III. Paul's Circumstances (1:12-1:26)

2. The Gospel is Preached (1:15-1:18a)

Some Key Words (04/24/24-04/25/24)

Envy (pthonon [5355]):
envy, pained by anotherís happiness or excellence.| ill-will, jealousy.| prompted by envy.
Strife (erin [2054]):
| a quarrel, wrangling.| contention, wrangling.
Love (agapes [26]):
A word unique to revealed religion, indicative of such benevolence as loves sacrificially, doing what the loved one needs, wanted or not. | affection, benevolence.| benevolent good will.
Appointed (keimai [2749]):
[Present: Internal viewpoint, current, ongoing action.† Middle: Subject allows this thing to be done for himself [assuming causative here]. Could be deponent, and thus subject performs the action.† Indicative: Action is certain or realized.]
To set in place or be set in place, like a foundation.† To be appointed.| To lie outstretched, used literally or figuratively.| In the literal sense, to be lain like a baby, or like one buried, or to stand as being set in place.† Metaphorically, to be appointed by Godís intent, laid down as law.
Defense (apologian [627]):
| a plea.| verbal defense.
Ambition (eritheias [2052]):
One working for hire, selfish, self-willed, and susceptible to bribery.| intrigue, faction.| office-seeking, publicity seeking, particularly by trickery.† Electioneering.† Seeking to put oneself forward, as such, exhibiting a factious spirit.
Pure motives (hagnos [55]):
sincerely, without duplicity.| purely, honestly.| with sincerity.
Distress (thlipsin [2347]):
affliction or distress.† Pressure on the spirit.| literal or figurative pressure.| a pressing together, pressure, oppression, tribulation, distress.
What then? (ti [5101] gar [1063]):
something /| emphatic interrogative pronoun:† Who, which, what? / a particle assigning reason.| Who, which, what? / a conjunction often introducing conclusions drawn from prior argument, or outcome of prior action.† In a question, it expresses strong emotion.† It may introduce reason for prior opinion or reasoning.† In questions, introduces the reason for the question.† Used to introduce explanation of what was just said.† Gar never begins a sentence.† The combined phrase before us has the sense of asking what ought to be the conclusion, what ought to be the reaction?
Pretense (prophasei [4392]):
| outward show, pretext.| a pretext, a pretended cause.
Truth (aletheia [225]):
the unveiled reality.† The essence.† ďThe reality pertaining to an appearance.Ē| truth.| what is true rather than feigned.† In fact.† Free of affectation and pretense.
Rejoice (chairo [5463]):
[Present: Internal viewpoint, current, ongoing action. Active: Subject performs action.† Indicative: Action certain or realized.]
To rejoice in a joy resulting from Godís grace.† To be glad.| calmly happy, well-off, cheerful.| To be glad.

Paraphrase: (04/26/24)

Php 1:18a Ė Whatever their motives, Christ is proclaimed, and therefore, I rejoice.

Key Verse: (04/26/24)

Php 1:15-18a Ė Granted, some are preaching Christ with an ill will, looking to stir up contention, but others preach earnestly, for the love of God and of me, knowing that I am here by Godís will, to defend and attest to the veracity of the Gospel.† Those others are seeking their own gain at my expense, thinking to cause me trouble in my imprisonment to their own benefit.† So what?† Either way, whether from false motive or sincere, Christ is being proclaimed, and that being the case, I am thrilled.

Thematic Relevance:

If our theme is contentment in walking with Christ, here it is explicitly proclaimed.† Their motives may be questionable, but the Gospel is going forth, and as such, Paul is content and even glad.

Doctrinal Relevance:

Seeming devotion, even conjoined with careful preaching is still no guarantee of godliness.
What matters is the mission:† Christ proclaimed.
The word of God is greater than, more powerful than our sinful nature.

Moral Relevance:

Why do I do what I do?† Is it for God or for applause?† Is God working in and through me, or in spite of me?† That Paul looks past motives to results does not render motives unimportant.† It only confirms that God is greater.† If His word is not constrained by prison walls, neither is it constrained by our infidelity to Him.† He can work as He will.† But it is assuredly to my best good that I should gladly join Him in His workings, with a sincere desire to emulate Him and to please Him.


As Paul, so ourselves:† Rejoice that the word of God goes forth.† This does not require that we align ourselves with such ambitious would-be leaders as Paul was dealing with, but we must look beyond that.† Seek what God is doing, not so much why man is doing as he does.† Rejoice to see God even turn evil intent to good purpose.† God is doing the work!† He is getting it done in spite of the shoddy tools with which He is encumbered.† And He will do it.† He will redeem every last one of those whom He chooses to redeem and nothing shall prevent it.† He redeemed me, after all, and that in spite of my disinterest.† Praise be to God Who overcomes, Who transcends, Who does all His good purpose.

Questions Raised:


Symbols: (04/25/24)


People, Places & Things Mentioned: (04/25/24)


You Were There: (04/26/24)


Some Parallel Verses: (04/25/24)

2Co 11:13
Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, pretending to be apostles of Christ.
Php 1:5
I rejoice for your participation in the gospel from the outset.
Php 1:7
It is only right that I should, for I have you on my heart, and you have been partakers of grace with me both in my imprisonment and in my defending and witnessing to the gospel.
Php 1:12
So, know that even these present circumstances of mine are furthering the gospel.
Php 1:27
and conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, whether I come visit or not.† Be of one spirit, one mind, one faith in one gospel.
Php 2:22
You know Timothyís proven worth.† He has served me in furthering the gospel like a child serving his father.
Php 4:3
Help these women who have shared my struggles in the cause of the gospel.† Help Clement, too, and all my coworkers.† Their names are in the book of life.
Php 4:15
You also know that since I first preached the gospel, and departed Macedonia, no other church but yourselves shared with me in giving and receiving; only you.
1Co 9:17
If I volunteered to do this, I have a reward.† But if it was against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.
Ro 2:8
Wrath and indignation are the lot of those who are selfishly ambitious, obeying unrighteousness rather than truth.
Php 2:3
Do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit.† With humble mind, regard one another as more important than self.
2Ti 2:9
I suffer hardship, even imprisonment as a criminal, but the word of God is not imprisoned!
Jas 3:14
If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition at heart, donít be so arrogant as to lie against the truth.

