We are looking at the meaning of “gospel” in 1 Corinthians. What does Paul mean by the word “gospel”? If we want to be faithful to the Story of the Bible it means being faithful to the whole Story of the Bible. Too many today want to be faithful to Jesus’ use of the word “gospel” and ignore Paul; too many also want to be faithful to Paul but ignore what Jesus said. Our hope is to frame the gospel in such a way that is faithful to both — and the rest of the Bible too. So today we are looking at 1 Corithians 9:11-23:
11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t
you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the
temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on
the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
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. 16 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! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 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.
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To
the Jews I became 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. 21 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. 22 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. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul preached the gospel free of charge. It is not clear from this text that he always preached free of charge. Instead, Paul chose against what he knew was within his rights — to be paid — to avoid being trapped into a relationship of indebtedness that might hamper his gospeling.
This cannot be taken as the norm: Paul says those who preach the gospel are entitled to live from the gospel. It would not hard here to venture into reflections on (1) the need for churches to pay their “gospelers” and (2) the need for gospelers to avoid the appearance of wanting more money.
Paul preached the gospel as a burden — as a necessity; it was in his bones to preach the gospel.
Now a point — vv. 19-23 — that is the constant need of gospeler: to adapt and adopt the gospel to the context of one’s audience. This does not mean not preaching the cross and the resurrection of Christ but it means to speak the gospel into each context with clarity and relevance. Paul adapted himself to each context: Jewish and Gentile. Why? To win others into faith in Christ.