by Steven Chan
- Why are we doing what we are doing? It’s good to ask ourselves this question.
In his letter to the church at Philippi Paul observed thus: “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely…” (Phil 1:15-16) The mere preaching of the gospel does not necessarily mean that the preacher has pure motives.
- What did Paul mean when he said that some were preaching out of envy and strife? Paul alluded to them preaching “to add affliction to my chains” (Phil 1:16b). In other words, they were envious of Paul and his influence. They were selfishly ambitious, seeking to promote their own standing and influence at the expense of Paul. They hoped to achieve their selfish ambition by causing strife or division among brethren as they seek to “draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:30b).
- The apostle Paul wrote two letters to the church at Corinth. In his first letter he had rebuked and corrected them on various failings such as “divisive factions among them – personal alignment with various preachers” (1 Cor 1:10-13), failure to take action against immoral conduct by some members in the congregation (1 Cor 5:1-13), abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11), disputes over the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12-14), and questionings about the resurrection.
In his second letter, he was pleased that they had taken corrective actions (2 Cor 2). He explained to them his motive for writing his first letter to them: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.” (2 Cor 2:4). “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing.” (2 Cor 7:8-9)
- Evidently, Paul was concerned that some might have misconstrued his first letter as showing lack of love for them because of his attempt to correct the errors of their ways: “Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one.” (2 Cor 7:2).
- Paul’s critics were trying hard to erode his influence among the Christians in Corinth: “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.” (2 Cor 10:10-11)
- Paul’s concern was not that his personal influence was eroded but that the brethren at Corinth might be deceived into following teachers who will lead them to a different gospel, a different Jesus and a different spirit:
“For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor 11:2-4)
- Paul reminded the brethren not to judge by outward appearance but to be assured that his knowledge of God’s Word is not lacking in any way: “Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?” (2 Cor 10:7) … “Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.” (2 Cor 11:6)
- Paul asked the brethren in Corinth rhetorically: “Why? Because I do not love you? God knows!” (2 Cor 11:11) and then Paul said that because of his love for them he will continue to do what he had been doing:
“But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” (2 Cor 11:12-15)
Paul reiterated his unwavering effort to speak the truth in love to the brethren at Corinth so that he “cut off the opportunity” from teachers of errors who lead them into error. Paul warned then these teachers of errors would present themselves as “ministers of righteousness” as they were “deceitful workers”.
- Paul expressed his motive for doing what he did for them: “We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.” (2 Cor 12:19) It was for their edification. That is, they might be built up in their faith in Christ. It was not to tear down their faith or to cause them to be discouraged.
- Paul was concerned that the church at Corinth might not be what they ought to be:
“For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; 21 lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.” (2 Cor 12:20-21)
The church ought not to be characterized by: –
- Debates or Contentions (eris): those who serve “their own selfish interest, and who, to that end, promote party spirit and faction”. They divide the local congregation through their own personal agenda.
- Jealousies or envying (Zelos): envious and contentious spirit
- Outburst of wrath (thumos): “passion, angry, heat, anger forthwith boiling up and soon subsiding again” (Thayer)
- Selfish ambitions/strife (eritheia): “electioneering or intriguing for office, a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit” (Thayer)
- Backbitings (katalalia): “defamation, evil speaking” (Thayer)
- Whisperings (psithurismos): “secret slandering” (Thayer)
- Conceits/swellings (phusiōsis) : “a puffing up of soul, loftiness, pride” (Thayer)
- Tumults (akatastasia): “instability, a state of disorder, disturbance, confusion” (Thayer)
- Those who have not repented from “impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality”
The first eight of the above refers to a divisive spirit fueled by a strong self-will and passionate anger against those who would differ from them. The last one referred to the tolerance of sin in the midst of the brethren. It is not unlikely that the teachers of errors that Paul referred to, were men who were head-strong and very determined to push for their own ways, even to the compromising of the practice of truth and permitting unrepentant brethren to continue in their midst – without any effort to correct them.
- Paul re-assured the brethren at Corinth of his love for them and his earnest desire for their spiritual well-being. His motive was clear: he did what he did for their edification. What he said in his first epistle had obviously hurt them. But they had repented. So, his objective was achieved. However, there were others who were still committed to undermine Paul and his teachings. The church was susceptible to becoming divided not because Paul had taught the truth strongly but because there were others who were trying to influence the church to pursue a different gospel, a different Jesus and a different spirit from that which was taught by the apostle Paul.It is important that we examine the motives of those who seek to influence us. Is it for our godly edification? Paul wrote to the brethren in Galatia: “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? They zealously court you, but for no good” (Gal 4:17-18). Let’s seek to build the church on the firm foundation of Christ and His Truth and not on some man’s own desires and vain glory. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isa 8:20). Let’s be discerning and not be deceived.