We come now this morning to that sacred time when we open God's precious Word. The psalmist says it “is more to be desired than gold, yea than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey from the honeycomb.” I hope you find the Word of God both valuable and sweet as I do.
Let's open our Bibles to Philippians chapter 1, and we are in our ongoing study of this wonderful section from verse 12-26, a section we've entitled, "Joy in the Ministry." Now the apostle Paul is a living example of having joy in the ministry when the ministry, in and of itself, was very, very difficult. The key verse in this text, a rather long paragraph, in which he says, "I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice." And that statement is a bit emphatic, almost authoritarian, almost defiant in some ways, as if it ran contrary to everything we might suspect, he will rejoice in spite of everything. This is a great insight into the true joy of ministry in spite of circumstances that are not favorable on the surface.
Before we look into the text let me just help us to get a little bit of a running start. I have occasion to speak to pastors quite often and church leaders, and frequently I am asked this question, very frequently: “What is the most discouraging thing in the ministry?” “What is the most discouraging thing in the ministry?” Now, as far as I can remember, I have answered that question fairly consistently over the last number of years. Two things are the most discouraging, distressing things in the ministry. Number one is people who choose to live and behave at a lower level than they should, based upon their spiritual knowledge and experience. Let me say that another way. It is extremely discouraging in the ministry when a believer who knows the Word of God well and who has experienced significantly the blessing of God's spiritual growth - Christian fellowship - who then almost defiantly turns his back on it and walks away into sin - very discouraging. Much more discouraging than a new Christian who falls into sin, or an untrained Christian who stumbles into sin because they're ignorant of God's Word. The heartbreaking thing in the ministry is people who know very much about Scripture and very much about spiritual living and have had great spiritual experiences and have seen the movement in the power of God and know what it is to really to walk in the Spirit and choose to walk away from it and engage in sin - very discouraging. People who know better acting as if they didn't.
And the second thing that I always bring up when I'm asked that question is the second most discouraging thing in the ministry is being falsely accused, falsely accused by those who are your fellow preachers of Christ - very difficult, very difficult. There are people who want, for whatever agenda they have, to discredit your ministry. And so they falsely accuse you. They aren't doing it from the world of unbelief; they're fellow preachers of Christ. Very hard to deal with. Obviously I've been in the ministry long enough to have experienced both. I seem to be in the midst of experiencing the second of those two right now, and I confess to you that I am not seeking to serve my own interest by preaching this. This just happens to be where we are. But it hits a bullseye as to where I am currently. So if I leak a little in the process of getting this over to you, you'll understand. It's very difficult to deal with being falsely accused by people who also preach Christ, who are your fellow servants of Christ but for some reason want to discredit and harm your ministry.
You say, "Well, why do you bring that up?" Because that's exactly what Paul brings up in this passage. That second issue is the issue of verses 15-18, look at them. "Some, to be sure," he says, "are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice."
The pain runs very deep, by the way, when other preachers of the gospel slander, malign, misrepresent, criticize, accuse, oppose, belittle a person's ministry. That's very difficult. And I'll tell you why. To be trusted is the stock and trade of the ministry. To be believed is the stock and trade of the ministry. To be considered a faithful teacher of God's Word is essential foundation for the ministry. And so when you go into the ministry as a young man, as I did, the first number of years in the ministry your whole endeavor is to lay a foundation of integrity and credibility so that people believe you, so that when you speak they trust what you say. If people don't trust what you say, you have no ministry.
And so you spend a great amount of effort trying to be a diligent student of God's Word, so that when they check the Word for themselves, like the noble Bereans, they find out that what you told them was the truth. And you endeavor to so circumscribe your life that you live a godly life that underpins your integrity of word so that people who look at your life say it's real. So anyone who is young in the ministry knows that the early years are spent endeavoring to be faithful to the study and diligent in the preparation, and deep in the Word so that when people listen to you they know it's the truth, and to concentrate on the character of your life so that your life undergirds what you say. And I confess to you that that has been the purpose and direction of my life for many years - to be trustworthy, to be faithful, to be known as a man who is true to the Word of God, faithful to the Word of God, faithful not only to teach it rightly - rightly dividing it - but faithful to live it rightly, that when he speaks you can listen and know this is true. He can be believed. He's trustworthy. That is the stock and trade of ministry. If you lose that, you've lost it all.
