Mixed Motives behind Providential Proclamation
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Philippians 1:15-18
Mixed Motives Behind Providential Proclamation
December 15, 2019
I am so grateful again today to be in Philippians Chapter 1 to continue from last week. If you remember, last week we talked about the unbelievable reality that wherever God has you is where he wants you in order to be carrying out the work of evangelism and discipleship he has for you—that you are to be serving with all your heart no matter where you are, realizing he has currently and strategically placed you in the area of those who he wants you to share Christ with or to help grow in Christ. We discussed the fact that there are no waiting periods in the Christian life, no times where you are waiting for God to do something so you can get on to the next thing. God currently has surrounded you with your ministry field. You are not waiting for your next job or for a spouse or for the next big milestone in your life. Maybe even dying is the next big milestone for you. But you are right now where you need to be, and your job is to live faithfully in that place. Sometimes, yes, that will be taking another job or getting married, or facing imminent death, but rest assured, right now there are people in your life God wants you to minister to. This mindset we talked about last week makes logical sense because we serve an omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign God, and he has tasked us with the mission we currently have. So it makes complete sense that we are to think like this.
Whether we see it as clearly as Paul does in verses 12 through 14 we read last week or not, we can rest assured that whatever is happening to us is for the purpose of advancing the Gospel in a better way than it would we were in control of our circumstances. It’s so important that we embrace this understanding of the way God providentially orchestrates the circumstances in our lives in a way that best advances the Gospel before we move into the passage we are going to be looking at today because only one who has absolute confidence in the saving power of the Gospel and the sovereign God who causes it to advance at the rate and in the way that he wants it to, could say the type of things Paul says in Philippians 1:15 through 18. But since you do really need to be thinking about the context and what was said ahead in verses 12 through 14, let’s go ahead and read that whole section of verses 12 through 18 together.
*I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the Word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. *
As you read those verses, you can immediately see the need for trusting in a good and sovereign plan of God. Because as Paul begins to speak, as he beings to expand on what he said in verses 12 through 14—as he begins to say these things—and we’ll talk a little more about those who have become “more bold to speak” the Gospel—it seems at first glance like he is undercutting his previous point. “Wait a minute. I thought you just said that everything is better this way, but it turns out there is a bunch of people running around free while you were in chains and they’re using this as an opportunity to sin and cause you more suffering. How is the Gospel being advanced better that way while you are in prison if those who are taking your place out in the open are preaching Christ with sinful motives?” So you can see how this would lead to confusion and that is what we are going to seek to discover, seek to answer today. We want to understand what this passage is showing—that while it is true that Christ is proclaimed for differing reasons, identification with the Gospel will purify our motivation in our ministry. So I want us to understand today that identification with Christ through the Gospel will purify our motivation in our ministry.
If it is true the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, then the person who has been saved by this Gospel will see it is far more important that the Gospel is understood rightly and that they are understood rightly. It doesn’t matter if they’re misunderstood as long as the Gospel is understood. It doesn’t matter if they are thought of in a lowly way as long as Christ is treasured. This what we see from Paul. He further shows his absolute trust in a sovereign God by affirming the good of having Christ’s name proclaimed even while his name is just trashed. It is the message that is primary and not the messenger. And yet it would be wrong for us to look at this passage and conclude that as long as we are preaching truth, then it really doesn’t matter what is going on in our heart. If it is just about getting about the message clear, then maybe it’s not so important what’s going on in my heart.
In addition to exemplifying that we can rejoice whenever Christ is preached truthfully no matter what the intention behind the proclamation might have been, Paul is also using this as an opportunity to begin to teach the Philippians something he is really going to drive home later in the epistle—that the motivation in their heart actually really is important. And it does, in fact, point to what they really believe and understand about who Christ is. And that is what we are going to explore as we look at the first point in your outline. In the verses we are going to be looking at today, we see two very different groups of people who fall into the description from verse 14—those who are brothers who “have become confident in the Lord.” They fall into the category of those people who are much more bold now to speak the Lord without fear. We would not be surprised to hear that fellow Christians would become more bold to preach the Gospel because, like we said last week, watching others suffer well for the sake of Christ is inspiring. It is an encouragement to us. Yes, this is true. This is the truth. This is right. This is worth giving our lives for. We are encouraged as we watch others suffer well for the sake of Christ.
