Is it commercial and self-centred?
[These notes are extracted and modified from M.A.Eaton, 1 Corinthians 1-9, published by Sovereign World.]
The subject of 'reward' is a vast one - because the entire Bible portrays the godly life as one which will be rewarded. It would be easy to write whole books on the theme of reward, but I cannot do that here. Instead let me take one book of the Bible and let us see what it says about reward in this life and beyond.
1 Corinthians is a fairly clearly set out letter with about nine sections in it. It has an introduction (1:1-9). Then comes a section dealing with worldly wisdom (1:10-4:21), followed by a section dealing with moral problems at Corinth (5:1-6:20) and then he answers some questions they had asked about marriage (7:1-40). Then come sections about 'idol-meats' (8:1-11:1), about various disorders in public worship (11:2-14:40), about his teaching concerning the resurrection (15:1-58). He gives them instructions concerning a collection of money (16:1-4) and some final words of conclusion (16:5-24).
Worldly wisdom (1:10-4:21)
Consider the first section. It deals with the dissensions and rivalries at Corinth which were caused by worldly wisdom. The problem is introduced (1:10-13). But Paul says he is not interested in gathering a party around himself; his interest is in preaching the gospel (1:14-17). Corinthian divisiveness is caused by their love of worldly wisdom, but worldly wisdom actually fails to bring us spiritual blessing (1:18-2:5). True wisdom comes by supernatural revelation (2:6-16). The Corinthians are carnal in their jealousies abd quarelsomeness (3:1-4). In 1 Corinthians In 3:5-4:5 Paul goes on to speak of the true idea of the church, and he uses two illustrations. The church is God's field or garden (3:6-9a), he says. And the church is God's building (3:9b-11). It is in this connection that Paul speaks of reward. By cooperating with God and being used by God, each Christian gets his 'own' reward. The rewards vary according to faithfulness, both in this life and at the day of judgement. The reward is not determined by giftedness; it is determined by God, who knows the secrets of the hearts and judges faithfulness. Care needs to be taken in the matter of the foundation of the church. No person can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. The church is like a building, but every building if it is to be large and permanent needs a foundation. No other foundation can be laid that the one which God has already given. When Paul first started the church in Corinth, his work had been to preach about Jesus Christ. He has already said 'I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ...' (2:2). The apostles' task involved laying a foundation under God and by the grace of God. In the further building that had to be done it was important not to alter the foundation. The work of 'building the church' has to go forward, but it has to be done with care. It is a matter of building on Jesus Christ. We learn more about what it means to live on him. We experience more. We achieve more. We get things done for God.
In 1 Corinthians 3:12-17 Paul deals with reward and loss in detail. Now if any person builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw... (3:12). The first stage in the building of God's people is laying down the foundation, but then further work needs to be done. Christians have to 'build themselves up' (Jude 20). They have to 'work out' their salvation (Phil.2:12). The 'superstructure' of the church consists of the life of godliness, the life of ministry and achievement for God, the life of progressing towards all-round maturity. The bible tells us that we first receive Christ and then we walk in him (Col.2:6). The church's superstructure may be of varied quality. Just as the superstructure of any building may have materials in it of different value so it is with the church. A worldly temple might have gold and silver and precious stones in it. It might also have parts made of wood, and its might have rooms in it with straw and hay for the animals. In the same way Christian work may be of varied quality. One person's ministry might produce mature Christians and might achieve a great deal for God. Another persons ministry might be less pure.
We need to notice precisely what is 'superstructure'. It is what is built upon Christ. It is what is achieved in the lives of those who are built upon Jesus Christ. This work is built up by those who continue the work of the church-planter. Paul says he does the first building (3:10); others carry on his work and help to produce the next stage of the church of Jesus Christ. Superstructure is the further work of the Christian life. It includes character and ministry. Christian ministers are to build us up in godliness and they are to be trainers for ministry. It is his work that may be done well or it may be done badly.
