Gospel Manners

Philippians 1:15-18

Our culture consumes sarcasm, witty comebacks, name-calling, and verbal putdowns like an undisciplined child consumes candy and soda. We find ourselves strangely drawn towards this sort of arrogant, self-confident talk, cheering for and following people who speak this way. While this kind of communication may seem to show confidence and courage, it usually reveals the opposite. It usually reveals fear and insecurity instead.

How do you respond when someone else seems to have a better argument, more effective strategy, larger following, or somehow threatens your position, reputation, or success, whether in perception or reality? Do you respond with insecure, self-confident remarks or do you respond with calm and enthusiastic confidence in Christ instead?

Paul’s words in Phil 1:15-18 reveal a nobler response, what some may call “taking the high road.” Taking the high road is an English idiom which means that when someone treats you unfairly or wrongly or somehow breaks the rules to gain an advantage, you should refuse to do the same, graciously persisting in the most ethical, moral, and noble course of action in response, even if doing so places in you in what seems to be a weak position. Christ himself taught this very course of action (Matt 5:38-41):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”

As a follower of Christ, I must embrace this mindset – for it is more than a strategy, a way of responding to hurtful behavior. It is a response that comes from a genuine inner heart belief and conviction that when I experience either competitive or hurtful behavior – even from and especially from other professing believers – I can respond with the gentleness and nobility of Christ, knowing that God is working out a greater good for his glory, even if that greater good comes at my own expense.

Let’s take a look.

Some believers serve Christ for wrong reasons.

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife … the former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains …

According to Paul, some professing believers “preached Christ” for wrong and hurtful reasons. We don’t know much about these people, because Paul never names or identifies them as anything more than “some,” though he does identify them as a group withing the “brethren in the Lord” in the previous sentence (1:14). So, best as Paul could tell, these were genuine followers of Christ who had not yet experienced Christlike change in the realm of their ministry motivations.

These people “preached Christ,” meaning that they explained and taught the gospel to others, perhaps more consistently and publicly than you may do, yet with faulty motives.

  • Envy refers to jealousy.
  • Strife refers to argumentation.
  • Selfish ambition refers to selfish reasons, much like when politicians adopt policies and positions for the benefit of their political party, platform, or fundraising efforts, not because they genuinely care about the issue at hand. Not sincerely extends this description by emphasizing how the motives are mixed and not pure.
  • Supposing to add affliction to my chains means that these people hoped to either extend or intensify Paul’s prison sentence or even to end his influence and ministry by an unfavorable verdict or sentence of execution.

Just as we don’t know much about who these people were, we also don’t know much about why they held such negative feelings and views towards Paul. We do know that Paul had many adversaries.

  • Some disliked his teaching because he did not insist on a legalistic observance of the OT law.
  • Others disliked his teaching because he was a Jew.
  • Still others disliked his teaching because it tended to increase personal and group suffering in the church, causing embarrassment for them.
  • Still others seemed to dislike him because his influence and popularity overshadowed their own.

Whatever the case, these people knew that Paul was in prison, so they preached the gospel in such a way that they hoped to increase his suffering while minimizing or silencing his influence, hoping to increase their own influence and methodology instead. This was one of the outcomes of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome.

Other believers serve Christ for right reasons.
And some also from goodwill … but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel …

Thankfully, not everyone attempted to marginalize Paul at this time. Though some certainly did, others did not but preached Christ more confidently for good and wholesome reasons, not competitive ones.

  • Goodwill refers to good and noble motivations, whether towards God or Paul or both.
  • Love refers to a proper and sincere commitment to care for an value what is good and right, with an added relational element that sought to appreciate and respect both Paul and God in their ministry efforts and approach.

These followers of Christ recognized that Paul’s imprisonment was for a just and noble cause which did not place the gospel and the testimony of Christ in a negative light. They wished to associate with him in his suffering, not distance themselves from him. They desired his success not his demise.

A joyful believer praises God regardless of other’s motives.
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.

Having acknowledged both responses to his imprisonment for the gospel, Paul explained his outlook on them both. As you might guess, the first response was a rather concerning and frustrating one, a response which might have diminished his joy and increased his anxiety. This was likely what the believers at Philippi were feeling on his behalf. Yet Paul expressed a very refreshing and surprising approach, one we should also embrace.

Paul insisted that he saw value in both responses, the response of those who wished to silence him and the response of those who wished to associate with him. Why? Because in both cases, Christ was being preached. For this, Paul did not merely tolerate the difficult response, but he rejoiced in it instead. Rather than fixate and meditate on the differences and the hardship that some were causing in his life, he rejoiced that their message still emphasized Christ, even if it placed himself – Paul – in a negative light.

