Ben continues our latest sermon in the series "Letters from Lockdown", preaching from Philippians 2:19-30. In this section of the letter to the Philippians Paul holds up Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of the humble, self-giving service to others that we should imitate.
Many of you will know that I am currently a trainee pastor here at Cornerstone, but I’m also continuing to work part time for my previous company which manufactures body-cameras, as worn by the police. My job is in marketing, and part of my role involves getting feedback from customers on what has been most helpful in informing them about these cameras. Is it the detailed technical specification? Is it the list of key features? No. The most helpful factor has been the case studies we produce which show the cameras in use. As an example, in trying to understand jargon such as the ‘ultra-low light resolution facility’, this becomes so much clearer from seeing video footage of the cameras at night.
Case studies are so valuable because they provide a living picture which translates facts into something much more tangible.
Timothy and Epaphroditus are a living example of a case study of the Christian lifestyle that Paul has been describing and promoting in this letter to the Church in Philippi.
We could be forgiven for thinking that we currently live in the most selfish and self-obsessed age in history. Social media allows us to present our best images to the world. The advice pumped out to us is: ‘Look within yourself for happiness! Go with what your heart tells you.’ And by the same token, the so-called freedom of speech of this generation also allows us to criticise anyone who offends us.
Only a few weeks ago, in the first weeks of Lockdown, shops had to impose dedicated opening hours to protect key workers and the vulnerable because people were behaving like animals in their greed to stockpile essential items.
These examples of selfishness are not new to this generation. They are just the latest reflection of a problem that has always been true of human nature throughout history. This generation may be technically advanced, but our motivation is still driven by the age-old fallacy that the key to happiness lies in self-interest.
In Philippi Paul had been preaching on this very topic.
In chapter 2:3 he had implored them,
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
And in our passage this morning, in verse 21, he observes,
“For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
However, in direct contrast, in the same passage, Paul describes Timothy. And he is the first case study we are considering this morning.
19. “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.”
No one else shows such a genuine concern for the welfare of the church. That is Timothy’s motivation in life. His practical life and his prayer life were genuinely driven by the desire to care for others.
The King James Version expresses verse 20 very clearly.
“For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.”
By nature, Timothy was a sinner, like us all, and, left to himself, his natural instinct was to look to the interests of himself. But because of the blood of Christ, he has been freed from the chains of sin. He has a new heart which now, naturally, cares for the state of the Church! He has a new disposition!
My brother-in-law, Seth, passed away a couple of years ago. He was terminally ill from a brain tumour, and in the last weeks of his life he was being treated with extremely powerful medication to relieve the pain. In these circumstances one would have expected his inhibitions to have gone, and all his frustration and anger to have shown itself. Yet he was a man whose heart had been changed by the blood of Christ. His ‘natural’ disposition was now for the good of others. He was constantly expressing his gratitude and affection for the medical staff who were caring for him, even though he probably wasn’t even aware of who they were.
Seth had been an extremely talented photographer and, on his website, before he died, he wrote:
“A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with Terminal Cancer and, barring a miracle, I’m not going to live much longer. There are many bad things about this situation, but one massive plus is that I get to call on all the wonderful people around me, and ask them to raise a shedload of cash for a charity close to my heart. I believe in Jesus. I believe that he lived. I believe that he died and came back to life. If this helps you to ask the question ‘Could this be true?’ Then, that brings me joy.”
This is such an example of what a man could do in his final days of life. He actually raised more than £39,665, and he wanted to tell people about Jesus.
Seth was a sinner, saved by grace, whose natural disposition would have rejected God in this situation. But his heart had been changed, so that his natural disposition was now to seek to serve others.
Verse 22 goes on to say:
“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”
Timothy had served as a son with his ‘spiritual’ father Paul. This promotes the idea of a son picking up his father’s profession. We often see examples of this in shop signs which say ‘Thompson & sons’ or ‘Philpott & sons’ etc. A son learned all the craft of his father by imitating him.
Timothy had served in the work of the Gospel in the same manner as Paul. He had adopted Paul’s fervour and eagerness in prayer and action. Paul was a case study to Timothy, and Timothy is a case study to us. This is a teaching of Paul to the Corinthian Church. Look at 1 Corinthians 11:1
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”.
It is important for us to follow the example of the apostles because they followed the example of Jesus Christ.
So, the question we need to ask is, ‘Who is our case study? Who do we want to imitate? How do we compare with Timothy?’
The next person we will consider is
Verse 25 states:
“But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.”
Paul calls him a brother, a co-worker, a fellow soldier fighting to save souls. Sometimes, serving as a Christian can seem like serving in the trenches. It is a battle, and we are under spiritual attack, but remember that we are in the battle together.
Whose interests is Epaphroditus looking to in verse 26?
26 “For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died”.
The reason for his distress was that the church heard he was ill. This troubled him more than the illness itself, which almost killed him as we learn in verse 30.
“he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.”
Epaphroditus imitated Paul who, in turn, imitated Jesus; the perfect one who gave his life for the world. The cross is the clearest picture we have of our God who was completely other-centred. God gave his son so that he would die in order to give us life. He took the punishment of sin so we could go free. Jesus said to his father in the Garden of Gethsemane ‘Not my will but yours be done.’ He submitted his will to his father’s.
In these verses we learn that Epaphroditus’s life was spared, to save Paul from experiencing further anxiety and sorrow.
Verse 27: “But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.”
So, again, the question to ask is: ‘How are you doing?’
How would you rate as a companion of Paul? Would you be classed as a co-worker? Would you risk your lifestyle or even your life for the Gospel?
Finally, we need to consider the case study of Paul himself.
In verses 23-24 we learn that Paul would rather that the church had the blessing of Timothy’s presence with them, than to keep Timothy himself. And Paul’s prime intention, once he was released from prison, was to visit the church.
Are we like that? What is our first desire after Lockdown? Is it to go to Church, to have fellowship with other believers?
In verse 28 we learn that Paul’s anxiety is eased by the gladness of the Church.
“Therefore, I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad, and I may have less anxiety.”
If the church suffers then Paul suffers. His emotions are completely tied up with the health and well-being of the church, and he pleads with the church to welcome Epaphroditus.
V29 “So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him,”
Who do you welcome with honour and great joy in your life? This passage causes us to really evaluate our life values and priorities, and to examine what we most want to imitate.
What do you think about your brothers and sisters in the church? How do you value those in your church who are like Timothy and Epaphroditus?
To think as Paul did doesn’t come naturally to us. We get much more excited about doing worldly things such as cheering on our favourite bands, or celebrities, or football teams. But do we really welcome our brothers and sisters in the Lord with great joy?
If we don’t, how can we say we love Christ?
We need help, so we must seek help from the Lord to be imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think about these case studies of men who imitated Christ.
Make an effort to welcome brothers and sisters in the Church, and seek to be more like Christ who deserves all the honour.
Philippians 2:19 - 2:30
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (ESV)
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.