The Serving Church

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)

I am excited about the message that God has for us this week! As you know, those of you who have been here a while, my practice is to preach through books of the Bible. Primarily books, sometimes we may take a chapter here or there but on a regular basis we go through books. Doing that, we are simply where we are each week as the book progresses. I think this is a good approach to preaching. One reason I think it is good is that we are forced, so to speak, to deal with difficult passages where we may be tempted to not preach those difficult passages. I think that is good and helps as we commit to preaching the whole counsel of God, not just the counsel that we may find easy or be comfortable with. Another reason I like preaching through books is that whatever has happened throughout the week, no one can think I picked the passage to go after them from the pulpit! You know what I mean? No, it is what it is and I like that. So this morning when I say I am excited about the passage we are in, it’s not because I picked it, it is because it is just where God has us in this journey through the book of Philippians.

Last week we looked at this same paragraph and we discovered that Paul is talking about two groups of people who were actively spreading, preaching, the gospel of Jesus Christ, primarily in Rome. Two groups of evangelists. One group, and the one we looked at last time, was problematic for Paul in a sense, although Paul does not let it drag him down. This problematic group, they were telling others about Christ and Christ’s gospel, but they were doing it out of really bad motives. They, knowing Paul was in prison, and not liking Paul and his influence on the churches, being jealous of Paul, they were spreading the gospel and making themselves seem more prominent in Paul’s absence in order to selfishly build themselves up. 

Paul had the most influence over the churches, he was the most prominent of the preachers, he was an apostle, he had been spoken to directly by Jesus Christ, had started many churches, visited many people groups and had even now been taken into custody by Rome partly because of his prominence. Paul was sort of “the guy,” the well known one. And others were jealous of him, so with him in prison they see an opportunity to exalt themselves, belittle Paul in hopes of becoming somebody in the eyes of the church people.

These men were acting religious, but had hearts of selfishness. They were preaching the true gospel, but doing so as if they had not really known it. They were calling on others to be humble – the gospel requires that, doesn’t it? – yet they were proud in what they were doing. A messed up group of people for sure. Preaching out of envy and rivalry, verse 15, and from selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment verse 17. That is a group we do not want to emulate. I’m afraid much of this happens today. Preachers, teachers, church leaders building their own little empires in the name of Jesus, yet with more of an eye on themselves than on our Savior. 

I was talking with a friend this week who is an elder in what we would call a mega church located in New York City. This mega church has a leader who is well known. Many are drawn to this mega church because of this well-known leader. This church, this leader, the elders there have decided to sort of disassemble this mega church and spread it out in the city in smaller groups, neighborhood churches not so dependent on one individual. This requires humility I believe. A humble leader, the church is not about a man, it is about Christ. Beware of those who seem to be exalting themselves or even seem to love being exalted by others. Paul was dealing with selfish people trying to be great, look great instead of lifting up Christ and Him alone.

A question that we must constantly ask in the church is, “Why are we doing what we are doing? What is driving our thinking, our decisions?” A question that we must always ask ourselves is, “Why am I doing what I am doing, what is driving my thinking and decisions?” And if what we are doing is not being done with the glory of our God and Savior in our sight, as our focus and love for Him and for our neighbor, then we really need to take a step back and rethink what is going on in our hearts and minds. We don’t want to become like those Paul is speaking of who primarily love themselves.

Listen to some of the New Testament language that emphasizes our need to let go of ourselves and our self contrived interests and to embrace Christ as everything in our thinking and in our doing:

I die daily (1 Corinthians 15:31); as dying, and behold, we live (2 Corinthians 6:9); the sentence of death was on us (2 Corinthians 1:9); carrying about in our body the death of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:10); while we live we are always being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:11); death works in us but life in you (2 Corinthians 4:12); being conformed to his death (Philippians 3:10); he who finds his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39); he who would save his life will lose it and he who loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33); he who wants to save his life will lose it (Luke 9:24); whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:24); he who loves his life loses it (John 12:25); he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:38); whoever would come after me must take up his cross (Matthew 16:24); take up your cross (Mark 8:34); he must take up his cross daily (Luke 9:23); whoever does not take up his cross cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27); put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13); I do not consider my life as of any account (Acts 20:24). John the Baptist “I must decrease, He must increase”

These are descriptive examples of attitudes that Christ wants us to carry with us as we minister in His great name. It is all for Christ Jesus, it is not for my reputation, my pride, my self-made kingdom. That is the message, that is how we are to think as we go and we do.

Joy-filled people have surrendered it all to Christ, miserable people are hanging on to all for themselves. The truth is for most Christians we too often vacillate between these two right? Even as we see from our text today.

So last time we considered ministry with bad motives, this week ministry with godly motives.

The second group of people that Paul describes are those who are gospel preaching and who are doing it, preaching the gospel, with honorable motives, godly motives. These are the ones who are pleasing both to Paul and to our Lord, here is where we can get on board and learn and seek to be like these who are going into gospel ministry with a right heart focus. Here is what Paul said of this group in verses 15 and 16. Here is where each one of us can with enthusiasm embrace the work of the ministry for the glory of God. Here is what Paul says:

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry (we talked about that troublesome group last week), 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. (Philippians 1:15-16)

When Paul speaks of those preaching Christ from goodwill, he speaks of a motive. This goodwill is toward Paul. They see that Paul can no longer be involved in preaching Christ publicly (he is in prison), so they have stepped in to pick up the slack. That is what is going on here. 

