corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
1 Corinthians 9



Other Authors
Verse 14


‘Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.’

1 Corinthians 9:14

St. Paul’s apostleship had here been called in question, and it was objected that he had never seen and known the Lord, and another objection was that he was a common workman. St. Paul has been answering the objections raised by these Corinthians. To the first objection, that he had not been elected by an Apostle to be an Apostle, he says that he had a higher election—that the Lord Himself had called him. To the second objection he replies that he had no desire to know Christ after the flesh. The rest of the chapter is a defence of his working with his own hands for his living. He tells us that he did not assert himself, but humbled himself: ‘I made myself a slave to all.’ St. Paul worked for his own living. But the Divine order is that ‘They which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.’ He had picked those converts out of the corruptest city in the world—out of Corinth—and he had done them good, but he refused their maintenance on the highest grounds: ‘That, when I preach the Gospel, I may make the Gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the Gospel.’

Yet it is clear from the whole tenor of this chapter that St. Paul would lay down the principle that the ministry must be supported by those who benefit from it, for ‘even so hath the Lord ordained.’

What lessons can we learn from this contention?

I. The sacred character of the ministry.—The clergy of the Church are ‘ordained,’ set apart for the work of the ministry. They must not engage in business; their whole life is to be devoted to their own spiritual work. This fact emphasises the sacred character of the ministry. They are ministers and stewards of the Lord.

II. The responsibility of the laity.—The clergy must live, and they who sow spiritual things have the right to reap at least material things. For a large part the clergy of to-day are supported by endowments, by the benefactions of those who in bygone days felt their responsibility and made provision accordingly. There is too great a tendency to allow the clergy to live on ‘the dead hand,’ but the laity of to-day have a responsibility which they cannot evade, and it is a crying disgrace that there should be those who preach the Gospel who are not adequately supported, whose livings are really starvings, simply because the laity will not do their duty.

III. What, then, can we do?—There must be a frank recognition of this apostolic, this Divine principle. It may be that in our own parish this help is not needed, but in the wider field of the Church at large there is a great and pressing need. Easter offerings, subscriptions to diocesan and general funds, such as the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund, these are the agencies we must support if we would seek to obey this Divine command. In this way we shall—

(a) Have a share in the work of the Christian ministry.

(b) Bring blessing to ourselves.

(c) Strengthen the hands and cheer the hearts of those who minister to us in holy things.

Verses 20-23


‘Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; … and this I do for the Gospel’s sake.’

1 Corinthians 9:20-23

While never sacrificing for an instant truth or principle, yet, so far as truth and principle admitted it, St. Paul wore the guise and spoke in the accents of the persons whom he addressed.

I. The comprehensive character of Christianity may be seen—

(a) In its documents. The history of our Lord is, of course, the foundation of Christianity. Yet this history has been transmitted to us, not by one, but by four distinct authors, who evidently write from four distinct points of view and address distinct classes of readers. Are such differences merely a matter of curiosity? If God had desired to teach a Christian minister in the most emphatic manner that he should study the age, the characters, the society with which he has to deal, how could He have done it otherwise?

(b) In the precepts of the Gospel. They bear the same stamp of comprehensiveness. How broadly they are stated, and with an obvious avoidance of those particulars which might limit and restrain the application of them!

(c) In the great doctrines of the Gospel. The Fatherhood of God in Christ; the Incarnation, whereby the Eternal Son has condescended to the level of our sympathies, and enters into brotherhood with the whole human family; the blessed sacrifice of the Cross, meeting those guilty fears of conscience which lurk in the dark cavern of every human bosom; the gift of the Spirit meeting that weakness of the will which every man experiences in the path of duty; the brotherhood of men in Christ’s Church, and the resurrection in incorruption of that body whose infirmities so weigh down the spirit; these are evidently doctrines whose import is as wide as the race of mankind, and which correspond to the instincts of the human heart, in whatever climate, or under whatever outward garb, it beats.

