What are Your Intentions? - Part 2

Philippians 1:15-18a

Tom Pennington  •  January 18, 2004
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Well, I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to the book of Philippians which we've enjoyed our study so far. We're looking at this amazing epistle of the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi. Last time we were looking at verses 15 and following, and this morning we are going to continue to examine that passage. Let me read it for you. You follow along beginning in verse 15. Paul writes,

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.

In these verses, Paul is dealing with the issue of motive, that is, why we do what we do; and specifically, the motives that drive Christian ministry. In these four verses, Paul drives home two very simple points about the issue of motives. The first is the reality of mixed motives, the reality of mixed motives. His second point is, the response of a mature man or a mature believer.

We began last time to examine Paul's first point. Let me just remind you of what we discovered last time under the reality of mixed motives. You see, Paul divided the entire Roman church into two groups. You remember that he was imprisoned in Rome. And as he looked at the church there in Rome from which he was writing this letter to the Philippians, he said there are two basic groups; and they can be categorized. They can be put into groups, based on the motives, two sets of motives that were occurring in the church there in Rome. Last time we discovered that the evidence is absolutely overwhelming that both of these groups are genuine Christians. They're both clinging to the true Christ, preaching the true Gospel.

So, both groups have the same Lord. They have the same message. But what differentiates these two groups there in the church in Rome are their motives, the motive that lies behind their ministry. In verse 15 we got our first glimpse of these two groups. The first group preached Christ, but they did it from the worst of motives. Notice, "from envy and strife," envy and strife. The word "envy" simply means "to deprive another person of something." I don't want you to have what you have, or, I want to make sure that I have more of it than you do.

This week as I was thinking about my review of this passage, I was watching my two-year-old, almost two-year-old daughter Jessica play, and there was a wonderful illustration of envy. There was a toy that she hadn't played with for weeks. It's been there in full sight; she's had no interest in it. All it took was for one of her sisters to express the slightest degree of interest in it, and her first response, her automatic response was "it is …!" You have kids too. That's exactly right. That is envy. It's not that she wanted it, she just didn't want her sisters to have it.

In the case of this group in Rome, it's not that they wanted it, they resented and envied the fact that Paul had it. They resented and envied Paul's influence and his prominence. There probably was also jealousy as well. They wanted it back. They wanted back the power that they had enjoyed before Paul began corresponding with this church, which they had probably begun. Their ministry was also, we're told, not only eaten up with envy, but it was driven by "strife." That simply means "rivalry" or "competition." You see, their efforts, their ministry, focused on advancing their party rather than the cause of Christ. They had a partisan spirit.

Verse 15 tells us, however, that there's good news in the church in Rome. There's not simply this one group preaching Christ from envy and rivalry and competition, but there's another group, and they're preaching Christ from "good will." That means either "from divine favor" or "for doing what's best for someone else." So, in other words, Paul is saying this: this second group is preaching Christ because they know Paul enjoys God's divine favor, or because they want to do what's best for Paul, they want to help Paul continue the ministry that he can no longer continue because he's in prison. So, there's these two groups. We looked last time at verse 15; that's all review.

Now, let's look a little more carefully at these two groups in Rome. Paul expands this point of the reality of mixed motives in verses 16 and 17. He takes an even closer look at the heart of the Roman Christians. Notice what he says,

"The latter [that is, those who preach Christ from good will] do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former [those who do it out of envy and strife] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment."

He says the latter, this second group who do it from good will, they preach Christ out of love. You see, their preaching and their ministry sprang from love: love of Christ, love of His Gospel, and love of the man whom they knew Christ had appointed to defend that Gospel. Their hearts were filled with a desire to minister, not for their own sake, but because of love.

This is such an essential ingredient in ministry. I want you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians, the famous chapter on love: 1 Corinthians 13. Paul makes some really startling statements in the first three verses of this chapter. I wish, as I often do, and you'll hear me say this many times, that you'd never read this passage before, because I think sometimes we lose the impact that the Apostle Paul intended when he wrote it. We just have to pray for the Holy Spirit to grant us illumination so that the truth grips us in a new and fresh way. But notice verse 1 of chapter 13. Paul writes,

If I [the Apostle Paul] speak with the tongues of men and of angles, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." He says, if I don't have love, I don't care what I say, it's worthless, and I don't care how eloquently I say it or with what language I say it, it's worthless. Verse 2, If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; … if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains….

