Philippians 1:15-18 – Whether In Pretense Or In Truth


Text: Philippians 1:15-18
Title: Whether In Pretense Or In Truth
Date: November 27th, 2022
Location: Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, Washington

15 Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. 18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.


  • Why do people preach?
  • What motivates men and women at times, to stand up and say things in the name of God? You could think of some possible motives:
    • It might be for money, to get rich, that is a common motive that Scripture warns about. We know people who do that.
    • It might be to get attention, to gain a following, to build a platform.
    • It might be out of vengeance or retribution, someone wronged you and preaching is your way of being heard, of getting justice, of making things right.
    • There are many potential motives for preaching, most of them bad.
    • And here in our text we see that the only motive that we should want for ourselves, and for our pastors, is the motive of love and goodwill.
      • Love for God, love for His people, love for His Word, love for the lost. This is what we hope motivates the preachers of Christ.
  • But then Paul also surprises us here. He tells the Philippians that despite the sinful motives of other preachers, He is rejoicing in that Christ is preached.
    • For Paul, motivations matter, motivations are not unimportant, and having the right motivation is crucial for the one who is preaching, but all that notwithstanding, Christ being preached matters more, and in that we should rejoice. That’s really the whole sermon in a nutshell: Motivations matter, but Christ being preached matters more, and this should cause us to rejoice.
    • So that’s the thesis, but in reality this is hard to do, it is hard to rejoice when the people who are preaching want to hurt Paul (or have hurt you). Preaching out of selfish motives, acting sinfully in other areas while preaching Christ, and yet Paul says, “I rejoice.”
    • How did he do that? How can we do that?
    • Well let’s walk through these verses together and see what the Lord will show us.

Context of Verses 15-18

  • I remind you of the context of verses 15-18, because this is a continuation of Paul’s thought which began in verse 12, and there he was explaining how his Roman imprisonment, is actually turning out for good:
    • 12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
  • So Paul’s imprisonment has had multiple surprise effects. You can imprison the preacher, but the Word of God is not bound (2 Tim. 2:9).
    • And so he says in verse 13, Christ is being manifest in all the palace. There are Christians in Nero’s inner ring. How do we know this?
      • We know this because Philippians 4:22 ends with, “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.”
      • Paul had written the book of Romans about five years prior (in AD 57), and now that he is in prison in Rome, Christ is being madeknown in the highest halls of human government, and not only there, but also “in all other places.”
      • Rome is being evangelized because of Paul’s imprisonment.
    • He goes on in verse 14 to say, “many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
    • So far from the threat of imprisonment turning men into cowards, they have become more courageous, more fearless, more bold to preach Christ.
  • And this is important because this group of bold preachers, is the same group that Paul is addressing in our text, of which some are preaching out of strife, envy, and contention, and are still “brethren in the Lord.”
    • That is remarkable. Someone can at the same time be bold to preach Christ, and doing it out of envy and strife. We will say a lot more about this in a moment.
  • So that’s the immediate context for our passage, let’s unpack it now verse by verse.

Verse 15 says,

Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will:

  • Notice first that these men are truly preaching Christ. They are not preaching circumcision, they are not preaching false doctrine, because if they were, we know that Paul would not be rejoicing, He would be calling them out and refuting them. And he actually does this later in chapter 3, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.” This is a reference to false teachers (Judaizers) who put confidence in the flesh. But that is not who Paul is talking about here.
  • These are brethren who are preaching the true gospel, who have been made bold by Paul’s imprisonment, and who God is using to bring Rome to salvation, and yet they are doing this good work of preaching with sinful motives.
    • And so I ask: Do you have a category for these kinds of people? Do you have a category for Christian leaders doing good things for sinful reasons?
      • My guess is that most of us struggle with that.
      • Most of us would say that if a preacher is preaching out of envy or strife, then he’s probably not a Christian, and certainly not my brother in the Lord.
        • We are often too quick to treat us unbelievers, Christians who sin. As if becoming a believer suddenly made all your motives pure. As if Christians are the people don’t sin anymore. I assure you, that is not the case, why else would we confess our sins in this service every Lord’s Day?
      • So this a real category of people: Christian pastors ministering out of sinful motives, and this should not really surprise us.
      • Why? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
        • Now that applies to the carnal heart, your flesh, and not to the new heart that God has given you, but for the Christian, both of those principles are at war within you.
        • There is still remaining sinful flesh, that causes you to do things you know you should not do. And there is also the new man, who wants to do right, who wants to please God.
        • And so just like you don’t know all the reasons and motives for doing what you do, the same is true of preachers. We might think and say we are motivated by love and goodwill, no one will ever tell you “I am preaching because I am envious of that guy over there,” no one will say that! But in reality, we are all complicated people. We don’t totally know why we do what we do, and in the end, we must all cast ourselves upon the mercy of God.
      • So this is a real category preachers, which makes them just like everyone else.

