May 26 – Paul: Joy in Spite of Detractors

“Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice, yes, and I will rejoice.”

Philippians 1:18


It is possible to maintain your joy even while dealing with criticisms and irritating distractions.

The dictionary definition of detraction is “the uttering of material (as false or slanderous charges) that is likely to damage the reputation of another.” A detractor wants to undermine and destroy the good name and credibility of another. Great statesmen, such as President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, often have been the targets of contentious political opponents and stinging detractions by the press.

For the church, the most difficult criticism has arisen from within, from false professors who once claimed to support it and its leaders. Paul came to know the disappointment and distress of being torn down when his detractors at Philippi assailed him even while he sat in prison. But he is a model of how one can rise above such pain and discouragement.

Paul’s main detractors (Phil. 1:15) were his fellow preachers who proclaimed the same gospel as he did. They were not at odds with him over doctrine but over personal matters. Paul’s detractors were envious of his ministry gifts and the way God had blessed his efforts with many converts and numerous churches.

Contending with the detractors at Philippi was not a completely new trial for Paul. He had previously learned patience in dealing with the letdowns caused by other supposed supporters (see 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:16). Now his opponents were testing his patience to the extreme as they sought to destroy his credibility with his supporters.

The detractors’ tactics might have unsettled the faith of some in the churches, but not Paul’s confidence. He stood up to all the unpleasantness with joy because, as our verse indicates, he knew the cause of Christ was still being advanced.

Paul’s exemplary behavior under fire provides an obvious lesson for us: no amount of false and unfair criticism should steal our joy in Christ and His gospel. And we can keep rejoicing if we, like Paul, stay devoted to our top priority, proclaiming and glorifying the name of Christ.


Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord that the gospel and its power are strong enough to overcome any amount of jealous detraction. Pray that you would stay focused on gospel priorities.

For Further Study: Read Nehemiah 4–6. How did Nehemiah deal with the detractors to his work? ✧ What was the eventual outcome (6:16)?[1]

1:18 Paul refuses to be downcast by the wrong motives of some. Christ is being preached by both groups, and that is for him a great cause for rejoicing.

It is remarkable that under such difficult circumstances, Paul does not feel sorry for himself or seek the sympathy of others. Rather he is filled with the joy of the Lord and encourages his readers to rejoice also.[2]

18a. What then? or “What really matters?” Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Paul’s self-forgetfulness excites affectionate admiration. We love him all the more for having written this beautiful passage. Sensitive soul though he was, he does not begin to pity himself because certain jealous preachers were trying to win applause at his expense. What really matters to him is not what they are doing to him but what they are doing for the gospel. But is it possible, then, that such selfish individuals can render service to the gospel in any way? Yes, for it must be borne in mind that those who hear them do not know what Paul knows. The listeners hear only the good preaching. They do not see the bad motive. What matters then is that in every way, that is, whether in pretense—as by those who know how to cover up their selfish ambition—or in truth—as by those whose sole aim is actually the glorification of their Lord and Savior—Christ is proclaimed. In this, says Paul, I rejoice (see also 1:25; 2:2, 17, 18, 28, 29; 3:1; 4:1, 4, 10). It would seem that the apostle’s joy is so great that it crowds out every other consideration.


Christ Magnified in Paul’s Person whether by Life or by Death

18b Yes, and I shall continue to rejoice. 19 For I know that through your supplication and the help supplied by the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my salvation, 20 in accordance with my eager expectation and hope that in not a single respect I shall ever be put to shame, but that now as always by my unfailing courage Christ will be magnified in my person, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live (is) Christ, and to die (is) gain. 22 Now if (what awaits me is) to live in the flesh, this for me means fruit resulting from work; yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 So I am hard pressed between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. 25 And being convinced of this, I know that I shall remain, yes remain with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 in order that in connection with me, because of my being with you again, your exultation in Christ may abound.

18b, 19. Paul is the Optimistic Prisoner not only because he realizes that his imprisonment is for the advantage of the gospel (1:12–18), but also because he is deeply convinced that in his person Christ will be magnified, and that this happy result will be attained whether he, the apostle, is set free (as he rather expects) or is put to death (1:19–26).

At first glance it might seem as if from the lofty height of glorying in the fact that Christ is being proclaimed—verse 18—Paul now descends to the somewhat lower plane of rejoicing in his own salvation—verse 19. However, by reading not only verse 19 but also verse 20 it will be seen that for Paul salvation consisted in this—to quote his own words—“that … Christ be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” Christ’s glory and Paul’s salvation cannot be separated.

