The Gospel’s Non-Compete Clause
Written by Karen Ehman (First 5 Ministries)
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, 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.
Last year, one of my favorite anchors on a local television station suddenly disappeared. Although the public was assured there was no scandal involved, they could no longer be found hosting the news each evening.
Recently, I saw that anchor hosting a news segment on a rival network. After investigating online, I discovered their non-compete clause had expired. Now they were legally free to hold a similar job at a competing station.
In today’s passage, the apostle Paul addresses the topic of competition. But he wasn’t talking about media personalities. He was addressing something more crucial: the gospel.
Some theologians assert that Paul was referring to the group of people known as the Judaizers who are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. (Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:11-21; 2 Corinthians 11:22-28) These men were overly zealous for Jewish traditions and law and felt that believers in Christ needed to also follow the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament.
Other biblical experts feel that Paul is more likely referring to Christians who generally preach a sound gospel but who were at odds with Paul relationally. They were not motivated by love, but instead their goal was to harm Paul by tarnishing his reputation. They may have been criticizing him, citing his poor oratory abilities (1 Corinthians 1:20-24) or his seemingly constant suffering and weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 11:16-33)
The apostle suggests that some were doing this out of envy. This is the word phthonos in the original Greek and carries a bit different connotation than our English word. It means being glad when someone experiences misfortune or pain. Paul also asserts some are preaching the gospel due to rivalry. This Greek term, eris, denotes a contentious quarrel, debate or wrangle.
Remarkably, even though Paul was in prison because of his bold stand for the gospel, and these envious, rivalrous adversaries were seeking to pile on even more pain, he did not launch out on a long dissertation opposing those who were opposing him. Instead, he rejoiced that – regardless of these people’s behavior – the gospel of Christ was being preached.
The Greek word for gospel is euaggelion. It means God’s good tidings, the contents of which were decreed by Him from eternity in the form of the Messiah. When this word is used, it is implied that there are three parts crucial to its entire meaning: the giver – God; the subject – Jesus; and the human transmitter – one of the apostles or we Christians, who are to share the gospel with others.
Paul was able to overlook the hurtful behavior of his challengers as long as they were preaching the good tidings of God to others. For him, there was no competition about who was right. Instead, it was the righteousness of God that won as the message of salvation for all mankind went forth.