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Paul and the "Games" of Corinth! 

An exposition of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

(This year during the last half of August the Olympics will be held in Athens, Greece!  The Apostle Paul was familiar with such games and compared the Christian life to them.)

Let's study together the precious Word of God!

--- Dr. Mike Bagwell


 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
II Timothy 2:1






1 Corinthians 9:24-27

24 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25 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. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27 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.



Paul several times in the New Testament mentioned the subject of "crowns."

He was absolutely convinced that eternity would reward him with such "blessings."

Crowns have nothing to do with one's salvation ... but deal with the Believer's rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ!  (Salvation is a Gift of God through the shed Blood of Jesus Christ our Saviour!)

He (Paul) called the Philippians (the people themselves) his "crown" in Philippians 4:1.  There he links the crown with "joy!"  Here's the verse: "Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved."

He said basically the same thing to the Thessalonians.  "For 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?"  1 Thessalonians 2:19

In his preaching Paul would occasionally encourage others with the promise of crowns awarded us by the dear Lord!  In 2 Timothy 2:5 we read:  "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully."

And near the very end of Paul's life he became absolutely sure that he had definitely won a "crown!"  In 2 Timothy 4:8 he declares:  "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."

In each of these cases the noun used for crown (or the verb where applicable) is built from the Greek word "stephanos."  (From "stepho" = to twine or wreathe, to wrap around)  It is the term that was used by the Greeks to describe the award given for winning a specific athletic contest at the bi-annual Corinthian games.

Accompanying the crown was a lavish dinner to which the victorious contestant and his family were invited.  The Judges would be present and the food would be both abundant and lavish.  This state dinner of course would be in honor of the gods.

Dear faithful Christian, you too are going to be rewarded for your faithfulness! You're going to a dinner (a marriage supper)!  Your great Judge (and Saviour) will be present as well!  And ... yes ... this dinner will not be for you as much as it's for the (not the gods, but The ...) Lord God Almighty!  In is in His honor that we will attend the eternal celebration!

By the way, and quite "un-like" the Olympic games of ancient days ... the race Paul probably has in mind is more of a "marathon" than a short "sprint!"  I read yesterday of a tribe in South America that had "races" in which the fleet footed athletes ran a whole week!  (Even the the encyclopedias say they ran for a week!)  Numerous other races have had 100 mile courses and even further!

These are much like the Christian life, aren't they?  We're not in it for the short haul ... but for the "long run!"

Faithfully run (and box or fight ... or wrestle) until Jesus comes or He calls you "home!"

I salute you dear "marathon" runners.

May God bless you abundantly is my prayer!

                                                                        --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 20, 2004 (TUESDAY)

How could Paul have ever thought of himself as a "castaway?"

What does that word even mean?

Where did he use it?

"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."  1 Corinthians 9:27

In Greek the word is "adokimos."  It's a blended word.  "A," the prefix, means no or not.  (It negates a word.)  And "dokimos" is from the verb family "dokeo."  It means to be approved. To pass the test.  To be genuine.  (More specifically: To be thought to be good, to be accounted well, to be of reputation!)

The word in ancient Greece was use of metals, coins and soil.  Never (outside of Paul) has it been found being used in such a moral sense! (Paul thus is still using metaphors!)

"Castaway" here needed an accompanying verb: "should be."  It is "ginomai," to become.  It is used here as a 1st person singular subjunctive aorist in the middle voice!  These properties tell us that Paul is grammatically speaking only of himself. (We of course should apply the principle to our lives as well.)  The "subjunctive" mood tells us this has not yet happened to Paul!  It is a hypothetical situation ... one that he is determined NOT to let occur in his life!  The "aorist" sense of time indicates that the Apostle is viewing his whole life and ministry for the Lord as one single event ... looked back upon as having now occurred!  And the "middle" voice shows us that if such a thing happened ... it would impact Paul greatly, changing him dramatically!  (In other words, he would "never get over it!")

What fierce determination Paul brings to his Christian living!

The word "adokimos" ("castaway" in our verse) is used 8 times in our New Testament.  Six of those times it is translated (in the King James Bible) as "reprobate" and once it is rendered as "rejected"  (Hebrews 6:8). 

Here's an example:  "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"  2 Corinthians 13:5

Or 2 Corinthians 13:6 where Paul says:  "But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates."

