A Gospel Imperative
October 9th, 1955 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 9:16-17
A GOSPEL IMPERATIVE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 9:16-17
10-9-55 7:30 p.m.
Now in your Bible, the ninth chapter of the first Corinthian letter; this morning, we closed with the last verse of the eighth chapter. “Wherefore, if meat maketh my brother to offend, I will eat no meat while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” [1 Corinthians 8:13].
Now the ninth chapter:
Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
If others say I am not an apostle, I am an apostle to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
Mine answer to them that do examine me in this,
Have we not power to eat and to drink?
Are we not free Christians? Eat anything we want to, drink anything we want to.
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethen unto the Lord, and Cephas?
Or am I only and Barnabas, are we the only ones to forebear in this working?
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?
[1 Corinthians 9:1-7]
No man who works in the army—is a soldier in the army—provides his own equipment or his own rations. The country does it.
. . . who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same thing also?
Are these just my ideas or does the law of Moses say it also? The law of Moses said:
For it is written in the law . . . Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.
Is the Lord writing this just about oxen, or about us—about us?
He saith it for our sakes—for our sakes it is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
Do not ye know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
[1 Corinthians 9:7-14]
Now all of that I am not going to preach on, because I don’t need to do it here. He is saying here—talking about the liberty of the Christian, he can do as he pleases. But his liberty is dedicated to God, and, what he does, he does out of deference to Christ, out of love for the Lord, and out of deference for brethren. Now he is using as an illustration there their liberty in Christ. And one of those liberties is that a man who works in the vineyard of the Lord ought to be supported by the people of the Lord. And you do that wonderfully here in this church.
“Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” [1 Corinthians 9:14]. You care for us, your people who staff this church and its work. You do it graciously, so there is no need for me to preach on that. If you are a skinflint, cheapskate, two-by scantling, sorry, pusillanimous, good-for-nothing bunch of misers, why, we would just cut loose here and just burn up the earth. But I don’t need to do that. You faithfully serve the Lord and are true to the Lord. And you are generous with the Lord and are more so all the time. And we are growing in this grace.
So, as I say, this part of it we are not going to preach on. But we are right now:
But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
If I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.
[1 Corinthians 9:15-17]
We are going to stop there. The next Sunday morning, we will pick up at the next verse; next Sunday night, end with the chapter.
But we are going to take this: the gospel imperative, the necessity that is laid upon me:
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
If I do this thing voluntarily, as a volunteer, I have a reward: but if I am
Impressed into it, if I am a conscript, nevertheless, I still have a stewardship, an oikonomia, a stewardship committed unto my care.
[1 Corinthians 9:16-17]
That’s all we are going to preach tonight; a gospel imperative.
“For even though I preach the gospel” [1 Corinthians 9:16]—and Paul preached it—he did it like no man in this earth has ever done it. Not in all the annals of history has there ever been a missionary story, a great spiritual conquest as the conquest of Saul of Tarsus. He himself referred to it, saying, that through the grace of God given him, he had labored more abundantly than all of the apostles put together [1 Corinthians 15:10].
It cost him a price. He names that price in the eleventh chapter of the second Corinthian letter: perils of the wilderness, perils of his countrymen, perils by the sea, perils in the cities, perils everywhere that he turned [2 Corinthians 11:26]. At the cost and jeopardy of life did he preach. But he preached! He was faithful to that calling, and he made Christ known in the civilized world. All around that Mediterranean Sea, he planted churches, and those churches thrived for centuries: great gospel lighthouses of the Son of God.
Paul preached, but he says: “Though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, I have nothing to glory of” [1 Corinthians 9:16]. Though the work has been wonderfully and gloriously and marvelously triumphant, it is nothing for me to boast of or to glory about because the reason the thing is done—the imperative that lies back of the labor that I have sought to dedicate unto God is this: “necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
He says there are two reasons why there is no glory for him, nothing to boast of in him for his missionary labors in the name of the Lord Jesus. And the first one is this: for anagkē is epikeitai. Anagkē, that is a wonderful word. The Greeks used that word. An anagkē refers, in those old Greek mythologies, to that fate, that necessity—sometimes cruel and terrible—that was laid upon a man’s life from which he couldn’t escape. And Paul uses another Greek word often employed with anagkē: Epikeitai, “pressed upon him—pressed upon him” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
Wherever he turned, there did he meet it. Get up in the morning, there it was. Lie down at night, there is was. Close his eyes and sleep, there it was again. Fall asleep, dream about it, never forget it, never get away from it, never escape it. Down every road and across every horizon, this anagkē: “the necessity that is laid upon me” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
Then the second thing he says: “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel” [1 Corinthians 9:16]. In those ancient mythologies, the Greeks taught that it was a miserable and hopeless and terrible thing for a man to resist an anagkē: the fate, the destiny, the overruling providence by which the gods control his life.
