Scripture is full of surprises, but most of Scripture’s teaching on the motives of our hearts is not so surprising. Everyone knows that motives are important. No one wants to be in a relationship in which the other person does nice things but actually hates you (Lev. 19:17). No one respects a person who acts civil toward a neighbor but covets his property (Ex. 20:17). The motives are wrong, and they most likely will break out of hiding at some point.
The New Testament takes the Old Testament interest in human motives and features them even more prominently. The concern about lust persists (Matt. 5:27-28) and to that is added right motives in our giving (Matt. 5:2-7) and warnings to leaders who look good on the outside but are contaminated within (Matt. 23:27). So we have reason to be surprised when the Apostle Paul seems indifferent toward Christian motivation.
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.
When Paul wrote this he was imprisoned because of Christ. Some other Christian preachers used this as an occasion to put themselves forward as more impressive than Paul and they wanted him to get the message. We know from Corinth that Paul was not the awe-inspiring, physically-imposing orator that some would have preferred, and there were plenty of others who were willing to offer more prestigious resumes. Their motives, in short, were wretched.
But this is not the only time Paul reacted to someone else preaching in his absence. It seems his reaction is tied to the message.
Preach the law (not Christ)—Paul gets nasty (see Galatians).
Preach Christ, even if you preach with mixed motives—Paul welcomes you.
This is surprising, indeed, but not so much because Paul is bending Scripture’s teaching on motives. Note that Paul is outing these jealous preachers. He identifies their sinful motives. In this, he is in-line with what we would expect. What is surprising is this: he is personally unmoved by their political machinations against him. Paul doesn’t care about personal popularity. That’s not what motivates him. Instead, he cares about the message of Jesus going into the entire world. He knows that Jesus himself had insiders who opposed him, and Paul knows that God reigns and will accomplish his plans regardless of the motivations of his messengers. This is enough for him.
A world without jealousy, without payback, without one-upmanship, one in which you really do have to die to your puffed up ego in order to live—no one could have imagined or invented such a world. But Paul is living in it, and he invites all of us to go deeper in with him.