It seems that in the ancient games (to which Paul is referring in our verse), athletes could be "suspended" for numerous reasons.  Among them (at least according to my research) one may include any disregard for the rules of the specific contest, any disobedience concerning one's diet, any sexual escapades, or even any curfew violations (not being where one should be when he should be there)!  Plus many more! Wow!  Now ... put those in a "spiritual" setting and see what you get!

Dear Christian friend, today let us also run our race for the Lord (and fight our fight) in such a way that we shall not be "disapproved!"  Not become "castaways!"  Not be "disqualified!"

After all, our Lord deserves our best!  That's exactly what He gave for us!

                                                                                --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 19, 2004 (MONDAY)

One of Paul's favorite words for the "preacher" is "kerux" (in Greek).  It actually means a "herald," a royal announcer sent by the King!

The Apostle uses the word (in verb form) in 1st Corinthians 9:27.

"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."

The verb for "preach" here is "kerusso" (from "kerux" obviously).  Here it is formed as an aorist participle in the active voice.

It is interesting that in the Olympics themselves (as well as the Corinthian Games held much nearer these Believers to whom Paul is writing) the "heralds" played a vital role!

Let me explain.

Each years the "games" were held, the governor sent out a trio of "heralds" to announce them throughout all the land!

Remember now, the herald is a representative of the governor (king, president, Caesar or even Lord).  This position automatically carried with it "formality, gravity and authority."  The heralds were sent forth with the expectation of proper ACTION (obedience) following their announcements.  (All this should be equally true of the "preacher" too!)

In Greece, the heralds rode little mules, somewhat like the Saviour did on one occasion in His life on earth.  They wore royal purple robes in their work!  Christian heralds (preachers) wear pure robes of righteousness!  The heralds each had crowns of olive wreaths encircling his head!  And they always carried the banner of the gods (the sacred banner)!  So do preachers today except their is the "banner of the Cross!" Also the heralds carried satchels in which were the schedules for the games and other royal papers.  My satchel has in it the Word of God (often several copies)!

My sources say that these heralds were to be "treated like kings" and usually were! They could expect to be well-fed (by the people to whom they announced the good news) and properly housed.  God's people today are also to care for the men of God!  Some are said to be worthy of "double honour!"  (1 Timothy 5:17)

Now, get this.  I actually read it some time ago in a text on the Olympics! The heralds were to announce a truce, a peace, a cessation of all hostilities and battles and wars until the games were over!  The heralds were harbingers of peace to the people!  (What spiritual lessons are sheathed in these word pictures!)  We preachers get to proclaim the truths of God's great Peace Offer to mankind (via the Blood of our Saviour) also!

The heralds also were on hand throughout all the games to make starting announcements, publicize the names of the athletes at each event, re-state the game rules and declare the winners!  As they introduced each contestant they would carefully pronounce his name loudly, then give his father's name, his home city, and ask if anyone present had any charge to bring against him!

There were even contests held between heralds to see who had the clearest voice and could announce with the most forcefulness!  Plus the fact that everywhere I can find any research material on these men, they are associated with "trumpets!"  Each herald apparently had to be able to sound that instrument clearly and distinctly! (Today's preachers also are waiting for a trumpet to sound as well!)

Lastly I discovered that often a herald might "coach" a runner or boxer or wrestler as well!  (This would automatically require that the herald himself be fit and trim as well as knowledgeable concerning the pertinent event!  Preachers, take notice!) 

In today's verse Paul considers himself both a "herald" (an "announcer") and a contestant (who could be a "castaway" or disqualified)!  The Lord always reserves the right to ask for such double-duty (or more)!  And He is certainly worthy of it all!

This view of the Christian life is probably too "stringent,"  too tough for many in our "laid-back" easy-going society!  But it is exactly what the Lord expects of His true children!

Anyone out there in training this Monday morning?

I somehow hear a chorus of voices returning, "Yes Sir!"

                                                                              --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 18, 2004 (SUNDAY)

In 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul briefly made a statement concerning his body, his earthly flesh.  He told us that he always sought to "bring it into subjection!"

Here's the complete verse:  "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."

Paul certainly lived a godly life, one of the most dedicated in all of Scripture!

Yet we here learn that even he had to keep his body under subjection!

Briefly this Sunday morning I want us to examine that term:  "bring into subjection."

There's a pretty good reason to believe that IF Paul had to do this ... so will we!