What is surprising, though, is that from among this group of those who have been identified as brothers arise some who are preaching Christ with wrong motives. It is important that we understand that these people are emerging from that group—the group of Christian brothers who have become confident in the Lord—the ones mentioned in verse 14. These are not those whom we can just fit neatly into the category of heretical false teachers. Some have suggested these people may be Judaizers—the opponents that Paul writes against in Galatians, and probably also the same false teachers that are apparently endangering the Philippian church that we will see mentioned in Chapter 3. But this cannot be correct. They cannot be Judaizing false teachers. There is no way that Paul would refer to Judaizers as “brothers.” He calls them “dogs” in Chapter 3. And just a quick scan of the book of Galatians would demonstrate to you even further that Paul would never rejoice in the preaching of the Judaizers. He would never rejoice in the gospel they proclaim because they are not about proclaiming a true understanding of Christ to unbelievers in order to win them to Christ. Rather, their goal is to claim a legalistic, works-oriented gospel of Christ to Gentile believers to influence them.
The remarkable truth is that both groups we read about in these verses are identified by Paul in the category of brothers who have been emboldened to preach Christ. In fact, as you look at this passage, that is the one thing the two groups have in common. As you go through this list, you can see the motivations and attitudes that are opposite to each other. The one unifying thing about them is that they both preach Christ. It is not different versions of Christ. It is not different gospels. Paul would never rejoice in that. The definite article is there in the Greek text in front of “Christ.” It remains untranslated in our English versions, but it is there. So it’s like saying, “They both preach the Christ,” the singular truth about Christ. They are not teaching a different Christ or a different gospel. So this truth is what should keep us from foolishly saying the same thing about every church in the city. There are lots of people who use this passage wrongly in a way to downplay differences in churches. They say things like, “Yeah, I’m sure we don’t agree on everything, but I’m like Paul, I just rejoice whenever Christ is preached. All other churches that name the name of Christ—we can rejoice that they are doing what they’re doing.”
Paul is not affirming everyone who just uses the name of Christ. He is not saying, “I’m just so thankful for anyone who talks about Christ, no matter what they might say.” That is not what is happening, though that is what we hear constantly by those who would like to create a unity where one cannot exist. Paul clearly does not believe that if you just read the rest of his letters. He is constantly confronting false teaching about Christ. We would be foolish to try to come together with other churches around a common acknowledgement of Jesus Christ. We can only rejoice in a right proclamation of what is true about Christ. There is no joy about a church that proclaims Jesus Christ but that fails to proclaim all that is true about Christ. That is not a ministry to rejoice in—it is the ministry we are here to try to save people out of. Paul is clear that these are brothers, though. They are not like that. At least in their proclamation. They preach the Christ, not a Christ of their own making. If they were not preaching the true Gospel, he could not rejoice.
Now, are we certain that all these people that Paul is referring to are truly regenerate Christians? That seems unlikely given that some of the words used to describe the motives of some of these detractors are found in some of Paul’s lists of vices that he uses to describe unbelievers and false teachers like the one in Galatians 5:21 and 21. There is another one at the end of Romans 1. But even though that is probably the case, Paul is not willing to place them outside the category of brothers at this point. He is content to allow for a category of true Christians who at least for a time may be preaching the true Gospel with some sinful motivations. In fact, given the content of the rest of this letter, what he is doing here is carefully using instructive wording in this passage for the benefit of the Philippians in order to lay down a foundation for some of his instruction that he intends to give later on. That is what he is doing.
It seems clear from the way Paul begins verse 15 that those in the Philippian church must have known something about Paul’s detractors in Rome—those who were preaching Christ but using it as an opportunity to malign Paul. The Philippians must have already known of their existence, and Paul knew they were aware of them because that is what we see in the phrase “some indeed,” or in some translations, “some, to be sure.” It is almost as if what he said in verse 14 was to encourage them—that his imprisonment was causing others to become more faithful in the proclamation of Christ. He needed to then immediately address an objection that he assumed is popping into the minds of those who are hearing this letter for the first time, who maybe knew of the existence of these detractors to his ministry. They had apparently heard there were those in the church in Rome who did not like Paul and who were using his imprisonment as an opportunity to promote their own ministry or just to disparage who Paul is. Paul seems to be conceding that point in what he his saying. He is saying, “Yes, there are those who seem to be only preaching Christ more boldly because of their disdain for me, but that doesn’t change the fact God is using my imprisonment in a greater way than if I was not in prison.” Paul conceded that these people—his detractors—are there.
