I imagine that if I was in prison, I would probably spend a lot of time writing, which is why Paul’s extensive letter writing campaign while imprisoned makes sense to me. However, I would probably fill my letters with complaints, pleas for rescue, and maybe try to sound like I was “taking one for God”. I doubt that Paul was psyched for God every single moment of every single day, but he sure spent a lot of time encouraging churches while he had every reason to be discouraged.
Not only that, while he’s in the slammer, some of the other Christians were hoping to fill his shoes. Here’s what Paul had to say, “It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them” (Philippians 1:15-17, The Message).
So…does anyone else ever identify with the “other group”? You know, the greedy ones hoping to get something out of it for themselves? Yeah, me too. Originally when I was imagining this post in my head, I was going to talk about how people might see me as their competition and how it annoyed me that people were trying to one-up me and my work. Then I realized that sometimes–too many times–my heart goes off and acting in vain conceit wants to gobble up glory and eradicate the competition. Anyone who has ever played a video or board game knows that I’m fiercely competitive and I like to win. In certain games, I’ll do things I’d never do in real life, just to win–because it’s just a game, right?
It is just a game, but I can see that desire to win, to dominate, to be the best come out in other areas of my life and I can see that monster of jealousy beginning to rear her ugly head. Life is not “Guitar Hero”, and I don’t need to break the strings of my competitor to get ahead. It’s so much more fun to play in band co-op mood where two guitarists works as a team to get the band gigs (our band is called Agnes). Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as Christians–work together for the common good? Just like a bassist, a drummer, a guitarist (or two), and a lead singer use their gifts to form a band?
Anyway, you would expect Paul to at least call the other guys out as jerks. Paul isn’t exactly a beat around the bush kind of guy. But instead he writes this, “So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!” (3:18) At least I’m preaching Christ even when I’m letting the green-eyed monster of jealousy overtake my body? I’m still not in the clear.
Even when I have pure motives, I find it difficult to reconcile with those who don’t have pure motives. But Paul is saying, “Let’s look at the bigger picture here–the message is still getting out there and people are learning about God! That’s what we have to celebrate, people!” Sigh. It’s like no matter what side of the fence I’m on, I lose…or maybe it’s just that God wins always and I need to adjust my attitude to see the bigger picture. For some reason, jealousy decreases our vision for the things of God and focuses clearly on self-interest.