It would be like a doctor who wants more than anything else to gain the confidence of his patients, but if they all die in surgery nobody is going to be there very long to visit him, to get his diagnosis or to let him put his hands on them. There is in the spiritual dimension that same reality. It's the same in any profession. You don't go to a mechanic who makes things worse when you're done than when you went. In the ministry, everything is based upon you being believable, you being trustworthy. Because basically all we do is speak and teach. There's nothing mechanical about the ministry. You either accept it as true or you reject it. And being believable takes years to lay that foundation. And so that's why it's so difficult when all of a sudden you realize that you're being attacked and slandered.
In the last couple of years that's happened to me amazingly. I suppose I never expected it. I guess, in a sense, if your conscience is clear and you feel you're doing what God wants you to do, you think you might sort of slide through this life without any of that. That's not the case, however. In recent months and even the last few years I have been called a heretic. That's not a word you want to throw around lightly. I have been accused of being a perverter of the Bible. One man suggested that I reject the true Bible altogether. There have been pamphlets about me, booklets about me, theses about me, tapes and sermons have been produced about me with the goal, the single goal, of discrediting my name and ministry. In fact, some of you in the church have received a flier in the mail which lists about fifty tapes that you can get that attack John MacArthur. I didn't really know there was that much to say about me. And there are even people in the church here who would chime in on some of those kinds of things.
Now I want you to understand that I don't want to be self- seeking or self-defensive in this at all. I really, I'm really not reacting because of my own personal self. The Lord can use someone else. The kingdom does not depend on me. This church does not depend on me. The Lord's work does not depend on me. If I had my way I'd go to heaven and get done with all this stuff and just - I mean heaven sounds much better than anything I've seen here - to be with the Lord. The Lord doesn't need me. The kingdom will go on without me just fine. So it's not that I need to protect myself.
When somebody said, "You know, we've got to get Jimmy Swaggart back in the ministry quick or all these millions of souls will go to hell," I don't believe that. I don't believe any man is indispensable. And I'm not indispensable either. So it isn't a self-seeking kind of thing. But the despair and the distress and the pain comes because no one who really, honestly serves the Lord Jesus Christ wants anyone to think that he is a discreditor of Christ. That's the issue. I don't want to bring reproach upon the name of Christ. And because of some attacks - when I get a letter from some lady in North Carolina or somewhere who says, "I'll never listen to you again. You're a heretic, and you've dishonored Christ with what you teach," and so forth and so on. That's what grieves my heart because that brings reproach on Christ. And I would never want to do that, or misrepresent His Word.
Now I guess you expect, you expect that from the unsaved world. You expect the Christ-rejecting world to be malicious. I do. I even expect some of the Bible-denying liberals to be malicious toward me. I just had such an occasion when I was confronted by a confused philosopher who wanted to attack the fact that I was egotistical enough to think that I knew the truth about God and about the things the Bible teaches. I expect that from the liberals. I expect it from the Christ-rejecting world. I expect lawsuits from people who resist the gospel. I expect rejection of the teaching of God's Word by those who pervert Scripture. But the hard thing is to be falsely accused by those who are fellow preachers of the truth of Christ. And all the accusation is unjust and untrue. This is very discouraging.
And to be honest with you, when I got into this passage in the last couple of weeks, I found myself being comforted with Paul because he was going through the same thing. And if Paul had to go through this, I feel much better about it because I'm not anywhere near being in his league. And it's just kind of nice to know I'm in the same deal. That's a little bit confirming to me. And the bottom line so often for Paul was, "I have a clear conscience." He says that repeatedly. And I've been saying that to Patricia lately. "My conscience is clear, honey, my conscience is clear." She's probably getting tired of hearing that, but if I could label something in my life that I knew I needed to change, I would do that. And still the onslaught comes. I understand that. I understand exactly what Paul was going through here, in a small way; certainly not in the fullness of what he endured.
But then again, look at Jesus. Jesus was falsely accused. The whole populace turned on Him and killed Him. And He never did one thing wrong; never thought one thing wrong; never said one thing wrong. And they killed Him. And all He did was commit Himself to God, a faithful Creator. That's all Paul did.