Listen, if one of our members had the gift of faith to the extent that they could move a mountain from Colorado to the plains of Texas, but they didn't have love, it doesn't matter, I am nothing. Verse 3, "If I give all my possessions [everything I own] to feed the poor, and if I surrender my own body to be burned, [but my motive in it isn't love] it profits me nothing." Think of the profundity of that statement. You can minister your whole life at the greatest and highest level of energy, with the highest level of sacrifice, and yet if it's not motivated from a heart of love for Christ, a love for the Gospel, a love for the Word, and a love for other people, then it profits you nothing. Love is crucial in ministry.

Turn to Galatians 5. We see this same point made in a little different way. Galatians 5:13, Paul writes,

For you were called to freedom, brethren; [you're dealing with this issue of this freedom with which Christ has set us free, he says] you were called to freedom brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. [Here's his argument.] For [because, here's why I say that] the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

He says listen, here is the simplicity of your responsibility. You love the Lord your God with all your heart. We've talked about that before, and here, you show love to those around you. Serve one another in love. But that service has to be characterized and spring from the motive of love. So, Paul identifies the motive of this second group in Rome as he writes to the Philippians, and they are good will and love. That's from which they serve. But he adds this, this knowledge that lay behind their motives. Notice what he writes, "Knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel." You see, those who knew of the assignment that God had given Paul rightly interpreted his imprisonment. They knew he wasn't in prison because of any lack of courage or lack of wisdom or lack of power.

No, he was in prison because of his loyalty to Jesus Christ and his loyalty to the call that God had given him, to the commission he had received. Notice the word "appointed." It's an interesting word. It's a military term. It means "to being under orders, to receiving a particular assignment." You see, Paul had received his assignment from the Lord. What exactly were these orders God had given him? What was his special assignment? "Knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel."

That brings back memories of Acts 9 when Paul was converted on the Damascus road. And you remember the story, how God came to Ananias and He said Ananias, I want you to go and meet with Paul, "For he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and Kings and the sons of Israel." You see that even filled out, that commission that he received, filled out in his words before Agrippa in Acts 26. Acts 26, turn there for just a moment. I want you to notice verse 15. As he gives his defense before, as I said before Agrippa, he says this when the Lord spoke to him, he says,

"I said, who are you Lord? [Verse 15,] And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'" [And here's what Jesus said to Paul,] "But get up … stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;"

In other words, Paul, you weren't there as one of My other Apostles to see all that I did and said, but I'm going to teach you. Verse 17,

"Rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me."

That was the commission he received. He didn't forget his commission. He approaches the end of his life in 2 Timothy 1. He's imprisoned this time for the last time. He's soon to be put to death, and he writes this in 2 Timothy 1:11. He said,

… I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. [Now listen to what he says.] "For this reason I also suffer these things….

He says you want to know why I am in prison? It's because of God's appointment. It's because of the commission I've received. It's because it's part of my special assignment given to be by God. You see, from Rome's point of view, as they looked at Paul's imprisonment, they saw Paul on trial to determine whether or not Christianity would be accepted as a state religion as Judaism was, or to determine whether Paul could be loyal to Christ as Lord and at the same time be loyal to Caesar as lord. If he couldn't then it would be treason. That's what Rome saw.

But in Paul's mind, he was in prison for a different reason: to argue for and to present the Gospel to the highest levels of Roman government. His imprisonment in Rome was neither an accident nor was it the decision of the Roman government, nor was it even ultimately because of his appeal to Caesar. It was a crucial part of the orders that he had received from the Lord. Paul's friends in Rome recognized that. They recognized that God had appointed Paul for the defense of the Gospel, and that that assignment included his imprisonment. And so, because of their love for him, they labored to assist him by proclaiming Christ themselves in his place.

