Hello and welcome to this teaching from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque. We pray this message strengthens your relationship with the Lord. And if it does, we'd love to hear about it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you'd like to support this ministry financially, you can give online securely calvaryabq.org/give.
Every group has its share of problem people and detractors. Their words may hurt us and their actions may confuse us. But as we continue our series, Technicolor Joy, Pastor Skip teaches us how to handle these pesky folks. Now, please open your Bible to Philippians chapter 1 as he begins the message, Pest Control.
Would you turn in your Bibles to Philippians chapter 1 this morning. Philippians chapter 1. That's what we're doing. We're going through the book of Philippians, verse by verse, on the weekends. We call it Technicolor Joy, because we've discovered this book is a book that has as its central theme joy. And yet, Paul was writing from a Roman prison. It's amazing.
Philippians chapter 1. So there was a man, he was stranded on a desert island all alone for years. Finally, he was found. And a rescue team was sent to pull him off the island and bring him back to civilization. Well, they get to the island and before they take him off, he goes well, let me show you around first. So you can see what I've done with the place.
So he brought them to a hut that he lived in. He goes, this is the home that I built with my own two hands. They were impressed. And then, he showed them a second building. And he said, this is the church that I built with my own two hands. Now, he was alone on the island. But he said, this is the church I built with my own two hands.
And then, somebody from the rescue party noticed a third building. And he said, what about that building? He said, oh, that's the church I used to go to. If you've gone to church for very long, you know that that sentiment is not far off. That the longer you go to church, you discover that church history is filled with contention sometimes. And discord over years.
And it's one of the things that unbelievers have noticed. People who do not believe in the Jesus we follow will sometimes-- in fact, oftentimes-- say, well, you know, there's a lot of denominations in the Christian world. And it just seems like you guys can't get your act together. You don't all agree on all the points.
You know, it's like the old joke. How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb? And it's not an easy answer. Presbyterians, none. Lights will go on and off at predestined times. Catholics, none. Candles only. Baptist, at least 15. One to change the light bulb and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.
Episcopalians, three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old light bulb was. Charismatics, only one. Hands are already in the air. Pentecostals, 10. One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness. Unitarians, we choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for light bulbs. However if you are-- in your own journey you found that light bulbs work for you, that's fine. You're invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for next Sunday's service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way long life, and tinted. All of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
Methodists, undetermined. Whether your light is bright or dull or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, a turnip bulb, or a tulip bulb. Christian, our church-wide lighting service is planned for next Sunday. Bring the bulb of your choice and a covered dish. Nazarenes, six. One woman to replace the bulb while five men review the church lighting policy.
Lutherans, none. Lutherans don't believe in change. Amish, what's a light bulb? Well, now that I have effectively ditched all denominations and offended everyone, I want to go to the text itself, in Philippians chapter 1. We're going to be looking at verses 15 through 18.
And here's where we are. Last time we were together, we noted that Paul was dealing with problem circumstances. He had been on trial. It was a mistrial. It was a miscarriage of justice. It landed him in prison in Caesarea, than in prison in Rome. Now, Paul writes about not problem circumstances but problem people. But get this-- there are Christian people that are the problem. Christian people that are opposed to Paul.
This disillusions lots of people who-- after they come to Christ-- say something like, well, I thought it would be much different among Christians. I thought Christians would be so wonderful all the time. It's a good thought, but the reality is we're all fallen. We're all sinful. We're all imperfect. And yet, we all get together.
Remember, Jesus said, when he gave his sermon to that synagogue in Nazareth, he said that he had come-- his words-- to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to give sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed. Did you hear the description of the audience he speaks about?
Poor, broken-hearted, captive, blind, oppressed. Sounds like a messy bunch to me. And that is who we are as we are all together. Now, the critical question is, how do you handle pests? How do you deal with people who claim to be Christians, yet at the same time, they're weird, irritable, sometimes wrong, or just plain goofy? How do you handle them? What do you do?
