The Apostle Paul uses the word obligation in two contexts with which we can easily identify: giving and evangelism. For one he says, “not of obligation.” For the other he says, “I am under obligation.” The contrast is remarkable!
Of giving, Paul wrote “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion [ἀνάγκη], for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor 9:7 (ESV). Paul encourages voluntary giving of finances to the church. The financial needs of the church are to be met by God’s people giving cheerfully—not under obligation!
In marked contrast, Paul himself explained the sense of spiritual obligation that he felt to evangelize, using that same word:
“For if I evangelize, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity [ἀνάγκη] is laid upon me. Woe is me if I evangelize not!” 1 Cor 9:16 (translation mine).
Whereas giving should not be compulsory, Paul received and taught a sense of obligation to evangelize. In the next verse he even stated that sometimes it was “against his will.” “But if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.” 1 Cor 9:17 (ESV). The urge within him to evangelize forced him to share the gospel out of obligation.
Giving—not compulsory; evangelizing—compulsory: what a contrast!
May a divine hilarity accompany our giving to the church, and may divine obligation compel us to evangelize those around us!