Then he uses these next few verses to go into more detail than would be necessary about their sinful motivations, while also keeping them in the category of “brothers.” This is almost certainly for instructive purposes he has and instructive plans for the Philippians later in this letter. One of the things that is evident from this letter as you read through the whole thing is that Paul is concerned the believers in Philippi are in danger of allowing sinful motivations to influence the way they live. And he is really going to get into this later in the book. Paul seems be clearly setting them up for that right here. He wants to tap into an animosity they no doubt had for those who would dare to use the imprisonment of the Apostle Paul, the one whom we’ve already seen the Philippians love and care for and have so much concern for—they have an animosity certainly to those who would use his suffering as an opportunity to advance themselves. They would have been no doubt extremely bothered by this.
So Paul is kind of setting them up in a Nathan-before-David type of way. Paul is setting them up for later to see that they are in danger of living in that exact same way. Look at Philippians 2 verses 1 through 4, and you can see this.
*So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. *
These four verses in Philippians 2 lead up to what is certainly the most well-known passage in the Book of Philippians—verses 5 through 11. And it is in this context of Paul warning these beloved Philippians that they need to desperately call to mind the humility of Christ—that’s what we see in 5 through 11. They need to call that to mind. They need to remember that. They need to see Jesus that way—remember who he is, remember what he has done, look at his humility—or they will be in danger of being motivated by the exact same sinful impulses that these detractors to Paul’s ministry in Rome are motivated by. This is the context—Paul’s concern that they do nothing out of selfish ambition. Philippians 2:5 through 11 is one of the most significant christological passages in the entire New Testament and it is written to address that concern—to show what a big deal this is.
So when you see that language in verse 3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” it is strikingly similar to what we see in this passage this morning. As they are hearing this for the first time, Paul wants them to be equating their motives with Paul’s detractors, whom they no doubt they cannot stand. He wants them to see that later. If it were impossible for a true believer to ever be motivated by selfish ambition at any point, then Paul would not warn them in such a powerful way of that very danger in Chapter 2. As we look even further, then, into this first point in your outline, we, who are mindful of what is said throughout the letter, need to hear these words with the same concern for our own motives when it comes to our ministry—the same concerns that Paul intended to provoke in the Philippians. We can see as we look a little closer that Paul has organized these verses in a way that is supposed to lead us to compare and contrast these different motivations. We see two reasons, two motivations, set up to contrast each other in verse 15. And we see two more that are expanded a little further on in verses 16 and 17. And then two more contrasts in verse 18 that really serve as more of a summation of the two groups. So let’s continue to examine this passage through these sets of contrasting words that we see in these verses. So for your organization in your notes, you could use the following three subpoints: Subpoint A, Envy or Good Will; Subpoint B, Love or Selfish Ambition; Subpoint C, Truth or Pretense.
Subpoint A, Envy or Good Will. So, looking again at verse 15, it says, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” It says, “envy and strife.” We see these two words are used to contrast the singular concept of good will. So keep in mind Paul is saying these people who are brothers, or at least who came out of the Church—they are preaching the Christ. They are preaching the true proclamation of Christ in this way and they are motivated by envy and strife—and that seems unthinkable. The word translated as “envy” can be translated also as “jealousy.” One lexicon defines it by saying, “A state of ill will toward someone because of a real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person.” And that word translated as “rivalry” can be “strife,” with the idea of having to do with quarrels or enjoying quarrels.
We can kind of get the idea from these words that these are people who are argumentative toward Paul in some way. They can see that Paul’s prominence is underserved and they think they should have that same type of audience; they should have that same type of recognition. They are using Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to defame his ministry and magnify their own in some way. And the fact they remain in this category of brothers who have been emboldened to preach Christ without fear is amazing because that word translated as “envy” is the same word that is used to describe the motivation behind the Jewish leaders who have called for Jesus’ arrest in Matthew 27:18. That was their motivation. Paul is identifying these people as brothers—those who preach the true Gospel of Christ—and yet they are motivated by that same sin. This is in contradiction, then, to the others who preach Christ from good will, meaning that they had in mind what was best for others. That could refer to a few different things here. There are all kinds of good motivations for proclaiming Christ when you are talking about having in mind what is best for the brothers. So they could have in mind what is best for the glory of God and his kingdom rather than anything about themselves. They could have in mind the good of those who are hearing the Gospel—that certainly makes sense. This is a saving message they desperately need to hear, so of course they are doing something good for them.
