12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:12-18)
Good to see all of you here this morning. I’m thankful that we can meet together this morning as a church, a body of believers in Christ. It is amazing to be a Christian and to live life knowing that there is a God and He is over us all and in our lives, actively administering things around us and caring for us each step that we take. He is faithful to do that, to walk with us. Did you know that over the last week, He never left you? Maybe you felt some distance between you and God but He never left you? Did you know it will be the same this week? For the Christian, we have been given the Spirit of God as a down payment or as a guarantee of our future inheritance with Him, as a joint heir with Christ.
I have heard story after story this last week alone from many of you of God’s active presence in your lives, of His provision, His lifting you up, His blessings, His faithfulness. It is so great to hear of His work isn’t it? To hear from each other.
If we can grasp God’s commitment to us, through the good and the bad, His presence with us always, His love for us that is both eternal and so very deep, then we will, we can, enjoy an everlasting peace along with an increasing desire to follow Him more faithfully. If God were a quitter He would have quit on me a long time ago. If God had a notion to abandon one of His children then surely it would be me, but God is not like that. He is not like that. The Spirit does not quit on us, He intercedes for us (Romans 8) and we read of God’s eternal covenant that is bound forever. His love that was demonstrated through the death of His Son, an incomprehensible love that just won’t let go, that won’t allow Him to let go of us His children. Peace that passes understanding coming to us because of God’s unending, undefiled, perfect love for us, His children. Coming to a place where we understand this, understand His love, His faithfulness, His commitment to us, His peace that He gives us, coming to understand and believe and embrace these things changes how we face today and tomorrow.
I say all this because these are truths that provide foundation for how we live as Christians. These are truths that motivate us, that give us energy and courage to boldly live the Christian life that we could not live otherwise. These are truths that keep us on our feet when we might otherwise be knocked off our feet. Paul demonstrates great courage and peace in prison, as we have been studying from Philippians, because there are some truths that undergird his faith and enable him to press on during difficult times. He grasped his position in Christ. He knew who he was in Christ. That was settled for him. He knew he was weak but Christ was strong in him. He knew God’s love was enduring, God’s peace was for Him, that God was always faithful in his life.
We must not ever just think Paul was some kind of superhero; he wasn’t, he was just a man that lived in the reality of who he was – a child of the king – and who God was – the King of Kings, the preeminent, all-powerful, all-wise, and loving God. This helps us to understand, I think, how Paul could have joy in all things. He filled his mind with God, and that is where he lived.
And so Paul wrote verses 12-14 that we have looked at already, about God’s faithfulness in his life, in prison, and how his prison stay has turned out to be really good because God has been glorified by it and the gospel was being preached. In that paragraph Paul does not give one inkling whatsoever of any tensions going on in the church. In fact as we finish up verses 12-14 we may think, “Well sure prison would be hard, but everything just works out so well for Paul, even hard things seem sort of easy, they way he talks about it. He goes to prison and gets all he wants, the spread of the gospel, that is what he wants, and he gets it so maybe it’s all just easy for Paul, maybe that is why he is so joyful all the time.”
Well as we move into verse 15 we see that is not the case. There is some controversy stirring, some hard things going on, and really things that would have been really heard for Paul. What was happening? There was disunity brewing in the church, I don’t mean in a particular church but in the church as a whole. There was tension among Christians. Most people, including us, we can see the sheer joy that Paul has experienced because the gospel is getting spread. But now we find out that this progress has not been without its personal drawbacks. We find that some who have been emboldened by Paul’s imprisonment have become more aggressive in their evangelism precisely because they hope to add to Paul’s affliction.
There are some issues going on, sort of in the background, and Paul is aware of them. Basically, he describes two groups of people. One group he describes in verses 15 and 17 and the other group he describes in verses 15 and verse 16. And then in verse 18 Paul gives some insight into how he views these competing factions. One group is troublesome and the other group is not. Everyone was not on the same page and motives were not all what would delight God. There were mixed motives in ministry, some good and some not so good.
