(A guy named Adam left a comment on the tithing post, and I promised to give a response in the form of a post. Adam, I hope I’ve given a worthy answer.)
Over the course of time, I’ll use a lot of the same words to describe God. This can be credited to the fact that, while God is infinite, I am finite and unable to properly describe His complexity. Any Bible teacher will use pictures to portray the different facets of His character, including the writers in the Bible. God is our father, our Lord, our shepherd, our shield, our loving provider, etc. In some periods of our life, we ascribe one of these aspects of God to the situation and assume His attitude accordingly. In terms of sin, we imagine that God is our dad. We just broke a window playing ball in the backyard and He’s going to be pissed when He gets home. Then in terms of repentance, God is like our mom reassuring us that dad really isn’t that mad, that He forgives us. Then she gives us a popsicle and sends us back outside to play.
The fact is that we can’t always assume how God feels about a situation. For example, in Jeremiah 25:9, God calls Nebuchadnezzar “my servant”. This came as a shock, I’m sure, to the Judeans. They were God’s chosen people, but here He was calling a pagan imperialist his servant as if he were chosen instead. In Isaiah 44:48 and 45:1, God calls Cyrus, king of Persia, his “shepherd” and his “anointed”. Calling a goy (a non-Jewish peron) anointed, “messiah” in Hebrew, must have really spooked the Jewish people. It spooks some Christians, too, when they realize the connection. This isn’t to say that Cyrus was THE Messiah, but God chose him for a special purpose in the history of His people.
There you have two examples of people who didn’t serve God, and yet God used them. In the case of Nebuchadnezzar, he devastated Jerusalem and killed a lot of people. When thinking about God as a loving parent, this looks confusing. When thinking about God as the Righteous Judge, it makes sense, but then He seems cruel.
Sometimes God is just God. In some circumstances, there are no sufficient comparisons that exist to explain Him. I love this part of God, the inexplicable God, because it means He’ll still surprise me. On a recent family road trip, my mother brought a pile of book-on-tape. For a majority of the drive, we listened to The Silmarillion by J.R.R Tolkien. This extensive mythology begins, like other mythologies, with the story of creation. Creation is represented through a song. God comes up with a melody, a theme, and invites his angels to help build the song. Then one particularly prideful angel has creative differences and tries to make the song dissonant. Instead of letting this jerk ruin the song, God reinvents the theme so that the song resolves out of the dissonance. The magnificence of His resolution causes the whole of heaven to fall down in worship.
I could have wept at the lesson in this nerdy fantasy book. No matter how much evil tries to screw up the beauty of God’s creation and order, He’ll always turn it around and make it good. I often talk about the story in John 9:1-3. “As He (Jesus) passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” God didn’t strike this man with blindness as punishment, as the disciples thought. And they had a right to think this way, because their question came from laws in the Torah. But God is more than the Judge. He is also the Redeemer. Surprise! The song just resolved into a major key again.
Now when he writes in Phillipians about those teaching the gospel for selfish reasons, Paul acknowledges the fact that God will use everything for His glory. If these teachers tell people the truth, then the truth is heard and God is glorified. Their motive can be inconsequential for the result. Now, their motives don’t please God and they risk His judgment for their actions, but I seem to remember a parable where Jesus spoke of weeds planted among a field of wheat. Instead of tearing out the weeds, and thus damaging the grain, the master of the field waits to separate the good from the bad at harvest time.
As a believer, I grieve that weeds are in the field. At the same time, I am thankful for the good that I see growing in the same field. In everything, God will be glorified. I think Paul also talks about this in Romans when he says that sin allows for greater measures of grace, although people shouldn’t sin as if it enhances grace. What a remarkable thing if one of those selfish teachers suddenly heard the truth in his own teaching and came to know Christ!
So don’t worry about the hearts of others. Pray for God’s glory to be done in everything, and it will come. The Farmer will eventually separate the wheat from the weeds, and the Master Composer will finish His song with a triumphant chord.