D. M. PANTON, B.A.
A grave and imminent peril that attends all who teach the highest truths of the Kingdom is embodied by Paul in the person of the herald at the Isthmian Games. If also a man contend in the games, he is not crowned, except he have contended lawfully (2 Tim. 2: 5) - that is, according to the rules laid down for the athletic contests - leaping, throwing, racing, boxing, and wrestling; and the Herald was the embodiment of the rules. He marshalled the runners; he explained the regulations of each contest; he gave the signal he watched the running; he named the disqualified at the goal; and he apportioned the prize-chaplets. In all the concourse of runners, the Herald stood alone, in the supreme danger of all.
Through Paul the Holy Ghost says that the Christian race and the Greek races have a close analogy, with identity on the main points: as the combats were trials of physical strength, tests of muscular excellence, so our running and wrestling prove exactly what is our spiritual fibre and efficiency.
Know ye not - a knowledge therefore that we ought to possess that they which run in a race - that is, what is about to be expounded is not the Christians standing but his running all run, but one receiveth the prize?* Even so run, that ye may attain - the prize. The prize, therefore, of which the Apostle speaks, is no gift of grace, no part of [eternal] salvation: it is the award of keen endeavour and undying effort: apathy, weariness, indifference forfeit it: it is open to all the saved, but won by few. To deny or decry the race is manifestly to lose the crown. So run, says the Holy Ghost, that you be crowned; for you will never find crowds at the Strait Gate, and keen, swift, tireless runners are always few.
* Upon the pillars along the stadium inscriptions were posted:- Excel! Hasten! Finish the course!
What exactly the Prize is the Apostle explicitly states, and in doing so emphasizes its value. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown - a wreath of wild olive or a chaplet of parsley but we an incorruptible - the unwithering amaranth of God. The athletes crown had its perishability stamped upon it, whereas the Christians crown is the crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Pet. 5: 4). No Greek ran for the olive or parsley only, but for the immense honour it conferred; nor does the Christian run so much for the Crown, as for the Kingdom. For the Crown is merely an alternative phrase for the Kingdom, and so Paul immediately follows* with the great type of the Kingdom won or lost by the believer. In the words of Godet:- The analogy between this passage (1 Cor. 10: 1-11) and the preceding is striking: this nation, that had come out of Egypt to get to Canaan, corresponds to the runner who, after starting in the race, misses the prize, for want of perseverance in self-sacrifice. The one runner whom the judge of the contest crowns is the counterpart of the two faithful Israelites, to whom alone it was given to enter the Promised Land. The prize of the crown is coronation in the Kingdom.**
* For I would not have you ignorant (1 Cor. 10: 1). [ see the Greek words], which is the right reading instead of [ ], gives the reason for [ ] in 9: 27, and thus connects the two arguments together (Dean Stanley).
** The link between the chapters is extraordinarily illuminating:- For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant: that is, you will discover what the prize, or crown, is - which even an Apostle might lose by what follows. All under the Passover Blood, all delivered from Egypt, all following the God-indwelt Cloud, all feeding on Christ, all drinking of the Spirit howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased. The five times repeated all corresponds to all that ran in the races, the vast majority of whom missed the Prize. In the application, the goal is no more identical with the prize, than in the actual case. The goal is perfect holiness; the prize is glory, the crown of holiness (Godet).
Paul now reveals that, while he is a herald, he is also himself a runner, and incidentally introduces the figure of boxing. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; it is no phantom race, no imaginary crown: so fight I, as not beating the air - I am not sparring in the stadium for mere practice: he is not among those who beat the air, but those who beat their passions - he lands his blows. A Greek athlete could be outrun by a stronger runner who yet had trained infinitely less, and so lose the prize; but in the Christian race every competitor, who fulfils the conditions, wins the crown: moreover, mutual emulation is mutual profit, and the better our brothers are running, the greater our own chance of the prize. Pauls certainty (as he himself says) is not that he will achieve the Prize, for the standard of holiness it requires is not revealed: his certainty is that, if he fulfils the conditions, the Crown is as sure as God.
