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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Morning, June 24, 2007
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

Other than Christ Himself, the most important figure of the first century was the Apostle Paul. He was always great in everything he did. As a rebellious sinner, before he was converted, he was a great sinner, persecuting the early Christians. His conversion was also very great, with Christ Himself appearing to him. He then became a very great Christian, one of the greatest who ever lived. And he was the greatest preacher of all time. He preached in many nations in two languages, to both Jews and Gentiles. He preached before kings – to King Agrippa and to the Emperor Nero. Whatever Paul did, he did with all his heart, with intense zeal. Whenever he preached, he did it with all his might. Therefore we can be sure that when he wrote this text, he meant every word he said,

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

Those words of Paul apply to every preacher today, as well as to the Apostle himself. As we examine the text, we will attempt to answer two questions.

I. First, what is Gospel preaching?

Paul said,

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
      (I Corinthians 9:16).

What is he talking about? What does it mean to “preach…the gospel?”

It means to preach. The word translated “preach” is different from the word translated “teach.” Certainly Paul knew the difference between those two words. There were times that he taught. But here he says,

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
      (I Corinthians 9:16).

That word “preach” means to “declare, to herald, to announce, the good news, the Gospel” (Strong). The main Greek word for “teach” means “to instruct.” The vital difference between preaching and teaching is that preaching lies more in proclamation than in instruction. To preach the Gospel means to proclaim it, to declare it, to trumpet it, to cry it out, to declaim it with vigor. That is what Paul meant when he said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”

When I was still a teenager, an old Southern Baptist preacher once said to me, “Boy, if you can’t tell the difference between preaching and teaching, you're not called to preach!” That made sense to me then, and it still does today!

But, then, the Apostle said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” The facts of the Gospel are clearly given in the Bible:

“I declare unto you the gospel… that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures”
      (I Corinthians 15:1, 3, 4).

Those verses give the central message of the Gospel. The Greek word translated “gospel” means “the good news,” that is, the good news that Christ died for our sins, in our place, to pay the penalty for our sins; that He was buried to remove our sins; that He rose bodily from the dead to give us new life. Those Bible doctrines, and others related to them, are the basis of Gospel preaching. How sad it is that we often hear sermons today which do not even mention these basic doctrines of the Gospel. When these cardinal Gospel doctrines are assumed, or left out, a sermon is not properly called “preaching the Gospel.”

Notice in I Corinthians 15:3-4 that these doctrines are all centered in Christ:

“How that Christ died for our sins…and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day…”

Thus, true Gospel preaching is always Christological preaching – Christ-centered preaching.

We often hear that Spurgeon explained his text and then “made a beeline for the cross.” But I believe that is an incorrect evaluation of Spurgeon. It seems to me that most of Spurgeon’s sermons are Christ-centered from the beginning to the end. And I think that is the way Gospel preaching should be done. Gospel preaching exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. It is both Christ-centered and Christ-exalting preaching! It is preaching that magnifies, praises, extols and lifts up the Lord Jesus Christ – all that He has done to save and sanctify sinful men!

But Gospel preaching is also negative preaching. Dr. J. Gresham Machen correctly said,

Although Christianity does not end with the broken heart; it begins with the consciousness of sin. Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale. But how can the consciousness of sin be revived? Something no doubt can be accomplished by the proclamation of the law of God, for the law reveals transgressions (J. Gresham Machen, Ph.D., Christianity and Liberalism, Macmillan, 1923, p. 66).

I am convinced that Dr. Machen was right. A large part of Gospel preaching, therefore, must be law-preaching. Lost people must be made aware of their sin or the Gospel of Christ will not seem important to them – just an “idle tale.” Therefore, true Gospel preaching must also emphasize the total depravity of man, his complete inability to do anything, say anything, or learn anything that will make him acceptable to God – without coming to Christ.

The reality of Hell, and the Last Judgment, must also be a part of true Gospel preaching. The self-examination of the heart, the unpardonable sin and the final reprobation of the obstinate are also necessary “law” subjects that probe the soul before the medicine of the Gospel may be received. The absolute necessity of conversion itself can also be preached as “law” when the sinner is told that this work is entirely in the hands of God – as Christ said of salvation, “With men it is impossible” (Mark 10:27).

But none of those terrifying subjects should be preached motivationally. I mean, they must not be preached to get the sinner to “be good,” or “act better.” As Dr. A. W. Tozer said,

The devil will not cause any trouble for a preacher who is scared stiff of his congregation and worried about his job to the extent that he preaches for thirty minutes and the sum of what he says is ‘Be good and you will feel better.’ You can be as good as you want to and yet go to hell if you have not put your trust in Jesus Christ! The devil is not going to waste his time causing any trouble for the preacher whose only message is ‘Be good!’ (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Who Put Jesus on the Cross? Christian Publications, 1975, p. 142).

When the Pope was in Brazil a few weeks ago that’s exactly what he did! He told the people in Brazil to be good! I read what he said in the Los Angeles Times. He told them to be good, to live better lives. That is not Gospel preaching. The Pope may very well have mentioned the facts of the Gospel. But no one will pay much attention, or be truly helped, by telling them to be good and then tacking on the doctrines of the Gospel as an afterthought. Instead of telling sinners to be good, true Gospel preaching tells them they cannot be truly good no matter how hard they try! Real Gospel preaching makes it clear that lost sinners are ruined and helpless, totally depraved, and bound for eternal judgment in Hell – with no power to change themselves, no human strength to make themselves acceptable to God. That is the preaching of law, the law of God, which is the very thing that makes the Gospel “good news” to ruined sinners! The Gospel stands out against the backdrop of the laws and demands of God in true Gospel preaching. As the Apostle Paul put it,

“The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

This verse does not merely mean that the Old Testament law prepared the way for the light of the Gospel.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, said, “The law shows sins; it does not [save], but shows us to be sinners; it does not make alive, but mortifies and kills” (Bernhard Lohse, Ph.D., Martin Luther’s Theology, Fortress Press, 1999, pp. 181-182). And Luther was very true to the Bible when he said that. The moral law is still in effect, and when preached correctly as an introduction to the Gospel, it indeed “mortifies and kills” the sinner’s false hope that he can change himself and be clean and good in God’s sight without knowing the Saviour. “The law “shows us to be sinners”! How right Luther was!

