A Gospel-Driven Ministry (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 1:12–18   |   Sunday, October 21, 2012   |   Code: 2012-10-21-MR


In 17th-century England, the Puritan preacher John Bunyan found himself in prison for failing to conform to the doctrines of the Anglican Church. The magistrates, who were inclined to release him, made it known that he was free to go as soon as he agreed not to preach any longer. Bunyan is reported to have said, “If you release me today, I will preach tomorrow.” In fact, Bunyan never waited for his release to continue preaching. It’s recorded that Bunyan went right on preaching in the courtyard of the jail—in such a compelling manner, and at such a loud volume, that people would gather outside the prison each day to hear him preach. Eventually, the guards placed him deep in the center of the prison so that he couldn’t be heard outside, and for much of the next decade he was condemned to solitude and silence. But it was in that silence that he would speak loudest of all, as he used that time to write The Pilgrim’s Progress—perhaps the most popular Christian book outside of the Bible itself, through which he continues to preach to millions of Christians through multiple centuries.


Less than a hundred years later, Jonathan Edwards, a man whom God used mightily in the First Great Awakening was dismissed from his church in Northampton. Once the pastor of a congregation of over a thousand members, America’s greatest theologian went to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he would labor in obscurity for the next seven years, ministering to the Mohawk and Mohican Indians. But far from being the exile his disillusioned congregation had hoped for, those seven years turned out to be the most productive of his life. In that time he wrote several of his most important writings, such as the Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, as well as his works on original sin and the freedom of the will. Each of these are regarded as theological classics, and are required reading on the subjects which they treat.


In the cases of both of these faithful saints, the Lord used circumstances that anyone would have supposed would have hindered their ministry to further their ministry of the Gospel. And the response of these men in such circumstances of adversity was not to complain. It was not to blame God. It was not to sink into discontentment and depression. Instead, their response was to rejoice. And they certainly weren’t rejoicing in pleasant circumstances, an easy life, or a good reputation. No, their joy was found in the advance of the Gospel. These great saints could endure opposition from both friends and enemies—they could decrease into insignificance and obscurity—they could suffer hardship as good soldiers of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3)—because their ministry wasn’t driven by a thirst for prominence, but by the advance of the Gospel. Theirs was a Gospel-driven ministry.


And in Philippians chapter 1, verses 12 to 18, we learn that Bunyan and Edwards were simply following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, whose imprisonment the Lord sovereignly ordained for the advance of the Gospel. And despite adverse circumstances, discomforts, and personal opposition, Paul rejoiced. Because just as the others, his ministry wasn’t driven by a lust for comfort, prominence, or prestige. His was a Gospel-driven ministry.





And this is fitting for the Book of Philippians, which we have subtitled, “The Gospel-driven life.” As we’ve said before, Paul’s main concern in his letter to the Philippians is, chapter 1 verse 27, that they would conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ—that their lives would be founded upon and driven by the truths of what Christ has accomplished in the Gospel. And over the past two weeks we have looked at how that concern for a Gospel-driven life has characterized his opening prayer for the Philippians. In verses 3 to 8, we learned that Gospel-driven fellowship breeds joyful, confident, and affectionate thanksgiving to God on behalf of fellow-believers. Then, last week in verses 9 to 11, we saw that Gospel-driven prayer issues in supplication to God for our fellow-Christians’ growth in love, discernment, integrity, and fruitfulness—all abounding in the glory of God. And so it’s fitting this morning in verses 12 to 18 to consider Paul’s Gospel-driven ministry.    Let’s read the text together.


Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. 15Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.


