W. Robert Nicoll tells us that the word translated “selfish ambition” in Philippians 1:17, eritheia, was “originally, the character of a worker for pay. A hired worker was looked down upon because his laboring was wholly for his own interest” (Reinecker and Rogers 547). From the primary source, we also read, “…it was a sign of the noble to devote himself to the common weal” (i.e., for the best of others) (Nicoll, Expositors Grek Testament, Vol. 3, 425).
In context, the imprisoned Paul, bound only for preaching Christ, observed his fellow preachers. Some preached from poor motivation, including, probably, the incentive of “preaching for hire.” As preachers face, with the rest of society, the escalating costs of living, health insurance, housing costs, college tuition for their kids, and adequate retirement planning, while the world (and even at times) the church grow more immoral and bolder in sin, how easy it is to yield to the temptation to preach for the paycheck.
This has led some preachers to revert to the Old Law, at least in the sense of observing the “Passover.” They pass over needed sermons such as addressing the sin of instrumental music in worship, denominationalism, immodesty, unfaithful attendance, heartless giving, unscriptural divorce and remarriage, and other “taboo” subjects. They pass over needed lessons promoting the essentiality of baptism, the oneness of the church, the absolute of personal evangelism, and the call for unwavering commitment.
Please pray for me and for every other preacher mounting a pulpit among congregations of the Lord’s church. Pray that we will never be blind to our divinely given charge of preaching the word (2 Tim. 4:1ff) by a rectangular piece of paper or a financial contract. God’s preacher must, like the slaves addressed by Paul, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free” (Eph. 6:7). James reminds us that where “selfish ambition” exists, “there is disorder and every evil thing” (3:16). So it will be in places where pulpits are silent where the Bible says to speak.