Better to be Wrong in Motive?

Better to be Wrong in Motive?

Donald MacLeod ends his book, From Glory to Golgotha with a very strong chapter, "To Live is Christ." It's always a special treat when a book saves the best chapter for last. The last couple pages focus on preaching Christ and living to preach Christ. I found this helpful as a congregant, and even as a Christian teacher and writer.

MacLeod addresses one part of Scripture that has always challenged me. While Paul is imprisoned and writing to the Philippian church, he acknowledges that some men were coming in and preaching Christ with immature motives. They were taking advantage of Paul's situation, and reveling in the spotlight a bit. Paul even notices that the intention may be to turn the knife on his own affliction of imprisonment. But he isn't bothered:

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. (Phil. 1:15-18)

Paul is happy to be preaching Christ in a prison cell, and he is rejoicing that even those with selfish ambition are preaching Christ to the Philippians. He says this, and then later admonishes some in the congregation for this exact sin:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)

How can Paul be content with preachers having a sinful motive and then warn the church on the same issue? He knows that these teachers will answer to God for their heart. It's not inconsequential. He also knows that even preachers need Christian growth. Here we are given a clear standard when it comes to open critique. MacLeod articulates it wonderfully:

Better to be wrong in the motive and right in the message than wrong in the message and right in the motive. (161)

Much of the evangelical culture that we live in today believes just the opposite. We hold motive and sincerity above the message itself. Our sentimentality is now expected to accommodate error because the teacher means well (ostensibly, that is). We vilify those who critique the message as being brash and unloving. Paul's statement stops us cold in our theologically generous tracks. When it comes to teaching, he isn't going to criticize the sincerity of the person; he will let God handle that. He focuses on the message. And it better be truth!

But when it comes to shepherding and pastoring himself, Paul cares very much about both the intentions of his flock and the truth of their message. As we see in the continuation of this epistle, he teaches how the true Word changes the heart. It is the living Word, and God will produce this fruit in his people. This same Word will also condemn those who hear the truth, and even preach the truth, without faith.

The mere fact that Paul lets this congregation know that he is aware of the selfish ambition in some of the preachers confirms that this is wrong. But he is teaching the church that God uses all kinds of circumstances for the furtherance of the gospel. Paul's imprisonment wouldn't stop it. He evangelizes in jail. Wrong motives aren't even powerful enough to stop the spread of God's Word. Whether it's discouraging circumstances from the outside, or unfavorable intentions from the heart, Christ was being preached. And to live is Christ.