12 May 2022

1 Corinthians 9:19-27

So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (vs 26-27)

Psalm 133


Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth  in about 55 AD. Corinth was a prosperous trading city and it had come to Paul’s attention that there was much immoral and drunken behaviour.

To give some context:  in the earlier part of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul talks about what it means to be an apostle. After today's reading, he goes on to discuss the Israelites’ relationship with God.

 At times we can all grapple with what freedom means. Paul points out that freedom is important but that it does not mean that we can do exactly what we like. Instead, freedom allows us to be free to become the person God wants us to be.  He goes on to explain that he identifies with various groups of people and their circumstances, in order to win them for Christ.

 In verses 24-27, Paul compares the Christian life to a sporting contest. Athletics and boxing would have been familiar subjects to his audience as the Isthmian Games, the second most important after the Olympics, were held in Corinth every two years. To be a boxer or athlete requires huge self-discipline and self-control: they do not box or run aimlessly. They are focused on their goal: to win the prize. The same is true of the Christian life where self-discipline is also important. But while in athletics the reward is tangible, in the form of a garland, the reward for living a Christian life does not perish and lasts for ever. In verse 27 Paul talks about 'enslaving' his body. This is not a reference to masochism, rather that as an apostle he must keep up the discipline, lest he be disqualified from proclaiming the gospel.


To Ponder:

  • What is your understanding of 'personal freedom'?
  • Do you think Paul's analogy (comparing the Christian life to athletes' focus on winning) is useful? Does it resonate with you in your spiritual life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Lynita Conradie

Lynita Conradie was ordained in 2005 in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and worked part-time as a minister and also as a human rights lawyer and editor of the Namibian Law Reports, in Namibia. Lynita came to Britain in September 2013 and served as a presbyter in the Nottingham (North) Circuit until August 2018. She is currently in the Harrow and Hillingdon Circuit. In 2021 she was awarded a Professional Doctorate in practical theology by Chester University. In her spare time, Lynita follows cricket and rugby and likes reading and travelling.

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