Muzzling the Ox (1 Corinthians 9:1-23)
Everywhere the apostle went, his steps were dogged by legalistic men who hated the doctrine of grace and who sought in every way possible to shake the confidence of his converts. They questioned his commission and denied that he was a true apostle. In order to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ in an official sense, it was necessary that one should have seen the Lord and been commissioned by Him. Moreover the signs of an apostle—that is, the working of wonders—should be in evidence. Paul’s enemies intimated that he could not be a true apostle, for he was not one of the Lord’s witnesses when He was here on earth. They said he had never seen the Lord, had no true commission from Him, and was not able to work the wonders that were the signs of an apostle. Paul answered his detractors in this way: “Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”
Certainly Paul had seen the Lord. He saw the risen Savior when he was thrown to the ground on the Damascus turnpike. That day the Lord said to him:
I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26:16-18).
Thus Paul received his commission. And had he not performed the signs of an apostle? Although he did not even deign to speak of the miracles to the Corinthians, he had indeed wrought wonders, as had the twelve. But there was a far greater sign that always accompanied his ministry, and so he said to those who had been turned to the Lord through his preaching of the Word: “If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.”
The evidence that Paul was truly a God-sent servant was found in this fact: wherever he went, the Spirit of God confirmed the message that he carried, convicted men of their sin, led them to definite faith in Christ, and gave them the assurance of forgiveness and justification. Afterward they demonstrated by their new life the reality of the work that had taken place in their souls. And so Paul said in effect, “Do you listen to men who impugn my apostleship? Are you prepared to believe that possibly the signs of an apostle are not found in me? What about yourselves? Who brought you to Christ? To whom are you indebted under God for the knowledge of His grace?”
Others were saying, “Well, you can see he is not as confident in his own leadership abilities as the other apostles are. He does not even have a wife; he goes about alone.” There are people who tell us that Paul was a bachelor and that this possibly accounts for some things that he said in this letter and elsewhere in regard to the place and ministry of women. But many believe that this view is mistaken because when the blood of the martyr Stephen was shed, Paul gave his voice (or literally, his vote) against him. That seems to imply that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews, and that he voted for the death of Stephen. Paul could not have been a member of the Sanhedrin if he had not attained the age of thirty years and if he had not been a married man. So it may be that he had been married in his earlier life, but now was a widower and he chose to devote the rest of his life to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
His reason for remaining single was not that he thought it was wrong for a minister of Christ to have a wife. The idea that those who preach the gospel should live the celibate life was unknown in apostolic days; as already noted, that was a superstitious fiction of later years when men came to believe that the unmarried monk and the childless nun were holier than the Christian father or mother.
Paul said in effect, “I have full authority to lead about a sister in Christ as a wife. I have full authority to marry a sister in Christ if I desire to do so. The other apostles did.” This of course proves that the celibacy of the clergy, so-called, was unknown in those days. Paul specifically asked, “Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?” That means James, Jude, and Cephas (Simon Peter) were married men (see Matthew 8:14). Some people tell us that Peter was the first pope. Well then, he was a married pope! Paul and Barnabas chose the celibate life so that they might be untrammeled in their missionary work as they traveled from land to land and endured hardships one should not expect a wife to share.
Others objected to Paul’s apostleship on this ground: he knows he is not a true apostle, for he does not depend on his ministry for his temporal support. I suppose if he were living today, there would be those who would say, “He degrades the cloth by working for a living.” Paul was a tentmaker and some were saying, “He would never soil his hands making tents if he knew that he was a genuinely appointed apostle; he would never stoop to anything like that.” But he himself said in effect, “Oh no, I have a perfect right to be supported in the same way as others, but I have reasons for refusing to permit you to support me.”
