“Lest, When I Have Preached To Others, I Myself Should Become Disqualified.”—1 Corinthians 9:24-27

The entirety of 1 Corinthians 9 speaks of Paul’s experience in ministry and how he had followed after love and self-sacrifice, in his pursuit of saving men. Paul had liberties he did not use (vv. 4-15), he also experienced unnecessary inconvenience (vv. 19-23), just for the sake of the Gospel. Paul is a model of selflessness and dedication, in one’s service to the Lord.

He likens himself to an athlete in a race. In vs. 24, he says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” Paul borrows this imagery from the Olympic scene in first century Greece. The Greeks organized Isthmian games (consisting of running, horseback racing and wrestling), in which the winner(s) received a crown of wild olives, pines or parsley (called the “stephanos“). This prize was the highest form of honor at the end of the games. His toiling in ministry is akin to running in a race, in hopes of a reward/trophy/crown.

He says in vs. 25, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, BUT WE FOR AN IMPERISHABLE CROWN.” While the Olympic “stephanos” is an earthly, perishable crown, Paul has his eyes on a reward with far more eternal weight and import.

The competitors in the first century Greek Olympic games were very disciplined (“temperate“). They had to have had ten months of non-stop training before the games. This training included abstinence from wine and other pleasant foods, as well as physical trainings in extreme heat and cold. They were also to swear that they would not violate any of the regulations governing the games (see 2 Tim 2:5).

The Greek poet Horace aptly captures their rigorous training thus, “A youth who hopes the Olympic prize to gain, all arts must try, and every toil sustain; the extremes of heat and cold must often prove, and shun the weakening joys of wine and love” (Article Poetry, line 412, Francis). Paul’s point is this: if the athletes went through this much labor to get a physical/temporal/transient reward, how much more then ought the servant of the Lord to discipline himself, in his pursuit of the eternal? (“run in such a way that you may obtain it,” vs. 24).

In the Greek Olympic games, only one winner emerged (“one receives the prize,” vs. 24). But in the Christian race of ministry, one’s victory does not imply the failure of others. We are all winners, as many as run the race of service to the Lord, till the very end (“WE [plural] for an imperishable crown,” vs. 25). All who are faithful in ministry would be rewarded at the Lord’s appearance (see 2 Tim 4:7-8).

Vs. 26 says, “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” Paul’s use of the personal pronoun (“I“) means he is also in the race. He likens himself to an umpire (called an “herald” in ancient Greek times) who, after stating the rules of the race, also joins in the same. So he takes his own advice as he runs (“Therefore I run thus“). He is “a physician who heals himself” (Luke 4:23) i.e. he puts into practice what he tells others to do.

Paul runs the race of ministry and fights the good fight (of preaching the Gospel) with wisdom, “not as one who beats the air,” speaking of wasted effort. This is like a clumsy competitor in the Greek games, who fails to land blows on his opponent in the pugilism. Paul is tactical and shrewd; he plays to win!

Because of Paul’s determination to have a ministry worthy of the Lord’s commendation, he disciplines himself. Vs. 27 says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

The word “discipline” translates the Greek “hupópiazó” (ὑπωπιάζω). It is a very strong word in the Greek. It literally means “to strike under the eye” i.e. to give a black eye, to bruise. Paul refers to how he disciplines his body with hardships. Like an athlete competing in the Isthmian games, he forgoes comfort and pleasure, in his service to the Lord. He willingly endured persecution and suffering (see 2 Corin 11:23-27).

Paul is also not controlled by his bodily feelings, wants or passions, rather he “brings them into subjection.” He is under servitude to nothing! (see 1 Corin 6:12). This, he does, “lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” The KJV says, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be A CASTAWAY.

The word “disqualified” (NKJV) or “castaway” (KJV) translates the Greek “adokimos” (ἀδόκιμος). It is a compound word comprising of “a” (a negative participle, i.e. “not“) and “dokimos” (which means “approved or acceptable“). Together, “adokimos” (ἀδόκιμος) therefore means “not acceptable” or “not approved.

This word (“adokimos“) was used in the sphere of metallurgy in ancient Greek times to describe counterfeit metals or coins. These counterfeit metals were usually discarded as useless, because they did not meet the qualifications for genuine metals (in terms of color, shape, lustre, hardness/strength, weight, malleability, heat conduction, melting point etc). They were found “not acceptable” or “not approved” after being tested. Paul then applies this imagery to his work in ministry.

Paul’s fear is that after he had told others “the rules of the game” of ministry (“when I have preached/heralded to others,” vs. 27), he himself (the “umpire”) be found not to have followed those same rules! It would be a sorry sight if the work of others is judged acceptable, while his is judged unacceptable, since he is expected to know better. Just like the counterfeit coins, his service would be dismissed as ingenuine, if it did not meet up with God’s standard.

The Greek Olympic games usually ended with the winner being presented with his prize (the “stephanos” or crown). Those who did not play according to the rules were denied the crown and were even sometimes beaten out of the stadium. This was public disgrace.

To Paul, it is not enough to just do ministry. Ministry must be done according to God’s own terms i.e. His rules. So Paul “runs the race” (of ministry) according to these rules (while also telling others about them), so that after he has completed the race, he won’t be disqualified from receiving the Lord’s commendation.

To be “disqualified” here (vs. 27) is to be disqualified from or judged unworthy of receiving rewards for ministry done. It means one’s service is “not acceptable” (“adokimos“) before God, because it has not met His criteria/standard. It is not a loss of salvation. Paul’s focus throughout the chapter (1 Corinthians 9) has been ministry, not salvation.

The Epistles are clear that Christians will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards for their good works/ministry on the Earth (2 Corin 5:9-10, Rom 14:10, 12, 1 Pt 5:4). While salvation cannot be lost (John 3:16, 5:24, 10:28-30), the Christian stands in danger of losing his reward (commendation) for ministry done, if he does not carry out ministry according to God’s prescription.


(To understand more about God’s prescription/rules for ministry, get the sermon “Word & Spirit” by Pastor Josh here).


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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