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 rivalry, 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. (Philippians 1:15-18a ESV)
Not everyone was rejoicing with Paul. Some people saw Paul’s being in prison as an opportunity to talk bad about him. Perhaps they would have done things differently. Perhaps they thought he was being too bold or brash. You expect the bad guys to say bad things about you, but these people were Christians! How would you feel if Christian people were saying mean things about you?
Paul reveals that their motives weren’t exactly pure. They were envious and they wanted the recognition that he got for leading people to Jesus and planting churches. So they preached Christ but they did so in such a way as to drag Paul’s name through the mud. They got the gospel right, but they got Paul wrong. They actually took some kind of weird pleasure in causing Paul pain.
Yet, even in the midst of this harsh judgment from Christian brothers Paul finds a way to praise God. He doesn’t focus on himself but rather what is happening with the gospel. Sure there are people out there talking him down, but are they talking Jesus up? That’s what Paul wants to know. He doesn’t care why they preach as long as what they preach is truth about Jesus.
This Jesus first, Paul second attitude allows him to see the good in people who have said some mean things about him. He does not get bogged down in personal attacks. He does not write to the Philippians telling them that this person is a jerk because they said mean stuff about him. He simply says don’t worry, as long as they are preaching the gospel God is glorified.
Sometimes we get this picture in our mind that if we could just go back to the New Testament church where everything was perfect, life would be better. However, even in the first churches people weren’t prefect. Many of them did great things for God while holding on to sins like envy and rivalry with God ordained leaders like the Apostle Paul. It’s not that God looks lightly at this, but that God used them despite their sin. Paul chose to look at this situation and rather than take personal offense, he put a priority on the gospel. He chose to see how God could use even this bad situation for something great like telling the world about Jesus.
We live in a day and age where it is too easy to get offended over the slightest thing. The gospel is greater than our personal feelings. Many times we get offended because we put ourselves ahead of God or ahead of the gospel. Paul reminds us that when we put the gospel first, personal attacks and criticisms don’t sting as much.
Criticism always stings. It stings so bad that sometimes we are just afraid of what people ‘might’ say. Ask God to give you courage today to put the gospel first no matter what people say or might say about you personally.
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