Good Will And Love For Christ
Nick Esch, 4/19/2020 Cornerstone Baptist Church
What does it mean to be good? Now, I don’t mean that in the sense of what it means to be inherently good as God is. As the saying goes, God is good all the time and all the time God is good. And that is only true of God, because only God is inherently good. As the puritan Stephen Charnock once said, “Goodness is the brightness and loveliness of our majestical Creator. To fancy a God without it, is to fancy a miserable, scanty, narrow-hearted, savage God, and so an unlovely, and horrible being: for he is not a God that is not good.” In other words, being good is at the heart of what it means for God to be God.
According to dictionary.com the word good means: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious; satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree; or of high and excellent quality… And the only being in existence that all those things describe perfectly all the time is God. Of course God in His goodness is all of that and so much more… but that definition is a good start… Perhaps it would be better to say that God is the very definition of good because He is what’s best; He is the One and True righteous, excellent, all satisfying One. So, in that sense of the word we will never be good, at least not the way God is. So, instead of asking what it means to be good, perhaps we should ask, can we be good at all? Can we do good at all? And if so, what does that look like? Well, Lord willing that’s what we’ll see in God’s Word today. So look with me at Philippians 1:15-18.
After expressing his gratitude for the Philippians and telling them how he’s been praying for them, Paul then tells them he’s writing from prison, and that his imprisonment for Christ has actually served to advance the gospel. In this whole section of Philippians Paul is seeking to show through his imprisonment, and really everything about him, that Christ is being displayed as supreme, and thus supremely better than all else. In speaking of his imprisonment advancing the gospel he was talking about how his preaching, his joyfully accepting imprisonment, his contentment in Christ, and his living with reckless abandon for God’s glory in Christ have so displayed the supreme value and beauty of Christ that Paul’s life and ministry have led others, by God’s grace, to live boldly for Christ’s sake as well. And that same theme carries on into our passage today.
In verses 15-17 we read, “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.” Now, when I first began to think about this my immediate thought was, “How can anyone who knows the glories of Christ well enough to preach them do so from envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition?” But, the longer I thought about it the more I thought, “How many times have I preached Christ from envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition?”
It’s like what the prayer, The Broken Heart, in the Valley of Vision says: “No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in thy sight. Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart; praise has been often praiseless sound; my best services are filthy rags… All things in me call for my rejection.” In other words, even as Christians, sometimes our righteous deeds are as filthy rags, because even the best things we do are tainted by sin. We give and serve, not out of love for others or love for the Lord, but out of love for self. Or for me, I know there have been times that I have preached in a prideful way…And if I’m honest, to a degree there is always something within me that wants to make my ministry about me… I want to be liked. I want you to like my sermon. I want you to believe I’m a good pastor. In my flesh I desire praise… And if you’re honest, I’m sure you struggle with similar things in your own way.
In this life we will often, and maybe even always to a degree be tempted to do things, even the best of things from envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition; sin is crouching at the door, seeking to enter into everything we do… But by God’s grace we can put those sins to death, we can resist pride, and we can live and love for the glory of Christ, not our own… We can live obediently out of love for Jesus and love for people, not love of self. And that’s what Paul said some of these preachers did. Though some do what they do out of a desire to afflict Paul or a desire to advance themselves, there are others who preach Christ out of love.
Paul says, they “do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.” In saying that, Paul is saying that these men who are rightly preaching the gospel are the same men whom he spoke of in verses 13 and 14. The men who know that his imprisonment is for Christ, and have thus become confident in the Lord and are now much more bold to speak the Word without fear. Paul’s imprisonment made these brothers bold and without fear because when Paul joyfully gave up his freedom, and leveraged every opportunity to make much of Jesus and advance the gospel, his life, his actions, his words, and everything about him proclaimed to everyone around him that Jesus is better than freedom, that Jesus is better than security or comfort, and that Jesus is better than life itself…
So, here in our passage, when Paul says these brothers preach out of love, he means that they are preaching the gospel confidently and boldly because of their love for Paul, yes, but even more so because of their great love for Christ. No doubt, they are preaching out of love for people in general as well, but Paul’s imprisonment, Paul’s life and ministry have so proclaimed and displayed to these brothers the beauty and worth of Jesus, and how much Paul loves Jesus, that they have fallen totally in love with Jesus themselves… I mean, look at the text: Paul says they preach out of love, because they know that he is in prison for the defense of the gospel. Through Paul’s total commitment to Christ, through him counting everything as loss for the sake of Christ, even his own freedom, they have seen the supremacy of Christ in and through Paul to such a degree that now Christ has become supreme in their sight… Jesus has become their supreme treasure as well. The view of the love and glory of Christ that they have gotten a glimpse of has so gripped their hearts that now their hearts beat for Jesus.
