“Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Cor 9:16

By Steven Chan

1. The very driven and hardworking apostle Paul shared his attitude towards the preaching of the gospel in 1 Cor9:16-18: 

“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.”

The immediate context of Pauls’ statement was his discussion about preachers of the gospel ought to be financially supported: “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” (1 Cor 9:14).

But Paul went on to declare: “But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me…” (1 Cor 9:15). He clarified that his revealing of the Lord’s command that the preachers ought to be financially supported, was not made with the intention of asking for financial support for himself from them, i.e. the church at Corinth. He received support from other churches as he wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth: “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.” (2 Co 11:8-9)  

2. Paul’s motivation to preach to them the gospel was not motivated by any expectations of receiving financial support from them.  He had no ulterior motive. His desire was for their salvation: For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more… I have become all things to all men, thatI might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” (1 Cor 9:19,22-23)

3. Paul’s motivation for preaching the gospel was a heart of gratitude for God’s grace towards him: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Tim 1:12-15) Jesus said to the woman who had anointed His feet with fragrant oil: “ Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:47). Paul loved much because he realized that God had forgiven him much.

4. Paul also viewed his work of preaching as a stewardship entrusted to him: “the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” (1 Tim 1:11).  “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7). God entrusted this gospel to Paul and also to all Christians: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matt 28:18-20).  Paul did not want to fail God’s trust in him. The early Christians understood that trust given to them; in the midst of persecution they continued to preach the gospel: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4) They did not view the work of preaching an optional matter.

5. Paul had great love for the salvation of man and in particular his fellow Israelites: “I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh… Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Rom 9:2-3; 10:1-2)

We must share the same heart of compassion as shown by Christ: “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” (Matt 9:36-38)