Paul came to the Corinthians when they were heathens, when they were pagans living vile ungodly lives, and he did not intend to pass the collection plate then and ask them to contribute toward his support. He preferred to go among them and labor, working with his own hands to support himself and his companions in order to keep the gospel absolutely “without charge.” I wish the church of God had never given up that position. It is a great reproach on the church of God when its representatives turn to a Christless world and beg and wheedle money out of ungodly men to support the work of the Lord. The divine method is that the work of spreading the gospel of God should be supported by the people of God who give out of love for Christ, and when a servant of Christ under certain circumstances is not thus properly supported, he should not be above working with his own hands while he continues to minister the gospel as opportunities present themselves.
To demonstrate that it is quite right and proper for the Lord’s servants to be supported by the church of God, the apostle asked some pertinent questions. “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” If a man is a soldier, he is not expected to support himself; the country for which he is fighting takes care of him. “Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?”
Then Paul used an apt illustration from the law of Moses. It is written in Deuteronomy 25:4: “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” The reference is to the old-fashioned way of threshing corn or wheat: the ox went around and around and trod on it. How inhuman it would have been if the ox when becoming hungry had not been permitted to munch a little of the grain as he was treading! The law permitted him to have some for himself. “Doth God take care for oxen?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.” There is an admonition here, something for the people of God to take note of: “That he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”
And so Paul laid this down as a principle: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things”—that is, if the servant of Christ gives his whole time and energy to the study of the Word of God so that he might better minister to the spiritual needs of his flock, if he turns from what people call secular life—”is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” Just as the ox finds its food in the work it is doing, so the Lord has appointed that His servants should be cared for by those who receive the benefit of the ministry that they give. “If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather?” Paul asked. “Nevertheless we have not used this power…lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” In other words, “We prefer to forego our own rights in order that you may see that our service is an unselfish one and in order that the heathen may not say that we are in the ministry for what we can get out of it.”
Paul then asked, “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things should live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?” These words refer to the priests in Judaism, for they were sustained by tithes and offerings. In our dispensation there is no distinct priesthood and all believers are priests, yet those who give themselves completely to ministering the Word are to be sustained by the people of God. Thus we read, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” But if a servant of Christ declares, “I choose to forego that privilege; I am able to support myself and still carry on the work of the Lord,” he is free to do it. Paul chose that path; he did not want even one person to say that a selfish motive prompted him.
The apostle said, as it were, “I preach the gospel because I am a servant and my Master sent me to preach it. He gave me a compulsion to preach; yes, I find myself in trouble if I do not preach.” To the Corinthians he wrote, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” I wonder if that word has been forgotten by many who once gave themselves to the ministry of the gospel, but today seldom mention the great truths whereby men and women are saved. Is it not a sad fact that many today who are looked on as evangelistic preachers never tell sinners that Christ died for the ungodly, never proclaim the saving power of the Lord Jesus, never exalt the cross as the only means of redemption? What an accounting they will have to give the Lord when they face Him some day! I wish that ministers of Christ who devote themselves to what they call a social program and merely ethical preaching would be awakened through these words of the apostle: “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” Our responsibility is to make Christ known as the only Savior of sinners.
If I do this willingly, if I gladly go forward preaching the gospel for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus, by and by when I stand at the judgment seat, I will be rewarded. Never mind whether people appreciate me now; never mind whether I get any reward down here. I can wait until that day when the Lord will evaluate everything fairly. But even if I do not preach the gospel willingly, the message is still going out and God will bless the message, but I myself will lose the reward.
“A dispensation [a stewardship] of the gospel is committed unto me,” Paul said, and he felt compelled to fulfill it. What was his present reward? Did he say, “The money that I make from preaching it”? No! He said, “What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.” Paul meant, “I will not go to dying men and say, ‘Give me your money and if you do, I will preach to you,’ but I will go and preach the Word freely whether I ever receive a penny for it or not. After they become converted, the question of financial support remains between them and the Lord. It is my business to give out the message.” The apostle took a very high and noble position.
It must be a most obnoxious thing to God when those of us who profess to be ministers of the Word commercialize His truth by setting a price on our service: only so much preaching for so much money. Paul was saying, “It is my joy to preach whether supported by men or not.”