But it is also possible that the superstructure of the church should contain in it poor and shabby materials: wood, hay, straw. Judgement day will be a day when the superstructure of the Christian life and ministry will be examined and evaluated. Now if any person builds upon the foundation ... each person's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each person's work.
Paul is still using picture language. He is still comparing the church to a building. At the time when Jesus comes again there will be a judgement, and that judgement will begin with the house of God (see 1 Peter 4:17). It will be a day of judgement by fire. Paul is picturing the church as a house. The fire is the fire of God's holiness, the fire of God's extermination of rubbish. Judgement day will be like a house catching fire.
God's holy fire will not be judging our saving faith; it will be judging our works of faith. God's judgement will not touch the foundation of the church; it comes upon the superstructure of the church.
All Christian ministry, all Christian living, everything we have ever done for Jesus, everything we have ever done for ourselves - it will all be exposed in that judgement day. I do not think sins which have been confessed and forsaken will be exposed, but everything else will become known.
Some Christians will receive a reward on that day. Paul says, If any person's work which he has built upon the foundation remains, that person will receive a reward. One might want to ask: what is the reward? It is certainly honour from Jesus. It may include the further privilege of serving him. It will be the truth of what we have done for Jesus being known for ever and ever.
The 'Well done!' that Jesus will say to us, will resound throughout the universe. Everyone will know about it. Our critics will know about it. Our friends will know about it. The angels will know about it. We shall get a 'name' for faithfulness, just as Jesus got a 'name that is above every name' for his obedience to the Father. Some Christians will suffer loss in the judgement day. Paul says: If any person's work is burned up, he or she will suffer loss, but the person himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. He is still using picture language. The picture is of a fire taking hold of a building. The person rushes out of the building. He saves his life but everything he possesses is lost. It will be like that for some Christians in the day of judgement. They will not lose their salvation, but they will lose their reward.
The theme of reward is a biblical theme. Jesus was the one who spoke about it the most. 'I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every person according to what he has done' (Rev.22:12).
Loss of reward will involve at least temporary shame. Some people will shrink in shame at Jesus' coming (1 John 2:28). There is such a thing as loss of reward for the person who is truly saved (see 2 John 8).
All of this should make us treat the church with great respect. Paul says, Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? /17/ If any person destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are. It is a serious matter to damage the church of Jesus Christ. That is what the Corinthians were doing. By their failing to live the life of love they were damaging the church of Jesus and threatening not their salvation but their eternal reward.
Paul goes on to appeal to the Corinthians to abandon worldly techniques altogether (3:18-23). He appeals to them to be willing to look foolish (3:18), warns them that God opposes worldly pride (3:19-20) and asks them to abandon their glorying in human techniques (3:21a). In Jesus they will find everything working to their advantage (3:21-23). They should treat preachers as servants of God and nothing more (4:1). Let any person consider us in this way: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (2:1). Paul is so free from living under what other people think of him; he does not even allow himself to intimidated by his own judgement of himself (v.4). He says: I do not even judge myself! But I know nothing against myself (2:4). It is not other people who have the right to convince him of his sinfulness. That is God's task. I may not be totally in the clear, he says. But the one who judges me is the Lord (2:4). Paul refuses to live in an introspective, hesitant, fearful manner. He trusts God to show him what he needs to know about himself.
We leave judgement until judgement day. Paul concludes this little unit: So then do not judge anything before the time, until the Lord comes, who also will bring to light the secrets of the darkness and will reveal the plans of the heart. And then praise from God will come to each person (4:5). Here again is the theme of reward. We get praised - or we lose praise - in judgement day, In 1 Corinthians 4:6-21 Paul applies all that he has said to the Corinthians.
Moral Problems at Corinth (5:1-6:20) and Questions about Marriage (7:1-40)
Reward does not come much into the next three chapters of 1 Corinthians, although it is worth noting a few verses that touch upon the subject.