New Thoughts: (04/26/24-04/30/24)

Here by Appointment (04/27/24)

One of the risks of studying as I do, one small passage at a time, is that of losing sight of context.† Losing context in our study of Scripture is never a good thing.† It leads to supposing meanings that simply arenít there to be had.† Of course, the same could be said of our interactions with one another.† Even within marriage, the problem can arise.† I speak out of the context of my thoughts, but may not think to convey that background; too busy getting to the point.† My wife hears without that context, and as such, may interpret my statement far differently than it was intended. And I may just as readily misinterpret what she says to me, perhaps for lack of context, perhaps for having tuned out a flood of seemingly unrelated context.† Add to this that what we perceive in others has the unwritten context of past experience.† We filter.† We hear with pieces missing and with pieces added.† And our approach to Scripture can suffer these same colorations of thought.

With all that being said, while I was mildly bemused, shall we say, that so many of the parallel verses for this passage just point out into the surrounding material of this letter, it is good that it does so.† There was a time when I would have automatically filtered out such references to the book I was studying, certainly if it fell within the same chapter.† Save that for when I get there, or, I already looked at that; these were my reasonings.† But they were incorrect.† It is well to remain constantly reminded of what brought Paul to this point in his letter, and where he was going with it.† Here, as we begin to consider this passage regarding events outside his imprisonment, he is expanding on something said just prior.† It was the introductory point of the previous portion of the text in this study of mine.† ďKnow that even these present circumstances of mine are furthering the gospelĒ (Php 1:12).† That is obviously paraphrased.† Indeed, following the NASB, His circumstances were, ďfor the greater progress of the gospel.Ē† Those in Jerusalem had thought to strike a blow at this Christian sect, which they accounted if not heresy then certainly a threat to their prestige.† But GodÖ Those most wonderful words!

So, as we come to this present passage, Paul is expanding on just how the gospel is being furthered, and heís admitting reality.† He doesnít candy coat events, insist on not seeing whatís happening around him.† No, while the example of his continuing to minister even from his imprisonment has indeed given many in Rome courage to proclaim Godís word with boldness, there have been those whose motives were not right.† Weíll get to that.† Right now, I want to scan ahead just a bit to something said as to those whose motives were right.

They knew that Paul was appointed as one to defend the gospel.† This is an interesting term, and one I had overlooked somewhat in my preparations, so I needed to go back and see.† And now, I see as well that I overlooked a check on one of those words I should continue to check automatically.† So, let me divert a bit before I dive in.† Back in verse 12, his concern had been that they know not what was happening in his case, but what God was doing.† And we saw that in that case, he addressed the intention as being that they ginoskein, know absolutely, have knowledge of, perceive, and we might say, perceive with the knowledge of God.† Now, in verse 16, he speaks of these more sympathetic preachers eidotes that he was appointed.† They see and know.† Or, given the perfect tense of the thing, they know having seen.† Itís worth knowing that when it comes to this form of knowing, it is always in the perfect tense, always knowledge that comes of past observation, the present result of past action.† Thus, it tends to find use in matters of knowledge gained by perception, we might say inferred knowledge, or intuited knowledge, where ginosko in its various forms speaks to experiential knowledge.† At any rate, those noted here have seen Paul, have seen what God is doing through Paul, and have recognized, based on the data, that indeed, he is where he as well as who he is by divine appointment.

Now, perhaps, I can turn to that word which brought me here.† At base, it has the idea of being lain in place or set in place.† In this more literal application, Thayer observes the ideas of a baby lain in its crib, or a body laid in the grave.† The intent, in both cases, is certainly that what has been lain isnít going anywhere.†† And so, it takes on this more figurative meaning of being set in place in a fashion similar to laying a foundation.† And that would certainly fit the role of the Apostle, whether we consider Paul or one of the others.† These men were the foundation of the church, together with the prophets, which I continue to see as reference to those men through whom God caused the Old Testament texts to be written.† And of course, we have Christ Jesus as the cornerstone.† Following the pattern of Greek construction (I mean physical construction, not syntactical), the cornerstone was a carefully prepared stone, checked and rechecked for square.† And it was laid most carefully, to ensure that it was also as perfectly level as could be established.† As the foundation was laid, each stone was added to a line radiating out from one of two adjacent sides of this cornerstone, constantly checked against its reference.† So, when Paul writes of this in Ephesians 2:20, he is seeing the house of God constructed, and seeing his own place in that work.† To one side, the prophets, to the other the apostles, of whom Paul was one.† But in both cases, the true measure is to Christ Jesus.† The prophets, coming before His advent, looked and preached forward to Him.† The apostles, coming after His advent, looked and preached back to Him.† Here is the focal point of history, from which all else unfolds, both back to the beginning and forward to the end.

So, yes, Paul was laid as a foundation, or as a major piece of that foundation, and he was clearly well aware of that role in himself.† But thereís another aspect of the foundation that is clearly in view with this matter of appointing.† Having been laid in place, it stands.† It is set in place, immovable by design.† Okay, so letís take this the next step down the metaphorical path of its usage.† What God has appointed is set in place, is immovable by design.† His appointments are the outflow of His intent, and what God intends, transpires.† Who is there, after all, who shall tell Him no?† Who is there with power sufficient to stay His hand?† Itís impossible.† For He is all-powerful and all-knowing God.† It is in Him and by Him and through Him that any being has being, and shall that which is created and sustained by His power alone then rise up to thwart Him?† He need but blink His eye, and that opposition would cease to be.† Resistance truly is futile.