He was not concerned about what men thought of him, but he had deliberately and of his own volition made himself to be the servant of men. “Though I be free from all men,” Paul said, “yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.” What did he mean by that? Simply this: “I am the servant of Christ, but Christ has sent me to minister His Word and I seek to do so in the way that is best for reaching men in their need; and in this sense I put myself under bondage to men in order that I may make the gospel clear to all.”
Paul continued, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.” When he preached to the Jews, he referred to the Old Testament and to their Jewish ceremonies and laws (you will find instance after instance in the book of Acts), based everything on the Jews’ hope of the Messiah, and showed how all prophecy has been fulfilled in Christ.
On the other hand, when speaking to the Gentiles, who were not familiar with the law of Moses, Paul put himself on their level. He talked of God as the Creator of all things, who gives us “rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). Paul argued that the God who does all this cannot be an image, an idol made with man’s hands; He created the heavens and the earth. And then he showed how God sent His Son to save men who have sinned against Him. Paul preached the gospel in terms that the Gentiles could understand.
“To them that are under the law,” Paul said, “[I became] as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law.” This is very interesting and should be a help to many who may not quite understand the Christian’s relation to the law. Here we have two classes of men. First there are those who are “under the law”; they are the Jews or, in our day, any to whom the law of God has been revealed. Second there are those who are “without law”; they are the Gentile nations, the pagan nations who have never heard the law of God. If Paul himself were still under the law, as some Christians think a believer is, he would not have said, “I became as under the law.” Paul was neither under the law, nor without law. Then where was he? He was not subject to legal ritual, nor was he lawless. Where then did he stand? Between the two, “being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.” He said, as it were, “I am not under the law of Moses; neither am I lawless. I am under law to God since I am legitimately subject to Christ.”
Do you see the place of the believer? It is neither under law nor without law, but in legitimate subjection to Christ. And where has Christ revealed His will for me? In the four Gospels and in the Epistles. I know some will protest, “You must not mean the four Gospels! Don’t you know that they are altogether Jewish?” But they should remember that the Spirit of God has said something very serious about those who object: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings” (1 Timothy 6:3-4). Let us be very careful that we do not teach anything that is not in accordance with the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The words of our Lord are found in the four Gospels (and nowhere else except in the first part of the book of Revelation and in one or two sentences in the book of Acts) and in these the Lord shows us the manner of life Christians should live. The Lord has further revealed His will in what we call the Epistles. Through the Holy Spirit He has shown us the heavenly calling and the kind of lives that would correspond to it. We should be very careful if we say we are not under the law—which is true—lest we be found to be lawless; that is antinomianism and repugnant to God. We are to be legitimately subject to Christ.
“To the weak became I as weak,” Paul added, “that I might gain the weak.” He meant that in ministering the Word of God he delighted to enter into the circumstances of the people to whom he spoke. Suppose a preacher makes up a sermon in the quiet of his study, works it all out carefully—his introduction, his firstly, secondly, thirdly, and as many other numbers as he likes, and then his conclusion—and says, “There, I have a sermon on such and such a text.” And then he goes to the pulpit without taking the needs of the people into consideration, and he pours out the sermon that he has made up for them in the study. That was not Paul’s way; he had the needs of his audience in mind when he preached the Word.
A minister told me about a difficult position in which he found himself one time. He had been asked to preach to a certain congregation and since he always read his sermons, he looked through the barrel, selected one, and shoved it into his briefcase with his Bible. When he got on the platform, he pulled the sermon out, spread it before him, and discovered that he had brought a different sermon from the one he had intended to bring. So he had to confess, “I am very sorry, dear friends. I have made a mistake. It is autumn but I am going to give you a sermon I preached on Memorial Day and I can only hope you will get something out of it.” Is it any wonder that people get so little edification when they listen to messages as inappropriate as that?