But we are brought again to the first group in verse 17. "The former [that is those who proclaimed Christ from envy and strife] proclaim Christ [here] out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment." As a further description of those who preached Christ from envy and strife, he adds they do it out of "selfish ambition." It's a very interesting Greek word, "selfish ambition." It originally described "someone who simply worked for pay," like a day laborer, but as language does, it progressed. Eventually it took on the meaning of a mercenary, someone who was only interested in himself, someone who didn't labor for the cause, but solely for personal interest and advancement. It won't be shocking to you that in secular Greek this word "selfish ambition" was used to refer to career politicians known for their self-seeking pursuit of political office, even sometimes by unfair means. It also was used to refer to tradesmen who ruthlessly climbed to the top of their fields regardless of who they hurt on the way up.

Just pick up the paper, and read about the rivalry and competition that's going on in the Democratic presidential primary. There is a clear illustration from today's world of selfish ambition, and how that selfish ambition leads to personal attacks, all for advancement. All of us have seen this attitude not only in the newspaper, but even in our personal lives. We usually refer to this kind of person as a brown-noser or a climber. Sadly, some of us have even seen it in the church among those who profess to be in Christ.

Paul explains that selfish ambition, however, was not their only motive. Notice what he writes. They ministered "out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives." Literally the Greek says, "not purely." They ministered from selfish ambition, "not purely." It means that their motives were mixed. Their motives had some good elements but also were mixed with ulterior motives. You see, it wasn't that these people who were genuine Christians had no interest in the things of Christ, but they had allowed their craving for honor and prestige to mix with, and even to begin to crowd out, their nobler aspirations, their nobler motives.

Paul completes his description of this group in this way. He says, "Thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment." "Thinking," or literally, "supposing or expecting." In the New Testament, this word, when it's used, implies that their supposition is wrong. We could translate it this way: they wrongly thought or expected (literally) to raise up tribulation in my chains.

Tribulation speaks of pressure or friction. We could paraphrase it this way. Listen carefully, here's what he's saying. This group wrongly expected their successful preaching to make my chains cause me more pain. That was their calculated aim, That was their purpose. These are Christian brothers! This is the Apostle Paul! (By the way, this doesn't mean physical pain, the word "tribulation." This word is almost always what happens inside of a person as a result of something external.) You see, think of this group, because they were motivated by selfish ambition, that is self-promotion and self-advancement, they assumed Paul was as well.

That's always the way it works. You always assume the other person is operating from the motives you work for, you work with, and so they assume that about Paul. And so, they expected that it would trouble Paul's spirit, that it would eat Paul up to be locked away silent in prison while they enjoyed the spotlight, while they gained an audience, while they built a following among the Roman Christians. They would just as soon aggravate Paul's affliction as long as their own self-interests were served. Or as Eadie put it, I love this, "They did God's work in the devil's spirit." Sadly, there are often those in the church who serve for self-advancement. They'll do whatever it takes and sometimes hurt whoever it takes, to gain power or to keep it. So, Paul tells the Philippians about the reality of mixed motives.

That brings us to Paul's second point in this passage, and it's this: the response of a mature man, the response of a mature man or a mature Christian. Notice verse 18. "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice." "What then?" Paul often uses that expression. You see it a number of times in Romans. It means this: so how should we think about this? what should our response be? He's asking his readers to draw a conclusion which, as a good teacher often does, he then gives them. He says, what should our response be? "Only that." Literally, "only this." "This" should be our only response. "This" is the only appropriate conclusion in the circumstance. Then he adds "in every way." That's defined by the words that follow, "Whether in pretense or in truth." In other words, in every way; by that I mean whether it's in pretense or whether it's in truth. By "pretense," Paul means "a professed motive that wasn't the real one."

Let me give you an illustration of this. In Acts, Luke gives us one in Acts 27 as he's describing the shipwreck that Paul was involved in. Notice verse 30. You can see what pretense looks like. "But as the sailors were trying to escape from the ship [There was their real motive: let's get off this boat, it's sinking.] and had let down the ship's boat [a small boat, like a life boat] into the sea, on the pretense [there's our word] of intending to lay out anchors from the bow." You see, their real motive was to escape, but they let down the boat under the pretense of going to let down the anchors from the bow. In other words, their professed motive was not their real motive.

