23 March 2017

1 Corinthians 9:15-27

“What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.” (v. 18)

Psalm: Psalm 124


In the verses that come before today's passage, Paul has been talking about his entitlements as an apostle - food and drink, a wage, the right to a family life - for 'those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel' (1 Corinthians 9:14) (Gospel, in this context, means the good news of Jesus Christ). But here, Paul says that these basic rights are of no interest to him - they are not the motivation for his missionary work. His real reward, his true wage, is to make the gospel 'free of charge' to those whom he meets. This echoes what we have been reading in Paul's letter this week about not wanting anything - any attitude, behaviour or concern - to be a stumbling block to others in finding or persevering in faith.

But today Paul takes it further. He talks about the lengths to which he will go as a missionary preacher and evangelist: becoming all things to all people so that some, at least, might come to faith. This is not a cynical PR exercise (trust me, I've seen enough of those both inside and outside the Church) - rather, Paul is mining his own experience and identity that he might find common ground with others. He is committed to seeing things from their perspectives and to walking authentically with them so that they might realise that the gospel he offers really is good news for all - not just for a chosen few.

At the beginning of this year, my father became suddenly and seriously ill. He was admitted to A&E on the Monday after New Year's Day and didn't leave hospital until February. During his time there he received exceptional care and life-saving treatment - care that was 'free at the point of delivery'. Nevertheless, Dad's treatment was hugely costly - both financially and in terms of resources. I have never been more grateful for the NHS.

Paul sees his mission as making the gospel 'free of charge' so that others may come to faith - but, like treatment on the NHS, what is 'free' for them is deeply costly for Paul. He speaks starkly about the price he pays for his dedication - and the strength of will and discipline required to follow through on his principles. Paul paints a picture of mission and evangelism that is deeply challenging - but utterly grounded in reality.

To Ponder

  • How much might it cost you to make the gospel 'free of charge' to those whom you meet?
  • Do you ever feel like you try to be 'all things for all people'? How is it possible to do this authentically?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.