As author and theologian J. I. Packer has said, “To get the love of Christ in focus changes one’s whole existence.” And by God’s grace in and through Paul these brothers have seen the love of Christ in greater focus than ever before, and now that same love has taken hold of their life, changing their whole existence, and it’s leading them to preach Christ out of love. And that’s the proper motive for everything in the Christian life. If we would avoid doing anything, from the most mundane everyday activity to the greatest act of service and ministry… if we would avoid thinking, speaking, or acting out of envy, rivalry, or selfish ambition… if we would do all things from good will (as verse 15 says) then we must do what we do out of love for Christ… We should love others at great cost to ourselves, but our loving them or them loving us will not be enough to sustain us in the long run, because that love will always fail in some way; but not so with Christ… He is God; He is good; He is perfect, and so is His love… So, our thinking, speaking, and acting should be overcome by, and therefore motivated by the love of God in Christ Jesus. And the only way that will happen is if we behold the glory of God in Christ rightly.
I draw attention to the glory of God here because God’s glory in Christ is directly tied to His love. Theologians often define the glory of God as the radiance of God’s holiness, or the going public and making known of God’s holiness. But that begs the question, “What is God’s holiness?” And I think professor Michael Reeves does a fantastic job of defining the holiness of God when he says, “The holiness of the triune God is the perfection, beauty, and absolute purity of the love there is between the Father and the Son.” And what that definition of holiness implies is that God’s glory is the radiance of the love, or the going public and making known of the love there is between the Father and the Son. And what the gospel tells us is that though we have offended this gloriously loving God, the love between the Father and the Son has so overflowed that God redeems sinners like you and me and brings us into this glorious love. And these brothers have gotten a glimpse of the glory and the love of God in Christ through Paul’s preaching and Paul’s life; they have gotten a glimpse of who God is in Christ, and it has changed them forever.
Both Paul’s preaching and his life proclaimed that Jesus is infinitely better than anything this world could give him or take away from him… even better than life itself. And these brothers not only saw that, but they saw that in the gospel this infinitely better God is giving us Himself, to enjoy Him forever, and with that they fell utterly in love with Christ. As Bernard of Clairvaux once said, “The motive for loving God, is God . . . . God gave himself to us in spite of our unworthiness, and being God, what could he give us of greater worth than himself?” And the answer, of course, is nothing, for He is infinitely better than everything and everyone…
So, the love and glory, the beauty and value of Christ has not only been preached by Paul, but it has been put on display in and through his life. And in verse 18 we see this continuing to happen when Paul says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” So, whether Jesus is proclaimed with right motives or wrong motives, whether people preach for good or to hurt Paul, both lead him to rejoice… Why? Because Christ is proclaimed; and if Christ is honored in any way, that brings Paul great joy because Christ is his joy. Paul is not concerned for himself, his concern is for the advancement of the gospel and the glory of Christ. If Christ is honored, if people are hearing the good news and are coming to faith in Christ then Paul rejoices.
Some of these, so called preachers, are doing whatever they can to hurt Paul through their ministry, and Paul seems perfectly content with that because his concern is not to make much of himself but to make much of Jesus. Obviously, Paul does not delight that people are in sin, or wish anyone harm, but Paul always delights when Christ is glorified. Paul’s joy is linked to the interest of Christ, not his own. When he focused on the glory of Christ in God’s Word, or in his own life and ministry, or in the life and ministry of others, Paul was not only content, but joyful, even in the worst of circumstances… even in prison, while suffering under the wrath and hate of others.
