Sermon on Philippians 1:12-18a
Text: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Do you know who Robert Kearns is? He is the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. He was driving in a light rain, not so heavy that the wipers needed to be on all the time, yet, raining enough so that the wipers were needed. He patented his idea and presented it to all of the Big Three American car manufacturers. They rejected his idea, telling him that it was no big deal. Then, behind his back and without giving him any credit or money for his idea, Ford, GM, and Chrysler began installing the intermittent wipers on all their new vehicles. Mr. Kearns sued for patent infringement. The corporate lawyers countered that it really wasn’t an invention at all, since it didn’t use any new parts and it was an obvious idea. For the next forty years, Mr. Kearns was in one civil suit after another. Finally, in 1998, forty-five years after he came up with the idea, he was awarded $10.2 million by a jury. The problem was that he had spent $13 million of his own personal fortune on the lawsuits. He was behind almost $3 million, but he was fine with that. The important thing was that he got credit for his idea, that people would remember his name. During this time, his wife left him, and his children disowned him. But that was fine, he said. The important thing was that people would remember his name. So, what was his name? You probably forgot his first name already and may even be hard pressed to think of his last. All he wanted was for people to know that the idea was his. How did that work out for him?
Have you ever felt like that? You put in the work, and no one even knows that you were the one who did it? You didn’t get the credit you deserved for all the work, the idea, the dedication. Maybe, it was on a project at school or work. There are times when we don’t get the recognition that we deserve, and others do. How does that make you feel? We might feel bitter or resentful.
If anyone ever had the right to feel that way, to feel that others were taking credit off of his work, building on his foundation, swooping in to take the glory, it was the apostle Paul. Think of all that he had done for God and his church. He had laid his life on the line time and again, traveling around the known world preaching a strange message to people who had never heard it before. Now, Paul was in prison in Rome.
And what was happening? Other preachers were swooping in to fill the vacuum left by Paul’s absence. Most of the preachers were not giving Paul the credit he deserved for trailblazing with the gospel. Most were just stepping in, taking over, and taking the credit, too. Some of the new preachers were even hypocrites, picking up on Paul’s work, just to make a quick buck for themselves. Some were jealous of Paul’s success, and they acted on it by swooping up what Paul worked so hard for. Paul might have gotten angry, bitter, or resentful, obsessed with the credit that he deserved.
But what was his attitude? “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Verses 15-18)
When it came to getting the credit, who was getting the glory and recognition for advancing the gospel, Paul just did not care. He asked, “What does it matter?” or, even more literally, “So what?” So, what if the others are preaching for the wrong reasons, so what if they are getting the credit? What does it matter? Joy is a theme that runs throughout the book of Philippians, and no where is Paul’s joy greater than right here when he thinks of all those preachers out there proclaiming Christ, when he thinks of that gospel message of forgiveness warming the hearts around the world.
Now it wasn’t that Paul didn’t care about false teachings that these new preachers were proclaiming. There are many places in his writings that he warns about false teaching. It’s also not that he doesn’t care about the false motives like rivalry or greed in those who advance the gospel. The point is this: to the extent that the gospel is being proclaimed, however much gospel is being proclaimed, Christians can rejoice without worrying about who gets the credit and recognition. We let our pride die when it comes to the advancement of the gospel. And when that gospel is proclaimed purely, we rejoice – regardless of who, where, why, when, and how.
Sounds like a good lesson for pastors, right? Pastors, don’t get jealous of each other, and don’t look to get credit for what you do. Just concern yourself with advancing the gospel, and as long as it’s getting out there, rejoice whether you get credit or not. But this is also an important lesson for all of God’s people. You see, it’s not just pastors who advance the good news about Jesus. It’s all of us. All of you share in the work, even if you don’t do it full time as a Called worker.
So, do you care if you get credit for the work that you do promoting the gospel? Do you care if anyone recognizes that you have regular family devotions? Do you care if no one ever knows about it? Do you care if no one ever finds out or praises you for speaking words of forgiveness to someone who is burdened by their sins? Do you care if your quiet witness to a coworker is never noticed by anyone? Or if your volunteering to advance the gospel is never acknowledged? Do you care that no one recognizes how mush you put in the offering plate? Do you care if no one ever shakes your hand and heaps praises on you? Or would you like a little recognition? Does your pride hurt when your work for Christ goes unnoticed?
Now, of course, we should thank each other and recognize the work that each of us does to advance the gospel, whenever possible. That is healthy and God-pleasing. However, if you don’t get recognized, or you’re not recognized as often you would like, will you get bitter, angry, or resentful? What’s more important to you, that the gospel is spread or that you get credit for the part you play in it?
It is our pride that can lead us to answer the question the wrong way. However, the work of advancing the gospel has no room for self-pride, because the gospel message that we proclaim leaves no room for pride. The gospel crushes pride and sweeps away self-righteousness. It halts selfishness and the need for recognition. Contemplate what the gospel does to pride. The gospel says, “God is your source of every good thing. He is the source of your life, your breath, and your movement. He created you, and more than that he saved you when you could not do anything to save yourself. It’s all about God and his Son. It’s not about you. He is your forgiveness through his death on the cross. He is your life through the empty tomb. It’s not about you. It’s about your Savior.” How can sinful pride survive that message? The gospel is the end of pride.
There is a hymn that we normally sing during the Lenten season that beautifully teaches this truth: “When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride.” (CW 125 v.1) Pride cannot survive the gospel, because the gospel turns our eyes to Christ and his love, his cross, his empty tomb – not ourselves.
And in the end, all the credit for the gospel’s spread belongs to God, the Holy Spirit, anyway. Yes, God uses us as vessels to carry the gospel out and share it, but it would go nowhere in human hearts by our efforts. Only the Holy Spirit can use that gospel to bring people to faith. That truth about the gospel – that only the Holy Spirit can make it work – is also truly humbling for human beings.
So, live in the light of the gospel and you will leave pride behind as you advance the gospel in your own life. There is no room for pride in this place, and there’s no room for it when you work for the gospel’s spread. Simply give for the gospel, and work for it, and raise your children in it, and speak God’s gospel wherever you are without concern in any of it for the credit you get.
After all, as Paul says, if you don’t get the credit for the work you do . . . so what? What does it matter in the end? As long as the gospel goes out to cure more hearts diseased by sin, to bring more into God’s family. As long as that gospel is being spread, and to the extent that it was preached correctly, Paul rejoiced just for that reason. More people were coming to faith and that’s all that really mattered. “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Verses 12-14) More people were hearing about Jesus. That was more important than anything else. Glory in the gospel that you know and love, and it will crush your pride. The advancement of the gospel will become more important to you than anything else. And whether your getting credit or not, you will rejoice that the gospel is spread. Amen.
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