Question:

Does Philippians 1:12-18 mean that whatever way the gospel is preached it is not too important? What will then be the reward of a person or people involved in preaching the gospel out of envy and strife?

There are some congregations here that have decided to do monthly joint evangelism, but the problem with the plan is that they get to decide whose congregation's turn it is to invite. If a congregation can't host others, it is then moved to the next one or another may be used that month if she can. Doesn't this undermine the autonomy of individual congregation? This joint evangelism has yielded some great results and this has reinforced the stance of those congregations in support of it. I still believe it's wrong to fix an evangelism exercise for any congregation.

This may not be an appropriate comparison, but my question is: Can the passage I referred to be used in this case too? That is, whether a congregation's autonomy is encroached on in the course of the exercise, we who refuse to participate shouldn't sweat on it much as long as Christ is preached?

Thank you.


Answer:

"But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:12-18).

As much as we might wish otherwise, there is little in this world that we can actually control. Things don't always go our way. For many, this becomes a point of bitterness and depression, but Paul shows us that even in trying situations, we can make the best of the circumstances.

Paul is in imprisoned, but he realizes that imprisonment has turned out to have some benefits. Though he was a prisoner in chains (likely chained to a Roman guard); yet, because he wasn't a typical criminal, he was allowed to stay in his own rented home and receive guests. He spent his time teaching everyone who came to see him (Acts 28:30-31). He used that time to write many of the churches. Our letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written during his imprisonment. He was constantly under guard, but that meant these same guards were listening to Paul preach the gospel; thus, from Paul's viewpoint he had a captive audience. He was being watched by Caesar's personal guards, which gave Paul access to people in high places (Philippians 4:22; Acts 9:15-16). Paul turned a bad situation into a productive one.

But not only that, his example was encouraging others to preach. Because Paul wasn't being stopped, others gathered courage to speak without fear. Now Paul understood that not everyone was preaching Christ from good motives. Some were hoping that spreading the gospel would cause Paul more problems when he eventually faced Caesar. Yet, this again wasn't something Paul could control. To be sure, we would like to think that everyone is preaching because they are zealous for God, but that is being overly optimistic. Some preach to make money (II Corinthians 2:17). Some preach, but twist the truth (II Corinthians 4:1-2). But Paul didn't focus on all the bad preachers. He kept a balanced view and knew there were good preachers out there. Contrast this to what happened to Elijah when he fell into depression. He thought he was the last person standing for God (I Kings 19:10,14), but God pointed out that Elijah didn't know about 7,000 others like him (I Kings 19:18).

Yet, Paul even found something good regarding the people who were preaching the gospel for the wrong reason -- at least the gospel was being spread. People were hearing about Christ in areas where faithful Christians had not yet reached.

Thus, we don't need to despair over all the false teaching going on in the world. True, these false teachers are leading many people astray -- people who have no love for the truth (II Timothy 4:3-4). But at least some truth is being taught and they are reaching people we might not be able to reach. Some of those people will have a desire for truth and they will continue to seek it. Therefore, you can be thankful that these false teachers at least got people part way to the truth, making it easier for you to teach them what they are missing.

This isn't an acceptance of false teachers. They will still face the wrath of God. We will still oppose their errors. But at the same time, I don't need to become despondent because some much false teaching is going on. I can recognize that some good, however small, is being done, and I can use that small good to further the gospel.

Sometimes I meet people who suddenly realize the truth. "I wasted all those years following the doctrines of men!" That is one way to look at it. Or you can look at it that those years got you to the point that when you found the truth, you recognized it and accepted it. It wasn't an absolute total waste of time.

Yes, the joint evangelism is a project not operating according to the teachings of the Bible. Because of that I would not participate in it, but I can still be happy that at least the name of Christ is becoming known in places I can't reach. I'll still teach against the method, but I'm not going to become discouraged because it is going on.

For more on why it is wrong, see: