Summary: This text gives the real reason for why anyone should dare take the job of preaching.
Why do I preach? Why does a person become a preacher? It has its benefits. One gains a measure of respect with the office. There are flexible hours and a fairly secure income during recession. Of course there is the opportunity to help people, and then there is the weekly occasion to speak out with no interruption! This text gives the real reason for why anyone should dare take such a job.
Let’s get back into the situation. Paul is having to defend his authority as an apostle. Though the Corinth believers are his spiritual children whom he brought into the knowledge of salvation, they are starting to buck against his authority. One way they are doing this is by questioning his credentials as an apostle. He is not one of the original eleven, nor was he appointed by them. Why, he is not even supported in the same way they are. He works with his hands for a living!
Chapter nine is Paul’s defense for his peculiar practice of earning his own support. He does have the right to demand support from the Corinth Church which he demonstrates through reason and scripture. Nevertheless, he has chosen for himself not to make use of his right out of a desire not to place an obstacle in the way of the gospel. He does not want money to become a problem. In these next few verses he discusses the matter at a more personal level.
15 But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.
Paul is not manipulating the Corinthians to send him support as such tactics are often used. I don’t want your support even though it is the reasonable and biblical thing to do. I have to work to support my ministry to you, but don’t worry about me. I don’t want to be a burden. Nothing like guilt to bring in the funds!
Actually, Paul really does not want support for personal reasons. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. That is rather strong language, and it seems, well…boastful. Let’s hear him out.
16 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!
Here is Paul’s thought process. For years he has traveled through the Roman empire preaching the gospel. He has been successful starting churches in most of the cities he visits. Even in the midst of persecution he has persevered to preach the gospel. That is all true. Even so, he has only done what he as a servant of God was given the duty to do in rendering his Lord service.
Do you remember what Jesus said about this?
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ ” (Luke 17:7-10).
Paul understands this. As he said in 4:1, This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. By preaching the gospel to the gentiles who have not heard it before, he is merely carrying out his job assignment. Even suffering is part of the job. God has said of him,
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
It is noble work Paul is doing and certainly difficult work. Nevertheless, it is his job description. Though he ought to be proud in the sense of carrying out his work well, he cannot reward himself with a treat for going beyond what is expected of him. Indeed, to have done less would have invited shame. This is what Paul means by the statement, Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
Paul no doubt loved to preach, but he is not expressing an inner spirit for preaching, that he would be too restless to be out of the pulpit. He really would be in trouble for quitting his job. His boss would not “regretfully but graciously” accept his resignation. Paul was not asked to sign up in the first place. He was sent by God on a mission, and God expects him to keep it. Woe to what Paul could expect from God should he fail to keep his commission.