There was a serious moral crisis in the Corinthians church. Someone had a sexual relationship with his father's wife (5:1). This presumably means that the father had taken a second wife. Yet you have become arrogant! says Paul. And he goes on to insist that there are times when church discipline is necessary. He knows the facts. He has made up his mind what to do (5:3). He says, I have already passed judgement in the name of the Lord Jesus.... The church must gather together and agree that the one who has sinned so badly yet shows no sign of repentance is no longer to be recognized as one of their 'members'. His sin is not given any support by the church. The church disowns and repudiates such behaviour (5:4-5). The church has a whole is to implement the apostle's instruction. Paul speaks of handing the person over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be brought to ruin and in order that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. To 'hand a person over to Satan' (compare 1 Tim.5:20) seems to mean to abandon any further attempts to bring about restoration, and to expel the person from the congregation's care and fellowship meetings. Such a person is 'sent to the devil', and viewed in the same way that one would view an unconverted person (see Matt.18:17). To be removed from the fellowship in such a way will, Paul hopes, 'destroy the flesh' - that is, his fleshly appetites will be restrained and he will come to his senses. Satan will be God's agent in chastising (as he was for Job, although in that case no scandalous sin was involved). Paul's ultimate hope is that the man will be restored and so 'saved'. It is at this point that 'reward' is again Paul's theme, because 'saved' in the context of 'the last day' often means 'brought through to one's full reward' (note 'Who can be saved...?' in Mark 10:26, followed by a list of possible rewards, in Mark 10:28-30).
There is another reference to reward in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Paul reminds them that sin will have serious consequences. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived. Neither the immoral person, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate men, nor homosexual offenders (6:9), nor thieves, nor greedy people, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (6:10). What is the nature of his warning here. Is he referring to loss of justification? Loss of new birth? The New Testament never suggests that salvation can be lost in this manner. Some things can be lost but the Christian does not lose new birth or justification! Is Paul imagining then that their salvation will turn out to be false and unreal, that they never were true Christians after all? The New Testament does speak of such 'imitation Christians' but that is not the point here, for Paul actually speaks about their having been 'washed ... sanctified ... justified'. 'Inheritance' always speaks of reward, both now and hereafter. If these Christians persist in these sins they will block their experience of the kingdom in the here-and-now; they will fail to achieve God's purpose for their lives and thus they will lose their heavenly reward. Paul has already spoken of those who might be 'saved through fire' (3:15) and who will 'suffer loss'. This is the second time he has mentioned the 'kingdom'. In 4:20 he had already referred to their present experience of God's power (as opposed to mere talk). The present aspect of the kingdom is the main point here also - although loss of the kingdom now will have repercussions in judgement day (as 3:15 shows).
We need not pursue the material in 1 Corinthians 7.
Eating and Drinking in Corinth (1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1)
In 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1 Paul comes to a new topic: the 'idol-meats'. When a Christian woman in Corinth wanted to buy some meat she went to buy it at the local market-place. But there was one thing about it that she would not like. The meat that she bought had previously been offered to an idol in a pagan temple. Obviously Christian women would have preferred not to buy meat that had been used in this way. It raised questions in their minds about whether a Christian should eat meat that had been used in this way. And there were other problems associated with eating and drinking in Corinth. The city was a place of feasting and partying. Many social gatherings took place at the local pagan temples. If a Christian wanted any kind of 'social life' with his neighbours, the pagan temples were the place to go. But at the same time those places were full of idolatry and immorality. The entire matter of eating and drinking and socializing gave the Corinthians Christians many questions. How can I mix with worldly people? Corinth is a wild place - the Christians said to themselves - so can I go to the temple with my neighbours when I know there is likely to be much sin and wickedness there? Would it be alright for me to eat this meat which has been used in idolatry? Is there maybe a curse on it? Could it be that there is some kind of demon hanging around this meat because the meat has been offered to an idol?
