Summary: God prepares us for conflict so we will rejoice in the gospel rather than resent petty rivalry.
Nostalgia means “sentimental reflection,” mixed feelings of happiness, sadness, and longing when recalling the past. Nostalgia can create more than warm feelings, however; it can determine our expectations. Probably all of us have either thought it ourselves, or heard others speak wistfully of the early church. “Would it not be splendid,” we say, “if the church today could be like it was in the first centuries?” But our problems will not be solved by a sentimental vision of a perfect church in times past.
As a matter of fact, today’s difficulties existed in the early church also: division, conflicts, selfishness, sinful desires and fickle hearts. All were there, because all are part of the human condition. The Bible does not gloss over these: Paul tells us straight up that church people sought his hurt. Petty rivalry prompted ugly behavior, but even so, the apostle rejoices. Let us consider how God would have us rise above such sin as we consider Philippians 1.15-18.
[Read Philippians 1.15-18. Pray.]
I have mentioned before Dr. Joseph Tson, who pastored in Romania during Ceausescu’s Communist era. The government arrested and tortured him to stop the spread of the Gospel. During one imprisonment, a military officer threatened his death. Tson responded: “Sir, your supreme weapon is killing, but my supreme weapon is dying. Sir, you know my sermons are all over the country on tapes now. If you kill me, I will be sprinkling them with my blood. Whoever listens to them after that will say, ‘I’d better listen. This man sealed it with his blood.’ They will speak ten times louder than before. So, go on and kill me. I win the supreme victory then.”
Tson understood well Hebrews 13.6: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” These light momentary afflictions prepare for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, and this unseen reality renewed Joseph Tson’s inner self day by day (cf. 2Corinthians 4.17-18).
I heard him speak a few years ago. What especially moved me was not so much his courage while mistreated, though that was astounding. What stuck with me was the hardest part of the suffering. After arresting him, the communists went into the churches and convinced Christians that Tson betrayed his county. Then they led him through the streets of Romania. Tson knew nothing of the slander of their propaganda campaign, so he expected a hero’s welcome. After all, he had dared to be a Daniel; he stood up for Jesus. But members of the church derided him, and this was the hardest stroke. He could take the abuse of communists, but when fellow believers mocked and criticized him, he almost broke.
It hurts to be misunderstood and mistreated by those we most expect to love and value us! Paul knew that feeling. The chains on his ankle hurt; but what really stung was the slap in the face from fellow believers. How do we remain unhurt when criticized by sisters and brothers? How do we rise above petty rivalry and selfish behaviors? To move towards a solution, please note three things from this text.
1. We Must Recognize the Power of Indwelling Sin In Order To Rise Above Rivalry (Philippians 1.15)
I am shocked by this statement: “Some preach Christ from envy and rivalry.” “Envy and rivalry”? How can this be?
• Maybe they could mock Paul from envy and rivalry.
• Or preach themselves from envy and rivalry.
• Or preach the anti-Christ from envy and rivalry.
But how could a Christian preach Jesus with such an ungodly motive? This idea seems so out of place that some Bible scholars throw up their hands and say, “Surely those to whom Paul refers were not believers! No truly born-again Christian could hurt an apostle in that way!”
Yet what shocks us hardly surprises Paul. He is not amazed by their behavior because he knows that sin remains in their hearts. But we suppose such would not happen today, even though studies and surveys find pastors facing similar pressures and problems in the church. Here are some alarming statistics:
• Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.
• Four thousand new churches begin each year, but over seven thousand churches close.
• Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages end in divorce.
• More pastors than not say they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
• Ninety percent said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people.
• The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed believe that the ministry has been destructive to their marriage and family; eighty percent wish their spouse could enter another profession.