The puritan John Owen once said, “A due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind . . . . [it] will lift the minds and hearts of believers above all the troubles of this life, and is the sovereign antidote that will expel all the poison that is in them; which otherwise might perplex and enslave their souls.” And Paul seemed to know this all to well. Contemplating the glory, or even knowing that Christ would be glorified in any way led Paul to rejoice. And Paul’s doing so, Paul’s rejoicing in Christ no matter what displayed and proclaimed that Jesus is infinitely better than anything this world could give Paul or take away from him… And that, by God’s grace, opened up the eyes of many to see Christ as supreme, and to treasure Him chiefly themselves.
So, what we see here in Paul is what led many to preach Christ rightly out of love. It’s what led them to do what they did with good will, out of love, out of love for Christ. And that’s the proper motive for everything in the Christian life… Or, to put it another way, to do anything from good will, what we do must be done out of love for Jesus. The root of our thinking, speaking, and acting should be in love for and delight in Christ. That’s what this passage is showing us. Doing good is more than just thoughts, words, or deeds, it’s thoughts, words, or deeds that flow from the proper motivation.
Look back at verse 15. Again, verse 15 says, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” Good will in the original Greek is one word that means good will or good intention, good favor, good pleasure, or good desire; and sometimes the word is used to refer to contentment… And that makes sense right? Because, when we use the word good we often use it to refer to something that we are content with. We ask things like, “How was your meal?” And we reply with, “It was good…” Meaning, we are satisfied and content with it. Now, let’s put all of that together; for us to have good will means we have will or intentions that are done out of contentment and satisfaction in something or someone that we favor, desire, and take pleasure in. But, let’s remember what I said in my introduction; the word good means: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious; satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree; or of high and excellent quality… And the only being in existence that all those things describe perfectly all the time is God. God is the only one who is truly good.
So, truthfully, the only way to have good will is to have will or intentions that are done out of contentment and satisfaction in God who is the One we should favor, desire, and take pleasure in above all else. If God is at the very heart of the definition of good, then for us to will anything good our will must be directly connected to God. In other words, for our will to be good it must be motivated by love for God; and as we have seen, the motive for loving God is God Himself, for He is perfectly good and therefore perfectly lovely. And this gets us back to the questions I asked in my introduction: What does it mean to be good? Can we be good at all? Can we do good at all?
At the heart of what it means to be good is what it means to be God. As Jesus said in Luke 18:19, no one is good except God alone. God is the standard of what is good, and He is the fountain from which all goodness flows. I mean, think about it: anything and everything that we know and experience as good was created by God in one way or another. Just as Genesis 1 tells us, God created and saw that it was good… And whatever goodness His creation has is only a mere reflection or a fraction of the goodness that is in God, or the goodness that is God. That God is good means that He is perfect in His nature and in all of His attributes; He is perfect in all that He is and all that He does. As the hymn goes, “Whate’er my God ordains is right…” And that’s true because He is right… He is good… Whatever He wills is best because He is best… Now, it might not always seem that way to us; especially in the middle of a pandemic… But as Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.” Beloved, God is good… So, in that sense to be truly good is to be truly God.
But now we must ask, can we then be good? Can finite broken people like us be good at all? The answer to that is found in God’s Word. As Romans 3:10-12 tells us, “None is righteous . . . . no one does good…” There God’s Word is saying that all of humanity outside of Christ is in rebellion against God and guilty. We, by our nature in Adam, are not righteous and do not do good. As Romans 3:23 says, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. And you see, that actually tells us what it means to do good. For us finite broken people, who are not God, to do good is to glorify God. Remember what I said earlier, God’s glory is the radiance of the love, or the going public and making known of the love there is between the Father and the Son. And therefore, to glorify God is to point to, make known, and rejoice in that reality. To glorify is to extol, worship, honor, or magnify. It’s to make much of. Therefore, to glorify God means to extol, worship, honor, magnify, or make much of the Triune God, especially the goodness of God and the love of God, with our lives. Glorifying God means loving and joyfully obeying God. And that’s what it means for us to do good.
