Could vs. Should

4.12.23 Devo Image

“Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. 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 9:13–18 (NKJV)

When we read through the Book of 1 Corinthians, it’s important to remember that we’re also reading a letter. Everyone who has ever written a letter understands there’s a progressive flow involved. You don’t just throw a bunch of random thoughts together. Rather, you have a starting point and then as you continue writing, you’re led from one connected thought to another. That’s what we see here as Paul elaborates on his motives in ministering. 

We can really trace Paul’s thinking here back to the previous chapter where he challenges the Corinthians to set aside their “rights” for the benefit of their fellow believers. We can sort of summarize his whole prior message this way: “God’s love teaches us that just because we could, it doesn’t mean we should.” It’s critical that the Corinthians get this; otherwise, they’re not going to grow spiritually. That’s the foundational principle Paul establishes for them, and now He builds on it by pointing to himself as an example. 

He starts by comparing himself to the priests who served in Old Testament times. The priests were completely dedicated to serve the spiritual needs of God’s people as they presented sacrifices in the temple. And as part of their compensation for serving, they were entitled to a portion of the sacrifices they were offering. This was God’s way of supplying the priest’s practical needs as they devoted themselves to spiritual service. 

Paul points out that this principle also applies to those who have dedicated their lives to meeting spiritual needs by proclaiming the gospel. As an apostle, he was also entitled to receive support for his needs through the spiritual work he was engaged in. In other words, it was within his right to ask for and receive material support from those who had benefited by his ministry activity. 

But he didn’t. Paul always supported himself when he was among them. Why? Because he never wanted the slightest doubt that he was doing what he was doing for material gain. He understood any suspicion along those lines would hinder people from receiving the gospel. If you don’t trust the messenger, then you’re not going to trust the message, which is what mattered most. Just because he could receive support, it didn’t mean he should receive support. And by sticking to this conviction, it strengthened his authority and directed them on how they, too, should live. They should live sacrificially for the gospel’s sake because the gospel is worth sacrificing for. 

Much has changed since Paul penned this letter, but this truth remains: The gospel is worth sacrificing for. When it comes right down to it, there’s nothing more important in our lives than the gospel and the One it points to. When occasions arise, we need to set aside our entitlements if they’re obstructing our ability to make the gospel of Jesus Christ accessible to others. May God’s Spirit reveal when and where that needs to happen in each of our lives. 

Pause: What was Paul’s objective in sharing about his motives for ministering to the Corinthians?

Practice: Write down some examples drawn from your own life where sacrifices needed to be made for the sake of the gospel.

Pray: Lord, I thank You for entrusting me with the greatest news this world has ever heard, that You have fully and freely paid the debt for all sin and that You receive all who put their faith in You and cleanse them from all guilt. Show me how I can be a more effective and faithful steward of Your gospel message, including the areas of my life that require sacrifice. Amen. 

About the Author

Pastor Dan Hickling

Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.