by Al Maxey

Issue #680 ------- October 28, 2015
Do not let your deeds belie your words, lest when
you speak in church someone may say to himself,
"Why do you not practice what you preach?"

St. Jerome (c. 342-420 A.D.)

Ministers With Malevolent Motives
The Shameful Sham of Sectarian Subterfuge

John Dryden (1631-1700), considered by many to be the greatest English poet of the 17th century, in his work "The Character of a Good Parson," wrote, "His preaching much, but more his practice wrought: a living sermon of the truths he taught." In other words, the effective parson is the one seen by others actually practicing what he preaches. I can't help but think of what the Swiss philosopher and poet Henri Amiel (1821-1881) wrote in his journal: "Be what you wish others to become; let yourself and not your words preach for you." Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), the Spanish author who wrote "Don Quixote," stated in that classic work, "He preaches well that lives well." Each of these men have, in their own distinct way, shared a universal timeless truth: If our character and lifestyle, as expressed and evidenced in our daily attitudes and actions, do not match our preaching and teaching, then how can we expect others to embrace our message if that message has not had a transforming effect upon us?! We may in fact be proclaiming powerful eternal truths, but the efficacy of that proclamation of those truths, and its impact upon others, may be diminished, if not altogether destroyed, by personal practices inconsistent with and even contrary to those truths.

Yet another factor that must be considered in all of this is motive. It is a fact that some of the disconnect between one's preaching and practice is due to weaknesses inherent within our humanity. Paul personally struggled greatly with these tendencies of the fleshly nature, which are often in opposition to the divine will, and he described that inner conflict in the latter part of Romans 7. Thus, we, like Paul, find ourselves at times proclaiming one thing and living another. None of us has achieved a state of holy perfection with respect to our attitudes and actions. We are all flawed; we are all fallen. This should not be lifted up as an excuse for our failings, but rather as an explanation for them. But, there is also a dark side to this disconnect between preaching truth and practicing it, and it deals with one's motivation. While preaching God's truths I will see within myself, and in my actions, inconsistencies that grieve me, and which hopefully will move me to improvement. But, this does not characterize all who preach the gospel message, for there are indeed some who preach the gospel with less than honorable intent. Their message may indeed be God's Truth, but they preach Good News with evil purpose and design. This poses an interesting problem: what should be our attitude toward those who preach a godly message with godless motivation?

Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), a noted French author and nobleman, rightly observed, "We should often blush at our noblest deeds if the world were to see all their underlying motives." How true! And yes, this also applies to those who may be preaching and teaching God's Word, yet manifesting a disconnect between message and motive. The apostle Paul discussed this problem in his letter to the brethren in Philippi, and he further gives his reaction to it: a reaction that has left some puzzled. Paul was a prisoner in the city of Rome (an imprisonment Luke describes for us in Acts 28). Paul tells the saints in Philippi, "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" (Philp. 1:12). His message is reaching those around him, including some among the palace guard (vs. 13) and some even within Caesar's household (Philp. 4:22). His circumstances, and his example within those circumstances, have emboldened many disciples of Christ "to speak the Word of God without fear" (Philp. 1:14). With respect to these proclaimers of the Word of God, Paul observes, "It is true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. But that doesn't matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice" (Philp. 1:15-18, New Living Translation).

It is not surprising that some people preach with less than honorable motives. Such people have always existed, and always will, yet what they preach and teach may indeed be factually consistent with revealed Truth. Thus, in such cases, it is not their message that is false, it is they themselves that are false. "False teachers" or "false prophets" are not necessarily deemed "false" because of what comes out of their mouths (the message), but because of what resides within their hearts (the motivation). ALL of us at times will proclaim unknowingly that which is false, simply by virtue of the fact that we are flawed, fallen humans with less than perfect perception of ultimate Truth. Thus, technically, we are all teachers at times of that which is false. It is unavoidable. The label "false," however, is applied biblically to the man, not the message (although there will most certainly be times when one who is false will also be proclaiming that which is contrary to God's Word). I have dealt with this distinction between false teacher and false teaching in Reflections #123 ("Focusing on False Teachers: Scriptural Fact vs. Sectarian Fallacy"). Nothing really that unusual here. What grabs our attention in the passage quoted above, however, and which perhaps troubles us somewhat, is Paul's attitude toward these individuals of whom he speaks. He finds cause to rejoice in their preaching, in spite of their wicked motives, and this raises a few eyebrows, to say the least.