Thomas Manton, one of my favorite Puritan writers, said, "God is the most powerful asserter of our innocency" - great statement. “God is the most powerful asserter of our innocency.” "Therefore," he said, "it is best to deal with God about it and prayer proves a better vindication than self-defense." That's good. Go to God. “God is the most powerful asserter of our innocency.”
So, you look at Paul. And that's obviously what Paul did because in the middle of all of this false accusation, at the end of verse 18, he says, "I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice." It couldn't steal his joy. It was discouraging. It was distressing. It was disheartening, discomforting. It was a pain to the body of Christ. It was a terrible disruption to the church. Not unlike the Corinthians where one was of Paul, one was of Peter, one was of Apollos, and one little group was of Christ. And they were all in conflict with each other. There were the pro-Pauls and the anti-Pauls in the church at Rome, and that was not a comfortable thing. He didn't like that. But he maintained his joy in spite of it. And that's the lesson we learn in this whole paragraph - joy in the ministry.
Charles Simeon, writing in the last century, reminds us that this is pretty common in the church. He said, "Let a holy minister arise in the established church" - by that he meant a blessed, unique servant of God - "and what efforts will be used to draw away his people. Preachings, prayer meetings, societies, will all be formed for this very end and persons of popular talent will be brought from a distance to further the base design," end quote.
Right on target. Right on target. He said let somebody be an anointed and an unusually gifted minister of God and watch people attack him in their preaching, their prayer meetings, their societies, and even people will go from great distances to proclaim against him and carry out the base or evil design. So it's to be expected, but it shouldn't touch our joy, and that's what we're going to learn from Paul. Since joy is the measure of spiritual strength, we would expect in Paul an unbreakable joy because he's so spiritually strong and his joy doesn't break. We said last time that wherever your joy breaks down, that's the point of your spiritual weakness. With Paul his joy remained, even under these tremendous personal accusations that he was receiving.
Now do you remember what we pointed out last time? There are four areas of thought in this paragraph, from verse 12-26. We've been taking them one at a time. The first one we said was Paul has joy in spite of chains, or in spite of trouble, as long as Christ's cause is furthered. You remember that? Go back to verse 12, "I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances" - that is my present incarceration and being chained to a Roman soldier, having lost my privacy and my freedom - "have turned out rather for the progress of the gospel." So he says, "Look, I rejoice, in effect, in my chains as long as the gospel progresses." And then he explains how it's progressing, verse 13. The first thing that's happening is the gospel is going “through the whole praetorian guard and to everybody else.” God is saving the men that are chained to Paul. God is saving people in the praetorian guard that were responsible for him. And God is saving people in Caesar's household, as chapter 4, verse 22, points out. There's a revival going on among unbelievers, and everybody else in Rome is getting the word.
The second way the gospel is progressing is in verse 14, inside the church. Not only outside the church but inside, in that "brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment" - or literally “being confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment” - "have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear." It's making the church more bold because they're seeing that even if you're in prison you can still have a ministry. And so they're willing to be bold and leave the results to God.
So, he says, "Look, I don't care about the chains twenty-four hours a day for two years. I don't care about being chained. I don't care about being incarcerated. I don't really care about being stuck with a Roman soldier all these years, never having privacy, never being alone. I don't care about losing the freedom and not being able to travel and go to churches and plant - I don't care about that as long as the gospel is progressing." Now there is a selfless man who didn't live for himself, who didn't live for his own plans but was totally, totally able to rejoice if the gospel went forward, no matter what happened to him. What happened to him was not an issue.
Now let's go to the second element in his joy. The first one, he rejoiced in spite of trials or troubles or chains, as long as the cause of Christ was furthered. Secondly, he rejoices in his detractors as long as Christ's name is proclaimed. Even the people falsely accusing him couldn't steal his joy. He has joy in spite of detractors as long as Christ's name is proclaimed. Now what do you mean detractor? Maybe we need to define the word for you so you'll understand. That is a good word, by the way; it's a good word. The dictionary says this: "a detractor is a person who belittles or devalues the reputation of someone - who belittles, devalues, or attacks the reputation of someone." A detractor is someone who wants to tear someone else down, and Paul had them. Hard to imagine - such a faithful soldier, such a beloved servant of God, such a godly man - but he had his detractors. He was that marvelous, holy, godly, powerful, successful, blessed man who was a problem to big egos and men with impure motives.
