When necessity is laid upon a man to preach the gospel, the best thing for him to do is to pray to the Lord for continued grace, study the Scriptures for continued knowledge, and depend on the Holy Spirit for continued power. Then, when he enters the pulpit with faithfully studied sermons in hand and heart, his sole task becomes this: To joyfully fulfill the necessity of preaching the gospel!
There is an essential duty that every minister of the gospel is called to do: Preach the gospel. Of course, in a broad sense, every believer is called to proclaim the gospel, defend the gospel, and answer questions about the gospel. As Peter orders Christians in 1 Peter 3:15, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” so all Christians today are to be always ready to proclaim this same gospel to others.
Pastors are not exempt from these things. In fact, it is arguable that a pastor is called to do all these things to an even greater degree than other Christians. But the pastor is called to do one thing with the gospel that other Christians are not called to do: He’s called to preach. This is not something that he ought to boast in himself for doing, nor should he seek the praise of men for it. He must do it, however, diligently and faithfully, for failure is not an option in this calling. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “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!”
At first glance, this verse may seem strange. Is it a joy to preach the gospel or a burden? A privilege or an imprisonment? How should Paul’s use of the word “necessity” be understood when it comes to preaching the gospel? And, in light of this, what are the traps that pastors may fall into if they boast in themselves for doing what was laid upon them as a necessity? Or, what is the danger for the pastor who fails to do what was a necessity?
The Joy of the Necessity Laid upon the Pastor
To understand what Paul meant when he wrote that a necessity to preach the gospel had been laid upon him, we must first understand that he was in the middle of defending himself against those who were attempting to examine him (1 Cor 9:3). As Paul encountered more than once, there were false prophets—only wolves in sheep’s clothing—whose entire existence was wrapped up in trying to devour the people of God.
By the very nature of Paul’s missionary journeys, he would found churches, install elders, and then move on to the next location. This opened the churches he had founded to the attack of these false prophets in his absence. After all, one of the surest ways to attack the church is to sow discord amongst the flock, especially by casting doubt upon the gospel that Christians have heard preached and which they have received with gladness. But, to cast doubt upon the message, these false prophets knew it was essential they first cast doubt upon the messenger.
So, when he begins to make his defense before his examiners, Paul immediately appeals to his dutiful joy in preaching the gospel itself. At first glance though, the argument he makes seems almost entirely to have to do with receiving compensation for preaching; evidently, when it came to the Corinthians, Paul had never taken any financial remuneration for preaching. This, he says, is evidence of his apostleship and love for the saints there. It’s not that pastors and ministers don’t have the right to receive compensation for their preaching; on the contrary, it is a God-ordained right for the pastor to be compensated, and one which churches ought to seek to uphold for the men who care for them as elders and overseers of the flock. Indeed, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). Despite what many even today try to suggest, the clear teaching of Scripture is that churches ought to support their pastors financially, as co-laborers in the gospel (1 Cor 3:9).
But Paul did not make use of this right with the Corinthians. Why? Because, he says, “We endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:12). Paul saw something in Corinth that made it clear that his accepting remuneration for the gospel would actually hinder the growth of the church there. So, from the Corinthians he accepted nothing, though he did at times receive from other churches. For example, to the Philippians he wrote, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
But, to the Corinthians, he wrote, “What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel” (1 Cor 9:18). And, again, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:22–23). We see here, then, what is at the heart of the necessity laid upon pastors. Paul’s great source of joy came through preaching the gospel to others, and so too must pastors find joy in this duty.