Well, we are given a three-fold strategy in these four verses of Philippians chapter 1. Whether you are a church leader, whether you are a group leader, whether you gather a small group in your home or you go on a missions trip-- or you just hang around Christians-- these are valuable principles to know. Let's begin and by-- just looking at our texts in verse 15.
Paul says these words. Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill. The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains. But the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached. And in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
The first thing we must do is identify the troublemakers. Now, this will not be difficult. Troublemakers show themselves. They emerge on their own. You don't have to look for them. You'll find them pretty easily. Paul did, in his experience in Rome. Now, as we examine these words in this text more carefully, we discover who he is speaking about.
First of all, we want to make a note that these people Paul is writing about are believers. They are believers. Notice in verse 15, he says, some indeed preach Christ. Some of what? Some of whom? The answer is given in the previous verse, verse 14. Most of the brethren in the Lord. Please notice that, that's part of the group. Most of the brethren in the Lord have become confident by my chains and are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Some-- that is some of them, some of those brethren in the Lord-- indeed preach Christ. So Paul is not dealing with heretics here or Gnostics or Judaizers or unbelieving idol worshippers. He's talking about Christian brothers and sisters who preach Christ. Evidently leaders in the church in Rome. Why is this important to make a note of?
Well, I've noticed that some of us like to idealize the early church. We think that the early church must have just been perfect all the time. And I've heard sentiments such as, boy, I wish our church could be like the early centuries. Those were the good old days. I've discovered the good old days is just a combination of a good imagination and a bad memory.
Because if you think about it, the New Testament is filled with early church issues. Example? The church at Corinth was an early church. Ever spend much time in 1 and 2 Corinthians? If you have, you understand that when Paul wrote that letter, he was speaking to a divided church who were arguing over leadership.
There was rampant divorce. There was lack of love. There was immorality. There was the discussion over spiritual gifts that nobody agreed on. It sounds very contemporary to me. If you're wanting to be like the early church, I think we've hit that mark. They were not a perfect group of people.
I guess the most disturbing issue is why does that happen in the church? Why among redeemed, saved people can there get to be so many problems? The Puritan John Trapp answered that question the best. He said, the devil loves to fish in troubled waters. That's good, isn't it? The devil loves to fish in troubled waters. Satan loves to exploit and amplify any conflict or disagreement or issue that may be among us.
If you have never read the book The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I recommend you read it. C.S. Lewis decided to write a book from the vantage point of the devil trying to undo people. The devil in this book, Screwtape-- the senior demon-- is training a younger protege demon named Wormwood on how to mess people's lives up.
And in one section of the book, he writes a letter to Wormwood. My dear Wormwood, says Screwtape, the senior demon, the church is a fertile field if you keep them bickering over details, structure, money, property, personal hurts, and misunderstandings. One thing you must prevent, don't ever let Christians look up and see the banner of victory flying, because you will lose them. Never let them see the glory of God.
Now, that's exactly what Paul does. Paul lets us see the glory of God. That's how he will answer this whole contention issue, you'll notice in a minute. He flies the banner of victory and he shows them the glory of God. But let's look at these troublemakers. Let's identify them.
One thing I want you to notice is they were jealous. Look in verse 15 at the word envy. Some indeed preached Christ even from envy. Now, we have another word for envy in our language-- jealousy. They were jealous over Paul. Why were they jealous over Paul? Well, Paul was an easy target. He was quite successful. Paul was highly intelligent. He was very gifted, extraordinarily successful in spreading the gospel. He had seen with his own eyes a vision of the resurrected Christ.
And, at the time this was written, Christians were already regarding his letters as holy scripture. So he's an easy target. And people, in seeing Paul, decided, let's shoot him down. Now this is human nature. I notice this on every level, whether it's people mad at Wall Street or the one percenters or the big corporations. Always the big, successful guys that are the easy targets.