Here in Philippians it means that these people were preaching Christ as a cover for personal and selfish ends. They said we want to bring praise to Christ, but that was just a cover for their own self-advancement. They knew how to cover up their selfish ambition and make it look pious. But Paul says there were some in Rome who preached Christ "in truth." Contrasted with pretense, this means they were genuine. They were genuine. Their motives were real. They were exactly what they seemed. They were only concerned with the truth. Their objective was not personal advancement but Christ and His glory. Paul says whether in pretense, whether their motives are feigned and not real, or whether they're genuine, "Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice."

I'm sure if these people in Rome who were against Christ, against Paul rather, ever heard of this letter or ever read its contents, they were greatly disappointed because this is exactly the opposite of the response they wanted from Paul. Paul says, "I rejoice." Paul was human. Surely, he was wounded by their attacks, just as you and I would be. But here was a man driven by his theology and not his feelings. Paul says, I will rejoice if the true Christ and the true Gospel are preached. And he doesn't care what other people think about him, only that Christ is lifted up. He didn't feel sorry for himself because certain jealous preachers were trying to win applause at his expense.

Now what does he mean? When Paul says I rejoice that Christ is preached, what did he mean? Well, first of all, let me tell you what he didn't mean. This is very important for you to understand. He doesn't mean that we should ignore the sin of others if you're in a position to lovingly confront it. Remember, Paul's in prison. He doesn't have the capability to go and confront these folks. Although, knowing Paul, he probably tried to accomplish that through letters perhaps, or as the leadership from the church in Rome there came to visit him, sending out messages to these who were doing this for the wrong reasons.

So, we must lovingly confront sin in those we know personally, and this verse is not an excuse not to do that. Nor does it mean that we should tolerate or condone serious doctrinal error. There is no hint in this passage that their doctrine was errant. They preached the true Christ and the true Gospel. You see, some Christians are trying to use passages like this as an excuse to embrace as brothers, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses, and all those who've bought in to all kids of serious doctrinal aberrations.

This past week I had lunch with Mike Gendron, one of our missionaries. Just a few days before, I had read his newsletter as some of you probably did. One of his subscribers had asked to send an article he had written about the errors, some of the errors of Roman Catholicism to his subscribers (which was a fairly large e-mail list which included a number of protestant leaders and pastors). Mike received back from that article that was sent out by this friend of his, a number of responses that were absolutely vicious, including some from protestant pastors citing the kind of approach I'm talking about here that this passage does not allow. Listen to what one of them wrote. Here's a protestant pastor responding to Mike's article about the errors of Roman Catholicism.

"Because I'm a pastor, listen up. This is [that is, what you wrote] is …! [And there's an expletive which I will not repeat.] Yes, pastors can say it too. The Christian faith is wide and varied in its doctrine and theology. The Catholic church has a long and faithful history of proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I find your theology at best offensive, and at worst violent and self-righteous. There are many rooms in our Father's house, and tolerance rather than hate and intolerance seems to be way of God."

That kind of tolerance of damning error is not what this passage teaches. You saw last week as we looked at it, what Paul has to say about false teachers and false teaching. He minces no words in dealing with error and neither should we.

So, what does Paul mean when he says I rejoice that the Gospel is preached even if it's from the wrong motives? Well there are times folks, when you and I cannot confront others. We find ourselves in a situation where we can't. There are other times when it's not really our position to. When, let's say for example, someone you don't know, maybe the leadership of a church down the street gets into sin. It's not really your position to go confront them. Or perhaps you're in a situation where you are not able to because of distance. Or maybe you're concerned about the motives of someone, but there's really nothing concrete to confront. There really isn't anything you know for sure. It's in those kinds of circumstances (if their teaching is orthodox, if they're genuine Christian, if they're devoted to the truth) we should simply rejoice that Christ and the Gospel are being proclaimed.

