Monday, February 9, 2009

Stewardship of Preaching the Gospel

Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
1 Corinthians 9:16-27
Bror Erickson

[16] For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! [17] For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. [18] What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. 1 Cor. 9:16-18 (ESV)

Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Paul here speaks to himself as he speaks to the church. What he says of himself goes for all in the church who are called to preach, who are entrusted with the same stewardship that he was entrusted with, the call to preach the Gospel, to be public proclaimers of God’s word. As our confessions say in the Augsburg Confession, the charter of Lutheranism. I’ll just say a word on that real quick as Lutherans ought to know what the Augsburg Confession is. The Augsburg Confession was that document Luther’s friend, Melanchthon, read before the Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, at the Diet of Augsburg, when he demanded to know what it was that Lutheran’s were teaching, and why. In short the Lutheran’s were called to defend their teachings. Lutheran Doctrine was threatening the internal peace of his empire. Many who adhered to the pope wanted to put the reformation down by force. Something they later tried to do. It ended up being the Thirty years war. But at this time there were more pressing problems on the border of Christendom. There were the Turks, who not to long ago had crushed Byzantium, and changed the name of Constantinople to Istanbul, and now had pressed into Hungary, and were threatening the gates of Vienna in Austria. I believe there were even some Lutherans who fought alongside Catholics in Vienna, and were able to throw the Turks back. Unfortunately when that threat was neutralized (at least for a time) the Roman Catholics turned north to Saxony, and tried to put down the reformation, the aforementioned 30 years war. Fascinating history really, perhaps we could do a study on it later when we are done studying the Catechism during Bible Study. But in short, The Augsburg Confession became our legal charter for existence in the Holy Roman Empire, an empire that really didn’t hold to freedom of religion. In this confession the stewardship that Paul speaks about in 1 Crointhians 9 is hit upon.

“To obtain such faith (faith that justifies man before God, by trusting in the gospel) God has instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ merit, when we so believe….” (Article Five)

Later in Article eight it says, “Concerning Church government it is taught that no one should publicly teach, preach or administer the sacraments without a proper, (public) call.”

This proper and public call is what we now call the call and ordination of a pastor, it is the stewardship Paul is talking about.
Now this does not mean that Christians shouldn’t talk to their neighbors about Christ, or share it with them. It isn’t to say that lay people should not bother with evangelism when opportunity arises, far from it.
What it says is the church has an obligation to call a pastor and entrust him with the duty of public preaching and administering the sacrament. The Church has a duty to entrust one person specifically with this stewardship. Preferably, they should call someone who has the aptitude and training for it. Being a pastor, is not something everyone is cut out to do. It is a vocation like all others, not everyone is qualified to be a mechanic or a CEO, and most of us would be lousy janitors. It is for this reason our churches have seminaries, and so on. Paul did not hand this stewardship out to any Joe Blow. He spent time training men (and only men) for this office, to pass this stewardship on to them, men like Timothy, Titus, Apollos, and others. He found men who had the aptitude for the office, men who were adept at teaching, at reading God’s word, and discerning doctrine. Doctrine is important, what is taught is not to be taken lightly. Not at all. Paul tells Timothy :
[16] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Tim. 4:16 (ESV)

For by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers! Teaching and preaching the Gospel is important. Peoples soul’s are at stake. Your souls are at stake, my soul is at stake. So pastors take time to learn God’s word and learn the gospel, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus took time to train the apostles. This is why they spent three years with him. Jesus went from town to town preaching, healing and casting out demons. The people would listen to him and go back to work, they had their vocations. God hadn’t called them to be apostles, but fishermen, bakers, farmers, soldiers, and so on. Just as God has called you to be what you are. You serve God in these vocations, just as much if not more than when you help out around the church. Though I am sure God is just as pleased as I am to have people help out around here folding bulletins, changing light bulbs, volunteering to teach Sunday School, or erase four letter word graffiti from our signs. Of course none of this saves us. Only faith in the gospel saves. And the gospel isn’t a message about how many good works you have to do, or how good a person you have to become. The Gospel is nothing more than the forgiveness of sins won for you by the God who became man, Jesus Christ, of whom the Old Testament Lesson Isaiah speaks: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth, He does not grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” That God, that is the one who became man for you and me, for us men and for our salvation. It is that God who died on the cross for you and me. It is that God who freely and graciously forgives our sins day in and day out. And that is the Gospel. That is the Gospel Paul preached and the stewardship he was entrusted with. That is why he says
[2] For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Cor. 2:2 (ESV)
He wanted to know nothing among the Corinthians but Jesus Christ and him crucified. Because that and that alone is the Gospel that saves. Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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