As a true minister of Christ, Paul’s great object was to get to the hearts of men and give them the Word that they needed. “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak.” He did not try to astonish people with his eloquence; he gave them the Word to convict and help and bless and cheer and make things plain to them. In fact he said, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” This should be the object of any gospel testimony. We have been commissioned to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
Striving for a Crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Two lines of truth that run parallel through the Word of God are salvation, which is by grace alone; and reward, which is earned by devoted service. Salvation is not a reward for anything that you or I may do, nor is Heaven a reward for a life of faithfulness here on earth. Salvation is a free gift; eternal life is a free gift; Heaven, the home of all the redeemed, is open to everyone who puts his or her trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot pay for a place in Heaven; we cannot earn it by tears, by sacrifices, by our gifts, or by anything that we can do.
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
(Augustus M. Toplady)
That must ever be the confession of each saved soul, for Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Salvation, eternal life, a place in Heaven—these are all set before us as God’s free gifts to believing sinners; but the Word of God also has a great deal to say about the importance of service and about rewards for faithfulness. “Behold, I come quickly,” said our blessed Lord, “and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12). Obviously this reward is not a place with the Lord in Heaven, but a special expression of His satisfaction with the believer because of his devoted-ness and faithfulness in life. The importance of this is brought out in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
In this passage the apostle Paul had the race course in mind. There is a great deal in the Bible about athletics. One can scarcely help coming to the conclusion that Saul of Tarsus was a thoroughly red-blooded man, interested in games, sports, and everything else that would challenge a normal decent young fellow, such as he evidently was even before he was converted. What Saul saw in the games made a deep impression on his mind, and the Holy Spirit used all this in later years to give us some very striking and remarkable illustrations, one of which we have here: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?”
What is the prize at the end of the race? For a young Greek it would not be citizenship, for it was a law among the Greeks that no one could contend in the games unless he could first prove that he was of pure Greek parentage; that had to be settled before he became a contestant. As the people watched the races they knew that the runners were already Greeks by birth. For what then were those Greek citizens running a race? To obtain honor, to obtain glory, to obtain a prize.
And so the apostle pictured those who are saved as running a race. We are already heavenly citizens. Of every Christian it is written, “Our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change [transform] our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). Our citizenship is settled if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not born Christians, but we are born-again Christians. The Lord Jesus said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:6-7).
It is a great moment in a soul’s history when he awakes to the realization that by nature and practice he is an alien, “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works” (Colossians 1:21); that he does not belong to the family of God; that before he can belong to the family of God a change must take place, a change that he himself cannot effect, but which God brings about by His sovereign power. “Of his own will,” said James, “begat he us with the word of truth” (James 1:18). Notice, it is through the Word that we are begotten of God. Peter said:
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word [not the whole Bible as such] which by the gospel is preached unto you (1 Peter 1:23-25).
Believing the gospel, we were born into the family of God, and now, as already in the family of God, we are running a race. We are not running in order to get to Heaven, for as far as that is concerned, “it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16); we are running a race for a reward for Christian service, for Christian responsibility. If we run our race well, there is a reward at the end, but if we fail in the race, we fail in the reward. We do not, however, fail to reach Heaven because our work is not all it ought to be or all we would like it to be. “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15), provided he is a Christian.
So the apostle said, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” If I am going to run in order to obtain a prize, I must do it in obedience to the Word of God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:5, “If a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” Another translation reads, “If a man contend in the games, yet is he not crowned if he hath not observed the rules.” God has given us instruction in the Word concerning how we are to serve, how we are to run, and what we are to do, and we will be rewarded if we live in accordance with the Book.