Now, we understand this mindset. We do it all the time with our sports teams. You cheer the home team, even if you cannot condone or justify the attitude or behavior of some of the players. When the team advances or scores, we rejoice, we cheer, even though, maybe, even the player who made the touchdown is not a team player, and he plays only to advance himself. We leave those issues for the coach to sort out, and we cheer the advancement of the team. That's exactly what Paul is saying here. He puts it in even clearer terms I think in 1 Corinthians 4. First Corinthians 4. The first two verses are very familiar,

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. [So, he's talking about stewards and masters. I'm a steward he says; we're both stewards of one master.] Verse 3, But to me, it is a very small thing [it doesn't matter to me] that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I … [don't] even examine myself. [Now, obviously, Paul doesn't mean you shouldn't examine your heart to see if you're in the faith. He says that later in this same book. What's he talking about? He's talking about the very issue of motive. He says I do not examine myself.] Verse 4, For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted. [Listen, I might think my motives are perfectly clean and clear. I'm not a good judge. So, who is?] The end of verse 4, … the one who examines me is the Lord. Verse 5, Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.

Using my analogy, there is coming a day when the coach will sort it all out, and the motives of the players will become clear, and they'll be rewarded based on the motives with which they served.

Now, with that passage and that in mind, I want us, for a few moments in the time we have remaining, to step back and look at our own lives and look at the application and implications of this passage to us. Let me just give you several, what I see as key applications and implications that grow from what Paul has taught here about his own life and circumstances in Rome for us.

Number one: understand that God can use His Word even from men who are living in a pattern of sin. Perhaps you've seen in your own Christian experience someone who ministered the truth, and God used that truth to build His church and to grow His people even though the man ministered from the worst of motives. Or you find out later that he was living in a pattern of sin all the time. You ask yourself, how could that happen? Paul gives us the answer here: the power lies not in the man but in the truth. The truth is irresistible. Listen to Isaiah 55:10,

… As the rain and … snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bare and sprout … furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it."

The power of the truth does not depend on the character of the preacher. Listen to what one commentator, Eadie, says, "Truth is mighty, no matter in what spirit it is published. Its might being in itself and not in the breath of him who proclaims it. The virtue lies in the Gospel, not the Gospeler; in the exposition, and not in the expounder."

You see, even in a person who is envious, jealous, driven by rivalry and selfish ambition, God can use the truth that comes out of his mouth as long as his message is true to the Word. Of course, if that person is a true Christian, then he will give an account to God. God will deal with him. We can rejoice, not in the man and his motives, in fact, we may even have to confront those, but we can rejoice in the fact that God used His Word.

I think the most powerful illustration of this point is in the book of Jonah. I want you to turn to Jonah 3. Most of us, we're familiar with this story from the time of our birth, but usually most flannelgraph focuses on the first two chapters and the beginning of chapter 3. Let me show you something about this story. You remember verse 1,

Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I'm going to tell you." So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. [This was a godless city, one of Israel's enemies.] Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three day' walk. Then Jonah began go through the city one days' walk; and he cried out and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown." [Verse 5, an amazing thing happens.]

… the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and [they] put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. [And even the king,] when the word reached [him,] … he arose from his throne, [he] laid aside his robe …, [he] covered himself with sackcloth, and [he] sat on ashes. [And] He issued this proclamation, … "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. [Syria was known for its violence.] Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish." [Verse 10, I love this.]

When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which [He'd] … declared He would bring upon them. And He [didn't] do it." [This shouldn't be a chapter break. Notice how chapter four begins.] But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry."

Wait a minute. Jonah, you're a minister! You're preaching the Good News! Yes, you're preaching judgment, but aren't you excited that these people repented, that God isn't going to bring it? No! Verse 2, he prays to the Lord, this is amazing, he's talking to the Lord. He says Lord, "was not this what I said?" Lord, didn't I tell You? This is exactly like it was going to be. I knew it was going to happen this way. I knew I was going to come. This is why I didn't want to come. This is why I fled Tarshish, because I knew You were gracious. I knew You were compassionate. You're slow to anger. You're abundant in lovingkindness, and One who relents concerning calamity. He says listen, I knew it was going to be like this. I would preach, they would repent, and You would forgive them. And I didn't want them to get off. I didn't want it to be like this. I hate these people and what they've done to my people.