II. How should this character of the Gospel determine the conduct of clergy in setting it forth?—In the first place, it is vain to hope to revive any type of Christianity which has obviously had its day, done its work, and passed away. But to pass from negative to positive counsels, what are the chief religious characteristics and requirements of our day? and in what form must the Christian minister attempt to meet them?

(a) It is an age of superficial knowledge on the subject of religion. The Christian minister must not content himself with a few Sunday platitudes; he must endeavour to make himself a man of erudition as opposed to flimsy knowledge, and a man of thought as opposed to superficiality.

(b) Our Lord bids us bring forth out of our treasury things new and old—old in the substance which must always abide, new in the form which ever changes with time and the manners of men. But mark the emphatic words, ‘His treasury.’ It is not from any repository of truth external to ourselves; it is not from the Fathers, it is not from the Prayer Book, it is not from the Holy Scriptures themselves, except as all these are appropriated by us and made the nourishment of our own spiritual life, that we are to bring forth a portion to feed the flock of God which is among us. Every truth which we are to dole out to our people must first have been wrought into our inner man by prayer, by the discipline of affliction and self-denial; and it may be by many a sore struggle upon our knees against besetting sins. No amount of learning in a Christian minister can for a moment compensate for the absence of an experimental religion.

—Dean Goulburn.


‘St. Matthew gives us the Hebrew view of Christ, and is large, therefore, in his allusions to the Old Testament, and in his references to prophecy. St. Mark—a Roman, perhaps, by birth—(at all events, this view seems much more probable than that which identifies him with the John Mark of the Acts) gives us the same story, cast into a Roman mould of thought. He employs Latin words cast in a Grecised form, and adopts throughout a compressed style with the copiousness of vivid detail, which, according to the excellent remark of a modern writer, much reminds us of Cæsar’s commentaries. St. Luke, evidently a Greek proselyte, and known from Scripture itself as the associate of St. Paul, writes, like the two former evangelists, in accordance with his circumstances and position. He opens his narrative in the style of the classical historians, and his language is notoriously purer than that of the other evangelists. St. John, finally, is the evangelist of devout contemplation. He addresses himself particularly to readers of a speculative rather than an historical cast, portraying more the mind that was in Christ than the incidents of his career.’

Verse 24


‘So run, that ye may obtain.’

1 Corinthians 9:24

I speak to those who, really believing in Christ, are emancipated from the fetter of sin and are living in the obedience of God’s moral law, to those who feel that the vows of God are upon them—that they have solemnly pledged themselves—and that they are desirous to proceed, in the Lord’s Name, to the holy work of getting to heaven.

I. In the stripping-room.—St. Paul, in another place (using the same image), calls all to go who would get to heaven to the stripping-room, to the stripping yourselves of all those unnecessary ‘weights’ which must inevitably trammel your steps, and prevent your progress, and preclude your triumph, if you ‘run.’ ‘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.’ There are some here who, while they could not be fairly charged with any particular breach of God’s moral law, are, nevertheless, sadly and fearfully ‘weighted’ with many things. You call them ‘pleasures.’ God calls them ‘weights.’ Getting money, hoarding money, personal vanity, worldly amusements, society where God is not, self-indulgence, private selfishness—what are these things but clogs, clogs that have loaded your soul for many a year and dragged it down to the dust? And what has been will be again. You cannot ‘run’ with those things on. Will you cumber and tie up your energies when you need to stretch them to the uttermost? Will you bind the soul which longs to fly? Why, in the natural course, men are minute and accurate to the weight of an ounce, and will you trifle with those fearful odds?