The verb (in Greek) is "doulagogeo."  It is a combination of two other words. "Doulos" is the standard Greek noun for a slave, a common slave.  In fact, the "doulos" was the lowest in status of all the slaves in a household!  (It comes from a verb "deo" which means "to bind" ... as in bound and tied up ... loss of liberty and freedom!)  Added to "doulos" is the verb "ago" which means "to lead" or even "to drive" something!  Now, put it all together and Paul is telling us that he drives his body to obey as a slave master commands and leads his slave to rigidly follow his every command!  (Wow!)

A. T. Robertson's word studies book suggests that this is the verb that would have been used to describe the victor in battle bringing captive slaves home for dutiful service the rest of their lives!

It goes without saying that those slave drivers could be harsh on their subjects! They could beat them, brand them, restrict them, or whatever else necessary to achieve complete submission!

Also let me interject here that the verb is in present tense, active voice form.  Paul does this "slave driving" constantly!  And he puts great effort into it too!  It is not easily and automatically done for him by someone else!

Thus did Paul treat his body to compel it to follow our dear Lord!  This concept should give us a totally new meaning to the term "self-control!"  (Remember this the next time you tend to get a little "lazy" on the Lord!  Or want to over-eat or over-sleep!  Or you're just "too tired" to read you Bible or go back to church Sunday night!)

Paul got "rough" with himself when it came to this matter of faithfully running the race and fighting the fight for the Lord!

He had just said (earlier in this very verse) that he "kept under his body!"  That's a technical "boxing" term from his day (first century Greek life) that literally meant "to give oneself a black eye!"

Paul was diligent in living for Jesus!

Are we?

He told the young preacher Timothy: "Endure hardness!"  (2 Timothy 2:3)

He even said of himself once:  "From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." (Galatians 6:17)  That noun "marks" means scars!  How very disciplined this man of God really was!

What an example he is to us!

                                                                            --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 17, 2004 (SATURDAY)

Paul "worried" about something!

Well, that might not be the best word to use about the great Apostle ... but he was extremely concerned!

He feared that after all he had done for the Lord, he might somehow end up being a failure in his Christian walk!

(Where does that put folks like you and me?)

Hereís the verse I have in mind. Paul said: "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." 1 Corinthians 9:27

He has been preaching on the Christian life. As he did so he used an illustration. He used something with which the Corinthians were very familiar, the athletic "games" now called the Olympics.

Paul pictured himself first as a runner than as a boxer! Both had to train hard, compete vigorously, and abide by some stringent rules! Any mistakes ... and the contestant was quickly disqualified! Thatís exactly the meaning of Paulís great fear here. The word "castaway" means disapproved one!

Letís analyze the verse a little bit.

To "keep under" is an amazing verb! It translates a Greek word, "hupopiazo," meaning under ("hupo") and to gaze with the eye ("optanomai"). When put together ... the meaning is "to give a bruise under someoneís eye!" The verb is an indicative present active ... Paul does this constantly! He gives himself a "black eye" to discipline his body to run the race and fight the fight to the Glory of God! (Wow!)

The word for "body" is "soma" and just means oneís physical being. It seems that Paul thinks his flesh, his body can hinder him spiritually and needs to be controlled! Jesus said "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." See Matthew 26:41. The verb is only used in one other place in Scripture where it is rendered as "wearied." Luke 18:5 --- "Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me."  These words were spoken by an "unjust" judge.

This whole thing called the Olympic Games (or the Corinthian Games) was a bloody affair! Even to be a spectator took a good bit of effort! They usually walked to the Games. That could be a distance of up to 200 miles! They saturated their trip in religious activities --- sacrifices to their gods and prayers along the way. They had to take their cooking utensils and food along with them! Once they arrived ... only the men and unmarried girls could enter the grounds to see the contests. Married ladies were not allowed! (All the athletes were naked.) There were no seats in the galleries either ... they had to stand in order to see well! The lack of clean drinking water and the hot temperatures were deadly to some also! Few ways to bathe were available! No "motels" existed. One just slept under the trees!

These facts alone give me a new respect for "the great cloud of witnesses" who view the Games! Remember what Paul said in Hebrews 12:1 --- "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."

And literally ... athletes in training often ended the day with black eyes or whelps from the coachís whip! They meant business!

And so did Paul!

Do you?

Do I?

Paul didnít even hesitate to list his "training" exercises from time to time! Listen again to Second Corinthians 11:23-28. "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches."

He transferred these disciplines to the young preacher Timothy too! In 2 Timothy 2:5 he said: "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." That verb "strive" is our word "athlete!" In Greek it is "athleo."

