Compelled to Preach the Gospel!

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“For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Brothers in the Office of the Holy Ministry: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
About ten years ago, my daughter Katie asked: “Dad, why did you decide to become a pastor?” I could’ve gone into a long discussion of the doctrine of the call, vocation, and other related things. But fortunately, I kept quiet long enough to hear what she really wanted to know. She was trying to figure out what to do with her life, and she wanted a little insight into how I was led to become a pastor.  But it did get me thinking: “Why did I become a pastor?”
Why did I become a pastor? I’m sure that every pastor struggles with this question at some point in his life. If you haven’t yet, you will. I know during the nearly three years that I was without a call, I asked myself that question many times: “Why did I become a pastor?” And then, there was a corollary question: “It seems like it would be so much easier to just move on to something else. I have other talents, skills, and interests. Why would I want to keep being a pastor?”
As I went to the seminary there were some men preparing to be pastors because, frankly, they didn’t know what else to do. They had a love for the Lord and an interest in theology, so they reasoned that God must want them in the ministry. Sadly, many of them did not make it through the seminary.
A wise professor told us: “You shouldn’t become a pastor because you can’t do anything else. You become a pastor when you can’t imagine doing anything else!” And this was evident in fact. Many of my classmates had been very successful in their prior professions. But like me, they packed up their families and stuff and headed to the seminary. They were compelled to preach the Gospel.   
St. Paul had a lot of other vocational options. He was very zealous in his faith, well-educated, and extremely talented. He even had a craft to fall back on in hard times. No doubt he could have been successful in virtually any other endeavor. But Paul couldn’t imagine being anything other than an apostle. He said: “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (v 16).
Paul did not choose to become a preacher of the Gospel; Christ called him directly. In Paul’s mind, his preaching of the Gospel was simply a discharging of the debt that had been laid on him when he was called by Christ (Romans 1:14). Paul had been entrusted with the Gospel and was obligated to preach it to others. If he failed to discharge that debt, then “woe” to him; he would have to face God’s wrath. Paul’s burden to preach the Gospel is reminiscent of Jeremiah, who writes: “The word of the Lord became in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I grew weary of trying to contain it, and I am not able” (20:9).
Paul understood himself as a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1). He was compelled, he had no choice but to preach the Gospel. He was a “steward” entrusted with “the mysteries of God,” and he was expected to carry out his commission faithfully (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Although Paul saw himself as a man under compulsion and therefore unable to expect any reward for his services, he nonetheless found enormous satisfaction in presenting the free Gospel free of charge. By maintaining his financial independence (1 Corinthians 9:15-18), Paul made sure that he was beholden to no one but his Lord. No one could manipulate him on the basis of favors rendered or owed. Thus in not seeking favors or financial privileges, even those he had a “right” to expect, Paul had shown the mind-set of a servant. By this humble approach, Paul aimed to win as many as possible for the Gospel.
Now that we have reviewed why Paul preached the Gospel, let’s look at to whom, what, and how Paul preached the Gospel.
“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law), that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
Although his calling was to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul still saw himself as under obligation to “the Jew first.” It was a constant source of sorrow to Paul that most of them had rejected the Gospel. He prayed for them constantly (Romans 10:1). In Romans 9:1-3, he even wished he could be accursed if that would bring about their salvation. To win the Jews, Paul knew he must become “as a Jew.” Accordingly, he was careful never to cause them unnecessary offense. He had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews in those areas” (Acts 16:3).
“Those under the law,” include the numerous Gentile God-fearers who attended synagogue and willingly subjected themselves to many aspects of Jewish law. Although Paul had turned his back on an observance of the ceremonial law and no longer saw himself as “under the law” but as “under grace” (Romans 6:14), he did not make an arrogant display of his new freedom but reached out to them, humbly identifying himself with them in order to win them for the Gospel.
Likewise Paul had become “to those outside the law like someone outside the law.” Gentile converts, he insisted, had no need to practice circumcision and observe the Jewish food laws, festivals, and Sabbath regulations. Timothy had been circumcised because he had a Jewish mother and therefore was regarded as legally Jewish. Consequently, not to have him circumcised would have destroyed Timothy’s credibility as a witness to Jews. On the other hand, the apostle was adamant that Titus, whose parents were both Gentile, must not be circumcised. As long as Gentiles believed the Gospel and were baptized, Paul was satisfied.