II. Pressing toward the mark.—St. Paul, speaking of himself in the Epistle to the Philippians, says, ‘I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ Do you understand the expression, ‘I press toward the mark for the prize’? It cannot be that ‘the mark’ and ‘the prize’ are the same thing. What does ‘the mark’ mean? ‘The mark’ means a certain line, which was drawn along the course, to show the runners exactly where they were to run; so that if you would run lawfully, take care not only that you are going to the right object, but that you are pursuing that object along the right line. ‘Press to the mark.’ And what is the Christian’s ‘mark’ to which he must ‘press’? In general words, the scriptural method of salvation which God has pointed out—true doctrine, the use of all ordinances, prayer, public worship, sacraments, the Bible, personal holiness, the fellowships of Christians, works of love.

III. Every race quickens as it proceeds; and the competition grows greater. The whole man must be in it. Every faculty that God has given you must be put forth. Your intellect, your affections, your spirit, your body, must all work, and work intently. You must stretch to the point, and beyond the point where the stretch is pain. Your conflict, indeed, is not with those who are engaged with you in the same pursuit—for in this race he wins the highest prize who has urged on and assisted, all the way, his fellows—but your race is to beat the world; your race is to outstrip your own wicked heart; your race is to overcome wicked deeds, and you are to emulate and strive to overreach that which is good.

IV. The secret of every race is fixedness of eye.—Therefore this Apostle has given us, in two separate places, two directions in this matter of the fixed eye.

(a) The first is that we should ‘forget the things which are behind’—which means, not the world, which we have abandoned; and our old tastes and pursuits, which we had once; but that we must be always counting our own past attainment nothing, utterly despising all we have done and all we are, contrasting it with the higher degrees always opening before us with infinite series, in which grace is always to be climbing up to glory, and glory climbing up to God.

(b) Secondly, the Apostle gives us this one short, emphatic, blessed exhortation—the very sum and centre of all the peace and of all the triumph of every soul that ever got to heaven—‘Looking unto Jesus.’

—Rev. James Vaughan.


‘Your stadium is the little span of your present existence; the spectators are none other than the holy angels, who are encompassing you all round, and look down upon you from their higher spheres; the heralds are the ministers of God’s grace, who call you to the contest and animate you by the way; the competitors are the whole Church militant; the umpire, to award the victor’s crown, is the Lord Jesus; and the crown is life eternal.’



Man has to overcome sin, to subdue self, and to live a holy life. The Apostle compares that endeavour which lasts through all our life to a race. The life of man is like a race.

I. There is only a certain time allowed for it.—The race must be won then, or not at all. The work of man’s life must be done during life or not at all. ‘Work while it is called to-day; for the night cometh, when no man can work,’ says our Lord Jesus.

II. It requires to-day’s duties to be done to-day; not left for to-morrow. We must not flatter ourselves with the idea that we will care for our souls by and by, that we will try to be good at some future time. ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’

III. Another point of likeness is that we must be in earnest.—That is the very thing the Apostle insists upon in the text. ‘So run that ye may obtain.’ How does the runner behave himself in the race? Does he loiter, does he look from side to side, does he stop, does he even slacken his pace and go easily and slowly? Not at all. His eye is fixed upon the end of the course; every muscle is strained to the utmost; his whole frame is full of one desire—to get forwards. His eagerness almost adds wings to his feet. What are the miles that lie behind him to his eager desire? It is those in front that engage his attention, that he longs to attain.


‘At its times of eruption it is dangerous to go near Vesuvius. You may be suffocated by a shower of ashes, or consumed by one of the streams of lava (that is, liquid fire) which it casts out, and which flow down its sides like brooks. And this makes it still more dangerous to go any way up the mountain. It cracks open under your feet and throws up a fresh stream of boiling flame when you least expect it. You would not think that people would linger there exposed to such terrible danger, but they sometimes have done; they were held fast by the grandeur of the sight, they could not make up their minds to leave it; plenty of time yet, they thought, till a fresh gulf opened below them and the way to safety was cut off. Then the ground began to sway and bend under their feet, soon to give way altogether and give them alive into the very jaws of the fire. They had not been in earnest to escape. They had lingered too long. Now every human soul has a more fearful destruction than that of Vesuvius to escape from. He has to “flee from the wrath to come.”’