Letís do our BEST for Jesus!

Getting saved by Godís Grace is a blessing! Salvation is a GIFT of God!

Living the Christian life, however, is a job! The Holy Spirit aids us! In fact He lives through us! BUT discipline is still required!

                                                                        --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 16, 2004 (FRIDAY)

Little Paul the Apostle ... as a boxer!  Can you imagine that?

Yet that's the exact "word picture" of himself he uses in 1 Corinthians 9:26!

"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air."

The verb "fight" translates the Greek term "pukteuo" which means "to be a boxer" or just "to box!"  Another dictionary says:  "to box with the fist."  The "root" word behind it all is "pux," the clinched hand ... or the fist as a weapon!

Furthermore the verb "fight" is a present indicative active term ... telling us that Paul constantly views his Christian journey as a "fight!" 

This Olympic boxing was a serious matter to these Greeks (which would have included the Corinthians)!  They wore little in the area of boxing "gloves," certainly nothing like today's "safety-oriented" equipment!  It was common for men to die in the boxing ring!

Here's a quote I found about a "boxer" a little while before Paul's time.  "He prayed to Zeus, 'Give me victory or give me death!'  And here in Olympia he died, boxing in the Stadium, at the age of 35.  Farewell!"

In the boxing event (as well as the wrestling) the athletes were exempt from homicide charges ... and every year there would be cremations after the bouts!  In Greek competition ... they did not aim for the abdomen or other extremities.  They targeted the head specifically!  One source says they "pummeled one another's heads for hours ... with their knuckles wrapped in nothing but leather thongs."  The gloves were nicknamed "ants" because they could "sting" their opponents so violently!  (As well as "cut" into his face and cheeks!)

The day (day four of the games) began with 16 boxers ... but would end with just one still standing!  (There were no weight divisions, either!)  Their bodies were oiled (olive oil).  They constantly prayed to Zeus, their chief god. 

There were no rounds either.  The boxers continued until one could no longer stand ... or until one "gave up" with a certain hand signal!  Even when a boxer fell to the ground ... there were no rules keeping the aggressor from beating his head to a pulp as he laid there!  (Neither was there a specific "ring" in which they had to stay!) Greek poets at times described boxers "falling like slain oxen!" 

The Greeks loved violence in their games!  The boxing matches often rewarded twice the prizes as did the other contests! 

And understand this:  the athletes who chose death over defeat were more greatly respected by the crowds that the "cowards" who surrendered!

And the winner was called "Paradoxos," which translates as "Marvelous!"  Or they were referred to as "Periodonikes," meaning "Circuit Champion."

Paul so fights the devil!  Paul so fights the world!  And Paul so fights his own fleshly tendencies! 

What determination!

His term "not as one that beateth the air" is a metaphor for what we would call "shadow boxing."  Paul says "I'm not playing around!"  The verb "beateth" means to flay, to scourge, to thrash or to smite!

Paul thinks:  "If I'm going to expend the energy ... I'm going to HIT something!"

The Apostle puts most of us to shame, doesn't he?

We ALL need to be more serious about living the Christian life! 

There was just no stronger illustration Paul could have used to show these Corinthian Believers how fiercely diligent they needed to be in serving (The Real) God! 

I believe I'll never look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 the same again!

                                                                          --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 15, 2004 (THURSDAY)

Paul, the runner, has entered the "race" with a specific goal in mind!  He wants to reach the finish line successfully!  He longs to win the crown awarded for being first place!

In Hebrews 12:1-2 he says:  "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which 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."

Consequently, says Paul, "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly ...."  1st Corinthians 9:26

But what does he mean by that term ... "not as uncertainly?"

The adverb "uncertainly" translates the Greek word "adelos."

It literally means not ("a" in Greek) plus clear, certain or manifest ("delos" in Greek).

The idea here is that Paul wants to run openly and obviously by all the rules!  He will leave nothing to doubt or obscurity!  He will keep his goal in clear view at all times! Exactly as he said above in Hebrews 12:1-2!

The word "adelos" is only used this one place in all Scripture ... so we do not have any other verses by which to compare it.  When this happens it's called a "hapax legomenon."

One Greek lexicon says "adelos" speaks here of running a race without a fixed goal! Paul refuses to do that!  If he 's going to train ... and run ... and risk life and limb ... he's going to have a GOAL in view!  (And that goal is Jesus!)

