Mixed Motives (Philippians 1:15-18)

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Mixed Motives

Philippians 1:15 to 18a

I like doctors–my brother is a doctor and one of my closest friends is a doctor. But someone must not like them very much, because floating around the internet is this, “What doctors say, but what they’re really thinking is this.”

Like . . . when a doctor says, “Well, what do we have here?” They’re really thinking, “I have no idea. I’m hoping you’ll give me a clue.” Or, “I have some good news and some bad news.” They’re thinking, “The good news is, I’m going to buy that new BMW, and the bad news is, you’re going to pay for it.” When they say, “This may smart a little,” they’re thinking, “the last two patients bit their tongues off.”

I love doctors, but we all battle with mixed motives–saying one thing, but meaning another. Single gals know how men can be thoughtful and romantic, but only have lust in their hearts. Single guys know single gals can be coy or flirtatious, but mean nothing by it. Newlyweds often lose heart, when they realize their spouse doesn’t always mean what they say. Christian wives say they love their husbands but don’t submit. Christian husbands say they love their wives but fail to lead.

We don’t always mean what we say. We don’t always serve Christ with a right motive. As Paul continues describing his personal situation with the Philippians, he exposes the problem of mixed motives. Turn to Philippians 1 and follow along in your outline. After Paul introduces the Philippian letter in verses 1 to 2, he pours out his affection for this church in verses 3 to 8, wrapping it up with a prayer for their love to mature in 9 to 11.

Then beginning in verse 12 he describes his personal situation, and as he does he models for them and for us what mature love looks like. In verses 12 to 18 he talks about his present situation, and in verses 19 to 26 his possible future. We saw last time Paul’s present circumstances were a great joy, even though he’s under house arrest. Paul is joyful because . . .

#1  The PROGRESS of the Gospel  Verses 12 to 14

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” No matter how high the waves splash against you, keep your eyes on Jesus and your trust in His purposes and you will not sink. You will have joy. Even though Paul is chained to one Praetorian Guard every four hours, for 24-hours-a-day, he’s joyful because . . .

First  The gospel is going out to the LOST  Verse 13

So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.” The future leaders of Rome, even Caesars household, are responding to the good news of Jesus Christ because of Paul’s chains. Wow! And Paul is joyful because . . .

Second  The SAVED are more bold with the gospel  Verse 14

And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Even though Paul is chained, the Gospel is not chained and the great apostle is filled with joy as he watches the power of the Gospel save the lost and fire up the saved. What an encouragement to the Philippians! They’d be thinking, “The Lord is able to work out such good in Paul’s difficult circumstances, then the Lord can also work out good in all the setbacks, obstacles and trials I’m currently facing.”

Now Paul might have been tempted to write no more on the subject, but he was not one of those leaders who only gives people the good news of success. Paul knew his relationship with the Philippians required transparency. As wonderful as all this Gospel impact was, all was not well in Rome. There were many Christians who were sharing the Gospel in Rome with the right motives, but some were proclaiming the Gospel with wrong motives. Yet Paul was joyful anyway, because of . . .

#2  The PROCLAMATION of the Gospel  Verses 15 to 17

Look at verses 15 to 17, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”

The main theme of verses 15 to 18 is proclaiming the Gospel. How do we know?  In verse 15, underline “preaching Christ”, in verse 16 “the defense of the gospel”, in verse 17 “proclaim Christ” and in verse 18 “Christ is proclaimed.” Obviously Paul is talking about proclaiming Christ. Paul was, the Roman Christians were, and it should cause us to ask ourselves, “Are we proclaiming Christ?”

Is something missing in your life? Is there a lack of passion? Have your prayers become focused only on personal needs? Has the excitement of a personal relationship with Christ become mundane? The reason for many is you’ve lost your purpose. When the Lord called his men, he said in Mark 1:17, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” When Jesus left this earth, in Matthew 28:19, He commanded His followers to go and make disciples.

When the apostles taught the Church, they told you to buy up every opportunity to share Christ in Colossians 4:5 and 6, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.”

You are here to proclaim Christ. If you’re not doing it, then you’re not fulfilling your purpose. If you’re not fulfilling your purpose, then you’ll not experience the abundant life God promised. Like a cheetah that doesn’t run, or a Dodson that doesn’t hold babies–Christians who don’t proclaim Christ have missed one of their main purposes. Will you get serious about sharing Christ this year?