So they were jealous. He uses the word, they preach from envy. Not only were they jealous, they were a contentious group. Look at the next word. Some indeed preach Christ from envy-- that's jealousy-- and strife. Now, that describes somebody who is an argumentative person. That's what strife means, somebody who stirs up a conflict. Argumentative.
Do you know any people like that? They're just-- you're around, they're always stirring up a conflict, always argumentative. Some people thrive on being argumentative. In fact, some people are known more for what they are against rather than what they are for. You never quite know what they're for, you just know they're against a lot. That's strife.
They exist to slam others and they were slamming Paul the Apostle. I have a colleague in the ministry who I've known for years, I respect. And he was speaking about-- and answering questions-- that young ministers were asking him about the ministry. And they said, what is the most difficult experience you've ever had in ministry?
And he said, well, there are two. Number one is when people who know truth walk away from it. When somebody who should know better-- there are Christians who have been exposed to truth, been exposed to the word, bring their Bibles, read-along. Suddenly, one day, they-- for whatever reason-- walk away completely from living for Christ.
He said, but the second-- and he was speaking about ministers who were coming against him-- he said those who live to attack others in the ministry. It's like they falsely accuse. And they live just to stir up trouble. So, envy and strife. And we do not know how this strife was expressed. We can only suppose.
Maybe there was a group of people saying, well, you know Paul the Apostle, there must be sin in his life. That's why he's in jail. Because God would be more faithful and not allow him to be in prison unless something is wrong with him. Or maybe they were saying, well, Paul hasn't tapped into the victorious Holy Spirit-filled life. If he did, if he had, then he wouldn't be in prison. He'd be free like we have-- like we are.
But we do know they were jealous and we do know they were contentious. Something else they were, they were selfish. If you go down to verse 16, he amplifies it further. He says, the former-- that is the first group, the guys against him, the former-- preach Christ from selfish ambition.
Very interesting term. It is a political term that speaks about a politician canvassing for office. Using negative campaigns, putting other people down to make himself look better, to promote himself. So here's a group of people putting Paul down to puff themselves up, like a politician might do in a negative campaign ad.
They got some perverted pleasure by slamming Paul so that they could make other people think they are much better. This is not new in the New Testament. We know that John the Apostle spoke about a guy named Diotrephes.
If you know your Bible, 3 John verse 9, that little letter toward the end of the New Testament. He says, Diotrephes loves to have the preeminence. He loves to have the preeminence. In other words, he wants to dominate people. He's a control freak. Diotrephes loves to have the preeminence among them.
Keep this in mind. Next time you hear gossip-- and there are, unfortunately, too many people even in the church who love to spread gossip-- when you hear gossip, somebody's ego is being exalted. It's usually shared because I know this and you don't and I am concerned. And ego is being exalted as that information is being divulged.
A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package. And selfish ambition was part and parcel of what was wrong with these people. They were selfish. So they're jealous, they're contentious, they're selfish. Paul mentions them. Not by name, he doesn't want to make too much out of it. He just doesn't want to be self-serving. But he mentions what they did.
But there's a fourth thing. They were malicious. Notice in verse 16, the former preacher Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely. Now, watch this. Supposing or hoping to add affliction to my chains. Now, Paul is revealing their motivation. They're doing all this. They are this way. They're pushing me down to pull themselves up. And here's why. They want to add affliction to my bonds.
What does that mean? The word affliction is a common New Testament word. Thlipsis. Thlipsis is a word that means pressure or trial, but it literally means an irritation. It means friction. It is the irritation caused by the rubbing of an object over another object. Now, notice it says-- Paul says, they want to add affliction or irritation to my chains.
For two years, Paul was in chains. I know you've heard that. I know we've read that. We've discussed that. But I just want you to think of what that means. That means for two years, Paul couldn't take a potty break alone. He had no freedom. He had no isolation. He had no privacy. He couldn't eat a meal alone. He couldn't have a conversation in that rented house in Rome for two years. He was chained to a guard.