Paul will not run aimlessly!  He plans to run straight to the goal.  He has resolve in every lap ... every second of the race One Goal (One Person) is in mind!  He runs ... "not without aim." 

Now this Thursday let's lift this interpretation (and application) from 40 AD in first century Corinth (Paul) to 2004 in the United States of America (you and me). 

In our Christian "race" what's the goal?

It looks to me like our answer should be the same as Paul's --- Jesus!

And little wonder Paul would have Jesus in mind and in view and as an ultimate Goal.

He elsewhere said:  "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  Philippians 1:21   Or "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."  Colossians 3:4

Had David expressed his Christian life in athletic terms ... he would have said about the same thing.  Listen to him in Psalm 27:4 --- "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple."  That's just running with Jesus in view!

The ancient Greeks did have some specific goals in  mind as they ran the races or fought the fights or wrestled the opponents.  One of their goals was to please the gods!  Another was to wind the pine branch crown!  Another was to gain fame! Another was get rich!

Obviously the Christian's goals are loftier and more noble and godly!

Let me close by saying this.  Believer friend, keep your eyes on Jesus!  That (alone) will keep your feet on the racetrack ... diligently running the race for Christ's Glory!

One more time let Paul speak:  "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."  Colossians 3:1

You see ... Jesus has already run His Race ... and won valiantly!

Praise the Lord!

                                                                               --- Dr. Mike Bagwell




In 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul compares himself to an athlete.

He's using a "metaphor" or figure of speech to compare the Christian life to the famous Corinthian games.  (They were similar in some ways to the Olympics!)

"I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air."  1 Corinthians 9:26

I just saw something about this text earlier this morning!  In one single (and short) verse Paul combines two sports!  (Running and fighting!)

The Greeks did have a day at their games given to a contest called the "Pentathlon." It brought together several sports (five to be exact) into one event! 

By the way this even was held in the Olympic stadium!  (The very word Paul uses for "race" back in verse 24 is "stadion!")  The ancient accounts tell us there would have been standing room only (a "great cloud of witnesses")!

The athletes would meet in a "preparation" room prior to the start of competition and get ready by doing such things as rubbing "oil"  all over their bodies!  We Christian had better be "oiled" with the Holy Spirit of God before we try running any races for our Lord too!  ("Oil" in Scripture is a "picture" of the Spirit of God!)

Each contestant's coach or trainer would accompany him throughout this whole process!  Christian, so does yours!  In fact, we have two divine "Coaches!"  1 John 2:1 teaches us:  "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." 

Our second Coach/Trainer is the Holy Spirit.  The words for "Advocate" and "Comforter" are identical in Greek.  They translate "paraklete" which means (para + kaleo) one called alongside to help, train and encourage!

And Jesus Himself (our first Advocate) says in John 14:26 --- "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."   And again He declares in John 15:26 --- "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me."

Music was played during some of these competitions!  Remember that all these "contests" in which the Greeks participated were first of all dedicated to their gods! You just can't separate music and worship it seems.  This truth simply underlines the importance of the type music we hear as we run the race and fight the fight in our daily lives too!  Enjoy godly Spirit-filled music.  Something that will aid worship ... not feed the flesh!

Paul's verbs in this verse are enlightening too.  "Run" is in Greek "trecho" and means just what it says. (To run!  Other meanings are: to exert oneself, make an effort, speed on, make progress, rush into battle or even do well!)  The verb is framed here as a present indicative active 1st person singular!  Paul is running at that moment and plans to continue doing so.  This is a habitual on-going race!

And the verb "fight" is "pukteuo" and literally means to be a boxer!  It is derived from "pux," the fist (as a weapon)!  Many a young man died from injuries sustained in those boxing bouts!  (The "gloves" were not safety oriented to say the least!  Head trauma was common!  The boxers would "go" for the head!  Just as the devil does with us!)  This verb also is a present indicative active.  The whole Christian life is being pictured as a constant fight!

In closing I need to tell you this.  It took a superb athlete to enter even one contest. Running was hard enough.  BUT to enter several (two here in Paul's 26th verse) was a phenomenal accomplishment!  What hard work, discipline and training it would have required!

This combined event was so grueling that many dropped out before it was over! Many others were disqualified because of rule violations!  And ... finally someone won the crown!

Additionally, that crown, so hard to win and so valuable to wear ... would have been dedicated to the athlete's favorite god immediately upon the close of the day's events, leaving it in his or her temple.

