Friday, March 11, 2022

When Santa Clause Rejoices Over Bad Motives

Suggested Reading: Philippians 1:12-20

One of my favorite movies growing up was the original Miracle on 34th Street. If you are familiar with the plot of the movie, Santa Claus gets put on trial (really it's a sanity hearing, but it's treated like a trial).   I'm not too worried about giving away the plot of the movie since it is nearly 70 years old, but at the end of the movie the judge finds a very creative way to declare that the man claiming to be Santa Claus has been recognized by the US government and therefore cannot be declared insane for believing that he is in fact Santa Claus. But while the judge found some decent reasoning to clear good ol' Kris Kringle, the judge's decision wasn't really based on the truth. See, the judge had been pressured by a number of people, his own grandchildren included, that putting Santa in the nuthouse would be a very bad political move. So the judge ended up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. As the movie ends, though, we don't really care about what the judge's reasons were, as members of the audience we are just excited that the correct ruling came down and Santa Claus was saved.

I never really thought much about that scenario of being excited that the right thing was done even though the motives were bad until I read this passage in Philippians chapter one recently. The Apostle Paul was writing about how some people were preaching the gospel as a way of kicking Paul while he was down.  In verses 15-17, Paul says, "To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and strife…out of rivalry, not sincerely, seeking to cause me anxiety in my imprisonment" (HCSB). But then in the next verse, Paul adds, "What does it matter? Just that in every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice" (Phil 1:18, HCSB).

For most of us, that statement doesn't quite compute. Isn't it wrong to preach Christ out of rivalry and envy? Yes. Won't those who accept the gospel be turned off when the hypocritical preacher's true colors come out and all the "good" that was done comes undone? Maybe.  In fact, many major church cover-ups through the centuries have been motivated by the idea that the exposure of frauds will hurt both the church as a whole and the individuals who received ministry from a fake. But Paul was much more focused on the big picture than most of us are. Sometimes, we forget that God is so much bigger than all of our petty arguments and rivalries or even than our serious and significant fights. Paul was so convinced that if people came in contact with Jesus, then it really wouldn't matter anymore how they got to him. Paul remembered that God had taken the envy and jealousy of Joseph's brothers, allowed them to sell him into slavery, and then used Joseph's position as a slave to eventually save the entire house of Jacob and the future nation of Israel.

Sometimes, we forget that the word of God is so powerful that it can overwhelm the weaknesses of the messenger and speak straight to a person's heart through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We forget that God's word is so potent that it never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). Paul trusted in the power of the Holy Spirit enough that people getting a chance to hear the gospel, whatever the motives of the speaker, was exciting for him, was something worth rejoicing in.  Scandals might do some limited damage, but the exposure of frauds cannot compete against the persuading and transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

How much do we trust the power of the Holy Spirit? Are we prone to hide sin in the church thinking that it will be too much to recover from? Are we eager to shut people down when we suspect that their motives may be impure but have no proof of wrong-doing? Let's not hide sin when it pops up in the church for fear that it will do harm; let's not prevent the Gospel from being preached simply because we are suspicious of some who preach it. Let's, instead, trust that God is bigger than scandals and hypocrites and that the Holy Spirit is capable of convincing people of the truth. Let's remember that our God is so powerful that God can take evil motivations  and still shape circumstances for our good and God's glory.

If we can trust the power of the Holy Spirit like Paul did, then we will be able to say with him, "In every way, whether out of false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed. And in this I rejoice."

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