1  Plan–write down your ten most wanted, lost persons list

2  Pray for them regularly

3  Practice with a believer how you might share with them

4  Proclaim Christ verbally to glorify God

5  Preordained–you share, God saves . . . you don’t bring God glory by their response, you glorify God by sharing the Gospel

Some of the Romans were doing this, but not all of them were proclaiming Christ with the same motives–yet Paul rejoices Christ is proclaimed. But do not misunderstand Paul here. He’s not tossing out doctrine by saying he rejoices that the Gospel is preached with good motives or bad motives. He is not saying to unite under Jesus and forget doctrine. He’s not gathering everyone under any shade of Gospel.

No, Paul is saying when the Gospel is taught correctly, accurately, according to truth, it doesn’t matter to me if they’re motivated by trying to discredit me or to rub salt in my wounds because I am in prison. I don’t care what their motives are, as long as the correct Gospel is preached. How can I say that? Because Paul and the rest of the New Testament apostles never allowed an inaccurate Gospel to be taught anywhere.

Remember Paul’s words in Galatians 1:8 to 9, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now [just in case you didn’t get it before], if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.”

In Galatia, the heretics were telling others they had to keep the Law to be saved. That’s like someone telling you to clean up your act, live worthy, obey the Ten Commandments before God will accept you. Don’t think you have to work your way to Heaven or clean up your life—you can’t, but God can through Christ.

Remember Jude’s words in verse 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These people said the opposite of those in Galatia. They were saying like many do today–just accept Jesus in your heart and you’re saved no matter how you live. Just pray a prayer and you can go on living for yourself. Accept Christ as your Savior not Master, not Lord, because you don’t have to submit in your heart because it’s all grace.

Jude says those who teach that are already condemned. Paul points out in Titus 1:16, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” No one works their way to Heaven. You come to Christ alone to save you and His salvation is a gracious gift. But when you have received His gift His way, by saving faith, God’s grace will transform you, as Titus 2:11 to 12. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.”

So, as Paul rejoices over mixed motives, he is not tossing out doctrine. Paul is not saying the false “just accept Jesus, pray this prayer and you’re in, confess your sins, walk this aisle, do these good works or just believe Jesus died and rose from the dead”–he is not saying that gospel is acceptable today. Paul is not diminishing the sovereign salvation of God, whereby God’s own choosing the Holy Spirit regenerates a heart, creating a willingness in the heart for a person to submit to Christ, follow Christ and obey Christ, and in saving faith follow God’s Word in directional repentance.

Paul in no way is lessening the importance of an accurate view of the Gospel. If the Roman Christians were cheesing the Gospel, Paul would not write the things he’s about to write. On the other hand, Paul is rejoicing that the true Gospel is being proclaimed, even though it’s not always with the right motives.

So what were the right motives and the wrong? The actual order of these verses is reversed in some versions because a few of the Greek texts confused the order, listing verse 16 after verse 17. But even though the word order may be different, the meaning is clear. So let’s study verses 15 to 17 in a unique way. Since there’s an obvious comparison between the right and wrong motives in these verses, I’d like to expose the author’s intended meaning by comparing each aspect of the right motive to each aspect of the wrong motive. Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, let’s do some, “On the one hand, then on the other hand.”

First  Compare the HEARTS

Verse 15 says, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will.” The word “from” envy, and “from” good will are both from the same Greek word. Paul is saying envy and good will both have the same source–what? The heart of a person. Paul here is comparing the hearts of those with good motives and those with wrong motives.

The wrong heart is continually preaching Christ from a heart of envy and strife. The envy exposes the jealousy of the believers in Rome over Paul. They were struggling with his apostolic power and authority. They were jealous of his immense gifts and success in ministry. They were battling with salvation apart from the works of the law, salvation without Jewish tradition–and they blamed Paul. He was stealing their place of prominence and undermining their status.

This happens so often in ministry it’s frightening. A new, talented musician attends the church and the existing band is threatened–so they focus on all his faults. A fruitful teacher attends the group and the current teachers never use him–not to prove his character, but out of envy. A new mom works really well with her kids, but the other moms point out her faults instead of esteeming her—envy.

Paul says this envy also includes, verse 15, a heart of strife. The strife of verse 15 describes a heart of rivalry. Fellow teachers or missionaries who’re not proclaiming Christ for God’s glory but lurking in their heart is a desire to do better than Paul. Strife means to stir up trouble–it literally means friction. Paul says these men were not content to see me in chains, they want to rub the chains into my flesh. Their heart is to undermine trust in Paul.

