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1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 9
1 Corinthians 9:1,1 Corinthians 9:2 Paul vindicateth his apostolical character,
1 Corinthians 9:3-14 and right to a maintenance from the churches,
1 Corinthians 9:15-18 though he relinquished that right for the furtherance of the gospel, not content with doing only his indispensable duty,
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 but voluntarily subjecting himself in many points, where he was otherwise free, in order thereby to win over more converts to Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:24,1 Corinthians 9:25 Those who contend for a corruptible crown use much labour and abstinence.
1 Corinthians 9:26,1 Corinthians 9:27 So doth the apostle strive for one that is incorruptible.
In the greater part of this chapter, the apostle proceedeth in his former discourse, not speaking particularly to the case of eating meat offered to idols, but to the general point, viz. That it is our duty to abate of our liberty, when we see we cannot use it without harm to other Christians. And here he proposeth to them his own example, who had restrained himself in three things, to two of which he had a liberty, and yet avoided it, and that not to prevent their sinning, but only their suffering, and that, too, only by being by him over-burdened:
1. As to eating and drinking.
2. Abstaining from marriage, by which he might have been more chargeable to them.
3. Requiring maintenance of them for his labour amongst them. As to both which he declares he had from God’s law a liberty, but had forborne to use that part from which the church in that state might be prejudiced.
Am I not an apostle? Some that are puffed up or seduced, will, it may be, deny that I am an apostle, a preacher of the gospel of the greatest eminency, immediately sent out by Christ to preach his gospel; but will any of you deny it?
Am I not free? Have I not the same liberty that any of you have in things wherein the law of God hath no more determined me than you? What charter of liberty hath God given to any of you more than he hath to me?
Have I not seen Jesus Christ? Did not I see Christ in my going to Damascus? Acts 9:5; Acts 22:13,Acts 22:14; and when I was in my ecstasy, when I was rapt into the third heavens? 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; in prison? Acts 23:11. He was the only apostle we read of, who saw Christ after his ascension.
Are not ye my work in the Lord? If others will not look upon me as an apostle: God having wrought nothing upon their souls by my ministry, yet you, whose faith is my work, though in the Lord, as the principal efficient Cause, yet by me as God’s instrument, cannot deny me to be so: if my having seen Jesus Christ, and being immediately sent out by him, be not enough to prove me so to you, yet the effects of my ministry upon you puts it past your denial.
He had, 1 Corinthians 9:1, told them they were his work in the Lord, from whence he concludes here, that he was an apostle, that is, one sent of Christ to them for the good of their souls, whatever he was to others. You, saith he, as to yourselves at least, are
the seal of my apostolical office; it hath a confirmation in you by the effect, as the writing is confirmed by the seal. For how can you think, that the blessing of the Lord should go along with my preaching, to turn you from pagan idolatry, and your lewd courses of life, to the true Christian religion, and to a holy life and conversation, if God had not send me. There is no such argument to prove a minister sent of Christ, as the success of his ministry in the conversion of souls unto God. It is true, we cannot conclude, that a minister is no true minister if he be able to produce no such seals of his calling; for the spiritual seed may for a time lie under the clods, and changes may be wrought in hearts, which are not published to the world; and even Isaiah may be sent to make the hearts of people fat. But where those seals can be produced, it is a most certain sign that the minister is a true minister, that is, one sent of God; for he could be no instrument to do such works if God were not with him; and if God had not sent him, he would not be with him so blessing his ministry. Yet it is possible the man may have his personal errors; for though some men doubt, whether an instance can be given of one openly and scandalously wicked, whom God ever honoured to be his instrument to convert souls, yet it would be rashly affirmed by any to say, that Judas (though a son of perdition, but not scandalous till the last) was an instrument to convert none.
These words may be understood in a double reference: either to what went before; then the sense is this: To those that examine me about my apostleship, this is my answer; That I have seen the Lord, that you are my work in the Lord, and the seal of my ministry. Or with reference to the words that follow; then the sense is this: If any man examine me, how I myself practise the doctrine which I preach to others, and determine myself as to my liberty for the good and profit of others, I give them the following answer.
Could I not eat and drink of such things offered to idols as well as you? Have not I as great a knowledge, and as much liberty? Yet, you see, I forbear. But the generality of interpreters rather incline to interpret it by what followeth: then, though it be here shortly expressed, and more fully opened afterward, yet the sense is: Have not I power to ask a maintenance of you, by which I should be enabled to eat and drink?
