“I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when 1 have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”‑ 1 Cor. 9: 26, 27.
It is scarcely needful to remark that this passage is one of the deepest solemnity. The Apostle Paul opens his inmost heart in these words, and permits us to see that the experience they describe was one that deeply and continually exercised his spirit. We can easily trace here the mainspring and impulse of much of his life - a motive as powerful, perhaps, as any that burned in his soul. In his service to the Lord he was, on the one hand, constrained by the love of Christ, and, on the other, restrained by a reverential fear of his Master’s disapproval. None knew more truly how to trust his Lord; none knew more keenly how to distrust himself. In this Epistle he seeks to stir up the Corinthian saints to a like diligence by every possible means, not hesitating even, as has been said, to reveal his deepest feelings, and to show how powerfully he was influenced by the very motives and principles he was urging upon them.
The interpretation of the
text, however, presents a certain measure of difficulty; but this, as in all
similar cases, should only make us the more anxious to avoid mistaken views,
and grasp the full significance of its teaching. We
must be equally careful to note what the Apostle did not mean, as to discern
what he did mean, or the lesson which so deeply thrilled his own heart will
fail to touch ours. That the passage
has been much misunderstood is clear from this alone, that the important word “castaway,” around which the instruction circles, is
very imperfectly, not to say incorrectly, translated in the Authorised Version;
nor is the case much improved in the Revised Version, which has adopted the
rendering “rejected.” For what is the thought usually suggested by
the word “castaway?”***
We employ it when we wish to describe some total and irremediable ruin as, for
example, when we speak of a ship which has been wrecked or the like. A standard dictionary gives as the meaning of
the word, “one rejected or forsaken by God and man,”
and to illustrate this use of it quotes a passage from a prominent theological
writer, who says, “Neither is there given any leave to
search in particular who are the heirs
of the kingdom of heaven, and who are castaways.” So it is clear that the idea most commonly
connected with the religious use of this word is the final loss of the soul* [*See
1 Pet. 1: 9-11]; and this view has been
adopted even by the writer just mentioned, whose precision and caution were so
great that he has been termed “the judicious Hooker.” But did the Apostle mean that what he dreaded
was, lest after he had preached to others, he might make shipwreck of his own soul - that he might, in the end,
be cast away for ever from the
[* It may be well to point out, for the sake of readers not acquainted with the original, that the word translated “be cast away” (zemiothesis) in Luke 9: 25, is quite different to that in the text, and has a different meaning, viz., “to suffer loss,” as in 1 Cor. 3: 15, etc.
[** It would appear to point to the loss of the birthright – the double inheritance rights of the firstborn son - mentioned in the final warning of Hebrews 12: 14-17. – Ed.]
It will be clear from what I have said that it is only by fixing accurately the meaning and usage of the word translated “castaway,” that the real force of the passage can be perceived, for upon the meaning of that one word the whole argument turns. In endeavouring to do this two things are necessary: first, to ascertain the meaning of the term, not only from the lexicon, but by a comparison of its occurrences in other parts of Scripture; and secondly, to determine the meaning which the Apostle connects with it here from the context in which it stands. If this is done with care, we shall, I doubt not, be able to discern that what he feared was not the loss of his soul, but the loss of the Lord’s approval of the service of his life.
The word translated “castaway,” adokimos in the Greek, occurs eight times in the New Testament. In six places it is translated by “reprobate” in one “rejected”; and the last instance is the text. Its opposite, dokimos, the word containing the corresponding idea in the positive form, occurs frequently, and the passages in which it is found are of great importance as showing what is the radical idea of the term. This may be said to be the putting of anything to the proof so as to determine what its true character is, and whether it is worthy of approval or the reverse. A good example is found at 2 Cor. 10: 18: “For not he that commendeth himself is approved (dohimos), but whom the Lord commendeth”; and the context of that passage shows, with abundant clearness, that the thought before the Apostle’s mind was the difference between that approval of his service which the Corinthians had not accorded him, but which he believed the Lord had accorded, as compared with the approval or disapproval of certain persons whose guidance and teaching had been approved among the Corinthians, but had not been, as Paul believed, approved by their common Lord.