A Reflections reader from Georgia recently wrote me the following: "I ran across this passage, and Philp. 1:18 is not the response I expected from Paul. Can one really be pleased with someone 'preaching Jesus' when that preacher does it with a totally improper attitude and with a sense of strife rather than unity?! I don't like this verse! I'm not sure how Paul arrived at his conclusion. I'm probably missing something. It made me think of the jerk coming to your city to 'de-Maxey the church' there. How can one be pleased at a person doing that? I guess in a place that did not even know the name of Jesus it could be a beginning to a conversation, but where Jesus is widely known it seems this would be an attempt at disunity and strife, something taught against in Scripture." I can fully understand this brother's concern, for Paul's attitude is clearly opposite of what we would expect the "normal" human response to be to such persons and in such circumstances. Indeed, his response in this passage even seems to be, at least on the surface, contrary to some of his own attitudes and actions recorded elsewhere in the biblical record. He "had great dissension and debate" with the Judaizers (Acts 15:2), for example. He "opposed Peter to his face" on one occasion (Gal. 2:11), and pronounced "anathema" upon those preaching a different message than the one he had been called to proclaim (Gal. 1:8-9), even hoping that these persons would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12). Some of these other preachers he characterized as "false apostles, deceitful workers," and servants of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15). He found nothing whatsoever pleasing about their efforts, and he most certainly did not "rejoice" over their evangelistic efforts. So why did the apostle Paul do so in the case of those ministers mentioned in the epistle to the Philippian brethren? What was different?

Let's look at the context. It was around 61-63 A.D., and the apostle Paul was in the city of Rome under house arrest, although he wore chains and had a Roman guard assigned to watch him (Acts 28:16, 20, 30). Paul used this time to share the gospel message with all who would listen, including those who guarded him. His good attitude while imprisoned filled many of the brethren in the city of Rome with greater "courage to speak the Word of God without fear" (Philp. 1:14). A good many of these brethren in Rome shared the message about Jesus from "pure motives" (vs. 17) and "good will" (vs. 15) and "out of love" (vs. 16), not only for the Lord, but also for Paul. Sadly, however, "some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and strife" (vs. 15), "out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment" (vs. 17). Their preaching was a "pretense" (vs. 18), a cover for ulterior motives, and part of that motivation was to cause Paul further distress. In short, these were people who did not like Paul. This was nothing new for Paul, for there were people throughout the empire who both loved and hated him. Some, for example, were declaring, "his personal presence is unimpressive, his speech contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10). Not everyone thought highly of Paul, and these persons, even though fellow believers and proclaimers of Christ, took advantage of every opportunity to bring harm to Paul and his ministry. It is important to note, therefore, that in this particular passage Paul is not talking about those who were proclaiming falsehood, but rather those who opposed him personally. Paul nowhere in this context suggests their teaching was flawed. On the contrary, he rejoiced in their teaching, for they were indeed proclaiming Jesus. What hurt was that they were doing so with evil intent in their hearts, an evil intent that was directed toward Paul himself. They sought to elevate themselves over Paul, hoping perhaps to cause him some distress in the process. Thus, they were preaching Truth, but doing so with a partisan spirit.

These persons, therefore, could not have been Judaizers, for Paul condemned that group time and again for stressing law over grace, tradition over truth. The epistle to the Galatians shows just how firmly Paul opposed those who were proclaiming legalism. He found no joy in such teaching, but regarded it as "another gospel" (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Cor. 11:4). I have dealt with Paul's attitude toward such persons in the following studies: Reflections #202 ("Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty") and Reflections #215 ("Embracing Another Gospel: Analyzing Apostolic Authorial Intent in the Admonition of Galatians 1:6-9"). No, Paul was not speaking of the legalistic Judaizers. Indeed, Paul applauded the teaching of these people in Rome, even finding their teaching and preaching to be a cause of rejoicing, for Jesus Christ was indeed being proclaimed by them. Paul's problem was not with their teaching, but with their motivation. "That Paul found no fault with the content of their message shows that their problem was not primarily doctrinal but personal. They were not unbelievers or perverters of Christian truth. They were self-seeking opportunists, promoting themselves at Paul's expense" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 112].

