Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Ironside's Notes on Selected Books Ironside's Notes
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ isn/ 1-corinthians-9.html. 1914.
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
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Servant Of All
1 Corinthians 9:1-23
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord. Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, have we not power to eat and to drink? Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. (vv. 1-23)
Everywhere the apostle went his steps were dogged by legalistic men who hated the doctrine of grace and who sought in every way possible to shake the confidence of his converts. His commission had been called in question and they denied that he was a true apostle. In order to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ in an official sense, it was necessary that one should have seen the Lord and have been commissioned by Him. More than that the signs of an apostle, the working of wonders, should be manifested in him, and these enemies of Paul’s intimated that he could not be a true apostle, for he had not been connected with the testimony when the Lord was here on earth; he had not seen the Lord, they said, and he did not work the signs of an apostle, having no true commission. He answered them like this, “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”
Certainly Paul had seen the Lord. He saw Him in the glory that day when he was thrown to the ground on the Damascus turnpike and he beheld the risen Savior seated on the throne of God. That was the time when he received his commission, for the Lord said: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:16-18). That was the time he saw the Lord, and it was then he received his commission. And had not the signs of an apostle been manifest in him? He does not even deign to speak of the miracles. He had wrought miracles as had the Twelve, but there was a far greater sign that ever accompanied his ministry, and so he says to those who had been turned to the Lord through the preaching of the Word from his mouth, “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.” The evidence that he was a truly God-sent servant was found in this, that wherever he went the Spirit of God confirmed the message that he carried, convicted men of their sin, led them to definite faith in Christ, and gave them the assurance of forgiveness and justification, that afterward by a new life they might demonstrate the reality of the work that had taken place in their souls. And so he says, “Do you listen to men who impugn my apostleship? Are you prepared to believe that possibly the signs of an apostle are not found in me? What about yourselves? Who brought you to Christ? To whom are you indebted under God for the knowledge of His grace?” “My answer to them that do examine me is this.”
Others said, “Well, you can see he does not have the same confidence that the rest have, he does not even have a wife, he goes about alone.” Many believe those people are mistaken who tell us that Paul was a bachelor and that this possibly accounts for some things that he has to say in this letter and elsewhere in regard to the ministry of women. They think this is a mistake because when the blood of the martyr Stephen was shed, he gave his voice (or literally, his vote) against him. That seems to imply that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, and that he voted for the death of Stephen. He could not have been a member of the Sanhedrin if he had not attained the age of thirty years and if he had not been a married man. So he may have been married in his earlier life, but now was a widower and chose to devote his life in widowhood to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, not because he thought it was wrong for a minister of Christ to have a wife. The idea that those who preach the gospel should live the celibate life was unknown in apostolic days; that was a superstitious fiction of later years, when men came to believe that the unmarried monk and the childless nun were holier than the Christian father or mother.
The apostle says, “I have full authority to lead about a sister in Christ as a wife, I have full authority to marry a sister in Christ if I desire to do so. The other apostles did.” This of course shows that the celibacy of the clergy, so-called, was unknown in those days. “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” That is, James and Jude were married men, and Cephas, Simon Peter, was a married man! Some people tell us that he was the first Pope. Well, then, he was a married Pope. “Or,” says the apostle, “should only I and Barnabas live this celibate life?” They chose that life that they might be untrammeled in their missionary work as they traveled from land to land enduring hardships one should not expect a wife to endure with them.
Others objected on this ground, “He knows he is not a real apostle for he does not depend on his ministry for his temporal support.” I suppose if he were living today, there would be those who would say, “He degrades the cloth by working for a living.” He was a tentmaker, and some said, “He would never soil his hands making tents if he knew that he was a genuinely appointed apostle; he would never stoop to anything like that.” But he says, “Oh, no, I have a perfect right to be supported in the same way as others, but I have reasons why I refuse to permit you to support me.” He came to them when they were heathens, when they were pagans and living vile ungodly lives, and he did not intend to pass the collection plate and ask them to contribute toward his support; he would rather go among them and labor, working with his own hands to support himself and his companions and keep the gospel absolutely without charge. I wish the church of God had never given up that position. It is a great reproach on the church of God when its representatives turn to a Christless world and beg and wheedle money out of ungodly men to support the work of the Lord. The divine method is that the gospel of God should be supported by the people of God who give out of love for Christ, and when a servant of Christ under certain circumstances is not thus properly supported, he should not be above working with his own hands while he continues to minister the gospel as occasion presents itself.
