Christians react against the phrase “my church,” because it hints at approval of a plurality of denominations. People often use it to talk about what happens in their denominational body or how the Bible is interpreted and applied by their group, in contrast with other churches.
Indeed, the phrase grates on the ears when placed beside Jesus’ declaration, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18 NET). If the church is his, no one else has rights to it.
So far so good.
Paul didn’t feel any such reservations, however, when speaking of the gospel. He calls it the gospel of God (Romans 1:1), the gospel of his Son (Romans 1:9), the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:19), and all these in one letter.
At the same time, he is comfortable with calling it “my gospel,” not once but twice in that same letter (Romans 2:16; 16:25), as well as in 2 Timothy 2:8. (In 2 Corinthians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:5 and 2 Thessalonians 2:14 he also calls it “our gospel.”)
What “My Gospel” Doesn’t Mean
Paul does not call it “my gospel” because it originated with him. He makes it clear that the gospel is “according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, but now is disclosed” (Romans 16:25-26). The gospel predated him. As an apostle he was a late-termer, a johnny-come-lately. By the time he was converted, Christians were already dying for their faith.
Neither does Paul call it “my gospel” because his preaching was different than that of the other apostles. He served the gospel (Romans 15:16); he did not tailor the gospel to serve him. On the basis of the single gospel Paul could, on the one hand, accept the right hand of fellowship from other apostles (Galatians 2:1-10) and, on the other hand, rebuke Peter for betraying it (Galatians 2:11-14). They preached the same thing. Because of that, there were certain doctrines and behaviors expected of all, including the apostles.
Obviously, neither was Paul claiming ownership of the gospel, since he acknowledged his call and his separation by God for the gospel proclamation (Romans 1:1). The gospel didn’t belong to him; he belonged to the God who created the gospel.
What then did Paul mean when he said the gospel was his? In what sense could he say “my gospel”?
What “My Gospel” Does Mean
First, Paul considered the gospel his because he obeyed it. In this sense, one could say he had “owned” it. He took it personally. The story of his conversion is told no less than three times in the book of Acts, twice by Paul himself (chapters 9, 22, 26). He marveled that God’s grace reached even him, the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:12-17). He saw himself as the prime example of salvation — if God could save him, he could save anybody. In his letters, Paul often broke out in praise. He perfected the doxology. The gospel was his, its present and eternal benefits were his, because he submitted to its demands and commands.
Second, Paul considered the gospel his because he lived it. He repeatedly offered his life as an example to others (see, for example, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1). To say what many say today, not to take one’s life as an example of the faith, would have been unthinkable — indeed, spiritual treason — to Paul. If Christ lives in us, we are lights to the world, salt of the earth. He had no false humility, harbored no illusions that his exemplary life was a finished product at his own hands, but by the power and grace of God.
Third, Paul considered the gospel his because he preached it. Neither ridicule, nor opposition, nor persecution could stop him from preaching the good news. It was “my gospel,” he said, “for which I suffer hardship to the point of imprisonment as a criminal, but God’s message is not imprisoned!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9). Yes, “such is my gospel,” he declared. My good news. The message I speak. My only topic of enduring value. While my body may be put behind bars, nothing can stop the word of God.
Paul preached in many places and many churches formed as a result of his message. Never once did he call them “my churches.” They were always “the churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) and “the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16).
But he called that wonderful sweet message of Jesus Christ “my gospel.”
Would that every Christian, like Paul, and for his same reasons, would refer to the good news of Jesus Christ as “my gospel!”