Country summers before the electronics age were a little different. Local ponds were a source of amusement whether fishing, catching frogs or crawdads, or skipping stones. The stones would skip across the water leaving a trail of concentric circles. The ripple effect on a windless afternoon was beautiful to see, as the ripples collided, overlapped ,and eventually reached the shores.
The Apostle Paul was aware of ripple effects as well. In the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians, he has already demonstrated his spiritual and emotional maturity by rejoicing in his prison chains. He was able to do so because he knew the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ had been strengthened by his incarceration--not to mention he used the time to write a letter we are still studying today! Now he turns to discuss further ripples resulting from his imprisonment:
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerity, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)
The same Apostle Paul who wrote the poetically eloquent language about agape love in I Corinthians 13 and encouraged the positive perspectives of Philippians 4, had no illusions about the true nature of the hearts of people—even people in the church. Some hearts are filled with goodwill and agape love, indeed. Others, unfortunately, minister to others from a place of selfish ambition, competition, and ill-will. Ultimately, Paul deduces that the motives, in the biggest picture, matter very little. The individual gains nothing without love as a motive (I Corinthians 13:1-3), but the gospel of Christ may still be furthered by their efforts.
The other remarkable thing here is that Paul has apparently risen so far above the petty exchanges that sometimes characterize our human (and church) interactions. His focus is steady: nothing matters but the message of Jesus Christ. He has no time or energy for worrying about what others think about him or do to hurt him. What a man of God!
The applications are endless here, aren’t they? I don’t know about you, but I have a way to go before I can, in total honesty, make the kinds of statements that Paul makes here. We are pretty focused, aren’t we, on our own agendas and preferences? Mistreatment by others can still knock the wind out of me for an embarrassingly long period of time; try as I do to hand it to Jesus. How wonderful will it be when, finally, I can care less about such things and keep my eyes steadily on Jesus, letting the nonsense fall behind me, inconsequential dust.
Let’s press on. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Let his message and mission become our own as we go, teaching others to obey all he commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let's make some waves. After all, he is with us, even to the end of time.