We continue our studies on Governmentalism. In the last chapter we began the discourse on self government, looking at gluttony and sex. In this chapter we look at another dimension of self government.
Corinth was a city in Ancient Greece. The Greek word is Korinthos. It was the host of the isthmian games, one of the Pan-Hellenic games of Ancient Greece. (The games were named after the Isthmus of Corinth, where the games took place). Isthmian games were held the year before and the year after the Olympic Games. It was open to all Greeks. Greece had a four year games cycle called the Olympiad. The two other games of the Olympiad were: the Nemean Games (held at Nemea), and the Pythian Games – set up in honour of the god Apollo for killing Python, a dragon. Apart from athletics, the contests in the Isthmian games included chariot racing, boxing, wrestling, pankration – a peculiar blend of boxing and wrestling with hardly any rules except no biting and no gouging of eyes. It is against this knowledge background that one can appreciate certain parts of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.
Historical contexts help us understand scriptures. The scriptures were not written in vacuo. Always seek to understand the context of scriptures. Mischief is wrought when scriptures are quoted out of context. Paul was referring to the Isthmian games when he wrote in 1Corinthians 9:24-25 (MSG): “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.” As an aside, this letter shows the early Christians went to the stadium. “You’ve all been to the stadium” Paul wrote. Leisure breaks, sport participation and spectating are therefore not unchristian.
Paul had credibility challenges. There were many who doubted his apostolic calling. (1Corinthians 9:2). Conscious of this, when it came to his rights as an apostle he chose self denial, not to give ammunition to his traducers. He didn’t want anyone to impute a profit motive to his work for the Lord. He therefore refused to demand a salary from the Corinthians, though Peter and other apostles received remuneration. In fact as an apostle he had a right to “decent accommodation” and family support allowances. In 1Corinthians 9:3-7 MSG he wrote: “We who are on missionary assignments for God have a right to decent accommodations and we have a right to support for us and our families. You don’t seem to have raised questions with the other apostles and our Master’s brothers and Peter in these matters. So, why me? Is it just Barnabas and I who have to go it alone and pay our own way? Are soldiers self-employed? Are gardeners forbidden to eat vegetables from their own gardens? Don’t milkmaids get to drink their fill from the pail?”
He took a personal decision to deny himself his apostolic rights. It was a self-imposed hardship. He captured the sentiments with the analogy of an athlete in training, using it to teach Christian discipline: “But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit].” 1Corinthians 9:27 AMP: In other words, after preaching discipline and endurance to others, he didn’t want to fail the “discipline test” himself.
He was also wary of a wrong motive being attached to his labour in the Lord: “I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives” he wrote. (1Corinthians 9:15) MSG.
Self discipline is important in the Christian walk. Be disciplined. You must also mind your reputation. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul would again employ an athletic analogy. In that letter, he expressed his displeasure at those who were preaching salvation by obedience to the “Ten Commandments”. These people were urging non Jews to be circumcised according to the dictates of the Law of Moses. And Paul had a few names for them: “barking dogs”…”religious busybodies”…”knife-happy circumcisers”… Philippians 3:2 MSG. A former strict observer of the laws of Moses himself, he had come to know that salvation is by faith in Christ Jesus alone: “I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ – God’s righteousness”, he wrote. Philippians 3:9 MSG. Then he goes further: “But I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus… I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision.” Philippians 3:14-16 MSG. Focus. Diligence. Commitment. God demands these of us. He wants total commitment. Keep your eyes on Jesus – the author and finisher of your faith”. Hebrews12:2.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy we see yet another athletic analogy. Timothy was a very young pastor. Paul wrote to give him guidance on how to be a good minister: “If you lay all these instructions before the brethren, you will be a worthy steward and a good minister of Christ Jesus.” 1Timothy 4:6. Timothy being a fitness buff, Paul gave him fitness advice. Turns out there are two types of gym workout. Let’s hear Paul: “Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. 1Timothy 4:8-9 MSG.
God not only wants full commitment from us, he wants us to live a disciplined lifestyle; to be spiritually fit!
We’ll end this discourse with a fatherly advice from Paul: “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” 1Timothy 4:12 NLT. This I believe captures it all. If you’ll like to give your life to Jesus please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge I’m a sinner, and that Jesus died for me and rose from the dead. I accept him today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org