“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill... What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.”
~Philippians 1:15, 18 (NRSV)
Even in the Apostle Paul’s imprisonments the gospel was proclaimed to a great extent and the Christian faith grew inexorably. Indeed, as an irony attached to the challenges of adversity Paul was facing he exposed the Praetorian guard to the practicalities of faith, resplendent in his witness as a grace-filled prisoner.
But we learn something of the personal challenges Paul faced in this mini reading above; whilst he acknowledges the work of brothers and sisters in love, his heart and mind also battles with thought for those preaching Christ out of skewed motives—and this by way of no favour to Paul.
Still, he rejoices!
Valuing The Order Of Things
Reading between the lines, Paul is highlighting to the Philippians that the difference between those who proclaim Christ out of love and those who don’t is the way they treat him—their father in the faith. There was surely a lack of respect, but perhaps more; some Judaisers had slipped into the ranks, even joining the church, to proclaim their legalistic Christ.
Despite the doctrinal differences that may have been evident, there was the “envy and rivalry” that Paul mentions to deal with.
We would not go out and preach Christ neglecting the minister we are under. We would do so with deference toward those who have mentoring roles, or authority, over us. This is what is hoped. But, Paul definitely had a thorn in his side, messengers of Satan, who pushed Paul’s chain-bound faith to the brink of persecution, and frequently past it.
The Deeper Motive Of Incorrect Proclamation
If we follow the Judaising motive, and see the presence of false teachers instructing within the early church pretext, we can see the blending-in of legalism into a faith set apart to grace.
In going quietly and subversively against the pulsating grace that Paul’s preaching majored on, the Judaisers were still preaching a familiar message, but one that minimised grace by cheapening it to something easily appeased by human action; only a learned elder might detect that God was being discreetly left out of the picture.
When rules are added to our faith, particularly in the things we read or the preaching we hear, and grace is not punctuated as it should be, we ought to be alert for false teaching. This sort of influence can have a dangerously negative impact on our faith; it minimises the power and grace of God, whilst maximising the value of human effort.
We ought to rejoice, like Paul, whenever Christ is proclaimed. But we ought also to check what the message pivots on: that we are saved by grace alone through faith, or that rules, rituals, or regalia must be added to qualify our faith? The former is proclaiming Christ, correctly, out of love; the latter could be heresy, proclaimed selfishly.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.