If that sounds too nearly like fate of the old, superstitious sort, Iím sorry.† It does sound akin to that view, but so be it.† God is sovereign, and God appoints.† And Paul certainly understood this inevitability of irresistible grace.† Go to his theological masterpiece, Romans.† ďDoes not the potter have right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel of honor, another for common use?† Will that which is molded really confront its molder, asking, ĎWhy did you make me thus?íĒ (Ro 9:20-21).† I have reversed the order in paraphrasing, but thatís the gist of it.† Obviously, that lump of clay on the wheel has no awareness from whence to question the form it is given, but thatís beside the point.† And we may very well find ourselves asking God on manifold occasion why He opted to make us such as we are.† Whether itís an aspect of our experience that would kind of wish Heíd not been so keen to bless us with, or something we would prefer He had, or whether itís simply the awareness of our sinful nature, and those sins we find so difficult to displace, thereís something in us that inclines to whine. ďWhy me, Lord?Ē† Weíre not alone.† David hit it on occasion.† ďHow long, O, Lord.Ē† Even Jesus, we might note, had His moments.† ďHow long must I put up with you?Ē† When is this going to be over, so I can go home?

I would be surprised if there werenít at least moments in his private thought life that Paul felt a similar questioning of events.† Why this, Lord?† I should be out there spreading this gospel, as You commanded me to do.† Whatís with this prison cell?† Whatís with those years seeing the sea just out of reach beyond the walls of Herodís palace, confined to that place and not out reaching Your people among the Gentiles?† But if such complaints had troubled his thoughts, they apparently hadnít done so for long.† Look at this!† Look back at that earlier verse.† The gospel is in fact going forth.† It is growing stronger in those who believe, right here in Rome.† And it is gaining entry even to the palace guards, and those in Neroís own household!† God is not merely good.† He is amazing!† Who could have imagined this result?

But also draw a sense of Paulís perspective from his letter to Corinth.† There, especially in the first epistle to that church, we find Paul somewhat on the defensive, although he very bluntly makes of his defense an offensive push for truth.† But in 1Corinthians 9, he is addressing his authority, his office as an Apostle Ė an office unmentioned in this letter to Philippi.† The problems were many in Corinth, and their natural, competitive spirit had led to them seeing the ministry of the gospel rather like their Olympic games, a competition in which one apostle must emerge the champion, and the others prove lesser mortals.† And Paul makes this point:† His preaching is nothing he can boast of, for he is compelled to preach.† Indeed, he says, ďWoe is me if I do not!Ē† He then expands on this.† ďIf I do this voluntarily, I have a reward.† But if I preach against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to meĒ (1Co 9:16-19).† Left in isolation, one might very well suppose he is suggesting by this that in fact he does preach against his will.† But let us go on.† ďWhat then is my reward?Ē† Well, then, weíre back to volunteer work.† His reward, he says, is that he can preach without charge.† He doesnít have to do this to earn a living.† Unlike many an itinerant preacher of that day, his was not a pay to play ministry.† Indeed, he went to great lengths to see that it was not so.† ďI donít make full use of my right.Ē† He could have charged, could have insisted on his upkeep at their expense, but he would not.† It wasnít because he knew himself undeserving of that support.† Far from it!† Rather, ďthough I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so as to win the more.Ē† You wanted a competition?† Well, hereís the winning move.

Back to our own text, though.† He is appointed.† He may have voluntarily accepted that appointment.† But in another sense, I think we should have to accept that his voluntary acceptance was most assuredly compelled.† His conversion experience really wasnít of a sort he could believe or not.† And the message given Ananias, who came to bring understanding to him!†† ďI will show him how much he must suffer for My nameís sakeĒ (Ac 9:16).† No doubt, He did just that.† But did Paul receive foreknowledge that he would be thus imprisoned in Rome, wasting away year after year?† Probably not.† He did, however, know his appointing included bearing witness to Christ before Gentiles and kings.† It was in that same set of instructions.† Perhaps that had been in mind as he appealed to Caesar in the first place.† Perhaps it had been in mind by the Spiritís whispering.

Be that as it may, here he is, in prison, still proclaiming Christ, and still seeing the power of the gospel.† And so, as he casts his thoughts upon events outside his quarters, he sees that at least one impact of his ministry was that those who loved Christ saw clearly that his imprisonment was no counter-argument against faith.† It wasnít somehow evidence that this Christ he proclaimed was inferior to the old order gods of Rome.† Rather, it was proving evidence to the contrary.† Much like Moses in Egypt, as God undertook to knock down the Egyptian gods one by one, here was Paul, imprisoned by Rome, but the gospel unbound.† Here was God causing His word to bear fruit even in the very rooms of Caesarís house!

Now, we have future knowledge of Nero, and of the havoc he would cause to Christians as his reign continued.† And we might find ourselves again wondering, why this, Lord?† How could You?† Why would You?† Paul may well have had some inkling of what Nero was capable of, even at this stage.† He had, after all, seen to having his wife murdered so he could remarry.† He was not exactly a scrupulous fellow, even at this stage.† Yet, Paul is content.† He knows that he is here by Godís appointment.† That he had his own hand in moving events to this point changes nothing in that equation.† That Nero had the power changed nothing in that equation.† God appointed.† God purposed.† God empowered.† And he was seeing Godís purposes proceeding in every direction.† What of this trial, then?† It will only serve to further the kingdom of God, however it turns out.† What of these less savory preachers, seeking to cause him annoyance by their success, seeking perhaps to stir royal sentiment against him by making more noise about Christ?† Itís a shocking response, in its fashion.† It could be summed up as, ďWho cares?Ē† So long as they are preaching the Christ Who Is, have at.

This is a stunning message to ears used to the debates and sniping familiar amongst us Protestants.† It is a stunning message to hear when we are used to hearing about the all but irreconcilable differences between Armenian and Calvinist, between Methodist and Reformed, between even Baptist and Congregational.† Of course, a bit of perspective would soon inform us that those differences are nowhere near so drastic as we tend to make them.† They are not matters of salvific import, but matters of interpretation, of perception and theory.† For my part, I still incline firmly in the Calvinist direction, but what of it?† I am rather more inclined to the more intentional (in my view) believerís baptism of the Baptists, but I donít reject those who baptize their infants as being somehow not real believers.† To the degree that Christ is left out of the church, well, now we have issue.† If a church is insisting on proclaiming as good what God has clearly declared to be evil, well, to begin with Iíd have to insist weíre no longer dealing with a church of Christ, but rather a synagogue of Satan.† But where Jesus remains the head of that church, differences of understanding should not be cause for rejection as false believers.