But, how can broken sinners do good? In and of ourselves we can’t, because our very nature in Adam is fallen and broken. As Romans 8:7-8 says, in the flesh we don’t love God, but we are hostile to God, and therefore we won’t obey God, and thus we can’t please God. Ever since Genesis 3 we have turned in on ourselves, and thus we seek to glorify ourselves, not God. Like the preachers who preach from false motives in our passage, we live out of envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition. Again, as Romans 3:23 says, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We are sinners by nature. Sin is the practice that marks us all out outside of Christ. And as Jesus said, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).
Mankind has a sin problem. But the reason we have such a sin problem is because we have a heart problem. What I mean by that is that we don’t have the proper loves, desires, and delights. We choose our own glory instead of God’s because we ultimately love ourselves, not God. And the ultimate reason we don’t love God and live for His glory is because we don’t really know God… In our sin we haven’t seen God’s glory and marveled at His majesty and fallen in love with Him. In and of ourselves we are dead in our sin and blind to the glory of God; and that is our great problem… But that problem leads to the even greater problem: the problem of God’s wrath.
In our sin we have offended a perfectly good God, and therefore we deserve to be punished. In fact, because God is eternal, because God is infinite, He is therefore infinitely good, and so our offense against Him is infinitely bad, and deserves an infinite punishment. And because God is perfectly good He is perfectly just, and therefore cannot allow sin to go unpunished; thus we deserve God’s wrath, and we will have it unleashed upon us if we stay in our sin…
But, because God is perfectly good and infinitely glorious, He is also a loving and gracious God. In fact, when God expresses His goodness in Exodus 34:6, He says that He’s, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” God doesn’t have to love us or give us grace, but because of who God is in His glory—which again points to the radiance of the love there is between the Father and the Son—God delighted to share, communicate, and spread His goodness and glory by creating people like you and me, so that we could share in and delight in His love, His goodness, His glory. And even though we have spurned His love and fallen short of His glory, God’s goodness and love could not be stopped. In His love and grace God made a way for sinners like you and me to be made right with Him and enabled to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Who God is in His goodness led Him to create and it led Him to redeem…
God’s justice demands that sin be punished, but because God is not only good and just, but good and loving and gracious He delights to share His love and communion with others. And so God made a way to have a people for Himself while remaining perfectly good and just. Jesus, God the Son, came to earth, took on flesh, lived the perfect life for God’s glory that we have failed to live, and then took the punishment that we deserve for our sin upon Himself. Jesus was convicted in our place, nailed to a cross in our place, had the wrath of God due us poured out upon Himself in our place, and then died in our place. And after living and dying in the place of His people, He rose again in power showing Himself to be truly man, truly God, and the perfect acceptable sacrifice for sinners.
Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that all who trust in Him by faith would be justified… that is, counted as just, as righteous, as good, even though we aren’t. Because, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we would become the righteousness of God. On the cross Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sinfulness, and took the wrath that we deserve… He was counted guilty, counted bad in our place, so that we would be counted righteous, counted as good, because we are covered in His righteousness by faith.
So, all who turn from their sin and trust in Christ are counted good in God’s sight because of God’s Son. But, by nature we don’t trust Christ because we don’t love Christ, we don’t see God’s goodness. So, before we can trust Christ we first must see Christ rightly; we must in some way behold the glory of Christ and see Him as lovely and good… And, that’s exactly what God does for His people. As 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ [shines into] our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” By the power of the Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel, God opens our eyes to His glory, to His love in Christ, to how good He is… And then He invites us to experience His goodness and be saved; He says, “taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8)! And when we do that, when we taste and see God’s goodness and truly trust in Christ, then we are covered in the righteousness of Christ and counted as good… We take refuge in Him. (Invitation)
But, God doesn’t stop there; He doesn’t just count us as good, but He begins to make us good. God causes us to be born again, and gives us new hearts, with new loves and desires, grants us repentance and faith, and then throughout our lives He sanctifies us and grows in our new godly desires so that we become more and more Christlike, or you could say, more and more good. God makes us good legally in Christ, and then makes us good practically by the Spirit, enabling us to fall out of love with the world and self, and more and more in love with Jesus. And remember, this is what our passage has been teaching us: that to do something from good will is to do it out of love for Jesus. And so broken sinners are enabled to do good by becoming redeemed sinners, who are covered in the righteousness of Christ, and are given a new nature and a new heart that loves Christ and delights to live for Him; and we do good when what we think, say, or do is motivated by our love for Christ and is seeking to magnify the glory of Christ.
