Incorruptible Crown: Crown of Self-Denial
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 9. We have been considering the theme of prophecy, and for the past several weeks we have begun a discussion of the judgments which are yet future in God's prophetic plan. One of those judgments will be the Judgment Seat of Christ, where Christians will receive rewards for their deeds, whether good or bad. The rewards which the believers are to receive are spoken of in terms of “crowns,” and we want to continue our thinking along this line by noticing what the Scriptures have to say about the crowns which are available to believers.

In I Corinthians, chapter 9, we have a description of one of the crowns. Now, there is no reason for our considering these crowns in the order in which we are considering them, at least from the standpoint of importance, because I cannot honestly say that one of them is any more important than another. But this is the order in which they are described in the Word of God. Notice the paragraph which begins with verse 24:

I Corinthians 9

24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
25And 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.
26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:
27But 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.

A Chapter Concerning Self-denial

If you are familiar with the 9th chapter of I Corinthians, you know that it is a chapter concerning self-denial. The Apostle Paul mentions certain things which he has liberty to do but which he refrains from doing for no other reason than that he does not want his preaching of the Gospel to be without a reward. He closes the discussion of self-denial by a description of the crown which is available to all believers who will enter into that same spirit of self-denial. So even though the crown is referred to in the text as the “Incorruptible Crown,” I might suggest that we call it also “the crown of self-denial.”

Comparing Life to a Race

I would suggest that we look at several analogies which the Apostle Paul presents in the paragraph, and then we will be able to apply them to our own lives. We will behold the reward for learning the spirit of self-denial. Paul's favorite illustrations are from the Olympic Games with which he was quite familiar. When we speak of the Olympic Games we mean just that–a variety of sporting events. He is pleased, in the chapter before us, to select a variety of sporting events to make his point.

He brings to our attention first of all the race. In verse 24 he says:

I Corinthians 9

24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

We would like for you to notice the word “race” in verse 24, as I suggest to you that it is a translation of a Greek word from which we get our English word “stadium.” It speaks of an arena in which there is set down a fixed course of measured lengths which the individuals who enter the race are to run. So the Apostle likens our Christian living to a race. He himself reminds us in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, that we must run with patience the race that is set before us, laying aside every weight and the sin which does so easily beset us, looking unto Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith. In the declining days of his life, he gives his own testimony, saying “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course.” The course was the same course that is described here in verse 24.

Comparing Life to a Game

But he gives us another picture in verse 25, where we read:

I suggest to you that this verse provides the analogy between games and Christian living. The Olympic Games were made up of races, but they were made up also of gladiatorial contests; they were made up of various tests of strength and prowess. All are included in this one statement in verse 25,“…every man that striveth for the mastery…” The phrase “striveth for the mastery” is a translation of one Greek word from which we get our word “agony.” It speaks of competing in a contest; but it also suggests the idea of competing with such effort that every muscle and every nerve is strained to the breaking point. It is not a matter of just a little game that someone wants to play that will be over by and by, but it is a game in which the life of the contestant often times can depend on the victory.

Comparing Life to Skillful Boxing

We have read Paul's comparisons of the Christian life first to a race, then to a game. Now down in verse 26, we have the third analogy:

I Corinthians 9

26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

Notice, please, the phrase “so fight I.” It is a translation of the Greek word from which we get our word “pugilist” and it refers very definitely to the sport of boxing. So the Apostle likens Christian living to running a race, mastery in the Games, and skillful boxing.

The Cost of Success

He is suggesting to us that if we expect to gain the Incorruptible Crown, then we must enter into Christian living in the same spirit in which these individuals enter into their sports. All of these various events have one thing in common–that is, they cost something if the prize is to be won. That sounds like strange language in the day in which we are living, because most of us do not want to pay for what we get; and certainly we have been nurtured on the idea that Christianity makes no demands upon us. We are not too anxious to pay the price for victorious Christian living. But because the Apostle has selected these analogies, I think it would be wise to heed his advice and his application of these principles.

He suggests that certain things ought to be done; and of certain other things he says, “I have done them, so I know that they work.” Let us go back to verse 24 and notice what he says:

I Corinthians 9

24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

“Everyone is running in the race,” he says, “but only the one who wins the race gets the prize.” The advice that he gives is in verse 24:

Seize With Eagerness

I would like for you to fasten your attention on that word “obtain,” as I tell you that it is the translation of the Greek word which means “to seize eagerly that which you have your eyes and your heart set upon.” You see the application, I trust. This is the way we should live this life that we call Christian. We should run the race that is set before us as the greatest opportunity that we have ever had. We should seize upon the opportunity with real eagerness. Let's pause in our thinking to ask our own hearts a question; Are we that interested in being effective Christians that we seize with eagerness the opportunity to be the kind of Christians that the Word of God teaches us to be? “So run that ye may obtain.” says the Apostle.