That means there was a shackle around his wrist, with a chain attached to the shackle of another soldier who only occupied that place for a few hours at a time. But Paul-- 24 hours a day, seven days a week, two years-- he had a chain. That means that shackle would irritate his skin and his bones and scabs would develop. And it would bleed. And it would thicken, et cetera. You get the picture.
So he says, the reason these people are this way toward me is they want to add to the irritation that I already have in my chains. That is their motivation. They don't want to evangelize the lost. They don't want to feed the flock. They're not really concerned for the church, even though they're saying, well, I'm saying this about Paul because I'm really concerned for the church.
Paul said, that's not the truth. The truth is they have one motivation. They want to add irritation to my already irritable situation of being in chains. Now, please understand again, these are preachers. Paul says, they preach Christ. They are Christians. They are Christian preachers. They are not anti-Christ, but they are anti-Paul. And they are anti-Paul with a vengeance.
And I can't think of a worse reason to preach a message than that. I can't think of a worse motivation to write a book or have a blog site than that. Let's just make life hard for Paul the Apostle. Sort of like scorpions. You know that if you leave scorpions together alone, they'll kill themselves and eat themselves?
A guy did an experiment with 100 scorpions in a huge glass jar. In a few days, only 14 survived. They had killed the others and were eating them. There was even a pregnant scorpion in that jar that killed and started eating her young as soon as they were born. One of those babies escaped on the mother's back and eventually killed her.
Any leader who has led anything-- even Christian leaders in Christian churches-- know that every church, every group has the Tate family among them. Every church has the Tates. There's old man Dick Tate, who wants to run everything. While Uncle Ro Tate tries to change everything. Their sister, Agi Tate, stirs up plenty of trouble with help from her husband, Irri Tate.
And whenever new projects are suggested, Hesi Tate and his wife Vege Tate want to wait till next year. Then there's Aunt Imi Tate, who wants our church to be like all the others. Devas Tate provides the voice of doom, while Poten Tate wants to be a big shot. And, of course, there's the black sheep of the family, Ampu Tate, who has completely cut himself off from every church.
Anybody who's a leader knows those people exist. So what do you do? I suggest you do what Paul does. You don't spend all your time worried about them. You pivot. Yes, you identify the troublemakers, but then you ratify the truth makers. And notice what Paul says in verse 15. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and strife. And some-- I want to go, ah, it feels better already. He's pivoting here. And some also from goodwill.
Verse 17 further describes them. But the latter, out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. This is the silver lining in the dark cloud of contention and Paul has found it. Yes, in any group, there is going to Irri Tate and Agi Tate and Vege Tate. But there is also going to be advocate and celebrate. And you want to find those people.
And here's what Paul does. He says, yeah, there are some like this. But then there are some like that. You see, rather than just focusing on the smudge that is on the white linen garment, Paul says, yeah, but there's a lot of white linen garment around that smudge. It's not all a smudge. There is a smudge, I grant you that. I can identify the troublemakers, but there's a lot of others who are not like that.
That's part of the strategy. Starve the problem and feed the solution. Find those who love you, who love the work of God in you, and run with them. Ratify them, encourage them, empower them, build with them. And just keep running ahead of the Irri Tates and the Agi Tates and the Ampu Tates. Their voice will diminish as you go further ahead.
Now, I'm going to share something with you that will probably be shocking to you. Did you know that Paul the Apostle probably lost his life as a result of troublemaking Christians in Rome? I want that to settle on your hearts. Paul probably lost his life because of the trouble caused by troublemaking Christians in Rome.
You're saying, oh, wait a minute. I always heard that it was Caesar Nero that killed Paul the Apostle, beheaded him. Well, that's true. Here's the problem. We have very little information about the death of Paul from early church records. They're very silent on it. We just have a snippet here or there. But it would seem like the envy, the jealousy of many Christians in Rome denounced Paul before Caesar Nero, which added the weight to the death sentence.