Paul states the main point of this paragraph right at the very beginning. He wants to inform his brothers in Philippi about how things are going with him. This is one of the reasons the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul. In addition to his bringing Paul their financial gift, and ministering to Paul personally in whatever ways he would need help, Epaphroditus would also return to Philippi with news about Paul’s trial and how he was faring. Remember, it had been about four years since the Philippians had seen Paul, and they had heard the reports about his arrests and trials before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. They had heard about his appeal to stand trial before Caesar in Rome, and the shipwreck on the way. They knew about his imprisonment and that he was waiting to stand trial before Nero, and they realized that these were not optimum conditions for anyone. How was Paul holding up? Was this imprisonment discouraging him? Would he be released? Could he return to Philippi to help them with their lack of unity and to strengthen them amidst the threats of persecution and false teaching? Or would he die in Rome, and their sweet partnership in the ministry die with him? And perhaps most importantly of all: How has this loss of freedom affected the spread of the Gospel?


And so Paul begins the body of his letter to the Philippians by informing them of how things are going with him. He wants to allay any concerns or fears they may have about the difficulty of his circumstances, and to let them know that amidst all of his troubles, he is rejoicing. And he is rejoicing for two reasons. And those two reasons for which Paul rejoices will be our outline this morning. Number one: Paul rejoices because the Gospel is advancing despite opposition. And number two: He rejoices because Christ is being preached despite impure motives.


I. The Gospel is Advancing Despite Opposition


First, the Gospel is advancing despite opposition. Let’s read verse 12: “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” Or, as the ESV renders it: “What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” You see, the Philippians were concerned that Paul’s adverse circumstances in prison had dealt a blow to his ministry of the Gospel to Gentiles, for which they knew him to be sent as an Apostle of Christ. And Paul reassures them, right off the bat, that far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, this opposition, this imprisonment, has actually served to advance the Gospel.


  1. Outside the Christian Community


And there are two significant ways that the Gospel has advanced as a result of Paul’s imprisonment. First, the Gospel has advanced outside the Christian community. Verses 12 and 13: My circumstances have really served to advance the gospel, so that—or such that, with the result that—“my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard…”


Now, the praetorian guard was a company of 9,000 elite soldiers that were particularly tasked to protect the emperor and his interests. And it seems that this subversive preacher Paul was a high priority case for Nero, because he was being guarded around the clock by the emperor’s elite class of soldiers. Paul mentions his “bonds” three times in this passage: in verses 13, 14, and 17. That’s the Greek word desmos, which the NAS translates as imprisonment. But in Acts 28:20, when he first comes to Rome as a prisoner, he speaks of “wearing this chain for the hope of Israel.” In Ephesians 6:20 he calls himself an “ambassador in chains.” This word for chain isn’t desmos, but halusis. And a halusis was an 18-inch long chain that attached at one end to a handcuff on the wrist of Paul and at the other end to a handcuff on the wrist of the Roman guard. There wasn’t an hour of the day when Paul wasn’t chained to a Roman soldier of the imperial guard.


But it wasn’t the same guard all day every day. The soldiers took shifts of six hours at a time. That means that for nearly two years, Paul had come into contact with four different imperial soldiers each day, and had them at his disposal for six hours at a time! This is amazing! Talk about a captive audience!


So what do you think Paul talked about? Do you think he said things like, “This isn’t fair! What injustice! I’ve been waiting two years! This is not a quick and speedy trial! I’m a Roman citizen!”? How would you have reacted? Would you have complained about the lack of privacy? Would you have blamed God for your unjust imprisonment? Paul didn’t do any of those things. Paul knew a captive audience when he saw one, and he saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.


And that’s exactly what he did. You could imagine the guard would ask, “So what are you in for?” And Paul would respond: “I am in these chains because I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, True and Living God—God made flesh in the person of a Jewish Carpenter. And in further humility and obedience to the will of God, He died for sinners on a Roman cross under Roman authority in Israel 30 years ago. He was buried and laid in a tomb with Roman soldiers keeping it secure. But three days later He rose from that grave, demonstrating His triumph over death. After remaining with His disciples for 40 days, He ascended into Heaven right before their eyes and is, this very moment, enthroned in power at the right hand of God as the Lord of the whole world.


