Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.
How scary it would be to finally arrive at the pinnacle of your life dreams and goals only to realize that they amount to nothing.
It would be like thinking you are going on vacation to visit the Grand Canyon only to realize, as your GPS declares “arriving destination,” that you entered in the wrong coordinates.
So what really matters? Paul writes…
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
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. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
What Paul most rejoiced in was the fact that the gospel was proclaimed. And for him, that was all that mattered. Why? Because for Paul, the gospel was truly a matter of life and death. It is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
Consider the words of D.A. Carson concerning this passage…
Put the advance of the gospel at the center of your aspirations. Our own comfort, our bruised feelings, our reputations, our misunderstood motives–all of these are insignificant in comparison with the advance and splendor of the gospel. As a Christian, we are called upon to put the advance of the gospel at the very center of our aspirations.
What are your aspirations? To make money? To get married? To travel? To see your grandchildren grow up? To find a new job? To retire early? None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely.
What really matters? Is it not the spread of the gospel?
You must be careful not to succeed at the wrong thing. You must not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).