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife? Those that by those terms, αδελφην, γυναικα, understand, not (as we translate it) a sister, a wife, but a woman, that should out of her estate have contributed to the apostle’s maintenance, (as Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, followed Christ, and ministered to him of their substance, Luke 8:3), seem not to consider:
1. That such women would have been no burden, but a help to the church (which is quite contrary to the apostle’s sense).
2. That the term lead about, imports a conjugal relation to the woman.
3. That if this had been the sense, it had been enough to have said, to lead about a woman; he should not need have said, a sister, a woman.
4. That such leading about a woman, not their wife, had been scandalous.
5. That the very phrase, a sister, a wife, answers the phrase, Acts 23:1, Men, brethren, which signifies no more than, O ye Christian men; as a sister, a wife, signifies here a Christian wife.
6. That we no where read, that Peter, James, John, Judas, (here called the brethren of the Lord), or any of the other apostles, ever in their travels carried about with them any such rich matrons, not their wives, who (as those, Luke 8:3) ministered to them of their substance. Our interpreters have therefore justly translated it, a sister, a wife; and the sense is: Have I not power to marry? Yet the phrase teaches us two things:
a) That Christians have no power, that is, no lawful power, to marry such as are no Christians, their wives must be their sisters also in Christ.
b) That husbands and wives ought to be undivided companions one to another.
As well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas: he instanceth in several apostles that were married, Peter, (called Cephas), James, John, and Judas the son of Alpheus, Christ’s kinsmen. Whence we may observe, that ministers may lawfully marry, no law of God hath restrained them more than others. The popish doctrine forbidding to marry, is by the apostle determined to be a doctrine of devils, 1 Timothy 4:1,1 Timothy 4:3.
Are I and Barnabas the only apostles who are obliged for our livelihood to work with our hands? As Paul did, Acts 18:3, making tents. We certainly, as well as the rest of the apostles, if we would run out to the utmost end of the line of our liberty in things, without having any regard to the circumstances of our brethren, might forbear working with our hands, and expect that those amongst whom we labour should maintain us.
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? The work of the ministry is a warfare, the minister’s work in that age was so in a more eminent manner, as the opposition to those first ministers of the gospel, both from the Jews and from the heathens, was greater than what ministers have in later ages met with. Now, saith the apostle, none that lists an army, expects that his soldiers should maintain themselves without any pay.
Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? It is like the planting of a vineyard. The church, in Scripture, is called a vineyard, Isaiah 5:1,Isaiah 5:2. The plants are the Lord’s, but he useth ministers’ hands in the planting of them: none planteth a vineyard, but in expectation of some fruit; none employeth servants to plant a vineyard, but he resolveth to uphold them with food and raiment, while they are in his work.
Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? The church is compared to a flock: saith the apostle: No man feeds a flock, either personally, or by his servants, but he eateth, or alloweth his servants to eat, of the milk of the flock. By these three instances, commonly known amongst men, the apostle showeth the reasonableness, that the ministers of the gospel should be maintained by the people, to whom they are ministers.
That is, I do not speak this only rationally, or by a fallible spirit, nor do I build this assertion alone upon instances known and familiar amongst men. As this is highly reasonable, and conformable to what the very light of nature showeth, and the law of nature obligeth men to in other cases, where men take others off their own work to attend theirs; so it is according to the will of God, which is the highest reason.
Art being not so improved formerly as now, nor in all places as in some places; they were wont anciently, both in the land of Judea, and since in Greece, and (as is said) at this day in some places of France, to tread out their corn by the feet of oxen: and by the law of Moses, Deuteronomy 25:4, it should seem that some too covetous persons would muzzle the mouths of their oxen, that while they trod out the corn, they might eat none of it; which God, looking upon as an act of cruelty or unmercifulness, forbade his ancient people the Jews. Now, saith the apostle:
Doth God take care for oxen? That is, more for oxen than for ministers or men? For God doth take care for oxen, he preserveth both man and beast; he takes care, as our Saviour elsewhere teacheth us, for the sparrows, for the fowls of the air, for the grass of the field, and therefore for oxen, which are a degree of creatures more noble: but by the same reason we must conclude, that he taketh a greater care for men, especially such as he employeth in his more immediate service.