Paul was who he was by appointment.† He was where he was by appointment.† We can say the same for our own churches.† If there are distinctions of denomination, this is not somehow evidence that these denominations are in rebellion against Christís intent.† No.† They are established by His appointment.† Again, I am insisting that by church we indicate those who still adhere to Christ alone, Scripture alone; those who are seeking as best they may to know Him fully and truly, and to proclaim Him fully and truly.† We are here by appointment.† God has made us who we are.† He has given us such understanding as we have.† And He has tasked us to further His gospel, His kingdom with the tools given us.

My mind begins to think forward to this fallís intended trip to Africa.† Their ways are different than ours in the particulars.† Their situations are certainly very different from ours.† We donít go to mold them in our image, or to be remolded in theirs.† We go as servants of our Lord, to our fellow servants.† We go to help one another to grow in all knowledge and wisdom and understanding (Col 1:9).† We go to speak the truth in love, to receive the truth in love, to see Godís kingdom made that little bit stronger, that little bit better equipped to expand freed from such errors as might creep in, given cultural history and present cultural situations.† We go as servants of our Lord, compelled as was Paul, but voluntarily contributing our best efforts, as did Paul.† We seek, like him, to minister at no cost to those to whom we minister.

Father, grant us the wisdom necessary to the task.† Guide us, that we may deliver that which You would see imparted to our brothers and sisters; no more and no less.† And may we, in turn, be willing to receive that which You would impart to us through them, that You may indeed be all and in all, and all be to Your glory.† Amen.

No Place for Politics (04/28/24-04/29/24)

Paulís point in this passage is easy enough to see, but it is somewhat hard to fathom.† This is at least in part because we read of these preaching from ill intent, and conclude that they must be preaching something other than the gospel.† But I donít think that is the case.† If it was a different gospel they preached, then I feel quite certain they would meet with stern rebuke and clear correction from Paul.† But here, itís not so much what they are proclaiming as why that is set before us.

In both cases, to maintain our connection to the context, they could be said to have been emboldened to speak because of Paulís circumstances.† They see him in jail, or at least under house arrest.† And they see that he continues to minister in spite of this.† And they see that his guards are doing nothing to prevent this or to punish him for it.† And what has come of it is that the Christians in Rome are becoming more willing to speak of their faith, bolder in telling their neighbors and coworkers about this faith that has so changed them.

Yet, we have this discussion of motives.† Some are preaching Christ from envy.† They are ambitious, wanting to be recognized in their own right.† They view it, it would seem, as a competition.† Or, at the very least, they view Paul as a threat to their position.† Others, as Paul says, recognize him for what he is, a man appointed by God to preach the gospel; nothing more, nothing less.† Now, what either group may have had to say about Paul and his predicament, we can speculate.† But what they said about Paul isnít the concern.† Itís what they say about Jesus, and at least so far as their preaching is concerned, it would seem their words remained true to Christ.† Their witness declared the God Who Is.† It is on this basis that Paul can rejoice.

Okay.† So, there is still the preaching of character, and here, there canít help but be trouble, right?† And this is where I want to concentrate, even if Paul is busy rejoicing in the effect.† I grant you, he takes the wiser and grander path, choosing to look not at circumstances and possible impact to himself, but rather, to what God is achieving in spite of it all.† Heís not out to win friends.† Heís out to win souls.† And this must surely be our goal and desire as well.† That doesnít mean we go out to be offensive.† That doesnít mean we donít look to our own motives and character.† But it ought to give definition to our motives and character.

So, letís look at this just a bit.† Some preach from envy and strife, from selfish ambition.† Now, itís worth taking a moment to remember where we are.† We are in Rome.† Rome had an established Christian community.† Paul was not the planter of that church, but he had written to it at length and with great care.† His abilities as a rhetorician, as an apologist for the gospel would have been clear to these folks, for they had read his work.† If there was a church, then there was an established church leadership.† There were preachers in place, elders having charge of the church.† Was it one church, or multiple?† I donít know.† I suspect it was multiple, but perhaps not.† But those who had some established place in that local structure could very easily have suffered a certain degree of pride in their position.† They may have felt themselves threatened by this one who was such a force of spiritual nature.

His letter to Rome had not been devoid of correction, though it is rather muted.† It seems clear enough that, rather like Corinth, there was some degree of class distinction in that church.† One gets the sense that it was primarily differences in perspective between those drawn from Jewish backgrounds, and those from pagan roots.† They saw things a bit differently.† The latter may have had significantly less quibbles with eating what was available from the markets.† The former may have been inclined to continue with their familiar ceremonies and feast days.† And Paulís answer had been, effectively, to say these donít matter, really.† Do as conscience dictates, and be tolerant of your differences.

Itís really the same message we find him delivering to his friends in Philippi here.† ďDo nothing form selfishness or vain conceit.† Be of humble mind, and regard others as more important than yourselfĒ (Php 2:3).† You can see how this flows from what he has to say here.† These outside, some of them, are preaching from selfishness, from a self-centered ambition, thinking to gain stature by somehow knocking me down a step.† Were they noising it about that Paulís imprisonment was indication that God was not so pleased with him as he let on?† Were they, perhaps, hoping to somehow have a negative influence on his upcoming trial by becoming more of a public nuisance with their preaching?

I could almost imagine them taking to the street corners, calling out to those passing by with insistent urgings to repentance.† You could picture the caricature of that street-corner preacher with his big sign reading, ďRepent, for the end is near!Ē† And thereís a reason for that caricature.† For many, thatís pretty much the Christianity they present.† And itís true enough, this message they speak, and necessary to hear.† I canít but note that this was the same sort of message Jonathan Edwards preached to so great an effect back so many years ago.† But there is a vast difference between speaking the truth to those drawn to come hear it, and verbally banging folks over the head with it at random.† At least, to my mind the difference is significant.