Ministry rarely happens apart from controversy; the church is full of sinners. Controversy sometimes comes in the form of disagreements, or disgruntled people, or sin, or personality issues, not necessarily sinful or at least not in the beginning. It is not like the church is immune from people issues, whether it be sin or simply preferences. It is easy to look at other churches, their ministries, their apparent successes – everything looks smooth and orderly, and yet we can be assured that there were some bumps in the road, maybe a bump would be a very light way to describe it.
I remember hearing from Steve Viars once. Steve Viars is the lead pastor at Faith Baptist Lafayette, Indiana; many of you know of him through our biblical counseling training that we do. Steve is part of a big and thriving church. They are extremely active in significant ministry and seem very successful at what they do and the people they impact. But he has shared that most of what they have tried has been utter failures. And some change has led to people leaving the church. Many decisions have been made through great labor and intense prayer, and months or even years of discussion. My point is that it is easy to look from a distance at churches and ministries and only see the grand success, but in reality success comes through many struggles. Paul shares some of those struggles that he and the church faced in Philippians.
I want to look at these verses in two parts. Part one this week and part two next week. For part one this week I want us to consider sort of the negative side, and next week I want us to look at more of the happy side of ministry, the more positive side.
Paul had been talking about the gospel going out, being spread and preached, because of his imprisonment, and now he gives us some of the detail of how and why this was happening.
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. (Philippians 1:15)
And of those that preach from envy and rivalry Paul goes on to say in verse 17, “the former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” Then in verse 18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” This again, is an unexpected detail and maybe challenging for us to understand. That is Paul’s response to those who would preach or evangelize with a motive of envy and rivalry. We talk a lot about motivations for ministry. And what is our primary motivation for ministry to be? We minister, we serve because we love Christ, and we want to make Him known to others, glorify Him, honor Him. But here we see that some were ministering with entirely different motives.
It’s important, I thing that this whole paragraph is about motives. Good and bad, right? Evangelizing from a heart of envy and rivalry or from a heart of goodwill and love. But what is interesting is again Paul’s response to those with poor motives. It’s interesting because there are other writings of Paul where he does not take such a kind stance with his detractors. Paul’s passion for truth, undefiled truth and the gospel, often times got him pretty riled up, right? For instance in Galatians 1:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. (Philippians 3:2)
The difference in those that Paul comes down really hard on in Galatians and Philippians 3, as well as other places like 2 Corinthians 11, is that in those cases Paul is speaking of heretics. He is speaking of false prophets, of those coming into the church to steal sheep, they were speaking a false gospel leading, trying to lead believers away from Christ. It seems from our passage this morning that Paul is not speaking of those who are preaching a false message, but of theologically orthodox Christians who were evangelizing with a right message but with bad motives.
Paul was not unaware of the weaknesses and problems in the church. He knew there were factions, even in 1 Corinthians 1 we see some of this – there were pro-Paul factions and pro-Apollos factions and pro-Cephas factions. It’s a shame, isn’t it? When our motives get all out of whack. When we choose to minister for reasons that are inferior to what God has for us. We can do that you know. We can serve for many reasons that are ungodly. Every time we do that we forfeit the joy of serving Christ. If it is about me and what I want or how I want to feel or out of duty and obligation alone then we forfeit the joy that comes through serving and ministering in the church.
Paul doesn’t land on these people spreading the gospel with unrighteous motives with all his might and passion to rip them apart. No, he does not get in their face and tell them how it is. Not here, we may think he should have, but he chooses not to here. He is aware of the heart behind their practice but he does not stop them and in a moment I want us to consider why.
But let’s look at what was driving them during this time. Paul says they were driven to evangelize from envy and rivalry. Envy is the desire to deprive others of what is rightfully theirs. It is the wish that someone didn’t have what they have or had it to a lesser degree. Envy is much like jealousy. Not wanting someone to have what they have and instead wanting if for ourselves. Those who were preaching from envy were envious of Paul himself. Of his giftedness, his intellect, his effectiveness in ministry, and maybe most of all the respect that he had among the churches. They may have even envied the encounter he had with Christ. They envied him and viewed him as a threat to their own prominence and influence in the church.
Now remember we are talking about orthodox individuals. We are talking about people who understand the gospel message. Evangelists who are at least being faithful with their words but their motives are what is in question.
