Woe is Me if I do not Preach the Gospel
God moved the apostle Paul to write some of the most memorable, most moving words in the history of the world. The remaining words that fit this elite category were written by the other authors of the Bible. Paul distilled it down in succinct sweetness. He captured it in so many ways, on so many topics. There are no words which capture the calling and ministry of a preacher like 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Cor 9:16).”
When God calls a man to come to Christ, He changes him. He takes the man of the world, and He makes him to be a Christian. There is a further calling for some men. This does not happen to all men. It is a double calling when the royal summons to serve in the capacity to preach is put on a man. This man asks himself, “How can I refuse the King?”
It is true that some men are in the ministry and they are not even Christians. You can hear the unbeliever preaching. He is not burdened for people to hear the Gospel of grace. He may preach a message of love, or a moralistic message, but his onus is not the Cross of Christ. Because there are so many unconverted people in churches, he is given a pass in some congregations. If church people do not know the Scriptures, they will welcome a pseudo-preacher. It is an unfortunate ignorant loop.
The Christian man who begins to devour the Scriptures like a famished man is who we are scrutinizing here. Why does he forego friends and folly in favor of Bible study? What is this inner compulsion to want to know the Lord Jesus Christ? Why does he wish for all people to know Christ?
It is because he is gifted, called, and compelled to preach the Word of God. Preaching is the means by which God disseminates the revelation of Himself to His people. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ (Rom 10:17). The preacher is sent to the people so they might hear and believe in Christ, who declared, “I am…the truth (Jn 14:6).”
The hungry man of God is one day soaking in the sweet nectar of the Word, and suddenly he is sick to his stomach. What is wrong? Why would such goodness produce a sour feeling? The man is disturbed in his spirit. His culpability soars. To whom much is given, much will be required. The Word burns in his bones like a fire to the point of lament, “woe is me.”
Others soon detect the hand of God upon this man. He speaks and the Word of God flows like a river of living water from his lips. The fire in his bones can be seen in his earnest eyes. He must be about his Father’s business. He is ready to give away all his possessions to follow the call of God wherever it may lead. The things of the world have grown strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. That man will preach.
What does the called man of God see when he goes to the ball game? When he is at the grocery store, what is he thinking? Where is his burden worse than in the gathering of the church congregation? This is the love of souls. It is not a sappy song sung in worldly fashion. This is redemption love. It is sacrificial. The preacher’s sentiment is, “I would die for these people.” It is the love of Christ that constrains the man of God to be a fool for Christ (1 Cor 4:10). This man proves his love by telling people the truth (Eph 4:15), even under the threat they would do him harm.
The truth is like a sword (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12). It cuts away the sins of the people. It pierces their wicked and deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9). For this reason, it is very costly to heed the summons of the Most High God. The man of God has no choice. God will not let him be. He is chosen. He is called. He is graced. He is burdened. He is not relieved until he cries out to God, “Here am I…send me.”
He may appear strong, but he is in fear and he trembles before the people. His task is so great. There is no higher calling, and he feels the gravity. He must herald news from a faraway land. It is a Word from the Lord. It comes with warning and with grace. He must preach both law and gospel.
The law has been broken, and the man of God has been given eyes to see. The offense of the people against Almighty God is great. God is angry with sinners all day long (Ps 7:11), and the man of God must convince them, even as the Holy Spirit convicts them (Jn 16:8; 1 Thess 1:5). How relieved is the man of God when some repent of their sins and turn to Christ (Acts 5:31; 17:30). How taxed is this servant of the Lord Jesus Christ when people opt for a continuation of their wayward lifestyles. How odious to him are those who rail against the Gospel and make the man of God suffer. Ironically, he can only forgive the blasphemers and schemers because he remembers a day when he was just like them, “Father, forgive them, even as you forgave me.”
Humility encompasses the true man of God. He is acutely aware of his inadequacy as a servant of Christ (2 Cor 3:5). Men of God are fools. They have given up their promising careers in the world for the foolishness of the Gospel. The man of God commits himself to loss in this world. He values heaven far above the vanities of this place (Eccl 1:2). He demonstrates a life worthy of emulation for those who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. He infuriates the sinner, but he is also an agitation to the saint.
Holiness marks the man of God (1 Pet 1:16). He is a warrior for the Lord (Eph 6:10–20). He is a spiritual man (1 Cor 2:15). His weapons are prayer and the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17), which is the Word of God. He is purified in his study, and he is poured out in the pulpit. He is an offering to the Lord. He brings heat and light to the people. Their hearts are warmed, and their minds are illumined with the knowledge of the truth of God. This man is set apart for a prophetic exercise.
“Woe is me,” says the called man of God, who is saddled with tomfoolery. Carpet colors must be chosen. Someone must take his seat in the carnival dunk tank. Who will plan trunk or treat? The church is ready to occupy the preacher with anything and everything to disturb his receiving a Word from the Lord through His earnest study of the Scriptures. When the preacher is at bay, the people will play.