These proclaimers of Christ "were doctrinally orthodox, but at the same time mean and selfish, using the occasion of Paul's confinement to promote themselves. Because they were envious of Paul, they stirred up discord within the Christian community and hoped to gain a larger following for themselves" [ibid, p. 111]. "They must have been faithful to the basic message of Christ. They could not have been Judaizers. With Paul, to preach 'Christ' meant to proclaim the good news of salvation provided freely by God's grace through the redemptive work of Christ and received by men through faith without 'works of righteousness' of any kind. It is inconceivable that any Judaizing message with its insistence on performance of Jewish rites would be characterized by Paul as preaching 'Christ'" [ibid, p. 112]. These were "most assuredly not mere legalists, such as Paul exposed in the epistle to the Galatians. He certainly could not have rejoiced in the gospel and the Christ they preached" [David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 4, p. 163]. These were "Christians who for some reason had a personal pique at the Apostle" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 3, p. 425]. These were not legalists, they were partyists. Dr. Kenneth Wuest points out that the Greek words employed by Paul in this passage "speak of self-seeking partisanship, intrigue, and a factious, selfish spirit" [Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 2, p. 42]. "Paul does not impute to them hypocrisy, but partisanship, and therefore a narrow-minded hostility to him" [Dr. Charles Ellicott, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 69]. In short, they were partisans who were primarily "preaching for their party" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, pt. 3, p. 10], even though their message regarding the person and work of Jesus was accurate. "Their chief error was their self-seeking envious motive, not so much error of doctrine; had there been vital error, Paul would not have rejoiced" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1303].

In a very real way, sectarians and partyists tend to "serve their own little sect ... preaching for sects rather than for souls" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, pt. 3, p. 44]. Yes, they preach Christ, and this is good, but lurking within their hearts is a less than godly motivation for their preaching: it is to serve self and sect. We find this same thing even today in those who preach Christ, but who do so more to bring people into their party, sect, denomination, faction, rather than into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus. "Their pretense was that they preached the gospel, but their real object was to build up a party, and to diminish the influence and authority of Paul" [Dr. Albert Barnes, Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "The motives of all preachers are not pure. Some still preach Christ, but they do so full of envy for other preachers, and some even from a love of strife" [Dr. B. W. Johnson, The People's New Testament, vol. 2, p. 212]. It is this party-spirit, this spirit of factiousness and partisanship which enflames the hearts of some ministers of the gospel, that is the concern here. Paul rejoices that Jesus is proclaimed, but he no doubt is deeply saddened that it is being done by men with such godless motivation. Thus, we like Paul, may rejoice in the message preached, while at the same time grieving that it is preached by men with less than honorable motivation. So, in the case of the person moving to our city to "de-Maxey the church" here, I hope and pray that his message will be grace-centered and Christ-focused. If it is, I will rejoice in his ministry ... even though it seems rather obvious that his motivation, at least in part, is similar to what Paul experienced in Rome: preaching Jesus, but doing so hoping to cause problems for Paul.

In light of the above discussion, I think we can now better understand why Paul wrote, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Philp. 1:18, ESV). Paul chose not to make this personal; he was not going to fall into the trap of letting their motivation distract him from rejoicing that God's Truth was still being proclaimed. In effect, Paul took himself out of the equation, thus showing a different spirit, one more Christ-like. Notice how The Message renders this verse: "So how am I to respond? I've decided that I really don't care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!" Dr. Albert Barnes (1798-1870) wrote, "This is an instance of great magnanimity on the part of Paul. ... If all Christians and Christian ministers had the feelings which Paul expresses here, there would be much less envy and uncharitableness than there is now in the churches" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "As long as the antagonism was only personal, Paul could rejoice that the greater purpose of disseminating the gospel was being served. Even when some of the preaching was actually a pretext, utilized to camouflage attacks on Paul, the apostle took the magnanimous view that affronts to himself could be ignored, provided that the truth of the gospel of Christ was proclaimed. He rejoiced in this and intended to maintain his wholesome magnanimity, which rose above all personal feelings" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 11, p. 112].

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) summed it up this way: "These words are a noble testimony of Paul's breadth of mind and toleration, and a notable instance of his power to forget himself when the cause of Christ was at stake. His opponents' method of preaching did not commend itself to him; and their attitude towards him was mean, ungenerous, and painful, yet it was Christ that was being proclaimed, and he, therefore, rejoiced. Paul rejoiced because the people heard the gospel, and could thereby be saved from their sins, notwithstanding it was proclaimed to them by envious partisans" [A Commentary on the NT Epistles, vol. 4, p. 165]. "Should we not enter into this spirit? If the gospel is preached, whether by Papists or Protestants, Ritualists or Evangelicals, Churchmen or Dissenters, what matters to us so long as it is preached? So long as the clarion sends its blast to warn those who have never before heard of the approaching danger, what matters it whose lungs supply the breath? Let us try to catch the magnanimous spirit of Paul, and to imitate his splendid example in this respect" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, pt. 3, p. 44]. Yes, there are going to be times when the spirit of rivalry will raise its ugly head in the midst of God's people; times when ministers of the gospel may openly proclaim Jesus, while inwardly seething against one another. May our Lord help us to be mature enough to rejoice in the message conveyed, and not to be distracted by the malicious motivations of these messengers. Yes, we should note those motives, and note how wrong they are (just as Paul did), but may they never lead us into divisive wranglings with our spiritual siblings. Dear Lord, help us to be bigger than that!