Not that the law, Deuteronomy 25:4, did primarily reveal God’s will for the maintenance of ministers; for undoubtedly it did primarily oblige them, according to the letter of it, not to deal cruelly and unmercifully with the beasts they made use of; but as they took them off from getting their food, by taking them up to tread out corn for them; so, while they did it, they should not starve them, but give thent leave moderately to eat of it. But (saith the apostle) the reason of it doth much more oblige with respect to men, especially such men as are employed in a ministry for your souls.
That he that plougheth should plough in hope; that as he who plougheth for another, plougheth in hope to get bread for himself, from the wages for which he covenanteth;
and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope: and so also doth the thresher thresh in hope: so we that are the Lord’s ploughmen, working together with him (though in a far inferior degree of causation) in the ploughing up the fallow grounds of men’s hearts, and sowing the seed of righteousness in men’s souls; and the Lord’s threshers, by our labours, exhortations, arguments, &c., beating the fruits of good works, to the glory of God, out of those amongst whom we labour; might also labour in some hope of a livelihood for ourselves, while we are doing the Lord’s work and his people’s.
By spiritual things the apostle meaneth the doctrine and sacraments of the gospel; which are called spiritual things, because they come from heaven, they affect the soul and spirit of a man, they tend to make men spiritual, they prepare the soul for heaven. By carnal things he means things which only serve our bodies, which are our carnal, fleshly part. From the inequality of these things, and the excellency of the former above the latter, the apostle argueth the reasonableness of ministers’ maintenance from their people, they giving them quid pro quo, a just compensation for such allowance, yea, what was of much more value; for there is a great disproportion between things spiritual and things carnal, the former much excelling the latter: so as the minister of the gospel had the odds of them, giving people things of a much greater and more excellent value, for things of a much less and inferior value.
If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Those false apostles or teachers, which were amongst the Corinthians, did (as it seemeth) exercise this power, that is, required maintenance of the people; saith the apostle: Are not we by the same right possessed of such a power? Might not we as reasonably expect such a maintenance?
Objection. But might not they have said: No, you are not; they are constantly residing amongst us, and instructing us, &c.?
Answer. This arguing of the apostle lets us know, that the primitive churches were not only obliged to maintain their own pastors, but those also who were general officers to the church, and by the appointment of God were not to fix and abide in any one place, but had the care of all the churches upon them. And it may also teach us, that though Christians be in the first place obliged to take care of their own pastors, yet they are not to limit their charity to them, but also to take what care their ability will allow them of others, whose labours have at any time been useful to them, or may be useful to any other part of the church of God.
Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ: Yet, saith the apostle, though we have this power or liberty, neither I nor Barnabas have made use of it, but suffer all those evils that come upon our not using it, hunger, thirst, labour, lest we should hinder the progress of the gospel, while some might for the charge decline hearing us, or others might charge us with covetousness, &c.
You may understand what is the mind and will of God under the New Testament, by reflecting upon what appeareth to you to have been his mind and will under the Old Testament: God had a ministry under the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi was it; and God there ordained and appointed a livelihood for them, Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9; Deuteronomy 18:1, so as they needed not (as other men) to labour with their hands to get bread to eat.
God’s will is the same under the New Testament that it was under the Old; it is not as to the people a matter of liberty, so as men may choose whether they will maintain their ministers or not, there is an ordinance of God in the case: it is the will of God, that those who are taken off from worldly employments, and spend their time in the study and preaching of the gospel, should have a livelihood from their labour.
Though I have such a liberty to marry as well as others, and a liberty to demand a maintenance of those to whom I preach the gospel, yet I have done neither. Nor do I now write to that purpose, that I would now impose a burden upon you to raise me a maintenance. I know I am calumniated by some, as if by preaching the gospel I only sought my own profit and advantage: I have gloried in the contrary, Acts 20:33,Acts 20:34; so 1 Corinthians 9:18; and I look upon it as my great honour, that I can preach the gospel freely, and I had rather die by starving than lose this advantage of glorying. And if I for your profit, and for the advantage of the gospel, abate of my liberty, should not you abate of yours, to keep your weak brethren from destroying their souls by sinning against God?
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of; though I do preach the gospel, yet I have no reason at all to glory; all that I have to glory in is, that I have preached it freely (which your false apostles and teachers do not); for the preaching of the gospel, considered without that circumstance, I have no reason to glory in that, for I am in it but a servant.
For necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! I am under the necessity of a Divine precept to do that, and exposed to dreadful penalties and woes if I do not do that; there is therefore no thanks I can claim upon that account; all that I can glory in is, that I do it without charge to those to whom I preach it. Some make a doubt, whether there lieth the same necessity upon ministers now to preach the gospel, and they be liable to the same dangers and penalties, if they do it not. I see no reason at all to doubt it; for what necessity lay upon Paul, or any of the apostles, but a necessity of precept, that is, they were obliged to obey the command of God in the case, and liable to such penalties in case of neglect, as men are subject to that obey not the command of God, in fulfilling the duties of their relations? The same necessity, the same danger, is yet incumbent upon every minister; or else we must say, that the precepts commanding ministers to preach concerned the apostles only, or that there is now no such order of men as ministers (both which are indeed said by Socinians). If there be such an ordinance of God as the ministry, ministers are under the precepts given to ministers, one of which is to preach: if they be under the same precepts, there is the same necessity upon them of obeying them, that was upon Paul, and they are, in case of disobedience, subjected to the same woes and penalties. Indeed, every minister is not bound to go up and down the world to preach, his relation is to a particular flock; that travelling to carry the gospel about the world was peculiar to the apostles, for the first plantation of the gospel; but so was not preaching; if it had: Timothy and Titus would have had no such charge as to that work. It is true, ministers are not bound to preach in others’ houses without their leave; therefore we read very little of the apostles preaching in the temple and synagogues, nor without the leave of the Jews. But Paul judged himself bound to preach in the school of Tyrannus, Acts 19:9, and in his own hired house at Rome, Acts 28:30,Acts 28:31. For the circumstance of numbers, to which they are bound to preach, the Holy Scripture hath no where determined, and ministers are left to be guided by their own prudence according to circumstances; but preach they must, if they be called of God; he hath sent them to it, fitted them for the work, and they have taken it upon them, and woe will be to every minister, so called and sent of God, if he doth not fulfil his ministry, as he hath opportunity and wisdom, considering circumstances, in order to the end which he is to aim at and to act for.
For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; if I who have a liberty to take a maintenance for my labour in the gospel, yet notwithstanding preach it freely, out of a free and cheerful mind, desirous to promote the honour and glory of Christ, I then may expect a reward:
but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me; but if I only preach the gospel because there is a necessity laid upon me, all that can be said of me is, that there is such a dispensation committed to me. The strength of the apostle’s argument seems to lie here: That no man can reasonably expect thanks, or any extraordinary reward, for doing what he is obliged by his snperior’s command under a great penalty to do. The apostle was obliged by such a precept, and under such penalties, to preach the gospel; therefore he desired not only to do it, but to do it willingly and readily, a greater testimony of which could not be, than for him to do it without desiring or expecting any reward for his pains, but what God of his free grace should give him; this made this matter of glorying to him, which he desired might not be in vain. So that though the word εκων here be truly translated
willingly, and opposed to ακων, which is as truly translated unwillingly, yet it seems to comprehend without charge, and taking nothing for his pains, as a demonstration of his willingness to and cheerful performance of his work; which being a thing as to which God had laid him under no necessity by any precept, was matter of glorying to him against the false apostles, who did otherwise; and also a ground for him to expect a greater reward from God, than those who, though they did the same work, yet did it not from the like free and cheerful spirit.
What is my reward then? What then is the ground of my expectation of a greater reward? Or wherein is the glorying I before mentioned? Not in the performance of the work, for as to that, I am under a necessity to do it, and under a penalty if I neglect it: but it lieth here,
that when I preach the gospel, I do it freely, and make it without charge; a thing which, as to the substance of the work, he was not by any law of God bound to do, yet was not this in Paul a work of supererogation; for circumstances might so rule, and, doubtless, Paul apprehended they did so, that it might be his duty so to do. For though the minister may lawfully take maintenance from the people, where he cannot support himself without their assistance; yet if the case be such, that he can subsist without it, and the people be so poor that they are not able to give it; or if he seeth it will hinder the gospel, keeping many from coming within the sound of what must be chargeable to them, and open the mouths of enemies; it is matter of duty to him, under such circumstances, to preach freely. Though, considering the thing in itself, separately from such circumstances, the minister may lawfully enough require and expect such maintenance.