An incident struck me forcibly some years ago when I was working among the Indians in New Mexico during the time of the Olympic games in Stockholm, Sweden. One Saturday night I went to the store of the trader, who was my interpreter and a very intelligent Christian Indian. Entering the store, I found him standing on a chair with perhaps forty or fifty Indians crowded around him. He was reading from a newspaper and interpreting it for his audience. I stepped up behind him and as I looked over his shoulder, I saw that he had a metropolitan newspaper containing an account of the games in Stockholm. The article recounted the triumphs of the well-known Indian athlete, James Thorpe, whom many of these Indians knew well. How proud they were to think that he had gone to the Olympics, contended with numerous athletes, and carried away many of the prizes. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds when the interpreter translated the words of the king of Sweden as he took Thorpe by the hand and said, “You, sir, are the greatest amateur athlete in the world today.”
A few weeks later I went into the store again. Once more the trader was reading from a newspaper, but this time the atmosphere was tense. I could feel that something was wrong. The Indians were scowling and grunting and I wondered what it was all about, so I stepped behind the interpreter again, looked over his shoulder, and read that a certain man, being indignant that one athlete should have carried off so many prizes, made an investigation of Thorpe’s past life and found that some years before the Stockholm games Jim had received five dollars a week during the summer months for playing on a village baseball team. The man sent the evidence to the king of Sweden and proved to him that Thorpe had no right to participate in the games at all because they were entirely for amateurs. He had taken money for playing ball and that put him out of the amateur class. The king wrote to Thorpe and asked him to send back all the certificates and medals. Jimmie’s heart was nearly broken, but he sent them all back with his apologies and wrote to the king, “I hope your majesty will not think too hard of me. I did not know that taking five dollars a week for playing on the village baseball team made me a professional. I never meant to deceive.”
The sequel to the story is that the athlete who came in second in the contests was given the awards, but he sent them all back to Jim. “I won’t keep them,” the runner-up said. “You did better than I, and you deserve them.” James Thorpe did his work well, but he had not observed the rules and he lost out accordingly.
I am afraid there are many who do a great deal of what we call Christian work, who work early and late and hard and often, yet will fail to be rewarded at the judgment seat of Christ because instead of going by the Word of God they have simply been following their own ideas and inclinations. “So run, that ye may obtain,” warned Paul. How important it is, fellow Christians, that we study the Bible and learn what God’s mind is, and then work accordingly!
Now notice the importance of self-control: “Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.” One cannot help but admire splendid young athletes as they look forward to a contest. How self-denying they can be as they train! They tell themselves, “I must enter the field weighing just so many pounds, for I must be at my very best.” Friends say, “Come on, let’s go out and indulge in this and that.” But the athletes who intend to succeed reply, “I cannot do that. I must be at my best when I go into the arena. I cannot, I dare not, dissipate.” As Paul said, “They do it to obtain a corruptible crown.” In the case of the Corinthians it was a wreath of laurel, which would fade away in a few hours. Yet how much young men were willing to endure to win that crown, to have it placed on their brow by the judge among the plaudits of the people!
“They do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.” Should we who have an incorruptible crown in view be less consistent, less self-denying, less self-controlled than they? For us there stands in the distance the blessed Lord Himself waiting to place on our brow that incorruptible crown, yet many of us are in danger of losing it because we are so self-indulgent, so careless, so carnal, and so worldly-minded. Let us take a lesson from the athletes and be willing to give up present pleasures for future glory.
The crown, you see, is the symbol of reward. It is presented in different ways in Scripture. In 1 Thessalonians 2:19 the apostle said to his own converts, “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?” What is the “crown of rejoicing”? It is the soul-winner’s crown. Oh, to get home to Heaven and, standing at the judgment seat of Christ, see there a great throng whom one has had the privilege of leading to Christ! What a crown, what a reward that will be! Think what it will mean for the apostle Paul when, surrounded by all his converts, he comes before the Lord and says, “Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given me.” Are you striving for a crown of rejoicing? It is your privilege if you know Christ.
