— The Preaching and Teaching Ministry of Kevin A. Pierpont

Joy in the Midst of Difficulty – Part 2 – Philippians 1:15-18

Joy in the Midst of Difficulty

Mike Yaconelli, in The Wittenburg Door shared this insight…

The problem with the church today is not corruption.  It is not institutionalism.  No, the problem is far more serious than something like the minister running away with the organist.  The problem is pettiness.  Blatant pettiness. (Mike Yaconelli in The Wittenburg Door (Dec./Jan. 1985).  Christianity Today, Vol. 31,  no. 15.)

I would add that this is not a new problem. The church in Paul’s day knew their share of pettiness. Petty people in the church care more about their own feelings than they do the cause of Christ. They are easily offended and create strife and conflict. They are envious and filled with selfish ambition and try to tear others down instead of building others up.

We looked last week at how Paul was able to maintain his joy in spite of the difficulty of being in prison.  As we return to Philippians this week we’re going to see how he was able to maintain his joy in spite of the difficulty of people who were trying to cause problems for him.

Philippians 1:15  Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: 16  The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; 17  but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. 18 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.

In his commentary on this passage, John MacArthur writes…

One of the most discouraging experiences for a servant of God is that of being falsely accused by fellow believers, especially coworkers in the church. To be maligned by an unbeliever is expected; to be maligned by another believer is unexpected. The pain runs very deep when one’s ministry is slandered, misrepresented, and unjustly criticized by fellow preachers and teachers of the gospel. That is precisely the situation Paul faced in Rome, where some of the church leaders, in opposition to him, were preaching Christ even from envy and strife. 1

Opposition from within the church or from those who are or have been a part of a ministry can be very discouraging but the encouraging thing from our passage today is that in spite of the opposition that Paul faced in his ministry he was able to maintain his joy.

I believe we can have real joy in the midst of difficulty—even difficulty created by those who oppose us from within the church—if we apply the truths of scripture we find here in Philippians. We’re going to see three keys to Paul’s joy found in Philippians 1:15-18.

Paul identifies two groups of people in verse 15 who are preaching the gospel. One group is preaching from envy and strife and the other group is preaching from good will.

Understand that the trouble-making individuals were believers not unbelievers. Paul is not referring to false teachers here. He’s actually speaking of men whose doctrine was sound, but their motives were not. There is no mention that they’re teaching a different gospel or perverting the gospel as is the case in Galatians 1:6-7 where Paul says,

Galatians 1:6  I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,

7  which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

But in Philippians 1:16 (and note that if you’re using an NIV or NASB verse 16 and 17 are in the opposite order that they are in the KJV/NKJV) Paul notes the reasons for the former group preaching, all of which were wrong. They had the right message but the wrong motives. I think we can safely say that they had taken their eyes off Christ.

Paul says first that they were preaching out of selfish ambition. Their motives were selfish. They were out to promote themselves. They were not preaching out of sincerity. They were preaching the gospel of Christ from selfish motives. And they were actually trying to add to his difficulty–he says they add affliction to my chains. They weren’t sincere, but they were trying to cause trouble for Paul.

Paul says they’re preaching Christ but they’re doing it from the wrong motives.

It’s something that we need to be careful of in our own lives and our ministry in the church. It’s easy for wrong motives to creep into our lives if we’re not careful. It’s possible to say all the right things and believe the right things and be doing the right things but from the wrong motives.

It can be difficult but we shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers try to harm us. But when the harm comes from fellow believers it can be especially hurtful.

These men were preaching Christ but their intent was to add to Paul’s difficulties. We don’t know the specifics of what they were doing but Paul gives enough information for us to understand that they were trying to cause trouble for him.

In spite of all this, in verse 18, Paul was able to say, I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. Those who meant to cause him harm did not affect his joy. Why was that? How could Paul have joy in the face of these others teaching the gospel out of pettiness and selfish reasons and even trying to do him harm?

I think the first key to Paul’s joy we see in these verses this morning was that,

Paul was Encouraged by the Love of Others

We see it in verse 17.

but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.

There were those who were preaching for the right reasons. They were preaching out of love. They understood that Paul was in chains because of his defense of the gospel. They understood that his imprisonment was an opportunity to defend the gospel. Listen to verse 16 from the NIV.

16  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. (emphasis mine)

They understood that Paul was not in prison because of a flaw in his character but because of his allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The love mentioned here seems to refer specifically to their love for Paul. These others had chosen to join with Paul in the preaching and defense of the Gospel of Christ.

I can tell you that as your pastor, I have been greatly encouraged by your love and support of me. It energizes me to know that there are those who are praying for me. Many have been faithful to encourage and demonstrate their love in many different ways and it’s a joy to know that we labor together for the cause of Christ. Paul had some wonderful love and support from other believers. It certainly encouraged him and helped him to maintain his joy while he was in prison and while other believers were attacking him. We need each other. There are going to be problems in our midst.

Wherever there are people there are bound to be problems because all of us are human and at times we’ll fail and we’ll sin and we won’t do the right thing and at times we’ll act from impure motives. But instead of getting discouraged by others when they fail us be encouraged by those who are working along side you and encouraging you and being faithful to the cause of Christ.

Even pastors and Christian leaders can let us down at times. These men were fellow preachers of the gospel who were trying to add to Paul’s affliction. Yet Paul didn’t become disheartened but he maintained his joy. I’m sure some of the credit goes to those who loved and supported him through his trials.

I believe another key to Paul’s joy was the fact that he didn’t look for revenge against those who meant him harm.

