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Motives in Ministry – Philippians 1:12-18

Philippians Bible Study Week 5

Now I want you to know brothers [and sisters], that what has happened to me has really served to further the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  Because of my chains most of the brothers [and sisters] in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of love and goodwill.  The latter do so in love knowing that I am put here for the defence 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.  Yes and I will continue to rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18 (NIV)

Things to Think About

How has Paul’s imprisonment caused the gospel to progress?
What was Paul’s “crime”?
How would Paul’s imprisonment have encouraged others to speak the word of God more courageously?
What are the “false motives” for preaching the gospel mentioned in these verses?
What are the “true motives” for preaching the gospel mentioned in these verses?
Were the jealous ministers preaching heresies or false doctrine?
What do you think of people who minister from false motivations such as wealth, fame, prestige, etc?
Why is Paul happy [rejoicing]?

Persecution and Progress – Philippians 1:12-14

When reading this passage we get a sense that the Philippians were concerned about Paul’s situation as a prisoner, and that Paul is trying to ease these concerns. Paul is under arrest and facing the possibility of execution, and yet here he sounds quite “upbeat” for the sake of the Philippians. He wants the Philippians to know that rather than hindering the advance of the gospel, his imprisonment has actually facilitated its progress.

Many times in the history of Christianity, obstacles, difficulties and persecution became opportunities for a greater broadcast of the Christian message. For instance, when the (very) early church was being persecuted, immediately after the stoning of Stephen, Christians left Jerusalem and spread the gospel further afield.  (See Acts 8:1, 4).  And when Wesley and the early Methodists were barred from preaching in Anglican churches they preached outdoors to crowds that were larger than most church buildings could accommodate.

Despite imprisonment, Paul never stopped proclaiming the message of salvation. His prison guards heard the gospel, his visitors heard the gospel (Acts 28:16, 30-31), and the churches he had ties with continued to be encouraged in the gospel through his letters and through certain people that Paul sent to them as ministers.

Paul tells the Philippians that the whole palace guard has heard his story. The palace guard, literally the praetorium, can refer to a governor’s palace in any of the Roman provinces. (It is by no means certain that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from Rome.)[1] Each praetorium was assigned several thousand soldiers. Some of the soldiers would have been on a roster and assigned to guard Paul. These soldiers had heard Paul’s account of his unusual “crime”—the cause of Christ, and his story had circulated among the guards and to many others.

Paul’s crime was that he continued to preach the message of salvation through Jesus Christ even when it caused controversy and contention. Jewish leaders were angered by Paul’s message, which they regarded as blasphemous and divisive. And Romans were suspicious of new religions which they feared might upset their way of life. On several occasions Paul’s preaching had caused civil disturbances and even riots. Paul, however, was undeterred by hostility and persecution and he continually sought opportunities to preach the Gospel. Would you keep proclaiming the Gospel in hostile circumstances?

Motivation for Ministry – Philippians 1:15-18

Paul points out to the Philippians that his imprisonment has encouraged many Christian brothers and sisters to be more courageous and fearless in speaking the Word of God.  These brothers and sisters had seen Paul’s ability to endure his situation and they had seen the grace that God had given him. Buoyed by Paul’s example, they were able to speak the message of Christianity more boldly.

Some of these people were speaking out of love. What is your motivation for ministry and service?  In 2 Corinthians 5:11-14, Paul reveals that his two main motivators in ministry are love and fear! (In the Bible, fear often refers to a respectful reverence and awe of God.)

Paul had a unique calling, and he had unique abilities. It is evident that some ministers were jealous of Paul’s renown and success in ministry. With Paul locked away, these ministers took the opportunity to further their own “careers” and “status” as ministers. Sadly, rivalry and jealousy between Christian ministers is not a new or rare phenomenon.

Paul’s rivals were motivated in ministry by envy and selfish ambition rather than altruistic motives. Moreover they were hoping that their increased success, now that Paul was “out of the picture”, would prove to be irritating and distressing for Paul. The word used here, thlipsis, is often translated as “trouble” or “tribulation”; it has the literal sense of causing friction. These jealous ministers expected Paul to be unhappy and troubled about their ministry success, but he is happy that the gospel message is being proclaimed. It is interesting that Paul doesn’t criticise these “trouble makers” more harshly.

While I am sure Paul is sincere in saying that he is genuinely happy that the gospel is being broadcast, I can’t help wondering whether this statement is primarily for the Philippians’ benefit; so that they won’t be so concerned about him. I also wonder whether Paul is expressing his joy so that his rivals will know that their hopes for aggravating him have failed.

Today it is obvious that some ministers are using ministry as a way to get rich and famous. How do you feel about people who minister with motives of wealth, power or prestige?

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul criticises those that use godliness as a means of financial gain (1 Tim. 6:5). On the other hand, he teaches that Christian ministers who work hard should be paid well (1 Tim. 5:17-18).

One thing is clear from Philippians 1:17-18: the rival ministers may not have had the best motives, but they were not preaching heresy or false doctrine. In his letters, Paul consistently and vigorously denounces and condemns false teachers and deceivers. Are we too soft on people who preach and teach things that are obviously not in the Bible? What do you think should happen when someone teaches something that is unbiblical in a church service or in a Bible study meeting?

Finally, let’s read the passage again, this time as FF Bruce understood  and paraphrased it:

Now I want you to know, my brothers and sisters, that my present situation has turned out for the advancement of the gospel, rather than otherwise. The upshot of it all has been this: the whole praetorium, and everyone else, knows that it is for the cause of Christ that I am in prison; and the majority of my brethren, thanks to my imprisonment, have plucked up courage to proclaim the message of God all the more fearlessly.

Some indeed are preaching Christ in a spirit of envy and contention, but others out of good will. The latter do it for love’s sake, knowing that it is for the defence of the gospel that I am posted here. The former preach Christ from motives of personal ambition, rather than from pure motives; their idea is to irritate me still more, imprisoned as I am.  But what of it?  This is all that matters: one way or another, whether from ulterior motives or from a pure heart, it is Christ who is being proclaimed.  This fills me with joy, and I will go on rejoicing.
Philippians 1:12-18 from “An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul” by F.F. Bruce (1981).


[1] There is a lot of debate as to whether Paul was imprisoned in Rome, or elsewhere, when he wrote this letter to the Philippians.

We cannot be sure whether Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea or Rome, or even Ephesus, when he wrote his letter to the Philippians. However because Paul mentions the “whole Praetorian guard” (1:13) and “Caesar’s household” (4:22) in his letter to the Philippians, it seems most likely that Paul wrote this letter towards the end of his imprisonment in Rome.  Paul speaks of the real threat of his execution, which also seems to indicate that he is writing from Rome. There is no further appeal once someone has been tried by Caesar in Rome. Paul’s appeal to Caesar is his last resort and could quite possibly result in his execution. Despite his situation, Paul communicates confidence and joy throughout his letter to the Philippian church.  From the Introduction.

When Paul was a prisoner in Rome toward the end of his life, he “. . . was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him” (Acts 28:16). “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him” (Acts 28:30).

© 10th of June 2010, Margaret Mowczko

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Week Four: Paul’s Affection – Philippians 1:7-11
Week Six: Paul’s Courage – Philippians 1:19-27

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