Modern Christians, especially young people, ask similar questions. Can I go to a meal with my friends? What will I do if they invite me to a place of non-Christian 'worship'? So there are many matters that Paul must say somthing about. Some of the Corinthians seem to be falling into sin while claiming that their 'knowledge' released them from the danger of idolatry. Others were challenging Paul's authority as an apostle. Yet other Christians were feeling far from being liberated. they were almost afraid to eat meat at all. Paul begins with a word to those who felt they were 'liberated'. He puts love above knowledge. He warns them against pride of knowledge. He promises them reward now if they will put their love of God uppermost in their lives. And if anyone loves God, that person is loved by God (8:3). This is the test of real knowledge. Real knowledge leads us to immense gratitude for God and his great salvation. And then when we really do love God in loving, humble, grateful obedience, he rewards us by revealing yet more of his love towards us. When we love him and how our love in obedience He manifests himself to us. It is the greatest treasure in the world when God reveals to us how much He loves us.
In 1 Corinthians 8:4 Paul gets into his topic in detail. He reaffirms the unique existence of God and the unreality of idols (8:4-6). Then he adds a 'but' But this knowledge is not in all people, says Paul. The sentence makes best sense if the word 'in' is emphasized. All Christians know that idols do not really exist, yet this knowledge grips some Christians more than others. Some Christians do not seem to have this knowledge in their innermost being. Some people, being so accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were really being sacrificed to an idol, and their conscience, because it is weak, becomes defiled (8:7). Food laws are unimportant. However food will not present us to God. We are no worse if we do not eat, not better if we do (8:8). But Paul has not finished. Eating in a idol's temple brings in other matters besides freedom from food laws. Freedom must be balanced by love for nervous Christians. Paul says, Be careful, however, that this 'authority' of yours does not become a stumbling block to the weak (8:9).
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul is still dealing with the matter of eating at feasts in the pagan temple. He has argued for the protection of the weak (8:1-13). Now he defends and explains his behaviour as an apostle (9:1-27). He is an apostle (9:1-2). He has authority to claim their support (9:4-6). Now he is arguing for his rights (9:7-10a). He is like a soldier, a farmer, a herdsman (9:7-8). He has a right to material support (9:11-12a). Paul's next point is a turn-around. He has these rights but he also has a right not to use them! Nevertheless, we did not use this authority! (9:12b). The fact that he did not use them does not mean that he does not have them! He uses further arguments from temple-workers (9:13a), and altar workers (9:13b). Do you not know that those who are employed with the sacred things of the temple get their food, and those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offering (9:13). It is the same principle again. Those who labour ought to get some profit from that at which they labour. So he draws his conclusion again. So also the Lord ordained that the ones announcing the gospel should get a living out of the gospel (9:14). But he immediately adds: But I have not made use of even one of these things. And I have not just written what I wrote in order that in that way I might get something for myself (9:15a).
In 1 Corinthians 9:15b-18) Paul comes back again to the theme of reward. 1 Corinthians 9:16-27 is the second of the three central passages in Paul's writings that deal with reward. The other two are 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 and Philippians 3:12-16. Paul knew he would be rewarded by God because he had sacrificed something for the sake of God's kingdom. He says, 'We did not use this authority! ... I have not made use of even one of these things....'. For it would be better for me to die than to have anyone deprive me of what I speak of with much joy (9:15b). The thing that Paul lived for more than anything else was to be rewarded by God. He only was interested in staying alive if there was a possibility of rejoicing before God in expecting God to be pleased with him. It is difficult to know how to handle this word 'speak with much joy'; it is generally translated 'boast', But obviously it does not mean 'boast' in the way that we normally use the term. Love is not boastful. Obviously it means 'glory' in something, 'make something my supreme delight', 'rejoice within myself', 'rejoice in greatly', 'take great pleasure in'. I shall translate it 'speak with joy'.
