We like competing, but we don’t like competition… When we have the opportunity to compete, and we feel the adrenaline rush of fighting to win, it’s great, it’s exciting. When we are being competed against, often uninvited, when we feel threatened by the newer, the younger, the more talented, the more compelling, the better equipped, and we tend to drift toward comparison, cynicism, and strife. As I work through the book of Philippians, it does not cease to amaze me how relevant the scriptures are to my life when I really read them. A pastor I like to listen to often says that the scriptures are both timeless and timely. This book that was written thousands of years ago continues to offer truth that deeply affects and changes me. This truth is not only metaphorical and spiritual, but also directly relevant to my daily life. This is because scripture is God-breathed, Holy Spirit inspired, and so it stands above time and location and continues to prove itself to be living and active. In Philippians 1:15-18 we see a situation that we can all find ourselves in. Paul is presented with competition, other people doing the same or similar work to him, and he has to deal with that.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of 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 movies or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18 NIV).
Many would look at this text and say, “Well I’m not a preacher, so this doesn’t matter to me,” and they would skip over the principles it offers to all of us. Here’s the situation, Paul is in prison. He is taken out of the normal rhythm of the work he has been called to. When people see him taken out of the public eye, others step in to fill the void. Some are there because they love Jesus and love Paul and want to see the gospel go forward, but some are there to get their time in the spotlight. In Paul’s absence, competition has arisen, and Paul is giving us his response to that situation. He could get caught up in the rat race, trying to defend his rightful position as apostle to the gentiles. He could play the comparison game, measure up the competition and try to best them. He could respond to competition in any number of ways, but what he shows us is grace. We learn from watching Paul here what it looks like for someone who trusts and follows Jesus to deal with the threat of competition.
It Doesn’t Matter
In telling us about the situation, Paul say this, “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?” (Philippians 1:17-18 NIV). The rhetorical answer to his question being, “It doesn’t.” When we have competition we always want to weigh ourselves against them, test their motives and skills, and play the comparison game. What Paul tells us here is that none of that stuff matters. We have two real options when faced with competition: pursue selfish ambition or pursue Jesus. Paul could respond to the selfish ambition of these people with selfish ambition of his own. He could respond by staging a debate, or making claims of superiority, or devising a marketing scheme to get his name and face out there to corner the market. He could try to build up his platform and compete, or he could trust God and walk faithfully. What Paul is essentially saying is, “I can’t control the fact that I am in prison, and I can’t control the motives that these guys are preaching from, but I am going trust God and continue in the calling He has given to me.” Paul doesn’t worry about the other runners in the race, he keeps his eyes fixed on the prize, on Jesus. He knows that God has called him to preach the gospel and plant churches among the gentiles, and he is going to continue following that calling. He knows that God is in control and can raise up and bring down leaders, that He can use those with bad motives for good, and that this is about advancing God’s kingdom, not Paul’s. Paul shows us that when faced with competition, Christians should not spend their time comparing themselves or worrying about the other team, but we should trust God and follow Him. The call on our lives is faithfulness where God has us.
Make the Main Thing the Main Thing
Paul goes on to say, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false movies or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NIV). What’s amazing about this is that it shows that Paul doesn’t let the threat of competition distract him from what is important. Paul keeps the main thing the main thing. Instead of idolizing his work and his ministry, Paul rejoices in the fact that there’s more people preaching the gospel of Christ. We all have a tendency to idolize the things we think are important and to put them in the place of most important in our lives. When confronted with competition, we need to avoid idolatry and rejoice in Christ. Jesus is God. He is the one who is deserving of all our efforts and all of our attention. We should not allow competition to take our eyes off of the Savior and King. Like Paul, we need to keep our eyes on what is important, the cause of Christ.
Confidence in Christ
The reason that Paul can rejoice, and the reason that Paul does not have to be concerned about competition is because he is confident in Christ. Paul is confident in Jesus as Lord. He trusts that Jesus has power and authority to accomplish his purposes in the world. He trusts that the Bible is true when it says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). Paul is confident in Jesus as savior. His identity is not rooted in whether or not people like him. His identity is not rooted in if he is winning, or if he’s the most successful. He knows that ultimately his identity is found in the fact that Jesus has chosen him and saved him. The reason that Paul doesn’t have to be worried when confronted with competition is the same reason that we don’t have to be worried in the same situation. We can be confident in Christ. Confident in who he is as God and savior. Confident in the fact that he is working in us and for our good. Like Paul is confident in Christ, we can be confident in Christ. Like Paul rejoiced in Christ, we can rejoice in Christ.
Where the world tells us that the only thing we can do when we feel threatened is run or fight, the Bible shows us that we can instead look to Jesus. God’s intention for us is not to pursue our own glory, but His, and He has shown us that He is glorified by faithfulness and trust in Him.
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of 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 movies or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
(Philippians 1:15-18 NIV)