Think of this: "The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."  Revelation 4:10

Dear friend, run your race and fight your fight with the ultimate view of worshiping your God (the only Living God) in a crown-casting ceremony some golden daybreak!

Your fellow runner ...

                                                                 --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 13, 2004 (TUESDAY)

While in the true Olympic games (and in the Corinthian games to which Paul is likely referring here in our text) the prizes were substantial ... the "initial" award was just an olive (or pine) branch ... wrapped like a crown and placed on the winner's head!

That's why in verse 25 Paul said:  "Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."  Naturally the tree branch withered and died very soon!  It was corruptible.  The Greek word for "corruptible" is "phthartos" and mean to wilt or to decay or to perish.

BUT Paul is convinced that the crown (or crowns) we are awarded will NOT perish! In fact the New Testament mentions several such crowns!

The word for crown is "stephanos" and means an earned crown!  One gained in battle or in a  race or in some kind of competition!  (This stands in distinction to the word "diadem," a crown given to one by virtue of his or her position!)

NOW WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT EARNING ONE'S SALVATION!  THAT IS A GIFT OF GOD!  WE ARE TALKING ABOUT REWARDS GIVEN FOR FAITHFUL CHRISTIAN SERVICE!  (AWARDED AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST!  In 2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul teaches us:  "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.")

Today I'm interested in that word "incorruptible!"  (aphthartos)  It means NOT to wilt!  Not to perish!  Incapable of rotting!

We can earn incorruptible eternal everlasting crowns, glory to God!

For example, Paul said 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."  And in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 the Apostle says to Christians whom he's won to the Lord:  "For 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?"

I thought it would be good to survey the Bible and see what is incorruptible! Here's the list (using our Greek word here):

*  God is incorruptible!  Romans 1:23 --- "And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things."

*  The saints' glorified resurrected bodies (given at the rapture) will be too!  See what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:52 --- "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

*  So is the Believer's inheritance in heaven!  "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you!"  1 Peter 1:3-4

*  The Word of God is incorruptible too!  1 Peter 1:23 --- "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever."

*  As is the Believer's godly inner spirit!  1 Peter 3:4 --- "But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."

It seems Christians live in an environment of many incorruptible things!

Among them ... is his or her crown (or crowns)!

Be diligent!

Run the race well!

You will be rewarded!

Glory to God!

                                                                           --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 11, 2004 (SUNDAY)

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that the athlete is "temperate" in all things.  He obviously applies that description to us Christians too!

What does it mean to be "temperate in all things?"

1 Corinthians 9:25 --- "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."

The Greek word is "egkrateuomai" and is a compound term.  It fuses two words.  The "eg" prefix is a Greek preposition ("en") which simply means inside or within a person or thing.  "Kratos" indicates power or strength!  (Force or might ... to be more precise.)  It usually pictures manifested power!  This word is the Greek's main term for self-control! 

It's a verb (indicative mood, present tense, middle voice. 3rd person, singular number).  It states a fact.  Christians are to be continually self controlled (under the influence of the Holy Spirit of course).  And their so being controlled will impact and change them in the process (middle voice)! 

The Greek athletes were self-controlled too!

Think of the self control involved in:  10 month's daily training!  Constant danger of loss of life.  Boxers often died from head wounds!  Chariot racers died often just in practice (wrecks)!  Beatings from one's coach!  No backtalk of any kind was ever allowed!  Rule violations led to immediate disqualification!  Very strict diets! Competing absolutely naked!  No social gatherings during training!  (All work!) Dedication to the cause of the games ... the glory of the gods!  Knowing that only one prize would be awarded! 

One Bible word dictionary says our word "temperate" particularly involved diet and chastity!  Once in the King James Version our word has the idea of "containing oneself."  Here the place:  1 Corinthians 7:9 --- "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn."

We Christians, says Paul, are to bring such self-control into our lives daily!  Live determined lives to the Glory (not of the gods of Greek culture) of the only real God, our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ!

And from whence does that power to control oneself come? 

From the dear Holy Spirit of God!

The One who produces this kind of fruit:  "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."  Galatians 5:22-23

                                                                           --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



JULY 9, 2004 (FRIDAY)

In 1 Corinthians 9:25 Paul says:  "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 want to notice the verb: "striveth for the mastery."  In Greek it's "agonizomai" and gives us our English verb "agonize!"  (Or the noun "agony!)

