How Paul Preached The Gospel
[1st Corinthians 9, verses 15-27]
In today’s study I will take up where I left off last week and finish the ninth chapter of First Corinthians. Paul was writing this particular letter to the early church regarding whether he should be allowed to take any part of the church offering to cover his own expenses. This was in response to at least a few who had a problem with Paul using any portion of the offering for his personal needs. Paul was traveling from church to church at that time, working without a salary as we are accustomed, and he was incurring certain costs as he went. Obviously this money had to come from somewhere. Paul then goes on to describe why he saw nothing wrong with this practice so long as it was not done to gain personal profit. And he points out that he never did so, beginning in verse 15.
“But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 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.” (1st Cor 9: 15-18 NIV)
The first time I read through this first paragraph of Scripture, I was struck by the contrast between what St. Paul was writing about and the materialistic version of watered-down Christianity that I have heard preached from many pulpits in the contemporary Church, some of which are on television. There is a stark contrast between what Paul wrote about here and the way many “preachers” today enjoy generous salaries, real estate holdings and other investments, high-end luxury vehicles, even their own airplanes. That is why Paul wrote, “… in preaching the gospel I …. offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it”. Paul didn’t care whether he got paid or not, so long as he could eat and have shelter, along with plenty of Christian fellowship since there was no radio, TV or internet. It is for this reason that I think there are too many churches today (and many of the TV evangelists are undoubtedly the worst) that emphasize getting blessed by God over the act of blessing other people. This is an incorrect teaching that has undertones of blasphemy, and I am not comfortable with it at all. There is a scripture in the Bible that promises to reward those who work to spread the gospel up to “30, 60, or 100 times what he has sown”. But that verse refers to our heavenly reward when our physical lives are over, when only our soul will remain. It is written as such because it invokes Spiritual gain. In no way is it intended to glorify material gain over that of the Spirit of Christ. That most certainly qualifies as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which the Bible says “cannot be forgiven in this life, nor in the next.” If you are in a church and you hear that being preached as the true gospel, get out of there immediately. Never mind if leaving causes a stir, it’s far better to please God than it is to be concerned about offending men and women.
Does God want us to be happy? Sure He does! Does He want us to have a life of wellness and prosperity, lacking for nothing? Absolutely! But does God want us to be filthy rich? No way; in fact Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money. You must either love one or despise the other” (that’s paraphrasing what Jesus said, but it’s in all 4 gospels). This is a glaring contradiction to what the so-called “prosperity gospel” represents, and that’s why I stand against it. So, what is the correct way to preach the gospel of salvation in Christ? Paul describes this eloquently beginning in verse 19.
“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 become like those 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 become 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 become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (I Corinthians 9: verses 19-27 NIV)
In the above passage of Scripture, Paul makes it abundantly clear his motivation for preaching the gospel. It’s not about religion and it’s not about money and prosperity. It’s about souls, the souls of people that God cares about deeply, the souls for whom Jesus Christ was crucified and buried, only to be resurrected on the morning of the third day to live and rule forever! It’s about you and me worshiping Jesus in Spirit and in truth, regardless of our nationality, race, religion, gender, marital status, economic status, age, background or sexual orientation. Let me remind you all that God doesn’t care about any of the above because He isn’t concerned about what’s on the outside or what’s on the surface regarding any person. God is focused on what’s on the inside, the soul of every man, woman and child. This is because the degree to which Christ abides within the individual is directly proportional to the way he or she interacts with and treats others. After all, it is on the inside of us – within our souls and hearts and minds – where Jesus wants to dwell. But it’s up to us to invite Him in. That’s the secret of salvation through Christ. He never enters the heart unless He is asked. But if He is asked, He will come and abide there 100% of the time. Nobody gets turned down by Jesus. Nobody.
I try to emulate St. Paul in my ministry where I live and work near downtown Atlanta. I am a Caucasian man living in a neighborhood that is mostly black. But this is where my missionary work takes place when I’m not in working in my office at home. In the inner cities of Atlanta, as many as 20% of the local population is homeless as I write this. I was once homeless myself after having a stroke, but eventually I got back on my feet again. But that experience taught me some difficult but very valuable lessons about life and how to bounce back from disastrous setbacks. In so doing I have succeeded in doing what Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago. I have run my “race” in such a way as to win the prize – eternal life with Jesus in heaven. But I also recognize that living my life for Jesus was not possible until I first invited Him in. In so doing, I don’t try to act more African-American in order to get along with people in my neighborhood. Instead I treat them respectfully as equals, and I make sure they understand that it is my faith in Christ and my desire to serve Him that motivates me to perform this service in His holy name. By emulating Paul, I emulate Christ as well. Remember that it was Jesus who said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my children, that you do for me”. I challenge each and every one of you to begin doing this in the course of your everyday living. To win as many souls as possible, simply reach out to as many as possible in as many different ways as you can. No drama is required, so don’t be concerned about that. I guarantee you will feel good about the result.