But there is a duplicity in view here, as Paul contrasts this selfish ambition with pure motive.† Thereís something, though, that I think must be clear to us.† Their faith, however poorly presented, is not in question here.† At least, I donít see it as such.† I need to be careful of this.† We are not considering wolves in sheepís clothing, poseurs professing a faith they do not in fact possess.† Thatís not the issue.† The issue is the politicking.† These are office-seekers, if you will, and office-seekers have a propensity for doing whatever it takes to get the vote.† We know that as regards our politicians, or at least we should.† Somehow, it seems we get it in our heads that while thatís true of most, itís not the case with our guy.† Heís sincere.† Heís pure as the virgin snow.† But the likelihood of that being the truth of the matter is miniscule.† Power corrupts, and politicking invites the corrupt to come play.† The rewards are too great, the profits available even in losing do not serve to attract those with true desire to serve the best interests of the country.

Now, I cannot say that ministry is a path to riches, and having seen somewhat of the weight of ministry, if at second hand, itís not an easy living.† That is certainly the worldly perspective on the pastorate.† Oh, theyíre just men who couldnít make a living any other way.† Theyíve opted for this because itís a low effort job.† Thereís none of that physical wear and tear of real labor.† Thereís nothing of the skill and training of the technology sector.† But I will tell you that these are in fact men highly skilled and highly trained.† And they are dealing with the human condition day in and day out.† They must serve as counselors, psychologists (though without any association with that professionís training), teachers, examples.† They must prove themselves skilled in multiple languages, effectively presenting a graduate thesis every week.† And they must present their case in such fashion as will be to the benefit of the youngest, least educated of their flock as readily as to the most accomplished and potentially skeptical of their flock.† Itís a skill set to be admired, quite frankly.† They may have to add on roles akin to that of CEO or headmaster, setting direction, stirring their flock to greater devotion and to participation in new pursuits that they would not be likely to consider on their own.

I think of the fact that I went on that trip to Malawi last year, and now find myself rather looking forward to going again.† Ask me a year and a half ago, and I would have told you how unlikely a turn of events that would be.† Me?† Why would I do that?† Itís not in my wheelhouse.† Not really my thing.† Iím far more comfortable with teaching those here who need a deeper engagement with their Bibles.† Iím more a discipler than an evangelist, and even with that, I would have to confess I have been doing little enough in the last few years.† Kind of drawn inwards, I guess.† But this trip was more to do with discipling than outreach.† Oh.† It is in my wheelhouse, then, just uncomfortable.† Got to deal with strangers.† Got to deal with those who canít speak my language, nor I theirs.† Got to deal with the cultural differences.† Yep.† All of that.† And the wear of travel and dust and heat and having to consider what youíre eating and so on.† And the experience of being the one pointed out as clearly not from here.† I donít think there was any sense of hostility to it, perhaps the conditioned expectation of handouts from the rich foreigner, or perhaps just the curiosity of something so pale, so very much out of the ordinary.† But it needed some of that CEO-style inspirational leadership to even get me considering such a thing, and this, too, fell to the pastor to deploy.

I would also have to confess that for that last year or two, perhaps longer now Ė time gets away from me Ė there has been something of a skeptical, testing spirit in me.† I wonder at motives.† What game is this one playing?† Whatís up this that one?† Is this sincere pursuit of God, or is this office-seeking?† Is he for real, or is this all just a graft?† Sorry.† Perhaps it comes of reading too much political coverage outside the realm of the church.† Itís sad, but true, that the things we focus on will tend to color our perceptions in other matters.

So, I found myself looking at a doctrinal conclusion here, that seeming devotion to God, even when it produces careful and accurate preaching, remains no guarantee of true godliness.† And I suppose I still hold that to be the case.† But Iím not that certain itís Paulís point here.† It could be that these who preached from selfish ambition did not in fact possess a true and saving faith.† They may have just found a position that gave them some boost in their sense of self-worth.† Quite possible.† But whatever their internal, moral condition, such is the power of the gospel that even in such hands as these, it can go forth to great effect.† It may not have changed them for the better, but even so, by the means of their preaching, God is able to change those others who hear the message from them.† This is rightly amazing.† And rightly humbling.

The issue, as I say, is not that the message is false.† If that were the case, Paul would be all over that error, proclaiming the truth boldly, even fiercely, and yet with love.† No, the message is true but the one delivering it, not so much.† Pastor Mathews, interestingly enough, was on much the same subject yesterday in his sermon.† He was coming from a different angle, being in 1John, but the point was much the same.† False motive need not corrupt the message, though I would have to say it most often does.† But, as he pointed out, and as I have observed often enough, God can use a donkey to speak truth. I sincerely doubt that donkey had anything of faith in him.† He was a donkey.† But GodÖ† Thereís that story changer, again.† But God.† God needed the job done, and this was the tool at hand.† The same might just as readily be said of those serving from impure motive.† Indeed, we might reasonably conclude that were we to eliminate every servant of God whose motives were impure we would rapidly find ourselves left with no one, ourselves included.

And that brings me round to the proper effect this whole matter of motive should have.† Itís not a call to try and take the measure of the man in the pulpit, nor even of the man in the next pew.† Itís a call to look to my own condition.† The question is not, ďWhatís his game?Ē† The question is, why do I do what I do?† What are my motives?† Am I so pure, then, that this should not be a concern?† Far from it!† Even with these morning studies, itís a question deserving to be asked.† Why do I do it?† Is it just habit at this point?† Something to do while Iím waking up?† No.† I donít think thatís it.† Is it just a chance to rattle out these thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head, to show somebody (I donít know who it would be) that I think big thoughts, that I can write in a compelling fashion?† Do I become too enamored of my own phrasings and insights?† Now, we have a real possibility there.