“Not long after His ascension, while I was persecuting His followers for corrupting the Jewish religion—putting them into chains like these, and even approving of their murder—this resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to me in a blazing light. He knocked me to the ground and struck me blind, and told me that I was to be His messenger, to preach His Gospel and strengthen the church that I once tried to destroy. And since that day I have given every waking moment of my life to preaching the Good News that because of His life, death, and resurrection, those who simply turn from their own self-righteousness and trust in Him can be forgiven of their sins, can escape the punishment of God, and can be reconciled to Him. And one day soon, this same Jesus is going to break through the clouds, return to the earth, and set up His kingdom over all nations.”


And as they spoke with him, and heard this Gospel, and observed his character, they learned that he was not in prison as a criminal, but because he was faithfully preaching the Lordship of Jesus. And this is the word that spread throughout the whole guard. They would talk with each other, and wonder with each other, “This man hasn’t broken any laws. All he has to do to be released is to recant his teachings about this Jesus of Nazareth, and he’d be free to go. But he won’t do it! He’d rather lose his head than stop preaching this message!” And as they heard this Gospel, and observed the virtue and consistent devotion of Paul’s life—that his behavior matched his message—they began to believe. God began to grant them repentance and faith in the Gospel, one by one. So much so that Paul could close the letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 22, by saying: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”


Now step back a minute and think about what we’re talking about. Think about how badly Paul desired to bring the Gospel to Rome. He wrote in Romans chapter 1, verses 9 and 10: “For God…is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” In verse 13 he says, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far)…” Paul was convinced of the importance of taking the Gospel to the very center of ancient paganism, and then using the momentum he gained in Rome as a vehicle for further ministry. But I’m sure that he never imagined that he would be converting the emperor’s imperial guard one by one!


We need to marvel at the sovereignty of God here! Just as Bunyan’s imprisonment resulted in Pilgrim’s Progress, and as Edwards’ exile resulted in some of the greatest theological works ever written, so God has ordained efforts to thwart the progress of His Gospel to be the very means for advancing it! And Paul sees that clearly. He receives this imprisonment, not as a failure in God’s plan, but as being ordained by God to accomplish His sovereign will. And let me make this plain: This is not Paul saying, “Well, everything happens for a reason, I guess.” As if Paul was simply a believer in blind fate, or some impersonal force like karma governing the universe. No, he understood that this was the direct plan and providence of a purposeful God. God wasn’t just making the best out of a bad situation. No, from the beginning, God meant these trials in Paul’s life for good (cf. Gen 50:20; Gen 45:5–8). Through the sovereign outworking of the sovereign plan of God, Paul has become the Trojan horse, literally right in the middle of the Roman Empire!


What can we learn from this? Well, for one thing, we can learn to receive life’s trials from the hand of God, as opportunities sent directly from Him to advance the Gospel. We shouldn’t try to cut the legs out from under the sovereignty of God by suggesting that God just passively allows our trials, or makes the best out of a bad situation. When confronted with suffering, we should see that the Sovereign Lord is purposefully giving us an opportunity to make much of Him and His Gospel in how we respond.


And that leads to another lesson: It’s not very often that the world is impressed with Christians who praise Jesus when everything in their lives is just peachy. But when we can endure pain, hardship, suffering, and loss, and praise Jesus—then the unbelieving world sits up and takes notice. So don’t waste your suffering by trying to pin it on Satan! And don’t waste it by trying to avoid it and get rid of it at all costs. Receive suffering as an opportunity to put the supremacy of Christ on display in the way you respond.


And finally, take advantage of your captive audiences. Now, none of you are going to be chained to a Roman soldier. But maybe some of you are chained to a desk at work. Maybe some of you are chained to a kitchen sink, and a couple of young children. Maybe some of you are chained to a hospital bed, unable to move about freely. Paul knows what you’re going through. And like he did, you need to see each of those “chains” as an opportunity to proclaim Christ from exactly where you are. You can be a witness to your co-worker, to your kids, or to your nurse and doctors, because the messenger might be in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).