To help us understand what Paul is doing here, let me offer an example from the working professional world. When a professional, such as a plumber, restaurant owner, or financial advisor, establishes a successful business, he or she will inevitably hire and train additional employees. Over time, some of these employees may take the experience and training they have received to branch out and start their own business, providing some measure of competition.

  • Some of these former employees may take the questionable approach of offering the same goods and services to the same clientele, presenting themselves as the better alternative, perhaps even seeking to put their former employer out of business by offering superior results.
  • Others of these former employees may take a higher road. They may focus their efforts on new clients, even providing referrals to their former employer and using their former employer’s name and business as a positive reference, seeking to be viewed as an appreciative associate and friend.

If you are that original employer, what is the classiest, more professional response to these possible outcomes? It is to recognize that in either case, you have made a significant contribution to your community and field or sector of work and that regardless of how your own business fares, your influence has produced a larger, more competitive environment which will benefit your community to an increased degree.

This is the secure, mature, and humble response which increases joy and diminishes anxiety. The insecure, immature, and arrogant approach would be to go on a public campaign against your competition, promoting yourself as the better, superior option. Such a response reduces your joy, however, and increases your anxiety.

How does this illustration carry over into the church? Here’s an example. In so many U.S. communities, numerous churches exist. Some of these churches do not preach the gospel and should not be included here. Even so, numerous churches in many communities do preach the gospel and lift up the truth about Christ – but not for all the same reasons.

  • Some churches exist because they genuinely care about spreading the gospel and developing new and better followers of Christ.
  • Others exist because they are reacting to what they perceive to be distasteful or wrong beliefs or practices by another church in town.
  • Others exist because its members are attracted to the personality or leadership and ministry style of a particular pastor or pastoral team.
  • Still others exist because they are a group of friends who identify with each other for other reasons, such as stage of life, a shared school, etc.
  • Still others exist because they share a common ethnic background or culture.

Among these motives are a range of good and bad, or more or less commendable motives. This does not mean that all such churches are equally healthy or glorifying to God. At the same time, if all of these churches are preaching the gospel and representing the truth about Christ to our community, then we should choose to focus on that supreme and simple fact as the cause for our rejoicing.

Pastors of churches need to take this truth to heart so that they do not develop an arrogant or competitive spirit towards other pastors and churches in their community. This is a professional challenge that all pastors face.

At the same time, this challenge extends to all the members of a church. As members of Brookdale, we should praise God for the other gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting churches in our community. We should refuse to resent them, refuse to view them as our adversaries, and refuse to wish them ill will.

The challenge here is one of motives. When our motives are pure and our sincere and simple desire is to extend the truth of Christ to our community, then we will rejoice whenever and wherever this occurs. Even if there are churches and ministries which resent us and wish ill will towards us, we should not resent them but should thank God for them. Only God knows, however, if this is truly and genuinely the condition of our heart.

When arrogance, elitism, superiority, and a competitive spirit fuels our service for Christ, we are more like the people who caused difficulty for Paul, even though her still praised God for them.

As we consider Paul’s attitude towards these believers who sought to increase his suffering and marginalize his influence, we learn something profoundly helpful and valuable when it comes to reducing the anxiety load that we carry. We should learn evaluate people and ministries based upon their faithfulness to the gospel message about Christ and let God determine motives. When we concern ourselves with judging and justice regarding a person’s inner heart motives, we take on a role which we are unable to handle well.

  • First, we are poor judges of motives for motives are only clearly visible in the heart.
  • Second, even when we – as Paul did here – seem to have a good read of a person’s motives, we are generally unable to respond to those motives (whether real or presumed) in a just and impersonal way without increasing our anxiety load.

So, as with Paul, even when another believer’s motives in ministry cause increased difficulty and hardship for you, you should refrain from responding in kind and rejoice that their efforts are still communicating the truth about Christ, even if their efforts make life more difficult for you.

Such a humble, Christ-centered approach decreases anxiety and increases joy, even in the middle of difficult, ongoing treatment by others. That’s why Paul says, “In this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”

  • “I rejoice” tells us that he chose to be glad for this.
  • “Yes” is a word that attempts to underscore and emphasize that he is saying.
  • “and will rejoice” tells us that he will continue to choose to be glad for this, even if the difficult people succeed in increasing his hardship and marginalizing his influence.

No wonder it was hard to get Paul down! May God grant us the maturity and wisdom to take the same approach ourselves today. Doing so will go a long way in reducing your anxiety and increasing your joy in life, I assure you. It is liberating indeed.

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