Reminding each one of you, you can do what is right. You can commit to teach God’s Word, you can live a Godly life, yet still have people, even believers, attack you. Like spreading lies about a doctor saying he’s a drunk. There were believers in Rome saying God had stopped Paul from ministry by placing him under arrest.

Ministry is based on trust. Sadly, when a servant has spent years establishing a ministry of integrity, it’s hurtful and difficult when that foundation of trust is attacked. But this is exactly what’s happening with Paul. On the other hand, there were some preaching Christ in Rome with hearts of good will.

Good will is a heart of contentment and satisfaction. They’re pleased to share Christ no matter if they’re noticed or not. It doesn’t matter if they’re compared to Paul or not. These are the sisters who trust when the guy they like asks someone else out. These are the Christians who don’t care who gets the credit in ministry. This is the leader who’s not concerned if no one ever thanks him for his labors. They’re satisfied, content to preach Christ, serve Christ, volunteer for Christ and let God get all the glory.

Parents, your teen comes home excited about what they’ve learned. But you’ve been telling them that same truth for twelve years. What do you say to your student? “I’ve been teaching you that truth all your life!”? Or, “That’s awesome, son–praise God!”? Jean and I would say, “That’s awesome, son,”–then we’d go into our bedroom and say, “We’ve been teaching them that truth forever!”

Examine your heart–is there any envy toward others? Do you ever try to make other believers look bad? Is there strife? Are you jealous for who gets credit? Are you more concerned with appearing good to others, or giving God all the glory? Let the ugliness of a wrong heart make you weep, re-instate your desire to be content and satisfied with the good work of Christ–no matter who He ministers through, or how He accomplishes His work. Examine your heart.

Second  Compare the MOTIVES

Read verses 16 and 17, “The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” Circle the two “out of”s—“out of love” and “out of selfish ambition.”

Both “out of”s are the same Greek word, telling us Paul is exposing the right motives and the wrong motives. On the one hand, the wrong motive is selfish ambition. Selfish ambition is used of an employee who works solely to advance himself by acquiring wealth and prestige. The Greek word exposes someone who’s willing to ruthlessly get ahead at any cost. This is the “no one is going to stand in my way” motive of self-advancement. This is the person who battles everyone in order for self to get the spotlight.

These Roman Christians were using Paul’s incarceration as an opportunity to promote their own prestige. He’s in jail and we’re not. Their motive was to try to usurp Paul’s authority and gain positions of influence in the church during his absence. They were far from Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.”

Paul clarifies, by adding to selfish ambition in verse 17–see it? “Rather than from pure motives.” Literally, Paul means not sincere. Remember when Paul prayed in verse 10 that the Philippians would be sincere or pure before God? This is what was in the back of his mind, that they’d have pure motives before God who knows all hearts.

If you have a sensitive heart, you might struggle with your motives. Your conscience might condemn you to the point you’re stymied in life or ministry. You can’t serve because you feel you have mixed motives. What should you do? If you don’t know your motives, ask God to reveal whether they’re good or bad. If He doesn’t expose anything to confess, then minister as if your motives are good, trusting God to expose anything along the way. If you don’t know your own heart, trust God to expose what needs correction. But do not let the idea of wrong motives keep you from service for Christ or obedience to Christ. God says obey, the devil says delay.

On the other hand, verse 16 says those with love for Paul had spiritual motives. They were grateful for Paul and longed for him to be released and enjoy the freedom they had to proclaim Christ. They also hoped their newfound courage and boldness would bring Paul fresh encouragement during his incarceration. And not only would those with good motives love Paul, but they’d also love their hearers. They were not using their hearers to promote themselves. They were sacrificing, giving and proclaiming Christ to others out of loving hearts of concern for their lost condition, leading us to . . .

Third  Compare the GOALS

Again verse 16 and 17, “The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” Those who were in the flesh were actually thinking about ways to cause Paul distress in jail. Thinking tells us they were planning and scheming ways to cause Paul pain.

These true Christians were continually preaching Christ with authority–literally making Christ fully known, yet doing so with a goal to cause Paul misery. “Distress in my imprisonment” is to place pressure on another. They want Paul’s chains to be even heavier. They want to make his chains stab his heart, not merely rub his wrist. Distress literally means to raise the pressure–they want to get under Paul’s skin, to bug him, to make him suffer even more.

You can’t hurt a computer or grieve a theological concept, but you can hurt a man–and they wanted to hurt Paul. On the other hand, those who were in the Spirit knew Paul was sovereignly placed in jail to preach the Gospel. The participle “knowing” tells us they’ve known Paul was in jail to preach the Gospel, and they still know it as a fact.

