Can You Please Explain Philippians 1:15-18?

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice (Philippians 1:15-18)

The overarching point of this passage is that God, in his gracious sovereignty, turns even prison and bad motives into the advancement of the gospel. "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" (Philippians 1:12).

But the most surprising thing about this text is the way Paul's celebration of gospel truth overrides his sorrow at defective motives.

He rejoices that Christ is proclaimed. But some of the proclaimers are sinning as they proclaim, trying to afflict Paul by making him feel jealous that they are free while he is in prison.

What is more astonishing is that this sinful behavior is just the opposite of the way the gospel itself would incline a person to act. So they are hypocrites. They preach the gospel and then contradict in their very motives the gospel they are preaching.

One more amazing thing. In Galatians Paul calls down a curse on bad preaching: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).

What's the difference—celebration in Philippians and cursing in Galatians? The difference is that there is no evidence in Philippians that the hypocritical preachers were saying false things when they preached the gospel. They preached the true gospel. But the preachers in Galatians were distorting the gospel.

In other words, Paul is more agitated when the gospel itself is defective than he is when the people who preach the true gospel are defective.

So two lessons: 1) Rejoice that God can override prison and poor motives to advance his cause. 2) Value the truth of the gospel even more highly than you value the attitudes of those who preach it.

Copyright 2011 Desiring God Ministries. Used by permission. All rights reserved.