COMMENTARY ON PHILIPPIANS
T E X T
“ Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction 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.” (Phil 1:15-18, NKJV)
Paul’s interest in the Gospel is not casual. He is deeply committed to the One who loved him, and whose Gospel He proclaims. Knowing that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:19), he found great joy in hearing of the declaration of that Gospel. His world did not revolve around himself or his circumstances. To Paul, the Lord Jesus was the most significant Person, and the accomplishments and ministry of Christ the most meaningful and desirable circumstances. With care, he refuses to draw attention to himself, even when he is oppressed, and removed from the public arena to which he had been called. In this text, we will again be exposed to the heart of the Apostle – one which was dominated by the love of God.
PREACHING WITH IGNOBLE OBJECTIVES
“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and . . . The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds”(NKJV). From the very first, charlatans have penetrated the the body of Christ. It is evidence of the alertness and ferocity of our adversary that this condition occurred so quickly. This is also owing to a spirit of lethargy that soon crept into the church, opening the door to pretenders. An Apostolic assessment of this situation will be profitable to briefly explore.
The bonds of Paul brought boldness to some to “speak the Word without fear” (v 14). All such speaking, however, was not driven by noble objectives. Some “preached Christ out of envy and rivalry” (NIV). Here is a case where men did not preach because of their love for the Lord Jesus, or a desire for the Gospel to be more fully known. They were promoting their own party and sectarian interests. They really preached for their faction. It is needful to note that party-zeal can make a person aggressive. Such bear resemblance to committed preachers of the Gospel–but they are not among that number.
The Pharisees, for example, were extremely zealous for their traditions. Jesus said of them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matt 23:15). The Pharisees, in fact, are called a “party” in Scripture (Acts 23:9). Such zeal is still within the professed church, and to an alarming degree.
You sense from this text that these preachers were restrained when Paul was among the people. They found it difficult to promote their sectarian interests when the Gospel was preached in sincerity. Now that Paul was bound, these men felt more free and bold to promote their selfish interests.
There are several “works of the flesh” that create the “party spirit,” a dreadfully dominant condition in our day. Galatians 5:20-21 mentions“contentions [argumentative, debate, discord], jealousies [ferment of spirit]. . . selfish ambitions [strife, rivalry], dissensions [divisions, standing apart], heresies [disunion, or party], envy [envious because of the success of another].” All of these reactions are provoked by Satan, and carried out through the expression of “the flesh,” or the fallen part of man. Do not question that in our day, many are preaching Christ in the interest of their sect, and not out a regard for the Lord Jesus and His “great salvation.”
Paul adds that these sectarians preached “Christ out of partisanship, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment” (RSV). They supposed Paul was altogether like unto themselves. As the Lord said through the Psalmist, “You thought that I was altogether like you” (Psa 50:21). They thought Paul would be disheartened because their sect was being promoted.
We ought to note that it is possible to say the right things out of impure motives–to preach the Gospel “out of contention,” seeking sectarian interests. In Paul’s case, these doubtless were the Judaizers who plagued him everywhere he went (Acts 15:1ff). They believed Christ was the Messiah, yet mingled their tradition with the Gospel, seeking to promote their own interests. Surely, they reasoned, this would make Paul even more miserable.
PREACHING WITH NOBLE OBJECTIVES
“Some indeed preach . . . also of good will . . . of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel (KJV). Other brethren, learning of Paul’s imprisonment, preached Christ with holy motivation. Here partisanship is compared with “good will” and “love.” By “good will,” Paul means these individuals meant to be a blessing to him. They knew their efforts would bring great delight to Paul. That, however, was not their only constraint. They also preached “out of love” (NASB). These brethren considered it a disgrace to detach themselves from Paul and his Gospel because of his imprisonment. They loved the Christ of the Gospel, the Gospel of the Christ, and Christ’s Apostle. Such is a thorough love, and is exceeding rare in our time!
Spiritual love brings a sanctity and effectiveness to the preaching of the Gospel that cannot be equaled. Faith constrains all of these aspects of love. It knits our hearts to the Lord Jesus Himself–“the love of Christ compels us”(2 Cor 5:14). It also produces unparalleled delight in the Gospel of Christ–“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom 1:16). Inherent in that love is a high regard and affection for Christ’s brethren–“loving one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Pet 1:22).
