What People Think

Continuing in my study of Philippians I didn’t move far from where I was in my last post; in fact, I only made it to the next paragraph!  Paul’s writing is so full of wonderful treasures for us as believers that you can’t escape each passage’s weight and meaning.  In Philippians 1:15-18, I discovered another result of Paul’s enviable contentment in difficult circumstances:  the ability to be unfazed by the opinions of others.

“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill.  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry,  not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.  What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  (Phil. 1:15-18)

As I read this, I was awed by Paul’s unaffected attitude to what other evangelists were doing to spite him.  I was also awed by the gall of those ‘preachers’, whose goal was to afflict Paul by spreading the gospel message without him!  In Paul’s day, and certainly in the present one, there will be people who want to spite us.  They may be other Christians or they may be unbelievers:  The facts are, if one is living biblically, many will turn against her.  It can be hurtful, unsettling, and burdensome to know that others are out to spite us.  How can we gain Paul’s security for our lives, so that ‘what others think’ does not become a factor in our decisions?

Paul recognizes in verse 15 that some preach Christ from rivalry — wanting to show up other Christians with good works or the number of converts — while others speak Christ out of goodwill.  Those who share out of the good of their hearts do it out of love (verse 16) while those who do it out of rivalry wish to inflict pain on their ‘competitors’.   We all have dealt with people who seem to constantly measure themselves against us.  They have an invisible yardstick held to our accomplishments, successes and goals; one which determines their own self-worth.  We can’t let their insecurity determine our own stability, and virtue which Paul evidences in the above passage.

Rather than worrying over the motives of the other evangelists, or fearing that his witness was hindered by the fact that he was in chains, Paul reveals a deep trust in God in verse 18:  “What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”  Just as the secret to Paul’s joy was in his focus on the gospel, so this same focus allows him to transcend the opinions and actions of others.  Rather than worrying over them himself, he entrusts them to God — giving thanks, in joy, that the gospel is being spread.  By whom, and in what methods, is irrelevant.

How can we achieve this same disregard for the spiteful opinions of others?  While we should remain conscious of how we represent Christ, and be willing to accept the rebuke of other Christians, concerning ourselves with what others think is a distraction to our ultimate purpose.  Satan would like nothing better than to keep the focus off spreading the gospel and on the destruction of our ‘reputations’.  The truth is, what others think and say can either be proven or disproven by our actions.  Arguing about it just increases their motivation to spite and slander.

Our pride tells us to defend ourselves, to react in anger or indignation.  God commands us to love our enemies, and do good to those who persecute us.  Paul says nothing of the other preachers other than that he is glad the gospel is being spread, even if the motive for spreading it may be misplaced.  This is the attitude we should strive to attain.  This gives us that same blessed freedom that enabled Paul to find joy not only in trial, but in spite of the opinions and thoughts of others.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out… Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.”  (Prov. 24:19-20, 29)

To Think About

  • Do the opinions/thoughts of others cause you worry? Why or why not?
  • What are ways you can find stability in Christ rather than in others’ opinions?
  • How could pride be influencing your decisions, through a focus on your own reputation?
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