The question for all of us is, How are we to run so that we may obtain? This question is for all, since, though in these old-world games only one received the prize while many ran, all who run the Christian race and reach the goal lawfully are crowned without exception.

I. Run, for the Christian life is a veritable race, with definite conditions and efforts and aims. Until this fact is realised by faith and spiritual enlightenment no one can or will run successfully. Unless a due sense of it is kept alive in our hearts by the impressions of God’s Word and providence made on them by the Holy Spirit, we do not feel, or we lose the feeling, that our life is a high and holy and arduous undertaking.

II. Run determined to win whoever else wins.—This is specially emphasised by the Apostle in connection with the fact that only one of many competitors received the prize in any contest. ‘Be like the winner,’ he says: ‘run as he runs. Do not grudge any self-denial or preparation or effort; turn aside for nothing; halt for nothing; strive each of you to be the champion of the course.’ In the Christian conflict all who run lawfully are crowned, and no one will fail who is bent on winning. But this must not weaken resolution, or energy, or endurance; must not gender carelessness, easy-going contentment with a slow and faltering progress, listlessness, false security. Though certain of winning along with others the incorruptible crown, we must not relax effort until it is won.

III. Run with due preparation and fitting self-mastery.—So St. Paul spoke of ‘keeping under’ his ‘body’—using a sort of technical term or slang phrase of the Greek wrestlers—literally, ‘I give my body a black eye.’ Regarding his body as the organ of sin, the seat of temptation, and the stronghold of ruinous self-indulgence, he showed it no mercy, dealt with it as an adversary, hit it hard, beat it black and blue, as it were, to subdue its sensuality, and make those fleshly lusts which warred against the spirit lose their power.

IV. Run with hope and fear.—Keep the crown before the eye of faith.



I. Run with an obedient heart.—Obey the rules of the course and fulfil the Divine command. Not as ‘uncertainly.’

II. Run with a self-denying heart, taking up your cross daily and following Christ.

III. Run with a persevering heart, daunted by no dangers, surprised by no difficulties, overcome by no temptations.

IV. Run with a charitable heart.—Others in this race may gain a prize as well as you.

Verse 25


‘Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.’

1 Corinthians 9:25

The few ivy leaves soon fade away. The glory is ephemeral, and the hero is soon forgotten in the presence of newer and younger bloods. And the time soon comes when the natural force of even these well-trained athletes abates, and their former prowess fades into a memory.

I. The Apostle teaches that if we follow after self-denial for the sake of others, we shall reap a richer reward—an incorruptible crown. ‘When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.’ And the argument runs that if the Corinthians could put such earnestness and self-denial into their games for the sake of a passing glory, how much more should we Christians strive for the mastery over our worst selves, when such a prize is offered to us?

II. This prize may be won by all earnest souls who enter the arena.—At Corinth only one received the prize. In the spiritual race there is a prize for every one who strives in the right spirit. The ‘race is not always to the swift.’ The labourers in the vineyard who wrought but one hour each received a penny, because it was the spirit in which the work was done that commended them in the sight of their Master. And the Apostle was in deadly earnest when he said: ‘But I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection.’ He struggled with and overcame his passions, and even lawful appetites, so that his lower nature was his servant and not his master. He neither followed, nor was led by them, lest, after having proclaimed victory to others, he himself should be counted unworthy of it.

III. Let us so run the race that is set before us that we may obtain this incorruptible crown.—We can do it if we are only faithful to God and true to ourselves. Let us go forward trusting in the living God, Who is the helper of all who flee to Him for succour. Let us so run that we may obtain the prize—the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus. If we bend our energies towards this goal, we shall win for ourselves ‘an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and which fadeth not away.’

Rev. C. Rhodes Hall.