But based on the common relational language of the terms we see in this passage and the fact the other words are directed at Paul, the “good will” Paul is probably referring to here is the good will they have in regard to Paul himself. They know Paul desires to be out in the city. That is what he desires. He desires to be out there among the people teaching and preaching, freely proclaiming the Gospel to whomever he can. But since he cannot because he is in chains for his faithfulness, these people want to take up the torch in his place. There is a good intent shown to Paul when they are motivated to do the ministry that he longs to do himself when they don’t let him bear the burden of that ministry on his own. I think it is easy for a lot of us to understand the good will expressed toward the person you are sharing the Gospel with. It is quite honestly the best thing you could do for someone whether they are a believer or an unbeliever—explaining the Gospel for the first time to an unbeliever and unpacking the reality of the Gospel to a believer. I think it is easy for us to understand that.
But I think it is easy for us to not see that what Paul was is expressing here is a cause for motivation at all—to totally miss that. Knowing that and thinking about the fact that all of the evangelism I do, all of the discipleship that I do also helps out brothers and sisters in Christ who will now have to do less, or will be able to lighten the burden of their ministry, like the leaders in the church especially. Is that how you see that? Could I just tell you that from a pastoral perspective that when I come and I stand up here—and I think I can speak for Travis and for the rest of the elders—as we stand up here and look around at the congregation and we see all of these wonderful people God has brought into our Church, whom he has made part of our family, we are overjoyed. But it’s the similar type of joy that comes with adding a member to your physical family. It is a joy when you see them. It is a joy as you watch them grow. There is a tremendous weight of responsibility knowing God has entrusted you with them. Look how we see a huge group of dear people whom we love, and all of them need to be discipled. All of us need to be discipled.
So with that in mind, speaking as a pastor, just about the most wonderful thing we can hear is something like, “Daniel is meeting with that guy over there. They are studying Scripture together. Kristy is working with that girl. Chuck is taking that man through some book, helping him along. That guy over there is in the group that meets up with Jack.” Hearing those types of things as a Pastor is like—I’m trying to figure out a way to describe it—it’s like someone actually crediting rest into your soul. That is what it feels like. It is better than that first cup of coffee entering your sleep-deprived body, seeing and understanding that the church is doing that. Have you considered that motivation when it comes to engaging in ministry? Because it is truly impossible to minister from envy and strife when you are thinking that way. I want to do what is good for the church. I want to put others above myself, and one of the best ways I can do this is by doing the evangelism and by doing the discipleship that others are seeing, that the elders are seeing, the spiritual needs that are burdening them, those things that are heavy on their hearts. I want to do those things. I am going to minister to those people in their place. I feel a sense of peace and joy just saying that.
And it is the same thing when you evangelize. Maybe you don’t see yourself as a gifted evangelist. Maybe you’ve had some bad experiences. Maybe you’ve been the recipient of some hatred from the world for the cause of Christ. But have you also considered the fact that not only is your evangelism an expression of love for God and faith in his power to save—and his power alone and not your efforts—not only is it an expression of your love toward that God and the person you are sharing with, but it is also a tangible way to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. As we all look out in the world and we see a world in desperate need of the Gospel, and we have an understanding that it is a load that must be shared. The type of thinking that says, “I refuse to be disobedient to Christ and unloving to my brothers and sisters in Christ by failing to lift as much of that load as God would give me the strength to do.”
With that in mind, it is much easier to understand the contrast Paul has in mind here. When you start to think of ministry in terms of, “I need to start pulling my weight around here because I don’t want to look like the only one not doing his job,” or, “I have been a Christian for a while now. I feel like I have really got a lot going for me that people are noticing. I should probably be getting more into different opportunities.” Or maybe you are thinking in your ministry something that sounds as innocent as, “Ah, what is wrong with me? I should be doing so much more than I am,” or, “Others just have these gifts I don’t have, and I wish I had those gifts.”