Verses 16-17 continue to describe these men,

16 The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.

  • Here Paul contrasts these two categories of preachers:
    • First, there are those who preach Christ of contention, that is out of selfish ambition. They are jealous of Paul’s status as a well-known apostle (he gets to write Scripture!), and they want that honor and dignity for themselves. They want to make a name for themselves.
      • And this motive, this kind of glory seeking, is a powerful motivator for us men. In ancient times, dying courageously in battle was the most glorious way to die. And so men would risk everything, and do bravely to get glory and immortality on the battlefield. This idea is in the background when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”
      • So in its proper place, glory seeking is good and right and we should pursue it. Paul says in Romans 2:7, that God will reward with eternal life “them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality.” Every person should seek that!
      • At the same time, Paul will say in the next chapter, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory.” (Phil. 2:7)
      • Likewise, it says in Proverbs 25:27, “It is not good to eat much honey: So for men to search their own glory is not glory.”
        • Honey is good, but you don’t drink it. Translation: “If you are good looking, or strong, don’t stare at yourself in the mirror.” Don’t be vain. If you are smart, or talented or impressive, don’t forget that God is the one who made you like that (what do you have that you did not receive?). And so this Proverb is saying, seek for glory but don’t be into yourself. Don’t believe your own hype. It’s not good to eat much honey.
        • This is the sin that these preachers of contention were committing. They were treating godliness as a means of gain. They were treating ministry like a competitive sport. And James 3:16 says, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
        • So it is dangerous to minister out selfish motives.
      • And it its sinful form, this kind of vainglory seeking will devolve into the kind of party spirit and factionalism that was rampant in the church at Corinth: “I am of Paul, I am Apollos, I am of Christ.”
        • These men wanted to make that list. They wanted to displace Paul and have more fans than he did.
      • You can find the same silliness in the church today: people who treat their favorite pastors or theologians like superheroes or trading cards, pitting them against one another, boasting in how their guy is so much better than the other.
      • Paul wants the church to have nothing to do with this.

Now returning to our text, in verse 17 we see that thankfully, amongst these bold and courageous preachers, there are some who do preach out of sincerity and truth, love and goodwill.

  • So if we were starting to feel a little cynical, as we should, we should not be so cynical that no rightly-motivated preachers exist!
    • Some preach, desiring to cause Paul distress in prison, “But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.”
  • We see here that there were likely competing narratives going around about why Paul was in prison.
    • You can imagine some saying, “Paul is in prison because it’s what he deserves. He broke the law, he’s causing trouble, his methods are not Christlike, his rhetoric is not loving, he told those Galatians to emasculate themselves and said that ‘if anyone love not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema,’ I warned you about this guy, you should distance yourself from him.”
      • We know from other places in Scripture that there was a strong anti-Paul faction in the church. Liars, slanderers, corrupters of his good character. Which is why he has to constantly defend himself.
      • So that is one narrative, and it would bring certain Christians secret delight to see Paul in chains. They would feel vindicated in their suspicions about him now that he is locked up, he was not a part of the original twelve anyways.
    • On the other hand, there are preachers who knew the truth, that Paul was in prison for the defense of the gospel. The Jews had brought false accusations against him (you see this in the book of Acts), as a Roman citizen he was unjustly beaten, they had violated his rights. And so he appeals to Rome to vindicate not just himself, but the truth of his message.
      • Paul is fulfilling what Jesus said the apostles would do. In Mark 13:9-10 he says, “And ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. 10 And the gospel must first be published among all nations.”
      • If you remember the story, Paul could have been set free (Acts 25:11, Acts 26:32, Acts 28:19) But he appealed to Caesar because he saw a preaching opportunity. How else would he be able to preach Christ to those in power?
      • I would love to preach the gospel before Congress, or the President, or the Supreme Court, and call them to repent and kiss the Son. But that opportunity will probably never arise unless I become either super-famous, or a super-villain, or both. And that is the controversy around Paul that he leverages to preach Christ to Caesar.
      • This is headline news and everyone knows about it, and people are being converted as a result.

