Select Page

Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #5: What Does It Matter?

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. Philippians 1:17-18 NIV

In the early 2000s, my family took a vacation to the mountains of North Carolina. Jumping out to stretch my legs at a small rest area, the local graffiti stared out bleakly from the side of a dumpster. “Billy Graham is going to hell!” and “Bill Graham is the anti-Christ.” There was more, but what struck me immediately was that, though the graffiti was fresh, Billy Graham had not preached publicly for years. Yet he was still eliciting deep hatred from some Christians who lived in the area surrounding The Cove.

This is not just a matter of sticks and stones. Their words reminded me that there are believers, used of God, who will never be accepted, never be understood, never really thought of as one of the righteous.

It is hard being a lightning rod. It is not a chosen role, but one that is thrust upon you by others who find you and your beliefs or actions on behalf of Jesus offensive. This is a normal state for a number of those who live in the leadership sphere. A target is on your back—or on your chest if those who oppose you are bold and relentless.

Paul knew what it meant to be a perpetual lightening rod. Not only did his fellow Jews despise him, fellow believers found his teaching repulsive and claimed that he was misleading others. Their rant ran something like this: “Paul is wrong. Paul is being deceptive. Paul is misrepresenting core gospel truths. Paul will lead you astray. Paul isn’t one of us!” They were pretty jazzed up now that he was in prison, as if that proved that even God was against him.

“What does it matter?” Paul responds to their way of thinking. “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

This may seem to be a pretty odd response from Paul. Paul was not shy about pushing back when people were perverting the gospel. He pulled no punches later in Philippians 3:2 (NIV) when he warned, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh.”

So why doesn’t it matter in this instance? If you have followed along so far, you know that I believe Paul is writing to address a conflict among two women leaders in the Philippi church. Him saying it doesn’t matter has a direct bearing on the guidance he is giving them pastorally.

First, it does not matter because k. They are actually proclaiming its truth and unbelievers are putting their faith in Jesus. This matters more to Paul than his reputation or personal feelings.

But there is something more. Paul did not have to bring this up to the Philippians. He could have nursed this rejection in private, the way many leaders do. Why bother to air this little bit of dirty laundry? The point is, Paul puts it out there to see precisely because conflict happens among believers. These ‘others’ are trying to use Paul’s situation to exult over him. But it doesn’t matter.

He is celebrating that people are hearing about Jesus. Why allow what is happening to descend into a pitched battle over stuff that will not be settled this side of the judgment seat of Christ? This is what he is saying to Syntyche and Euodia, as well as those watching them fight. Whatever is between them—it’s not worth fighting about if the gospel is being proclaimed.

In the early days of a church I planted, we were reaching some pretty broken people and seeing God change them—messily at times, but it was worth the effort. Then I received a letter from a couple who had visited from out of state four months before. They had returned home, yet had continued to stew over what they saw was wrong with our congregation. The letter pointed out how loud the room was and how lacking we were in worship focus. They said it was so bad that they had walked out after 15 minutes. Their tone was angry and they pulled no punches.

I wrote back. I said I was sorry that they were still angry after so much time had passed. I told them that their experience had caused them to miss how much the gospel was changing the lives of people who had been lost, but were now found. And I encouraged them to talk with their pastor, for it was not good that they despised what Jesus was doing.

They never wrote back. But this was unnecessary conflict. For in the end, what does it matter that we prefer to worship in a different way? Or were louder than they felt was appropriate? What mattered is that we expressed the truth of the gospel and reaped an eternal harvest.

Think about this—does it bother Jesus that both Billy Graham and fundamentalists have seen people cross the line of faith? Or someone whose theology is reformed or non-reformed or is part of the PCUSA or Episcopal or Joel Osteen or some other group who are on your naughty list are being used by God for this purpose?

As far as you are concerned, you will never align with those believers’ teaching. But what does it matter? Never allow your personal feelings for them to keep you from rejoicing that people are responding to the good news about Jesus that penetrates through what they are proclaiming.

-Steve Smith