Among those who were made courageous, verse 14, you see it there? “The brethren who have far more courage to speak the word”? Among those preachers in Rome, those brethren who were preaching the gospel, there were two kinds, okay? Two kinds. The first kind that he mentions in verse 15 were the detractors. And while they were preaching the gospel their real agenda was to discredit, defame, accuse, criticize, belittle, devalue, dishonor Paul. Almost unbelievable kind of treatment. Their whole perspective in ministry was to attack Paul. That's what made their blood flow, that's what got them up in the morning. That's what really they wanted to sink their teeth into - let's destroy Paul. Let's depreciate his reputation. And so he mentions them in verse 15, look at it. "Some” - What do you mean “some”? - “some of the brethren who are speaking the word of God," in verse 14. “Some of the brethren.” "Some" goes back to “brethren,” some of the preachers. "To be sure" - he throws that in because it's so unthinkable. If he just said, "Some are preaching Christ," we'd say, "You sure about that?" So he says, "To be sure." It's so hard to believe. How could anybody be attacking Paul who was in chains for his faithfulness? How can you do that? But he says, "Some, to be sure.” “Don't question me on this. No doubt about it, as surprising as it may seem, as unthinkable as it may appear, it is true. It is true. Some of these preachers for sure are preaching Christ.” Stop there for a moment.
So far so good, right? So far so good? They're preaching Christ. You want to know something? These aren't heretics. These aren't Judaizers. These aren't Gnostics. These aren't false religionists of any kind. These aren't idol worshipers. These aren't those who were attached to Greek mythology. These are people who preach Christ. They are preaching Christ. And inherent in that statement is all the gospel truth. “They're my fellow preachers.” They could sign Paul's doctrinal statement, and he could sign theirs. They're preaching Christ. And yet they're after him.
I had an opportunity to meet with, I think, about a hundred pastors or so - 75 or 100 - and I started out by saying, "Let's establish one thing to begin with, and that is this: that we agree on the teaching of the Word of God. I could sign your doctrinal statement in your fellowship without hesitation or equivocation. I believe exactly what you men believe. I just want you to know that as a starting point." In trying to deal with false accusation it's important to establish that we're not talking about doctrinal difference, and that's not what Paul was talking about. We're talking about something else. The detractors here were not attacking Paul's theology. It was his person that bothered them. And so they are preaching Christ. They really are. Look at verse 15, "preaching Christ"; verse 17, "they proclaimed Christ"; verse 18, "Christ is proclaimed." Three times he says that - three times. They are not heralding another gospel, like those in Galatians 1:6. They are not proclaiming another Jesus, like 2 Corinthians 11:4 and 13. This is the same gospel and the same Jesus Christ. They are not the Judaizers like chapter 3, verse 2, called “the false circumcision.” They're not “the dogs” or “the evil workers” of that verse. There's no difference in their content. There's no difference in their gospel. There's no difference in their preaching. The difference is in their motive.
Look at it now. "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ but from envy and strife." That's the issue. It's their motive that messes them up. What's another word for “envy”? What is it? “Jealousy.” It's an ugly word, isn't it? Ugly word. Paint it green – “envy.” They were jealous. Jealous of what? I'll tell you what - Paul's giftedness, Paul's success. They were jealous that Paul was so beloved. They were jealous that everybody found Paul to be the touchstone of truth. They were jealous because more people followed him than them. They were jealous because he had so eminently upon him the blessing of God. They may have been jealous of the fact that he on three occasions had encountered the living, resurrected, and exalted Christ personally. They were jealous - jealous of his gifts, jealous of his blessings, jealous of his ministry, jealous of his success, jealous of his high esteem. He was a menace to their prominence. He was a menace to the exaltation of their egos. He was in the seat they wanted to be in, only he was there rightly. And as a result of being jealous they created “strife.” The word means “contention, conflict.” Their jealousy pitted them against him and conflict occurred.
