It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Philippians 1:15-18
We Are All Servants
Paul’s imprisonment affected different groups of people in different ways. It gave confidence to many—particularly those in the Philippian church—to proclaim the Gospel without fear (v. 14). However, some were glad that he was imprisoned “because they felt this gave them a competitive edge over him in what they considered to be the contest of preaching the Gospel. These men preached Christ out of envy and rivalry, says Paul.
Paul uses the Greek “eritheia” for rivalry. Etymologically, “eritheia simply meant working for pay. But the man who works solely for pay is out only to benefit himself. The word, therefore, came to describe a careerist, out for office to magnify himself; and came to be connected with politics and to mean canvassing for office. It came to describe self-seeking and selfish ambition, which was out to advance itself and did not care about what methods it stooped to attain its ends. So some preached even harder now that Paul was in prison, for his imprisonment seemed to present them with a heaven-sent opportunity to advance their own influence and prestige and lessen his.”
In verse 16, Paul praises those who preach the Gospel out of love for Jesus Christ and as a testimony of their commitment to the great commission. These brothers and sisters were only motivated by their determination to preach the Gospel just as Paul had done. They wanted Paul to rejoice when he hears of their commitment to proclaim the name of Jesus.
In verse 17, Paul reiterates the fact that some preach Christ out of selfish ambition. Because of their spirit of rivalry, they wanted to stir up trouble for Paul while he was in chains. These people were more concerned about making a name for themselves to the demise of Paul. “Their competitive hearts didn’t only want to win for themselves; they also wanted Paul to lose. They wanted Paul to admit the humiliation of having to admit that others were more effective in ministry than he was.” They saw Paul’s imprisonment as validation of their ministry. In verse 18, Paul makes it clear that the only thing he cares about was that Christ is preached. He didn’t care who preached about Christ; he simply wanted the Gospel to be proclaimed. For the sake of the Gospel, he invites all followers of Christ to put aside partisanship so they can focus on the great commission given to believers by the Lord of the Church.
Years ago, I went to the Hampton Preachers Conference with several of my colleagues. I went to the conference so I can be encouraged and mentored by more seasoned pastors and religious leaders. However, I was disappointed to see the conference was simply a talent for national preachers to show they can preach better than others. I have since vowed that I would never go back to that conference. Indeed, there is much rivalry among the preachers of the Gospel. Many gifted preachers are more concerned about making a name for themselves than proclaiming the name of Jesus. Whereas many of these preachers are great orators, they are careerists, out to magnify themselves. Many of them are out to advance themselves and do not care about what methods they stoop to be famous.
“A.W. Tozer wrote this powerful piece rebuking the attitude of competition that is common among those in the ministry: “Dear Lord, I refuse henceforth to compete with any of Thy servants. They have congregations larger than mine. So be it. I rejoice in their success. They have greater gifts. Very well. That is not in their power nor in mine. I am humbly grateful for their greater gifts and my smaller ones. I only pray that I may use to Thy glory such modest gifts as I possess. I will not compare myself with any, nor try to build up my self-esteem by noting where I may excel one or another in Thy holy work. I herewith make a blanket disavowal of all intrinsic worth. I am but an unprofitable servant. I gladly go to the foot of the cross and own myself the least of Thy people. If I err in my self- judgment and actually underestimate myself, I do not want to know it. I purpose to pray for others and to rejoice in their prosperity as if it were my own. And indeed it is my own if it is Thine own, for what is Thine is mine, and while one plants and other waters it is Thou alone that giveth the increase.” (from The Price of Neglect, 104-105)
That should be the heart cry of every servant-leader who has been called by God to preach his Gospel. Preachers should rejoice for the success of one another. Our focus should be to use our individual gifts to the glory of God, and not worry about the way others are called to use their gifts.
When preachers compete against one another, only the devil wins. However, when we collaborate with one another and rejoice in the success of our colleagues, the Kingdom of God wins. There will always be a part of each of us that wants to be celebrated. However, we must constrain that desire of the false self, so the godly nature of our true self can come to the fore to the glory of God.
Lord, I pray for a spirit of harmony to prevail in your church so we encourage and support one another in ministry.