Verse 16, “appointed” means God put Paul in prison to proclaim the Gospel. God literally set Paul there. Despite its appearance, this was God’s brilliant strategy, reminding us all our circumstances are in God’s hands and God uses them to advance His Gospel. When we cooperate, we’ll have joy. So God placed Paul in prison to, verse 16, “defend” the Gospel. He was there to correct the errors about the Gospel.

He’s teaching any way besides God’s way through Christ is the wrong way. Those Roman Christians who were proclaiming Christ to their neighbors with pure motives knew God appointed Paul to be placed under house arrest in Rome for two years so Paul could proclaim Christ to the leadership of the Roman Empire, even Caesar’s family.

So while Paul is under house arrest in Rome, some Roman Christians, from a heart of envy and strife, with a motive of selfish ambition, are preaching Christ in a scheme to cause Paul pain and belittle his ministry. Other believers are continually proclaiming Christ from a heart of good will, out of a motive of love, knowing for a fact God placed Paul in prison in order to defend the Gospel to the leadership of Rome.

My instinctive reaction is to call the harsh believers not real Christians, but make believers. But the context in verse 14 demands we view those with the bad motives as genuine Christian detractors. The detractors say Paul’s been detained for five years because God is spanking him for sin. Paul lacked God’s power to get out of jail by faith, or Paul was being replaced since the church needs new blood like us. Some said Paul was playing politics–he should have been martyred long ago for his faith, thus he must be working out a deal to stay alive.

Why would Christians say such things? We know from the letter to the Romans, there were Jewish Christians who still wanted to require Gentile Christians to eat like the Jews and keep their Jewish traditions. There were also Gentiles who felt so free from the Law they wanted to force the Jews to reject all Jewish practice.

So now the Jewish Christians would especially glory that Paul was in prison, since they could cast doubt upon his “totally free from all the Law” approach. They could say, “See, Paul doesn’t keep the OT Law–Paul taught Gentiles they didn’t have to adopt Jewish traditions, so God put him in prison for it. God took Him out of the picture.”

No matter what was really happening in Rome, we know for a fact there were genuine Christians sharing the true, accurate Gospel of Christ from Spirit-filled motives and others sharing the true Gospel from flesh-driven motives. So how did Paul respond?

#3  The PERSPECTIVE of Paul

Verse 18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul shares two major perspectives here.

First  My PASSION is accomplished

Paul starts with, “What then?” We’d say, “Who cares?” What is my feeling on this? In every way I rejoice! Paul’s response to these frustrating experiences is a model of grace under pressure, and it gives us an insight into the motives which directed his own ministry. What then means, “How does all this affect me?”

Paul says, “I rejoice.” How could anyone say that? Paul’s answer is, “Christ is preached.” Paul is not rejoicing over the false motives of men who regarded him as a rival rather than a colleague. He exposed them as the self-absorbed individuals they were. But rather than allow their sin to eat away at his soul, discourage him and potentially introduce a note of cynicism into his life, Paul refused to allow himself to be diverted from the main business of his ministry—exalting the name of Christ and sharing the message of salvation.

Some of you have come from difficult churches–you’ve been hurt or treated badly. Learn from Paul here. The wrong motives of shallow men must never be allowed to become the determining factor in our attitude in ministry. It’s very easy to develop a heart of bitterness when we experience the errors of other professing Christians.

What we see from Paul is a recognition of false motives and errors, but the response of Paul is a heart filled with the grace of Christ, showing us as long as the concern of our lives is to honor Christ no matter what, we will be safeguarded from bitterness. Motives matter–but we must never allow the motives of others to devour us. We must make our hearts a sanctuary of love for Christ that remains untainted. We must bar everything from the sanctuary of our hearts except trust in Christ and love for Christ.

Like melted gold, the dross of bitterness and hurts must be skimmed from our hearts. People are going to hurt you, Christian. Christians will trash you, Pastor. But God allows all of it to make you better, not bitter. Protect your heart, confess the hurt, turn from bitterness and keep your heart free from everything but love for God and trust in His purposes and plan.

Motives are important–motives determine reward. Anything done for the glory of God in the power of the Spirit will be rewarded–cleaning, driving, cooking, working, schooling. But anything done for any other self-motive, done in our own strength, will be burnt up. Motives are important, but the message is even more important than the motive. Since the message, when given accurately, is so powerful, it can be used of God to save souls, even when the motive is wrong. Even the selfishly motivated preacher can still be used of God–not as much as when his heart seeks God’s glory in the power of the Spirit.