  1. Inside the Christian Community.


But the Gospel was advancing, not only outside the Christian community in the praetorian guard, but also inside the Christian community. Look at verse 14: “…and most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Not only is the Gospel advancing through Paul’s preaching to many of the imperial soldiers. But Paul’s imprisonment and sufferings in the cause of the Gospel has emboldened other believers in Rome to go on proclaiming the Gospel without fear of the consequences. As one commentator put it, “The chains that bound Paul liberated others to speak the word of God fearlessly” (Hansen, 69).


In 1555 in Oxford, England, the famous English Reformers Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were burned at the stake under the reign of Bloody Mary for their refusal to adhere to Roman Catholicism. And with sacks of gunpowder hanging around their necks, as the executioner brought the flaming torch, Latimer looked at his friend and said, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out!” What did Latimer mean, “light a candle that wouldn’t be put out”? He meant that by their sacrifice—by their unwavering resolve to treasure the truth even unto the pain of death—that their example would strengthen the resolve of those who would come after them to suffer as they had. Others would hear of their story and think, “The Gospel was worth these two men’s lives. Surely my life isn’t worth any more than theirs.”


You see, courage is contagious. I don’t know about you, but I’m far more likely to do something if someone else comes with me, or does it before me to blaze the trail. And that’s especially the case with evangelism. It’s easier to evangelize on a team. By standing up to the emperor, Paul was blazing the trail for the Roman Christians to proclaim the Gospel without fear of the consequences.


And friends, the Lord Jesus has done that for us. He has gone ahead of us. He suffered outside the gate of the camp of Israel in order to sanctify His people by His blood. “So,” the author of Hebrews exhorts us, “let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come” (Heb 13:12–14). He has blazed the trail, so that we can walk in His footsteps—so that, as Philippians 3:10 says, we might know the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that we might also attain to the resurrection of the dead, and be reunited with Him forever.


And so as the Philippians are wondering about how Paul is doing, he makes sure to inform them that despite opposition, despite hardship, despite affliction—even despite Paul’s losing his freedom and being prevented from traveling freely to proclaim the Gospel where Christ isn’t named—the Gospel is advancing and progressing. The messenger is shackled in chains and confined to a Roman prison, but, 2 Timothy 2:9, the Word of God is not imprisoned. Not only are many in Caesar’s household hearing the message and being saved, but other believers are hearing of Paul’s trials, and of his relentless preaching notwithstanding such opposition, and they themselves are being stirred up to boldness and fearless proclamation in the midst of adversity.


II. Christ is Being Preached Despite Impure Motives


But among those emboldened believers, there are two groups of preachers. Let’s read verses 15–18: “Some, to be sure, 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.” So the first reason that Paul rejoices is because the Gospel is advancing despite opposition. The second reason is that Christ is proclaimed despite impure motives.


As I said a moment ago, what we have here in verse 15 is two different groups of preachers. There are those preaching Christ that are motivated by “envy and strife” (or some translations might have “envy and rivalry”), and then there are those preaching Christ who are motivated by “good will.” Let’s take a look at that first group first.


  1. Preaching Christ from Envy, Strife, and Selfish Ambition


To describe this group of preachers as proclaiming Christ from “envy and strife” is a little mind-blowing. These two words often show up together in the New Testament on various lists of vices that characterize the unredeemed life. They both appear in Paul’s list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19–21, and in Romans 1:28 and 29, Paul lists envy and strife as evidence of a depraved mind. Envy and strife are the results of controversies instigated by false teachers in 1 Timothy 6:3 and 4. According to Titus 3:3, envy characterizes people who are enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, and strife, according to Titus 3:9–11 is a mark of those who are factious, perverted, and self-condemned.


Strife speaks of discord, of rivalry, of contention. It is the opposite of peace, harmony, and fellowship. And envy, though we often think of it simply as a synonym for jealousy—for wanting something that someone else has—the force of the Greek word phthronos is more about depriving the other person of that which is desired. Just think about that kind of ill-will for a second! Think about how mean-spirited you’ve got to be to get to a point where you don’t even care if you have something enjoyable, you just want to make sure nobody else has it either!


