1 Corinthians


6. Eating food offered to idols, 8:1-11:1

iv] Run the race to get the prize


Paul continues to deal with the Corinthians claimed right to eat food associated with idolatry, eg., eating at pagan celebrations, eating food consecrated to idols. Paul has provided his own example of self-control, happily becoming "all thing to all people" for the sake of their salvation. Paul now uses the illustration of an athlete, saying that he willingly pummels his body, pushes through his desire for self-indulgence, of claiming of his own rights, and that he does this to achieve the prize, namely, the work of the gospel with its goal of saving the lost. Paul writes with the intention that his example should be followed by those who demand their freedom to eat food associated with idols at the possible expense of a brother's salvation.


i] Context: See 8:1-13. Thiselton notes that in establishing the necessity to practice voluntary renunciation of rights and entitlements in the Christian life, Paul provides three examples:

IThe example of his own life, 9:1-23;

IThe example of Graeco-Roman competitive pursuits, 9:24-27. and;

IThe example of scripture, 10:1-13.

In the athletic illustration, v24-27, Paul shows that the Christian life requires self-discipline - "living the Christian life requires effort and the suppression of appetites and longings", Garland. Paul still has in mind the central issue of eating food associated with idolatry, which issue continues through chapter 10. So, in 10:1-13, Paul warns the libertine Corinthian believers, "the strong", of their false security. Israel perished in the wilderness and they were God's specially chosen people. Paul then goes on to expose the Satanic links with pagan cultic activities, 10:14-22. Finally, in 10:23-11:1 he tackles the issue of temple food in the marketplace and approves its purchase and eating, as long as a "weaker" brother is not confused by this action.


ii] Background: See 8:1-13.


iii] Structure: Run the race to get the prize:

The fourth step in Paul's argument against eating idol food.


For the sake of the gospel,

a believer should share the condition of their fellows.


An athlete in strict training

striving for their ultimate goal, v24-25.


Train for a crown that lasts forever, v26-27.


iv] Interpretation:

In this passage Paul illustrates his own self-discipline, exercised for the sake of the gospel, by using an example of the training undertaken by elite athletes.


For a believer, the higher goal is the gospel of God's grace realized in the salvation of the lost. To attain this goal, for self and others, requires the application of determined strength against the distractions of self-indulgence. So, in this passage Paul sets "before his readers the need for spiritual self-discipline by a number of stunning images drawn from the athletic games", Barnett. Be like a runner who is intent on winning the prize, says Paul; run with that same intent. The point of the illustration is not so much the application of effort in the Christian life, or of competing to win the eternal crown, but rather a focused intent - a self-disciplined dedication to the cause of the gospel.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 9:24

Run the race to get the prize, v24-27: i] An athletic illustration serving to make the point that a believer must practice "self-discipline", egkrateia, v24-25.

ouk oidate (oida) perf. "do you not know" - do you not know. The negation ouk in a question expects an affirmative answer; "yes". The perfect is intensive, translated in the present tense. This particular phrase is used some ten times by Paul in the letter and expresses some intensity; "surely you know." "Are you not aware", or expressed as a statement, "you are well aware", Barclay.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they are aware of.

en + dat. "in [a race]" - [the ones running] in/at [a stadium]. Local, expressing space; "those racing in the stadium", Berkeley.

oiJ ... treconteV (trecw) pres. part. "the runners" - the ones running. Participle serves as a substantive.

men .... de "[run] but" - [all] indeed [run] but ..... Adversative comparative construction.

brabeion (on) "prize" - [one receives] a reward for having won a competition. Accusative direct object of the verb "to receive."

trecete (trecw) imp/ind. "run" - Surely imperative here. Paul is calling for a type of running, rather than winning. He is calling for a winning type of running. This serves to image a Christian life which exercises self-control, even self-denial, for the sake of the gospel. Such behavior enables the gospel can do its saving work unhindered by behavior which undermines the faith of a seeker / believer.

ouJtwV "in such a way as" - thus, so, in this way. Comparative. Probably referring back, so "run in this way, ie., like the (one) person who runs and wins the prize."

iJna + subj. "to [get the prize]" - that [you may obtain it]. Possibly forming a purpose clause, "in order that you may obtain the prize", "run so as to win", NAB. Yet, it is likely that with the adverb ou{twV the clause is epexegetic explaining the type of running Paul is calling for, "run like that - to win", NJB.


The illustration is extended to make two further points:

IA runner goes into strict training, that is, they exercise strict self-control, self-discipline, they exercise mastery over themselves. For the believer on the "way", this entails setting aside personal rights and freedoms, especially when they undermine a brother's faith.

IA runner, training for a race, aims to win a wreath that will soon falls apart, while the believer trains for an incorruptible wreath. At first glance, it seems that Paul is speaking about the prize of eternity, but he is probably referring to the work of the gospel; the "fruit of souls" is the immortal prize.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, providing the next step in the argument, "now / moreover everyone ...."

oJ agwnizomenoV (agorizomai) mid. part. "[everyone] who competes in the games" - [all] the ones competing, striving as in a contest. The participle serves as a substantive; "Athletes", NRSV.

egkrateuetai (egkrateuomai) pres. "goes into [strict] training" - exercises self-control, self-discipline, self-denial. "To exercise mastery over oneself."

panta adj. "strict [training]" - in all things. Accusative of respect, "exercises self-discipline with respect to / in everything."

ekeinoi pro. "they" - these ones do it. Nominative subject of an elliptical clause.

oun "-" - therefore. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

men ..... de ..... "..... but" - [that] on the one hand [they may receive a perishable wreath] but on the other hand, [we do it that we may receive an imperishable prize] Adversative comparative construction.