I have to tell you, people, it's a sad, sad thing, but that is rampant in the church - rampant today. There are people who are motivated out of jealousy and envy. They focus their whole life on trying to discredit other people who occupy some kind of place of blessing that creates envy in their sinful hearts. They preach the true gospel but they have such an impure heart. They seek to be more prominent. They are angry that someone else is more successful than they are, as an evangelist or a writer, or a pastor, or a teacher. And so they are producers of rivalry. That's another word for strife, conflict. They see themselves in competition with Paul, and they become his detractors. And the way they're going to win the battle is by slander and accusation and criticism and tearing him down.
Paul writes this here not so we'll feel sympathetic for him but so we'll know that this is how it is. And he reminds us in writing this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the Lord takes note not only of what we preach but of why we preach it. That the Lord is not only into content but the Lord is into motive. Sadly, there are always those who attack the faithful of God who are specially blessed. And that breeds strife and contention. And there is great jealousy among church leaders. There is today. There always has been that problem.
You say, "Well, how were they, how were they detracting from Paul? How were they attacking him? How were they expressing this contention and strife?" Well, he doesn't tell us. He doesn't want to be self-serving, and there's really no point in giving the details of what they were accusing him of. But it kind of would be interesting to speculate a little bit, and I don't think it's too difficult to figure it out. There were probably different factions, and different men moved by their own ego and pride were probably saying different things. It was probably some group that was saying, "Well, he sinned; this is chastening.” God showed them. We don't know about it, but somewhere in his life there's some secret life. I mean, here he was moving and having all this freedom, and God was blessing, and now he's in a chain and God did it to him; he sinned. “If we know the truth, we'd know there's something in his life that isn't right; he's sinned.” These are the legalists, those who think they can read everybody's mind and who think they know all the secrets of all the ages. They would have uncovered some sin in Paul's life or died trying, if they could.
And then there was the other group – probably, if it was like today - who would say, "Well, the reason he's in prison right now is because he doesn't have the spiritual power to be triumphant. You see, he's in prison and he can't get out. He hasn't learned yet how to tap the resources of God's power." That's what they'd say on channel 40 [Trinity Broadcasting Network]. That's the channel-40 group. That's the "name it and claim it" gang, the power people. "He's weak. We're free because we're triumphant. We're moving around free. We have power. He's obviously impotent. He doesn't know how to tap into divine resources, or he'd burst the chains and walk out." You can just hear it, you know. There’d be that gang there, too. They'd be laying that on him.
And then there would be others who would say, "Well, the Lord put him over there to keep people from getting to him, and the Lord left us free so you'd come to us. See, we're the ones you want to listen to. He's antiquated. He's old time. This is a new day. And the new day - we're the new men, and God just sort of shoved him over, chained him there so the people won't go to him. He's not free to go preach anywhere; we are. God's left us to roam around and do the ministry. So you want to listen to us, not him."
And then there were others, sort of ascetic types, who might say, "Well, you see, if he was really a true godly man, he'd have been martyred long ago because he'd have been willing to die, and I think he's playing politics. He's just trying to get a way of release. They've got him in that house. They've got him chained. And he's secretly working out some kind of deal with his captors, and if he had any character he'd be so bold they'd kill him." I'm sure there was something for everybody, whatever.
The bottom line was discredit Paul. Hurts me to even think about that. This dear man - I mean, as great a saint as ever lived, and he says, "I have no one who came to my defense," at his first trial in Rome. He says, "All in Asia have forsaken me." He says, "There's no one of like mind with me but Timothy." And now he's got all these people saying all these terrible things about him. Is this what you get after a life of faithfulness? This is the church? A bunch of spineless people who won't come to your defense? People who won't live according to the pattern that you've taught them? People who want to attack you for the exaltation of their own ego? Pretty ugly.
Some are like that. Some are like that. But on the other hand, back to verse 15, "Some also [are preaching Christ] from good will." That's a purely biblical word, eudokian; it means they're “satisfied” with my life – “good will” toward me. They're content with what God is doing in my life. Their motive is pure. They're content not only with my life but with theirs. They're satisfied not only with what God's doing with me but with what God's doing with them. They're sympathetic to me. They're grateful, they're generous in their feelings toward me. They're content with my role. They're content with their role. They just have good will. Thank God for people like that. What a blessing they are. And I thank God that He's filled my life with people like that who are such an encouragement, such a blessing, such a source of joy.
