“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
From a human perspective, Paul certainly had every right to be upset that some were moved to preach the gospel more out of their jealousy over his ministry than their love for the Word of God (Phil. 1:15–17). Yet today’s passage reveals that the apostle rejoiced in the fact that the gospel was going out to the citizens of Rome and that he dwelled little on the impure motives evident in some of the city’s evangelists. Only one thing can explain how this could be the case — Paul had great confidence in the power of the gospel. No matter the preacher or the motivation, the gospel’s advance is a cause for rejoicing because it always achieves the Lord’s design for it.
That the effectiveness of God’s inspired Word is not dependent on the purity of the preacher is a truth found throughout Scripture. We see in Numbers 22–24, for example, that Balaam was compelled to preach the Lord’s blessing on Israel even though he wanted to curse the people of God. Our Creator can even speak His Word through a donkey if need be (22:28), proving that the power of His message is not in those who proclaim it — aside from Jesus, of course, who is God incarnate (John 1:1, 14). Indeed, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword . . . discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). This remains true whether the speaker is the holiest saint or the worst sinner.
We should be glad that the power of the gospel is not in the one who proclaims it. If its effectiveness depended on the heart of the preacher, we would be in the worst state imaginable, for none (save Jesus) are ever pure enough to be worthy of speaking God’s Word (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 1:8–9). Practically speaking, then, we need not worry about our salvation if the preacher from whom we first hear the gospel later apostatizes. The life-transforming power of Scripture is not in the frail human beings who bring it to the ends of the earth but in its nature as the breathed-out revelation of the triune Creator (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
Although we should be concerned about our motives and do our best to ordain for ministry only those whose hearts are intent on pleasing God, Scripture cannot fail to accomplish the Lord’s intent (Isa. 55:10–11). The gospel “is the power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), not human preachers.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Paul had such confidence in the gospel because he knew it belonged to God and is far greater than any one person’s ministry. When we understand this truth, we are free from bondage to the latest fads that seek to make the gospel acceptable to sinners. If we are faithful to proclaim the gospel simply, clearly, and unaltered, then we can be sure that the power of the Lord will go with it.