Philippians 1:12-20: Selfish Ambition
June 15, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
What do you do when people say nasty things about you, attack you, or criticize you? What do you do when someone takes the work that you have been doing and behind your back undermines it and attempts to take that work away from you? In such scenarios it is all too easy to lash out in anger or develop bitterness within. In Christian ministry, sadly, it is possible also for people to become rivals, attacking and undermining each other, seeking position and power out of selfish ambition, when they should be all on the front lines proclaiming the gospel and focusing on advancing the kingdom. Paul, even when he was in prison for Jesus, experienced other Christian workers using the opportunity of his removal from the public eye to advance their own cause. How does Paul respond in such a situation? How does he look at his own imprisonment?
First, Paul looks at his circumstances through the interpretative lens of providence. God put him in jail. Therefore, God must have a purpose for him being in jail. What is that purpose? How is God at work in the life of Paul for Paul’s own good and the advance of the gospel even as Paul is in jail? That’s the kind of question that we need to ask about our difficult and even apparently disastrous circumstances. The Puritans used to call it “reading Providence.” What is God doing? What is his purpose? Even when we can’t discern the purpose, we can still know for sure that there is a purpose, because God is good and is sovereign and is weaving all things together for the good of those who love him.
Second, Paul notices that this imprisonment is being used for the advance of the gospel. But that is not just a passive observation. Paul, probably chained to a Roman guard, as the irrepressible evangelist that he was, probably used that proximity to the guards to tell them about Jesus! And as a result, one by one, bit by bit, the whole palace guard heard about Jesus! How could you use your circumstances for the advance of the gospel? In hospital, on a plane, on a train, in a restaurant, around the family dinner table—there are many opportunities to share Christ, not in an offensive or belligerent manner, but by asking good questions and giving answers to the hope within you. For instance, at a restaurant you could say to the waiter before you pray, “Is there anything we can pray for you?” That can open up real gospel conversations.
Third, Paul also notices that Christians outside of jail were emboldened by Paul’s example. Think of that the next time you go through a period of suffering. If you seize that suffering as an opportunity for Christ, it will give those watching and hearing about it fresh courage to tell others about Jesus too.
But, fourth, what about those who preach Christ out of envy and rivalry? Here comes Paul’s great question: But what does it matter? Listen to what he says in full:
“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” (1:18).
One great sign of a mature godly Christian leader is that they are not so concerned that their work goes forward (or that their name is recognized) as that the work goes forward so that the Name may be honored. When that happens, they rejoice, as did Paul.
And then fifth, through the prayers of God’s people, Paul is confident that he will be delivered one way or another. He will either be delivered from jail and physically be set free again. Or he will be delivered from this body of death and go to be with Jesus. Either way, he is confident that Christ will be exalted in Paul’s body, and so he rejoices. And it is the prayers of God’s people for him that gives him this confidence and the provision of God’s Spirit. Therefore, pray for one another, especially those facing persecution for the gospel, that there may be faithfulness and rejoicing even in the midst of suffering.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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