Christian Workers

This morning we are to look at three Christian workers as we continue our studies in Paul's letter to the Philippians. Today we come to Philippians 2.19-30. In this second half of the second chapter of Philippians there are, in effect, cameos or little pen pictures of three early Christians. There is lot you can learn from them. Chapter 2 is all about practical christian living. At Philippi there were some people who seem to be self-centred and in danger of getting a bit too big for their boots. So Paul says in verses 3 and 4:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

To illustrate what he means he gives you that amazing picture of Jesus in the first half of chapter 2 and of how he took "the very nature of a servant" and how "he humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross!" (vv 7 and 8). But then here in the second half, almost unconsciously, Paul gives you illustrations from the people referred to in the verses we are going to look at this morning. First, there is PAUL himself; secondly, there is TIMOTHY; and thirdly, there is EPAPHRODITUS. First, then, PAUL himself. And note three things about Paul: first his faith in God. Remember that Paul is in prison. But does that affect his faith? Does he say, "I've sacrificed so much for Christ, but look what he has done for me now. He's let me land up in jail"? No! He doesn't have a crisis of faith. Tragically that is how some people react to negative circumstances. I was reading about Stalin this past week. Paul was not like Josef Stalin who began life as a seminary student in training for the ministry and then made a decisive break in his faith in God before becoming one of the most brutal tyrants in the history of the human race. No! Paul knew that God loved him, that God was still in control, that God had good purposes for him and that God knew best. And so he makes plans and does all this thinking "in the Lord". Look at verses 19 and 24:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to sent Timothy to you soon (v 19). I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon (v 24).

His whole life was centred in, and under, the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He knew that Christ had died; that Christ had risen; and that one day Christ will come again. If he, Paul, died, that was "better by far" - to be in the presence of Christ. If he lived, that would mean "fruitful labour" as he tells us in chapter 1. So he was happy to leave the outcome to the Lord. And for the moment all his planning and thinking and hoping is simply an attempt to do the Lord's will. Is that how you live - totally confident that God is in control? So you don't have to worry, but you do have to seek to do his will. Note secondly about Paul that although he trusted in God, he wasn't always "smiling" - if I may put it that way. Some people think that true Christians must go around with a perpetual grin. No! That is not true. Don't get me wrong. Christians should look different and reflect something of the joy of the Lord. It was an atheist philosopher who said, "if I am to believe in your redeemer, you will have to look more redeemed." But when Paul was penning these words, he was not, I repeat not, feeling particularly cheerful. He says quite explicitly that he wants to be cheered up! His goal in sending Timothy to Philippi is, verse 19:

that I also may be cheered.

Now this is the same Paul who a bit later is going to say in verse 7 of chapter 4:

the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And Paul believed that. But the peace of God is a "background peace". It is the consciousness deep down that all will be well long term. Nevertheless, often when you are in the thick of things, it seems - and it feels - as if all the world is crashing down around you. That is why you must never trust your feelings. Yes! Paul needed cheering up; but that was not a denial that at the same time the peace of God was guarding his heart and mind. Some may be doing exams at this time of year. You are quite hyped up. Is that a denial of the peace of God? Does that mean you are a bad Christian with little faith? No! Not at all. It just means you are a normal human being. There is something similar in verse 27. Paul tells us there he might have had "sorrow upon sorrow", if Epaphroditus had died. Does that mean that Paul had lost his faith in the resurrection and in the hope of heaven? Has he forgotten the truth that "to depart and be with Christ ... is better by far"? No! He is just a normal human being. God does not want you to be like the Buddhist whose aim is to eliminate all desire. Nor does he want you to be like the Stoic whose goal was a passionless resignation to fate. God never intended you to be heartless or without emotion. Jesus was not heartless. The bible says he is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses" (Heb 4.14). And it says that "Jesus wept" at Lazarus' tomb (John 11.35). So Paul, like faithful Christians down the centuries, trusted in God, but he was not always "smiling". Note thirdly about Paul that he was humble. Look at verse 22:

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.

Look at the logic there. Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy. He nurtured his faith. Humility never denies the truth. But that didn't mean Paul assumed airs and graces. No! You and I might have been tempted to say (if we had been in Paul's position):

as a son with his father he [Timothy] has served me in the work of the gospel.

That would have been true because Timothy was Paul's assistant. But Paul doesn't say that. He doesn't say, "he has served me." He says, "he has served with me in the work of the gospel." He immediately puts himself on a level with Timothy. They are both servants or slaves of Jesus Christ. Of course, there are distinctions. There has to be order. There have to be leaders and those who are led. But before God all are equal. And Paul knew that that equality was not an equality of ability, but an equality of failure. Paul says in Ephesians 3.8:

I am less than the least of all God's people.

He knew he had a distinct ministry. And he wouldn't let others disparage his apostleship. He knew he was a spiritual father to Timothy. But that didn't make him "the great Paul" who could assume airs and graces. Today is the 1400th anniversary of Augustine's mission to England. Gregory I sent him from Rome to Canterbury where he became the first archbishop. But how should we treat archbishops, superintendents, house church leaders, clergy or other christian workers? If they preach the gospel faithfully, you should honour them. (If they don't, of course, you should reject them.) Paul says of faithful men like Epaphroditus in verse 29:

honour men like him.

There is a place for honour and respect, but it is only for the gospel they serve. Otherwise like Paul they (and we all) are mere "slaves" of Christ. Paul was quite clear about this. He saw nothing of merit in himself. In chapter 3 verse 7 he tells us:

I consider everything as loss.