So much for the word, and now let us look to the context in which it appears. In the ninth chapter of 1st Corinthians the Apostle is vindicating his right to do certain things, from which, however, for the Gospel’s sake, and for the sake of the Corinthians themselves, he had abstained. For example, he asserts his right, as a minister of the Gospel, to temporal support from those to whom he had ministered; but he had not availed himself of that right. He points out that he had the same right to marry as the other Apostles, but that he had not availed himself of it, lest in any measure his service in the Gospel should be hindered. Free from the spiritual authority of all men, he had made himself a servant to all that he might win over the more. Accordingly, in associating with Jews, he had placed himself under certain ceremonial restrictions as to food, etc., in order to avoid giving needless offence; and when brought into contact with Gentiles, who were dispensationally not under the Law, he had not stumbled them by the assertion of Jewish ordinances and restrictions, lest their apprehension of the true character of the Gospel should be hindered. In this sense he had become “all things to all men,” that he might “by all means save some.” Thus he showed that not only had he sought to serve the Lord in the preaching of the Gospel, and in the teaching of its truths, but that he had endeavoured also to be an example to others in all things, proving to them by his life how thoroughly his heart was controlled, and his activities guided, by the self-same truths he had preached to others. Now this could only have been done at the cost of much self-sacrifice. Paul, like other men, was but human, and his will, his feelings, his predilections [i.e., his ‘special likings and preferences’], were just as apt to assert themselves as those of any one else. It was only by a stem and continual repression of self, by a constant refusal to let his own will be the guiding principle of his life, that he had been able to set before men that Christ-like example of devotion, of self-abnegation, of intensity in the following out of his one aim - the service of the Lord and the salvation of souls* - which he had uniformly presented. And why had he acted thus? The Apostle looked upon the preaching of the Gospel not as a task, but as an honoured service - a service which was a holy privilege and delight; and which, if rightly discharged, would bring to him in the end the reward of his Master’s approval.** The words of the 23rd verse show this: “And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be a partaker thereof with them”; by which the Apostle did not mean that he preached the Gospel to others in order that he himself might be saved by doing so, but rather that he might share its blessings with them in reaping the reward of a service rendered for their sakes, and approved by the Lord. Then, in the closing verses of the chapter, he goes on to explain how he had done this; what had been necessary in order thereto; and what was the ultimate end at which he had aimed: “Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disapproved.”***
[* See Philip Mauro’s ‘Faith to the Saving of the Soul’ in chapter 16 of “God’s Pilgrims.” - Ed.]
** Compare Philippians 2: 16: “That I may rejoice in view of (eis) the Day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”
*** Compare “Study to show thyself approved (dokimon) unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,” 2 Tim. 2: 16.]
Let me briefly paraphrase these
last verses in order to bring out their meaning more clearly. The language is highly figurative, yet its
meaning would be perfectly clear to those to whom it was first addressed. The Isthmian games, the great public festival
This paraphrase is long, but scarcely longer than the force and value of the language demands. It is only when we enter into the flow of thought which was in the Apostle’s mind, that we can see how impossible it was for him to imply by the word translated “castaway” a fear that in the end he might lose his soul; and how certain it was he meant to show that the object* after which he was striving, with the full earnestness of his whole being, was the approval of his Master upon the service of his life! Vast indeed is the difference between these things. Those who teach that what the Apostle feared was the loss of his [eternal] salvation, not only obscure a deeply important and precious doctrine of Scripture - the [eternal] security of the believer in virtue of his Lord’s ever-availing, never-ceasing intercession - but hide from our view what was the true impelling motive of his life, namely a single-hearted desire for the service and the glory of his Lord. To represent him as working with the guiding motive of securing his own [eternal] salvation, is surely to suggest that he was the subject of something indistinguishable from a refined spiritual selfishness: to represent him, as this passage when rightly interpreted does, in the character of a man influenced only by the desire of securing his Lord’s glory, his Master’s approval, is a noble lesson of complete unselfishness.** It is one of the maturest attainments of the Christian life to learn to leave self as much out of the question of service as of salvation, and to realise that the labour of the believer, as much as his salvation, should have for its ultimate object,** the glory of his Lord.
