Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Philippians 1:15-18

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

To Live Is Christ

Yes, and I will rejoice,


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s joy in knowing that the Praetorian Guard and many others in Rome knew that his imprisonment was for Christ, not a crime and that encouraged them to proclaim the Good News without fear.

In today’s verses, he discusses his rival preachers and those who have no issue with him personally.

Last week’s post has an excerpt from John MacArthur’s sermon in which he says that he was going through a Pauline issue with preachers turning against him for no good reason.

In this week’s sermon, which MacArthur preached in 2003, he told the congregation that sound preachers were verbally attacking him and his ministry (emphases mine):

Before we look into the text let me just help us to get a little bit of a running start.  I have occasion to speak to pastors quite often and church leaders, and frequently I am asked this question, very frequently: “What is the most discouraging thing in the ministry?”  “What is the most discouraging thing in the ministry?”  Now, as far as I can remember, I have answered that question fairly consistently over the last number of years Two things are the most discouraging, distressing things in the ministry.  Number one is people who choose to live and behave at a lower level than they should, based upon their spiritual knowledge and experience Let me say that another way.  It is extremely discouraging in the ministry when a believer who knows the Word of God well and who has experienced significantly the blessing of God’s spiritual growth – Christian fellowship – who then almost defiantly turns his back on it and walks away into sin very discouraging. Much more discouraging than a new Christian who falls into sin, or an untrained Christian who stumbles into sin because they’re ignorant of God’s Word.  The heartbreaking thing in the ministry is people who know very much about Scripture and very much about spiritual living and have had great spiritual experiences and have seen the movement in the power of God and know what it is to really to walk in the Spirit and choose to walk away from it and engage in sin – very discouraging.  People who know better acting as if they didn’t.

And the second thing that I always bring up when I’m asked that question is the second most discouraging thing in the ministry is being falsely accused, falsely accused by those who are your fellow preachers of Christ – very difficult, very difficultThere are people who want, for whatever agenda they have, to discredit your ministry And so they falsely accuse you. They aren’t doing it from the world of unbelief; they’re fellow preachers of Christ Very hard to deal with.  Obviously I’ve been in the ministry long enough to have experienced both.  I seem to be in the midst of experiencing the second of those two right now, and I confess to you that I am not seeking to serve my own interest by preaching this. This just happens to be where we are.  But it hits a bullseye as to where I am currently So if I leak a little in the process of getting this over to you, you’ll understand.  It’s very difficult to deal with being falsely accused by people who also preach Christ, who are your fellow servants of Christ but for some reason want to discredit and harm your ministry.

You say, “Well, why do you bring that up?”  Because that’s exactly what Paul brings up in this passage That second issue is the issue of verses 15-18, look at them. 

Paul tells the Philippians that there are two types of preachers: those preaching from envy and rivalry and those who preach with no negative agenda (verse 15).

That is a difficult verse. How can one preach Christ and do it out of malice against another preacher? Surely, that cannot be preaching Christ.

MacArthur explains that one can — although one should not — truly preach Christ with negative motives:

You say, “Well, you mean they really preached the true gospel?  Could it affect anybody?”  Yes.  A preacher with a jealous, envious, selfish motive can still be used of God, and I’ll tell you why He can’t be used of God as much as God would want to use him, but he can still be used of God to this degree that – listen carefully – that the truth is more powerful than the package it comes in And you can put the Word of God and the saving gospel in the mouth of a man with bad motives and the truth is still the truth, and powerful, and powerful.  Because the power, as John Eadie, that old commentator, said, “Lies in the gospel not the gospeler.”  It lies in what is preached, not the preacher.  

Paul says that the good preachers deliver the Good News out of love, knowing that Paul is in prison for defending the Gospel (verse 16).

However, those with bad motives preach the Gospel insincerely for their own ambition, to afflict Paul in his imprisonment (verse 17).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the insincere preachers wanted to eclipse Paul as preachers:

They were secretly pleased when he was laid up in prison, that they might have the better opportunity to steal away the people’s affections; and they laid themselves out the more in preaching, that they might gain to themselves the reputation they envied him: Supposing to add affliction to my bonds. They thought hereby to grieve his spirit, and make him afraid of losing his interest, uneasy under his confinement, and impatient for release.

The good preachers found that Paul’s imprisonment encouraged them to want to help him by spreading the word of God more broadly and boldly in his absence:

there were others who were animated by Paul’s sufferings to preach Christ the more vigorously: Some also of good will, and love: from sincere affection to the gospel, that the work might not stand while the workman was laid up.—Knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. They knew that he was appointed to support and propagate the gospel in the world, against all the violence and opposition of its enemies, and were afraid lest the gospel should suffer by his confinement. This made them the more bold to preach the word and supply his lack of service to the church.

