Jesus rebuked those that "for a pretense" made long prayers (Matthew 23:14; cf. Mark 12:40). A second New Testament verse that makes mention of doing something in pretense often arouses people’s attention and interest. It is Philippians 1:18, which reads, "What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." Since "pretense" is defined as "a deceptive and false action or appearance; a false purpose" [Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus], many have wondered: how could Paul rejoice when folks were preaching in a deceptive manner or with the wrong attitude?
To get a feel for the context of Paul’s statement about pretense quoted above, consider the verses that precede it:
(12) But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; (13) So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; (14) And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (15) Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: (16) The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: (17) But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. (18) What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice (Philippians 1:12-18).
The theme of this section deals with the circumstances under which the gospel was preached in Rome while Paul was a prisoner there. This section deals with both bad and good news. A portion of the bad news is the fact that Paul was still in bonds when he wrote this epistle. The good news, though, is that despite the apostle’s hardships, the gospel was still being preached. "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel" (1:12).
As we try to analyze and get a grip on the message of these verses in Philippians one, some basic questions are helpful.
(1) Who had been preaching when Paul wrote this epistle? A: "Many of the brethren in the Lord" (1:14).
(2) How had these brothers preached? A: On one hand, they had preached boldly – the preachers were "much more bold to speak the word without fear" (1:14).
(3) Just what message were these brethren preaching? A: "The gospel"(1:12,17), "the word" (1:14), the "Christ" (1:15,16,18). How many messages were these brothers preaching? Were they preaching one message, or three different ones? Answer: One. From Acts 8:4,5,12,25,35 we learn that to preach the word is the same as preaching the Christ, which is the same as preaching the gospel. Thus, when the Bible says in Philippians one that the brethren preached the gospel or the Christ, it means they were preaching the right message (Mark 16:15).
(4) How does the Holy Spirit describe the two groups of saints that preached in Rome when Paul was in bonds there? A: Notice the words or terms associated with one group: "envy and strife" (1:15), "contention" (1:16), "not sincerely" (1:16), desiring to add to Paul’s affliction (1:16), "in pretense" (1:18). The ones that made up a second group are described as preaching "of good will" (1:15), "of love" (1:17), and "in truth" (1:18). What a contrast between them and the other group!
It is sometimes suggested that, in view of the inspired message of Philippians one, when religious error is taught, we ought to just leave that error and those that teach it alone. After all, Paul did rejoice, didn’t he? There are two facts that we must not overlook. First, as we have already noted, the brethren about whom Paul writes in this section taught the truth, not error. Second, the conclusion that we should be silent when religious error is propagated contradicts other clear Bible statements, and thus is an incorrect view. The Holy Spirit charged Timothy to reprove and rebuke as he preached the word (2 Timothy 4:2). And, did not our Lord plainly speak of the errors of the Pharisees and scribes of His day? Indeed, He did (Matthew 15,23). So, no, Philippians 1:18 does not teach that we should ignore erroneous religious teaching.
With these thoughts in mind, we once again ask: why in the world would Paul rejoice when he knew that some of those that were preaching did so with the wrong motive and spirit? It is an undeniable fact that Paul did rejoice (1:18). But why rejoice? Wasn’t the pitiful attitude of some of the preachers cause for sadness and weeping rather than joy?
By no means did Paul praise anyone for using deception or having an improper motive. The Spirit’s message about love that is recorded in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 shows the necessity of having genuine love. On another occasion Paul wrote of the need to preach the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). No, the apostle could never praise impure motives or the wrong spirit.
What about those people that heard the preaching of the envy-strife-contention-pretense brethren? It is possible that such hearers did not know or detect the motive of the ones that preached to them. Remember, even the ones that Paul mentions as preaching "in pretense" preached the right message (the word, the gospel, the Christ). Thus, those that heard them preach heard the truth of the Lord. If the hearers responded to that truth by believing and obeying it, they would be saved from their sins, regardless of the attitude or motive of the one(s) that preached to them. That is, the salvation of the obedient hearers did not depend on the attitude of the preachers. It was the continuous preaching of the gospel and salvation of souls that caused Paul to rejoice, not the improper spirit or motive of some that preached.
We realize that if one learned and obeyed the gospel through the assistance of one of the "in pretense" saints, but then afterwards got caught up in and supported one of these factious groups, his soul would be in jeopardy just like those that preached in pretense. About this there can be no doubt.
Concerning Paul’s joy, we note again that he could never rejoice over strife and envy, because these will keep people out of the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:20,21). The apostle to the Gentiles also told the saints in Philippi that he wept over the enemies of the cross of the Christ (Philippians 3:18,19). Paul was, however, delighted that souls were being saved by obeying the gospel that they heard (1:18; Romans 6:17,18).
May God help us to rejoice when souls are saved. At the same time may we ever be on guard against unholy motives and attitudes that might crop up, both in ourselves and in others.
-- Roger D. Campbell
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