15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, … 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, … 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
I used to wonder how you could “preach Christ out of selfish ambition”, “out of envy and rivalry”, with “false motives”. Going into ministry is not usually thought of as a road to fame and fortune although it obviously is lucrative for some today. Apparently in Paul’s day, too, you could “peddle the word of God for profit”.
The longer I’ve been at this pastoring thing the more I’ve seen a subtle temptation that can lead to “selfish ambition” and “peddling the word of God”. When you have been blessed, like I have, to pastor wonderful and gracious people they frequently encourage you, tell you how much God has used you to help them and generously express their love and appreciation. It is tempting to begin to look for those strokes, live for them and long for them. Suddenly you are ministering to meet a need in you instead of allowing God to meet the needs of others through you – selfish ambition. Slowly you can even begin to believe you are as wonderful as people say you are. Because you are so awesome you “deserve” things the average person would consider excessive. We could all point to modern examples of ministries where avarice and greed are justified, even touted as God’s stamp of approval.
The Holy Spirit, through Paul, was glad the gospel was being preached even if the motives were impure so I will be too BUT, I certainly don’t want to be one “peddling the word” or preaching out of wrong motives. I want to, in Christ “speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God” ministering “out of love” for God and others. I am often, very often, reminded of a little story, can’t vouch for how true it is, that has helped me in this area.
When Woodrow Wilson was elected President of the United States, a close friend came to him with these words, “Woody, now that you have been elected President, you are going to have lots of people around you telling you what a great man you are. Just remember, you and I know better.”
While I am grateful for sweet folks who will share how God has used me to bless them and I am always greatly encouraged when I hear such a report (so keep them coming 🙂 but if something inside starts believing “I am awesome!” I remind myself, “God and I (and my wife) know better.”.
Stay humble. Stay sweet. Stay useable.
… God sets himself against [the] proud, but gives grace to [the] lowly.