[* NOTE. The ‘object’ in Phil. 3: 11 was “to attain to the [out] resurrection from the dead” (Gk.); the ‘object’ in 1 Cor. 9: 24 was “to get the prize”; the ‘object’ in Rom. 8: 17, was to “also share in his [Christ’s] glory”; the ‘object’ in 1 Tim. 6: 19, was “that they may (in ‘the coming age’) take hold of the life that is truly life”; the ‘object’ in 2.Tim 2: 12, was “if we endure we will also reign with him” [Christ]; the ‘object’ in Titus 3: 7, is that “we might become heirs having the hope of aionious life,” that is, ‘life’ in the coming ‘age’; the ‘object’ in 1 Thess. 2: 12, was “to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory”; the ‘object’ in Col. 3: 23, was to “work for the Lord, not for men”: and all of these texts point us onward to “an INHERITANCE from the Lord as a REWARD” (Col. 3: 24).]
[** “For if thou not to Him aspire,
But to His gifts alone,
Not love, but covetous desire,
Has brought thee to His throne”
In endeavouring to lay before you a few of the lessons of this holy subject, let me group what has to be said under two heads: (1) the Christian’s work and its reward; and (2) some of the hindrances which stand in the way of the accomplishment of that work and the attainment of the reward. Both of these lines of thought are suggestively illustrated by the chapter before us.
1. THE CHRISTIAN’S WORK AND ITS REWARD.
It is needful to realise that a Christian is always represented in Scripture as saved for a purpose; and that purpose is that he should show forth on earth now, and presently in heaven above, the excellencies of Him who hath called him out of darkness into His marvellous light. Christian service is, therefore, the development of God’s redemption in its effects on life and character in this world. The holy walk of the Christian, and his practical likeness to his Lord, are the evidence that he is saved with a divine salvation. But this salvation is represented in Scripture in different aspects. It is sometimes spoken of as complete, and the passages which so describe it refer to its judicial title. This is not derived from any efforts of our own, or any merit of our own, but only from the finished work of our Lord and Saviour. In another class of texts it is spoken of as incomplete - continuously developing, as to its practical effects, from one stage to another; and in this aspect it is represented, necessarily, as a matter of progression and future attainment.* The passages which so describe it are, accordingly, those which speak of the manifest results of salvation displayed in a holy walk and conversation from day to day. In following out the analogy of the race and the prize, we may say that [eternal] salvation in the first sense, that is as to judicial title, is the starting post of our course; and that salvation [of the ‘soul’ (See 1 Pet. 1: 5, 9)] in the second sense that is as to its matured development in, all practical results, is the goal where we shall receive the crown of approval from our Lord’s hand, if our work has been rightly done, our service rightly rendered. Let us take two passages illustrating these two aspects of [the present and future aspect of] salvation. In 2 Tim. 1: 9, it is described in these words, “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling.” Here we have salvation represented as complete so far as its title is concerned. But look now at Phil. 2: 12, where believers are exhorted to “work out (into practical detail) their own salvation.” Here is a passage which speaks of salvation as incomplete, as to the development of its character and effects from day to day, in the lives of Christians. It is, then, in this progressive sense that salvation is a race. We start with a title, a free title, secured for us in the blood of the Lamb; with a sure and certain hope that, not according to our own works, but according to the purpose and grace of God dealing with us for Christ’s sake, we have “acceptance in the Beloved,” and shall reach heaven at last; but if we realise this, we ought, surely, to show its due effects, and to manifest, in all the details of holy living, the evidence of our salvation. Alas, how often do Christians give less heed to this last aspect of the matter than to the first!
[* See, for example, 1 Pet. 2: 2, “As newborn babes desire spiritual unadulterated milk that by it ye may grow unto salvation,” i.e., the development of salvation, and its effects, in character and life. The words, “unto salvation,” are added by the six great editors, and adopted by the R.V.]
