Summary: This sermon shows how Jesus was not only magnified through the life of Paul but purposes to be magnified thru our lives as well.
Last week, while flipping thru the stations, I happened to see Jim Baker’s son, Jay, on Larry King Live. It was so encouraging to hear to how God brought him out of a life of alcoholism and drugs and raised him up as a minister to the broken, punk culture of Atlanta. Needless to say, Larry King asked him lots of questions relating to his parents, Jim & Tammy. When I look back at the breakdown of PTL and all that happened with Jimmy Swaggart, I can hardly believe the lack of love some so-called ministers were showing toward one another. I don’t remember the names of all the people involved but it seemed as though they were all out for each other’s blood, digging up dirt on one another and feeding the information to the media. In a very real way, they were all vying for greater power in the Kingdom, and were happy to knock the next best preacher in order to gain more followers and better ratings.
But sadly, this is nothing new. In fact Paul was experiencing the same kind of self-seeking attitude among a number of the pastors in the church in Rome. We read about this in Philippians 1, verses 15 thru 17 saying,
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so in 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.
I like how Eugene Peterson translates verse 15 in his translation, The Message… “it is true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way they think they’ll step right into the spotlight.” Peterson really nails the issue right on the head. It seems hard to imagine that any pastor would feel a rivalry toward Paul… but they did. Perhaps these self-seeking pastors enjoyed some level of prominence in the church, but became somewhat eclipsed once Paul arrived. They were no doubt jealous of the attention Paul was getting… frustrated how the hearts of their congregations were being drawn toward this powerful and humble man of God. And jealous of the effectiveness and vision he had.
In order to appreciate this scene more deeply, we need to look at what is happening with Paul. If you remember from our last service, Paul, at 62 years of age, having just spent the last two years in prison in Caesarea for a crime he didn’t commit, (Acts 21-28) Paul appeals to Caesar, as was his right as a Roman citizen. Roman law then required that the person under arrest be delivered to Rome where he would stand trial before the emperor. What must be strange to some is that King Agrippa (who ruled this region) had pretty much concluded that Paul was innocent and, according to Acts 26:32, would likely have set Paul free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar. Nevertheless, Paul was brought to Rome to stand trial.
Though the pastors in Rome were to self-absorbed to see this, it wasn’t just Paul who was on trial here… but Christianity itself. Paul’s trial would, in effect, serve as a test case to see whether the followers of Jesus were merely another Jewish sect or something new, something more dangerous… a new religion that would call Jesus Christ Lord, over and above Caesar. This would be treason. Whatever was decided would likely become the precedent for other such trials against believers.
While in prison, Paul’s thoughts naturally drift to those whom he is closest to… the Philippians. He writes to them and tells them what is going on with these pastors… but not to complain… but rather to encourage them that in spite of His chains, the gospel is being advanced. This would have been a real encouragement to the Philippian believers who were going through a fair bit of persecution themselves.
But who are these people who are acting out in envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition against Paul? Some commentators see them as a group of unbelievers or Judaizers… the kinds of people who tried to undermine Paul’s ministry in Galatia. Yet we see in Gal 1:7-9 that Paul saw these people as preaching another Gospel... and calls them to stop. But rather than tell them to stop, Paul writes in vs. 18, “whether from false motives or true, Christ is being proclaimed, and because of this I rejoice.” It’s clear that Paul didn’t have a problem with the message they were preaching but rather their motive. So, they preached the Gospel throughout the city trying to make themselves look good while Paul supposedly rotted away in obscurity in prison.