Character and service. These two words, I think, describe the higher regions of man’s life, in which alone his powers can fulfil themselves and know their real strength and fit themselves for the full doing even of their lower tasks. In them the workman doomed to-day to lower toils, when he is once allowed to enter, lifts himself up and knows his dignity, and begins to put forth the might which he possesses.

I. Character: what is that?—The absolute quality of a being distinguished from its circumstances. Beyond even that closest of circumstances which we call the body, the intrinsic substance of the soul, what the man is, original, distinct, different from what any other man has ever been before, fed through the channels of his circumstances, of what happens to him, but fed directly from first principles, from fundamental and eternal truths, an utterance of the life of God, a true unit and harmony of personal existence, which can change every condition and be itself unchanged, whose goodness and badness rest in the very fibre and substance of itself, a true soul. That is character.

II. And then service, what do we mean by that?—The other truth about each human nature; that which is so separate and distinct is also true part of a unit greater than itself; that the personality is portion of humanity, that what belongs to it belongs also to the larger whole, that it realises and possesses itself only as it gives itself to the greater which enfolds it, that it is its own only as it serves the life of man to which it belongs, as the eye keeps its quality of vision only as it dwells in the complete structure and dedicates its power of vision to the use of the whole body, hand, and foot, and tongue, and heart, as they may need it.

III. In character and service lie the true life of a human creature.—We do not thoroughly believe that. We think of the struggle to be perfect and the effort to serve humanity as suburbs of human life, great districts into which excursions are to be made, heavens into which ecstatic flights are to be soared, not as the very city and citadel of humanity, to live outside of which is not to be a man. Until we do believe that with our hearts and souls, the higher regions are still closed to our powers, and they live, stunted and perverted, at their lower tasks. Christ took these splendid human capacities of ours and carried them beyond the stars into the heavenly worlds of character and service, and when men listened—as they had to listen—hark, in these visionary worlds, the same old human faculties had put out a new strength and worked with a pulse of power and a throb of music which made heaven and earth stand still to listen. Yet it was our human patience with which He was patient, and our human bravery with which He was brave, and our human intelligence with which He knew, and our human purity with which He was pure, only they proved themselves Divine when they attained their full humanity.

Bishop Philips Brooks.



The Christian is urged to strive for a rich reward. Two objections are raised against this assertion.

I. Is it not contrary to the New Testament doctrine of grace?

(a) Even if it cannot be reconciled with that doctrine, it is not the less true, for it rests on precisely the same authority. It is no other than St. Paul, who elsewhere opposes the notion of salvation by works, who here distinctly writes of the Christian reward. Christ’s great description of the judgment deals with rewards and punishments for conduct (St. Matthew 25).

(b) A prize in a race is different from payment for work. The latter is earned by its equivalent; the former may be much more valuable than the effort that wins it. The Christian reward is a prize offered by Christ, not wages justly claimed.

(c) The strength by which we win the race is given to us by the grace of God.

II. But is not this assertion likely to degrade our aims from disinterested to selfish motives?

(a) Surely we are over-scrupulous to the extent of hyprocrisy if we object to motives of which Moses (Hebrews 11:26), St. Paul (Philippians 3:14), and Christ (Hebrews 12:2) were not ashamed.

(b) The worthiness or unworthiness of working for a reward depends largely on the quality of that reward. It may be a noble thing and a blessing to others. Christ’s reward was to see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied in the redemption of the world.

(c) Until we have attained to perfection, we cannot afford to part with any lawful motives to encourage us in the Christian race. Pure altruism is impossible.

The Christian reward is an incorruptible crown. The value of this is felt in contrast with the prizes of merely worldly endeavours.


