God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 9:15-18 An obligation to preach
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 2, 2023
15 But I have not made use of any of this. And I am not writing this so that you will do these things for me. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of what I boast about. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast about, because I have an obligation to do that. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I receive compensation. But if not, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 So then, what is my compensation? That in my preaching I may present the gospel of Christ free of charge, instead of making full use of my right when I preach the gospel.
“Boast” in the Bible is usually a verb or action word: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:31; Jeremiah 9:24). Here in verse 15, “boast” is a noun, “my boast,” or “the thing I boast about.” In the Bible, Paul uses this noun more than any other author. The object of our boast is most often the Lord, of course, but in this case Paul is talking about his ability to boast and be rightfully proud of his call to preach the gospel of Christ. So he is delighted that his own apostolic authority is not diminished or undermined by any stumbling block to the Gentiles of Corinth and Greece.
Paul had two points of interest in the conscience when he talked about this boasting. First, he was passionately concerned about the consciences of his listeners. He wanted to do anything, suffer anything, so that no one’s conscience would be led away from Christ in any way.
Second, we must see that Paul was also concerned about his own conscience. Not that Paul was in much danger of being led into any sin on account of his conscience. Paul understood the freedom of the Christian (that is, the complete bondage of man to sin) better than anyone of his age and perhaps in the entire history of the Christian church. In this he must stand shoulder to shoulder with Luther and no one else. But Paul was especially eager to preach the gospel where it was still unknown. This was for the benefit of Paul’s conscience, knowing that it would be difficult, but it would be in the service of God. This was not Paul’s own idea, but God had set Paul and Barnabas apart for this very work (Acts 13:2).
There is no disgrace in preaching Christ to Christians, and this is an honorable and necessary task. But to preach Christ where Christ has never been preached! This was something Paul yearned for and strove for. And so as not to hinder this, he set aside his rightful, lawful, and godly claims to support from the churches of the Gentiles so that they would glorify God, and he would glorify God as well. This is truly a magnificent boast: to bring people to faith and support that faith with the gospel.
Consider: Jesus was supported by others for his preaching. One of the women who gave Jesus money and other support was a woman named Joanna. Joanna’s husband Cuza was the manager of King Herod’s own household (Luke 8:3)! She had been cured by Jesus either of a demon possession or a disease. The same was true of Mary Magdalene and many other women who supported Jesus’ ministry. Paul, however, took nothing. This wasn’t to set himself apart from other teachers, and certainly not from Jesus, but it was so that nothing Paul did could become a barrier to the gospel. Paul held nothing back from preaching the gospel!
No one should ever ascend into the pulpit because he thinks that he is the best choice God could ever make for such a task. No one should boast in his own abilities. Rather, he should see his call as one of obedience and humble service. A student attends a school in obedience to his parents who want him to learn there and to be obedient to his teachers or professors. That student offers a pleasing sacrifice to God, for “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
A soldier is called into military service by his government in order to maintain peace and his country’s borders, and to ward off harm, and he serves in response to this public call, and we please God and give him honor above all when we “are subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). And as Luther rightly points out, when someone is afraid of killing in a war, “it is a holy and godly deed even to kill an adversary, provided the government commands it” (LW 2:272, commenting on Genesis 12:4 and godly obedience).
And so a person who is called into the service of the church also obeys God, whether this is a man or woman called to teach, or a man who is called to preach, because their call from the community of the church is the voice of God to them, for they should say as Paul says here: “I have an obligation to do that. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (9:16).
Speaking to us all, Luther adds: “Let us remember this brief statement: ‘Abraham went, as the Lord had told him’ (Genesis 12:4) and write it above all the activities that we carry on, whether at home or abroad, whether in war or in peace, whether during a plague or in any other danger. Then it follows that even if we have to die, we may comfort ourselves that we continued steadfast in our obedience to God. Even though the outcome may seem rather sad, it is a great comfort to know that you have obeyed God. Therefore you should expect help from him and a far greater reward than if the matter had turned out according to your own way of thinking” (LW 2:272-273). Under the test of this service, you glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ (2 Corinthians 9:13).
Do whatever task you have today, as a student, a soldier, a minister of the gospel, a parent, a child, an infant, or a citizen of a nation, and perform your task to God’s glory. This is “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26), “the obedience of the peoples” to the one who holds the scepter (Genesis 49:10), Jesus our Lord, our Savior, our Sovereign, our heavenly King.
Pastor Timothy Smith