That (saith the apostle) I abuse not my power in the gospel. Some think that the word here translated abuse, might better have been translated use, as it signified, 1 Corinthians 7:31. But it generally signifies abuse, so as there is no reason to vary from the common usage of it; according to which it teaches us this remarkable lesson, that so to use a liberty which God hath left us as to actions, as that by our use of it the glory of God or the good of others is hindered, is to abuse it, that is, not to use it to that true end for which God hath intrusted us with it. For this is certain, that God hath intrusted us with no power or liberty to be used to the prejudice of his glory, which is the great end of our lives, or to the prejudice of the spiritual good and advantage of others. All such use of our liberty in any thing is indeed an abuse of it.
For though I be free from all men; the word men is not in the Greek, but is supplied by our interpreters. Some make things the substantive, and restrain it to the things of the ceremonial law. It may be understood both of men and things; he was born no man’s servant, nor by God’s law made a servant to any men’s humours, and as free as to many other things, as he was to have taken maintenance of the churches, for the pains he bestowed amongst them.
Yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more; yet (saith he) observe my practice, that I might gain men to Christ, (so the apostle several times calleth converting souls, bringing them in love with the gospel, and into a road that may bring them to heaven, which we ought to account the greatest gain in the world, as it appeareth from Daniel 12:3), I have become, or made myself, the servant of all; not the servants of their lusts and corruptions, (that is the way to lose men’s souls, and destroy them, not to gain them), but a servant to their weaknesses and infirmities, so far as they were not sinful: I have denied myself in my liberty, and determined myself to that part in my actions, which I saw would most oblige, profit, and endear them to me, and to bring them more in love with the gospel.
The ceremonial law died with Christ, Ephesians 2:15,Ephesians 2:16, wherefore Christians were not obliged to the performance and observation of it after the death of Christ; but it pleased God for a time to indulge the Jews in the observance of those rites, until they could clearly see, and be fully persuaded of, their liberty from it, with which Christ had made them free; and it was some good time before all those, who from Judaism had turned to Christianity, could be thus persuaded, as we may learn from Galatians 4:21, they desired to be under the law. To such, saith the apostle,
I became as a Jew, that is, I observed some rites which the ceremonial law (peculiar to the Jews) required; an instance of which we have, Acts 21:23-26, where we find Paul purifying himself (according to the rites of the ceremonial law) with four men which had a vow upon them. The Jews before Christ’s death were
under the law; many of them, though converted to the Christian religion after the death of Christ, apprehended themselves under the law, not as yet seeing the liberty with which Christ had made them free: saith the apostle, I, knowing the will of God, for a time, that the Jews should be indulged as to their weakness,
became as one of them under the law, that I might gain them, that is, reconcile them to the Christian religion, and in some measure prepare them for the receiving the gospel. We have an instance of this in Paul’s practice, Acts 16:3, where he circumcised Timothy, because his mother was a Jewess, that he might not irritate the Jews in those quarters, nor estrange them from the doctrine of the gospel. In all this Paul did nothing that was sinful, but only determined himself as to the liberty which God had given him, when he might do or forbear, either doing or forbearing to do, as he saw the one or the other made most for the honour and glory of God in the winning of souls.
It is manifest by the opposition of them that are without law, mentioned in this verse, to them under the law, mentioned in the former verse, that as by the latter the Jews are understood, so by the former the Gentiles are to be understood, who were under no obligation to the observance either of the ceremonial law or judicial law, given to the Jews; the one to guide that nation in the matters of worship till Christ should come; the other to guide them in matters of civil justice, as well as criminal causes, as matters of plea and trespass: so that the term ανομοις here signifieth differently from what it signifieth in many other scriptures; where it signifieth men that live as they list, without any regard to any laws of God or men, as Mark 15:28; Luke 22:37; Acts 2:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Timothy 1:9, &c. This the apostle makes appear by the next words, where he tells us, he was
not without law to God, but under the law to Christ: though to the Gentiles he behaved himself as if he himself had been a Gentile, that is, forbearing the observances of the Levitical law, to which the Gentiles had never any obligation at all, yet he did not behave himself as one that had no regard to the law of God, that was yet in force and obligatory, but acknowledged himself to be under that, though a servant of Christ’s; so that he abated nothing of his necessary duty, only denied himself in some things as to which the law of God had left him a liberty, both to the Jews and Gentiles, propounding to himself the same end as to both, that is, the gaining of their souls to Christ.