You say, well, how do you know that? Well, there are several sources I've discovered. But I'm going to share two with you. One comes from 2 Timothy chapter 1, a guy by the name of Onesiphorus-- how's that for a name? Don't name your Onesiphorus, though he was a good guy. It'll be hard in school.
Onesiphorus came to visit Paul while he was in Rome in prison. The problem is once he gets to Rome, it seems like nobody will tell him where Paul the Apostle is. They don't want to tell him. Maybe they don't know or maybe they don't want to tell him.
But listen to what it says, 2 Timothy chapter 1. Paul writes, may the Lord show special kindness to Onesiphorus and all his family, because he often visited and encouraged me. He was never ashamed of me because I was in prison. When he came to Rome, he searched everywhere until he found me.
So he came to Rome. Nobody told him where Paul was, even though he kept open house for two years. People came and visited him and he influenced church leaders, were told. But he had to search for him until he could find him. And Paul made a special note, he wasn't ashamed of me being in prison. Which indicates some were. They saw this as a defeat, an embarrassment.
But then a second source comes from a letter that was found from 90 AD, written by a man named Clement of Rome to the Church of Corinth. And in the book, in the letter from Clement, Clement addresses jealousy and envy among God's people that have led to the destruction, death, or trouble caused by other of God's people.
And he gives seven examples of that through history. And one of the examples is Paul. Clement writes this, and I quote, "by reason of jealousy and strife, Paul, by his example, pointed out the prize of patient endurance. And when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, he departed from this world and went to heaven."
The point Clement makes is that envy among Christians somehow helped bring the execution brought on by Caesar Nero. If you still have further doubts, you have only to read 2 Timothy chapter 4. It's the end of Paul's life. It's right before he died. Paul says this, listen to Paul.
At my first defense, no one stood with me. But all forsook me. That breaks my heart to just read that. This is Paul the stinking Apostle. At my first offense, nobody stood with me. Everybody forsook me. But then he quickly adds, but the Lord stood with me. He was utterly alone, in terms of human fellowship at that point.
So Paul identifies the troublemakers, tells us that they are jealous, contentious, selfish, malicious. But then he pivots and ratifies the truth-makers. But here's the third part of this strategy and the best of all. Magnify the true message. Look at verse 18. Look at how Paul answers this. He says, what then?
You know what that means? That little question, what then? You know how we would translate that? So what? So what? What does it matter? What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense-- they're pretending to be pure in their motives, but they're not. In pretense or in truth, Christ is preached.
And in this, I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. Man, you cannot stop this dude. He is in jail. He has been in jail. He will be in jail for a total of two years. He will be released, brought back into prison. He will be executed. He is in jail. He is persecuted by unbelievers. He is picked on by believers. And he goes, so what? And then he says, I rejoice.
You know, I don't know how many of us would have the courage to say, you know, there is a lot of people that are against me. And then say, so what? Most of us would write, shame on them. Don't they know that I am the great Paul the Apostle, who had a vision of the living Christ? Who will write 13 New Testament books? Don't they know who I am?
He goes, so what? I rejoice and will rejoice. Almost like this defiant, I'm not going to let anybody steal my joy. An amazing reaction. An amazing reaction. Now, I don't want you to think, in looking at this-- because a lot of people do think this-- that Paul came to a point where he was just this stone statue of a man, impervious to the criticisms of others. It just rolled off his back. I don't believe that.
He was a person with emotions and heart and feelings. And he was wounded very deeply by these people. But what he is saying is, I'm not going to let mean people rob me of joy. In fact, I have found cause and reason to rejoice, and that is this-- the message of the gospel. Even when preached with bad motives, they're preaching the right message. Right message, wrong motives.
I'm not going to worry about the motives. That's between them and God. I'm going to worry about the message, and that is the gospel. Now, here's the great truth. The great truth in all of this can be boiled down to the irreducible minimum, which is this. The power is in the message, not in the messenger. The power is in the message, not in the messenger. If somebody tampers with the message, go at them. If people tamper with the messenger, ignore them.
