How to Respond to Right Doctrine and Wrong Motives

A few months back, I wrote an article entitled, How to Listen to a Pharisee. In that post, we examined how Christ instructed his disciples to respond to truth when it is taught by someone who is flagrantly hypocritical. The conclusion: Christ commands us to listen to and obey the truth, even when it is taught by someone who does not listen to and obey the truth they are teaching. “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3). Jesus doesn’t allow us to give in to the ever-so-easy inclination to ignore truth when it is taught by someone who is not being affected by the very truth they proclaim. Insofar as they are teaching God’s Word accurately, our responsibility is to listen and obey.

In a similar way, we can tend to forego rejoicing in the truth when it is proclaimed by those who we know are preaching and teaching the truth from wrong motives. What should our response be when we hear wonderful, Christ-exalting truth preached and taught by those whom we know are preaching and teaching from altogether wrong motives of pride and ungodly competition? Paul was confronted with this same question and gives us an insightful answer in Philippians chapter one.

Paul wrote the book of Philippians from prison. While in prison, Paul learned of two groups of people preaching the gospel in his stead. One group was preaching the gospel out of right motives; the other, out of ” envy and rivalry;” out of a desire to advance to a place of prominence and recognition (1:15). Since Paul, the “Big-time” apostle was locked up, they could now pursue their own fame among the Christian community by preaching the gospel. They had right doctrine but the wrong motives.

But what is Paul’s response? Verse 18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, I will rejoice.” Rejoicing! Paul’s response when he learned that people were preaching Christ out of wrong motives was to rejoice that Christ was preached! So, how should we respond when we learn of someone who is preaching Christ from wrong motives? If they are teaching the truth about Christ; if they are teaching the real, life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, our response should be rejoicing that our Savior is being proclaimed. Don’t let your heart become entangled with bitterness and anger by those who are already entagled with bitterness and anger. Focus your heart on Christ and His gospel and rejoice when He is preached. This will mean glory for God and freedom for you.

8 thoughts on “How to Respond to Right Doctrine and Wrong Motives”

  1. Derek – Good thoughts. It would also be important to remember that Paul must’ve had some cold, hard evidence that his ‘competitors’ were preaching the gospel out of wrong motives, because elsewhere he makes it clear that we are not to attribute sin to others unless we have the evidence to do so. It’s easy to judge the motives of others when we have no basis for the conclusions we’re making.

  2. Gunner,

    Agreed; thanks for pointing that out. We can assume that Paul didn’t “give an answer before he heard;” he must have had (very) good reason to believe that these guys were preaching with wrong motives. It would be an interesting study to determine where Paul drew the line when it came to judging motives and “believing all things” about people.

  3. Derek – I think that the balance between the extremes of judging people’s motives on the one hand and going overboard in “believing all things” on the other hand is one of the key balances of the Christian life. One of the reasons why I think your post is such an important one is because of how these ideas can be applied. I’m around a lot of good preaching (content-wise), but I’ve realized over time that what I’m most prone to judge and criticize is what I perceive to be passionless, wooden, cold preaching that sounds more like a scripted political speech or memorized drama lines than it does a word from the living God. When I’m listening to a message and I begin to feel that the preacher is preaching this way, I have to draw my focus back to the authority of the Word and the glory of the Lord it reveals instead of my own assumptions and judgments about the preacher. At the same time, I want to have a sense of godly frustration that there’s not more passion coming from the pulpit. That balance is hard… but I know that it’s usually much more gratifying to the flesh to criticize a perceived lack of passion than it is to humble myself under the authority of the Word accurately preached, no matter who’s doing the preaching.

  4. Gunner,

    This is one of the reasons I think blogging is such a great tool; even in these comments I am being edified, sharpened and my thinking is made more clear.

    Regarding your last comment, you articulated (very well, I might add) something that I have wrestled with: how do you submit yourself to the teaching of the Word while at the same time not stifling a godly frustration for lack of passion (or any other serious deficiency) in the pulpit. That is why I think Jesus’ word to us in Matthew 23:2-3 is so important; Jesus helps us focus our eyes on the truth and our responsibility to obey the truth, even when we are taught that truth by someone who is overtly hypocritical. I would also add that I don’t think it is sin, necessarily, to notice hypocrisy (or lack of passion, which we could probably say is a form of hypocrisy) in teachers; we would have to be able to recognize hypocrisy in teachers in order to make any sense of Matthew 23:2-3. But I think Jesus’ wisdom in these verses is to help us to NOT FOCUS on the hypocrisy but rather on the truth that is taught and draw our minds ‘back to the authority of the Word and the glory of the Lord it reveals,’ like you said. But, like you also said, the balance is hard! It is more easy to please the flesh and rip apart passionless preachers then it is to bring myself to ‘listening to and heeding’ what I am taught. But I KNOW what is better for my soul. It is Isaiah 66:2!

  5. “Don’t let your heart become entangled with bitterness and anger by those who are already entagled with bitterness and anger.” – What a helpful sentence for me! This requires such humility to practice, but it brings such sanity and peace. It reminded me of the Proverb, he who rules his spirit is mightier than him who takes a city (Pv 16:32). Thanks for this thoughtful post (and the conversation in “comments”).

  6. Drew,

    It is great to hear you join in the ‘conversation!’ It is such an encouragement to know that that post was helpful to you. Thanks for commenting and for the great verse from Proverbs. Praise God for the ‘sanity and peace’ that does come from focusing on His truth and ruling our spirit.

    Derek

  7. Derek – I agree that it’s not a sin to evaluate and make conclusions about a hypocritical preacher. It would be unwise to not do that at times. A few thoughts:

    1. Although passionless preaching could be labeled a form of hypocrisy, I think that there are other forms that are much worse (hidden immorality, pride, man-pleasing). The hard part about all of this is the question, “At what point can we make a conclusion about someone and consider them a hypocrite?” That’s a heavy-duty charge. Obviously some of the Pharisees’ actions were blatant enough for Jesus to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were hypocritical (and for the crowds to know exactly what He was talking about when He satirized them), but I don’t think I could put my evaluation of a “passionless preacher” in the same category. A guy might be monotone, but that doesn’t mean he’s a hypocrite. He might be more laid back or casual in the pulpit than I’d prefer, but that doesn’t make him a Pharisee. So I think the passion thing should probably be put in another category, generally speaking. What do you think?

    2. While Matthew 23:2-3 applies to people listening to hypocritical teachers, it’s focused on the hypocritical teachers. I think Jesus is using satire to make sure the people understand how dangerous hypocrisy is. A secondary application could be “Listen to and learn from a teacher who’s preaching truth even if he’s a hypocrite,” but the central and primary thrust is towards the hypocrites. Verses 8-12 seem to be the application to the listeners. Kind of like if I said, “Derek, your rabbi is ridiculously hypocritical. Do what he says but not what he does, because he doesn’t practice what he preaches. Whatever you do, don’t be a hypocrite.” My emphasis is not so much on the fact that you should listen to your rabbi but on the fact that that he’s ridiculously hypocritical and that you should be careful of being that way yourself (vv. 4-12).

    Thanks for the dialogue.

  8. Also, you must remember that we are the pastoral staff or the spiritual leadership in this world. We are allowed to not only be hypocritical but because we are ordained by God, it is expected for us to control the spiritual lives of our congregation in order for protection against those who might become better at ministry than we are. Thus hypocrisy is not only expected by encouraged.

    Just some words of encouragement.

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