If I contemplate the way things generally go when I come back to reread the text with commentaries in hand, I would have to confess that a great deal of what gets my attention consists in things I wrote before, on this pass. Well, if all Iím doing here is poking at my own brain, reinforcing my own thoughts, then I am doing worse than nothing.† But, let us assume this much is not the case.† If, as is often observed, this is no more than stuffing my head with knowledge, then still, I have done nothing.† If this is not serving, by Godís grace, to reformulate the inner man after His intent and design, then itís as useless as those efforts Paul counters in Colossae.† Sounds good on paper, but pointless.† That would be the sum of it, and as was pointed out yesterday, such pointless, and even counter-productive works will be burnt up, come the day of Godís all-consuming fire.† They are dross.† They are the husk on the grain.† They need removing, not improving.

What of things like worship ministry?† That, to me, is the great danger.† It is far too easy for pride to creep in, almost inevitable; especially in one who has battled pride for decades now.† Tricky thing, pride.† You think youíve beat it and it just comes back.† So perverse are we that even our humility is turned into a badge of pride.† But do I worship to worship, or do I worship to display my chops?† Well, Iíll tell you what.† I want my chops to be there, and more often than not, I disappoint myself in that regard.† Whatever the cause, my eyes tend to lose their place and my fingers forget to stop.† But there is a desire to be at my best, and to be improving what my best is.† I suppose that runs rather counter to aging in some regards, but so be it.† Yet, even this desire to be at my best does not yet arrive at motive.† Thereís the question of why?† Why do I wish to be at my best?† Is it simply to stave off embarrassment?† Well, face it, that would be more easily done by stepping down.† Nothing done, no room for embarrassment, so no, I donít suppose thatís it.† Or maybe the desire for recognition, much as it discomforts me when there is some, is my activator, and itís strong enough that it overwhelms concern for embarrassment.† After all, here I am navigating voices on the keys, pulling the sax in, switching from one to the other as seamlessly as I can.† And I do think I am improving in my ability to do so.† But is it show?† Is it, ďlook at meĒ?† I hope not.† I think not.† Is it truly worship of God?† Well, yes and no, I suspect.† I do love music, and it is certainly at risk of displacing God at times in my list of loves.† And there is something in me that wants to try and do even more.† Perhaps now I could pick up a guitar and do something with it.† I should know better, but I have to confess the thought is there.

And I could ask why it is that the music I do Ďon my own timeí, while hardly likely to cause offense to God or brother, is at the same time hardly of a sort we would account to be worship music.† Some border on it, perhaps, but as they are almost always of an instrumental nature, the religious intent is largely left as an exercise for the hearer to find for him or herself.† And I know that a mere change of title could, in many cases, render something with no particular God-seeking intent to be perceived as imparting some deep spiritual message.† Honestly, with most music of this sort, the only clue you have to intent lies in the title, and that is rarely if ever enough.† Shoot, most of my titles come as almost a last-ditch effort to have something to call it.† They may merely describe my mood the day I finished it.† They very rarely exist at the start, nor during the period of making progress on the song.† Others may be some amusing turn of phrase tucked away and waiting for the song that fits it.

But I am distracting myself, arenít I?† What if I am doing things for some sense that God applauds?† What if I am doing things in order to be thought well of by those I respect in the church?† And I have to ask, can I even be an honest judge of this?† Not in my own power, certainly.† I can look at these danger signs, explore them, and inevitably conclude that yes, I see the danger, but I donít face it.† And I pray, when I thus conclude, that it is indeed the Spirit guiding my thoughts in that direction, and not my deceitful heart.† As I say, I know too well the pride within.† I know too well the need to be right.† I know too well the urgent need to prove myself at work, to be demonstrably useful.† I know the frustration of feeling I am too slow to get the thing done, too often delaying myself with foolish errors.† But still, I look to my pursuits in the world of faith, and I do believe my motives are at least reasonably pure.† No, I donít serve for applause.† I donít find it appropriate.† I donít serve for notice.† Yes, itís nice to be appreciated, and yes, without the occasional nod of appreciation, itís easy to start questioning whether I should be doing what I do.† Perhaps I stink at it, and nobody has the heart to tell me.† That would be dreadful, but it would be dreadfully predictable in a house full of those who wish to love their neighbor, but donít necessarily understand what love is.

I can turn to my trip to Malawi, and to what would appear to be a revisit this fall.† Why?† Well, I can certainly say that in the first event, it was not from some urgent desire to go see Africa.† And honestly, seeing Africa, at least with a typical touristic interest, is not what we did.† We saw it, and it was wonderful, but itís not like we went off in search of wildlife.† If anything, we saw more of the ugly underside of life there, what to us would be crushing poverty, and yet, in that setting seems to produce myriad gems.† Rest assured, there are plenty there who display their sin nature like a badge.† There are plenty for whom hope is an unreachable desire.† But then, there are so many who have come to know the Lord, who live out their faith, who abide in their poverty and keep on holding to Christ regardless.† And there is a joy which is so rarely to be found this side of the Atlantic.† That seems to be a recurring theme of those who come back from missions.† There is such a joy here.† And we canít really fathom it, find it unbelievable.† You have nothing, or near enough to, but youíre happy.† Your days are fully booked with just trying to stay alive, and yet, you display more grace and peace than we do with all our stuff and our leisurely pursuits.† How can this be?

So, why was I there?† I can honestly say it was because something moved me to go, something prompted me to see if indeed this was a work God was calling me to go do.† There was enough to it that sounded like something He had been preparing me for, that the going began to feel less improbable.† I have to say that there is much in the reception there to play to pride and ego, and just as much as when serving in worship, there is that in me which must be on guard.† There is always that in me which must be on guard.† I do know that God has gifted me with a capacity to grasp things rather quickly, for the most part, to make connections in my thoughts, to see the point.† And that can become a matter of pride and arrogance if Iím not careful.† I also know that God has been hard at work in me to burn away that pride, and I thank Him for it.