God's reward comes for going beyond the call of duty. Paul says, For if I preach the gospel, there is no ground for me to congratulate myself. For necessity is laid upon me. For it is woe to me if I do not preach the gospel (9:16). Paul makes a distinction between that which is laid upon him as a duty and that which is done over-and-above the call of duty out of sheer love for God. Paul did not feel that he had any choice in the matter of preaching the gospel. Obviously he preached willingly and cheerfully, and regarded preaching as a great privilege. Yet there was a sense in which he had no choice in the matter.
Reward does not come for doing one's duty! Reward comes from God when out of love for him we sacrifice ourselves to him and go beyond the call of duty. For if I do something voluntarily I have a reward. If I do something but it is not voluntarily I am simply discharging the trust committed to me (9:17). In the ancient world you did not reward a slave for simply being a slave. He was expected to do the work of a slave without any reward. The reward came if he showed how great his love was for his master.
What then is my reward? It is this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of any of my rights in preaching it (9:18). The extent to which he made use of his 'rights' and privileges was a matter in which he was allowed to choose freely. His going without payment for his preaching from the Corinthians was optional. He did what he knew was best for God's work. He could have accepted financial support from the Corinthians but for the sake of God's kingdom he chose to find support elsewhere.
It is this 'going beyond the call of duty' that God delights to honour. Paul knows that he is making a sacrifice for the sake of God's kingdom. And he knows that God will honour him for it..
People have questions about the idea of 'reward' thinking that perhaps it clashes with 'salvation by faith without works'. But the question can be easily answer, and there is such a thing as living for reward!
Are the rewards the result of effort. Yes, the effort of faith, the works of faith. Are they material, tangible? They are primarily spiritual, but they could be more tangible. Sometimes God does something which makes up for what we have lost, and what He gives us as a 'reward' might be quite solid! The rewards include Christ's blessing in the present (his presence, the assurance of pleasing him, 'reaping' eternal life) and honour from him in the future (his 'well done', visible glory in the resurrection body, the privilege of serving him further). Are they present or future? Both. Are they 'earned'? You could say so as long as you realise that no one 'deserves' his reward. Even God rewards are a matter of grace. And the works that are honoured are works of faith. Is the reward heaven? No. Heaven is secure as soon as we trust Christ. Salvation (in this sense of the word - justification, 'getting to heaven') is wholly without works. We do not lay up heaven as treasure. We lay up treasure in heaven. Reward can be lost and yet salvation gained. What sort of works get rewarded? Doing God's will. Those works of faith that fulfill God's purpose for our lives. Enduring temptation, seeking God, dying for Christ (literally or metaphorically), faithful work towards God's people. Do we get rewards for being in a special calling like preaching? No. No one get rewarded for their calling just in itself; only for the manner in which we fulfill it. Is not the idea of reward self-centred? It must be remembered that serving others is what gets rewarded! But there is a note of self-interest in it. We get the most blessing ourselves when we are serving others. This kind of 'self-interest' is encouraged in the bible, We out do one another in showing love! Does this idea of reward lead to pride? Paul does use the word 'boast' but the kind of boasting involved is not boastful in the ordinary sense of the word. Self-centred pride will be humbled. Yet there is a kind of inner 'delight' that God has blessed us. It is a kind of 'humble pride'. It is not a joy that puts down others, since serving others is the very thing that gets rewarded.