We might wonder as we come to this passage this evening what the travel plans of some men who lived some 2000 years ago have to do with us today? Because on first glance that’s what Philippians 2.19-30 seems to present us with; the itinerary of some upcoming journeys of some of the apostle Paul’s friends – Timothy and Epaphroditus. We might wonder what could it possibly have to teach us today? It seems like a bit of a crunch through the gears from the rest of chapter Philippians 2 from all these great encouragements to live with the mind set of Christ, but as we take a closer look what we’ll see is that Timothy and Epaphroditus are living examples of the kind of lifestyle that Paul has been encouraging and urging his readers towards in the rest of the letter – they model a life of self-giving service of others, shaped by the love of Jesus. That sounds great doesn’t it? But what does it look like in practice? What does it mean to really live like this? What does it mean to shine as lights in the world as Paul urged us to do in last weeks passage? (Philippians 2.15).
Perhaps you’re here this evening as a student who’s about to head back home for the summer, and you’re wondering how can you live distinctively for Jesus at home? Or perhaps you’re about to graduate and head to a new town or city. What will it mean for you to shine brightly for Jesus there? That’s what we’re thinking about this evening. In a sense Paul picks up the telescope and focuses us in on a couple of particularly bright stars to help us see what all of this really looks like in practice, giving us two concrete examples in Timothy and Epaphroditus.
• Shine like Timothy – serving others (Philippians 2.19-24)
• Shine like Epaphroditus – suffering for others (Philippians 2.25-30)
• Shine like Paul – sending on to others
It’s important for us to remember that the mind-set that Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Paul are demonstrating in this passage is only theirs in Christ Jesus. Read Philippians 2.4-5:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus
So, at some level, although they’re special (and it’s right that Paul singles them out for us) they point beyond themselves to Jesus. But at another level they’re not special. Or at least they shouldn’t be, because they’re living out mind-sets that are ours in Christ too!
1. Shine like Timothy – serving others (Philippians 2.19-24)
It’s actually a little odd that this section is in here at all, because the Philippian church knew Timothy pretty well – he’s listed as one of the writers of the letter in Philippians 1.1, he was there when the church began (Acts 16), plus, even in today’s section it says (Philippians 2.22):
you know his proven worth!
This is a guy they know really, really well! But sometimes we can be so familiar with someone that we miss the detail of what they’re like. Or perhaps we take their character for granted, instead of seeing it for what it truly is! It’s like when you drive past the same beautiful scenery day after day, it kind of loses its impact on you. So Paul wants to highlight in bright yellow highlighter and underline with thick black ink the incredible work that Jesus has been doing in the life of Timothy as he send him to them for their encouragement. Read Philippians 2.19-20:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
Paul’s effectively saying, “I’m sending you the best – someone who will come to you, not looking out for himself, but pouring himself out for your good – spending his time and his energy investing in you for your growth in the love of Jesus! Not coming to you to see what you can give him, he’s not coming to seek power and influence for himself; he’s not coming to make his name great among you; he’s not in it for the money or the gifts you might give him; he’s not in it to make friends but to seek your good!” That’s a challenge for us isn’t it? I certainly know it’s a challenge to me. It’s so easy to turn up at church or at our home group or our student group thinking “What’s in it for me?” “What am I getting out of this?” “Is the music style to my tastes?”
Of course this is the cultural air we breathe; we’re so used to everything being tailored to our own individual preferences; our coffee, Problem is, if that’s the attitude everyone comes to church with, then no-one gets to experience the kind of love and unity that the gospel creates, do they? Who cares for others if we’re all looking towards our own needs? The key question is “How do we move from an inward, ‘me’ centred attitude to one that is other-centred, selfless and sacrificially puts the needs of others first?” The answer lies in our verses today, but only as we compare them with the command of Philippians 2.4. There is a deep connection that we need to grasp this evening if we’re really going to embody the love of Christ to others. Read Philippians 2.4:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others
Now keeping looking at that verse as I read Philippians 2.20-21:
For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of…
How are we expecting this verse to end? With Philippians 2.4 in mind? For they all seek their own interests, not those of others? But that’s not what it says is it? For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Here is the key principle: to serve others is to serve Christ! We do not have to make a choice between our own personal relationship with Jesus and serving others. The two are not opposed to each other, but come hand in hand. To serve others is to serve Christ. And on the flip side, to seek our own interests and not the interests of others is to fail to serve Christ, and it is to fail to be like Christ and to love like him – in his ultimate self-giving service that he offered for us as he laid down his life for us on the cross. If you’re a Christian, you are intimately connected to every other Christian (we are all in Christ) united with him and, therefore, united with one another. So, it would be foolish to ignore others or not worry about what they’re going through, wouldn’t it? It would be like ignoring a part of your own body.