The apostle here shows that it is quite right and proper that the Lord’s servants should be supported by the church of God. “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” If a man is a soldier, he is not expected to support himself; the country for whom he is fighting takes care of him. “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?” And then he uses an apt illustration from the law of Moses. It is written in the book of Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (25:4). The reference is to the old-fashioned way of threshing corn or wheat. The ox goes around and around and treads it out. How inhuman it would be if the ox becoming hungry would not be permitted to munch a little of the grain as he treads it out. The law permitted him to have some for himself. “Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.” There is an admonition here, something for the people of God to take note of: “That he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”
And so he lays this down as a principle, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things,” that is, if the servant of Christ gives his whole time and energy to the study of the Word of God in order to prepare himself the better to minister the things of the Lord, if he turns from what people call secular life, “is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” Just as the ox finds its food in the work it is doing, so the Lord has appointed that His servants should be cared for by those who receive benefit from the ministry that they give. “If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power”-we prefer to forego our own rights in order that you may see that our service is an unselfish one and in order that the heathen may not say that we are in the ministry for what we can get out of it. “Lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.”
It is perfectly true that they that minister about holy things should live of them. These words refer to the priests in Judaism for they were sustained by tithes and offerings. “They which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar.” In our dispensation while there is no distinct priesthood, and all believers are priests, yet they that give themselves to ministering the Word are to be sustained by the people of God in that work. “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” But if a servant of Christ says, “I choose to forego that privilege, I am able to support myself and still carry on the work of the Lord,” he is free to do it. Paul says, “I have chosen that path, I do not want one of you to say that a selfish motive actuated me. I preach the gospel, but I have nothing to glory in; I am a servant. My Master sent me to preach it. He put necessity upon me, yea, I find myself in trouble if I do not preach it.” “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” I wonder if that word has been forgotten by many who once gave themselves to the ministry of the gospel, but today seldom mention the great truths whereby men and women are saved. Is it not a sad fact that many today who are looked upon as evangelistic preachers never tell sinners that Christ died for the ungodly, never proclaim the saving power of the Lord Jesus, never exalt the cross as the only means of redemption for poor sinners? What an account to face before the Lord someday! I wish that a minister of Christ who gives himself to what he calls a social program, merely ethical preaching, might be awakened through these words of the apostle, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” Our responsibility is to make Christ known as the only Savior of sinners. If I do this thing willingly, if I gladly go forward preaching the gospel for the name’s sake of the Lord Jesus, by-and-by when I stand at the judgment seat I shall be rewarded.
Never mind whether people appreciate me now, never mind whether I get my reward down here, I can leave it until that day when the Lord will estimate everything aright. But even if I do not preach the gospel willingly, still the message is going out, and God will bless the message, but I myself will lose the reward. “A dispensation [a stewardship]…is committed unto me,” and I must fulfill it. What is my present reward? That I make money in preaching it? No! That “I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.” I will not go to dying men and say, “Give me your money, and if you do, I will preach to you,” but I will go and preach the Word freely whether I ever receive a penny for it or not. After they become converted it remains with them and the Lord: it is my business to give out the message. The apostle takes a very high and noble position. It is a most obnoxious thing to God when those of us who profess to be ministers of the Word commercialize His truth by setting a price upon our service. Only so much preaching for so much money. Paul says, “It is my joy to preach whether supported by men or not; I make the gospel without charge.”
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” I am not concerned about what men think of me, but I have deliberately and of my own volition made myself to be the servant of men. What does he mean by that? Simply this, I am the servant of Christ, but Christ has sent me to minister His Word, and I seek to do so in such a way as best to reach men in their need, and in this sense I put myself under bondage to men in order that I may make the gospel clear to all men. “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” When he preached to the Jews, you will find instance after instance in the book of Acts where he turned them back to the Old Testament, to their Jewish ceremonies and laws, and based everything upon the Jews’ hope of the Messiah, showing how all has been fulfilled in Christ. On the other hand, when speaking to the Gentiles, men who did not know the law of Moses, he put himself on a level with those to whom he spoke. He talked of God, the Creator of all things, who gives us “rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). The God who does all this cannot be an image, an idol made with man’s hands, He created the heavens and the earth. And then he undertakes to show how God has sent His Son to save men who have sinned against Him; he puts the gospel in a way that the Gentiles may understand it.