But how do we get to that point? As we said earlier, all of us from time to time think, say, and do things from envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition… All too often even our most righteous deeds are as filthy rags because even our best thoughts, words, or deeds are still tainted by sin. So, what must we do to truly do all that we do from good will? We must do exactly what’s laid out in our passage.
In our passage Paul tells us of men who were preaching Christ with sinful motives, and others who were preaching from good will out of love. And Paul says that he rejoices that Christ is being preached at all, because the love of Christ is being made known and the glory of Christ is being magnified, and Christ is His greatest treasure from which He receives His joy. And really, the same is true of the men who preached Christ from good will out of love. And that’s what needs to change in the men preaching from bad motives… They need to preach from good will out of love.
And as we saw, true good will is to have will or intentions that are done out of contentment and satisfaction in God who is the One we should favor, desire, and take pleasure in above all else because He is better than all else, because He is truly good. So, in order them and in order for us to have and grow in good will we must grow in our favor and desire for, and our pleasure in God, especially God the Son. And the point of this passage, and really this whole section of Philippians is that Jesus is infinitely better, more favorable and desirable than anything or anyone else, because Jesus, who is God in the flesh, is truly good. So, how do we get to the point where everything we do is motivated by our love for Christ and is seeking to magnify the glory of Christ? We do all we can to behold the glory of Christ and to grow in our love and affection for Christ. We seek to know Him and love Him more, so that we would live for Him more.
In conclusion, what we’ve seen in God’s Word is that God alone is truly good. But, by God’s grace through faith in Christ we can be made good and we can do good, if what we do is done in obedience to and out of love for Christ. In this life we will be tempted to sin: we will be tempted to do wrong things and even to do good things from bad motives, but we can fight sin, and think, speak, and act from good will out of love for Christ if we will continually look to Christ, and look at Christ by faith and see that He is truly good and infinitely better than all.
Just as I quoted from Packer earlier, “To get the love of Christ in focus changes one’s whole existence.” So likewise it is also true that to get Christ in focus, to see Jesus rightly, to know that He is better than everything changes one’s whole existence. Because the more clearly we see Him, the more clearly we see who He is, what He’s done, and why, the more we’ll love Him. The motive for loving Jesus, is Jesus; though we’ve sinned against Him, He gave Himself for us and to us; and what could He give us of greater worth than himself? And when we see Him for who He is, how good He is, and how great His love for us is, our whole existence changes because it all grips us, and the more He grips us, the less we are gripped by sin. The more He grips us the less we are gripped by self. The more He grips us the less we are gripped by the world. The more He grips us the more content we will be in all things, which frees us not only from envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition, but also from fear and anxiety. And again, we are gripped by Him as we know Him and love Him all the more.
So, ask yourself, what can you do to know and love Jesus more? That’s what you need to do to grow in good will; growing in your love and affection for Christ is how you grow in your capacity to do good. Now, ultimately that can only happen by God’s grace, but God uses means, and the means we are to use to know Him and fall in love with Him all the more are His Word, prayer, and life and worship with the church. Right now we’re hindered from life and worship together as a church, but we can still go deep into God’s Word; we can still study, meditate on, and memorize God’s Word. We can read good Christian books that help us go deeper into God’s Word and help us behold the goodness of God all the more. And we can pray desperately and fervently. We can beg God to give us a heart that loves Christ; we can open God’s Word and beg God to show us His glory; and we can beg God to grow us in our knowledge of and love for Him, and to so transform us that we would joyfully live for Him. So may we do just that. May God show us all the more that Christ is all, so that we will be gripped by His goodness, and sin will taste bitter and Christ all the more sweet.