Paul uses the same figure. He doesn’t change it at all. “Yea, woe is me, if I resist that anagkē, that necessity, that fate that God hath laid upon me!” And the only difference between the way that Paul uses that here in this Greek New Testament and the way that the Greeks used it in their Greek mythologies is this; that in Greek mythology, that anagkē was a cruel, blind, impersonal, driving fate against which a man hopelessly—and resisted miserably—if he did not give himself to it. But here in the gospel that Paul is writing, that anagkē is the compulsion of divine grace. It is the compulsion of the love of Christ: God’s will for him in the mercies and patience of the Lord Jesus [1 Corinthians 9:16].
Now the next verse is the same thing, except in different words, “For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me” [1 Corinthians 9:17]. That is a beautiful thing in Greek. If I do this thing, akōn, I have a reward. But if akōn—akōn means voluntarily. This is something I want to do. This is something I gladly give my life to do—If I do this thing of ministering in the name of Christ as a volunteer—wanting to do it, sought it out, did seek it out—if I do it that way as a teacher, I have a reward, I have a teacher’s reward. I have given myself to this, and this is my reward in return.
But if I do it against my will, if I didn’t want to do it, if I didn’t choose to do it, if I am impressed in doing it, if epikeitai, if the thing is placed upon me—then nevertheless, whether I volunteer or not, whether I want to or not, whether I choose it or not—an oikonomia, a stewardship is committed unto me just the same. Whether I volunteer or not, God has placed it upon me [1 Corinthians 9:17].
Now in the case of the apostle Paul, what he is talking about is this. He was an enemy of the cross. He was an enemy of the gospel of the Son of God, and he fought the Christians. When they were put to death, he raised his hands. He voted against them [Acts 22:20, 26:10]. When they were arraigned before the high court in Jerusalem, he raised his voice. He even went into far-away cities with letters from the high priest to hale to prison and to death those that called upon that holy name [Acts 9:1-2, 22:4-5, 26:10-11].
He was not a volunteer. He was an antagonist and a bitter one at that. But there came a time in his life when, out of the excellent Glory, there came a voice that struck that arch-persecutor down, that humbled him, that changed his soul, that changed his life, that changed his heart! [Acts 9:3-5]. And that same voice and that same glorious appearance of the Lord Jesus said:
Stand upon thy feet, for I have chosen thee a special vessel for this purpose, to teach thee how great things thou must suffer for My sake,
and to send thee to be a witness and a testimony of My name before the Gentiles and the kings and princes of the earth.
Paul says: “I wasn’t a volunteer. I didn’t want to do it. I was against the whole purpose, but the Lord impressed me into that ministry!” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
And if I do it voluntarily—seeking it out—I have a reward for doing it. See, it comes out of me. And what I am doing arises out of the love in my soul. But not so with him [Paul]: “I was a bitter opponent. I was a sworn blood enemy. And the Lord impressed it upon me, if against my will, whether I would or not, an oikonomia, a stewardship is committed unto me” [1 Corinthians 9:17].
Look at that word, oikonomia, just a minute. An oikonomos is a steward, a slave. Suppose a man, suppose a king, suppose Abraham—great, rich man, with many, many flocks, many herds, many houses, many palaces and many, many slaves, many, many servants—he would choose out of those slaves—he would choose one who would be an oikonomos. He would be the chief steward. He would be the slave that had charge of all of his properties.