Here was a man preaching from the absolute worst of motives. He didn't care about these people. He wanted the judgment to fall, and yet God used the Word that He spoke through him to bring a whole city to its knees. So, understand that God can use His Word even from men who are living in a pattern of sin and who are preaching and teaching even from the worst of motives.

Number two: exercise a forgiving spirit. Exercise a forgiving spirit. What I want you to see is that there is no hint of personal animosity or bitterness in what Paul writes. Remember, Paul's in prison. He's there in the city where these Christians are, and yet some of these Christians are attacking him, actually trying to make his chains hurt him more, trying to make his situation worse. And yet you don't see anything of personal vendetta in what he writes. It's obvious that he'd exercised a forgiving spirit toward his self-proclaimed enemies. That doesn't mean of course that there aren't consequences to sin.

We don't know, but it's very possible that when Paul was released from prison, he might have gone to this very church, and he might've dealt with business. There might have been some of these, the worst of these, who were dealing with the Word of God from the terrible motives they were, who were no longer qualified for ministry and whom Paul displaced. We don't know. There are consequences, but your responsibility is to exercise a forgiving spirit toward those who harm you, toward those who sin against you, even from those who maybe hurt you in the process to pursue their own self advancement in the church.

Thirdly: Third implication or application is avoid the party spirit. That is, being driven by a spirit of rivalry and competition. Now before you imagine yourself to be scott-free on this point, let me give you several forms that competition and rivalry takes. First of all, attaching yourself to a certain Christian leader or organization and demeaning all others. Look at 1 Corinthians. You're familiar with this passage but I want you to see it. First Corinthians 1:10,

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. Verse 11, For I have been informed concerning you my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you." [How did it happen? Well, this is] … what I mean. Verse 12, … that each of you is saying, "I am of Paul," … "I [am] of Apollos," … "I [am] of … [Peter,]" and "I [am] of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul … [wasn't] crucified for you, was he? … you [weren't] baptized in the name of Paul [, were you]?

You see this same spirit in 3:21. Paul deals with it this way,

"So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or … [Peter] or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God."

Listen, if they're in Christ, then they're one with us. There's no competition; there's no rivalry. Don't attach yourself to a certain Christian leader or organization and demean all others in the process. That's exactly what was going on in Corinth that Paul addressed.

Another form this party spirit takes is developing a partisan spirit regarding secondary doctrinal issues. Let me give you an example. Take dispensationalism versus covenantalism. Let me make it clear. Our church and all of its leaders are dispensational in the sense that we believe there is a distinction between Old Testament Israel and the church, and that there is yet a future in God's plan for national Israel, and that isn't going to change. But we shouldn't let that become a source of rivalry. We shouldn't let our disagreement with others who are in Christ become the source of competition. Yes, teach what we believe. Yes, lay it out. Yes, show the differences, but don't let it become a partisan spirit.

A third form I think this sort of partisan spirit takes (not only attaching ourselves to Christian leaders and demeaning all others, not only allowing secondary doctrinal issues to become the driving force that drives a wedge between us and other devoted Christians, but a third form it takes) is constantly comparing our church against other orthodox evangelical churches, and becoming smug that we are so much better than they are. Wesley, in one of his letters, urged his preachers, "By prayer, by exhortation, and by every possible means, oppose a party spirit. [And then he adds.] This has always, so far as it has prevailed, been the bane of all true religion."

Let me show you a very interesting passage. I was talking with the elders about it before the service this morning. Turn to Galatians 2. Galatians 2:6, the situation here is Paul, his visit back to Jerusalem, and he says,

But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the … just as Peter had been to the … [Jews] (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the … [Jews] effectively worked … [in] me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and … [Peter] and John, [these are the Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem church] who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go the … [Gentiles] and they to the circumcised.

In other words, you minister to the Gentiles; we'll minister to the Jews. What I want you to see here is that it is clear that the Apostles recognized and accepted that there would be differences: differences of opinion, differences of various kinds within the Christian faith. And their solution was to form different spheres of influence. I believe this is as close as you come to a justification for the fact that there are different denominations, etcetera, within the sphere of those who are in Christ. There are differences, and sometimes those differences mean that we take different spheres of influence.