But now we arrive at the peril, and by fastening it upon himself Paul makes any exception among Christian teachers impossible for ever. If Paul was endangered, all are so, and the more Scriptural the teacher, the more liable he is to this peculiar peril. Lest - for a danger is looming on the horizon - by any means - for there are a thousand pitfalls ‑ after that I have acted the herald to others, I myself should be rejected* - disqualified, disapproved at the goal, prizeless: lest after having declared to others what they ought to do, I should myself be rejected as unworthy of the prize (Dean Stanley). This, obviously, is a peril peculiar to the Herald. The teacher of the profoundest prophetical truths, who is in the ministry, accepts the converts, and marshals the lists; he expounds the Scriptures that are the rules of the running - what conduct is rewarded, what particular actions and habits forfeit the Prize; he throws his whole soul (it may be) into stimulating the runners; and he knows, probably better than most, who is leading in the race. But his prominence as a herald infinitely aggravates his peril as a runner. Paul assumes a teacher perfectly Scriptural in all he lays down for the running, and on the very fulness of his expert knowledge bases the aggravated disgrace of his failure. Such stands forth as the man who brought others to the Crown, and lost it himself.
* Unworthy of a prize, of a crown. It is a word which is used in the public games (Bengel). By this we are not to understand disqualified for the conflict, but unsuccessful in the issue (Lange). Pauls lest, that by any means, of fear, answers to his if by any means, of desire, in Phil. 3: 12. The object of hope is before him in the last, the object of fear in the present case (Govett). The crown may not only be lost by the believer, but he may forfeit it after it is won (Rev. 3: 11).
Now it is vital to observe where exactly Paul locates the enemy. But, he says, - lest I should so collapse - I buffet - again he employs the language of the pugilistic contests: I box black and blue my body, and bring it into bondage: I bruise my body, and lead it about as a slave. Here is the deadly enemy. The careful expounder of Scripture is likely to be safeguarded from the world by the inevitable costliness of his teaching, and he is probably sufficiently informed and awake to avoid Satanic deception; but the worst enemy of all remains - self; that is, principally, THE BODY. The body, as in part the seat and organ of sin, is used for our whole sinful nature; it was not merely his sensual nature that Paul endeavoured to bring into subjection, but all the evil propensities and passions of his heart (C. Hodge, D.D.). Paul himself, as herald, names a number of prohibitions in the Christian stadium, and all centre in the body. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties [R.V. margin], envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they which practise such things [do them habitually] shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal. 5: 19). Any one of these forfeits the Prize, and of any one (or more) the Herald can be guilty. The shifting among the runners that never ceases is embodied for ever in our Lords warning:- So the last shall be first, AND THE FIRST SHALL BE LAST (Matt. 20: 16).*
* It is astonishing how strongly, even angrily, the truth of the responsibility God has put on His servants, with its momentous consequences, is resisted; but the Galatian word supplies a reason - all the works of the flesh, in whomsoever lying concealed, are deadly enemies of this truth. Even comment on this passage can be its total denial:- It is a gift, and not a reward to which there is a just claim; there is no case of merit here (David Thomas, D.D.). If so, the whole statement and reasoning of Paul is a flagrant false hood. Evangelicals who think to defend grace by denying reward are doing a grave disservice to grace by bringing it into fatal (and utterly untrue) collision with explicit Scriptures. Moreover, the failure to discriminate between the Prize of the Kingdom and the Gift of eternal life leads logically to the Arminianism of Bishop Wordsworth (in loc.):- Paul was not assured in his own mind of his own salvation, and did not know but that he might become reprobate. consequently, no one can be fully assured of his own final acceptance with God.
So now we reach the sole solution. The Apostle had already indicated the general
condition of success:- Every man that striveth in the
games is temperate - exercises self-control (
* For example, what can shake the lethargy, or waken the slumber, of the millions of denominationalists in the modern world? If the denominations around us are not Pauls factions, divisions, parties (Gal. 5: 20), where are these latter to be found? and if the denominations are not factions, divisions, parties, what are they? But this Scripture explicitly states that all sectarianism cancels the Kingdom, a warning which not one believer in a thousand seems to heed.
No foreigner could run in the Greek race. Only he ran who was a full-blooded Greek: so no competitor can run in the heavenly race except one who is born again, that is, of heavenly stock, - no more aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise (Eph. 2: 12). And eternal life is no prize, but a gift; a gift set at the beginning of the Christian course, and not at the end; and a gift which, the moment it is accepted, creates the competitor in the race. The FREE GIFT of God is ETERNAL LIFE (Rom. 6: 23). But there are last entered who may be first crowned.