Why do I contemplate this return engagement?† I mean, it sounds a tiring schedule, especially with the experience of last time.† Three days here, three days there, and again, with flights between, and such cultural shift as there may be from point to point.† And there is the impact of the African perspective on anything we might consider a schedule.† We begin with the expectation of six hours to teach what we have to teach.† And so, we shall prepare, I expect, six hours of material to work from, probably more than that.† But then things eat into that time, and before you know it, what youíve really got is three or four hours, and still so much you would impart.† But why this urgency to impart?† Well, there are many reasons, not least the amount of false teaching we see in the area, and the incursion of other belief systems.† There is the recognition that here is a church well advanced in faith, but not terribly advanced in knowledge.† And then the question arises, well the first question:† Is that such a bad thing?† Is this not how the church found herself at the outset?† Well, yes.† But then, we must ask, how many of those foundational churches exist today?† I count maybe two or three, and Iím not sure about some of those.† But many of them can be confirmed non-extent, not only the church, but the city it was in left nothing but ruins.

And itís clear that the Apostles took pains to see these fledgling churches fed on truth, established on truth, clear on Christ and on sound doctrine.† That is the part we seek to serve, establishing in doctrine, giving them tools to truly ground themselves in the Scriptures.† And a first part of that, shockingly for us, coming from our Western world, is to actually supply them with Scripture.† Then, having just not received the book, there is this task of giving them some tools to read it with understanding, to apply it with wisdom.† And that, I have to tell you, is not a task this teacher is up to in his own strength.† But itís a need to be addressed, and itís something in which I suppose I may have somewhat to offer.† And so, I go.† And I seek to prepare.† And I also recognize my own slackness in the preparing.† But this I know, and I know it well, as I watched it unfold previously:† God works in and through us when we go.† I can quite readily say that I felt that much more clearly and definitely when ministering over in Malawi than I feel it here at home.† And itís a good feeling.†† Would that I could see the same here, for we as a church certainly need it.† And perhaps the church as a whole is indeed discovering this in themselves, but it still hits as too stage-managed, and that is a bother.† And it leaves me back with these questions.† Why are we doing this?† Why are we doing it this way?† Is God working in and through us, or in spite of us?† And I have to confess I donít have the answers.

In large part, to my relief, these are not answers that I am tasked with giving.† I am not in leadership at this point, nor does it seem likely to me that I shall return to such a role.† I could confess something of a tug in that direction, but it would take much to convince me that I am suitable to the task at this juncture.† But I have responsibility for my own condition.† I have responsibility to live the truth I believe to the best of my ability, and beyond that, in the power of God.† I have a responsibility to take from the examples around me, not as striving to be more like them, but to recognize the shortcomings revealed in me, and to do something about them.† I have the responsibility to undertake even that task with a clear eye to my incapacity, a clear dependence on and trust in my Lord to produce the change in me.† But I also have that responsibility to bring myself alongside Him in His work, to set myself before Him as willing to what must be done, not resisting, but seeking to comply.† And in all this, it must remain the love of God that compels me, not the love of self-improvement, not some desire for accolades, not some need for validation.† I am validated.† I am, as the song says, who He says I am.† Iím just trying to act more like it.

I would pray, then, that I might take heed to Paulís counsel in the next chapter, that I would do nothing from selfishness, nothing from vain and unwarranted conceit, but rather, that I would develop and maintain such a mindset as truly considers those around me, my brothers and sisters, my wife, my children, even my coworkers, as more important than myself (Php 2:3).

Lord, bring me to that place.† Get me over myself.† Those who come with questions deserve a cheerful and willing assist.† They are not an annoyance and a distraction.† They are why I am here.† Itís so hard for me to see things that way.† Would You please help me to do so?† Would you bring me to a place of being far, far less concerned with my own tasks, my own agenda, my own never-ending busyness, and instead focusing as I ought on what You are doing in these situations?† That is the message, after all, to keep our eyes on You, to see what You are accomplishing and thus, to have joy even in the hardest of circumstances.† Let the be me, Lord.† Let this be my story.† Let grace abound, and a love that is true, for You, and for those You set in my path.

It's the Message, Not the Motives (04/30/24)

Continuing the line of thought, Paul looks more directly into the question of motive.† So let us be clear:† The message they speak is accurate enough.† Both sorts are declaring Jesus Christ as Lord, declaring the need for all to repent and turn to Him, and proclaiming the rich mercy of His forgiveness.† The message is not at issue here.† There may be mistakes in their presentation of Christ, aspects of this majestic truth that they donít have down quite right.† I would have to insist that the same holds for me, for my pastor, for men like Calvin and Luther and Augustine.† Yet, I would assuredly insist that these men preached Christ, and I would certainly hope the same can be said of my musings in these notes.

Itís not the subject matter that differs.† Itís the motives.† This is what makes the difference.† As I have been exploring already, itís what makes the difference in our individual spiritual health, and it is also, I should think, what makes the difference in the bodily health of the church.† But Paul is looking at those who are out there preaching the gospel.† Some, he says, are doing this from selfish ambition.† Their heart is not in proclaiming Christ as Lord, but in proclaiming their own importance.† These, as he says, are hoping to cause Paul some distress in his predicament.† Now, whether the distress they intend to cause is simply that of stirring up jealousy in him that they can be out their gaining a following and heís stuck in his prison house, or whether they have something more nefarious in view, is not said.† Let us suppose itís simply a matter of projection on their part.† They know how they would chafe at seeing another gaining a following while they were in chains, and suppose Paul to be like them.† They are quite wrong, as Paulís response makes clear.† Paul is not like them.† Heís not playing games, and heís not looking to his legacy, as if that were something that matters.† I suspect at some level he would be a bit put off, dismayed even, to see how highly he is revered even now.† Itís not me youíre after, children!† Itís not me you need to esteem.† Itís Christ and Christ alone.

And do we share his humility?† Do we in our turn seek to turn attention on Christ or draw attention to ourselves?† The message we use may be the same in either case.† As I say, itís the message, not the motive.† Why are we doing this?† Why do I tell others about the Lord?† Or, as the case more usually is, why donít I?† I this a pretended cause or real?† A bit of both, perhaps?† More than likely, I should think.† We are rarely if ever of one pure mind about anything.† But let us come to Paulís response.† There may have been those who hoped to cause him some agita.† There may have been those who hoped to bring him some comfort and honor.† Paulís over that.† Either way, heís over that.† You may preach from some pretense, some veiled purpose draped in holy garb, or you may preach in truth, Ďthe reality agreeing with the appearanceí, to take somewhat of Zhodiatesí definition of truth.† It is one I love very much.† It is the goal we ought rightly to seek that we might attain.

