Philippians 1.15-18 – Acceptable Ambition

Our Christian life is often full of paradoxes and opposites, isn’t it? We are already saved, but not yet fully saved. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, but now that you are, work hard to show it. If you want to be first, be last. You get the picture…

If I said that it is ok to have ambition in your Christian life, some might disavow that as a paradox and claim that a very passive, pious life is what we need, not ambition, you heathen. Here in vv.15-18, Paul shows us what kind of ambition is ok, and what kind is not. 

He writes that some preach Christ from envy and rivalry. Preaching, teaching, or ministering out of a sense of competition with your fellow believers is, simply, not ok. Paul goes on to say that this is really out of selfish ambition. This kind of ambition, this inter-ministerial competition to have the biggest church, the best selling book, the most followed social media accounts, is not ok. 

It is perfectly acceptable, and I would suggest encourage-able, to want to be the best you can for the Lord. It is perfectly acceptable to want to give excellence to your Saviour in all you do, to represent Him well, and to strive to put the grace of God in you to work as much as you can. This kind of ambition is good, competing with others is not. The difference, when we see them together, is stark;

  • I want to preach to more people than [that guy].
  • I want to preach Jesus to as many people as the Lord gives me.
  • I want to have more Instagram followers than [that guy].
  • I want to use social media to witness to others and show people a life lived for Christ.
  • I want to write a book that is a best-seller so I become known, rich, and ‘famous’.
  • The Lord has put it on my heart to share [this idea] so I am going to do it whether two people or two million people read it.

Today I would encourage you to pause and ponder what you are doing for the Lord, and then take a moment and honestly look at your motivation for doing so; is it out of selfish ambition, or acceptable ambition?

Philippians 1.12-14 – Influential Incarceration

Often we look at our circumstances and, for better or worse, put ourselves at the very centre of them. They must be about me, for me, against me, and altogether concerning me. In vv.12-14 Paul shows us that, really, for better or worse, our circumstances are about much bigger things. 

The believers in Philippi are obviously concerned for Paul’s wellbeing whilst in prison (v.12), yet Paul highlights to them that, do you know what, whether I am in prison or am freed miraculously as before (cf. Acts 16.11-40), the main thing is still the main thing,

…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…

His imprisonment is being used to advance the gospel. Quite an influential incarceration!

He writes that he was able to witness to the whole imperial guard and to all the rest, and that the local believers have become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment and are therefore more bold to speak the word without fear.

Is the same true for you? Can you look at whatever is happening to you and around you and say, well Lord, how is this being used to advance the gospel?

We don’t all need to be incarcerated for the gospel to have such influence, as Paul was, but we would do well to take his perspective and apply that to our lives today; keeping the main thing as the main thing in our lives (v.12), and to see the God-given positives in every situation (vv.13-14).

Try and employ this perspective today!

Philippians 1.7-11 – Paul’s Prayer

After expressing confidence in the future work and grace of God (v.6), Paul now explains his love for the Philippians and prays for them.

Paul says, essentially, that he loves the saints at Philippi with the same self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed for the entire world (vv.7-8, cf. John 3.16). He knows they are not fair-weather friends (v.7b), and knows they are in this for the long run (v.10).

The prayer in vv.9-11 is powerful, and something that we could all benefit from praying today.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1.9-11

Even though there is plenty of love on show already (vv.7-8), praying for more is never a bad thing! Paul prays for love with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…How often we emphasise being full of love, but empty headed. A full heart can actually go with a full head (cf. 1 Corinthians 5.1-7).

Today then, yes, be as full of love as you can possibly be, then pray for more! But, in addition to this, pray and ask God for love that comes with knowledge and discernment. It is possible to be full of both! 

If you are worried that this doesn’t really feel like a very ‘Christian’ position, you know, we ought to just focus on loving and not too much on the thinking…, read the end of v.11 again, we pray for this for

…the glory and praise of God.

Full of love, yes!

Full of knowledge and discernment, also yes!

Philippians 1.6 – The Process

How often do you start things only to never finish them? Maybe it’s a home improvement task, working on your car or bike, a project with the kids…I think we’ve all been there. Thankfully, God is not like this. I love what Charles Spurgeon said on this,

“Where is there an instance of God’s beginning any work and leaving it incomplete? Show me for once a world abandoned and thrown aside half formed; show me a universe cast off from the Great Potter’s wheel, with the design in outline, the clay half hardened, and the form unshapely from incompleteness.”

The redeeming, saving, sanctifying work God began in you the moment you were justified through faith will be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (v.6). 

As yesterday Paul was filled with joy at the thought of the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel with him (v.5), today he naturally thinks from beginning to end and says that this good work will be brought to completion at the return of Jesus; from conversion to consummation.

The same is true for you and me today; the grace of God at work in you to conform you day by day into the image of His beloved Son will be completed when He comes again. 

Until then, enjoy the process. Enjoy the day-by-day changing. Notice where you act differently, react differently, choose differently, and think differently to how you did from the first day until now. More than this, take a great confidence in the truth that our God always finishes what He starts, and that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

Philippians 1.2-5 – Return on Investment

After greeting the believers in Philippi with his typical grace and peace, Paul explains that he is filled with joy when he prays thanks to God for them all (vv.3-4). How wonderful; Paul is filled with joy when he prays for this church.

In v.5 we see why Paul is filled with joy at the thought of this church and its people,

…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Paul is filled with joy because the church at Philippi had partnered with him in his work for the gospel. It is likely that this took multiple forms; in prayer, in friendship, in support, in fellowship, and in finance (Acts 16.25, 16.32-34, 2 Corinthians 8.1-7, 9.1-4, 11.9).

I read recently that the church at Philippi ‘…didn’t wait to see if Paul was a “winner” before they supported him. They got behind Paul and his ministry early.

For you and me today then, who can you get behind? Who can you support with your prayer, friendship, fellowship, and finance? 

Paul was filled with joy when praying for this church, and just think – by supporting someone in their work for the gospel you will fill them with joy when they pray. What a great return on your investment! 

So, go, get behind and support someone today!