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Readers' Reflections

From an Elder in Iowa:

Thank you so much for your writings, Al. They have helped me significantly over the years to move away from the legalism, the harsh judgmentalism, and the exclusiveness of the church in which I was raised. In your article "Does Baptism Make Disciples?" (Reflections #679) you talk about "making disciples," indicating these are "students" of Christ. Maybe our thinking would be changed if we looked at disciples as followers of Christ. We are to be followers of Christ, and then make others followers of Him. Not just believers, not just students, not just worshippers, but true, zealous, passionate and devoted daily followers of Jesus. To be that kind of follower we will be all of those other things as well. But to make any one of them the goal instead of being a follower of Christ is to misplace our faith in something other than in Him. I'm 68 years old, and it took me many years to arrive at this place in my faith. You were very instrumental in that journey, and I am very grateful to you, and I thank God for people like you! I have eagerly shared your writings with others who have been caught up in the legalism trap, and I know you have helped them as well. Keep up the good work, brother, and don't faint in the struggle!

From a Reader in Arkansas:

I just read your latest Reflections ("Does Baptism Make Disciples"). All I can say is: It's about time someone addressed this with some deep and just comments; it was technical, but needed in order to clear up misconceptions. I was a disciple for a few years before I was immersed, because I was being taught as a disciple of Jesus. That's what a disciple is, a student learning and growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So, congratulations on an excellent treatment of the topic! I think too many preachers make baptism a LAW instead of an act that simply shows one's faith in Christ Jesus.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

So, according to the guy moving to your location, it sounds like he's arguing that kids have to attend school 12 years and earn their diploma before they can be called "students." More seriously, Jesus told His disciples to immerse everyone in Good News, not specifically in water. The latter was the norm for Jews, a practice adopted or inherited by students of Christ. Of course, immersion in water was allowed by Jesus, but He didn't command use of water (unless His disciples failed to record such a command). We've just assumed Jesus meant water when He said to immerse in the Name and to teach what He commanded. Preachers do that in words, even if there's no water involved.

From a Noted Leader/Author in our Faith-Heritage:

Al, it is amazing how the "champions of truth" and the "captains of the Ship of Zion" are so ignorant relative to the most fundamental truth of the Great Commission: that from day one until the day of death, a follower of Christ is a disciple -- a student, a learner who reaches a point in that learning in which they are able to then make disciples as they are going about in their world. Contrary to the thinking of some, we never graduate from being a disciple. If ever the principle of Hosea 4:6 was true ("My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge"), it is true today. Truth is an amazing thing (Proverbs 23:23; John 8:32, 36). Thanks for challenging us, and helping us, to keep on being students -- disciples -- learners -- followers.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

At 63 years old, I can without malice -- in fact, with nothing but sadness -- say that I have met very few genuine disciples of Jesus in the mainstream Church of Christ group (and that goes for much of the rest of Christendom as well). Disciples are those who study the example and teachings of Jesus with the intent of modeling their own lives after His (like disciples of any teacher anywhere would do).

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I previously purchased your two CD series on A Reflective Study of the Book of Revelation, and I wanted to let you know that my small group here has been going through it. Thank you.

From a Reader in Texas:

I appreciate all you do to get us thinking of what has been left unsaid for so long. You are an incredible blessing to me, and I appreciate you bringing life to God and His Word through your work.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Many of those who believe and teach that one will go directly to hell unless they are baptized in water, regardless of the circumstances that may keep them from doing so, need to get out and do more teaching in nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons. There they will find persons who confess their faith, want to be baptized, but die before they can be baptized. I have seen it happen, and I believe and teach that they are saved. Surprisingly, many members of the conservative sects of our group quietly and privately agree with me, but their preachers do not. Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Canada:

Brother Al, you are faced with so many challenges from the legalists, yet you handle them all with such care, concern and grace. I marvel at your patience, as I would most likely just kick them to the curb! Like this so-called "preacher" moving to your city to "start the church" while attacking you and your ministry. He needs to get a life! I can still remember when I was like him: I learned all of our arguments as well as the next guy, however I didn't take the time to learn what God had actually said in His Word (only the arguments for "our" views). I can still feel the excitement I felt the first time I just let the Word speak, and I discovered truths I had never before seen. Have my views now changed, and changed in a big way? Yes, they have! And it has everything to do with actually growing in Grace and Understanding (instead of thinking "we" had already arrived at all knowledge and understanding). Thanks for your patience, Al, and for the fantastic articles you produce to confront the false teachings of these legalistic folk.