Paul describes them a little bit more in verse 16, "the latter do it out of love." He says they do what they do “out of love.” They're characterized by love. The implication is that the ones preaching Christ out of envy and strife certainly aren't characterized by love. And I am immediately reminded that the most essential element of effective ministry is - What? - love. Do you remember this: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels”? “If I can talk angel talk but do not have” - What? - love, I have become a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing,” “nothing.” If you “don't have love,” you're a big zero. And he says these “do it out of love,” verse 16.
Some of those people, who were the brethren preaching Christ, made bold by Paul's imprisonment, were preaching Christ “out of love.” Love for whom? For him, is what he's talking about. They had a deep affection for him; they cared about him. They loved him. And that, in a sense, laid down the integrity of their whole life. They loved, and that's the bottom line. And, he says, "knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel." “They knew that I'm in prison because of defending the gospel. They know that I'm here because I'm set for the defense of the gospel, and I'm in a strategic place, and God set me here, and I'm destined for this.”
The word, he says here, "I am appointed," that is a military term, keimai, “I am set.” It's used for a soldier on duty. He was as much on duty set by God to defend the gospel as a Roman soldier was on duty being chained to him. The word can also mean “destined.” And so if we combine it we could say, "They love me and they have good will toward me." And he says, "They know that I have been destined to be on duty for the defense of the gospel." They were convinced that Paul was where he was not because he was unfaithful but because he was faithful. He was where he was not because he failed but because he succeeded. He was where he was not because he was out of God's will but because he was in God's will. He was “set for the defense of the gospel.” He was the greatest living defender of the gospel.
That word "defense," a great word, apologia; apologetic comes from it. He was God's defender of the gospel. And God put him in a strategic place to make that defense, before the hierarchy of Rome. He had already made it in the trial that's mentioned in verse 7, the first hearing. And he was now awaiting his sentence. He may have even had that in mind when he says, "I am set for the defense of the gospel." But he said, “Of all the people preaching Christ, you can divide them into two groups: the ones who lovingly, compassionately, sympathetically hold me in good will. And they know that I am God's man, destined to do what I do and I'm faithful to my duty. And then there's that other group whose real agenda is jealousy and envy and rivalry, and they speak evil against me, wanting to tear me down so they can push themselves up. They are loveless. They have no good will.”
He returns to that group in verse 17. And he gets us a little deeper into their hearts. “The former” - the detractors – “proclaim Christ.” Again he reminds us for the second time, they “proclaim Christ, the true gospel.” But they do it “out of selfish ambition.” There's the motive. That is contrasted to pure motives - rather than from pure motives. They don't have pure motives. Their motive is selfish ambition - the ugliest, most wicked, vile of all motives. They're a long way from the principles of chapter 2, verse 3, which says, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself." Don't you people in Philippi behave like these ugly, envious, jealous, selfish, ambitious preachers of Rome.
“The former” then refers to that group of detractors. They proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition. They're selfish. The message is right; the motive is wrong. There are wrong motives. First Peter 5 says a wrong motive is “filthy lucre,” “money.” It says a wrong motive is power, “lording it over” people. Third John 9 talks about Diotrephes and reminds us that a wrong motive is “seeking preeminence.” And here they were; they wanted it all. They wanted money, power, preeminence, personal gain, selfish ambition.
The word here translated "selfish ambition" - let me give you a little background; it’s very interesting. Originally the word erithia was not a bad word at all. As far as we know in its etymology, originally the word simply meant “to work for pay,” “to work for pay,” which is okay; working for hire. But a man who works only, solely for pay works from a very low motive, very self-seeking motive. He's out to benefit himself and that's all he sees, and so he only wants to advance himself and his own gain and his own prestige. He becomes a careerist, if you can understand that word. A man who is simply out to magnify himself. So the word because of that sort of tendency came to be used in politics for someone who was seeking office, running for office, canvasing for office. It came to describe a man who spent all his time promoting himself, which is exactly what politicians do - total self-promotion, based on self-ambition. It came to describe the personally ambitious then. It came to describe that competitive spirit which is out to advance itself and really doesn't care how it does that or who it steps on in the process. And that's what moved these men, erithia, driving ambition to elevate themselves at all costs.
