What follows is a rather lengthy excerpt from St John Chyrsostom’s 23rd exegetical homily on 1 Corinthians. Although today’s reading is on 1 Cor 9:24-10:2 I have included his exposition up to 10:5. The full homily on 1 Cor 9:24-10:12 can be read here.
Ver 24. Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?
Having pointed out the manifold usefulness of condescension and that this is the highest perfectness, and that he himself having risen higher than all towards perfection, or rather having gone beyond it by declining to receive, descended lower than all again; and having made known to us the times for each of these, both for the perfectness and for the condescension; he touches them more sharply in what follows, covertly intimating that this which was done by them and which was counted a mark of perfectness, is a kind of superfluous and useless labor. And he saith it not thus out clearly, lest they should become insolent; but the methods of proof employed by him makes this evident.
And having said that they sin against Christ and destroy the brethren, and are nothing profited by this perfect knowledge, except charity be added; he again proceeds to a common example, and saith,
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” Now this he saith, not as though here also one only out of many would be saved; far from it; but to set forth the exceeding diligence which it is our duty to use. For as there, though many descend into the course not many are crowned, but this befalls one only; and it is not enough to descend into the contest, nor to anoint one’s self and wrestle: so likewise here it is not sufficient to believe, and to contend in any way; but unless we have so run as unto the end to show ourselves unblameable, and to come near the prize, it will profit us nothing. For even though thou consider thyself to be perfect according to knowledge, thou hast not yet attained the whole; which hinting at, he said, “so run, that ye may obtain.” They had not then yet, as it seems, attained. And having said thus, he teaches them also the manner.
Ver. 25. “And every man that striveth in the games is temperate in all things.”
What is, “all things?” He doth not abstain from one and err in another, but he masters entirely gluttony and lasciviousness and drunkenness and all his passions. “For this,” saith he, “takes place even in the heathen games. For neither is excess of wine permitted to those who contend at the time of the contest, nor wantonness, lest they should weaken their vigor, nor yet so much as to be busied about any thing else, but separating themselves altogether from all things they apply themselves to their exercise only.” Now if there these things be so where the crown fails to one, much more here, where the incitement in emulation is more abundant. For here neither is one to be crowned alone, and the rewards also far surpass the labors. Wherefore also he puts it so as to shame them, saying, “Now they do it receive to a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.”
Ver. 26. “I therefore so run, as not uncertainly.”
Thus having shamed them from those that are without, he next brings forward himself also, which kind of thing is a most excellent method of teaching: and accordingly we find him every where doing so.
But what is, “not uncertainly?” “Looking to some mark,” saith he, “not at random and in vain, as ye do. For what profit have ye of entering into idol-temples, and exhibiting for-sooth that perfectness? None. But not such am I, but all things whatsoever I do, I do for the salvation of my neighbor. Whether I show forth perfectness, it is for their sake; or condescension, for their sake again: whether I surpass Peter in declining to receive [compensation], it is that they may not be offended; or descend lower than all, being circumcised and shaving my head, it is that they may not be subverted. This is, “not uncertainly.” But thou, why dost thou eat in idol-temples, tell me? Nay, thou canst not assign any reasonable cause. For “meat commendeth thee not to God; neither if thou eat art thou the better, nor if thou eat not art thou the worse.” (1 Cor 8:8) Plainly then thou runnest at random: for this is, “uncertainly.”
“So fight I, as not beating the air.” Thishe saith, again intimating that he acted not at random nor in vain. “For I have one at whom I may strike, i.e., the devil. But thou dost not strike him, but simply throwest away thy strength.”
Now so far then, altogether bearing with them, he thus speaks. For since he had dealt somewhat vehemently with them in the preceding part, he now on the contrary keeps back his rebuke, reserving for the end of the discourse the deep wound of all. Since here he says that they act at random and in vain; but afterwards signifies that it is at the risk of no less than utter ruin to their own soul, and that even apart from all injury to their brethren, neither are they themselves guiltless in daring so to act.
Ver. 27. “But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.”
Here he implies that they axe subject to the lust of the belly and give up the reins to it, and under a pretence of perfection fulfil their own greediness; a thought which before also he was travailing to express, when he said, “meats for the belly, and the belly for meats.” (1 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 13) For since both fornication is caused by luxury, and it also brought forth idolatry, he naturally oftentimes inveighs against this disease; and pointing out how great things he suffered for the Gospel, he sets this also down among them. “As I went,” saith he, “beyond the commands, and this when it was no light matter for me:” (“for we endure all things,” it is said,) “so also here I submit to much labor in order to live soberly. Stubborn as appetite is and the tyranny of the belly, nevertheless I bridle it and give not myself up to the passion, but endure all labor not to be drawn aside by it.”
“For do not, I pray you, suppose that by taking things easily I arrive at this desirable result. For it is a race and a manifold struggle, and a tyrannical nature continually rising up against me and seeking to free itself. But I bear not with it but keep it down, and bring it into subjection with many struggles.” Now this he saith that none may despairingly withdraw from the conflicts in behalf of virtue because the undertaking is laborious. Wherefore he saith, “I buffet and bring into bondage.” He said not, “I kill:” nor., “I punish” for the flesh is not to be hated, but, “I buffet and bring into bondage;” which is the part of a master not of an enemy, of a teacher not of a foe, of a gymnastic master not of an adversary.
“Lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should be a rejected.”
Now if Paul feared this who had taught so many, and feared it after his preaching and becoming an angel and undertaking the leadership of the whole world; what can we say?
For, “think not,” saith he, “because ye have believed, that this is sufficient for your salvation: since if to me neither preaching nor teaching nor bringing over innumerable persons, is enough for salvation unless I exhibit my own conduct also unblameable, much less to you.”
Then he comes to other illustrations again. And as above he alleged the examples of the Apostles and those of common custom and those of the priests, and his own, so also here having set forth those of the Olympic games and those of his own course, he again proceeds to the histories of the Old Testament. And because what he has to say will be somewhat unpleasing he makes his exhortation general, and discourses not only concerning the subject before him, but also generally concerning all the evils among the Corinthians. And in the case of the heathen games, “Know ye not?” saith he: but here, “For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant” (1 Cor 10:1). Now this he said, implying that they were not very well instructed in these things. And what is this which thou wouldest not have us ignorant of?
Ver. 1-5 “That our fathers,” saith he, “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of a spiritual Rock that followed them: and the Rock was Christ. Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased.”
And wherefore saith he these things? To point out that as they were nothing profited by the enjoyment of so great a gift, so neither these by obtaining Baptism and partaking of spiritual Mysteries, except they go on and show forth a life worthy of this grace. Wherefore also he introduces the types both of Baptism and of the Mysteries.
But what is, “They were baptized into Moses?” Like as we, on our belief in Christ and His resurrection, are baptized, as being destined in our own persons to partake in the same mysteries; for, “we are baptized,” saith he, “for the dead,” i.e., for our own bodies; even so they putting confidence in Moses, i.e., having seen him cross first, ventured also themselves into the waters. But because he wishes to bring the Type near the Truth; he speaks it not thus, but uses the terms of the Truth even concerning the Type.
Further: this was a symbol of the Font, and that which follows, of the Holy Table. For as thou eatest the Lord’s Body, so they the manna: and as thou drinkest the Blood, so they water from a rock. For though they were things of sense which were produced, yet were they spiritually exhibited, not according to the order of nature, but according to the gracious intention of the gift, and together with the body nourished also the soul, leading it unto faith. On this account, you see, touching the food he made no remark, for it was entirely different, not in mode only but in nature also; (for it was manna;) but respecting the drink, since the manner only of the supply was extraordinary and required proof, therefore having said that “they drank the same spiritual drink,” he added, “for they drank of a spiritual Rock that followed them,” and he subjoined, “and the Rock was Christ.” For it was not the nature of the rock which sent forth the water, (such is his meaning,) else would it as well have gushed out before this time: but another sort of Rock, a spiritual One, performed the whole, even Christ who was every where with them and wrought all the wonders. For on this account he said, “that followed them”
Perceivest thou the wisdom of Paul, how in both cases he points cut Him as the Giver, and thereby brings the Type nigh to the Truth? “For He who set those things before them,” saith he, “the same also hath prepared this our Table: and the same Person both brought them through the sea and thee through Baptism; and before them set manna, but before thee His Body and Blood.”
As touching His gift then, such is the case: now let us observe also what follows, and consider, whether when they showed themselves unworthy of the gift, He spared them. Nay, this thou canst not say. Wherefore also he added, “Howbeit with most of them God was not well-pleased;” although He had honored them with so great honor. Yea, it profited them nothing, but most of them perished. The truth is, they all perished, but that he might not seem to prophesy total destruction to these also, therefore he said, “most of them.” And yet they were innumerable, but their number profited them nothing: and these were all so many tokens of love; but not even did this profit them, inasmuch as they did not themselves show forth the fruits of love.
Thus, since most men disbelieve the things said of hell, as not being present nor in sight; he alleges the things heretofore done as a proof that God doth punish all who sin, even though He have bestowed innumerable benefits upon them: “for if ye disbelieve the things to come,” so he speaks, “yet surely the things that are past ye will not disbelieve.” Consider, for example, how great benefits He bestowed on them: from Egypt and the slavery there He set them free, the sea He made their path, from heaven he brought down manna, from beneath He sent forth strange and marvellous fountains of waters; He was with them every where, doing wonders and fencing them in on every side: nevertheless since they showed forth nothing worthy of this gift, He spared them not, but destroyed them all.
Ver. 5. “For they were overthrown,” saith he, “in the wilderness.” Declaring by this word both the sweeping destruction, and the punishments and the vengeance inflicted by God, and that they did not so much as attain to the rewards proposed to them. Neither were they in the land of promise when He did these things unto them, but without and afar somewhere, and wide of that country; He thus visiting them with a double vengeance, both by not permitting them to see the land, and this too though promised unto them, and also by actual severe punishment.