From a Reader in Washington:

Just read about the nut moving to your area (Reflections #679). I'm sorry, Al, that you have to put up with the ignorance of such idiots! I used to be one of them myself until one day I opened my eyes so I could actually see what Scripture was saying. Made me feel like a fool for not seeing before! Sometimes some of us are like the donkey: we have to be hit upside the head with a 2x4 to get our attention before we can SEE. Take care, my brother, and don't lose heart. It takes some longer than others to see what constitutes Truth in God's Word.

From a Reader in Georgia:

It's difficult for me to believe that any sane person would be attracted to such vitriol, or be anxious to participate in the sort of rhetoric, that is being shown by the "minister" moving to your city. Regardless of the absurdity of some of his positions, and being woefully misinformed on others, he wraps himself in a cloak of hate. I think those types of assemblies, led by those types of "preachers," are what cause some people to assign to Churches of Christ a cult-like status. Regardless of how "correct" we may be, without LOVE we are nothing -- and neither is our message! Sad!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Unfortunately, this guy headed your way has "drunk the Kool-Aid" for so long that he firmly believes he knows it all. Short of a bolt of lightning short-circuiting his poor brain, he will never give up his "sacred cows." If he actually succeeds in starting a congregation there, it will be legalistic to the core, and the poor souls that are part of it will be enslaved to LAW, as so many of us were at one time!

From Ray Downen in Missouri:
(From an email he sent to his mailing list on Oct. 16)

Al Maxey has written good studies explaining the errors of legalism. He has now written terrible studies trying to make baptism unimportant in conversion. I pray that the brother who has chosen to take Bible truth to the city where Al teaches untruths may continue to stand for Truth against Al's false teaching. The problem is that much taught by Al is good and uplifting. But the bad is mixed in with the good and we have to say it's right to speak against error wherever found. I would be glad if every member of Al's church would give careful consideration to whatever this newcomer to their city says is Bible truth. I don't know the newcomer. I don't know what his teaching on every subject is. But I'm positive that some important doctrines now being taught by Al Maxey are in opposition to Bible truth. Baptism doesn't MAKE disciples, but NO ONE is saved prior to baptism. Al disagrees.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

I too continue to have reservations in my study of baptism. Yet, I am sure that once a person places his trust in the Lord for his salvation, he is saved whether death overtakes him before he makes it to the baptistery or not. I'm not talking about someone who isn't interested in being baptized, but someone like those who waited on Peter to finish with his many other words before they went to find a place to be immersed, or Paul and Silas preferring that their wounds be attended to first before baptizing the jailor and his family, or Cornelius and his family and friends, who were immersed by the Holy Spirit first, then after that specific immersion and their speaking in tongues (how long did that last?), Peter commanded water baptism, then it took more time before they went to where they could accomplish it. Every person who "comes forward" with the purpose in their hearts of being baptized has to wait. First, he has to wait until the invitation song is finished, rather than the preacher abruptly stopping it immediately. He has to wait while the preacher asks him why he responded to the invitation. He has to wait while he explains what his desire is. He has to wait while he and the preacher get into the baptismal clothing/boots. He has to wait while they go into the baptistery. He has to wait until the song leader recognizes that they are ready and ends whatever song he has led the congregation in singing. He has to wait until the curtains are drawn. He has to wait until the preacher repeats to the audience and to him what Acts 2:38-39 states. Then, finally, after all that waiting, he is baptized. During that wait, is he "in danger of going to hell" if he dies before all these prep acts are finished? That being the case, who is responsible for that "wait"? It seems our traditions are more the cause of that wait than anything else, yet most of us would characterize that entire time period as being "immediate." Yet, if that person's eternal salvation depends upon being immersed in water immediately, and that is the essential point of salvation, then why would we ever let all those other unessential things detain us from what we say is essential to salvation?! We're not consistent. Just my two cents worth!

From an Elder in Texas:

Let me introduce myself. I am a retired USAF officer and have been an elder at a small congregation in Texas for about 20 years. I've got a Masters degree in biblical and related studies from Abilene Christian University and an MDiv degree from Lipscomb University. All of that is preface to saying that I just got through reading your published debate with Broking on legalistic patternism (The Maxey-Broking Debate) and found it very useful. It was like taking a trip back in time in that I grew up in congregations with Broking's perspective. I've come a long way since then!

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