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, saying that God desires those who worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (Jn 4:23).† Indeed, itís not so much a statement of Godís desire, as a definition of what it means to worship Him.† God is Spirit, He says.† Those who worship Him must do so in spirit and truth.† The heart must be in it.† The reality of the inner condition must match the outward appearance.† Feigned worship is no worship at all.† Why?† Because itís a question of motive.

I dare say, if you had asked Paul his opinion of the individuals involved, as to their future hope, it would be a much different message you heard from him, assuming you could convince him to speak at all of the matter.† Those who preach truth in pretense are unlikely to find themselves welcomed into the kingdom for their efforts.† The truth, you see, is not in them.† We mentioned that donkey who proclaimed Godís truth to Balaam.† It spoke truly enough, delivered the message with perfect accuracy.† But I donít expect to find that donkey walking among the redeemed when we get to heaven.† I donít expect it to be rewarded for having been little more than a conduit, a conducting wire.† Honestly, when you hear a fine performance, be it an orchestra, a play, a rock band, a worship team, or your pastorís preaching, do you praise the wiring for doing such a fine job?† You might, I suppose, give some thought to the amplification and the mix, but to the equipment?† Hardly.† One might appreciate the quality of one sound system as compared to another, but itís not the sound system that brings you joy at the hearing, itís what that sound system conveyed.† The same applies here.

And what applies even more strongly here is the simple reality that Godís word is far greater than our sinful nature, far more powerful than our sinful motivations.† It is sufficiently powerful that even our ill intent, even our inherent error as we proclaim it, is insufficient to dull its impact.† Godís word is not bound, not by the chains imposed by those who would see it stopped, not by the weakness of flesh in those who would see it proclaimed.† There is a call in this, to get past this business of seeking to measure the man.† Itís not about what the man is doing or why he is doing it.† Itís about what God is doing.

This should be our response to pretty much all of life, though it rarely is, in my view.† Those of the Reformed tradition are perhaps more inclined and better prepared for it.† As I was reading in Table Talk this morning, there is this fundamental perspective that all that transpires in all of life does so by the will and purpose of God.† Nothing escapes that boundary.† And no, it is not simply that God looked down the tunnel of time and saw how you or I or whoever else would act, and factored that in.† No.† He decreed, thus shall it be.† I understand the perspective that cringes at that idea, that edges away in concern that it leaves God as author of evil, or that it leaves man no more than a puppet on a string.† But neither of these are necessary conclusions in light of His sovereignty.† His motives remain pure as He is pure.† His purposes remain good as He is good.† We just have a faulty sense of goodness, much as we have a faulty perspective on love.

So, then, we come to Paulís response.† And in so doing, we may perhaps have a bit of challenge in quite framing it as intended.† It begins with two small particles, ti gar.† And something in me wants to play that as Kiplingís, ďTiger, tiger, burning bright.ĒTi gar? Reading through sundry translations, you can see the interpreters challenged to present it rightly.† What have you got?† A rather generic pronoun, and a particle of conjunction.† Something what?† But this ti is somewhat emphatic and interrogative in nature, at least according to Strong.† And Thayer takes much the same perspective.† Who?† What?† Gar simply indicates that the conclusion follows, the answer follows.† The answer, where we find this conjunction, is drawn from what has already been said.† Thayer adds the note that where gar is used in a question, it gives expression to strong emotion in the response.

Paul is stirred here, but not as those antagonistic souls outside thought to bother him, no.† His response is far nearer to, ďSo what?Ē† Or, as the Apologetics Study Bible supplies it, ďWhat does it matter?Ē† Paul is looking beyond the man to the purpose God intends in it.† Who cares what they intend by it?† Whether they seek to encourage Paul or discourage him is honestly of no interest.† What is God doing?† Look!† The Gospel is going forth.† Christ is proclaimed!† The kingdom is on the move!

Thus, we have the NIV giving his response: ďThe important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.Ē† In every way, from every motive, the Truth is yet proclaimed.† I could think back many years, back when I could still tolerate listening to NPR, and their broadcast, whatever the subject was at the time, managed to declare something rather profound.† Now, I have to confess that the particulars of that event are long since lost in the mist of memory.† I might perhaps uncover mention of them in these notes of mine back nearer the event.† But it demonstrated the point.† Their motive, as the subject of the broadcast made clear, had absolutely nothing to do with Godís Truth.† They had, even then, little enough interest in seeing Godís Truth proclaimed truly.† And yet, here was this nugget of Godís Truth declared, as it were, in spite of their intent.† It slipped through, passed their lips into the mic before they could realize the implication, if ever they did.

I have to think itís something akin to that with these preachers by pretense.† Itís not that they are slipping one by God.† Rather, God is slipping one through them.† He is sovereign.† He is very much in charge, and He is able to make use of the poorest of materials to achieve His glorious ends.† And so, with Paul, we can look on events and understand, ďWhat is important is that they are telling people about Christ, whether they are sincere or not.Ē† I take the ERV reading there.† Itís time to put an end to cynicism as our practice.† Itís time to hear what God is saying rather than seeking to assess what the man is intending.† Honestly, if the situation is such that we feel the need to question everything, then either we ought not to be there in the first place or we, like these preachers by pretense, are projecting, and ought more rightly to be looking to ourselves and our motivations.† Get the log out of your own eye, lad, and stop trying to spot the dust motes in everybody else.† Thereís your message.

Look to what God is doing and rejoice!† That is all.† ďIn this I rejoice, and I will rejoice.Ē† Let this be our guidance and our motivation.† Lord God, let it be so.† Amen.

picture of Philippi ruins
© 2024 - Jeffrey A. Wilcox