‘St. Paul is here referring to the Isthmian games, which were celebrated near to the city of Corinth. We shall miss the force of his allusion if we regard it with our modern views of such sports. The religious associations of the old Grecian games, the national enthusiasm with which they were followed, the intense eagerness of competitors to win renown from all Greece, and to have their names handed down to competitors in triumphal odes, gave an importance to these contests which would make the Apostle’s readers feel at once that he had chosen no mere casual illustration, but about the most stirring field of ambition with which to contrast the Christian race. Thus he would say, “Even the reward of the first pursuits of earthly endeavours is a fading garland compared with the immortal crown for which you Christians are called to compete.”’



St. Paul looked forward, and he would have his followers look forward, to ‘an incorruptible crown.’

I. To whom this crown is given.—To him who strives enduringly, devoutly, and successfully. To him who shares Christ’s crown of thorns as preparatory to the gaining that of amaranth.

II. Of what the crown is the reward.—There is no merit in the case; the bestowment is altogether of grace. It is the recompense, not of natural gifts, or great opportunities, or of distinction among men, but of a Christian and a Christ-like life; of faith, self-denial, labour, devotion, benevolence.

III. In what the crown consists.—The chief value of a crown is to be found in its historical associations. So the Christian’s crown denotes the approval and confidence of the Divine Lord and King.

IV. By whom the crown is bestowed.—By Christ, the Lord Who has Himself overcome, and on Whose ‘head are many crowns.’

V. Why the crown is incorruptible.—It is the crown of righteousness, the crown of life.

Verse 26


‘I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.

1 Corinthians 9:26

We have here two topics—first, the danger of running vaguely; and secondly, of fighting ineffectively.

I. I so run, St. Paul says, as not vaguely.—There is a danger, then, of running vaguely; and there are two modes of this error.

(a) We may fail to keep the goal in view. The Christian life is a precarious thing—in each one of us—on many accounts, especially because we are so apt to lose sight of our goal. If we do this we must run at hazard or go wrong. I greatly fear that many have no definite goal at all. Every one, when asked, hopes to reach Heaven. But what is Heaven? And what is reaching it? Many of us have no real, no adequate notion, of Heaven. A safe place, a place of rest, a place of meeting, a place of calm, a place where sorrow, and crying, and pain, and change will be no more. These are our more thoughtful ideas of Heaven. I believe they are all true, but I am quite sure they do not make up, they scarcely touch, St. Paul’s idea, for they are Heaven without its foundation, Heaven without its sun. St. Paul’s heaven was briefly defined—where Christ is: ‘I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ.’ It is impossible that we should desire this sort of heaven unless we know much of Christ here below. Many do without Him here; they set Him aside in their daily life. Such cannot have the world or the eternity where Christ is, except in a very feeble sense, for their desire, their goal. But even those who know Christ may run vaguely in the same sense. They often lose sight of the goal. Which of us keeps the goal always in view? Be not hasty to answer. Think what it implies. How unworldly, how heavenly-minded, how charitable, unselfish, and pure that man must be who is running thus, with his goal full in view, and that goal a right one!

(b) We may run vaguely by failing to keep within the course. There were very strict rules on this point in the Grecian games—every part was rigidly marked out; the course must be all fairly traversed; and there were perils awaiting the unskilful charioteer who took either a too circuitous or a too abrupt sweep at the turning-point. And a Christian in the spiritual race has not only to keep the goal in view, but he has also all along to keep within the course; and that means he must live exactly by Christ’s rules throughout his life on earth.

II. There is a second dangerthat of fighting ineffectively.—‘So fight I, as not beating the air.’ This was an allusion to blows that fell short of the adversary by misdirection or by skilful evasion. Now we may beat the air in like manner—that is, fight ineffectively—in either of two ways:—

(a) We may mistake our real enemy. We may direct our attacks upon a wrong point. We have an enemy, but we do not always know who that enemy is. For example, there are those who are spending much of their strength upon what they deem errors of opinion. It is the duty, indeed, of Christian teachers to see that the truths of revelation and the doctrines of the Gospel are carefully set forth, lest they mar the beauty of ‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’ But how different is all this from the practice of those who make men offenders for a word; of hearers who sit in judgment on their teachers; of those who fasten on slips of expression, often arising out of candour or fervour! This is a mistaking of our adversary.