To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; to those that I observed weak in knowledge and faith, who had not such a firm persuasion of the lawfulness of some things, (suppose circumcision, purifyings required by the law of Moses, &c.), I became as weak, that is, I yielded to them; and the things being to me matters of liberty, which I knew I might do, or not do, and be no transgressor of God’s law, they being not able to comply with me, I complied with them, abating my liberty to gratify their consciences; though I knew that it was weakness in them, yet I indulged it, and made my more knowledge serve them in their weakness, so that I might not lose them.
I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some; thus, that I might be an instrument in any degree to save them, according to the various persuasions of several Christians I behaved myself towards them; doing nothing to gratify them, by doing of which I knew, or had the least jealousy, I should offend God; but not refusing any thing, either as to doing or forbearing, (which by the law of God I saw I might do or forbear), where I saw the least hopes, by such doing or forbearing, to do the souls of those good, in order to their eternal salvation, with whom I was, and for whose sake I so did, or forbore any thing. Oh the humility and charity of this great apostle! What an example hath he set to all! For none can pretend to a greater superiority over men, as to spiritual things, than he unquestionably had.
Paul had two great ends which he aimed at in this denial of himself in these points of liberty; the one was the doing good to the souls both of Jews and Gentiles, this he had before instanced in; the other was the glory of God, which is that which he here meaneth by this phrase,
for the gospel’s sake, which he before expounded, 1 Corinthians 9:12, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. By Paul’s tenacious adhering to one part in a thing wherein he had liberty, the gospel, that is, the progress or success of the gospel, might have been hindered, both by the reproaches of enemies, and also by the alienation and estrangement of the hearts of weaker Christians, or laying stumblingblocks before them, at which they might fall, being imboldened by the examples of their guides, to do what, though lawful in itself, yet they judged unlawful.
That I might be partaker thereof with you; I did it, saith he, that I might bring you into the fellowship of the gospel: I had rather so interpret it, than of the reward of the gospel, as it pleaseth some. The humility of the great apostle is very remarkable; he disdaineth not to be συγκοινωνος, a partaker in the gospel with the meanest members of the church; he is not ashamed to call those brethren whom his Lord and Master is not ashamed so to call.
The apostle presseth all his former discourse by minding them of the difficulty of getting to heaven, and of the obligation that lay upon them to be the first in the spiritual race. To this purpose he fetcheth a similitude from what they saw daily, in the practice of those who frequented those games by which the Romans and Corinthians were wont to divert themselves. They had several, known by the names of the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian games, the latter of which were most proper to Greece. At these games there were several that ran races, either on foot or on horseback: and several that wrestled. The reward was a crown, or garland: and for those that ran, we read that the crown or garland was hung up at the end of the race, and those who, running on foot or on horseback, could first lay hold upon it, and take it down, had it, so as though many ran, yet but one had the crown. So, he saith, it is as to getting to heaven; men might think it was a light matter, but they who would have the crown of glory must run for it, and it was a work which required so much striving and labour, that not many would have that crown: which is the same with that which our Saviour saith, Luke 13:24. For many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. 2 Timothy 2:5, If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. Therefore, saith the apostle, make it your business,
so to run, that you may obtain; not only to do things in themselves lawful or good, but which are so clothed with all their circumstances, and in the best manner, for the glory of God, and the good of others.
This is not all that is required of men that would go to heaven, that they do not make an ill use of their liberty, using it to the dishonour of God, or to the prejudice of others; but look as it is with wrestlers in those games in practice amongst you, they are
temperate in all things; in the use of meats and drinks, or any pleasures, though in themselves lawful, they will so use them, as may best serve their end, upholding the strength of their body for the motion they are to use, and yet not clogging them, or so using them, that they shall indispose them to, or hinder them in, that motion which they are to use. We, that are Christians, and striving for heaven, should also do the like, so behaving ourselves in the use of meats, drinks, apparel, pleasures, as the things, so used by us, may serve us in our business for heaven, and be no clog or hinderance to us. And we have reason so to do, or we shall be shamed by those gamesters; for they in that manner deny, restrain, and govern themselves to get a crown, which, when they have, is a pitiful, corruptible, perishing thing; we do it for a crown that is incorruptible: An inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, as the apostle speaketh, 1 Peter 1:4.
