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1 Corinthians 9:1-18



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.

(verses 16-18)

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“Is Paul really an apostle? Does he really have authority?”


That seems to be the argument nattering up from some of the Corinthians. “A real apostle would expect the church to support him,” they seem to be thinking. “Paul’s not doing that. Case closed.”


So, in the first half of this chapter Paul gives his “defense to those who sit in judgement” on him (verse 3). He asserts his rights to be supported, just as the other apostles are. “Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (verse 5).


But, Paul says, even though he and Barnabas (his missionary companion) have the authority to expect this kind of support from the church, “We did not use this right” (verse 12). Rather, he made it his goal to offer the gospel “free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it” (verse 18). As one of the commentators says, he was committed to offering the “free” gospel “free of charge.” He didn’t want to do anything that would “hinder the gospel of Christ” (verse 12).


But in the midst of this explanation, Paul makes something else clear. He says he himself can’t take any glory for preaching the gospel, as if he had voluntarily chosen to enter into this sacrificial service at his own initiative. No. Rather, he is under divine compulsion. He wasn’t a volunteer. He was drafted by the Lord God Almighty. If he’d signed on voluntarily, he might have deserved some reward. But he hadn’t. The Lord called him irresistibly into service. Therefore, when he preaches, he is “simply discharging the trust”that was committed to him (verse 17).


Yes, he has the rights of an apostle. But there’s no cause for boasting. He has a calling on his life that cannot be ignored.


Again, the blinding glare of the Damascus Road must be in Paul’s mind as he writes these words. He’d been arrested by the Lord himself, and absolutely turned in a new direction. He’d been following his own directives, but now he was decisively diverted into service to Christ, his Lord. Oh, there was joy in that commitment (“Christ’s love compels us,” he will later tell these same Corinthians in 2 Cor. 5:14), but he couldn’t take credit for the change – not in the least. The Risen Lord Jesus had given him marching orders.


And what about us? None of us have the status of apostle, but do we tend to pat ourselves on the back when we engage in real ministry? Do we find ourselves boasting, at least internally, when we do kingdom work? Especially if it inconveniences us? Especially if it calls for sacrifice and toil and ongoing expenditure of time and energy?


Instead, may we joyfully embrace Paul’s own word: “compelled.” Paul was “compelled” to preach – that was his particular calling. What’s yours? The Risen Christ is not just Lord of that road leading into Damascus. He’s equally Lord of any path we find ourselves travelling. Will we submit to his lordship, seeing ourselves not as volunteers who deserve compensation, but rather as divine recruits who are compelled into service? That’s our calling. That’s our joy.

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Risen Lord Jesus, I submit afresh to your calling. Give me open eyes to see your directions this day. Give me open ears to hear your commands. I choose to walk in your pathway wherever I find myself, engaging in your work, whether mundane or unexpected, whether ordinary or surprising. Fill me now with your Spirit’s presence that I may be compelled by his power. To your glory. Amen.

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Reflect:

Paul tells us in Colossians 3:23-24 that in everything “it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” So, what opportunities for service do you expect this day? What will it mean for you to be “compelled” to enter in? How can you make yourself ready for the unexpected?

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Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash


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