In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 the apostle said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 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.” The gift of righteousness is ours by faith. Every believer has been made the righteousness of God in Christ, but the “crown of righteousness” is the reward given to those who behave themselves in the light of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you love His appearing? How do you show it? You can show it by ordering your behavior now in view of His close return. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
In James and Revelation we find a third term: the “crown of life.” In Revelation 2:10 we read, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” And in James 1:12 we read, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” Eternal life is ours by faith. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). But the “crown of life” is earned by suffering patiently, even unto death if need be, rather than to deny the name of Jesus. The crown of life is earned by enduring trials and temptations and taking it all as from the hand of God Himself.
In 1 Peter 5:1-4 we read of still another crown:
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed [not fleece!] the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
I like that: a “crown of glory”! Every believer will be glorified— “Whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:30)—but the crown of glory is the reward for feeding the sheep and the lambs. The earliest Chinese translations of Scripture used different terms for some of the idioms in the original. A translation of 1 Peter 5:4 from Chinese to English would read, “When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a bright hat that will never wear out.” The reward, however it is termed, is to be given by the blessed Lord Himself. We must not allow the things of time and sense to so absorb us that we will lose out in that day. Rather may we gladly say:
Take the world, but give me Jesus,
All its joys are but a name;
But His love abideth ever,
Through eternal years the same.
(Fanny J. Crosby)
“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” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
This was Paul’s determination: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Some people imagine that Paul was not quite sure that he would get to Heaven, that he feared that something might happen that would turn him aside. But when he wrote these words, he was thinking of the reward at the end and he was not afraid of losing this, for he was determined to go through life with God. He said that he was not uncertain.
Paul was not engaged in a sham battle: “So fight I,” he said, “not as one that beateth the air: But [and how important this is!] 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.” What did he mean? Did he have a haunting fear that he might backslide and be lost after all? No.
Keep in mind what he was speaking of here. He was speaking of reward for service, and he was saying, “I want to serve so that I can have the Lord’s approval in that day. I must not be careless or self-indulgent. I must not let my passions master me, but I must master them and keep my body under control. My body is not to be the lord of me; I am to be the lord of my body. Sustained by divine grace I will keep every physical appetite in its place so that I will not bring dishonor on the name of the Lord and become a castaway.”
What did Paul mean by “a castaway”? The word translated “castaway” is adokimos, which means “disapproved.” The apostle wanted to avoid being disapproved. He did not want the Lord to have to say to him some day, “Paul, I had a crown for you; I was counting on you, and for a while you ran well. What hindered you? You became self-indulgent and careless and you broke down and brought dishonor on My name. I cannot crown you, Paul. You will have to stand to one side and let someone else have the crown.” God grant that you and I may not have to endure the disappointment of being set to one side when the Lord is giving out the crowns!
Have you not known of those who ran well for years and then little by little began to let down? They were not as prayerful as they used to be; they did not give as much time to the careful study of the Word as they did in the early days; they gave freer rein to the natural appetites; they thought more of their own pleasure and of taking their ease. Then one day the whole Christian community in which they were involved was startled to hear of a terrible failure. With hearts breaking and tears streaming from their eyes, the backsliders confessed their sin. They had judged it all and turned from it, yet people never trusted them again as they had before, and they were never able to go on with their ministry. No matter how freely and fully God had forgiven them, never again could they be what once they were.
So to those who preach and to everyone else who attempts to help others in spiritual matters, the word is, Be careful of yourselves. “Take heed unto thyself,” said the apostle writing to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:16). Paul meant, “Keep your physical appetites in subjection; keep your body in its place. If you do not allow any appetite to master you, you will be able to serve to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you become careless, He may have to put you to one side, and He who once used you will not be able to use you in the future the way He did in the past.”
The word translated “castaway” here is used elsewhere in Scripture to denote complete disapproval. You may be a church member taking part in so-called Christian work, but see to it that there is a real work of grace in your own soul. Otherwise the day may come when you will be utterly disapproved and you will find yourself outside the number of those who enter into the Father’s house—not because you lost your salvation, but because your life has proved that you were never truly born of God.