Verse 21 is very interesting and should be a help to many who may not quite understand the Christian’s relation to the law. Reading from the latter part of verse 20, “To them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law.” Here we have two classes of men. There are those that are under the law, they are the Jews or, in our day, any to whom the law of God has come. But here is the other class, “To them that are without law, as without law,” that is, the Gentile nations, the pagan nations. They have never heard the law of God. If Paul himself were under the law, as some Christians think a believer is, he would not say, “I became as under the law.” Where was Paul? He was not under the law nor was he without law. He was neither subject to some legal ritual nor was he lawless. Where did he stand? Between the two, “Being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.” He says, as it were, “I am not under the law of Moses, neither am I lawless, but I am under law to God, being legitimately subject to Christ.” Do you see the place of the believer? Neither under law nor without law, but legitimately subject to Christ. And where has Christ expressed His mind for me? In the four Gospels and in the Epistles. Somebody says, “You do not mean the four Gospels! Do you not know that they are altogether Jewish?” I know some have said that, but I remember that the Spirit of God has said something very serious in regard to such. He says in 1 Timothy, “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings” (6:3-4). Let us be very careful that we do not teach otherwise than in accordance with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The words of our Lord are found in the four Gospels, nowhere else excepting in the first part of the book of Revelation and in one or two sentences in the book of Acts, and there the Lord shows us the kind of life Christians should live. Paul says, “I seek to be legitimately subject to Christ.” And then the Lord has further given His will in what we call the Epistles. Through the Holy Spirit He has shown us the heavenly calling and the lives that should correspond. We should be very careful if we say we are not under the law, which is true, lest we are found to be lawless, which is antinomianism and repugnant to God. We are to be en-lawed, or legitimately subject to Christ.
“To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” That is, in ministering the Word of God Paul delighted to enter into the circumstances of the people to whom he spoke. Possibly you make up a sermon in the quiet of your study, working it all out carefully, your introduction, your firstly, secondly, thirdly, and as many other numbers as you like, and then your conclusion, and you say, “There, I have a sermon on such and such a text.” And then you go to the pulpit without taking the needs of the people into consideration, and you just pour out the sermon that you have made up for them in the study. That was not Paul’s way; he had the needs of men before him and he preached the Word. A minister told me about a difficult position in which he found himself at one time. He always read his sermons, and he had been asked to go and preach to a certain congregation, and so, looking through the barrel, he selected one and shoved it into his briefcase with his Bible. When he got on the platform, he pulled it out, spread it before him, and found that he had brought a different sermon than the one he intended taking. It was a Memorial Day sermon, and this was some time in the fall of the year. So he said, “I am very sorry, dear friends, I have made a mistake, but I am going to give you a sermon I preached on Memorial Day and hope you will get something out of it.” Is it any wonder that people get so little edification when they listen to things like that? As a minister of Christ Paul’s great object was to get to the hearts of men and give them the Word as they needed it. “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” He did not try to astonish people with his eloquence, he gave them the Word to convict and help and bless and cheer and make things plain to them, that he might gain the weak. In fact he says, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” This should be the object of all gospel testimony. We have been commissioned to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
Striving For A Crown
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (vv. 24-27)
There are two lines of truth running parallel through the Word of God; salvation, which is by grace alone, and reward for devoted service. Salvation is not a reward for anything that you or I may do, nor is heaven a reward for a life of faithfulness here on earth. Salvation is a free gift, eternal life is a free gift, heaven is the home of all the redeemed, open to every one who puts his or her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot pay for a place in heaven; we cannot earn it by tears, by sacrifices, by our gifts or by anything that we can do.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
That must ever be the confession of every saved soul. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But while salvation, eternal life, a place in heaven, are all set before us as God’s free gifts to believing sinners, the Word of God has a great deal to say about the importance of service and about rewards for faithfulness. “Behold, I come quickly,” says our blessed Lord, “and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12). Manifestly, the reward is not a place with Himself in heaven, but it is the special expression of His satisfaction in the believer because of devotedness, because of faithfulness in the life. The importance of this is brought out in the passage before us.
The apostle Paul has the race course in mind. There is a great deal in the Bible about athletics. One can scarcely help coming to the conclusion that Saul of Tarsus was a thoroughly red-blooded young man, interested in games and sports and in everything that would challenge a normal, clean, decent young fellow such as he evidently was even before he was converted. What he saw in the games made a deep impression on his mind, and the Holy Spirit used all this in after years to give us some very striking and remarkable illustrations, one of which we have here. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” What is the prize at the end of the race? For a young Greek it would not be citizenship. It was a law with the Greeks that no young man could contend in the games unless he could prove that he was of pure Greek parentage; that had to be settled before he became a contestant. As the people watched the races they knew that those young men were already Greeks by birth. They were Greek citizens running a race. For what? To obtain honor, to obtain glory, to obtain a prize. And so the apostle here pictures those who are saved as running a race. We are already heavenly citizens. Of every Christian it is written, “Our [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall [transform] our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). Our citizenship is settled if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not born Christians, but we are born-again Christians. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:6-7).