Yet there is progress in thought. The apostle advances from the consideration of his joy in the present (verse 18) to the consideration of his joy in the future. He writes: Yes, and I shall continue to rejoice. He states as the reason for his continued rejoicing: For I know that through your supplication and the help supplied by the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my salvation. This present imprisonment with all its attending woe will result in Paul’s truest welfare, his highest good, namely, Christ magnified more than ever in Paul’s person. Note that this glorious result will be brought about by means of two factors which because of their great difference in magnitude—the one human, the other divine—we would probably hesitate to place next to one another: your supplication … and … the help supplied by the Spirit of Jesus Christ! Yet, they certainly belong together: the very same Spirit which sustained Jesus Christ, the Mediator, in his trials, will cause all things to work together for good in the case of Paul also, and this in answer to the prayer of fellow-believers. The apostle sets much store by the intercession (here supplication, that is, fervent petition or request for the fulfillment of a definite need; cf. Phil. 1:4; 4:6; see N.T.C. on 1 Tim. 2:1) of his friends (cf. Rom. 15:30, 32; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1). Note that Paul makes supplication for the Philippians (1:4), and that he knows that they are doing the same thing for him (1:19). The fellowship is operating (see on verse 5).[3]

More important, though, he saw the larger picture. Because those envious men were actually preaching the true gospel, people were being saved. “What then?” he therefore asked rhetorically, answering: Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice. In other words, if the cause of Christ was being served, even in pretense by those envious detractors, he was glad. Although the detractors’ motive was not primarily to exalt Christ or to win souls but to exalt themselves at Paul’s expense, he was not bitter. He knew that, although He did not honor those men who preached the truth out of pretense, the sovereign God nevertheless honored their message when Christ [was] proclaimed. That reality greatly pleased Paul.

God’s Word is always powerful, no matter what the motives of the one who proclaims it. The last thing the prophet Jonah wanted to happen was for Nineveh to repent at his preaching; but the message he gave from God produced repentance in spite of his ill intentions (cf. Jonah 4:1–9). Even a preacher or teacher who is envious, jealous, and selfish can be used by God when his message is true to the Word. God always honors His Word, and His Word always bears fruit. “My word … which goes forth from My mouth … will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). As the nineteenth-century Scottish minister John Eadie wisely commented, “The virtue lies in the gospel, not in the gospeller; in the exposition, and not in the expounder” (A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians [reprint; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979], 40).

In truth refers back to those who were preaching “from good will; … out of love, … [and] from pure motives” (Phil. 1:15–17). Truth here refers not to the accuracy of what they said, but rather to the truthfulness and integrity of their hearts. In marked contrast to the detractors, they were not hypocrites preaching the pure gospel from impure motives.

Katangellō (proclaimed) refers to announcing or declaring something with authority. Whether the gospel was proclaimed by jealous, hurtful preachers, or by those who were faithfully and humbly preaching the gospel with pure motives, it was accurately proclaimed, it bore fruit, and Paul could only rejoice. He reinforced his earnestness by adding, Yes, and I will rejoice. His joy, his gracious attitude, and his grasp of the greater issue of gospel truth were not transitory, but were resolutely permanent (cf. Ps. 4:7–8; Rom. 12:12; 2 Cor. 6:10).

Absolutely nothing could steal Paul’s God-given joy. He was expendable; the gospel was not. His own privacy and freedom were incidental, and he cared nothing for personal recognition or credit. Neither the painful chains of Rome nor the even more painful criticism of fellow Christians could keep him from rejoicing, because Christ was being proclaimed and His church was growing and maturing. The apostle’s view of his life and ministry are perhaps best expressed in 2 Corinthians:

And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—for He says, “At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation”—giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things. (2 Cor. 6:1–10)

Paul’s example of selfless humility shows that the worse circumstances are, the greater joy can be. When the seemingly secure things in life begin to collapse, when suffering and sorrow increase, believers should be drawn into ever-deeper fellowship with the Lord. It is then that they will most fully experience the enduring joy the apostle knew so well. This joy is far greater and more satisfying than any fleeting circumstantial happiness. And this unmixed joy comes not because of circumstances but in spite of them and through them.[4]

18 Paul’s response to the negative preaching reflects the spirit of a saint: “But what does it matter [ti gar, “so what?”]?… Christ is preached.” It is not that Paul has mellowed after wrangling with the Corinthians and has lost his fighting trim, as C. H. Dodd suggests (New Testament Studies [Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1953], 80–82). Paul sets an example for the Philippians to emulate. His prestige, reputation, and personal feelings are secondary to the preaching and advance of the gospel. Paul is not immune to personal hurt (2 Co 1:23–2:4; 7:3–16), but he does not put his personal feelings above the progress of the gospel. What is important is not his personal vindication before a Roman court or rival Christians, but the defense and confirmation of the gospel. His private concerns must not outweigh his ultimate task.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1962). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 73–74). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 68–69). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 200). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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