So Paul says, “Who cares?–Whether in pretense or truth.” Pretense means to hide from the light–it is fake, phony, hypocritical and false. Even if the motive of a believer is fake, I don’t care as long as the message goes out accurately. Whether in phoniness or truthfulness, I want the true Gospel to be proclaimed. Why? Because the passion of my life is being fulfilled, the good news is being continually proclaimed with accuracy to the lost. Paul wasn’t concerned about himself–he knew he was expendable. God would vindicate him in due time. So Paul was free to have joy.

The Gospel is the dividing line. The true Gospel is what we unite by or divide by. An accurate Gospel means the difference between Heaven and Hell, between true salvation and phony religion. An accurate Gospel means the difference between a real believer and a make believer. And the true Gospel divides, is offensive, is God-centered and people humbling. The true Gospel is the hill all Christians must die upon.

Inside the local church, we’re to teach one interpretation as absolutely always right. And anyone who disagrees with a clear portion of God’s Word is absolutely wrong. Outside the local church, we reject all those who teach a false gospel, but we fellowship with anyone who’s born again and proclaims a true Gospel, regardless of doctrinal differences.

We need discernment–this is why Paul prayed in verse 9 their love would abound in all discernment. Never affirm error, never be indifferent about truth, never say doctrine doesn’t matter. But as you grow deep in accurate truth you must also abound in sacrificial Christ-like love. Anyone who is genuinely saved we can fellowship with–even if we disagree, even if their motives are wrong. But if they don’t teach or believe a true Gospel, then we must not affirm them. The Gospel is the dividing line. The true gospel was so powerful, it could be shared with bad motives and still change lives, which caused Paul to say . . .

Second  My HEART is filled with Joy

Read verse 18 again, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul says, “I’m continually glad now, and I will be glad.” Paul’s telling us he is making a volitional decision of his will to be glad in the future, no matter what happens. Paul says here and later, “Whether I live or die, I am going to be glad the Gospel was preached, good motives or bad.”

Paul’s not looking at life through rose-colored glasses, but at God’s bigger picture–God works all things together for good. What a gracious heart. “Oh Father, give me Paul’s heart.” And, Paul is “in your face” to all those with bad motives seeking to cause him hardship. Paul says he rejoices! It’s like when a kid insulted you and you said, “I know you are, but what am I?” You can’t defeat me!

With grace, godliness and a heart of joy Paul says, “I rejoice,” shrugging off their animosity and celebrating that the true Gospel has been preached to the needy lost. What a great attitude–the very attitude needed for the Philippians themselves to get along with each other. How are your motives Christian?

A  Those who understand the true GOSPEL can live with passion and right priorities

Understand, we’re calling people to Christ through faith and repentance, which are both gifts from God. We don’t tell people to accept Christ, we call people to turn to Christ and submit to Him. Saving faith is total dependence. Dying to self and relying upon Christ and repentance is a 180 degree direction change from living your way to following God’s Word. Only God can save, so we call people to cry out to God to save them through the work of Christ alone.

B  Sharing the gospel of Christ results in JOY

Don’t buy into “whoever dies with the most toys wins” mentality. You’ve been bought by Christ–your new theme is “whoever shares Christ the most wins”, since those who do live with the most joy and die with great reward.

God is working in your life, not merely in spite of your trial but through it. Like Paul being in jail so he can share the Gospel with the future leaders of Rome, your trial is a vehicle for God to glorify Himself, to build up believers and to save non-believers. Don’t miss the joy by focusing on your trial. Focus on the opportunity God is giving you through your trial to show Christ off and share the Gospel.

C  Right motives and faithful dependence result in REWARD

Joy and reward come as your motive is to glorify God and your strength is the Holy Spirit through you. The loss of joy and lack of reward comes when you live for yourself and rely on your own strength. The focus of the detractors was on Paul, his imprisonment with a slander scheme to cause him pain. Paul’s focus on the other hand was the true message of the Gospel and the person of Christ. Your focus determines your joy and reward.

D  Only those in SUBMISSION to Christ go to Heaven

If your heart is continually focused on yourself, you may be exposing a lack of saving grace. You may not have a new heart nor be born again. You may be only an external Christian, not an internal new creation. If you’re truly saved, then you will want right motives, you will want to serve Christ in any way you can, and you will want to submit to any command He gives you. Turn to Christ today–right now. Let’s pray!

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.

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