Philippians 1:12-18 reads, in context:
“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ EVEN FROM ENVY AND STRIFE, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ FROM SELFISH AMBITION, NOT SINCERELY, supposing to add infliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether IN PRETENSE or in truth, CHRIST IS PREACHED; and in this I REJOICE, YES, AND WILL REJOICE.”
We see from the context of the passage that the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached even by those who did so with improper motives. Paul did not address a situation when a false Christ or a false gospel was preached. He pronounced a CURSE on all those who did or would be doing so (Galatians 1:6-9; compare 2 Corinthians 11:4). Here, ministers preached the truth–but some preached the truth with improper motives!
WHY did Paul rejoice, then? He did NOT rejoice over the fact that those ministers had improper motives–but he DID rejoice that the true gospel was preached. There is a FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE: The preaching of the gospel helped OTHERS, who heard the truth–but it did NOT help those ministers who preached “from selfish ambition” and “in pretense.”
Some–if not many–ministers in the modern Church of God did preach the gospel to others at one time, but they did NOT do so with a true and sincere heart. They might have acted in that way as part of their job description with their human organization–acting within the course and scope of their employment–to secure or maintain a paying job and/or to just gain prestige within the Church. But when the time of trial and testing came, they failed miserably, leaving the truth behind and adopting error and apostasy (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4)–again sometimes in order to maintain their job or their “position.” They were not sincere to begin with–they were mere hirelings (compare John 10:11-13). Sadly, this is still true today for some. There are those who taught the truth; subsequently adopted error and taught heresy; lost their job with their employer who propagated such apostasy; had a sudden “awakening”; got employed by another Church organization; and “rediscovered” the truth which they are now teaching. BUT, is it wrong to ask: HOW SINCERE were they then, and HOW SINCERE are they now?
What we have been observing in recent years in the Church of God is not different from what Paul is describing in the first chapter of the letter to the Philippians. Yes, as Paul rejoiced then, so we should rejoice today when the truth is being preached–but this does NOT in any way exculpate or justify those who preach the truth with IMPROPER motives.
The Life Application Bible explains Philippians 1 as follows:
“Paul had an amazingly selfless attitude. He knew that some were preaching to build their own reputations, taking advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to try to make a name for themselves. Regardless of the motives of these preachers, Paul rejoiced that the gospel was being preached. Some Christians serve for the wrong reasons. Paul wouldn’t condone, nor does God excuse, their motives, but we should be glad if God uses their message regardless of their motives.”
The Nelson Study Bible adds:
“Those preaching from envy and strife were not heretics… But apparently they were jealous of the attention Paul received, and they determined to sow seeds of dissension in order to cause him trouble.”
Note, too, the following comments from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“… [These ministers did not act because] of ‘envy’ to Christ, whom they preached, but of envy to the apostle; they envied his gifts, his usefulness and success in the ministry; and he being now in bonds, they thought it a proper opportunity to exert themselves… hoping they should meet with the same success, and gain great honour and applause in the church…”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible elaborates:
“It would seem… there was a party which was jealous of the influence of Paul, and which supposed that this was a good opportunity to diminish his influence, and to strengthen their own cause…”
The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown agrees, stating:
“Some indeed [were] preaching Christ even for envy, that is, to carry out the envy which they felt towards Paul… they wished through envy to transfer the credit of its progress from him to themselves.”
Finally, The Broadman Bible Commentary gives the following succinct explanation:
“There is no hint that Paul’s rivals were considered heretical… in question was not the soundness of their gospel but their motives. These may have been jealous of the attention given Paul, even as a prisoner… Presumably Paul’s opponents thought that their success would afflict Paul by making him jealous. To the contrary, Paul could rejoice that they at least proclaimed Christ, even if for unworthy motives. This is not to discount the importance of motive, but it is to recognize that the gospel has its own power even when proclaimed by people lacking in motive and character.”
Jesus Christ faced a very similar kind of issue during His ministry. He constantly warned about the approach of the scribes and Pharisees; however, He also recognized that they were fulfilling a role for which God would hold them accountable:
“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; FOR THEY SAY, AND DO NOT DO'” (Matthew 23:1-3).
The preaching of those ministers of Paul’s day might in fact have helped others—but it did not do THEM any good. The same can be said today. True ministers of God must preach the gospel and feed the flock with a pure and clean heart–their motives must be sincere and in furtherance of the Will of God. Ministers are not to look for prestige and human glory; they are not to embrace titles that are reserved for God; or which they are not qualified to possess. Still, if and when the truth is preached, we should rejoice–but we should not, even in our minds, justify their wrong motives and REASONS for preaching the gospel–including such motives as pride, self-aggrandizement, envy towards others, recognition within the Church or community; or the desire for a position and a well-paid job.
For more information and further discussion on Philippians 1 and related passages, please watch our recent sermon, which is posted on Google Video, titled, “Envy – A Deadly Poison”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link