Along with envy there was rivalry or strife. Rivalry or strife has to do with contention. They were contentious. It is like they are finding some delight and enjoyment in kicking someone when they are down. They view Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to preach Christ to his harm.
Paul goes on to say in verse 17 that they were preaching Christ not for God’s glory but for their own selfish ambition. Selfish ambition is simply looking out for oneself regardless of how others are effected. Doing ministry for me, for how it makes me feel, for how it makes me look, for some inner satisfaction of my own ego or pride. It is not ministry of sacrifice for others, for others’ good, but ministry of building up self, it is self-serving. These evangelists found an opportunity in Paul’s dilemma to exalt themselves. They most likely used Paul’s imprisonment to try and discredit him, to discredit his life and ministry. And this no doubt would aggravate and intensify his distress. Like that “Paul must have done something wrong ministry-wise to be in prison, don’t follow this guy.”
His distress was not one just of personal hurt, I don’t think, but a distress of how this might affect the gospel. Remember when Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27 – “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” He was willing to suffer personally, “discipline his body.” in order that his preaching be heard and headed. His distress now would be a concern that his message would be ignored. So he was at least in some way being discredited, but at the same time the gospel was being preached by those discrediting him. Do you see the dilemma for him? Some were dragging his name through the mud – personal hurt, right? And falsely so, and yet the gospel was being preached.
If personal hurt was Paul’s primary concern then right now in the text he would be miserable. But if the truth of the gospel message of evangelism is his primary concern, then he’s okay, he can put up with personal attacks and hurt if the gospel is going out. And apparently it is going out.
I wonder if we would be good with that? It’s a strange place to be. In a position where we are being personally harmed and yet the gospel truth is being spread. Would we want to shut down the spread of the gospel if we could be relieved of the personal hurt, or would we take the personal hurt and harm and glory in the spread of the message? The choice we would make would really, I think, reveal what we treasure most, reputation or God’s glory.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:18)
Paul just continues to amaze me. Now we may struggle and think, “How can a true believer be evangelizing with the truth of the gospel and at the same time be dogging a man like Paul? Is that even possible? Is it possible for someone to engage in Christian work and have some bad attitudes? Bad attitudes like envy and rivalry and selfishness?” The answer: of course it is possible! It’s not ideal, far from it, but it is possible and it does happen, right? Ministry happening with inferior, even sometimes sinful, motives. But what Paul chooses to do here is to not commend their bad motives, he just states them, he is not unaware of what is going on, but given that he can rejoice in the simple fact that the gospel is being preached, even if it is being done to some degree that it may accrue to his own personal hurt.
The bottom line here, I think is this: for Paul, personal hurt, real personal hurt, even personal attacks, took a back seat to proclamation of the message that Jesus has come to redeem the lost. Paul is leading up to some conclusions like in a few verses following, where he said:
20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21)
He carries this attitude that his body, his mind, his feelings, his emotions, his spirit, his internal hurts and pains, his identity, all that he is is not really his, it is God’s, and so God can have His way in him, some ways which are mysterious and even painful, but he is God’s for God’s glory. And so what will be will be in Him, and he will trust the One who could have stopped it but chose not to, and believe that His purposes are high and they are holy. This is not our home, heaven is.
Some of you have testimonies that are Paul-like. Hard times, where you have been faithful, and seen God work mightily. We all as believers have those times. I love those stories, those accounts of God’s mighty work in one who lives by faith in Him. What a great place in which to live. Servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you struggle with complaining or grumbling? Why do you complain or grumble? At the root is selfishness. Where does selfishness fit in with our being servants of Christ? Sort of incompatible, isn’t it? And yet, it is a struggle. The solution is to do as Paul did, live close to the cross, keep the goal in mind of glorifying God. Be humbled by Christ’s work on the cross. Meditate on the work of Christ and how undeserving we are. Ask God to help us to love Christ, His work, more than our own selfish desires.
Paul is not a superhero, he is a man filled with a super God. That is our calling as well.
What do we prize most? Personal reputation and honor, or the truths of God reaching the lost? Paul chose the truths of God reaching the lost. Maybe you have not been in a position like this, but what if you were? What is most important to you? What do we choose? It is something to think about.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)