The apostle proposeth his own example. As it is observed in country work, he that only bids his servants do work, and puts not his own hand to it, or at least doth not attend and overlook them in their work, hath little done: so it is as observable in spiritual work, that a minister of the gospel, who only, in the pulpit, dictates duty to others, but, out of it, doth nothing of himself, seldom doth any good by his preaching. People not naturally inclined to any spiritual duty, have the old proverb: Physician, cure thyself, at their tongue’s end, and are hard to believe that teacher, who doth not in some measure live up to his own doctrine. Therefore, saith the apostle:
I run; I am in the same race with you, and running to the same mark and for the same prize. I give you no other counsel than I myself take; I endeavour so to live, so in all things to behave myself, as I may not be at uncertainties whether I please God by my actions, or shall get to heaven, yea or not. I am a fellow soldier with you, fighting against sin; I make it my great business, not so to fight, so to resist sin, as if I did
beat the air; that is, get no more fruit, profit, or advantage by it, than if I threw stones against the wind, or with a staff did beat the air. It is not every running, or every fighting, that will bring a man to heaven; it must be a running with all our might, and continuing our motion till we come to the end of our race; a fighting with all our might, and that against all sin.
Here the apostle informs us how he ran, that he might not run uncertainly; how he fought, so as he might not be like one beating the air:
I (saith he) keep under my body; and bring it into subjection. By body, here, we must not understand only the apostle’s fleshly part (which we usually call our body); no, nor only our more gross and filthy affections and lusts (as some of the schoolmen have thought); but what the apostle elsewhere calleth the old man, under which notion cometh the sinful inclinations of our will, and corrupt dictates of reason, as it is in man since the fall. All this, as it cometh under the notion of the flesh in many other places of Scripture, and of our members which are upon the earth, Colossians 3:5; so it cometh here under the notion of the body; and, indeed, is that which our apostle calleth the body of death, Romans 7:24. This was the object of the apostle’s action; the object about which he was exercised. For his action, or exercise about this object, is expressed by two words, υπωπιαζω and δουλαγωγω the former word (as some think) is borrowed from the practice of those that fought in the afore-mentioned games, who knocked and beat one another till they were black and blue, and forced to yield themselves conquered. The second word signifieth to make one a servant, to bring one under command, so as he will do what another would have him do. By these two words the apostle expresseth that mortification, which he declareth himself to have lived in the practice of, that he might not in his race for heaven run uncertainly, nor in his spiritual fight lose his labour, and reap no more profit than one should reap that spends his time in beating the air. Their sense, who think that this duty of Paul was discharged by acts of mere external discipline, such as fasting, wearing sackcloth, beating themselves, &c., is much too short; these things reach not to the mind of man, his corrupt affections and lusts, which give life to the extravagancy of the bodily members, though indeed they may some of them be good means in order to the greater work. Paul’s meaning was, that he made it his work to deny his sensitive appetite such gratifyings as it would have; to resist the extravagant motions of his will, yea, of his own corrupt reason, so far as they were in any thing contrary to the holy will of God; though, in order to this, he also used fasting and prayer, and such acts of external discipline as his wisdom taught him were any way proper to this end. And this he tells us that he did,
lest, while he preached to others, he himself should be a castaway: from whence we may observe, that Paul thought such a thing possible, that one who all his life had been preaching to others, to bring them to heaven, might himself be thrown into hell at last; and if it had not, our Saviour would never have told us, that he would at the last day say to some: Depart from me, I know you not, you workers of iniquity; who for their admittance had pleaded: We have prophesied in thy name, Matthew 7:22,Matthew 7:23. Nor must we question but Judas, whom our Saviour calls a son of perdition, was a lost man as to eternity, though it be certain that he, as well as the other apostles, was a preacher of the gospel: yea, so far is this from being impossible, that it was the opinion of Chrysostom, that few ministers would be saved. We may also further observe, that such ministers as indulge their body, giving themselves liberties, either more externally in meats, drinks, apparel, pleasures; or more internally, indulging themselves in sinful speculations, notions, affections, inclinations; take a quite contrary road to heaven than Paul took, and think they have a great deal more liberty to the flesh than St. Paul thought he had, or than he durst use.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 9". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent