The title of this article is what the Apostle Paul wrote the the Christians in Corinth. One of the things that I really like about Paul is the fact that he was a very practical teacher. As the old pastor says, “that guy likes to go down deep but, he comes up dry”. The Apostle Paul was not like that. He does not get lost in the weeds. He is what we call a “prac app” guy today. In I Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul deals with the importance of sharing our faith with the people around us. The final command that Jesus left for His disciples was, “go and make more disciples”. This command has rung true throughout the generations. As followers of Christ today, we are also called to make disciples. In order to make disciples, we have to share our faith, in other words, preach the Gospel with the people around us. This is true for every generation and this is something that has to be taught to each new generation. Let’s discover how the Apostle Paul uses himself as an example, the analogies that he uses to challenge the Corinthians, and then take a look at the practical advice for us today. First, take a moment to read I Corinthians 9:19-27.
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
I. The Apostle Paul’s Example
Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel and he demonstrated that by sharing his faith with anyone who would listen. In fact, in verses 19-22, Paul explains that he was ready and willing to share the Gospel with every man, woman, and child, no matter their race, religion, socioeconomic background etc. If we were to put verses 19-22 in a list it would look like the following:
- Free – Romans – many in the ancient world hated the Romans because they (Romans) had conquered the masses. That did not bother Paul. He had no problem sharing the Gospel with free people.
- Slave – lower classes, usually won as the spoils of war. The Greeks and Romans view slaves as “talking” animals. Paul had no problem sharing the Gospel with slaves. In fact, he led a slave to Christ and shared about it in his letter to Philemon.
- Jew – Religious people under the Law of their religion. Sometimes, we tend to avoid sharing the Gospel with religious people because they are religious and already have their religion. The Gospel transcends religion and moves to a personal relationship with God. Religious people need the Gospel just like everyone else. Paul’s main audience for much of his ministry was religious people.
- Without law – Gentiles/Pagans – for the Jewish mindset, the Word of God was not for the pagans but for the Jews. Many Jews would not even speak to pagans if they could keep from it. A great portion of the Apostle Paul’s ministry focused on pagans. That is why he is often called the apostle to the Gentiles.
- Weak – people who are not like us, not the high class of society, not much earthly influence. Many times, we think that if we can just get an influential person to accept Christ then they really can make a difference. In doing so, we often overlook people who are not influential. God uses the weak of this world to glorify Himself. Paul did not overlook the people who were not influential in society. He shared with all and we should all have the same attitude.
What about you, are there people who you simply refuse to share the Gospel with? Maybe they are already religious, or maybe they are from a higher class of society that you feel does not deserve the Gospel? Maybe they do not seem influential enough. Are you ready and willing to share with all?
II. The Apostle Paul’s Analogies
Understanding the analogies used by Paul make the previous section even clearer. The Apostle Paul turns to three analogies in this section. These analogies were well known to the Corinthians. We find them in verses 24-26.
- Running a race – all of us can relate to this. Even if you were never an athlete on a team, I know that you have run footraces with others. Everyone runs but only one can be the winner. This is true in a race but, in making disciples, we can all participate and we can all win. In making disciples, if I make disciples, I do not keep you from making disciples. We can both make disciples. As I wrote earlier, part of the process of making disciples is sharing the Gospel. I am not competing against you and you are not competing against each other. We both share the Gospel. We both make disciples. We both run the race and we both win.
- The games of Corinth – these games were not the Olympic games but, they were almost as popular. Everyone knew of these games. In order to compete in these games, each athlete had to practice self-control. You had to do things even when you did not feel like doing them and you had to give up things that you did not want to give up. I don’t always want to share the Gospel with others but, I am called to do so. I do not always want to make disciples but, I am called to do it.
- Boxing – the boxers train and part of training is shadow boxing. If I get in the ring, ready to face the opponent, it does not make much sense to tire myself out shadow boxing and then get knocked out by my actual opponent. I need to live my life with a goal in mind. My goal each day is to make disciples. Part of the process of making disciples is sharing the Gospel with the people around me.
All of these analogies point back to the main idea of the importance of sharing the Gospel. I am not in competition with others. I have to do it even when I do not want to do it. I have to live each day with a purpose and seek to accomplish that purpose in all that I do.
III. Practical Advice
Most of what we have seen so far is practical application. Verse 27 just adds to that practical application. In verse 27, Paul challenges us to remain disciplined in all that we do so that we do not disqualify ourselves. In other words, we need to practice what we preach. We need to practice self-control in all things. We need to teach others the importance of self-control. We must discipline ourselves and help others remain disciplined. By doing this, the Gospel works in us and through us to accomplish much. As the Apostle Paul later wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have finished my course”. By living this lifestyle, we will hear, “well done good and faithful servant, enter in to your master’s rest”. The good news is, I can hear that, you can hear that, all of us can hear it if we will apply all that we learn in this passage of Scripture.