And they saw the way to do it, if they could just get on top of Paul you'd be at the peak. If you could just push Paul down and be thought of as greater than Paul, you arrived. So you attack whoever's on top - that's the issue. You don't attack your, the other guys on your level. You go and attack the guy on top so you can be elevated above him. And so they saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance their own influence, their own prestige, and lessen his - selfish ambition, ugly rather than pure motives; envious, jealous preachers moved by selfish desire for prominence, craving honor, craving fame, craving preeminence rather than loving this faithful man. Look at verse 17, they thought “to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” They wanted to hurt me.
That says it, folks. They weren't concerned with the church - purity of doctrine, growth of the church. Nah, they just wanted to hurt him. They wanted to hurt him badly. They wanted to rip him up so they could crawl up and be on top. “Thinking,” it says - planning, scheming – “to cause me distress,” “to aggravate my affliction.” Speaking against him - attacking his integrity, attacking his credibility, attacking his faithfulness, attacking his character - would hurt him, and they wanted to hurt him.
Isn't that sad? Isn't it sad that the church has a way of consuming itself with that kind of trash? It does. The word "distress," by the way, is thlipsis, basically means “friction,” “friction.” They want to just rub me till they've irritated me, just like chains rubbing his hands and his feet. They were adding to his chains more friction, more irritation, all from malicious treatment. Their goal wasn't to exalt Christ. Their goal wasn't to protect the church. Their goal wasn't to evangelize the lost. Their goal wasn't to defend the Word of God. Their goal was to irritate the man of whom they were jealous - that's their goal - and pull him down in the eyes of the people so the people wouldn't believe him and wouldn't trust him and wouldn't go to him. And then they would be the preeminent ones. That's, that's what they were all about.
And I don't think Paul includes this section in here just to get sympathy. I don't think he ever wanted sympathy. He wanted prayer, but I don't think he ever wanted sympathy. But he puts it in here so we won't be surprised at it. It happened to him. Are we surprised that it happens to us? I'm not. By the way, as a footnote, the words “envy,” “strife,” “selfish ambition,” “impure motives” - those words that he uses to describe these detractors - are all words listed in the catalogs of vice of the New Testament. They're found in those catalogs. For example, Romans 1:29; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20 and 21; 1 Timothy 6:4, where you have lists of wickedness. They had wicked motives, wicked attitudes.
Here's the bottom line. Did it steal Paul's joy? No. And that's what's so important about it. You couldn't steal his joy in spite of chains, as long as Christ's cause is furthered. You couldn't steal his joy in spite of detractors, as long as Christ's name is proclaimed.
Let's go to verse 18, “What then?” You know what that means? “So what?” “So what?” “Suppose it’s so?” Or, “What does it matter?” “So what that such detractors speak against me; what's my response?” Here it is, "Only that it" - here's my only response. Boy, singlemindedness; amazing, what a man. “Only this, that in every way” - every method and every motive – “whether in pretense” - that is as a hypocrite like these detractors – “or in truth” - like the lovers and the men of good will – “Christ is proclaimed.”
You know what he's saying? “Look, what does that mean to me? Absolutely nothing. Only one thing matters to me.” In whatever way, whatever method, whatever motive, whether it's hypocrisy, “pretense” - and it doesn't mean they pretended to believe the gospel. They believed it. They just pretended to preach it out of pure motive when their motive was really to hurt Paul. “Or in truth” - those who preached truth with true intent. He said, the bottom line, “Christ is proclaimed” –katangelletai, means “to proclaim with authority.” “If Christ is being proclaimed with authority, that is enough to satisfy my heart.” Oh my, what a man, what a man! Whether sincerely or insincerely, “if Christ is preached, I rejoice.” He didn't rejoice in the preaching of error, and did not rejoice in the sinful attitude of the preachers. But he rejoiced that Christ was preached. That was the overriding thing. And he “will rejoice” in that.
