"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." (Philippians 1:15-18)Imagine this, that someone in your church or community that is being used by God to preach the Gospel, is arrested and imprisoned. Would you step in to fill the void and to take up the mantle and be the one to continue their work; the work of preaching and spreading the Gospel? Is so, why?
This is what happened to Paul. He was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and, in his confinement, others came forward to take his place and to take up the ministry left undone by him. However, not everyone did so out of the same motive. Some, out of love and respect for Paul, stepped forward to continue his work and to follow his example. They did it, at least in part, to stand with Paul; to show that they too loved God and were committed to the same cause as Paul. They showed their solidarity and their agreement with Paul, his ministry, and his Gospel. However, others did so out of competition. They entered the fray, not to show solidarity with Paul, but to finally have their day in the sun. This was their chance. All the time they spent in the shadows while Paul got all the glory; this was their chance to shine. Their resentment for the the ministry and notoriety that Paul enjoyed was now free to express itself, now that he was out of commission. It was now their turn to show Paul that they too could preach, that they too could shine bright, and that they too were just like Paul.
Out ups and downs, our successes and defeats, and our advancements and retreats are all opportunities that challenge our hearts. When we are advancing, it is easy to become proud and to see our advancement as proof that we are worthy and right. However, our defeats can also breed resentment for those who are winning and advancing. After all, we are just as good as them so why do they get to glory while we are stuck in defeat? I am sure Paul faced these same inward challenges as he lay in prison. So how did Paul fight the temptations towards anger, bitterness, resentment, and judgment? By looking outwardly towards the outcome rather than inwardly at his own personal situation. Paul looked to the advantage that others were bringing to the Kingdom of God, that same Kingdom he had so long proclaimed himself. In the end, it was not his own personal advancement that mattered but the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Here is the moral of the story. When we focus on ourselves, we give ourselves over to competition, pride, resentment, and judgment. However, when we focus on the Kingdom of God, we see reason to rejoice even in our own personal defeats. We begin to understand that our life and position are secure in God and that what really matters in this life is not who we may seem to be to ourselves and others but the work that God has given each of us to do; a work that benefits the Kingdom and the Body of Christ. The key to surviving success and failure is looking outward to the goal of what our success and failures are driving at. If we can do this then we too, like Paul, can rejoice at the advancement of the Kingdom regardless of the personal motives of those who are seeking to advance it.