MacArthur emphasises that the envious preachers were teaching sound doctrine:

The detractors here were not attacking Paul’s theology. It was his person that bothered them.  And so they are preaching Christ They really are.  Look at verse 15, “preaching Christ”; verse 17, “they proclaimed Christ”; verse 18, “Christ is proclaimed.”  Three times he says that – three times. They are not heralding another gospel, like those in Galatians 1:6.  They are not proclaiming another Jesus, like 2 Corinthians 11:4 and 13This is the same gospel and the same Jesus Christ They are not the Judaizers like chapter 3, verse 2, called “the false circumcision.”  They’re not “the dogs” or “the evil workers” of that verse.  There’s no difference in their content.  There’s no difference in their gospel. There’s no difference in their preachingThe difference is in their motive.

MacArthur says that Paul wants the Philippians — and us — to know about these men so that they — and we — can avoid them:

Paul writes this here not so we’ll feel sympathetic for him but so we’ll know that this is how it is And he reminds us in writing this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the Lord takes note not only of what we preach but of why we preach it That the Lord is not only into content but the Lord is into motive.  Sadly, there are always those who attack the faithful of God who are specially blessed And that breeds strife and contention. And there is great jealousy among church leaders There is today. There always has been that problem

He returns to that group in verse 17 And he gets us a little deeper into their hearts.  “The former” – the detractors – “proclaim Christ.” Again he reminds us for the second time, they “proclaim Christ, the true gospel.” But they do it “out of selfish ambition.” There’s the motive That is contrasted to pure motives – rather than from pure motives. They don’t have pure motives. Their motive is selfish ambition – the ugliest, most wicked, vile of all motives.  They’re a long way from the principles of chapter 2, verse 3, which says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” Don’t you people in Philippi behave like these ugly, envious, jealous, selfish, ambitious preachers of Rome

The word here translated “selfish ambition” – let me give you a little background; it’s very interesting.  Originally the word erithia was not a bad word at all.  As far as we know in its etymology, originally the word simply meant “to work for pay,” “to work for pay,” which is okay; working for hire But a man who works only, solely for pay works from a very low motive, very self-seeking motive He’s out to benefit himself and that’s all he sees, and so he only wants to advance himself and his own gain and his own prestige. He becomes a careerist, if you can understand that word.  A man who is simply out to magnify himself So the word because of that sort of tendency came to be used in politics for someone who was seeking office, running for office, canvasing for office.  It came to describe a man who spent all his time promoting himself, which is exactly what politicians do – total self-promotion, based on self-ambition.  It came to describe the personally ambitious then.  It came to describe that competitive spirit which is out to advance itself and really doesn’t care how it does that or who it steps on in the process.  And that’s what moved these men, erithia, driving ambition to elevate themselves at all costs.

And they saw the way to do it, if they could just get on top of Paul you’d be at the peak If you could just push Paul down and be thought of as greater than Paul, you arrivedSo you attack whoever’s on top – that’s the issue You don’t attack your, the other guys on your level. You go and attack the guy on top so you can be elevated above him.  And so they saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to advance their own influence, their own prestige, and lessen his – selfish ambition, ugly rather than pure motives; envious, jealous preachers moved by selfish desire for prominence, craving honor, craving fame, craving preeminence rather than loving this faithful man.  Look at verse 17, they thought “to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” They wanted to hurt me.

However, Paul tells the Philippians that he has his eye on the bigger picture — the spreading of the Gospel — and it makes him rejoice (verse 18). He repeats himself:

in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

The advance of the Gospel message is all that matters to the Apostle, no matter who preaches it or for what motive, good or bad.

MacArthur interprets verse 18 this way:

You know what he’s saying?  “Look, what does that mean to me?  Absolutely nothing.  Only one thing matters to me.”  In whatever way, whatever method, whatever motive, whether it’s hypocrisy, “pretense” – and it doesn’t mean they pretended to believe the gospel. They believed it. They just pretended to preach it out of pure motive when their motive was really to hurt Paul.  “Or in truth” – those who preached truth with true intent.  He said, the bottom line, “Christ is proclaimed” katangelletai, means “to proclaim with authority.”  “If Christ is being proclaimed with authority, that is enough to satisfy my heart.”  Oh my, what a man, what a man!  Whether sincerely or insincerely, “if Christ is preached, I rejoice.”  He didn’t rejoice in the preaching of error, and did not rejoice in the sinful attitude of the preachers But he rejoiced that Christ was preached That was the overriding thing.  And he “will rejoice” in that.

Paul continues the theme in the next several verses.

Next time — Philippians 1:19-20