The Cost of the Gospel

I’d like to go back this week to 1 Corinthians 9.  Bruce led an excellent and highly charged discussion of this chapter where we focused on Paul’s refusal to take money for preaching in Corinth.  It’s natural that we would focus on that aspect of the chapter.  What is appropriate for those who work in what we moderns call “full time vocational ministry” to be paid, and just how much of the wealth of this world should be held by the church (however that is defined) and its leaders has always been a hot topic.

It even manages to make it into modern fiction (albeit set in a 14th Century monastery).  If you read Umberto Ecco’s excellent book The Name of the Rose , the main character, William of Baskerville (played by Sean Connery in the movie of the same name), travels to a remote Monastery in the Italian Alps to witness a theological trial on the topic, “did Jesus own His own clothes.”  This was big stuff in the Medieval world because if He did not, then the Holy Church had no claim on its vast estates and the secular powers and prerogatives it took for itself.  The arguments end badly in the book and people burn at the stake.  There is a lot of that going on today in a metaphorical sense.

But as interesting as that topic is I want to focus on something different that I think is even more important:  what is the cost of the Gospel?  I’m not talking about the cost of salvation, that cost was to great for the whole of creation to bear, but what is the cost of advancing the news that the universe shattering cost of our sin debt has been paid?  And more to the point who pays that price?  What price, if any, was paid for you to know the Good News?

Paul suggests that in the particular instance of his work in Corinth there were three costs (naturally there were, he was a preacher):

  1. He gave up his right to make a living from the gospel and to other rights he had as an Apostle.  He says in 9:11 of his right to get paid, “But we did not use this right.”  You’ve no doubt heard the financial term opportunity cost?  If you take one financial opportunity and therefore do not take the another, the gain you did not make had you made the alternate choice must be considered in the determination of whether the opportunity you did take was successful.  Paul’s opportunity cost for preaching the Gospel to the Corinthians was the income that was his by right.  Was his venture successful?  How do you measure that?  How did Paul?
  2. He gave up his freedom.  In 9:19 he says “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”  What price have people been willing to pay for freedom?  What have we, as Americans, said we were willing to pay for freedom?  Paul says its not just the money, it is his very freedom to live as he wishes that he sacrifices for the cause of the Gospel in Corinth.  And it’s not with some grandiose plan that every one would hear or believe that he sacrifices his freedom, its just to see some (perhaps only one) saved.
  3. He enslaves his own desires, makes them subservient to the cause of the Gospel just like an athlete in training subdues his or her body so that it will perform in the desired manner in the race or other contest. He desires, among other things, to provide an example to those to whom he preaches so that he will not be found disqualified after having opened his mouth.

And how about us.  What price would we pay for the Gospel?  Here’s what Paul says he will ultimately sacrifice for the Gospel, “We put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”