“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.”
The advance of the gospel in the city of Rome while Paul was in prison was certainly a wonderful thing, for it demonstrated that the efforts of mere men cannot extinguish the light of the gospel of God (Phil. 1:12–14). At the same time, however, we might say that there was a bit of a downside to the situation. Unfortunately, not all of the Roman Christians had their hearts in the right place as they preached the gospel during the apostle’s imprisonment.
We see in today’s passage that although some had a pure motive in proclaiming the Word of God with boldness, other preachers were moved by jealousy and an attempt to increase Paul’s afflictions. Before we look at these motivations, let us note that those who preached out of rivalry and envy actually preached an orthodox gospel. After all, Paul rejoices that Christ was proclaimed by these people even if a desire to pour salt in the apostle’s wounds was their inspiration (Phil. 1:18). Moreover, if these jealous brothers had been preaching an unorthodox gospel, the apostle would have quickly condemned them just as he condemned the Galatian Judaizers (Gal. 1:6–9). Authentic evangelism was going on in Rome even if some of the evangelists had questionable motives.
These Roman evangelists had insincere reasons for doing ministry. That is, they were not moved by a true love for lost people and a desire to see God glorified but by jealousy for the apostle Paul’s name and impact on the church in their day. With him sequestered behind bars, these individuals sought to increase their own recognition and gain a following larger than the apostle’s. While doing so, they hoped to “afflict” Paul in his imprisonment (Phil. 1:17), probably highlighting the apostle’s situation in jail as proof that God did not approve of Paul’s methods or ministry. In so doing, they were not living by the Spirit but in the flesh, and if their motivations never changed, they were unregenerate (Gal. 5:19–23).
Believers today remain tempted to preach the gospel for the wrong reasons. Some preachers, though they teach the truth, are more interested in building their own empires than God’s kingdom. Sometimes we minister simply for the approval of others. Let us guard our hearts against these fleshly motivations.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We must never discount the importance of preaching the truth. At the same time, we must never ignore the importance of having our hearts in the right place when we do so. God looks on both our outward behavior and our inward motivations (1 Sam. 16:7), approving of us only when both of these are directed to the good of others and His own glory (Matt. 12:1–14). What is your motive for serving the Lord this day?