Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. — 1 Corinthians 9:24
The day was perfect for skiing downhill into a world of white. The snow pack was just right, making the slopes ideal for the magnificent skiing that would soon take place. Excitement mounted and hearts pounded as the contestants lined up at each event in the long-awaited Winter Olympics. Many years of practice and strict training were behind each participant. The contestants had vied for this honor over the past few months, and now, only the best from each country were waiting to perform — to go for the gold!
As various other sporting events got underway, it was breathtaking to watch the grace and style of each talented athlete. Occasionally, though, a miscalculation would extinguish the long-hoped-for dream of a medal. Some of those eliminated from the event would never have another chance.
As Christians, we are in a spiritual “Olympics” and need to be careful and vigilant. There are many people watching our lives, and we must take every precaution against offending another of our “team-mates” and ultimately causing one to fall. The key is persistence, obedience, and commitment to the course the Lord has laid out for us. Our course may wind uphill and include steep downhill runs. Very likely there will be obstacles in our path, and some of those might seem impossible to navigate — but we can make it through! If we turn our eyes to the things around us, we will find ourselves zipping off course. If we get discouraged with the length of the race or the challenges we face, we may fall by the wayside. But that does not have to happen! If we call on the Lord, He will help us and give us the stamina we need to keep on going right through the last mile.
This spiritual race is not easy. It is challenging, and often the conditions around us are not favorable. Yet, with God as our trainer and coach, the “gold” — eternal life in Heaven — is certain, if we have followed God’s guidelines and stayed on His course.
In previous chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul primarily addressed individual problems. In chapters 8-11, he expanded his comments to include the responsibilities of believers to the Church as a whole.
In chapter 8, Paul focused on the principle of Christian liberty. He started with the subject of knowledge, pointing out that it can lead to conceit, and that the first priority must be charity (love). True knowledge of God does not come through acquiring cognitive data, but rather by loving Him.
Next, Paul addressed a controversy that had arisen regarding eating meat that had been offered to idols. Meat was often brought to a butcher after it had been offered to idols, and then it was sold at a temple “restaurant” or in the marketplace. Some questioned whether or not it was right to consume this meat. Paul’s answer was based on two principles that can still be used in deciding if a Christian has liberty to take a certain action. First, is the action in question Scripturally acceptable? Second, would it be a discouragement or stumbling block to someone else?
Paul pointed out in verse 4 that the food had been offered to gods that did not exist. They were nothing more than a piece of metal or wood; therefore there was no significance in eating or not eating of the meat.
Paul’s advice relating to the second principle highlights the importance of love. Although eating the meat offered to idols was not a sin, it was difficult for those who had been delivered from idol worship to accept this practice. They did not want to have anything to do with the meat used in idolatrous practices, and for that reason, many even chose not to eat meat at all. Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers to be mindful of their sisters and brothers who were weaker in the faith. His concluding statement on the matter was: “Wherefore I will eat no flesh while the world standeth,” showing that he was willing to forego his rights if exercising such a right would cause another person to stumble.
In chapter 9, Paul made clear that Christian liberty is subject to a higher law, and used his rights as an Apostle as an example of exercising personal liberty. He opened with a defense of his apostleship (verses 1-3), and then pointed to the Apostle’s right to material support from the church as an illustration (verses 4-14). Through a series of rhetorical questions, he showed the Corinthians that while he had a right to material support, he had forgone that right so as not to be a hinderance to others. His conclusion was that “they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (verse 14).
Then Paul went on to explain why he had not availed himself of the material support due to him, making the point that dedication has priority over liberty. Although preaching was a task laid on him by God, he had determined to exercise his liberty by refusing assistance (verses 15-18).
In verses 19-27, he offered several examples of apostolic dedication, based on his desire to win men to Christ: his refusal to antagonize the Jews by disregarding their traditions, his acceptance of Gentile ideas or practices as long as they were not in conflict with spiritual principles, and his consideration for the weak. He concluded this chapter with the example of an athlete who exerted himself to the fullest extent in order to win the prize.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. Answers to inquiries
B. Concerning meats offered to idols
1. Principles stated (8:1-13)
a. Love supersedes knowledge (8:1-3)
b. Things are amoral (8:4-8)
c. Do not cause others to stumble with your liberty (8:9-13)
2. Principles illustrated (9:1-27)
a. Paul’s rights for support (9:1-14)
b. Paul’s right to surrender his rights (9:15-23)
c. Paul’s reason for surrendering his rights (9:24-27)
We must take care not to offend a sensitive or weaker Christian, nor to let our example cause one to waver in his faith. When we love others, our personal freedom is far less important to us than strengthening the faith of a brother or sister in Christ!