“The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

“By the law is the knowledge of sin.” The law mortifies the sinner. The law condemns the sinner. It disappoints him in his false hopes, it displeases him, plagues, annoys, worries, depresses, humiliates, vexes, troubles and shames him as he is, in his state of sin. That is the law as it should be presented, especially at the beginning of a true Gospel sermon.

Only when the sinner is broken down by the Law of God and the Holy Spirit, only when he is ashamed of the wickedness of his foul heart and life, only when he is brought to feel desperately sinful by the law, showing him his guilt and depravity, only then may the medicine of the Gospel of Christ, salvation through His Blood and righteousness, be seen for what it is – the good news of the Gospel!

“Oh,” a young girl said in our inquiry room, “I am such a sinner!” She had been broken down by the terrors of the law, and her complete inability to be as good as the law requires. Only when a sinner is in this state of mind can he come to understand that Jesus loves him still, even in his sin, and that Christ will not only pardon him but clothe him in His own perfect righteousness! That is Gospel preaching. It is preaching of the sin-condemning law, followed by the mercy of the Gospel of Christ! And that is precisely the kind of preaching you are hearing this very morning. Law to show you your guilt, and Gospel to give you the good news that Christ can save you by His bloody sacrifice for your sin, and His life-giving grace as the resurrected Son of God, who loves you is ready to save you.

Man of sorrows, what a name,
   For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
   Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
(“Hallelujah! What a Saviour!” by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).

That is the type of preaching Paul urges us to do in our text,

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
      (I Corinthians 9:16).

II. Second, why is Gospel preaching necessary?

Why, indeed, does Paul say,

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
      (I Corinthians 9:16).

Gospel preaching is necessary because it centers on the main theme of the entire Bible, in the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the entire Bible, by type, by prophecy, by direct statement, the Gospel of Christ is at the center. He who reads the Bible without an awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for him, is as blind as a bat at midnight. He can read the pages of Scripture. He can even memorize good salvation verses. But his soul remains in gloomy darkness until the awakening rays of the law show him he is a sinner; until the quickening life-giving rays of the Gospel of Christ enter his very soul. Until that blessed time comes, he wanders through the darkness of life, a lost child of Adam; even feeling what Adam’s son Cain felt when he said,

“My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13).

Yet, through his inner torment, the sinner has no rest, no true peace with God, until he hears the charming message of the Gospel. Then the love of Christ for him may seem so wonderful that he is drawn to the Saviour. That is our message! That is the Gospel!

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
      (I Corinthians 9:16).

Woe is unto me – for as a preacher I hold in my hand the Bible which proclaims the only remedy, the only cure for lost sinners. Woe is unto me if I hold back these precious Gospel truths and merely teach the Bible verse-by-verse, with little soul-stirring application, and few if any of the fiery darts of the law that prove to the sinner’s heart his need of the Saviour.

Oh! I call to you this morning; I cry out to you, I preach to you the God-given way to be saved from the misery of sin and the wrath of God. And woe is unto me if I hold back and do not declaim these truths with every sinew and muscle, and preach to you the good news of the Gospel – Christ has died to pay thy sins. Christ has risen from the dead to break the stranglehold Satan has on thy heart.

And if it be woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel – think of the woe it will be to you if you do not pay attention to the Gospel I have preached! And there is a woe marked down for the preacher who does not proclaim, and even declaim, with much earnestness the Gospel that alone can save sinners. Think of the far greater woe that will come upon you if you do not obey the Gospel! For Jesus said,

“I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Oh, God, may some who have heard this plain Gospel sermon, turn from their sin and come to Jesus before it is eternally and everlastingly too late, for Jesus said,

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).

Save them, O God! Turn them to Jesus. We pray in the Saviour's name. Amen.  

Please turn to hymn number 7 on our song sheet and sing it with thoughtfulness and great feeling.   


While we pray and while we plead, 
While you see your soul's deep need, 
While our Father calls you home, 
Will you not, my brother, come? 
Why not now? Why not now? 
Why not come to Jesus now? 
Why not now? Why not now? 
Why not come to Jesus now? 

You have wandered far away; 
Do not risk another day; 
Do not turn from God your face, 
But today accept His grace. 
Why not now? Why not now? 
Why not come to Jesus now? 
Why not now? Why not now? 
Why not come to Jesus now? 

In the world you've failed to find 
Aught of peace for troubled mind; 
Come to Christ, on Him believe, 
Peace and joy you shall receive. 
Why not now? Why not now? 
Why not come to Jesus now? 
Why not now? Why not now? 
Why not come to Jesus now? 
    ("Why Not Now?" by Daniel W. Whittle, 1840-1901). 

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Winston Song: I Corinthians 2:1-5.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Man of Sorrows, What a Name” (by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16).

I.   First, what is Gospel preaching? I Corinthians 15:1, 3, 4;
Mark 10:27; Galatians 3:24; Romans 3:20.

II.  Second, why is Gospel preaching necessary? Genesis 4:13;
John 8:24; Mark 16:16.