Now I want to return to this question about how to relate to pastors, preachers, and even churches who might be doing ministry for sinful reasons.

  • We established that Scripture gives us this category, but how should we think about and relate to the people in that category?
  • This is of crucial importance because the rest of the book is going to talk about church unity, like-mindedness, getting along with people and churches who think differently than you do. And as a new and young church in this area, we have to figure out how to relate to other churches who might disagree with us on a bunch of issues.
  • So I cannot overstate the importance of this question and how you answer it. So let’s read verse 18 to see how Paul handles this:

Verse 18 says,

18 What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

  • Here is the distinction that Paul makes and that we have to learn how to make.
    • Paul distinguishes between cause and effect, motive and action.
    • You could imagine a 2×2 grid with four boxes:
Good Works with Good Motives
(Paul’s ministry)
Good Works with Bad Motives (Envious Preachers)
Bad Works with Good Motives
(Trying to help someone but actually hurting them)
Bad Works with Bad Motives
(Total Sin)
  • In order to rejoice in the good, you must be able to separate cause from effect.
    • Paul rejoices not in any sinful cause or motive of these preachers, but only in the salvific effects and objective action of preaching Christ. That’s it. But he genuinely rejoices in that!
    • Are we mature enough to make the distinction and rejoice?
    • This is not Paul giving his endorsement to these preachers, or approving of their ministry. He is not saying they shouldn’t be disciplined or removed from office for these kinds of sins.
      • Remember when he gives the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, the qualifications include motivations of the heart: he must not be covetous, he must not be greedy, he must not be self-willed, etc.
    • And so motives really matter, and yet sinful motives should not stop us from rejoicing in that Christ is preached, and that people are being saved as a result.


I want to close with two points of application from this passage for us as a church:

  • #1 – We must be willing to forgive churches and people and pastors who might have wronged us.
    • Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
    • No matter how badly your previous church, or pastor, or someone in the congregation wronged you, Christ commands us to hold out forgiveness unto them, lest any bitterness take root (Heb. 12:15).
    • This even includes forgiving those most serious sins of teaching you errors and false doctrine, and failing to shepherd your soul.
    • James 3:1 says, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”
    • Judgment is coming for all of us. And if you have been sinned against by some teacher or pastor or elder or parent, God will deal with them. But leave vengeance in his hands, and overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21).
  • #2 – We must be willing to regard as brethren (like Paul did), those who have been baptized and profess Christ, even if they err in many ways, even if they intend evil against us.
    • This is what Paul did. He says in Ephesians 4:4-5 says, “There is one body, one Spirit…One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
      • So this means, not pronouncing someone an unbeliever when the authority and judgment to do so, has not been given to you. That is what church courts are for, that is what excommunication is.Yes, there are wolves. Yes, there are false sheep. Yes, there are liars and false professions of faith.But God is the one who judges His church, and this power does not belong to any one individual.And so despite what other churches might think of us, we are to treat as brethren in the Lord, all who have been baptized in the Triune name, and who identify with Jesus Christ.
        • This excludes heretical sects like Muslims, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
        • And it includes many churches and denominations even those who are not reformed or Calvinistic.
        • That is not to say all churches are equally pure in their doctrine and worship, for in the history of the church there have been times when serious errors have prevailed. But if we would obey God, we must do as He commands in Ephesians 4:3, “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
        • We are not saved by having perfect theology or perfect motives. We are saved by Christ, who forgives those faults.
        • If we have received this forgiveness, trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf, then we should rejoice whenever that message is preached, even if the messenger were the devil himself.
        • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.