I can only find it 7 times in the whole Bible.  (I'll show you.  Our verb is CAPITALIZED in each verse.)

Luke 13:24 --- "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able."

John 18:36 --- "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."

1 Corinthians 9:25 --- "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."

Colossians 1:29 --- "Whereunto I (Paul) also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily."

Colossians 4:12 --- "Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."

1 Timothy 6:12 --- "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses."

2 Timothy 4:7 --- "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."

Study this list!

Our verb "strive for the mastery" (Greek = agonizomai) comes from the athletic games of Corinth! It means "to enter a contest!"  It also means "to contend in the gymnastic games!"  Or "to fight!" 

Our verb here in verse 25 is a present participle and is in the middle voice!  One must be constantly training and running or fighting!  Plus, the action will influence the trainee himself!  He can't participate in this lifestyle without being changed by it!

Is anyone reading these words enrolled yet?

If you're saved ... you're in the "race!"  In the "battle!"  In the "war!"

The long training is agony!  (Ten months of daily work!)

The coaches can hit and scourge you if they think you're being lazy!  More agony!

Very strict diet!  (Oh, what agony!)

They tell you when to get up ... and when to go to bed!

Every minute is occupied!

Now, that's "striving for the mastery!"

Few today are really interested.

BUT ... the rewards are heavenly!

                                                                             --- Dr. Mike Bagwell




In verse 24 Paul is unashamedly saying we should strive for the "prize!"

The word for "prize" is (in Greek) "brabeion" and means umpire ... or an award from the umpire!  (Both times it's used in the New Testament, Paul has these "games" in mind!  1 Corinthians 9:24 and Philippians 3:14)

To Paul there are definitely "rewards" for the Christian serving God faithfully!  (This is clearly taught throughout Scripture!)

At the Judgment Seat of Christ, crowns will be given to the overcoming Christians!

At first the "reward" looks a little slim for the effort required!  It was just an olive branch (a pine branch in Corinth)!  They were shaped into "crowns" to be worn!

But what that represented was significant!

It led to a huge financial gift!  It meant never paying taxes again to the Greek (or Roman) government!  It meant free education for one's children for life!  It meant exemption from military service for life!  Plus much much more!

It immediately led to the judges box (the "bema") where recognition and praise would be given!  It next led to a meal of victory!  (Ever heard of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?)  This feast was always sponsored by the King!

It led to an eternal (at least they thought so) statue with one's name engraved upon it!  It led to the approval of the gods (Greek or Roman)! 

Victory was a life changing event for sure!

And, by the way, defeat was an equally humiliating experience also.  Many who "lost" disappeared never to be seen again!  Others publicly committed suicide!  The rest seemed to live in shame.

Take these benefits and translate them into spiritual truths ... and I'll guarantee you ... you will have lifelong motivation to serve Jesus faithfully!

I'm believing the Lord's rewards beat those of Rome or Greece by abundant measure!

No wonder Paul ran ... so that he might obtain the crown!

How about you?

                                                                           --- Dr. Mike Bagwell





Notice how Paul (in verse 24) just assumes the Christian to be in this "race" he's describing!

I began to study what was involved in just being in an Olympic (or Corinthian) contest.  The process is astounding!

One first of all could not just walk on the field and begin to compete!


He had to register ... before the Judge!  (This had to be done in person too!  Another one could NOT do it for you!)

Here's a perfect picture of being saved!  One can't run the Christian race ... until one has met the Judge/Saviour and been enrolled (in the Lamb's Book of Life)!

The runner also had to train for 10 months prior to racing!  Hard rigorous physical training!  (Getting "saved" is not the end of the Christian life!  It is the beginning of the Christian life!)

Athletes did best when they had a private coach to help encourage and teach them! Paul had Timothy and Titus to "coach," didn't he?  And Jesus had the "Twelve!" Peter had John Mark too!  Most older preachers are helping some younger man of God also!

In the games to which Paul is referring, over 800 contestants would enroll. (Eighteen different games were to be enacted!  Races, boxing matches!  Wrestling bouts! And much more.)

Upon "registering" the runner had to pledge to several truths!  For example: That he was a true citizen of Greece!  And that he had not committed murder or sacrilege! (There were some requirements!)

There was also a cutoff date for registering!  Latecomers were disqualified!  They were accused of "dishonoring" the games!

However, anyone qualified and competent could take part ... once he had satisfied the Judge!  (Not just the rich or the educated or the affluent!)

