The argument from chapter 8 advances as Paul says in 9:16-27 that he is compelled to preach precisely because the grace and truth in Christ has fundamentally altered him. He recognizes the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus is how the Spirit of God translates people from death and darkness to life and light. The same Gospel engenders a zeal, a love for humanity to receive the salvation of God in Christ, which is Christ.

The Apostle opens with a strange saying, “When I preach the Gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” What does Paul mean that he is “compelled” to preach? Does he mean forced or coerced? He even says, “Woe to me!” Is that an expression of fear? Is this his motivation, fear of punishment?

Actually, such a phrase is entirely Pauline and in good keeping with his personality and background. He is a former Pharisee, who was so zealous for the traditions of his fathers that he was convinced Christianity was a threat which needed to be destroyed. He was compelled by his belief. He meant to war against the Church, but instead he was taken captive, not by force, but by love, the love of Jesus as it confronted him on the road to Damascus. Saul became Paul, the Lord’s missionary with apostolic authority, because Jesus had captured him. He told the Romans, I am like the prophets of old, like Jeremiah who was born for this, grabbed for it by God. So, he says, “I have to preach,” compelled by love. Woe to him if he did not because he would be missing out on the love of Christ and, by extension, love for his fellow man. That, indeed, would be a woeful state.

Paul’s story is somewhat different than the other Apostles. He was snatched from what held him captive to become captive to Christ for the expressed purpose of heralding His Gospel. Woe to Paul if he does not do this. He is accountable to Christ Himself!

Notwithstanding, he goes on to say, “If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the Gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” He discloses a will altered by the Gospel and the indwelling Spirit of love: I am doing this also because I want to. Here the conversation initiated last week regarding one’s “rights” or “freedoms” resurfaces. Paul does not make use of his rights or freedoms in another way than to become, in the words of Luther, the, “...dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”[1]

Paul discloses a will altered by the Gospel and the indwelling Spirit of love: I am doing this also because I want to.

What does he mean? Earlier in chapter 9, Paul had to defend himself to certain members who were saying he was really not an Apostle because he did not take any payment for his preaching (as if to admit his preaching was not worth a dime!). After all, Peter and other apostles did. “The worker is worthy of his wages,” Jesus taught. Paul agreed. “That is my right, too.” Those who preach the Gospel are to make their living from their work. “Yes,” Paul said, “but I do not insist on what is mine by right, so that you Corinthians may receive the Gospel completely free and I may be free of any and all accusations of ulterior motives. I am free to do so.”

The concern and care for souls compelled Paul. That is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the ethic of the Kingdom of Christ. That is what it does to our law-based tendency to assert our rights, namely it transforms us into the likeness of Christ, the dutiful servant of all.

That is what it does to our law-based tendency to assert our rights, namely it transforms us into the likeness of Christ, the dutiful servant of all.

Paul shows his love in another way in this text, verses 19-23:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews, I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the Law, I became like one under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law), so as to win those under the Law. To those not having the Law, I became like one not having the Law (though I am not free from God’s Law, but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the Law. To the weak I became weak to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

Paul’s love for souls, even once-despised Gentile souls, was a result of the Holy Spirit he received by Christ’s Word. Love compelled him or, to rephrase the same idea, God the Son and Spirit compelled him to preach good news. Love is always about the edification of the other. This is why he did not insist on his personal preferences, rights, freedoms, or even his once-treasured Jewish traditions. No, the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for others was much more precious. For where there is the forgiveness of sins, Paul knew, there is also life and salvation.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in I Corinthians 9:16-27.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Corinthians 9:16-27.