Now, you hear all that and you say, “Can these preachers really be Christians? I mean, just listen to the way they’re described! That doesn’t sound like a Christian to me!” Well, you’re right. That doesn’t sound like a Christian to me either. And nevertheless, as we all are far too familiar with, we who have been redeemed and clothed with the righteousness of Christ often forget who we are in Him, and we continue to put on the deeds of darkness. Though the penalty of sin has been paid for, and the power of sin has been broken in our lives, the presence of sin is still very much manifest in our flesh. We have not yet been made perfect, and so we continue to do battle with our flesh until the day of Christ Jesus.


But just as an aside, do you notice how repulsed you are by the idea that such envy and strife can come from those who are true Christians? Do you feel how unattractive that is to you? Just ask yourselves: Am I that repulsed by my own sin, that I know still lives in me as a blood-washed believer in Christ? It’s always good to harness the hatred and antipathy for sin that arises within us as a result of considering sin’s ugliness—to harness that as fuel for the battle for holiness.


But yes, these are actually Christians who are described this way. They are not pseudo-Christians, or wolves in sheep’s clothing. We know this for a couple of reasons. One: Verse 15 begins by saying, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife.” Some of who? If you trace the pronoun, “some,” back up to find its antecedent, you run into the word “brethren” in verse 14: “…and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some [of those brethren] are preaching Christ from envy and strife…” And, if you go on in verse 15, Paul says, “…but some also from good will.” So both groups of preachers are described as made up of some of the brethren mentioned in verse 14. Besides this, both groups of preachers are said to preach Christ. Paul says it in verse 15 almost like he expects that we’re going to question him: “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife.” Later in verse 17 he would say of the same group that they “proclaim Christ.”


So this impurely motivated group of preachers is nevertheless proclaiming the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. If they weren’t, we’d certainly know it from Paul’s reaction. His reaction to these preachers isn’t at all similar to the way he responds to false teaching elsewhere. This is the same man who wrote to the Galatians, “If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” He is to be, as one translation puts it, “condemned to hell!” (Gal 1:9, NET). Even later in this letter, in chapter 3 verse 2, he calls the false teachers “dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh.” This is not a man who is soft on false teaching! But here in our text, he doesn’t condemn them. He doesn’t harshly ridicule them. No, he rejoices. He rejoices because they are preaching Christ, he says. These are not teachers who are subtracting from the Gospel, like some in Corinth who denied the bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15). These aren’t preachers who are trying to add to the Gospel, like the Judaizers in the Galatian churches. These preachers in Rome are fellow believers in Christ whose quarrel with Paul wasn’t doctrinal, but personal.


Not only do these preachers preach Christ out of envy and strife, Paul goes on to tell us in verse 17 that they are also motivated by selfish ambition: “The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives.” This Greek word that we translate “selfish ambition” was used of “career professionals who ruthlessly tried to climb to the top of their fields [of business] in any way they could, and of politicians who sought [to attain] office at any expense” (MacArthur, 67). Whatever the cost, they were going to see to it that they became prominent.


So let’s try to imagine the scene there in Rome. By the time Paul writes Philippians, he has been under house arrest for nearly two years. And it’s doubtless that the Christians in Rome had heard of his coming and were even anxiously awaiting the results of his trial, because they knew they could be expecting a similar fate for believing the same things. And during those two years, as Acts 28:30 says, Paul would welcome visits from all who came to him. And perhaps one of those visitors explained to him that there was a group of preachers in Rome who were preaching the true Gospel, but were antagonistic toward him. They envied Paul. Perhaps they were jealous of his success and prominence in the ministry. After all, there was no one more prominent in Christian circles than the Apostle Paul in the days of those missionary journeys. Perhaps they were envious of his giftedness, his intellect, or the respect and love he had enjoyed in all the churches. They were contentious… pugnacious. The kind of people who loved a good battle—would argue about anything in the name of devotion to truth.