iJna + subj. "to [get]" - that [they may receive]. Here introducing a purpose clause, "in order that they may win a fading crown."

stefanon (oV) "a crown" - A wreath consisting either of foliage, or of precious metals formed to resemble foliage, and worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office*.

afqarton adj. "we do it to get a crown that will last forever" - an imperishable, incorruptible wreath, prize. It is generally argued that Paul is imaging the final goal of the Christian life, namely, "the eschatological goal", Fee, "the crowns of righteousness, glory and life", Thiselton. Paul's use of this image here would then serve as a warning as to the eternal consequences for those in Corinth who feel that their freedom has priority over a brother's spiritual welfare. Yet, is this what Paul is driving at? In v23 the "imperishable" thing is likely to be the gospel and thus of Paul's desire to play his part in it, rather than to gain the blessings / benefits of it, ie., eternal life. So, it may well be that the "crown" is the reward for Paul's participation in the work of the gospel, namely, the fruit of souls. Possibly also the "well done thou good and faithful servant", although, in Jesus, all believers get the "well done mate"!!!


ii] Application, v26-27. Using his own life, Paul applies the illustration to underline the necessity of self-disciplined purposefulness in the Christian life. "I don't press forward in the Christian life like an athlete without a training schedule." The runner trains hard with their goal in mind, they don't just jog around the oval. Similarly with the boxer, he pummels the punching bag rather than plays at shadow-boxing.

toinun "therefore" - therefore, thus. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion. "I, for my part, therefore, am so running as one not distracted from keeping an eye clearly on the goal", Thiselton.

egw pro. "I" - Emphatic by use and position; "as for myself, I run ...."

ou{twV adv. "-" - in this manner. Modal adverb. Referring back to the athletic approach of a champion, v25. "I run that way", Berkeley.

trecw pres. "run" - run. It is likely that Paul is continuing with his training illustration and that therefore, both the running and boxing imagery here refer to "strict training" rather than running a race. "I don't press forward in the Christian life like an athlete without a training schedule."

wJV "-" - [not] as, as if, like. Comparative; "I do not run my course as a man in doubt of his course", Cassirer.

adhlwV adv. "aimlessly" - a runner who runs uncertainly. Modal adverb, expressing the manner of running, "with uncertainty"; "I do not run as if there were no goal to reach."

pukteuw "I do [not] fight" - [I in this manner] box [not like, as]. A change in imagery which enables Paul to speak of pummeling his own body, v27.

derwn (derw) pres. part. "a man beating [the air] / a boxer beating the air" - a boxer beating, flaying [air]. The participle adverbial, modal, expressing manner. Possibly describing a boxer who wastes his time "shadow-boxing", Barclay, Phillips, NAB, or better, a boxer in training who, instead of getting into the rough of it, dances around like a fairy and plants his "blows upon the empty air", Moffatt.


Although this verse reads as if Paul is encouraging self-flagellation, he is simply saying that he strives to bring his life (not his "body") under control; "I discipline my life, for I don't want to tell others to exercise self-discipline, and then find my own life exposed as undisciplined (literally "failed the test", rather than "disqualified for the prize")." Paul is again using his own life as an example of someone whose life-style is purposeful, marked by self-constraint, self-control, and this for the gospel. Paul has willingly put aside his rights for the sake of the gospel.

alla "no" - but. Strong adversative.

uJpwpiazw pres. "I beat / strike a blow" - i treat severely. The literal sense of the word is "to strike under the eye / to give a black eye to", which leads to a metaphorical sense, "treat roughly / maltreat", BAGD. It is very unlikely that Paul has in mind self-flagellation, rather he illustrates the mastering of his life with a view to eternal verities; "I discipline my life", Bruce.

mou gen. pro. "my [body]" - The genitive is possessive. It is unlikely that Paul has in mind the fleshly body, rather the sense is metaphorical, "that piece of the world which we ourselves are and for which we bear responsibility", Kasemann; "myself", Fee.

doulagwgw (doulagwgew) pres. "make it my slave" - [and] lead, make, bring under control, enslave it. The literal sense leads to the metaphorical, "bring it (Paul's life, not fleshly body) under control", NJB.

mh pwV + subj. "so that" - lest somehow. The particle pwV introduces uncertainty into the negation, so "lest perhaps", and with the subjunctive genwmai serves to form a negated purpose clause expressing some uncertainty; "lest it may happen that."

khruxaV (khrussw) aor. part. "after I have preached" - having preached. The participle is adverbial, probably introducing a temporal clause, as NIV. We often understand the word "preaching" in terms of gospel preaching, evangelism, but obviously here the preaching is to believers, particularly the Corinthian libertines.

alloiV dat. pro. "to others" - Dative of indirect object.

genwmai (ginomai) aor. subj. "I [myself] will not be" - i may become [myself].

adokimoV adj. "disqualified for the prize" - disqualified, not standing a test. Predicate adjective. The sense "unqualified / disqualified / rejected as unusable / not approved" probably pushes the meaning too far, unless of course, Paul has in mind the 10 month training schedule that is required for participation in the Isthmian games, without which an athlete is disqualified. The primary sense of the word relates to testing the purity of metals, especially coinage: "that which does not prove itself to be such as it ought", Thiselton. In failing the test, Paul is not saying he loses his salvation, rather that the worth of his life, his ministry, is shown to be not as it ought to be. "I discipline my life, for I don't want to tell others ("preached") to exercise self-discipline, and then find my own life exposed as undisciplined."


1 Corinthians Introduction



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