Now, let's just talk about that for a moment. If people mess and tamper with the message, go at them. Paul did. Paul wrote to the Galatians. And he says, I'm noticing that people among you are preaching a different gospel, a different gospel than one that is the true gospel. And he goes, I want you to know if we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than the one you have received, let him be cursed below the lowest hell. How's that for confrontation?
So you mess with the message, I'm going to come at you. You mess with the messenger, I'm going to ignore you. What then? So what? What does it matter? I rejoice that the message is being preached. So Paul has his comrades. Those are partners in the gospel. He rejoices because of them. But Paul has his critics, detractors of Paul. He rejoices in spite of them.
Why? Because they're brothers, that's why. Simple as that. They're brothers. Yes, they're ornery. Yes, they're stupid. Yes, they're irritating. But they're brothers. They're brothers in Christ. So Paul is saying, I'm not called to defend myself. I'm called to defend the gospel. I'm not called to protect myself, I'm called to proclaim the gospel.
Now, I want to close on a couple of thoughts. We often make too much over what divides us and not enough over what unites us. I know. I know, we have to use discernment. I know we have to be careful about what the truth is, the true gospel, like Galatians chapter 1. But sometimes I fear that we are known more for what we're against than what we're for.
And some people actually like being that way. They like being known for what they're against. And they are known for what they're against. But sometimes, I think we make too much of it. Here's the truth. God reserves the right to use people who disagree with you. Newsflash! God reserves the right to use people who disagree with you.
There's people who disagree with you on the rapture. There's people who disagree with me on the rapture or spiritual gifts or a number of things that aren't the real crux, crucial matters of the gospel. Death, burial, Resurrection, vicarious atonement, all that central stuff. So what?
I began with talking about denominations and changing light bulbs. Let me tell you a true story about denominations. In the late 1700s, John Wesley-- you know John Wesley, one of the great leaders in England at the time. Wesley was concerned because there were so many denominations springing up. And this always bothers people who study church history, because the church history is a history of people not getting along and dividing.
So somebody in the group doesn't like the group and leaves the group and starts their own group. And as their group grows, somebody in that group doesn't like that group and they start another group. And that group grows and somebody in that group may get together with the first group and start another group. Those are denominations. Well, this bothered him.
So one night, John Wesley goes to bed, has a dream. And in his dream, he is ushered to the gates of hell. And in his dream, he asked the question, are there any Presbyterians here? And the answer comes back. Yes, there are. He's shocked. He goes, are there any Baptists here? He goes, yes, there are.
Are there any Methodists? Are there any Episcopalians? Yes, yes, yes. Well, he's troubled by this. And immediately in his dream, he's now ushered to the gates of heaven. And he asks the same set of questions. Are there any Presbyterians here? No was the answer. Are there any Baptists? No. Or any Methodists? No. Any Episcopalians? No.
And he said, no? Who then is inside? And this answer came back, there are only Christians here. There are only Christians here. You don't get to heaven by being a Presbyterian, a Baptist, a Methodist, an Episcopalian, a Calvaryite. But by trust in Jesus' death, burial, and Resurrection, period. And you are a Christian if you believe that and that message has changed your life.
As we close today, could I have you stand, please? And we're going to pray. And we're going to thank God in our prayer for all the other great churches that are in our community. Father, we do thank you for pastors and leaders who labor hard in the field, that are scattered throughout this community. Yes, we know that there are some who do not proclaim the true gospel, some who deny the deity of Christ, the Atonement of Christ, the Trinity and all that.
But we're not thinking of them. We're thinking of those who do believe in those essential truths. And in their different styles or different nuances, they love you. They love your work. They love the message. And even if they would say something disparaging about anybody else, that isn't the issue. We want to just say we rejoice that Christ is preached. And help us to make much of Jesus Christ. It's in his name we pray. Amen.
It's important to know how to deal with people who claim Christ but still act like pests. Did this message impact you? We want to know. Email us at email@example.com. And just a reminder, you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/give. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Albuquerque.