Paul Didn’t Seek Retaliation

When someone attacks us our natural inclination is to want to strike back. If someone else makes us look bad we’re usually eager for any opportunity to make them look bad and vindicate ourselves. It’s interesting to note the meaning of the word selfish ambition that describes those who Paul refers to as preaching from envy and strife. Warren Wiersbe’s says,

It means “to canvass for office, to get people to support you.” Paul’s aim was to glorify Christ and get people to follow Him; his critics’ aim was to promote themselves and win a following of their own. Instead of asking, “Have you trusted Christ?” they asked, “Whose side are you on – ours or Paul’s?” Unfortunately, this kind of “religious politics” is still seen today. And the people who practice it need to realize that they are only hurting themselves. 2

Paul wasn’t trying to get people to choose up sides. He wasn’t concerned about whether people were following him or some other preacher of the gospel. He wanted others to follow Christ whether it was a result of his ministry or someone else’s.

But if he had focused on getting even with those who were trying to harm his ministry, he would have lost his joy. If he had been filled with bitterness and resentment toward those who had done him wrong he wouldn’t have been able to make the statement, I rejoice, yes and will rejoice.

When someone offends you and you start to wallow in self-pity you’ll be quickly sapped of our joy. When you go around complaining to others about how hurt and offended you are you’ll quickly lose your joy. And if those others listen to you they’ll lose their joy also.

Paul isn’t feeling sorry for himself here. And he isn’t trying to get others to feel sorry for him. He’s joyful!

I’m sure it was hurtful for Paul to experience the opposition he experienced from fellow believers. Yet he responded in a Godly way. He didn’t let himself get offended and get self-absorbed with his own hurt.

Let’s apply this to ourselves. We need to be careful that we aren’t too easily offended. Usually when we are quick to take an offense to something someone has said to us or about us it’s a mark of selfishness. When someone says something we don’t like and we bristle and get offended it’s usually because we concerned about our own feelings or wishes. When this happens we care too much about our own feelings and tend to act selfishly.

In Leadership magazine one of my favorite parts are the cartoons they include in each issue. They have a way of really nailing our faults and foibles in a humorous way. One shows an irate woman at the exit after church. She says,

"Don't you offer to shake my hand, preacher, until you're ready to apologize for not having the sensitivity to know what I'm offended about!" (Cartoonist Gary Pauley in Leadership, Vol. 13, no. 2)

We do that don’t we? We tend to easily get offended by others and they don’t have a clue that they’ve offended us. A lot of times we’re just too easily offended. Paul was not. We need to learn the kind of joy Paul experienced that spared him from constantly having hurt feelings.

Maybe we could all learn something from Stuart Briscoe’s qualifications of a pastor;

He must have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros. (Stuart Briscoe, Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 11)

You have to be thick-skinned at times in ministry. Paul had this hide of a rhinoceros. He didn’t fall apart when others tried to harm him. He didn’t become despondent or discouraged or throw in the towel. He remained joyful.

I find it encouraging to have this example of Paul’s joy to follow. Even when others offend us or hurt us, we can be joyful. We don’t have to wallow in self-pity. We don’t have to become bitter or resentful. We can be filled with joy just like Paul was.

I want you to see the most important key to Paul’s joy was his focus on Christ. This was at the heart of his joy. He wasn’t worried about himself.

His Focus was on Christ

Look again at verse 18.

18 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.

These two words—what then—at the beginning of verse 18 could just have easily have been “so what.” Paul’s attitude is so uncommon. He says “so what” if some were preaching Christ from wrong motives. Christ was being preached and ultimately that was all that mattered.

Paul could only have this attitude because his focus was on Christ and the gospel of Christ.

We don’t need to be jealous of other churches that have more people attending this morning than we do or of jealous those who may not worship in quite the same way we do. We can rejoice wherever Christ is being proclaimed and the gospel is impacting lives.

Andy Stanley, Charles Stanley’s son pastors a large church in Atlanta, Georgia. I heard an account of his church recently that illustrates so well what our attitudes toward those preaching Christ should be.

North Point Community Church, where Andy pastors, has experienced phenomenal growth. So much so that they have expanded to a second location but they still experience parking and traffic problems. One day his secretary informed him that the pastor of a neighboring church was on the line for him. This church happened to be right down the street. Andy was a bit apprehensive about what this pastor was going to have to say. He was certain this pastors church was probably experiencing difficulty in getting folks in and out with all the traffic at North Point causing problems for miles.

To Andy’s surprise this neighboring pastor had nothing negative to say. But he had called to offer the extra space in their parking lot for North Point members to use. He said he was excited about the growth at Andy’s church was wondering if he’d come at preach at his church sometime.

What would our attitude be if a large church sprung up down the road and seemed to be growing much faster than our own? Would we be encouraged by their growth? Paul could rejoice because Christ was being preached. Would we rejoice that the gospel of Christ was being preached?

Lottie Moon who served as a missionary to China said…

Surely there can be no deeper joy than that of saving souls. (Lottie Moon, missionary to China, "Hudson Taylor and Missions to China," Christian History, no.52)

Paul knew that joy. What joy can be ours when we are sharing Christ with those who need Him. Paul could rejoice because Christ was being preached. Instead of being discouraged by the wrong motives of others and their intent to harm him, Paul was joyful that Christ was being preached.

Don’t be discouraged when others, even fellow believers try to harm you. Be encouraged by those who love and support you and are working with you to see Christ proclaimed. Don’t seek revenge when you’re wronged. Keep your joy. Keep your focus on Christ. Stay faithful to Him. Keep an eternity perspective. Say with Paul—Yes and I will rejoice.

1 MacArthur, J. F. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Philippians (electronic ed.) (Php 1:19).

2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"–Jkt. (Php 1:15). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.