Not as Uncertainly

Still thinking about the race, glance down at verse 26:

He says, “I run with eagerness, but I want to tell you something else: I don't run uncertainly either. It makes a difference in the outcome of the race.” Look at that word “uncertainly,” as I suggest that it is a translation of the Greek word which means “to keep nothing hidden, to do nothing in secrecy.” It conveys the idea of doing whatever you do openly, with pride in what you do. It suggests that if you are a Christian you are not meek about it; you are open about it. It suggests that if you are running in the race, you don't apologize for being in the race. You let folk know that no matter what it costs you are ready to pay the price, because you have eagerly seized upon the opportunity of running the race. As the Spirit of God ministers the Word to you, I want to ask you before we leave the analogy of the race: What kind of race are you running? Are you running so that you may obtain? Are you running with certainty?

Only Run By Christians

Now do not misunderstand me; I do not suggest to you that if you do not run the race well you will not get to Heaven. You are not even in the race unless that is already settled. The only way you can get into the race is to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, so I am not talking to you about whether or not you will get to Heaven. I am talking to you about whether or not you will receive the crown. If you are trusting Christ, you will get to Heaven. But in the terms of our text, in view of the way you are running the race, do you think that you will get the Incorruptible Crown? Do you think that you will receive the crown of self-denial?

The Need for Self Control

Before you decide fully, let us notice the advice that the Apostle gives in regard to the Games. Look with me at verse 25, where he says:

I Corinthians 9

25And every man that striveth for the mastery…..

That is, every man that participates in the Games is temperate in all things. “Name the game,” he says, “it does not matter which one you name. There is one requirement common to all. That is temperance.” What do you think temperance is? I think that it is one of the most misused abused words in our English language, because we have had so many temperance lessons in our Sunday Schools. The suggestion is that so long as you don't drink too much, it is all right. So long as you don't eat too much, it is all right So long as you don't indulge too much in anything, it is all right. Perhaps that idea or that application could be made, but look at the word “temperate.” I suggest that it is a translation of a Greek word which means to “act out of power that lies in your hands.” That is what it means to be temperate. It means to act out of power that lies in your hands. That is the reason why some translators of the Scriptures translate this word by the words “self control” instead of the word “temperate.” If we were going to translate it that way, we might say that every man that striveth for the mastery, every man that striveth in the Games, must practice self control.

Spirit Control

Now let's pause for a moment and ask our hearts whether, if the reception of the Incorruptible Crown depends upon our exercising self control, we will get the crown. Will we? Do we exercise very much self control in regard to many things too numerous to mention? Well, I am going to confess to you that if my reception of the incorruptible Crown depended upon my self control, I would not even consider it a possibility that it might be mine. I learned long ago that I don't have any self control., I learned, as the Apostle Paul records in his letter to the Romans, thatwhen I would do good, evil is present. I learned with the Apostle Paul that the things that I would not, that I do, and thee things that I would, I do not. Then what shall I do? I am going to believe the text; this text says that to be temperate means to draw upon the power which is at your fingertips. When I realize that I do not have that power myself, I remember that I still have it; for I am told twice in the Scriptures that temperance is the “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” so I would like to suggest that we use the phrase “Spirit control” instead of “self control.”

Yielding to the Holy Spirit

Oh, there is a big difference! You know you can grit your teeth, you can say to yourself, “I will not do this, because it hinders my Christian testimony. I will not do that, because I will not be as effective a Christian if I do.” You may refrain for a short time, but it won't be long until you are back doing the same old thing again. But if you can remember that the Holy Spirit, who controls the life of every believer who yields control to Him, can produce His temperance in your life, then you can enjoy the victory on earth and you will be in the running for the Incorruptible Crown.

Making Every Blow Count

Look down at verse 26, as we notice the advice of the Apostle concerning boxing. You see, he has named three things and he gives some advice in regard to each one of them; in verse 26, he says:

I Corinthians 9

26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air:

Notice the phrase “beateth the air.” This is a phrase that speaks of a person's flailing his arms back and forth, up and down. some folk have called it “shadow boxing,” but even “shadow boxing” provides practice for real boxing, and that isn't really the meaning of this text. It is the picture of a person just swinging his arms, aiming at everything and hitting nothing. The Apostle says, “If I am going to get that crown, then I am not going to fight as one that beats the air; I am going to fight, making every single blow count.” I wonder if you recognize the importance of making every blow count for Christ. The Apostle becomes even more specific, by way of example again, down in verse 27 when he says:

I Corinthians 9

27But 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 the first part of the verse for a moment:

Learning Real Self-denial

This, Beloved, is real self-denial. Notice the phrase “keep under my body,” as I suggest to you that the words “keep under” are a translation of the Greek word which means to “hit under the eye” or to “deliver a telling blow.” In the day in which Paul wrote, the most effective blow was one right below the eye. We will not quibble about whether that is true in this day and age or not, but it was. Right below the eye was the most effective blow. This Greek word is a word that describes what Paul did with his body when he said, “I keep my body under. I deliver a telling blow to it. I deliver a knockout blow. I make it behave itself.”

I wish I had the words to emphasize the need of this. Yes, I am talking about our physical bodies, and I want to suggest to you that some of us will miss the Incorruptible Crown because we have not learned to keep our bodies under. Whatever demands our body makes upon us, as far as appetite is concerned, we obey without question. We don't seem to make very much effort to keep our body under.

I want to say something to you young people who are here, because I am vitally concerned about all young people. As I drive up and down the street, I see something that concerns me mightily. I see young people stirring up appetites long before they need to be stirred up. I see young people stirring up appetites, the force of which they do not even begin to realize. Pretty soon the demand for satisfaction is going to be made. Individuals will find that the payment can be tremendous. It can be tremendous right here in this life, but I want to say to you Christian young people that if you do not learn to control the appetites of your body and watch how close you sit together as boys and girls in automobiles, you could be in danger not only of all the problems you create right here, but you could be in danger of losing the Incorruptible Crown because the body is not kept under.

Bringing the Body Into Subjection

Now if you will look at this verse again, you will notice that the Apostle says another truth. The Apostle says:

I Corinthians 9

27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection:……….

“I bring my body into subjection.” That phrase is the translation of one Greek word which literally expresses the actions of a slave driver. Do you see what the Apostle is saying? He is saying, “In order to gain this Incorruptible Crown which is held out for me, I am a slave driver to my body. I refuse to be enslaved by all the fleshly appetites that enslave so many people. I drive my body as an individual would drive a slave.” In this declaration, we recognize not only the negative side of the question but the positive as well. I think we should realize that many Christians are slaves to their bodies instead of using their bodies for what God intended they should be used for. Instead of using their bodies as vehicles for the glory of God, they themselves have become slaves to the appetites of the flesh and do not even know it. Sometimes I marvel, how I marvel at the mercy of God! Sometimes it is possible for people to abuse their bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit. sometimes it is possible for people to use their bodies unwisely and somehow escape, in this life. It is the mercy of God; that is all–the mercy of God. But I want to name one thing you will lose if you don't learn to keep your body in subjection: the Incorruptible Crown. For God has promised it, not to all Christians, but He has promised it to all Christians who are willing to pay the price that they might receive it.

Loss of the Crown

Now, the loss of the Crown is suggested down in verse 27. Please look at it again:

I Corinthians 9

27But 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.

There are two things about this verse that intrigue me and always have. One is the fear that the Apostle Paul had with him constantly that he might set a bad example by some means or other. He said, “Think of it. When I have preached to others, I myself might be a castaway.” If we were to engage the Apostle Paul in conversation, we might say to him, “But, Paul, I might be a castaway, too.” And he would say, “I know, I know that. but it does not seem to me that it would be as bad for you to be a castaway as it would be for me. I have preached to many. I have preached to so many. And for me to be a castaway–I can't bear the thought of it.”

Now, you are not the Apostle Paul. He had his own ministry; but, Beloved, you have yours. One of the tragedies, I think, is that after they have lived a Christian life, an effective Christian life, after they have given forth a good testimony, men themselves can become castaways. Somehow or other the effect seems to be the greater. That is what the Apostle had in mind. He says, “I don't want to stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and perhaps see many to whom I have preached receive this Incorruptible Crown and find that it has been denied to me because, even though I have preached to others, I have not learned to keep my body under. I have not learned to bring my body into sugjection.”

Fear of Becoming Unapproved

The other thing about this verse that intrigues me is the word “castaway.” It is the very last word in verse 27, and a word that has been much misunderstood. People read this passage of Scripture and say that Paul never had the assurance of his salvation, that in I Corinthians, chapter 9, he even said, “I might be a castaway someday.” Well, we have emphasized the word “castaway” because it is the word in our English text, but it is a very poor translation. It does not convey the idea at all, at least in our modern usage. This word “castaway” is a translation of a Greek word which means “unapproved,” or “worthless.” It wasn't that the Apostle Paul was afraid that he would stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ and hear the Lord Jesus Christ say, “Cast him out.” It wasn't that. He was fearful that when he stood before the Judgment Seat of Christ, he might be disapproved for the crown–the Incorruptible Crown.

Can't you see him there standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ? With eagerness he has run the race. Oh, he wants that crown so much. As others are getting the crown, he thinks, “Soon it will be my turn to step up and receive the Incorruptible Crown.” They pass him by and he wonders what the reason for it is. Then he is reminded that he is not worthy to receive the Incorruptible Crown. He is disapproved–as far as receiving the Incorruptible Crown is concerned. Were he to pursue the matter and say, “But why? I have preached and I have worked–why?”, they could say to him, “Because you never learned to control your body. You have never learned to keep your body under. You never learned to be Spirit-controlled.” I trust that this message will bring its own application to your hearts.

Before the Judgment Seat of Christ

I seriously doubt that there is anyone who receives Paul's message, myself included, who does not need, at least in a measure, the application of this message. Beloved, all of us have the opportunity of receiving the Incorruptible Crown. We have an opportunity of losing it, too. At the moment it may not seem greatly important to you whether you receive it or not. But I beg of you to think not in terms of the temporal, but in terms of the eternal.

Do not think of it as you feel now. Perhaps you couldn't care less now; but think of it in terms of how you will feel when you stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ–as you certainly will stand–and do not receive the crown because you have not learned to deny yourself.

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