For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.1 Corinthians 9:16-18 NKJV
The ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians is quite a treatise on Paul’s attitude about ministry. Take time to read it in its entirety sometime. Three things in this snippet jumped out at me this morning:
- I can’t help preaching the Gospel. Over the years, I have tried to quit. It just doesn’t work. It’s part of my being.
- The ministry God gave me is a stewardship. It belongs to Him, and He is going to expect me to give account of what I did with it. That is a sobering reality.
- The ministry comes with authority that can be abused. Paul seems to be talking about financial issues here. Most of us can name a few examples of greedy preachers who have leveraged their position to line their pockets. These past few weeks there have been headlines about entrenched sexual abuses and cover-ups in a major denomination. That is reprehensible, but all too common.
So here’s the point: We need godly authorities in our lives. I need outside voices because I am human. All people who wield authority are still human. Power over others brings out the worst in some people. How do I know the authorities in my life can be trusted? First, do they have someone to whom they are accountable? Next, do I know them and their life well enough to make a judgment as to their motives for ministry? Does it burn in their bones? Would they still do it without a title or a paycheck? Do they seem to want to mediate my person relationship with God?
That last one is huge. In this New Covenant, I am personally responsible for what God expects of me. New Covenant ministry is directed toward helping others to know the Scriptures and the voice of the Spirit, then encouraging them to follow God. I can and should seek counsel and advice, but I ultimately have to obey God. I’m headed to church today because I need input from trustworthy people and I am blessed to have several who have given their lives to the task of helping me follow God. Let’s do this!