In previous articles in this series (LandMarks September 2013 – January 2014), the focus was concentrated on the paradigm for Christianity that Jesus exemplified in His life here on earth. This message looks at one of Paul the apostle’s statements concerning who really is a Christian and what this religion called Christianity is all about.
Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan preacher and theologian who lived in the early eighteenth century made the following remarks in one of his sermons: “They who give themselves to God, He’ll give Himself to them, and only those who refuse to give themselves to God shall fail to have Him for their portion. The truly righteous dedicate themselves to God; they give themselves up, body and soul, with all that they have. To such, God gives Himself, with all that He is and has, to be their heritage. He gives Himself with all His glory and perfection, so far as they are capable of enjoying them or receiving good by them. His power shall be theirs to deliver them from evil and to promote their welfare. His wisdom shall be theirs to guide and instruct them, and to contrive and to order things for them. His holiness, His beauty, and His love shall be theirs to be seen and enjoyed by them.” A Just and Righteous God, (Soli Deo Gloria Ministries, Michigan), 130.
In my analysis of true Christianity there is a word which keeps popping up in my mind which I never liked and which from my observation most human beings do not like, that word is submit or submission. To submit, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means to yield, as something, in surrender, compliance, or obedience; to subject to imposed conditions or treatment; to allow oneself to be subjected to something imposed or to be undergone; to yield to the decision or opinion of another. Synonyms for submit or submission are subject or subjection and this word subjection is what I would like to focus on as it relates to being a Christian. The word subject or subjection, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means to bring under dominion, rule, or authority.
Paul Sets an Example
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians, we read these words: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” I Corinthians 9:27. In this verse we see the apostle emphasizing the absolute importance for the Christian, bringing his or her being under authority, under rule! It was necessary for Paul to speak plainly and pointedly to these believers. The Corinthians, who considered themselves mature Christians, had been claiming that they are in such a privileged position that they are free to eat meat offered to idols if they like. Their Christian freedom gives them—as they think—a special position in which they could do things, which might not be permissible to other men. Paul’s way of answering that argument was to set forth the many privileges, which he himself had a perfect right to claim, but which he did not claim, in case they should turn out to be stumbling-blocks to others and hindrances to the effectiveness of the gospel.
So, after Paul had addressed the Corinthian Christians concerning frictions in the church; the practice of incest among them, their practice of litigation in secular courts, issues concerning marriage and issues concerning meats offered to idols, he then seeks to establish the way of life in which the Christian should conduct himself. The apostle wanted to correct the false notion that the Corinthian Christians held about what it really means to be a Christian! Fundamentally, the Christian is not free to please himself or herself, to do whatever he or she wishes, inspite of how it might impact others!
Here is Paul’s argument, I Corinthians 9:19–27: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
Notice what the apostle states in verse 19: “For though I be free.” Paul returns to his theme of chapter 8:9–13 that he will not permit his liberty to become a stumbling block to them that are weak. Simply put, being a Christian is interpreted to mean living for Jesus, which means living for others! Therefore the true Christian will always seek to possess a Christlike attitude in order to influence non-Christians to Christ. The emphasis in his or her life is not self-gratification, rather it will be as Paul states, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.”
The apostle was willing to enslave himself for the salvation of his fellowmen, total self-renouncement, total self-forgetfulness so that by his Christlike life he may win some to Christ! This is the challenge we all have today, to forget about ourselves and to remember who we are and whose we are. Dr. Albert Schweitzer describes the kind of moment that brought him the greatest happiness. Someone suffering intensely is brought into his hospital. He soothes the man by telling him that he will put him to sleep and will operate on him and all will be well. After the operation he sits beside the patient waiting for him to regain consciousness. Slowly he opens his eyes and whispers in sheer wonderment, “I have no more pain.”
If, by a life of selfless love, you and I can mend one shattered life, restore one wanderer to the right way, heal one broken heart, bring back one lost soul to Christ, to find ourselves at last in eternity and to have one person say to us I have no more pain, all the self-denial and self-sacrifice we made would have been worth it!
Paul makes it very clear to the Christian that we are in a real fight. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” I Corinthians 9:24–27.
