It can become so easy to become self-absorbed in ministry. To think, “What am I getting out of this? Where’s the respect? Where’s the financial reward?” Yet for Paul, there was an inner fire to preach. He said,
Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (16)
Paul’s words remind me of Jeremiah’s when he said,
But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. (Jeremiah 20:9)
So for Paul (and Jeremiah), financial reward, respect, and everything else really had no bearing in his thinking on whether to preach or not. He had to preach or be miserable. He went on, saying,
If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. (17)
What does he mean by this? He’s saying that by preaching with a heart of joy and love for the Lord and for others, he has reward.
He says in verse 18, he found his reward in being able to offer it for free. Why was that a joy? Perhaps because by doing so, it brought people into the kingdom that might not otherwise have come in. Like some people today, there were probably those that were skeptical about Paul’s motives. They thought ministers like him were just in it for the money.
But Paul was able to disarm those suspicions by saying, “Hey, I want nothing from you. I merely want to give you what I have: forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God.”
In fact, whenever people looked at Paul, they saw someone that didn’t want to take from them, but to serve them. He was always giving up his rights in order to minister to them. And because of that, more people came into the kingdom, increasing Paul’s joy (19-23). Not only that, Paul knew it brought joy to his Lord’s heart as well.
But even if Paul didn’t have a heart for the people, nor a heart to do what God had asked him to do, still he would have had to preach because like it or not, it was a charge God had given him and no one else. And if he didn’t do it, God would hold him accountable.
You see this in the parable of the talents. One guy had no love for his master, and was in fact afraid of him. Because of this, he did nothing with the money his master had given him to invest. And his master held him accountable for it. (Matthew 25:24-30)
Jeremiah certainly knew how it felt to be compelled to to fulfill the charge God gave him despite his feelings. In chapter 20, you see that his preaching was not particularly voluntary. He spent his time complaining to God that God was being unfair to him and that all the people were abusing him. (Jeremiah 20:7-8) And yet he preached because of the fire that burned within him that he could not hold in. Like Paul, he was compelled to preach and woe to him if he didn’t.
But how much better if we serve from our hearts? Not because we have to, but because we want to? Life is so much more rewarding when we do so. Ministry is so much more rewarding. And most importantly, we will receive reward from our Lord when we see him face to face. How about you? What kind of heart are you serving from?