By Melanie Kim '23
Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
(Philippians 1:15-18 NIV)
In all honesty, it was incredibly difficult to write this piece. I kept thinking about these verses, pondering over them, praying over them, searching through Bible commentaries. I started to write so many times and ended up scrapping so many leads or ideas that just didn’t sit right. I tried lying upside down from my bed, sitting on my mini-fridge by the window, bouncing up and down at my desk chair.
So I took a break and took a step back. Why am I struggling so much with this passage?
It hits a little too close to home.
During this quarantine, I found myself faking things a lot. I think I used to have a very clear idea of who I was as a person, what I wanted, what my faith meant to me. But sometimes I would stare into a mirror and just see my own face reflected back at me and wonder if I was really just an empty shell walking around. Or sometimes, I was afraid that there was just an angry, selfish, jealous, mean-spirited void in my heart.
It was easy to lose sense of who God is and why my faith mattered. I felt like I was floating so much of the time, just subsisting day to day on homework and food and stolen time drifting over Youtube or social media. A spiritual drought.
But I would still go to my fellowship, listen to my online church services, talk to my friends about faith. I would say things like, “I will be praying for you” or “wow, God’s love was so evident here” knowing that I didn’t really mean these from my heart. They were phrases I was supposed to be saying, “Christian-lingo” so to speak. I felt like I was living in a lie.
So it’s hard to read this passage and think… how was Christ proclaimed through this pretense that I put up?
If we hone in on the final verse of this passage, it says, “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
For some context, Paul had spent about two years in jail. Many Jews had formed a conspiracy to kill him, and now some of Paul’s fellow believers had been preaching about Christ in order to humiliate and spite Paul. All of these situational factors, all of these heavy burdens, and yet Paul said with complete confidence, I rejoice in the fact that Christ is proclaimed.
How could he possibly have said that?
The key to Paul’s joy was his steadfast foundation on Christ and the gospel. He did not play this comparison game that these other believers played, nor did his self-esteem depend on the opinion of others. His identity was firmly rooted in Christ. This is why, even in what must have been one of his loneliest moments, Paul was unshaken in his joy and his faith in God’s powerful gospel message.
Paul had complete confidence in the fact that God could still powerfully touch hearts even through flawed messengers. These people might have been speaking with insincerity, even with evil intentions. But that did not change the power of the Bible or the nature of who God is.
Hebrews 4:12 says that “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (NIV).
The Bible and its message far transcend any of our abilities or flaws as messengers; nothing we do can invalidate the power of that gospel. Christ will be proclaimed!
But then I keep returning to this problem: people who are guided by this rivalry, selfish ambition, and envy are living opposite to God’s calling to be unified in love. So then when hypocritical Christians proclaim the gospel message, won’t they push people away from Christ? Won’t I push people away from Christ if I talk about the power of His love for me and yet do not live it out? Won’t I turn people away when I talk about finding freedom in Christ but still allow my security to be so tightly linked to things like grades or other people’s opinions?
The Church is flawed, and it is no secret that many people have been turned off from diving further into the gospel because of the hypocrisy of Christians. It does not come as a surprise that flawed humans cannot always reflect God’s perfection or the message of forgiveness, love, and unity that the gospel offers.
But God continues to use us.
The Bible is full of moments when God used flawed and hypocritical people to share His gospel. He works powerfully regardless of human weakness, and oftentimes even because of it.
God selected the fearful Moses, the deceptive and cheating Jacob, the denying Peter, and the entire Israelite people who were as God says in Ezekiel 5:7, “more unruly than the nations around [them]” (NIV).
God redeemed and spoke to all these people, and He worked powerfully through each of them. They were not selected on their own merits, nor were they selected for their perfection. He used their weakness and even their hypocrisy. When their hearts were softened to Him, these flaws were used to convince them of their desperate need for God’s strength and love. And in doing so, God and the gospel were proclaimed all the more powerfully.
I was reading Psalms 77 a few days ago, and it starts out with despair. In verses 1-2, the psalmist says, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted” (NIV).
I’ve done that many nights, staring out the dark window at the slow blinking light display on the apartment building nearby. Waiting to feel that I believe the words that I type out in my nightly devotionals on two chapters of the Bible. Asking God to take away the stress or the dissatisfaction inside.
But Psalm 77 doesn’t end with despair. It goes on to say in verse 12, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds” (NIV). I truly do cling to these words. It is another life verse added to the scrawled notes in my journal, another stepping stone to help me step out of the murky depths of late night fears and midday apathy. Even when it feels like I am so far away from God, this does not change the fact that God has been faithful and good to me in the past. It does not erase the love that He has shown me and poured out upon me, and it does not change the fact that this love is still being poured out upon me today.
So as I have opportunities to reach out to friends in faith, it may feel hypocritical sometimes, especially in periods of spiritual dryness, to be talking about how God has changed my life and made me new. But my own hypocrisy does not take away from the truth of God’s faithfulness in the past and the present.
So with this boldness of God’s love behind us, we can reach out and love others, even when we feel like hypocrites. Regardless of where we are at, when we take our motives and weaknesses before God and allow Him to shape and guide our lives, Christ will be glorified!
Illustration by Helena Suh '23