(b) We may mistake our adversary by a very common want of self-knowledge. We all take it for granted that we know our own faults. Where there is a very strong besetting sin in any of us, no doubt this is so; but where the life has been more carefully regulated, and kept pure from gross stain, and the supremacy of conscience obeyed, it often happens that there is almost an entire ignorance of faults of spirit and temper patent to others. How often has some particular virtue been magnified into the whole of duty, such as, e.g., the virtue of temperance or of purity, which has rendered us blind to other faults!

(c) We maybeat the air’ not by fighting with the wrong foe only, but by fighting with the real foe wrongly. Which of us has not done this? Which of us had not regretted, resolved, yes, and prayed against, his besetting sin, and yet fallen again before it when it has assailed him? This is sad indeed, and discouraging. We ought to have strength, considering the motive given us in Christ’s death and the promised help of His Holy Spirit. It is all for want of faith, for want of accepting what is offered, for want of believing that there is a Holy Spirit given to all for the asking. If we did believe, we should use it; but for want of faith we fall, even when experience of, and sorrow for, and resolve against, sin, and even prayer for victory, has not been wholly wanting.

—Dean Vaughan.



When St. Paul says this of himself, he is entering his solemn protest against that vague, well-meaning indifference, that hazy mistiness of good intentions, in which we are so content to pass through life.

I. He would have us know that all that is great and good, all that is true and noble, must come, not from uncertain hesitating effort, but only from a clear, steady purpose and a settled resolution. He is trying to make us impatient of the misty cloud-land in which we are dwelling in our sloth, and he urges us to be honest with ourselves, and ask clearly and distinctly what is the goal after which we are striving; what it is we mean to do in this world; whether there is any mark at all at which we are aiming. For our great and sore temptation is to drift unheeding through the days and the years, as if we had nothing to do but to follow the stream of time, and at last to lie down and die.

St. Paul had an object in life, and most people have none. Is not that the great difference after all?

II. But those who so labour to run the race of life ‘not as uncertainly’ find also soon that unawares they have entered into a battle. Their own indolence and sloth are not the only hindrance in their race. The world, the flesh, and the devil have also to be resisted. ‘I fight, not as one that beateth the air,’ says the Apostle, telling us in this way that he bears himself in the battle of life with the same fixedness of aim and steadfast resolution with which he runs his race. He was not content with a mere general determination to conquer sin, but his warfare was watchful, wary, and particular. For much earnest effort is wasted because it is directed like the blows of ‘one that beateth the air.’ Our best resolutions have spent their force before they have reached the sin they were to conquer, or else they have been spread so loosely and so vaguely over the surface of our life that there has been no collected strength at the point of danger. We have determined that we will lead a Christian life, but we have not examined ourselves and said, This or that is my besetting sin, I will watch steadfastly against it at all times and at all seasons. We have not looked forward cautiously into the events of the coming day, and said to ourselves, At this or that moment I know that I shall be exposed to this or that particular temptation, and by the grace of God I am determined to overcome it.

III. And yet, except the Lord be in the battle, they labour in vain who strive against temptation.—St. Paul would never have us believe that in this text he has given us the whole account of the race which he ran and the battle which he fought. If we were to ask him what was the secret of his great strength, he would be careful to answer that it was in the power of Christ alone. ‘When I am weak,’ he said of himself, ‘then am I strong.’ The more earnestly you have striven to run in the path of God’s commandments, the more certainly you have found that the task was beyond your strength. And the more humbly you have cast yourself upon your Lord and trusted in His grace, the more surely you have found that you could do all things through Christ Who strengtheneth you.