Feeling sorry for yourself is just another form of selfish, envious thinking. If you find any of these types of questions going through your mind, or maybe those are the things that are motivating you to be a better minster of the Gospel—so you hear a convicting sermon or you read a convicting book and you’re thinking questions like that—“Boy, I really need to step up. I really need to get things going. I don’t want to be looked down on. I don’t want to be the only one not doing something.” If that is what is driving you, those are signs your motivation is off. Your heart is in the wrong place. Someone who has the good will of others as their motivation will not be thinking along those lines. And they will never be miserable when it comes to their ministry. No matter what kind of response they receive, they can always know this, “I am lifting the burden so someone else doesn’t. I’m experiencing hatred that a brother or sister in Christ now does not have to.” They won’t be dominated by certain things they wish they were doing or with certain opportunities that aren’t available to them. They will be overjoyed by the good they are able to accomplish on behalf of others. They would take joy in the advance of the Gospel. They would take no pride and feel no disdain for their role in that advance.
Subpoint B, Love or Selfish Ambition. We see that in verses 16 and 17 the latter do it out of love. The “latter” are those who proclaim Christ out of good will. “The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.” Again, we see that Paul is relating either love or selfish ambition to these people’s relationship with him. In these verses, Paul gives a little more description of what these two motivations, these two reasons look like, which is interesting because for many people this whole section is actually frustrating, even for me as I am studying it, because of the lack of details as to exactly who these detractors were and exactly what they held against Paul. We really want to get to the bottom of that, but no one knows for sure clearly exactly what is happening here no matter what commentary you read. But thankfully in these verses we do get a little more detail—yet still nothing concrete.
He affirms that the same group who is preaching Christ out of good will is also doing it out of love. Because if the description of what that love is directly relates to him, then it is clear Paul doesn’t just have a general love in mind, but a specific love toward him. You can see that in the wording. This love is seen in the fact that they are those who know Paul is in prison for the defense of the Gospel. While we cannot be exactly sure about everything Paul’s detractors in Rome are saying about him, we can be relatively sure at least part of it had to do with saying or believing false things about why Paul was in prison. There could have been a number of things they were saying to detract from Paul. Some were saying Paul’s detractors use this as an occasion to make it sound like, “Well, if God really wanted Paul ministering, he wouldn’t let him stay in prison, would he? So he must be doing something wrong.” You could also imagine people using this as an opportunity to discredit some of the miracles they have heard mark the life of the Apostle Paul that demonstrated the fact he is an Apostle in saying things like, “Yeah, you really think someone whom God has done miracles through is going to be stuck chained to a Roman soldier? Didn’t think so.” There are other possible reasons they may have been espousing.
But what marks those who love Paul in this passage is that they know that he has been placed where he is for the defense of the Gospel. Their love is marked by knowledge of what is true. That should sound a little familiar. If we were quickly reading through this letter and I wasn’t expecting you to remember something that we talked about in October, then we would be reminded of his language here in verse 9 when we see how Paul is praying for the Philippians. Look at Chapter 1, verse 9: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” Paul is seeing in some of these Roman Christians the very thing he is praying for the Philippians. Their love is not just an emotional sentiment; it is based on what they know to be true about God and about Paul. It is easy to start running all over the place for them with all kinds of wild theories about what Paul is or is not doing that would make God decide he wants to punish Paul and imprison him. If that is your mindset and if you can’t see beyond all of that, and if you haven’t really died to this life, if you don’t really realize you are a slave to a sovereign God and he gets to place you where he wants, then you can jump to all of those conclusions. But if you know, as the Christians from verse 16 do, that it is God who has put Paul there, then they know there is a reason for it. That word translated “put” literally means to be laid somewhere or to be set somewhere or to be placed somewhere. That is why the NASB and other translations translated it as the word “appointed to.”
A right understanding of Paul’s circumstances knows that God has placed him exactly where he is. It believes the truth that he just said in verses 12 through 14. God has placed him exactly where he is, and one who truly knows Paul and knows what God has called us to as Christians also knows Paul has been placed exactly where God wants him for God’s purpose to see the faithful Paul defend the Gospel. They understand that; they know that to be true. On the other hand, we see in verse 17, “The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition.” And just as love is seen through knowing the truth about Paul and about God, selfish ambition is recognized through insincerity and attacks based on false pretenses. They could claim love, but it is insincere and done with impure motives. In addition, notice what it says there. It says they are “thinking to afflict Paul.” And that word translated as “thinking” literally means to “make a mental evaluation, but without certainty.” Paul seems to be purposely using that word to contrast it with the way the loving brothers know with certainty. In essence, what they are doing is jumping to conclusions, and then they are using these conclusions that are not based on what is actually true in order to attack Paul. Selfish ambition thinks and acts in such a way that you are always able to keep someone in that preconceived notion that you have about them—keep them in that box that you’ve always thought of them in. Love knows the truth about who God is, what God does, and who someone in Christ is.
