγιαν· "As a physician gives health to those who cooperate with him in their cure; so God also gives eternal salvation to them who are workers together with him in knowledge and a godly life." "Therefore," says he, "it is well said among the Greeks, that when a certain wrestler, who had long inured his body to manly exercises, was going to the Olympic games, as he was passing by the statue of Jupiter he offered up this prayer: Ει παντα, ω Ζευ, δεοντως μοι τα προς τον αγωνα ταρεσκευασται, αποδος φερων δικαιως την νικην εμοι· 'O Jupiter, if I have performed every thing as I ought in reference to this contest, grant me the victory!'" May we not feel something of this spirit in seeking the kingdom of God? And can any thing of this kind be supposed to derogate from the glory of Christ? St. Paul himself says, if a man contend for the mastery, yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully. Shall we pretend to be wiser than the apostle; and say, that we may gain the crown, though we neither fight the good fight nor finish the course?
  • Ellen G. White
    Prophets and Kings, 489

    In that ancient ritual which is the gospel in symbol, no blemished offering could be brought to God's altar. The sacrifice that was to represent Christ must be spotless. The word of God points to this as an illustration of what His children are to be—“a living sacrifice,” “holy and without blemish.” Romans 12:1; Ephesians 5:27. PK 489.1

    The Hebrew worthies were men of like passions with ourselves; yet, notwithstanding the seductive influences of the court of Babylon, they stood firm, because they depended upon a strength that is infinite. In them a heathen nation beheld an illustration of the goodness and beneficence of God, and of the love of Christ. And in their experience we have an instance of the triumph of principle over temptation, of purity over depravity, of devotion and loyalty over atheism and idolatry. PK 489.2

    The spirit that possessed Daniel, the youth of today may have; they may draw from the same source of strength, possess the same power of self-control, and reveal the same grace in their lives, even under circumstances as unfavorable. Though surrounded by temptations to self-indulgence, especially in our large cities, where every form of sensual gratification is made easy and inviting, yet by divine grace their purpose to honor God may remain firm. Through strong resolution and vigilant watchfulness they may withstand every temptation that assails the soul. But only by him who determines to do right because it is right will the victory be gained. PK 489.3

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