1 Corinthians 9:24-26 says, “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.”

In Paul’s day, all the Corinthians would have been familiar with the Isthmian games, which were athletic competitions in that area.  In his words here, he compares the Christian race to a physical race.  He speaks of the self-denial, self-sacrifice, and constant training that the athletes endured for a chance to win a “corruptible crown.”  That is, a crown that had no enduring value.  Athletic events offer a crown of little value for the very few that can beat those striving alongside or against them.

The Christian race is indeed similar to a physical race.  There needs to be self-discipline, dedication, and proper training.  The big difference is that while men may strive for a ‘corruptible crown’ that only a few will receive, as believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, we strive for an ‘incorruptible crown’ that ALL believers receive.  We read in 2 Timothy 4:8, “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.”  We also read in James 1:12, “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.”  Should not our dedication be much greater than earthly athletes?

Paul uses the illustration of a runner and a boxer in verse 26 of our chapter.  As a boxer, he does not ‘beat the air.’  A fighter who cannot hit his opponent and only beats the air is useless and ineffective.  Paul strove to be effective in his ministry for the Lord…and he was greatly effectively.  It is instructive to notice that in 2 Timothy 2, Paul compares the Christian life to several earthly occupations.  In these following verses, our Christian lives are compared to:

Verse 2 – A teacher

Verses 3-4 – A soldier

Verse 5 – An athlete

Verse 6 – A farmer

Verse 15 – A student

Now let’s look particularly at 1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”  (NKJV).  Paul’s words here are serious and sobering.  The Christian life does require endurance, patience, self-denial, etc.  Paul states that he does not give into the desires of the flesh.  He exercises the self-discipline that is necessary to live a life to honor and serve the Lord.  Paul tell us in Galatians 5:16, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”  It is through the leading of the Spirit that we can be dedicated in our service to the Lord.  Paul obviously realized that even after he preached to others, if he did not maintain a life of constant dedication to the Lord, he ran the risk of being ‘disqualified’.  While there are several thoughts concerning Paul’s meaning, I believe it is clear and consistent with the other scriptures, to say that Paul’s concern was that through lack of maintaining his spiritual walk, he might be ‘disqualified from service’ to the Lord.  If he did not remain faithful in his walk, the Lord might simply stop using him to minister to others.  That is also true of us.  If as believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, we do not continue in readiness, temperance, self-discipline, etc. the Lord may stop using us.  He may ‘set us aside’ or ‘put us on a shelf’ and cease to use us in His service.  (374.2)