There is a brother or sister in here in our church that you have some sort of negative opinion of. That is dangerous. There is someone in here you can think of or your can see and the first thing that comes to your mind is not joy that “they are my brother or sister in Christ.” You see something negative. Where does that unfavorable thinking come from? Maybe there is something about your first impression about that person that stuck with you. Maybe something they have done has made things harder for you, or at least you perceive that to be the case. Maybe that person was given credit for things you think you should also be getting credit for. You would not say any of that out loud, but in your heart, that is where you are. Maybe they have a ministry you want to have. Maybe they are not in the ministry you think they should be in. That type of thinking demonstrates a lack of real love and a pursuit of selfish ambition. That is the groundwork for selfish ambition. And if you’re just acting like none of that is a big deal, then you are also insincere.
Love is marked by the knowledge of that which is true about God and about others. God is working in that person’s life. If they are a believer—you know that. God is working in that person’s life. If they are in Christ, they are growing—because he has promised to grow and sanctify them. They are in a position to minister in a way God would have them minister in this season of life. Of course that ministry will grow. Of course that person will grow. Of course God will use them if they are a Christian—if they’re really a Christian. That person whom you initially classified as some joyless, impatient, unkind grump when you first met them—if they’re really in Christ, they will not stay that way. And for you to continue to qualify that person that way every time you see them is to deny the truth about God. Through his power, he will grow his people through his spirit. The fruit of his spirit will manifest itself in an increasing way throughout their life. Selfish ambition thrives on thinking these types of things about others because it is a roundabout way to keep feeling high about yourself. You might be able to think about a bunch of people in the church you love and truly think you know the best about them, and for whatever reason there are a few of these other people with just something about them that causes you to focus on the bad stuff in them, to think of them in a way you would hope no one else thinks of you. Don’t we trust our brothers and sisters to see us as those whom God is sanctifying? Looking down on our brothers or sisters in the church is a sure sign you are on the path of living and ministering in a way motivated by selfish ambition. That is what looking down on implies. “I am above.”
Subpoint C in verse 18, Truth or Pretense. Again, we see a contrast between those two things. “Pretense” simply means to hide the true state of things before others. These terms are really a summation of the two categories of brothers who are proclaiming the Gospel boldly with a different motivation we have seen in the previous three verses. So, we will just use this as an opportunity to summarize and apply this whole section. Those who proclaim the Gospel in pretense are those who are motivated by envy, strife, selfish ambition. They are those who jump to conclusions based on speculations or preconceived notions, rather than really understanding a matter. Then they try to inflict pain or discouragement on those who somehow get in the way of their selfish ambition. Those who proclaim Christ in truth are the ones who are motivated by good will and a love that is marked with knowledge about the reality of who God is and who his people are.
So we can see from these verses it is possible for someone to preach the true Gospel with impure, sinful motives in their heart at least for a time. And we can see that Paul really believes this is a danger that Christians need to guard themselves against. When you start to see any of these motivations manifesting themselves in your life in any way and you don’t work to kill them right then, then you should not be surprised when your motivation for something even as glorious as the proclamation can begin to become tainted by that same sin. That fact should be abhorrent to us because it is only the one who is motivated by good will, truth and love who can rejoice as Paul rejoices in this passage, which is the way we must respond when we hear that Christ is accurately proclaimed anywhere. That is the second point we are going to conclude with.
What is response when Christ is preached? Well, we have seen a wide variety of reasons that someone might proclaim the truth of Christ—some that are selfless, some that are selfish. There is only one right response that a Christian can have to the knowledge that Christ has been proclaimed—and that is joy. It is a joy that can only be experienced by those who are driven by a real love because it requires a depth of knowledge and ability to discern reality accurately. We have such a great responsibility in all of these things we have just looked at to really test our motivations because any ministry that comes out of envy or selfish ambition, even if it is completely true and it is theologically precise—such ministry, though, still fails to really understand the Gospel. We need to test ourselves and make sure the true Gospel of Christ is not only the content of our proclamation, but also what drives our proclamation. That is what all these things demonstrate. The one who is preaching out of good will, love and truth is one who is living in light of the reality of the Gospel. Envy, strife, selfish ambition—those can only exist in the life of a true believer to whatever degree that they are failing to really believe the Gospel in that moment.