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 Paul summarises his behaviour. Though I am free from all.... We have already seen that 'freedom' in this context means being free to make up his own mind about eating 'idols-meat' according to what is suitable for the occasion. He submits to the need of the people he is seeking to serve. In 9:12b and 9:15 he has spoken of willingly limiting the exercise of his freedom. It is this theme he picks up here. Though I am free from everyone, I have made myself the slave of everyone, so that I might win the more (9:19). Paul is 'free' yet he is not so free that he is in bondage to his freedom! He chooses how he lives and behaves (in the matter of cultural traditions and minor legalisms), and is careful not to offend people's consciences. He will defy convention in order to make the gospel clear, but he does not want to put needless obstacles in the way of the unsaved, immature or ignorant people he is seeking to help. Paul adopts different styles of life (in cultural matters and minor legalisms) with different people. And I became to the Jews like a Jew, in order that I might gain Jews. To those under the law I became like someone under the law (although I am not myself under the law) in order that I might gain the people under the law (9:20). Paul's law is Christ. He says, To those who are without the law I became like someone without the law - although I am not a lawless person in relation to God but rather have a law within me from Christ - in order that I might gain people who are without the law (9:21). The words 'a law within me from Christ' (ennomos Christou) are difficult to translate. It is normally assumed that the phrase consists of two words (although actually it could be three words, en nomos Christou, meaning 'I am 'in' a law from Christ'). A-nomos ('without law') and en-nomos ('in law') are contrasting words. Paul is clearly saying he is without the full 13th BC law of God given on Mount Sinai. Yet he is not without any kind of rule over his life whatsoever. The rule over his life is the person of Christ himself. And he is clearly saying that this 'rule' is within him. En-vomos is his word for expressing all of this: we could translate 'having a law within me - from Christ'. The thought is parallel to Hebrews 8:8-12 and goes back to Jeremiah 31:2). Paul's law is Christ himself. 'I say unto you' - said Jesus (Matt.5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). He spoke of 'Teaching them ... all that I commanded you' (Matt.28:20). The 'law of Christ' includes things never mentioned in the Old Testament 'Torah' (first five books of the bible). We do not find anything there comparable to what Paul is saying here. To the weak I became like a weak person, in order that I might gain the weak people. I became all these things to all kinds of people, in order that by all these things I might save some (9:22). By 'weak' he means those with over-sensitive consciences. He restrains and adapts himself (as 8:12-13 explains) for the sake of those who have not yet seen their freedom in Christ.
Paul looked for reward to compensate for his tough and flexible lifestyle. He still has in mind what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:17-18. He is looking for reward. And I do all these things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a partaker of its rewards (9:23). Paul lives in the way be does to become a 'fellow-sharer' of the gospel. The thought continues the ideas of 9:12-14. He does not 'share' the financial blessings of the Corinthians. But he expects to get a 'share' in the rewards of the gospel eventually. He might (for special reasons) turn down rewards from particular congregations, but he expects that God will compensate to him what he has lost. To become 'a partaker of the gospel' means to receive its ultimate reward: to gain 'the prize' that Jesus gives. It is this point that Paul will now proceed to explain further. Paul's willingness to sacrifice his comforts, his culture and his self-will is explained here. He views himself as being like a runner in a race. He will not get involved in idolatry or any of the kind of things that take place in pagan meetings at the temple. He does not want to damage his hopes of reaching heavenly reward.
Our secure salvation is the starting point of running for a prize. Paul says, Do you not know that in a race all of the runners take part in the race, but one person receives the prize. Our coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is like becoming a runner. Salvation qualifies us to run in a race. The point of entering the race is to win a prize.
What exactly is the prize? In the case of the athlete it is honour, fame, the privilege of being well-known and being invited to run in further races. The Christian's reward is similar. It is honour and glory. It is Jesus saying 'Well done'. The 'prize-giving' is the day of Jesus' coming. Yet there can be 'prize-giving days' even before the last day when Jesus comes. Even in this life God can reward us and give us further opportunities of serving him. Paul will soon speak of the Israelites in the wilderness (10:1-13) and they lost an opportunity of entering Canaan - but they did not immediately die. They lost a prize in this life. Both now and eternally God offers us 'prizes' for serving him.