You say, "Well, you mean they really preached the true gospel? Could it affect anybody?" Yes. A preacher with a jealous, envious, selfish motive can still be used of God, and I'll tell you why. He can't be used of God as much as God would want to use him, but he can still be used of God to this degree that - listen carefully - that the truth is more powerful than the package it comes in. And you can put the Word of God and the saving gospel in the mouth of a man with bad motives and the truth is still the truth, and powerful, and powerful. Because the power, as John Eadie, that old commentator, said, "Lies in the gospel not the gospeler." It lies in what is preached, not the preacher. And the listener here is only the preaching; he doesn't see the motive.
And Paul says, "Look, I'm not concerned about me. I'm expendable. I've committed myself to God who is the greatest asserter of our innocency - He knows. I just thank God that Christ is preached. I'm just so glad they're preaching Christ, not Buddha, not some false God - Christ." He's a magnanimous man, isn't he? He's everything the other men aren't, everything the other men aren't.
In the midst of all his suffering, all the selfish cruelty that's thrown at him, he is undaunted in his commitment. “As long as Christ is preached, that's what I live for, that's what I die for.” So he says, "and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice." The present will flow right into the future. Present joy will become future joy as long as Christ is preached. “I don't care about me,” he says, “I don't care about me.” That's true spiritual character.
One old commentator wrote, "While we detest the abominable profaneness of men who so dreadfully abuse the gospel, let us not cease to rejoice at the good effects which God produces by their hands. Let us hold the thorns of such plants in horror and gather with thanksgiving the roses." That's good.
Paul didn't care who got the credit. He didn't care what happened to him. He lived for the gospel. Oh my, how do we instill that in a generation today? How do we get that into the heart of pastors and teachers and elders and deacons and leaders in the church? When you put chains on a man like Paul, when you latch him to soldiers for years without privacy or freedom, when you restrict him and forbid him to travel and preach the gospel he loves and build churches, and when you aggravate his trouble with the constant friction and irritation of malicious, false accusation rising out of jealousy and selfishness and contention, what happens to that man? Does he quit? Does he lash back? Does he break? Does he lose his joy? No, he doesn't. He doesn't. Why? Because the cause of Christ is furthered and the name of Christ is proclaimed. That's all he cared about; that's all he lived for.
Only the grace of Christ can enable you to handle slander like that. In 1975 the Sacramento, California Superior Court issued a judgment against a man named John Abercrombie. You may have remembered it. He was accused of and found guilty of shoplifting a 63-cent can of Danish bacon. Not one of your major crimes. Throughout the whole contention he maintained his innocence. He had a very difficult time dealing with the slander. He was a retired Air Force colonel with a distinguished World War II combat record. He had post-war assignments that involved top security clearance for the government. He was an honorable man, a man of great integrity. And by the way, an innocent man.
Finally, the case was appealed and a jury overturned the case, exonerated him completely from the supposed theft, awarded his family $100,000 in damages. Too late for him to enjoy. The slander had so devastated him that he died of a heart attack at age 53 before the court case was even finished. Couldn't handle being falsely accused.
And maybe, maybe in the flesh it's tough to handle, but in the Spirit it never took Paul's joy, and it shouldn't take ours either. Let's pray together.
Lord, we thank You this day that when, as we read in the Psalms, when we are forsaken, You will take us up and when we are slandered, You will hold our cause. Thank You for being the great asserter of our innocency. Thank You, Lord, that when it comes against us in the world - the slander even from those in the church who preach the very Christ we preach - that You sustain and support us. When it comes from people close to us who misunderstand and misrepresent, You're there to strengthen us.
Thank You for the example of Paul who never lost his joy, who rejoiced and would continue to rejoice - no matter what happened - as long as Christ was proclaimed, even by the people who spoke evil against him.
Thank You, Father, for every mouth that proclaims Christ, no matter what they may say about me or us. Thank You that they preach Christ. And may we never become defensive but always commit our souls to a faithful Creator. We thank You, Father, for the privilege of representing you. Help us to be faithful. And if nothing else, how glorious to hear some day, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter the joy of your Lord."
Until we know that consummate joy, may we know the joy of ministry even now, in spite of trouble, in spite of detractors. Keep us close to Your heart. We pray in Christ's name. Amen.