The apostle Paul, at this point, was locked up in prison but there were others in Philippi who continued to preach the gospel. Paul was not the only one able to proclaim the good news. However, we learn from Philippians 1:15-19 that, while some of those who were preaching were motivated by love (probably for Paul as well as the message itself), others were motivated by selfish ambition. It gratified their ego to be up front. Besides, they were quite sure that Paul would be envious of the notoriety they were gaining. And that’s a perfect example of projection – that’s how they would have felt had they been the one in prison.
But how did Paul react? He was filled with joy – Christ was being preached and that’s what was important. If from love, great! If from selfish ambition and the desire to make him envious, “What does it matter?” (vs. 18). It is the message that matters. We need to remind ourselves that the power is in the Word itself, not in our presentation. Exaggerated rhetoric and flamboyant delivery may excite or amuse, but it is the simple declaration of the Word that touches the heart. In another place Paul points out that his preaching was “not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Corin. 1:17).
Paul’s dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed that zealous Rabbi forever. The glad new of forgiveness by faith alone redirected his life from that point on. He was delighted to proclaim the truth, whether from Mars Hill or from the depths of a Roman dungeon. It made no difference. It was the power of the Spirit, not the messenger, which was changing lives. Far too often our concern is on the environment in which the message is delivered rather than the message itself. Beautiful church sanctuaries are a positive expression of the grandeur of the gospel but they will never rise in importance above the gospel itself. As a young man I used to preach on the streets of Portland, OR, and God honored my unsophisticated attempts to share my faith. The great sermons of history are those that with simple clarity announce what God, by sending His Son, has done for the human race. The advice is: Get out of the way and let God!
Had the Paul who was in prison just then been overly concerned about his own miserable state, or whether God was able to use others in the work of evangelization, he would not have been the Paul who, empowered by the Spirit, played such a crucial role in the westward spread of the Christian faith