And they were motivated, the text says, by selfish ambition. They desired to rise to prominence in the evangelical scene, and they couldn’t stand that this old guy, Paul, who’s been around for 30 years already was still the face of Christianity. It was time for a new regime to take over the leadership of the movement, and they saw Paul as a threat to the spotlight that they so arrogantly desired. They figured if they were going to be on top, they had to go after the man who was on top. And so, verse 17 says, they proclaimed Christ out of selfish ambition, “thinking to cause [Paul] distress in [his] imprisonment.”


Why did they think their preaching the Gospel would cause him distress? Because they thought he was just like them. You see, their arrogant lust for notoriety has driven them to see themselves in competition against Paul. They hate to see him prosper. Their self-promotion has so clouded their judgment that they would hate even to hear stories of the Gospel’s success if that success came at the hands of Paul’s ministry. And so they figure that if Paul hears that their ministry is prospering and that they’re drawing large crowds while he’s holed up in a Roman prison, that he’ll be distressed because his physical restrictions no longer allow him to be on the scene. You see? This is mean-spirited, kick-a-man-while-he’s-down, selfish ambition.


I’m sure Paul felt the sting of not being allowed to minister the Gospel freely. He wanted to go to Spain and lay a new foundation for the Gospel there. And these selfish preachers in Rome used their platform for the Gospel to rub salt in those wounds: “Hey Paul! We’re out here preaching freely and unhindered. Plenty of people coming to our churches. Too bad you’re stuck in there!”


He says they don’t preach from pure motives, verse 17. They didn’t preach with integrity, because the motive for preaching contradicted the content of the very message they preached! They weren’t “sincere,” as it says in chapter 1 verse 10. You remember last week that we said sincere comes from the Latin phrase that referred to pottery being “without wax,” and from a Greek compound word that referred to that pottery being “judged by the sun.” Well these preachers’ character would not stand the test of the sun. The light of God’s Word would reveal cracks in their integrity, and would show that they were motivated by the glory of self rather than the glory of Christ.


And that’s where we can ask ourselves if this text has anything to say to us. What is our motivation for preaching the Gospel—or for being involved in the various ministries that we’re involved with? Because as we can see, it’s possible to preach the right doctrine with the wrong motives. With striking insight into the human heart, Jonathan Edwards wrote the following: “There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those that they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party.”


 Do we preach the Gospel to unbelievers so that we can make much of Christ? Or do we do it because we want to brag about how many converts we’ve made, or how many tracts we’ve given out? Do we come to church, and to GraceLife, and go to Bible study, because we want to show everyone who will pay attention that Jesus is so glorious that He delightfully compels us to devote all that time to worshiping Him? Or do we do it to keep up appearances? Do we serve in ministry so that Jesus will be exalted and be made to look as satisfying as He is to as many people as possible? Or do we do it to be noticed by other Christians and pastors and leaders—to be thought of as spiritual by our friends? Faithfulness in ministry includes right motives as well as right doctrine (MacArthur, 65). Whether seeking to cause others distress, or exalting ourselves and not the glory of God, we need to put off impure motives and minister with integrity.


  1. Preaching Christ from Love and Good Will


We need to minister out of love—out of good will—like the second group of preachers that Paul mentions. Verse 15: “Some, to be sure, 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.” Alongside of this envious, contentious, self-seeking group of preachers were a number of men who loved Paul, who desired God’s best for him. Paul’s imprisonment motivated these men to preach as well. But rather than trying to cause Paul distress, they were hoping to bless his heart by stepping up and filling the evangelistic gap left by his imprisonment—picking up the slack of a wounded comrade in arms, as it were (Fee, 120). They wanted to help Paul by continuing his mission in ways that he was physically unable to do.


And notice: that motivation of good will and love is informed by their knowledge. Verse 16: “The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” The love and good will of this group of dear brothers is grounded upon their knowledge of God’s sovereign purpose in Paul’s ministry. He says, “They know I’m appointed for the defense of the Gospel.” That word appointed was a military term that spoke of a special assignment, like guard duty or defense of a strategic position. You see, this imprisonment was not God’s way of taking Paul off the battlefield because of some deficiency. It was a special assignment in the continuing battle. The praetorian guard was under special assignment from Nero to guard Paul, but Paul was under special assignment from the Lord Jesus Christ to bring the Gospel to the praetorian guard.