Paul’s ministry had been a very public, very effective ministry. It was a God-ordained ministry of getting this new message to a large population of people. Paul had done this public preaching faithfully. Now Paul continues to preach, but the public aspect of his ministry is severely diminished, his preaching ministry is now a more private, intimate one with the prison staff. Paul’s new ministry in prison has left a void as far as public proclamation of the gospel, right? And so what is happening? Others are stepping up, stepping in filling that great void of public proclamation and saying, “We’ve got this Paul, the message will continue to go out!”

I just love this, and here is why, I love this because what we see is that this gospel ministry, the spreading of the gospel message is not about the personality, the charisma, or the popularity of one man. It is not all about Paul. It is bigger than Paul. It is about God, who is orchestrating His plan through, not through one man, but through His church, through all believers! One man gets pulled away, pulled aside to work over here for awhile, God has many others to fill the gaps. Another goes to be with the Lord, others step in to continue the ministry. Tragedy strikes today in one’s life, someone else steps in. It is like there is a bench, a strong bench, and and it is filled with those who relieve, replace, come alongside, work together, faithfully pushing forward in ministry for Jesus Christ.

I just picture and think about every one of us, all of us, using our God-given gifts in full-blown ministry as God leads. Not 20% of us or even 50% of us but all, 100% of us using our God-given gifts, in ministry and doing so with a degree of flexibility, not staunchly holding on to some aspect of ministry but using our gifts where they are most needed and moving over here when there is more need over there and then over there when needed most, all working together as a healthy body works each of its parts for the good of the whole. It’s the church, you and me in action.

Tammy and I went on a trip together last week up to a cabin, a secluded cabin where we like to go, just to talk, relax, refresh, be reminded of the need for rest, to enjoy each other and the marriage that He has blessed us with, an important time for us, always. But as we were driving home we began talking about all the many ways we can be involved in God’s work. We talked about people we know who have kids with radical special needs, these kids that are getting older and will eventually need a place to go as their parents get older and cannot care for them any longer. There aren’t many options for these with severe disabilities, there are needs for well-run, group homes, but government money is drying up. Where will they go is the question. 

Foster kids age out of the system, with no place to go, how can Christians help them? People with addictions, who cannot afford care, many become homeless or felons, how can we help? Young ladies with unplanned pregnancies, eating disorders, not many options for them. The homeless across our country, many of whom have come here from other countries thinking to find easy work, many cultures coming together with no work, no home, no friends or family. We can go on and on with groups of people in need, with no solution in sight. But what if this were to happen, what if all Christians across our land begin serving actively, faithfully, with their time and money, all the energy they could afford, serving faithfully in the churches, I wonder how many of these current dilemmas would be resolved? We cannot do all of this here, but what if we did what we could do and do it faithfully in the name of Christ, what would that look like for us?

Men and women were stepping in for Paul, stepping in for Him as part of the faithful church when his circumstances changed, plowing ahead, giving their time, possibly money and great effort, there was no gap in gospel ministry, that is what the church is to be about.

Paul goes on to say, “16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.” This faithful group of evangelists do what they do out of love for Paul and Christ. Their great motive is love. Love for God and love for their neighbors. Their love for God will not allow them to be silent. Their love for their neighbors also will not allow them to be silent. 

Paul has a new assignment. He says that he knows he has been put in prison for a reason, for the defense of the gospel. Put in prison. You can picture Paul preaching publicly, proclaiming Christ to the nations and God taking Him, picking him up and putting him in prison – “Here you go, here is your new assignment,” and at the same time backfilling the void by also putting others where he had been. Each one being available and ready to serve where God would have them to serve, everyone having a place. Again, it is the body, working effectively together, functioning rightly, as God intends.

Paul understood his ordeal. His new job, the defense of the gospel at the highest of levels, the highest level of the Roman Empire. Now, everyone is in place, God’s work being done, not by one person, or just a few, but through the activity of God’s people the church.

God is as active today in His church among His children to accomplish His goals as He ever was in the first century as we read about this morning. It is a beautiful thing, pleasing to God to see churches living loudly in their service to Christ. Listen to the way Paul speaks of a particular church, the church in Thessalonica:

2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10)

Do you see this working out of gospel ministry in the lives of the church people? Work of faith, labor of love, steadfastness of hope, all in the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel revealed in the power of the Holy Spirit with full conviction. The presence of joy even in affliction, they became examples for others as God’s Word sounded forth from them. It is the church at work out of love. Some going here, some going there, some put here by God, others put over there, some moving around creating voids, God filling the voids with other people, works of faith, labor in love, all with great hope in God! But everyone, all of God’s people, His children, actively serving. That is what the church is to be. Exciting stuff!

Paul concludes this paragraph with verse 18 – “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” Paul’s joy lies in his perspective. His ability to see the big picture, to see what God was doing, to believe in God’s goodness. Christ is being proclaimed and in that he rejoiced. It is Paul’s sound theology that aids him in his joyfulness. Paul is not simply a positive thinker, no, he was a man whose theology was in good order. He learned by the grace of God to see things from a divine perspective with deep conviction. Also, Paul is a man with a single passion for Christ. Paul is leading his listeners, including you and me today, to do, to live the same way.

Where can we step in to serve in love for the sake of our Savior? How can we reorganize our ways to be more involved with our time and money for the work of Christ. What priority are we giving to gospel ministry? Does the time that we spend serving others seem appropriate as those who would say, “Christ is everything to me”? Would God have me make some changes in my priorities so that I can be more available to love my neighbors in the name of Christ? Do my finances say, “Christ is my all in all”? 

Are we making a difference in our community, in our relationships, as Paul did in his?

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)