I want to say this tactfully, but these athletes always competed completely naked too.  We get a "hint" of this in Paul's terminology in Hebrews 12:1 --- "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."  They even laid aside their clothes! They allowed nothing to hinder them.

And "talking back" to a Judge or a trainer or even a fellow athlete resulted in immediate expulsion!  These runners had to have their tongues under control!

Once the contests had begun ... a runner (or fighter) could no longer withdraw!  You could not just QUIT without disgrace falling upon you and your family name!  Listen to Jesus in Luke 9:62 --- "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."  (Wow!)

And naturally, the members of the team had to go by very strict diets too!  It wasn't just what came out of their mouths that counted, was it?  What went into their mouths was critical too!

Also some sources say that the personal lives of the athletes were closely monitored to be sure no sexual improprieties occurred as well.  Chastity was required!

It looks to me like Paul chose (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God) a GOOD example of living the Christian life!

However, Christians, it  is not a game with us!  It is a matter of seriously living for the Lord and serving Him faithfully!

The Lord willing, more tomorrow!

                                                                              --- Dr. Mike Bagwell




JULY 6, 2004 (TUESDAY)

Paul is definitely using athletic language in this text.  The word for "race" in verse 24 is the little Greek noun "stadia."  Of course you can see the kinship here with our English word "stadium." The Apostle is using a word picture with which all the Corinthians would be exceedingly familiar.

Homer, the Greek Poet, wrote these words:  "There is no greater glory for any man alive than that which he wins by his hands and feet." 

Chariot Races were a part of these games too.  Most commentators believe that Philippians 3:13-14 describes one such race.  "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." 

The running of races and great throngs of witnesses are seen in Hebrews 11 too.  He says: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."  Hebrews 12:1

Wrestling was also a part of the games.  Paul refers to such in Ephesians 6:12 --- "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

Even Olympic boxing is mentioned here in 1 Corinthians 9!  Hear Paul again:  "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air!"  That verb "fight" is their verb "box." 

The games all had their judges or umpires as well.  In Colossians 3:15 Paul teaches us:  "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful."  That verb "rule" is the Greek word for "umpire!"  It's a reference to these games!

Those umpires could disqualify an athlete for violating the rules.  In Colossians 2:18 Paul gives us an example of this.  "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind."  The verb "beguile" has in it the idea of being rejected from receiving a prize due to breaking some rule!  It's athletic language for sure.  Disqualified by the umpire/judge!

Here's another "racing" term:  "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"  Galatians 5:7   The verb "hinder" means "to trip" someone.

And of course Paul has a lot to say about the rewards in those contests!   2 Timothy 2:5 --- "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully."

But more about some of these things later.  Today I just want you to see how very many times Paul draws from the Corinthians' world of games.  They were obsessed with such contests.  All of Greece was it seems.

Paul just takes their interests and turns them into spiritual lessons for those young Believers.

So ... we are running a race for Christ!  Or boxing a match against the devil!  Or wrestling with evil forces of iniquity!  Or earning crowns for faithful service to Jesus!

This should be an interesting study for the next few days!

May God be honored in it all.

                                                                     --- Dr. Mike Bagwell




July 5, 2004 (Monday):

Paul seems to be comparing the Christian life to a foot race!

In Corinth (or I should say near Corinth) regular athletic contests were conducted in a manner similar to the "Olympics."

It's obvious that the Apostle has pictured the Christian journey as a "race" ... then as a "fight" ... both of which were part of the "Games!"

I was amazed to recently learn that the Olympics (all the Greek games) were closely associated with their religion!  Their gods and goddesses were in control and received adoration all through the festivities!

Thousands of spectators viewed each contest!  (A great "cloud" of witnesses!)  In Greece the majority of these on-lookers were men!  Married women were not allowed to attend.  (Girls and unmarried women could sit in the stands however.)

Admission to the games was free to any citizen!

The word "stadium" is from a Greek term meaning a place to stand!

In Paul's day the "Games" would have lasted for five days!

A 48 feet high statue of Zeus, their chief god, was the center of their attention! Numerous temples were located within the precincts of the athletic fields themselves.

And from what I can tell the atmosphere basically was one of debauchery and wickedness.

We shall, Lord willing, study the Games in light of the Word of God in the days ahead.

Join us as you can ... after all, we Believers are in a race (and a fight) too! 

I surely want to be faithful, don't you?

                                                                       --- Dr. Mike Bagwell



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