Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, English Standard Version, here and following).
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul speaks of our freedom in Christ as freedom from self-centered indulgence. He begins with examples of this freedom as refraining from self-indulgent evil. He speaks against factions (chapters 1-4), sexual immorality (5-7), and eating in the banquet halls of temples (8-10).
Paul then speaks of freedom in Christ even as voluntarily refraining from a self-indulgent insistence on rights which are good. He begins by rhetorically asking the Corinthians, Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? (9:1a). They rightly provided material support to other apostles, such as Peter (v. 5), when visited by them. Paul points out that he and Barnabas, in contrast, never claimed that right. His reason: they freely chose to endure hardship rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ (v. 12).
Paul goes deeper: For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them (v. 19). When he is speaking with Jews, he lives as one under the law; Gentiles, as one not under the law; the weak, as weak himself (vs. 20-22). I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (vs. 22-23). May we do the same as we share the Good News with Christians of all denominations as well as Jews, Muslims, Olympians and especially the marginal of all groups.
Deeper still, Jesus frees Paul from indulging a sense of self-righteousness. Unlike other members of the Corinthian church, Paul is not promoting division, prostitution, or gluttony. Unlike other apostles visiting the church, Paul is not even insisting on his rights. Even so, these are not meritorious works that set him right with God and over others. Jesus persists in calling us as his disciples to the daily discipline of freedom. Each day Jesus calls us again to join him on the difficult path of freedom that is based on truth, expressed, through love, and leads to life. Paul, too, wants to continually embrace the discipline of our demanding lord lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (v. 27).
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