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THE FIRST EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE CORINTHIANS - Chapter 9 - Verse 16
Verse 16. For though I preach the gospel, etc. This, with the two following verses, is a very difficult passage, and has been very variously understood by interpreters. The general scope and purpose of the passage is to show what was the ground of his "glorying," or of his hope of "reward" in preaching the gospel. In 1 Co 9:15, he had intimated that he had cause of "glorying," and that that cause was one which he was determined no one should take away. In this passage, (1 Co 9:16-18,) he states what that was. He says, it was not simply that he preached; for there was a necessity laid on him, and he could not help it: his call was such, the command was such, that his life would be miserable if he did not do it. But all idea of "glorying," or of "reward," must be connected with some voluntary service—something which would show the inclination, disposition, desire of the soul. And as that in his case could not be well shown, where a "necessity" was laid on him, it could be shown only in his submitting voluntarily to trials; in denying himself; in being willing to forego comforts which he might lawfully enjoy; and in thus furnishing a full and complete test of his readiness to do anything to promote the gospel. The essential idea here is, therefore, that there was such a necessity laid on him in his call to preach the gospel, that his compliance with that call could not be regarded as appropriately connected with reward; and that in his case the circumstance which showed that reward would be proper, was, his denying himself, and making the gospel without charge. This would show that his heart was in the thing; that he was not urged on by necessity; that he loved the work; and that it would be consistent for the Lord to reward him for his self-denials and toils in his service.
I have nothing to glory of. The force of this would be better seen by a more literal translation. "It is not to me glorying;" i.e., this is not the cause of my glorying, or rejoicing, (ouk esti moi kauchma.) In 1 Co 9:15, he had said that he had a cause of glorying, or of joy, (kauchma.) He here says that that joy or glorying did not consist in the simple fact that he preached the gospel; for necessity was laid on him: there was some other cause and source of his joy or glorying than that simple fact, 1 Co 9:18. Others preached the gospel also: in common with them, it might be a source of joy to him that he preached the gospel; but it was not the source of his peculiar joy for he had been called into the apostleship in such a manner as to render it inevitable that he should preach the gospel. His glorying was of another kind.
For necessity is laid upon me. My preaching is in a manner inevitable, and cannot therefore be regarded as that in which I peculiarly glory. I was called into the ministry in a miraculous manner; I was addressed personally by the Lord Jesus; I was arrested when I was a persecutor; I was commanded to go and preach; I had a direct commission from heaven. There was no room for hesitancy or debate on the subject, (Gal 1:16,) and I gave myself at once and entirely to the work, Ac 9:6. I have been urged to this by a direct call from heaven; and to yield obedience to this call cannot be regarded as evincing such an inclination to give myself to this work as if the call had been in the usual mode, and with less decided manifestations. We are not to suppose that Paul was compelled to preach, or that he was not voluntary in his work, or that he did not prefer it to any other employment: but he speaks in a popular sense, as saying that he "could not help it;" or that the evidence of his call was irresistible, and left no room for hesitation. He was free; but there was not the slightest room for debate on the subject. The evidence of his call was so strong that he could not but yield. Probably none now have evidences of their call to the ministry as strong as this. But there are many, very many, who feel that a kind of necessity is laid on them to preach. Their consciences urge them to it. They would be miserable in any other employment. The course of Providence has shut them up to it. Like Saul of Tarsus, they may have been persecutors, or revilers, or "injurious," or blasphemers, (1 Ti 1:13;) or they may, like him, have commenced a career of ambition; or they may have been engaged in some scheme of money-making or of pleasure; and in an hour when they little expected it, they have been arrested by the truth of God, and their attention directed to the gospel ministry. Many a minister has, before entering the ministry, formed many other purposes of life; but the providence of God barred his way, hemmed in his goings, and constrained him to become an ambassador of the cross.
Yea, woe is unto me, etc. I should be miserable and wretched if I did not preach. My preaching, therefore, in itself considered, cannot be a subject of glorying. I am shut up to it. I am urged to it in every way. I should be wretched were I not to do it, and were I to seek any other calling. My conscience would reproach me. My judgment would condemn me. My heart would pain me. I should have no comfort in any other calling; and God would frown upon me. Learn hence,
(1.) That Paul had been converted. Once he had no love for the ministry, but persecuted the Saviour. With the feelings which he then had, he would have been wretched in the ministry; with those which he now had, he would have been wretched out of it. His heart, therefore, had been wholly changed.
(2.) All ministers who are duly called to the work can say the same thing. They would be wretched in any other calling. Their conscience would reproach them. They would have no interest in the plans of the world; in the schemes of wealth, and pleasure, and fame. Their heart is in this work, and in this alone. In this, though amidst circumstances of poverty, persecution, nakedness, cold, peril, sickness, they have comfort. In any other calling, though surrounded by affluence, friends, wealth, honours, pleasures, gaiety, fashion, they would be miserable.
(3.) A man whose heart is not in the ministry, and who would be as happy in any other calling, is not fit to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ. Unless his heart is there, and he prefers that to any other calling, he should never think of preaching the gospel.
(4.) Men who leave the ministry, and voluntarily devote themselves to some other calling when they might preach, never had the proper spirit of an ambassador of Jesus. If for the sake of ease or gain; if to avoid the cares and anxieties of the life of a pastor; if to make money, or secure money when made; if to cultivate a farm, to teach a school, to write a book, to live upon an estate, or to enjoy life, they lay aside the ministry, it is proof that they never had a call to the work. So did not Paul; and so did not Paul's Master and ours. They loved the work, and they left it not till death. Neither for ease, honour, nor wealth; neither to avoid care, toil, pain, or poverty, did they cease in their work, until the one could say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith," (2 Ti 4:7;) and the other, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do," Joh 17:4.
(5.) We see the reason why men are sometimes miserable in other callings. They should have entered the ministry. God called them to it; and they became hopefully pious. But they chose the law, or the practice of medicine, or chose to be farmers, merchants, teachers, professors, or statesmen. And God withers their piety, blights their happiness, follows them with the reproaches of conscience, makes them sad, melancholy, wretched. They do no good; and they have no comfort in life. Every man should do the will of God, and then every man would be happy.
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