‘In the “life and letters” of a great man, most readers feel the deepest interest in the passages where he speaks of his own inner life. They are marked and remembered, and made useful to ourselves. It is felt that they help us to find the key to the man’s work and character, and to understand how he became what he was; how he influenced other men; how he succeeded and why he failed. Accordingly, we require of a biographer that he should give us his hero’s thoughts and words, and as little as possible of his own. We want to know the man as he was. And when the life is one of the foremost of all human lives, and the letters are among the sacred books of the world, the interest in personal details rises to an enthusiasm and becomes a devotion. The mind of St. Paul has been ruling over Christendom for more than eighteen centuries; and those things which he himself has told us about his own spiritual life are precious beyond words to every earnest soul. The personal passages of the Epistles are probably the most familiar.’



It is of the highest importance to be definite in our religious aims and efforts, and to observe method and plan in our warfare against evil. It is a principle of our Christian life that we should ‘so run, not as uncertainly.’

I. Let us apply it, first, with respect to prayer.—The mind of the Church would seem to be clearly indicated. She has not left her clergy free to use what public prayers they please, and her offices are to form part of their daily devotions. She has directed her faithful lay people to communicate not less often than three times a year. Not without a very real and practical object are these rules laid down. And all of us, I suppose, recognise more or less the need of method in our private devotions. We know that we must pray, not only when we feel inclined, but regularly. Let us carry this out more thoroughly. We have a certain time each day—say an hour, which we can give to devotion. Let us be quite sure which hour of the day it is, and how we are to spend it. Let it be so divided and marked out that prayer, self-examination, the meditation, and Bible-reading all have their allotted place. We shall have our regular system of reading Holy Scripture, our definite plan of interceding for all that need our prayers. Each meditation will have its practical resolution; each communion its one or two subjects of special prayer. The whole devotional life will thus be adapted to the character, the surroundings, the needs, and the temptations of each one of us; we shall the better be able to ‘so run, not as uncertainly.’

II. The question of temptation is one to which our principle is less commonly applied.—Yet it is surely of the first importance that men should know distinctly the spiritual foes they have to face: ‘So fight I, not as one that beateth the air.’ In the providence of God, we most of us have not only to pass through the general atmosphere of temptation which is about us, but to strive against some one or two tendencies or faults which trouble us more actively and frequently than the rest. There is a definite battle God would have us fight. There is a sin which, above all, doth most easily beset us. We have an irritable temper, or a slothful or self-indulgent disposition, or a proud heart, or a false and insincere spirit. And we are called upon to resist this fault of character every day. Yet there is a lamentable want of method among most men in dealing with temptation. Let us realise fully that, as has been said, ‘Temptation is the raw material out of which saints are made’; that it is our opportunity to strike a blow for Christ, as the battle gives the soldier his chance of serving his country; that for each of us a champion of our enemies, a Goliath of Gath, is before us, to conquer whom may be to demoralise the rest. ‘When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.’ With regard to our temptations, then, let us ‘so run, not as uncertainly.’ Let us find out, by the help of the Holy Spirit, what are our weak points, what are our worst dangers. And let us meet them with some regular and definite method of defence, tried again and again until we are sure of its strength.

The day will come when we shall have no need of our plans and our rules, which are but means to an end, and whose highest object is that they may become unnecessary. Even in this life, for some of us, that day will come. Meanwhile, let us be earnest in our struggle, that it may come sooner. Let us guard against the very real danger, before alluded to, of allowing our rules to become mere formal bonds, from which the spirit that made them living things has departed; a danger which, if unheeded, will make us Pharisees before we know it. Let us bear in mind that the worship and imitation of Jesus Christ, God and Man, is the Christian life. All plan and method must be a means to this, or it is worthless—to worship Him more thoroughly, and to grow more and more into His likeness; this is our only earthly object, the great business of our life. For this end we strive, and pray, and struggle; with this in view, we ‘so run, not as uncertainly’; and when this shall be reached, our race will be run, and the prize of our high calling secured.

Rev. Professor H. C. Shuttleworth.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology