In the first part of chapter nine, Paul tells about his right as a minister of the gospel. That it is right for the church to take care of those that minister to them. He was happy to not have to take a salary from the church but instead was involved in tent making to provide for his needs. Paul includes this here to show that it is normal for the church to support the ministers. Not only do the ministers have a right to receive a wage for their ministering, but they also have a right to have a wife.
“Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working?”
1 Corinthians 9:5-6 HCSB ( https://www.bible.com/72/1co.9.5-6.hcsb )
As mentioned in a discussion in an early chapter it is commonly held that Paul was a widower, but still, Paul says that he has a right to have a wife if he wanted one. The Catholic Church needlessly places a burden on its ministers by demanding that they remain single.
In the rest of the chapter, Paul tells about his endless desire to see people come to salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ. He says that “….I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (vs. 22). This was the heart of the Apostles Paul, that he would do whatever it takes to when some for Christ. May we live with such a passion for the gospel and have the same desire for others to come to Christ. This dedication to the gospel doesn’t happen by chance and it also isn’t the natural outcome of being an apostle. Paul says:
“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 HCSB ( https://www.bible.com/72/1co.9.24-27.hcsb )
Paul was able to have such a passion for the gospel and the conversion of unbelievers because he disciplined himself. Paul points out that we have to exercise self-control in every area of our lives. The reason that we have to practice self-control in every areal of life is that when we start to let one area go, the others will follow. If we start to become physically lazy we may start to become spiritually lazy. If we let one sinful desire have its way in our hearts, then we will start to let other sinfulness come into our lives.
The Christian life should be one of self-control. We have to control our emotions and the way we respond to different situations. We also have to control our desires so that we are not overcome by sin.
The reason we must have self-control is so that we do not become disqualified. It is not clear what Paul means by saying “I myself will not be disqualified.” Those that hold to the belief you can lose your salvation by sinning after conversion, will say that Paul was afraid he would miss out on heaven. Those that hold to once saved always saved will say that Paul was afraid of losing his “crown.” It is unlikely that Paul was afraid of not getting to enter into heaven. So the belief that he was afraid of losing his reward for the ministry that he had done.
This seems to fit better with the context of the illustration that Paul used. He is comparing the Christian life to competing in the well-known games of the time. Points out that only the winner of the race receives the prize. The others didn’t receive the prize because they didn’t come in first, but the others did finish the race. There is a way to run the race of the Christian life and not receive a prize. If you live your life without placing Jesus at the center of all you are and do, assuming you are a child of God you will still go to heaven but not receive the prize. The ones that receive the prize will be the ones that lived faithfully for God and ran the race of the Christian life with self-control.
May God help us all to run with determination and self-control so that we do not find ourselves to be disqualified.