Now let me be very clear because this can be confusing. There are in what we believe, what are called fundamentals of the faith. Those are the things that absolutely we will not ever equivocate on at all. Those are usually understood in Christian circles. And on those fundamentals we will battle anyone because that is the heart of the faith. That's what we're here to preserve, to guard, to proclaim. But those who agree on those fundamentals with us are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we need to accept them as such. But, even with those who are in Christ, with whom we are brothers and sisters, there is a continuum, if you will.

On one end are those with whom we fully agree, and with whom we can fellowship and minister alongside and enjoy. At the other end are those who are still in Christ, they're still right where the fundamentals are, they embrace orthodox Christianity in every way, but we are different enough from them (in the thrust of our ministry, in the focus of it, or in specific issues of various kinds) that we'll let them have their sphere, and we'll keep ours. God bless you brother, go minister, but I could never serve alongside you because there are too many areas of disagreement. Live in different spheres, we agree to live in different spheres. But here's the key issue. We just should not allow those differences of opinion on less important matters and on those different spheres of influence to degenerate into a partisan spirit. In other words, don't treat other Christians as the enemy.

You remember the parable of the tares? There's a very interesting statement in that parable as Christ is interpreting it. He says the enemy came, and he sowed tares in the field, and He says the enemy is the devil. The enemy isn't other Christians. It's OK to disagree, but remember that the devil is the enemy. Same thing in Ephesians 6:12, you remember that? "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood." It's OK to disagree. It's OK to disagree even with others who are in Christ. It's OK to even lay out what we believe and how we differ from them, and to believe what we believe as a church. But we cannot allow it to degenerate into a sort of party spirit where we refuse to acknowledge that others who are in fact in the body of Christ are not.

Fourth implication and application, and I'll be done: develop the right kind of spirit toward other true Christians. This is the opposite. I just told you, don't have the wrong kind of spirit. This one is, develop the right kind of spirit toward other true Christians. But how do we do that? Well, we're going to get to it in detail, but let me just give you a little preview. Paul lays it out in Philippians 2 because just as this problem was going on in Rome, it was also going on in Philippi, and Paul's going to address it. Notice Philippians 2:1. He says,

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, … any affection … [any] compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, and maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. [Now notice verse 3.] Do nothing from selfishness [there's our word "selfish ambition"] or empty conceit. [How do you do that? How do you avoid operating that way toward other Christians? Here it is.] But [instead of that, that's what you put off; here's what you put on.] But with humility of mind regard one another as more important than … [yourself.] [He's saying, you want to have the right attitude and spirit toward other Christians? Then put on humility. You see, envy, strife, selfish ambition; all stem from what vice? Pride. So, if you put on humility those things go away.] Verse 4, he says, Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also … the interests of others. [In other words, pursue the interests of others. Rejoice in others' progress and advancement. Like Paul does here, rejoice in the fact the Gospel advances. In verse 5, develop the attitude of a servant toward other Christians:] Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, … [didn't] regard equality with God a thing to be [held onto or] grasped, [verse 7] but [He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men."

You want to develop the right attitude toward other Christians? You want to avoid a partisan, party spirit? Then put on humility. Consider the interests of others more important than your own, and develop the attitude of a servant. A servant is too busy serving to be critical of other servants. This was going on in Rome. My prayer is that God wouldn't let it go on here.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for Your Word: how it cuts our hearts to the quick, how it divides to the point of identifying our purposes and intentions, the very motives of our hearts. Lord, I pray that You would help us to learn from the lessons we've seen here from Paul. Lord, help us to beware of this sort of rivalry and competition, even among those who are in Christ. Lord, help us never to compromise the Truth, help us to identify error: those who leave the bounds of orthodoxy.

And Lord, help us even to be clear about what we believe in lesser matters. Father, please protect us from that sort of partisan spirit that sees ourselves in competition with others who are in Christ's body. Lord I pray, that You would also help us to serve with the right motives. Help us not to be caught up in our own ministry here in envy, in rivalry, in self-advancement, in self-promotion.

Father, help us to do it because we love You, we love Your Son, we love the Gospel, and we love the people with whom we minister, and to whom we minister. May You be pleased in all that's done here and each of our hearts.

We pray in Jesus Name, Amen.