Take the man away from his study and his message will be diluted. Rebels love to undermine the authority of the preacher. Some of their machinations are conscious and some are unconscious, but the people suffer when they think they can do whatever is right in their own eyes. God forbid the preacher’s tongue is tied up by God in response to these unfortunate stratagems.
If the people will not receive the man of God, then surely God will move him on to another group. He has dust on his beautiful feet. Precious is the congregation that cries out to the man of God, “Bring the book!” Blessed are those who stand at the reading of God’s Law. Satisfied are the people who have been fed the good Word of God (Ps 34:8).
There is no other way. God has ordained for His Word to be preached by common jars of clay, who carry treasure in earthen vessels (2 Cor 4:7). These are considered filthy and despised by people in the world, but they are precious in His sight. God has touched the mouth of the man of God with burning coals (Is 6:5–7). He is purified to speak. He is naturally a man of unclean lips, but he has been made clean by the touch of a holy angel. He stands above the people on the podium prepared for him, and with all authority, resounds with the power of heaven, “Thus says the Lord.”
The called man of God suffers many things for the sake of the elect (2 Tim 2:10). He is made willing by his gifts and calling. He muses, “Why do other men stutter, while the words flow from my heart and mind, and through my mouth like an electrical current?” Elocution is not enough. He must be made fearless. Man-pleasers need not apply. If God is for this man, who can be against him? He is a missionary sent from the throne of judgment and grace, with a message for the people (Mt 24:14; Mk 16:15). He has God’s protection until his time is expired, and he is woe so conscious of his expiration date. Therefore, he labors night and day, often in poverty and sickness. The storm is approaching. He must gather in the sheep.
The man of God prays to the Lord of the harvest for help, but the laborers always seem few. The hardscrabble task is great and burden is heavy. Therefore, the man of God is constant in prayer (1 Thess 5:17). The Lord is near him who calls upon His grace. The task was too great for Moses. God was with him. The task was made more difficult for Gideon, but God was with him. David was no match for Goliath, but God’s beloved one knew, “The battle belongs to the Lord (1 Sam 17:47)!” Feel the relief when the preacher says, “Let us pray,” or “Hear the Word of the Lord.” God is with him.
Endless woes await the called man of God. This is no mean task. The harvest must come. God has sent His people into the field. They must be taught to labor, too. Man of God, you teach them. Put down your tools of entertainment and pick up your sickle. It is the Word of God. They must have their Bible in their hands. They must turn the pages for themselves. They must be taught to do so. Man of God, where are you? Another ball game? Another golf course? Another party? Another fishing hole? Another vacation? Check your calling. Woe to you.
How will they hear without a preacher who will preach? The man of God, who is longing for respectability, is hardly worthy of the prophetic call to preach. How will you know he is a preacher unless he is preaching? When he is preaching, he is lightening his load. When he is preaching, he is relieving his burden. When he is preaching, he is fulfilling his calling. When he is preaching, he is glorifying God. If he is not preaching, it is pure anguish. Christ must be exalted.
The volcano sits quietly, but deep down in the bowels of the earth, there is a fire. The man of God is unknown to the people around him, but deep down in the marrow, there is a fire. His mind thinks, “woe is me.” His heart aches, “woe is me.” His bones burn, “woe is me!” God opens his mouth, and the sword of the Spirit is thrust forth against the lies of principalities and powers, “Let my people go!”
The scoffers and skeptics rally for the battle against the preacher, “You are full of yourself, you self-righteous hypocrite!” The preacher can only reply, “Yes, a hypocrite am I. Loathsome in every way is a right judgment. I am a worm and not a man, but take careful note of my words, sir. I do not preach myself. I am preaching Christ Jesus to you. Woe is me if I do not tell you this Gospel…
‘He is your Maker. He has given you the law of righteousness, which you have broken beyond belief. I proclaim to you the only Savior of sinners like you. He is Christ, the Lord. He is calling you to repentance before the great and fearful day of the Lord. Judgment is looming for you, and I have been sent to warn you. Turn to Christ before He turns in anger toward you. Come to Christ on the Cross for the forgiveness of your sins. Receive the sprinkling of His atoning blood. Humble yourself and receive the salvation of God. Trust not in yourself for goodness and right standing before God. He will not accept your filthy sacrifice. Trust in the only acceptable sacrifice to God, which is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world. Sir, place your trust Him!’”
With this expulsion of affection for you, my dear reader, I will now rest for an hour with thanksgiving in my heart to God, who called me into His kingdom, and who also called me to proclaim to you the King of glory (Ps 24:7, 9). Think not that anything will occupy me later this day, for the Word of God is already beckoning me, yet again, “Come, learn of Me.” I will gladly go and have my cup filled, so that I might be poured out once again for you, for woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 6, 2021