Lest we get the impression that Paul does not care about God’s Law, he adds the qualification that he is “not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). By this he means he is subject to the law of love, the pattern of self-sacrificing love, which Jesus had instilled and exemplified by His death on the cross. Paul bears the burdens of others and thus fulfills “the law of Christ.” In his outreach to Jews, God-fearers, Gentiles, and the weak, this governs everything he does.
Paul goes back to his original concern for the weak Christians in Corinth that he had expressed earlier. Although Paul himself knew that idols are nothing and that meat sacrificed to them is just meat, nevertheless he humbly identified with the weak and avoided anything that would give unnecessary offense.
Paul’s flexibility in accommodating himself to all people was governed by one overriding purpose: “that by all possible means I might save some” (v 22). In this he was following Jesus, who ate and drank with tax-collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19), who spoke with a Samaritan woman and engaged in conversation with her (John 4), and who healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30)—all for the great purpose of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10).
Just as Jesus had accommodated Himself to those around Him, without compromising His message, so Paul showed himself a model of missionary adaptability to the language and thought-forms of his hearers. In preaching to Jews, he made rich use of the Old Testament (e.g. Acts 13:16-41). In addressing the Gentiles on Mars Hill, Paul drew upon his knowledge of Greek poetry and philosophy (Acts 17:22-31). Fluent in both Greek and Aramaic, Paul could switch from one to the other in order to captivate an audience (Acts 21:37-22:2). He was thoroughly familiar with both Jewish and Hellenistic culture. But Paul carried his learning lightly. All his skills, talents, and experiences were placed in the service of bringing salvation to the lost.
With all his concern to adapt himself to people, nowhere does Paul suggest the Gospel itself may be changed to suit people’s religious or cultural tastes (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 Paul describes how God deliberately chose to save people through the preaching of a message that was “foolish” and “weak”—the very opposite of how people might expect God to save. But in the face of enormous pressure to conform his message to the world’s wisdom, Paul was determined to know only Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Through the Gospel and only through the Gospel, do people find salvation. That is why it was so important that those entrusted with the Gospel “not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32).
Paul had set the Corinthians a good example: “I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (9:23). In humbly serving the Gospel, Paul hoped that he would join fellow believers in enjoying the saving benefits of the Gospel. He was well aware of the possibility that he could fail to attain the salvation he proclaimed to others (9:27). Like every preacher of the Gospel, he must remain faithful until “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:8).
Having been entrusted with the Office of Holy Ministry, you and I are called to these same high standards. We are compelled to preach the Gospel, and woe to you and me if we do not preach it in all of its truth and purity, the Law in its full sternness and the Gospel in its full sweetness. It’s an awesome responsibility, and one for which we must each one day give an account.
For the sake of church growth, some advocates have taken Paul’s willingness to accommodate himself for the sake of the Gospel as a pretext for scrapping traditional liturgy and hymnody and abandoning biblical but potentially offensive themes of Christian preaching (sin and grace, Law and Gospel, the centrality of Christ crucified). This passage, so they claim, permits whatever changes a pastor or church may deem necessary to appeal to unbelievers.
However, these verses are about preachers accommodating themselves, not the message. It’s not about giving up the truth of the Gospel, or compromising it, or leaving it unspoken, or assuming the people naturally know it—they don’t! To an extent, the Law is written in human hearts, but the Law and the concept of sin still need to be articulated, proclaimed, and properly applied to individual lives. For that matter, the knowledge of the Gospel is certainly not native to any people or culture. It can only be received through God’s means of grace.  
Yes, the Gospel is transcultural, but the Gospel does not change. The person and work of Christ, particularly His atonement on our behalf on the cross, must be the message and must remain uncompromised regardless of how we may have to accommodate ourselves to our hearers. Paul became all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel, but he did not change the Gospel.   
Like Paul, you and I are compelled to preach the Gospel. Woe to you and me if we do not do so faithfully. But the truth be told, not one of us here has done this perfectly. Each of us battles with conflicting motives. Each of us struggle with various temptations and pet sins. Each of us is tempted to advance ourselves rather than the Gospel. None of us is worthy of the office to which we have been called.
Fortunately, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God’s grace is sufficient for you and me, as well as the sheep He has entrusted to our care. The same baptism that you have the privilege to administer, also washes your sins and covers you with Christ’s righteousness. The same body and blood of Christ that you distribute brings forgiveness and life to you as well. The same absolution, Christ speaks through you to the penitent, He speaks to you. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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