A religion that does not produce these three expressions of love gravitates to sectarian interests. A love for Christ will be displaced by a love for the party. The love of the Gospel will be superseded by devotion to the message of the party. The love of the brethren will be exchanged for a preference for those who have adopted the party line. The commonness of such things affirms the activity of our adversary in the Christian arena.
Note what these noble spirits knew of Paul. He was “appointed for the defense of the gospel” (NASB). It is one thing to be designated by Christ to proclaim the Gospel. It is something else for that to be perceived by others. Herein is a most interesting thing. Here, Paul does not say he was appointed to “preach” the Gospel, although that is said elsewhere (1 Cor 1:17). Rather, he states he has been appointed for the “defense” of it.
Earlier, in verse 7, he affirmed his involvement in “the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7). In this case, the Gospel is seen as conflicting with the wisdom and philosophies of men. He was appointed by Jesus to not only affirm the Gospel itself, but to throw down arguments that opposed it, showing them to be erroneous. The “weapons of our warfare” are quite capable of doing this (2 Cor 10:4-5).
In the Apostle’s unfolding of the Gospel, he would often throw down opposing arguments, showing them to be in conflict with the Gospel. Thus did he expose the fallaciousness of the world’s wisdom (1 Cor 2:7-8), continuing in sin (Rom 6:1-2), and committing fornication (1 Cor 6:18-20). He also showed the reasonableness of justification by faith and not works (Rom 7:1-4), the necessity of purging sin from the church (1 Cor 5:6-7), and then necessity and privilege of godly judgment (1 Cor 6:1-4).
These effective defenses were due to Divine appointment and enablement. There were faithful brethren who knew this, and this picked up the work Paul was unable to do while imprisoned.
REJOICING BECAUSE CHRIST IS PREACHED
“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” (NKJV). Here, the Apostle rises to heights realized by very few. The ability to rejoice that Christ is being preached, whether in pretense or in truth, is exceeding rare. In fact, some would imagine it to be improper, and even ungodly. By way of contrast, notice how firm Paul is in this confession. He not only rejoices that Christ is preached–regardless of the motivation–he WILL continue to so rejoice. Rest assured, Paul would not promote ignoble ministers, but he will rejoice that Christ is being proclaimed.
Christ was announced – and this pleased Paul. Gospel facts were made known more widely – and this pleased Paul. He did not condone all those who preached the message, but he did not recoil from approving of the Christ they preached. See how free the Apostle was from a party spirit! What soul is there amongst us who has not come in contact with individuals who were awakened by the Gospel preached by a sectarian, or even charlatan? That was God working through His Gospel. This is not His ordinary way of working, but it is His prerogative to get the message out, even if it is through a person serving self or party interests. Like Paul, we too can rejoice in such working. When God accomplishes anything good through pretentious men, we should rejoice! We can glory in the message without condoning the person used.
Think of the profound insight revealed in this rejoicing. Preaching in“pretense” is preaching without the involvement of the person who is preaching. It is a show, a mere cloak for a fleshly agenda that drives the proclamation. That kind of condition is compared to preaching the Gospel “in truth,” or “sincerely” –yet Paul rejoices in even that Christ is preached.
The Apostle’s response unveils an aspect of the Kingdom worthy of exploration. Preaching Christ is a loftier exercise than issues of polity, morality, and worship–which are often primary subjects of current preaching. Paul does not rejoice in the preaching of morality, but in the preaching of Christ! Even though Christ may be partially preached–and we do not rejoice in that–yet He is preached in such a manner as to provoke farther inquiry.
On one occasion, the disciples confronted a man casting out demons who did not walk with Jesus. They told Jesus of the situation. “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Lk 9:49-50). We do well not to carry Christ’s words too far, but we are NOT doing well to ignore them. Factious people and factious doctrines are wrong–but preaching Christ is always right. If the name of Jesus will get out, God will go to work–sometimes in spite of the messenger. It is better that people hear of Christ from a partisan than not to hear of Him at all! Better to have some bread crumbs, than nothing at all.
With an attitude like that, it is no wonder Paul’s spirit could not remain suppressed. He found something in which he could rejoice–even the pretentious preaching of Jesus. God can use a person like that to empower the message of Jesus that is being declared by even a factious soul. Believe it!