All his qualifications and zeal were worth nothing as far as God's balance sheet is concerned. Paul saw so many things wrong in his own life. You see, the more the Holy Spirit works in someone's life, the more they see the need of the work of Christ to forgive and make new. Jesus taught that the great work of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin (John 16.8). A person who is spiritually dead sees little wrong in their life. That is why society is so decadent at the end of the 20th century. As people reject God, their spiritual sensitivity dries up and dies. There is then a desperate spiritual problem. You've seen pictures of people in hospital who are "brain dead". Many of their physical organs can work, but their consciousness seems to have gone. Well, millions today are not brain dead; they are spiritually dead. Their physical and mental organs are working, but spiritually they are dead. They need the Holy Spirit to give then new life. Is there any one like that here this morning - and you know it? But God is beginning to convict you. You know that something needs to happen in your life. The fact is salvation begins when you are humble - like Paul - and realize you have failed God and do fail God and when, like the tax collector in Jesus parable, you pray:

'God, have mercy on me, a sinner' (Luke 18.13).

The good news is that through Christ's sin-bearing death on the cross, God will have mercy. You will be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit and new life. So much for Paul. These verses show he trusted in God, but he was not always "smiling" - sometimes he needed to be cheered up; and he was truly humble. Secondly, we come to TIMOTHY Two things stand out about Timothy. First, verse 22:

[he] has proved himself.

It doesn't say "he has saved himself". Of course, not. Like Paul, Timothy knew that nothing he did could be good enough for God. But he equally knew as we have been learning in the Home Groups from James' epistle that ...

... faith without deeds is dead (James 2.16).

His faith needed to be proved in action and so does your faith and my faith. So, first, Timothy proved himself. But how did he prove himself? That brings us to the second point about Timothy. In verses 20-21 Paul writes about Timothy like this:

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Timothy was not putting his own ambitions first. Timothy was undoubtedly a gifted young man. He certainly had an educated background. He had a good family. He possibly could have made a fortune in his home town of Lystra. But he put the interests of Jesus Christ and the eternal welfare and destiny of his fellow men and women first. Shouldn't all Christians do that? Yes! Do all Christians do that? No! Verse 21:

For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Paul had had the experience of Demas. He tells us about Demas in his second letter to Timothy:

Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me (2 Tim 4.10).

A year or two earlier Paul had been disappointed in another young man, John Mark. He went back home and deserted Paul on one of his missionary journeys - it seems he couldn't stand the heat. But Timothy, unlike these folk, put Christ first not his own preferences or ambitions. What about you? God may be calling some of you to full time Christian work. Will you give your time and energy for the gospel? Or will you put your own preferences or ambitions first? God will be calling most of you to secular work and life. Some of you will then earn good salaries. But how are you stewarding that salary? Are you, or will you, give your money for the gospel? Or will you spend it on improving your own lifestyles and on your own preferences and ambitions? That is a relevant question at the end of this gift week. The simple question is, "are you looking out for your own interests, or those of Jesus Christ?" Sadly, in New Testament times, as today, there were many in the church who looked out for their own interests. But Timothy put Christ and the welfare of others first. In that way he "proved" himself. Finally, there is EPAPHRODITUS What can you learn from Epaphroditus? Answer: three things. First, that a Christian - whether in full time church work or working in the secular world - is called to a "fight". Paul calls Epaphroditus, verse 25:

my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier.

Is that how you see the Christian life - as a fight? Paul was adamant. 1 Timothy 6.12:

Fight the good fight of the faith.

Last Sunday at the baptism service we told those baptised to "fight" as "Christ's soldiers and servants". Do you see yourself as a Christian soldier? If so, you should behave like one. It means you are not called to a life of ease and security. There is a spiritual battle on. Life will be hard. There is a fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. That is why more and more you have to stand up to be counted. That is why you have to put on the whole armour of God. That is why you have to "endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2.3). Epaphroditus teaches us that the Christian has to be a soldier and to fight Secondly, he teaches us that the Christian is not immune from illness. Verses 26-27 say ...

... he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.

There is no evidence that Epaphroditus was ill because of sin, or that he was not immediately healed because of a lack of faith. In fact Paul speaks in glowing terms of Epaphroditus. Now sometimes sickness is due to sin. And sometimes prayer leads to direct healing. But not always. So beware of teaching that says if only there were more prayer and more faith sickness would vanish. Epaphroditus proves the contrary. Thirdly, he teaches that Christians are called to take risks. Verse 30:

he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.

Is that the sort of Christian life you are prepared to live? The situation in this nation and in the Western world in general, from a Christian perspective, is getting bleaker and bleaker. Like Paul, we must be confident. We must be optimistic. We must remember that God is in control. We need not worry. But we must be realistic. We must face the facts. And we must be ready for the costs. You and I as individuals will have to take risks for Jesus Christ. This church as a fellowship will have to do so. But let me conclude with this rather unspiritual thought. The word here translated "risk" refers to gambling. Now gambling is an evil. Nor is Paul trying to commend gambling. But he knows there is excitement in gambling. The Christian life is a fight; it may involve physical hardships and illness; and it will mean taking risks. But it is wonderfully exciting. God is no man or woman's debtor. The Christian life is like gambling, but with this difference: there is a guaranteed win. It is like the lottery and hitting the jackpot each time. God's jackpot often comes in this life. If it doesn't, it will certainly come in heaven. And believing that (and to jump ahead to chapter 3 verse 14) Paul says:

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

May each one of us also be able to say that this morning and mean it.

Back to top