Paul insists to those Corinthians who wanted to take the easy way that no man will ever get anywhere without the sternest self-discipline. Just as how the athlete must discipline himself/herself if he or she intends to win the game, how much more should the Christian discipline himself/herself to win the crown, which is eternal life. In verse 27 the apostle uses the word subjection, he states, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
In relation to the word subjection, the apostle says, “I keep under my body … .” The Greek word hupopiazo literally means to strike under the eye, or to give one a black eye. Here we now learn who Paul’s opponent is, namely his own body with its desires and its weak inclinations, which are so ready to militate against his high calling. So, likewise, the Christian’s opponent is self. Paul therefore states, I give myself a black eye. The boxing gloves worn by the fighters were not gloves in the modern sense of the word; they were often made of oxhide bands, which were sometimes fortified with brass knuckles. Hupopiazo vividly portrays the severity and harshness that the genuine Christian is to exercise towards his sinful nature. It shows the rigid discipline and self-denial that must be exercised in order that victory may be gained over all the corrupt passions of man’s evil tendencies.
Paul also states, “bring it into subjection.” The literal meaning is to lead into slavery, hence, to make a servant of. The picture the apostle has painted is this, to hit a powerful blow under the eye is to knock the body out; this is a momentary victory. The more forceful point is, “I make my body a slave” and keep it as a slave so that it is unable to assert itself again and to regain any mastery over me even as much as to my control for one moment. This for Paul is permanent victory!
Therefore, bringing one’s self under subjection, is the acknowledgment of another’s authority over you, over me. Paul frequently uses the term servant or slave to express his relationship as a believer to Christ. We see this in a few verses of Scripture: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” Romans 1:1. “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10. “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” Philippians 1:1. “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.” Titus 1:1.
The Greek word for servant in all these texts just quoted is doulos meaning slave, or one bound, hence a bond servant. The word involves the idea of belonging to a master and rendering bondman service to him. Paul taught that Christians belong to Christ by purchase, hence are His slaves. Here are a few texts: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” I Corinthians 6:20. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” I Corinthians 7:22, 23. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7. “Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.” Ephesians 6:6. “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Romans 6:22.
So then, for all of us who declare ourselves to be Christians it is most important that we understand that we are subjected to Jesus Christ and that for us to remain Christians we must constantly bring ourselves under His authority. Therefore such expression as “doing my own thing,” “I do whatever I want” or “I take orders from no one” and “I listen to no one” is not a part of the vocabulary of the Christian. The true Christian does whatever Christ, his/her Master desires and orders him/her to do!
In conclusion, in I Corinthians 9, the apostle points out to the believers a brief philosophy of the Christian life.
- The Christian life is a battle.
- To win the fight and to be victorious in the race demands discipline. From the pen of inspiration we are told: “Those who enter into a contest of physical strength for a corruptible prize realize the necessity of rigid abstinence from every indulgence that would weaken the physical powers. They eat simple food at regular hours.
“How much more should those who enter for the gospel race, restrain themselves from the unlawful indulgence of appetite and ‘abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul’ ( I Peter 2:11). They must be temperate at all times. The same restraint that gives them the power to obtain the victory at one time will, if practiced constantly, give them a great advantage in the race for the crown of life.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, 1089.
- We need to know our goal.
- We need to know the worth of our goal. Why are we Christians? What are we working towards? Paul says it beautifully, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” I Corinthians 9:26. Also, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” I Corinthians 15:19.
- We cannot save others unless we master ourselves. Sigmund Freud once said, “Psycho-analysis is learnt first of all on oneself, through the study of one’s own personality.” The Greeks declared that the first rule of life is, “Man know thyself.” Certainly we cannot save others until we have mastered ourselves, we cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot bring others to Christ until we ourselves have found Him.
In quoting I Corinthians 9:24-27, the servant of the Lord commented as follows: “Thus Paul presents the conditions which God imposes upon every soul who enlists in His service. The apostle fears for himself, lest he shall fail of bearing the examination test, and be found wanting, and he places himself under severe training. So the Christian today needs to keep strict guard over his appetite. He needs to subject himself to severe training, that he may not run uncertainly or at random, without seeing his standard and striving to reach it. He must obey the laws of God. The physical, mental, and moral powers must be kept in the most perfect condition if he would obtain the approval of God. ‘I keep under my body,’ the apostle says. This means literally to beat back its desires and impulses and passions by severe discipline, even as did those competing for an earthly prize.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, 1089.
Pastor Ivan Plummer ministers through the Emmanuel Seventh Day Church Ministries in Bronx, New York. He may be contacted by telephone at: 718-882-3900.