Salvation is obtained but the prize is yet to be obtained. Paul's 'justification' is past, but 'the prize' is future. Paul can say 'Having been justified by faith...'. His 'justification' is firmly fixed and settled, but the reward is still open. His justification cannot be lost. 'Those whom he justified he glorified'. But 'the prize' might possibly be lost. Paul's illustration is not perfect; few illustrations ever are. Only 'one' person might win a prize in an athletic competition, but many Christians might 'win the prize' of honour from Jesus. Yet his illustration makes the point that not everyone in the race gets the prize. There is a contrast between the one and the many. Few there be that find it.
Winning the prize requires sacrifice. So Paul goes on to say: So you - the word is plural - are to run the race in such a way that you may lay hold of the prize (9:24). Then he explains what is necessary. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things (9:25a). Paul is still thinking of the idolatry and immorality at the temples in Corinth. He is continuing what he has said in 1 Corinthians 8 and 9. Athletes have to go into tough training for a lengthy period before they are able to win prizes. Certain bad habits will have to be abandoned. There must be tough training every day. The Christians at Corinth must be similar. Maybe they would like to go the festivals and parties at the temple. They think there is no harm if they join in the promiscuity of the crowds that worship the pagan gods. 'After all', they said, 'Paul himself teaches that all things are lawful and that we cannot be condemned by the Mosaic law. The body is a miserable thing altogether. What we do with it cannot really affect us...'. So they say! But Paul feels quite differently. There has to be tough self-discipline if the prize is to be won. The Christian is 'free' in many ways, but not so 'free' that he can join in the ways of the pagan festivals and not suffer anything as result. No, the Christian at Corinth will have to abandon worship at the temple, will have to abandon the immorality of the pagan, and must bring themselves under strong discipline - in order to achieve something for God and get God's 'Well done!'.
Winning the prize will affect us eternally. Whether we gain or lose the 'Well done!' of Jesus is no small matter. They do it in order that they may obtain a perishable crown, but we do it to for a crown that will not perish (9:25). Unlike the crown of the Greek athletes, our victor's crown will affect us for ever and ever. Judgement day will not go on for ever, but the results of it will be everlasting. Our level of glory eternally will be affected by how we have lived for the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus' 'Well done' will last for ever. Or it will be lost for ever.
Loss of the prize is a possibility. Paul says, Therefore I run in such a way as not without aim; I box in such a way as not beating the air (9:26); but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (9:27). Self-discipline is needed to gain the prize. Paul's words here have nothing whatsoever to do with eternal security or the possibility of 'falling away'. He is not dealing with 'justification' or new birth; he is dealing with reward. And he has already made it very plain that one can lose reward but not lose salvation. 1 Corinthians 3:15 makes it quite plain that 'salvation' (that is, justification, 'getting to heaven') and reward are different subjects. Paul does not say that he works hard at self-disciple in order to get to salvation. Salvation is not by 'works' at all (Eph.2:8,9). Paul is dealing with reward; he is not deal with salvation at all! He is not thinking he must work hard to make sure he gets to heaven. Rather he is speaking of his own self-discipline. He must not let the attractiveness of the pagan temples lure him - or whatever else it might be that would weaken his appetites for the service of God. He will leave certain things aside. He will deal with himself severely, not for the sake of earning salvation, but for the sake of keeping himself in good condition in his service of God. He does not want, after having spent a lifetime preaching to others, to be disqualified from receiving God's prize (9:27).
We leave 1 Corinthians there for the moment, and take a pause in our meditations. But we take a break at a useful point. The Christian has to face the future with the determination of an athlete or a boxer. We are not running around aimlessly. We are not beating the air and watching ourself in a mirror! No, we have an enemy to bring under control - ourselves. We deliberately bring ourselves under tough discipline. Some things will have to be given up. We bash away violently against anything that will hinder our future service of God. We have served him so far. Paul has been a preacher. But even those who have served God well so far have to continue to train themselves. The race is not won yet. We don't want to lose the race after having ran so well thus far. Less us accept every piece of tough training God puts upon us. Let us leave aside anything that is likely to prevent us finishing the course. And let us keep running, keep praying, keep serving God, until we hear Jesus say 'Well done!