It is a great moment in the soul’s history when he awakes to realize that by nature and practice he is an alien, “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Colossians 1:21), that he does not belong to the family of God; that ere he can belong to the family of God a change must take place, a change which he himself cannot effect, but which God brings about by His sovereign power. “Of his own will,” says James, “begat He us [by] the word of truth” (James 1:18). Notice, it is through the Word that we are begotten of God. Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word [not the whole Bible as such] which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). Believing the gospel we are born into the family of God. And now, as in the family of God, we are running a race, not to get to heaven for, as far as that is concerned, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Romans 9:16), but we are running a race for reward for Christian service, Christian responsibility, and if we run our race well, there is a reward at the end. If we fail in the race, we fail in the reward. We do not fail of heaven, of salvation, because our work is not all it ought to be or all we would like it to be. “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15), provided he is a Christian.
So the apostle says, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” If I am going to run in order to obtain a prize, I must do it in obedience to the Word of God. “If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully” (2 Timothy 2:5). The 1911 King James Version translates it, “If a man contend in the games yet is he not crowned if he hath not observed the rules.” God has given us instruction in the Word concerning how we are to serve, how we are to run, what we are to do, and we will be rewarded if we go in accordance with the Book.
An incident struck me forcibly some years ago when working among the Indians in New Mexico. It was during the time of the Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden. One Saturday night I went to the trader’s store. He was a very intelligent Christian Indian, and was also my interpreter. He was standing up on a chair with perhaps forty or fifty Indians crowded around him, and he was reading from a newspaper and interpreting it for these Indians. I stepped up behind him, and as I looked over his shoulder, I saw that he had a metropolitan newspaper containing an account of the games in Stockholm, Sweden, telling of the triumphs of that well-known Indian athlete, James Thorpe. Many of these Indians knew him well, and how proud they were to think that one of their race had gone over there and, contending with a great number of different athletes, had carried away the greater part of the prizes. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds when the interpreter translated the words of the King of Sweden as he took him by the hand and said, “You, sir, are the greatest amateur athlete in the world today.” Those Indians were so interested because he was one of their own, and had beaten the white man in his own games.
A few weeks later I went into the store again. Once more the trader was reading from a newspaper, but this time the atmosphere was tense. I could feel that something was wrong. The Indians were scowling and grunting and I wondered what it was all about, so I stepped behind the interpreter again and looked over his shoulder, and read that a certain white man had been indignant that an Indian should have carried off so many prizes, and so made an investigation of his past life and found that some years before when a student at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, he had received five dollars a week during the summer months for playing ball with a village baseball team. They unearthed the evidence, sent it to the King of Sweden, and proved to him that James Thorpe had no right to participate in the games at all because they were entirely for amateurs. He had taken money for playing ball, and that put him out of the amateur class. The king had written to Thorpe and asked him to send back all the papers and medals, and it had nearly broken his heart. He sent all back and wrote to the king, “I hope your majesty will not think too hard of me. Please remember that I am only a poor ignorant Indian boy. I did not know that taking five dollars a week for playing ball on the village baseball team made me a professional. I never meant to deceive.” The sequel of that story was that the man who came next in the contests sent them all back to Jim and said, “I won’t keep them; you did better than I, and you deserve them.” James Thorpe did his work well, but he had not observed the rules, and he lost out accordingly.
I am afraid there is many a one who does a great deal of what we call “Christian work,” works early and late, and hard and often, and yet who will fail of the reward at the judgment seat of Christ because instead of going by the Word of God he has simply been following his own ideas and inclinations. “So run, that ye may obtain.” How important, fellow Christians, that we study the Bible and learn what God’s mind is, and then work accordingly.
Now notice the importance of self-control. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” One cannot help but admire some of these splendid young athletes as they look forward to a field day or something of the kind. How self-denying they can be as they train down. They will set a mark and say, “I must enter the field weighing just so much, and before that day I have so many pounds to lose, for I must be at my very best.” Some of their friends may say, “Come, now, let us go out and indulge in this and that.” But the athlete who means to succeed says, “I cannot do that, I must be at my best when I get into the arena. I cannot, I dare not dissipate.” “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown.” In this instance it was a wreath of laurel which would fade away in a few hours, and yet how much young men were willing to endure to win that crown, to have it placed upon their brow by the judge among the plaudits of the people. “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” We have an incorruptible crown in view, and shall we be less consistent, less self-denying, shall we show less self-control than they? For us there stands in the distance the blessed Lord Himself waiting to place upon our brow the incorruptible crown, and alas, alas, many of us are in danger of losing it because we are so self-indulgent, so careless, so carnal, and so worldly minded. Let us take a lesson from the athlete and be willing to give up present pleasures for future glory.