Let us look at the application of these things to the passage just quoted. The Philippians were exhorted to work out their salvation with fear and trembling and one has only to glance at the context to see how needful this was. It is evident that amongst them there was much murmuring and self-seeking, many differences of judgment, and perhaps even sharp disputes, which, though they may have been about important matters, appear to have caused those engaged in them to fail in manifesting the peaceful loveliness of the Christian character. An onlooker might have said, “These Philippians are very much like other men: they dispute amongst themselves, and seem to be selfish, proud, and contentious.” Here, then, is the point of the exhortation to them, which may be paraphrased thus: “Work out your salvation into all the practical details of life. Let men see that you are saved from the rule of those motives and passions which govern worldly hearts; and remember in working out your salvation, that God is working in you; that you are face to face with Himself; that you stand in His holy presence: work on, therefore, in a spirit of holy reverential awe, trembling lest you should fail to rightly accomplish that which He has given you to do.” How evident it is from our text in Corinthians that the Apostle himself was influenced by such feelings as these; that he himself habitually worked on the lines he laid down for others! The “fearing and trembling” of which he spoke to the Philippians are well illustrated by his own words, “Lest after I have preached to others, I myself should be disapproved.” In reverence and godly fear he wrought his work, and ran his course, as under the eye of that [righteous Judge], Lord and Master before whose holy tribunal he should one day appear, and whose approval he hoped then to gain.
It is needful, however, to realize that salvation, in the practical sense of which we are speaking, is neither to be confined, on the one hand, to the work in the Christian’s own soul and character, nor, on the other hand, to the work God may call him to do for the good of others. We all have, in some sense, a public side to our Christian life, even as we certainly have a private one; and no man’s life can be shut up to his own inner experience. Sometimes our danger lies in thinking too much of the service we have amongst others - our external service: sometimes we are in danger of thinking too much of service as entirely a matter of that life within the soul whose activities are seen only by the eye of our Lord. It is in the union of these two aspects, the inner and the outer, - the external being indeed the outcome of the internal - that we shall best learn how salvation is to be developed in the daily life. In the passage which forms the text, the Apostle was speaking of his visible service amongst the Corinthians and others, but all the observations he makes express principles which must have guided him and should guide us in the inner life also. We should work for our Master’s approval: and that approval, or diapproval, must rest upon every aspect of the work [which He has] given us to do. Of every day’s life, therefore, and that in all its aspects, we have to say, “I fear lest I should be disapproved: I desire that that which I do may be approved.”
It is now easy to understand what the Apostle meant by comparing the approval of the Lord upon his service, to the wreath laid upon the victor’s head at the end of the race. His anxiety was, and it was a deep anxiety indeed, that he should do nothing of which the Lord, whom he so loved, and for whom he laboured with the full intensity of his heart’s devotion, should not be able to say, when it was laid at His feet, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” He thought of that ‘DAY’ [See 2 Pet. 3: 8.] when all things should be revealed, and the counsels of all hearts made manifest, and longed that it might be then seen that, not selfishness, but love for his heavenly Master, had been the impelling principle of his life and service; and that of him it might be then found true, even as he had told the Corinthians earlier in the Epistle, that then “every man shall have (his due) praise of God.” With this, also, we may compare the analogy of the race and the prize, as wrought out by the Apostle in application to himself, in the third chapter of Philippians: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The imagery of the arena is easily traceable here: the runner, not looking backwards but reaching forward, his body bent, and every nerve strained in the effort to reach the goal first, and receive the victor's prize - all these are in strict analogy with our text. The Apostle says he had not yet reached that “mark” nor gained that “prize,” but he “followed after,” he pressed on continually, that he might “apprehend” it, that he might reach and secure the approval he so earnestly desired. And surely this approval is [in] itself [part of] the “prize!”* It is false teaching to represent final [eternal] salvation as the prize; for unless we first receive salvation by grace through faith, we cannot even start in the race of the Christian life. We are not qualified to begin our course until by faith we receive and possess [eternal] salvation through the blood of the Lamb of God. “The prize of our high calling” can surely only be held out to those who have already been called with that calling. These, then, are they who can run: these are they who should so rum as to obtain that prize - the approving words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
[* We believe attaining the “our-resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3: 11; Luke 20: 35) – that is, “the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14: 14. cf. Matt. 5: 20) and of REWARD - must also be part of the “Prize”; and the “Prize” must, at a future date, pointing the holy dead toward the “Crown” and coming “Glory” (Luke 9: 24-26) – a salvation of the “soul” (not “life” as found in the N.I.V.) which can be lost! (Acts 5: 1-10); and this points us forward to rulership in the millennial “Kingdom” (Rev. 20: 4-6) of Christ: and that “kingdom” (Luke 22: 30; Mark 14: 25) is the future “inheritance” of “saints” - an inheritance which Paul repeatedly states throughout his epistles to the churches - we can lose in the “day” of judgment by wilfil sin and disobedience: (1 Cor. 5: 9-13; 6: 9-11; Gal. 5: 13-21; Eph. 5: 3-7; Heb. 10: 26-30, etc. - Ed.]
