As I read this passage, If I did not at least question my understanding of "one saved always saved", I would be intellectually dishonest. And there are quite a few verses in the bible that on face value can rightfully challenge that doctrine. This passage is one of them.
If I believe all of God word is true and without error, this verse in particular sure seems to say, "Hey, maybe salvation is a free gift, but we need to work (and work really hard!) to keep it."
Sure seems to say that a great man of God like Paul is also in jeopardy of losing that gift. (wow... what hope have I?)
But then a multitude of verses come to mind written by the same man that really make him seem out of character here. And if I'm honest I would have to say it makes the whole bible look like it really is a bunch of contradictory fables.
So this is where faith comes in, as one is tested. One must trust that the spirit will guide to truth as we seek wisdom and His answers like we would search for gold and silver.
As I seek to understand this, I first look at the context of the chapter and ask what point is Paul trying to make in all those paragraphs together. What is his point in writing this section of the letter. Here is how I see it thus far.
Paul doesn't want to take money or anything from the congregation even though he is worthy and has the right to. (v1-12) A God ordained right I may add.(v14)
He is making a defense to those who are examining (judging) him.(v3)
He seems to be rather adamant in these verses to make sure everyone knows that he is deserving of these things and no could accuse him of wrong for taking these things but he list all these things he sacrifices (endures), he endures so these things won't be a stumbling block for any coming to an understanding of Christ(v12)
12 ...we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.
I ask myself does the suffering here have any relation to what he is saying in verse 27 (discipline my body keep it under control)?
He goes on to talk about talking about how important preaching is to him and he would do whatever it takes to win others (v15-23)
Then we go onto running the race in verse 24. I ask myself what is the race? This is of course an metaphore so you have to read into it. The word race here is only used twice in the new testament. Here in 1 Co. and Hebrews 12. Neither which explain clearly what "the race" is.
Closest I could find at this point is the word "course" which might be related to the metaphore of "race".
I assume it is safe to say Paul was not talking about a literal race but instead the path or "course" taken to get to the end of life.
Timothy actually uses "Course" and "Crown" in the same overall thought. Similar to the way 1 Co. 9 uses "Race" and "Wreath" in 24 and 25.
I really find it hard to believe how these two writers might be talking about different things. It seems to me they are just using different but similar words to express the same thing.
2 Ti 4:7-8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
So in Timothy does "the race" have something to do with keeping the faith?
And according to Acts, is it to "testify to the gospel of the grace of God"?
...if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
I guess I can argue that course and ministry are two separate things independent of each other, therefore course/race is not "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." But I don't know.
It seems that all the verses in this chapter prior to 26 are building up an argument to help support his main point here in verses 26 and 27
So putting this chapter together with the others found in the bible I ask,
Could I summarize this chapter into a paraphrase of verses 26 and 27 as
So I do not (run) testify to the gospel of the grace of God aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control. I beat it and make it a slave, (lest) so that after preaching to others I myself would not be a castaway, disapproved, disqualified from preaching the gospel, because I put an obstacle in the way of the gospel by giving those who are judging me an opportunity to discredit me by taking all your things.
Then in the very next chapter the very next sentence he says,
And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren,
It seems the greek word "de" is connecting verse 27 to 10:1 and forward. It is translated "and, moreover, for, now , when". In a sense saying
I do not want to be disqualified from preaching to you because I don't want you to be ignorant and here are some of the things I want you to know. He goes on to teach them about the lessons from Israel in the wilderness ect..
I'm sure I am not 100% correct here but I think I am on the right track.
It still troubles me how part of the metaphore in v24 ties in spiritually "but only one receives the prize". But that's OK for now. I'm gonna keep digging because these gold in them there hills :-)
I would love to hear any of your thoughts or corrections.