When you understand the Gospel, when you understand the fact you were created by a holy, good and perfect God, that he created you in his own image, that you are a special creation to be in relationship with him, and you understand it is against that God you have rebelled, that you have forsaken and perverted the privilege of being an image bearer by rejecting him and his law and living for yourself instead and you, then understand this—God, who created you, is the just Judge of the universe, who cannot let sin or let lawbreaking go unpunished. Therefore, perfect justice demands you pay for your crimes, and only an infinite payment can satisfy the wrath that justice demands for breaking the law of an infinite God. Our life in eternity should be forfeit. We have no business continuing to live. We surely have no business experiencing anything but the wrath of a holy God for all eternity in hell. That is what our sins deserve. But God, who is rich in mercy, sent Jesus Christ. God became man. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, lived the perfect life we never could, never breaking the law, perfectlyrighteous, yet he went to the Cross and died in the place of those who would place their faith in him. On the Cross he took upon himself the infinite payment for our sins. As fully God, he is able to take the infinite penalty upon himself—and as fully man, he is able to be our representative. He is able to ransom mankind, and this was proven when God raised him from the dead.
And now, when God regenerates you and opens your eyes to this truth and you turn in repentance from your sin and toward your Savior, you place your faith in the life and death of Christ as your substitution. In his death, he paid the penalty for your sins, and in his life, he lived a perfect life that is now credited to you before God. You are not merely returned to the status of mankind before they sinned; you are now an adopted child of the Almighty God, a co-heir with Christ. You died to the life when you were a slave to your own sinful desires and selfish ambitions, and you are now able to live a life of good works and ministry that God has saved and kept for you—and that is all of God. There is no place for even a hint of selfish ambition in this message.
Why is it important that I be liked and respected and given prominence, position? Why is it important that I serve in that position I think I should be in? What was the reason for that again? For you to proclaim this message to someone—to anyone—and then be concerned about your own recognition, your own purposes? That can only be done by someone who has never really believed the message—someone whose heart has never truly been changed by it although they recite it as fact. Or by one who is at least in that moment failing to believe what they are saying—really finding their identity in this Gospel. Just as with Paul, it also makes you immune from personal attacks and criticism, it frees you from caring about what others may say about you because you live to please Christ.
Paul’s purpose in life is to see the Gospel advance, to see Christ proclaimed. And if that is your goal, then you will always have something to rejoice in. Paul’s identity is in the Gospel, not in his ministry. If it does not relate to presenting the Gospel more clearly, Paul has no interest in defending himself. “What then? […] Christ is proclaimed, and this I rejoice.” It is the Gospel message that is important to Paul, not the messenger. He sees this is the case when it comes to those around him, and when it comes to himself. It does not matter who likes you and who doesn’t—whatever the circumstances you are in, it doesn’t matter. Are you living and breathing within the reality of the transforming power of the Gospel? Do you see all of life through that lens? If you do, if that is how you are living, then you will proclaim it out of good will for others, out of love and truth because you must proclaim it. How could you fail to? You know its power, and you trust it is the Gospel of God, and you rejoice to hear it proclaimed whenever and wherever it is proclaimed truly and accurately. In fact, the clearer the proclamation of the glorious truth of the Gospel is, the harder it should be to focus on the mouthpiece of it.
So, in our Gospel ministry, there is no room for any type of selfish ambition. To begin to be concerned with how we are thought of by others or how we want to be seen by others or even wanting to prove ourselves—that is to deny the central tenant of the Gospel. I am an unworthy sinner. Not even worthy of another breath. I am saved by Jesus Christ, as we read in Revelation 5 earlier, who is worthy of all glory, all power, all recognition. Selfish ambition dies there.
Father, thank you so much for your Word. We thank you for what we can see from Paul here. Father, I pray we would be a people—a church—who lives in the identity we have in Christ, who lives out unity in Christ, an identity that has been made ours in the Gospel and has changed us. And when we have forgotten that, when we have let sinful motives creep in, I pray that now as we enter this time celebrating the Lord’s table, reminding us of the Gospel, that we would be able to put that to death. Thank you, Lord, for your grace. Thank you for this church. In Jesus’ name, amen.