BUFFETING THE BODY TO PLEASE THE LORD
Another passage which some misinterpret as referring to perdition actually refers to the losing of the kingdom and the losing of the reward. First Corinthians 9:23-27 says, "And I do all things for the sake of the gospel that I may become a fellow partaker of it. Do you not know that those who run on a racecourse all run, but one receives the prize? Run in this way, that you may lay hold. And everyone who contends, exercises self-control in all things; they then, that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we, an incorruptible. I therefore run in this way, not as though without a clear aim; I box in this way, not as though beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest perhaps having preached to others, I myself may become disapproved." Paul feared that, having preached to others, he himself might be disapproved. Here Paul was saying that he could also be disapproved. What is the meaning of being disapproved here? And of what is one being disapproved? In these messages, we have emphasized the fact that in reading the Bible, one should pay attention to the context. Here we must also consider the context.
In verse 24 Paul likens himself to one who is running in a race in which only one will get the prize. Therefore, the problem here is not a matter of salvation, but a matter of receiving the prize. Paul is talking about how a saved one can receive the prize; he is not talking about how an unsaved one can be saved. Only the ones who are saved, who have believed in the Lord Jesus, who are reborn, and who have become the children of God are qualified to enter the race. Only the children of God can run in the race and pursue the prize that God intends for us to gain. If someone is not a child of God, he will not be qualified even to enter the race. Nowhere does the Bible say that salvation is gained by our running the race. The Bible never says that if someone is able to run, he will be saved. If that were so, then very few could be saved, and salvation would be dependent on works. The Bible says that the prize comes from the running; God has placed us on a racecourse for us to run the race.
What is the prize? Verse 25 says, "And everyone who contends exercises self-control in all things; they then, that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we, an incorruptible." Here it says that the prize is a crown. We have mentioned that the crown signifies glory and the kingdom. Therefore, the word "disapproved" does not refer to the losing of salvation. The word "disapproved" means to fail to receive the crown and the prize. If Paul could be disapproved, then we all have the possibility of being disapproved. If Paul had the possibility of losing his prize and losing his crown, then each one of us also has the possibility of losing the prize and the crown.
Verse 26 indicates the reason for being disapproved: "I therefore run in this way, not as though without a clear aim; I box in this way, not as though beating the air." Paul had a purpose and a direction. He was not beating the air. His goal and direction were what he said in 2 Corinthians 5, that he was ambitious to be well-pleasing to the Lord. Whether he would live or die on this earth, his desire was to please the Lord. How did he run in the race? He did not run in a loose way. He had a definite direction and a definite goal. He was not beating the air. He did not simply do whatever others told him to do. Nor did he do something simply because the need was there. If he were to work according to the need, he would have to run day and night, for the need was too great. We are not for the work, but for pleasing the Lord.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 21, by Watchman Nee)