. Photo by is licensed under CC By 2.0

“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)


Comparing ourselves to others can get us into a heap of trouble. Sometimes that trouble is pride. But more often, it’s despair. For though we’ll find some who cannot measure up to us – there’ll always be others with whom we cannot measure up. They outshine us and leave us feeling like failures for not having the same talent, drive, and strength.

Here Paul the apostle makes an amazing admission. He states clearly that his own experience with God is most definitely not the norm. As he defends himself against his critics in the Corinthian church – who claim that he’s got all sorts of ulterior motives, greed being one of them – Paul points out that it is his express policy to preach at no expense to God’s people.

Now, Paul states in no uncertain terms that this is not what God expects from others. For, he asks, what soldier serves at his own expense? What farmer toils to bring forth a crop without partaking of a portion of its yield? “God commanded that those who preach the Gospel should receive their living from the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).

But Paul states that he will not exercise this right. Why? He explains it’s no credit to him that he merely preaches the Gospel, for he is driven to do so. Paul stated in Colossians that he strives to do God’s work “with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29). In fact, Paul is so driven to do the Lord’s work that his only hope of receiving a reward in heaven is to go the extra mile and preach the Gospel free of charge.

I once read a story of Rev. A.J. Gordon, the co-founder of Gordon-Conwell Seminary. He was visiting a friend out in the country. After dinner he stepped outside and there he saw a bewildering sight. On the horizon, silhouetted against the sky, was a man pumping water at a furious pace. Up and down the man pulled and pushed the pump handle, with such strength and rapidity that he behaved more like a machine than a man. Gordon crossed the field to talk to the man and congratulate him on his strength and stamina. But as he got close, Gordon saw that the man was not a man at all. He was only a wooden cut-out, hinged at the shoulder and elbow and wired to the pump handle. The well was an artesian well that bubbled up water under its own power. In reality, the well was pumping the man and not the other way around.

That illustrates the dynamics in Paul’s own drive to preach the Gospel. God was energizing him and driving him to such an extent that he found relief and pleasure in doing God’s work. Indeed, as Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16). It would be torture not to do so.

But Paul acknowledges that not all believers have the same “artesian well” experience. Most Christian believers are more like your standard well. They must dig deep to reach the water table and then wait patiently for the life-giving liquid to fill them.

I’m glad Paul acknowledged that his own experience was not the norm. Just think of how difficult it would have been for Paul’s traveling companions to keep pace with Him. Have you ever watched a mom hold the hand of their toddler as they walk along? For every step mom takes their toddler must take three or more. Their little girl or boy must literally jog along beside their mom. That’s what Timothy and Luke and others must have had to endure while they served alongside Paul.

But didn’t Paul’s head get big at times? Didn’t he feel a sense of superiority over the “run of the mill” apostles and ministers who couldn’t keep pace with him? It’s possible. In the early days, Paul may have had difficulty not understanding why others didn’t share his zeal and passion for the Gospel. That may have been why men like John Mark fell by the wayside and had to quit (Acts 13:13).

But God had ways of humbling Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul stated that God allowed a “thorn in the flesh” to bring Paul back to earth whenever he was tempted to self-exaltation. Through his own frailty and weakness Paul discovered that God alone was the source of the abounding grace in his life. Through his own frailty and weakness God kept Paul connected with reality – that without God we can do nothing.

So, if you ever feel outshone and out-performed by those who appear to you as super saints, what do you think Paul would say to you? Wouldn’t he reiterate what he said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 12:13-30? I suspect he’d tell us that we all have different gifts from God and that we can only exercise them with the “measure of faith” which He supplies (Romans 12:3). Paul wouldn’t lay a guilt trip on us, i.e. “Why can’t you keep up with me? Don’t you love the Lord and care about those who are perishing?”  No, Paul would encourage us simply to be faithful stewards of God’s gifts and to serve Him in the strength He provides.


PRAYER:  Dear Father in heaven, so often I feel like one of Your “bad boys,” the kind of person who never seems to measure up, who always hangs his head when others testify of their exploits in serving Jesus. Dear Father, I come to You the only way I know how – humbly trusting in the merit, righteousness, and redemptive work of Jesus Christ. I trust You, O God, to accept me through Your dear Son. I know full well that I’m not a superstar in Your Kingdom, yet I humbly offer those gifts and talents I have in service to You. Grant that I, like the poor widow armed with only two tiny coins, will give You all I have – even if “all I have” is very little. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Let's Talk

100% Confidential | Warrior-to-warrior

We respond within 24 hours and can provide community support, resources, and referrals.