You remember Joseph was made that in Egypt [Genesis 41:37-43]. Now that’s the word that Paul uses here [1 Corinthians 9:17]. Even though, even though he is in charge of the master’s property, he is still a slave. He has no will of his own. He does his master’s will. And his highest merit is in his faithful duty to his master. That’s the word Paul uses here. “I am a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. There has been committed unto me a stewardship” [1 Corinthians 9:17], and I have no reward in doing just what God wants me to do. It is His command, and I belong to Him, and He has entrusted me with that thing. And when I do it, I have just done what I ought to do. I have no other choice. “Necessity is laid upon me, yea, misery is mine if I obey not this high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [1 Corinthians 9:16].
When I was a boy—when I was a boy, we had testimony meetings on Wednesday night. Our church is so large; we have gotten away from it. We don’t do that much anymore, but when I was a boy, in that little-bitty, white crackerbox church, when we had our services on Wednesday night, we had testimony meetings. And that week, the grocery man in our little village had laid to rest in the cemetery in that little bitty town his second little daughter, just a little child. Ah, the little child was ten years old, eleven years old. And it was the second one of those little children of our grocery man—it was the second that had died.
And at the testimony meeting that Wednesday night, I can see that grocery man, our grocery man—where we bought our groceries—I had been to his grocery store many times as a boy, running an errand for my mother. I can see that grocery man stand up on that Wednesday night now. And I can see his voice break and the tears roll out of his eyes as he says, “For these years, for these years, God has called me to be a servant, to be His preacher, God has called me. God has called me, and I have fought against God’s will. I have said, ‘No,’ to God, ‘No, no, no I will not. I will never.’ I have said to God ‘No, no, no!’ And all of the time, I have had in my heart that clarion call, call, call! God has called me to be a preacher!”
“Now,” he says, “this week, we have laid to rest my second little girl, and I can stand it no longer. My heart is broken! My soul is in despair! No longer will I fight against the will of God for my life. In the morning, I am going down and close that store, and I am going out to be a preacher of the gospel of the Son of God.” By the way, I went down the next day and pressed my face against the glass in the front door of his grocery store, and it was locked. He never opened it again.
Now I don’t know of that theology. There is a whole lot of things the old-timers used to say and believe that I turn over in my mind. I don’t get away from them. I don’t know whether they were altogether right or not. Would God reach down and take a little child’s life because the father wasn’t doing God’s will? Would God reach down and take another life of a precious little girl because her father was disobeying God?
I don’t know. I don’t know. It is not for me to know. That’s in heaven. But what I know is this; that because he was not doing God’s will, every trouble that came, and every trial that came, and every dark night that came, and every tear that came, and every sorrow that came was a double sorrow and a double cry and a double heartache to him because he knew he wasn’t doing God’s will. And finally he said, “And I can bear it no longer. I can bear it no longer.”
You are that way. When you are doing God’s work, when you are doing God’s will, when troubles come and when difficulties arise—this is your spirit—“These troubles that overwhelm me, God, You just try me to see if I am earnest in this.”
Am I faithful? Do I mean it? Can I still call Him Lord and love Him, even though He slay me or afflict me from head to foot? When you are in the center of God’s will and troubles arise, you just take them as testings of the Lord to see whether you love Him or whether you are really true to Him? But when you are out of God’s will, and when you are not doing what God wants you to do—then when troubles arise; then when sorrows arise; then when death comes and the grave is open, then you, “O God. O God. This is because I have not done Thy will.”
What a difference! What a difference:
For necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
If do this thing willingly—a volunteer—I have a reward: but if against my will—whether I want to or not—a stewardship is committed unto me!
[1 Corinthians 9:16-17]
And I have no other choice. God has spoken. I have heard His voice and His call, and this is my life and this is my destiny. This is the gospel imperative.
Now, may I in just a little moment—may I say to us as a people and as a church, these necessities that the Lord has laid upon us, these gospel ministries that are imperatives—may I say just one or two things.
Here is the first one. As some of you know—and you who have been coming to church and on Wednesday nights, if you have been listening to the preacher for the last four weeks—every time I see our mission fields, oh, sometimes the results are so sterile, the effort is never commiserated with what is needed. There is a little outpost. Men have been working there for years and years. Maybe they have three converts to show for it, or none.
You look at that and you come back and you think, ah, what vanity, and what emptiness, and what sterility, what barrenness, what nothing in return. Well, I tell you what let’s do. Let’s go over there and close down those mission stations. Close down that one there, and that will save us $100,000 dollars a year. And let’s close down that little station over there, and that will save us $50,000 dollars a year. And let’s close down that one over there, and we can save $75,000 dollars a year now. And let’s close down the whole ministry in that country and save $225,000 dollars a year. Let’s do that.
So we gather together as a people, as a denomination. And we gather together as a foreign mission group. And so the question is placed: all of you here today who vote to close down that mission and take away that witness—all of you who vote to close it down, raise your hand.
Would I raise my hand to close it down? Would I raise my hand to take away the witness? I have come to a final conclusion about it. I wouldn’t raise my hand to close it down for all that I might ever possess in the world. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it, for an imperative is laid upon us! There in this Book did Christ say: “Ye shall be My witnesses [Acts 1:8]. Go ye therefore and make disciples of all of the nations” [Matthew 28:19-20]. And, whether they respond, whether they are converted or not, that’s between them and God, our part is to lift up the cross, to preach the message! We have a gospel imperative! It is laid upon us. And I am not to say, “Now, Lord, they don’t believe, and I’m not going to witness, and they’re too hard, and we won’t take the gospel to them. It is too fruitless and too barren of results, and we’re going to quit.” No, sir, we’re going to still give this money to missions, and we’re still going to pray for the missionaries. And, we’re still going to ask God to bless them and then leave the results to Him; for we have an imperative, a necessity is laid upon us, and the results are in His hands.
If God blesses the testimony and the whole nation turns to Christ, we rejoice in it! If, in the providences of a faith and fortune in which I cannot enter, there is nobody saved, we still will support the mission and pray daily that God will bless the testimony of the missionary.
That’s not a thing of our choosing. That is not a thing of our wanting. It is a thing of the imperative, the oikonomia, the stewardship, the necessity God has laid upon us [1 Corinthians 9:16-17]. And if we were to stand by ourselves in that thing, we will stand by ourselves. If all others were to quit, we still would try to be faithful, for a dispensation, a stewardship, a necessity, God hath laid at our door, placed in our hands, in our care.
Could I speak of another thing God hath laid upon us; a gospel imperative, a gospel necessity? These great cities of the world—our city is growing and is becoming a tremendous city. Ah, I just share an experience in this thing because you know as well as I. First time I was in Zurich, we were there on Sunday. And I looked at the great city of Zurich, the largest one in Switzerland. It is built on either side of the Limmat River. There’s the Zurich Lake, and out of it pours the Limmat River, that runs into the Rhine.
By the way, right where the rathaus, the city hall, the city administration, is built—right there, even protruding out there into the river—right there, they drowned Felix Manz a long time ago because he was a Baptist. They haled him up before the city council, the governing board of the city in that bierhaus, and they said to him, “So, you’re a Baptist, a Baptist? And you like lots of water, lots of water. Well, let’s give him lots of water! He says he likes lots of water!” Right there on that side, where the Limmat River bathes the foundation of the rathaus, there they drowned Felix Manz, the Baptist preacher, because he said he believed in lots of water.
Well, that’s just something by the way in the town. There on Sunday we went out in the evening on the Lord’s Day. There is the great church where Zwingli preached. Zwingli, Calvin, Luther: that trio of the great Reformation. Zwingli lived in Zurich, and there is the great church where he preached. And this is the city in which he lived. And this is the very heart of the birth of the great Reformation, the great revival.
There’s the church. I go up to that church, and there’s not a light in it, not a light in it. There is not a soul there, and it is dark! It is locked, and you couldn’t get in unless you broke in like a thief. And out there in the great open square of the city, out there is a circus, an enormous circus like Ringling Brothers, as big as Ringling Brothers, with that great tent. And it is jammed and packed with people on the Lord’s Day, and they are milling around that circus by the thousands.
And on the other side of the Limmat River, there is a skating contest going on. And they are around that by the thousands. And over here and there are accordion bands, and they are entertaining people, as each commercial store would hire the band to play for a while in front of that store and play for a while in front of that store. And all up and down the Limmat River, there are those people by the thousands and the thousands. They’re talking, they’re visiting, they’re eating, they’re drinking, they’re dining, nobody in the city with any thought, with any remembrance at all that this is God’s Day! This is the Lord’s Day! This is the day for the preaching of the gospel! This is the day for the worship of Christ! No thought or remembrance, your heart aches and your heart breaks as you look upon it!