2. THE HINDRANCES WHICH MAY RETARD US IN THIS
EFFORT TO OBTAIN THE HEAVENLY PRIZE.
They may be summed up in one word - SELF. True, they may not orginate in ourselves, for our difficulties often come to us from without; but if the heart is right, if self, as to all its evil impulses and influences, is duly controlled, difficulties from without will not gain the mastery over us. It was of evil self struggling for dominion that the Apostle spoke when he said, “I buffet my body, and bring it into slave-subjection” which language imports, “I serve God through the body and its powers, but, by His grace, I allow not the body to be the master and myself its servant.” Nothing is more evident than that by “the body” here, the Apostle means not merely the material body, but the whole of his natural being. For the body and its members may be used as “instruments of righteousness” for the service of God, or as “instruments of unrighteousness” in the service of sin, at the impulse of that will which is naturally always evil, but which in [regenerate] believers is [should be] subdued and controlled by grace. In the sixth chapter of 2 Corinthians the Apostle recounts a multitude of difficulties which had gathered around his life and his ministry - difficulties so mighty and so many that, but for God’s help, he would have been turned aside or stopped altogether in his work. But these things prevailed not: in all, and notwithstanding all, he approved himself, by the abounding grace of God, to be a faithful servant of Christ. It is a common mistake, one which we are all apt to make, that our circumstances control and govern us. We are always prone to say, “I could and I would do this, or that, if only my circumstances were different.” The text, however, shows us that this ought not to be so. In the midst of the most adverse circumstances we may be more than conquerors through Him who loved us and in spite of all difficulties we may do the Lord’s will, and secure the Lord’s approval, if only the heart be kept right. Let us then, as to this point, concentrate our attention upon OURSELVES. Let us discern that in self lies the great difficulty; that self must be subdued; that the body must be kept under and brought into subjection; that lust and passion, pride and vain-glory, self-love and self-gratification, must not guide or control us. If they do, our path will be a self-chosen path, our work a self-devised one: we shall miss the work which our Lord would give us to do; we shall not run in the race to which He would direct us. In another Epistle we find these words, “If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully” - words fully parallel with our text, for they teach us that in the Lord’s work we must work lawfully; that is, the principles, restrictions, and rules which are to govern us must not be self-contrived nor self-dictated, but received from Him. We need, therefore, first, to know His will; then to do it. We cannot know His will unless He teach us, so guiding us, by His revealed truth, that in every exigency, in every difficulty, we may find the right path by the light of His Word. We cannot do His will unless our wills be laid at His feet unless self shrink out of sight, and the Lord become all in all to our souls. How difficult is this! So difficult is it, indeed, that unless it were for the words, “but He giveth more grace” (Jas. 4: 6), it would prove for all of us, not only difficult, but insuperable.
May God give us grace to share the Apostle’s fear lest, after we have discerned the true principles which should guide us in service for God, and perhaps even pointed them out to others, we should ourselves fail so to work by the direction of these principles as to miss the Master’s approval of our labour. May He fill us with holy “fear and trembling:” fear lest we grieve Him, and a trembling distrust of ourselves! But this is not the only motive that should constrain our souls to seek and long for our Lord’s approval. Let Him but reveal Himself to us in His surpassing love, in the matchless beauty of His holiness, and the irresistible attraction of His grace, and our hearts shall be bound to Him with cords of love never again to be loosed, and drawn as willing captives after His blessed footsteps. Of Him, “the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely,” it is written that “He pleased not Himself.” Let us learn to be like Him in this. May we have such a view of His perfectness, that our whole being may gladly yield itself to Him; and that we may learn to regard ourselves, as the Apostle himself delighted to do, as the “BOND-SLAVES” of Jesus Christ; realising that the approval of our Heavenly Master, in THE DAY OF HIS COMING GLORY, is the sweet REWARD laid up for all who truly serve Him here below.*
[* Read more background information about the ‘good doctor’ C. Y. Biss, in the “Writings of Others” section. – Ed.]