It’s been said that God works in mysterious ways.
It can also be said that God works in a multitude of ways.
It seems God is not into one-size-fits-all or paint-by numbers approach to how He impacts lives.
It’s not hard to see that God expresses Himself through a variety of people and ministry.
Sometimes, though, we are tempted to turn up our nose or speak ill of a work God is invested in.
Rather than cheer, we complain.
Rather that support, we deride.
Often times it’s because they aren’t doing it like we are doing it.
Which, when you boil it down, seems a bit narrow and prideful.
Now, there are of course some so-called “ministries” that are so far off-base biblically that we ought not feel any pressure to support or endorse them.
If the doctrine is out-of-whack, or the practice doesn’t match up with the Word. we have reason to step back.
But, with that said, one passage of scripture drives home the point that we had best be wary of bagging on any work that God might be doing.
It comes from Philippians 1, and the context for this passage is that Paul had been imprisoned for sharing Jesus.
Some people felt bad for Paul, but others spoke ill of him, claiming that God had put Paul on the ministry sidelines to humble him.
With this in mind, look at what Paul wrote to the Philippian church:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14 ESV)
Isn’t it amazing that Paul could see how God might work even though He was in jail?
He had the presence of mind to realize that the reason he was in jail (preaching Christ) was actually creating Gospel inroads among his captors, and at the same time encouraging others to speak more boldly of the message of Jesus.
But what about those people who couldn’t see what God was up to? You know, the ones who wanted to speak badly of Paul?
Paul’s response to them is refreshingly jarring:
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 ESV)
From a human perspective, Paul had plenty of reasons to be angry with those who dared to try and give him a black eye. As he wrote, their motive was envy and rivalry.
They weren’t cooperating with Paul…they were competing with him!
And yet Paul looks at them and says, “I rejoice!”
Why? Because the gospel was still being proclaimed.
This doesn’t mean he was endorsing the ill-motives of those who spoke badly of him.
It just means that the gospel’s advance was more important to him.
It makes me wonder: am I a ministry cooperator…or a ministry competitor?
Ministry cooperators will be people marked by joy.
Ministry competitors often display attitudes of angst.
Ministry cooperators are driven by the Spirit.
Ministry competitors may be drawing more from the flesh.
In life, we sometimes attempt to make ourselves feel superior by pushing others down,
But that’s probably not something that comes from the Lord.
For Jesus said this:
The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12 ESV)
The issue that plagued the hearts of Paul’s rivals can bedevil anyone of us.
We will start to see the seeds of envy and rivalry giving birth to disdain for, and disappointment in, other people’s work for God.
Instead of getting better, we will grow bitter.
That’s the time when we need a fresh infusion of the fruit of the Spirit, so we might gain a refreshed perspective on the mysterious and varied ways of God.