Paris, Rome, London, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles—God’s Day, the Lord’s Day, and the church on the inside is cold and dark, and the door locked, and the windows have no light shining through that beautiful stained glass! And the testimony is perished, and the city is lost, and the teeming millions live as though there were no Christ and no God.
And what of us in this glorious city of Dallas? O God, a necessity is laid upon us. A dispensation, a stewardship is committed unto us! [1 Corinthians 9:16-17]. O Lord, in the goodness of Thy soul and as God shall give us help and strength, with all that we have and such as we are, Lord, use us to keep alive a fire, a flame, a burning, a shining for Him in the heart of this city we love so much: our own Dallas.
A necessity is laid upon us, yea, woe unto us if we are not true to the gospel. If we do that thing even involuntarily, nevertheless a stewardship is committed unto us. It is our obligation. It is our duty. It is our beholdenness to God. It is our calling in Christ Jesus! [1 Corinthians 9:16-17].
Oh! I have so much more I wanted to say, but I ought to quit. This thing of the impressing upon us, whether we choose or don’t choose, this thing of the impressing upon us of the call of God; does the Lord call you? Does He say something to you?
There is a will for you. God made you. There’s no two of us alike, and there’s no two of us that has the same ministry. He has got a work for you, each one of us [Ephesians 2:10]. And the Lord talks to you, and He speaks to you, and He outlines a way of labor for you.
All of us are in His sight, and all of us have a place, and unless we drown His voice and flee away from it—as Paul was talking about that anagkē, that faith, that call, that destiny that God impressed upon us [1 Corinthians 9:16-17]—we can close our eyes and close our ears and harden our hearts, but oh! What a miserable and hopeless future! What a destiny, so full of barrenness and despair!
Does the Lord say to you? Does He call to you? Does He speak to you?
Woe unto us if we obey not the call of the Lord. Necessity is laid upon us [1 Corinthians 9:16]. The great Power that’s greater than we are, higher than we are, whoever, however you describe Him, to us it is the choosing of the will of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. Give yourself to it. Follow that call. Obey that will. Respond to that invitation. Necessity is laid upon us. A stewardship is committed to our care [1 Corinthians 9:16-17]. Would you respond to it tonight? Would you—the call of Christ tonight—would you? “Preacher, God has called me, and I’m responding tonight. I’ve heard His voice, and here I am, giving Him all that I am.” To trust Him as your Savior, have you trusted the Lord as your Savior? Have you? Have you publicly avowed that faith in Him? Have you? Do you belong to His church? Are you with His people? Is there a place of responsibility to which God has called? As we sing this appeal, would you come and take this pastor by the hand? “Preacher, tonight, here we are, and here we come, and here’s my family.” Or, “Here’s my little boy.” Or, “Here I am. Here I am.” And tell me why it is that you have come, what God has said to you. While we sing this song, prayerfully, earnestly, would you come? As the Lord shall say the word—anywhere, you, make your way down here by my side, “Preacher, I have given my life and my heart to God, and I give you my hand, and here I am.” Will you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
preached the gospel(1 Corinthians 9:16a)
Greatest missionary story in history
He himself avowed his labor to be more fruitful than all the other apostles(1 Corinthians 15:10)
paid a price(1 Corinthians 11:26)
no glory to Paul that he did it, nothing he could boast of(1 Corinthians 9:16b)
– “fate was pressed upon me”
To resist, his course onward would be miserable hopelessness
the compulsion of divine grace – God’s will for him
idea in other terms – to do it willingly brings a reward(1 Corinthians 9:17a)
is an involuntary minister, with a stewardship entrusted to him(1 Corinthians 9:17b, Acts 9:1-2, 3-5, 15-16, 22:4-5,
a. Oikonomos – slave
assigned keeping of a house(Genesis 41:37-43)
b. Grocery man who lost
II. The gospel imperative
for evangelization of whole world(Matthew
is a missionary church(Acts 1:8)
for evangelization of our city
Zurich – circus open, churches closed
the beginning God seemingly has poured out His love and concern upon the great
city (Genesis 18:32, Jonah 4:10-11, Luke 19:41,
Acts 17:16, 18:9-11)