The crown, you see, is the symbol of reward. It is presented in different ways in the Scriptures. In the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians the apostle, speaking to his own converts, says, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (v. 19). What is the crown of rejoicing? That is the soul-winner’s crown. Oh, to get home to heaven to stand at the judgment seat of Christ, and see there a great throng that one has had the privilege of leading to Christ! What a crown, what a reward that will be! Think what it will mean for the apostle Paul when surrounded by all his converts he comes before the Lord and says, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me.” Are you going in for a crown of rejoicing? It is your privilege if you know Christ.
The apostle says to Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The gift of righteousness is ours by faith. Every believer has been made the righteousness of God in Christ, but the crown of righteousness is the reward given so those who behave themselves in the light of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you love His appearing? How do you show it? By ordering your behavior now in view of His close return. “Every man that hath this hope [set on] him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
In James and in the book of the Revelation we have another term used. In Revelation we read, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (2:10). And James says, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12). Eternal life is ours by faith. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). But the crown of life is earned by patient suffering, by enduring trial and temptation, taking it all as from the hand of God Himself, even unto death if need be rather than to deny the name of Jesus.
In 1 Peter we read, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you.” He does not say, “Fleece the flock,” but, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:1-4). I like that, a crown of glory! Every believer will be glorified. “Whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:30), but the crown of glory is the reward for feeding the sheep and the lambs. In the earliest Chinese translations they had different terms for some of the idioms used. 1 Peter 5:4 would read like this, “When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you will receive a bright hat that will never wear out.” “A crown of glory that fadeth not away” is to be given by the blessed Lord Himself. My brethren, shall we allow the things of time and sense to so absorb us that we shall lose out in that day? Let us rather gladly say:
Take the world and give me Jesus,
All earth’s joys are but in vain;
But His love abideth ever,
Through eternal years the same.
Let us gladly “lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”(Hebrews 12:1-2).
This was Paul’s determination, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Some people imagine that Paul was not quite sure that he would get to heaven, that he feared that something might happen that would turn him aside. But he is thinking of the reward at the end, and he is not afraid of losing this for he is determined to go through with God. He says that he is not uncertain; “so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” I am not engaged in a sham battle. And then, how important this is!-”But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” What does he mean? Is it just a haunting fear that he may backslide and be lost after all? Keep in mind what he is speaking of here. He is speaking of reward for service, and is saying, “I want to so serve that I can have the Lord’s approval in that day. I must not be self-indulgent, I must not let my physical passions master me, but I must master them and keep under my body.” My body is not to be the lord of me, I am to be the lord of my body. Sustained by divine grace I am to keep every physical appetite in its place, lest if I become careless and self-indulgent I bring dishonor upon the name of the Lord and become a castaway.
What does he mean by a castaway? The word adokimos means “disapproved.” Lest he be disapproved, lest the Lord shall say to him someday, “Paul, I had a crown for you, I was counting on you, and for a while you ran well. What hindered you? You became self-indulgent and careless, and you broke down and brought dishonor upon My name. I cannot crown you, Paul; you will have to stand to one side and let someone else have the crown.” To be set to one side when they are giving out the crowns! God grant that you and I may not have to endure this great disappointment.
Have you not known of those who ran well for years and then little by little began to let down? They were not as prayerful as they used to be, they did not give as much time to the careful study of the Word as they did in the early days, they gave freer rein to the natural appetites, they thought more of their own pleasure and of taking their ease, and one day the whole Christian community in which they moved was startled to hear that there had been a terrible breakdown. They may have confessed it all with breaking hearts and eyes from which the tears were streaming, they may have judged it all and turned from it, yet people never trusted them again as they had before, and possibly they were never able to go on with their ministry. No matter how freely and fully God had forgiven, they never could be what they once were. Some experiences are simply heartbreaking, and so the word to every one who attempts to help others in spiritual things is, be careful of yourselves. “Take heed to thyself,” says the apostle writing to Timothy. Keep your physical appetites in subjection, keep your body in its place, do not allow any appetite to master you, and thus you will be able to serve to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you become careless, He may have to put you to one side, and He who once used you will not be able to do so in the future in the way He did in the past.
The word disapprove is also used for complete disapproval. You may be a church member taking more or less part in so-called Christian work, but see to it that there is a real work of grace in your own soul, or the day may come when you will be utterly disapproved and you will find yourself outside the number of those who enter into the Father’s house in that day, not because you were once saved and are so no longer, but because your life has proved that you were never truly born of God.