Jealousy, envy and rivalry routinely infect the consciousness of those serving in the full-time ministry. When a minister is observing success at another ministry and seeing very little fruit of his own, the pangs of guilt and hurt are real. Our human pride welcomes glory and attention associated with success. When that glory seems to be focused elsewhere, it is tough for our human ambition to accept. We are prone to privately make excuses for another’s success or publicly shoot it down with cutting words, skepticism or other unfruitful responses. This was probably the case with a group of envious, competitive and selfish Christians who were preaching Christ at the time the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in 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.” (Philippians 1:15-18a)
A group of Christians who were preaching Christ out of a great love for what God has done for them. These same Christians could also see how God was using the Apostle Paul in amazing ways despite his circumstances. United together by the Holy Spirit, they were a team with a common goal of glorifying God and advancing his kingdom. Another group who were preaching Christ were not on the same team and had a different goal – to glorify themselves.
Even though Paul must have been stung by these words and actions of envy and rivalry, Paul response reveals a mature and proper perspective — Christ was being preached. With a kingdom view in in mind, Paul could actually rejoice over their work despite his natural inclination to retaliate and club them over the head.
It’s hard to admit that our selfish motives creep into each of us. For most of us, personal recognition is important. There are times we want to shout from the mountaintop how important and meaningful we are to everybody so we can be properly acknowledged. The problem is that nobody typically listens. For this reason, we place our need for significance into the hands of Christ. When we concentrate solely on serving and glorifying him, our need for attention and glory diminishes.
Jesus was teaching his disciples about accepting an invitation to attend a banquet. He advises them to not look for the seat of honor, but for the humblest seat in the room. If the host insists that you have a seat of honor, then you will be truly honored. If the Lord chooses to honor us according to his will, then a humble heart will use that opportunity to return all the honor and glory back to him.