And these brothers knew that. And so rather than seeing his imprisonment as a hindrance, they saw it as the outworking of his divine assignment. And as they heard of his faithfulness in that special assignment, it emboldened them to continue Paul’s mission of faithfully proclaiming the Gospel in their spheres of influence.


And so there were some who were preaching Christ from envy and strife, and some from good will. The latter do it out of love, because they know that Paul is under divine assignment from the Lord Jesus to defend the Gospel in the highest of places. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, thinking to cause him distress while he’s in prison.


And you know, that couldn’t have been easy. In his commentary on this passage, Pastor John says, “One of the most discouraging experiences for a servant of God is that of being falsely accused by fellow believers, especially coworkers in the church. To be maligned by an unbeliever is expected; to be maligned by another believer is unexpected. The pain runs very deep when one’s ministry is slandered, misrepresented, and unjustly criticized by fellow preachers and teachers of the gospel” (MacArthur, 64).


Conclusion: I Rejoice


How would Paul react to being maligned, not by unbelievers, but by fellow preachers of Christ? What was his response to all of this? Verse 18: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.”


That’s great. “What then?!” “Paul, these arrogant, selfish preachers are using the Gospel as a platform just to give you a hard time! They’re envious of you, they’re contentious, and they’re dragging your name through the mud throughout the entire capital city of the empire!” And Paul says, “So what?! They’re preaching Christ! The Gospel is being proclaimed!” “But they’re happy you’re in prison!” “Yeah, so am I. I’ve been able to preach the Gospel to four different guards for six hours at a time every day for the last two years, and many in the household of Caesar himself are now more sincere followers of Jesus than they ever were of Nero!


“My dear Philippians. I thank the Lord for your sincere and earnest concern for my welfare. Yes, I am in prison. Yes, there are preachers who seek to malign me. But I want you to know that in both cases, the Sovereign Lord has ordained these difficulties for the purpose of advancing the Gospel. Even in the midst of these trials—indeed, precisely because of these trials—the Lord Jesus Christ is preached and the Gospel is advanced. And so I rejoice! And in all the struggles you face, so also should you rejoice.”


You see? This was the bottom of Paul’s joy: the magnification of the Lord Jesus Christ! Paul’s joy isn’t most deeply in his own prominence. Paul didn’t find ultimate satisfaction in easy and comfortable circumstances and a life without conflict. His joy isn’t in making a name for himself among other Christians. If any of that was the case, there was no way he could rejoice while he was chained to that Roman soldier! But his happiness—at its most foundational and ultimate level—was about making much of Christ no matter what the cost was to himself.


And dear friends, this is what it means to be a Christian! Most fundamentally, this is what following Christ is all about. You are born in a condition in which you are enslaved to find happiness only in the magnification and glorification of yourself. The only way natural people are made to feel happy is when they are made much of. But when the Lord Jesus invades your life like He did to the Apostle Paul—when everything in your life is driven by the Gospel—He frees you to find all your joy, and all your satisfaction, in the exaltation and magnification of someone else! Namely: Jesus! Paul can rejoice in this prison because his joy is in the exaltation of Christ, and Christ will be magnified in Paul’s body, he says in verse 20, whether by life, or by death!


And I just want to plead with you this morning: be honest with yourself about what lies at the heart of your happiness. What is the bottom of your joy? At the deepest, most ultimate level of your soul, when you strip away everything else, what makes you happy? Is it circumstance? An easy life? A good reputation? Prominence, recognition, the exaltation of yourself? Or is the bottom of your joy in the exaltation of your Lord?


Paul’s ministry was so driven by the Gospel, that even being unjustly imprisoned for two years, and even being taunted and maligned by other Christians couldn’t steal his joy. May God grant that it would be so with us.