So here’s a challenge for you, every time you walk through those doors to church be thinking who can I serve today? Who needs me to draw alongside them? Encourage them? Rejoice with them? Meet up with them? Over the summer is there someone that needs some encouragement as they head home to a non-Christian family? Or to a church where they’re more isolated from others their own age? Could you send a message? Or offer to video call with them on a regular basis? Or even go and visit to help encourage them to keep going with Jesus? It will be costly for you, but a great encouragement for them.
2. Shine like Epaphroditus – suffering for others (Philippians 2.25-30)
Whilst we might have heard of Timothy before, Epaphroditus is probably less familiar to us, but not to the Philippians because he was actually a member of the Philippian church. And as far as we can tell, he’d been sent by the Philippians to Paul in Rome to take him a significant financial gift. Because in Philippians 4.18 we read this:
I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Epaphroditus has gone as the church’s representative to Paul. And it’s clear from the way he’s described by Paul in today’s verses that he wasn’t just a slave sent to take the money. He was actually sent to work alongside Paul in proclaiming and sharing the good news of Jesus; to encourage Paul whilst he’s in prison. Just look at how he described Epaphroditus in Philippians 2.25. His brother, his fellow worker, a fellow soldier. He’s been sent to encourage Paul and work alongside him. And the fact he describes Epaphroditus in such positive terms means that Paul clearly had been blessed by him and has seen him as a faithful co-worker in the gospel. But, for the Philippians it has clearly been a time of anxiety for their dear friend. Read Philippains 2.26-27:
…for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death…
Put yourself in the shoes of the Philippian church for a moment. The journey from Philippi to Rome was about 700 miles and would have taken between 6 weeks and 3 months (depending on the conditions). You’ve sent your dear friend to take this large gift and support gospel work in Rome, then you get a message back saying that he’s seriously ill – he’s fallen ill on the journey! Of course they’d be worried and anxious. Now, imagine that you’re Epaphroditus. I know that most naturally my instinct would be to worry about myself, to be worried about whether I’m going to survive, whether I’m going to make it through this horrible illness. Now, it’s not to say that it’s wrong to worry about those things. They’re quite natural, but, even with such worries, what do we find Epaphroditus doing? Read Philippians 2.26:
…for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.
He’s not worried about himself, but deeply concerned about the Philippians. In our translation it says distressed, more literally “out of his mind” with worry! Here again, is a man who is more concerned about the welfare of others than he is himself. And again, we see his passion is driven by the gospel. Read Philippians 2.30:
…for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Paul is here recognising that the reason Epaphroditus got ill in the first place was because he was undertaking a mission that was, in effect, for the Lord Jesus - he nearly died for the work of Christ. Perhaps if he’d turned back, or given up the journey sooner, he wouldn’t have nearly died, but why was it he risked his life? Because he got what we were talking about earlier. He knew that to serve others is to serve Christ. He knew that he represented the church to Paul. There’s this odd phrase at the end of Philippians 2.30:
…risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
This isn’t Paul being grumpy. He was being realistic. They couldn’t all be with him – the whole Philippian church couldn’t go, but Epaphroditus could. He knew that if he could only get to Rome, if he could only make it through, it would be such an encouragement to Paul – it would fuel him for the long road ahead. So, he puts himself on the line too. If with Timothy we saw that to serve others is to serve Christ, with Epaphroditus we see that to suffer for others is to suffer for Christ. And we should honour and celebrate those who do because the people we celebrate, and the stories we tell shape the characteristics we think are important. And so we should celebrate and honour those who are willing to take risks for the sake of serving others and Jesus. And we should celebrate those who are suffering and the middle of it all are not thinking about themselves, but about others.
We’ve been so blessed by a number of families at Holy Trinity Gateshead as we’ve joined them in the last month or so who, despite so many struggles and challenges in their own lives have gone out of their way to help me and the rest of the family to settle in. Rather than become inward focused in their struggles, they’ve shown a deeper concern for us, knowing that the Lord Jesus has and will provide all that they need to keep going. That brings us to our final (and much briefer) point this evening:
3. Shine like Paul – sending on to others
Paul is in prison, suffering for the sake of the gospel, and I’m sure he really could have done with these great guys (Timothy & Epaphroditus) sticking around, but, he sends them! This is instructive for us too. Sometimes looking out for the interests of others doesn’t mean we ourselves have to be involved. It might actually mean being willing to send others on to do gospel work either short-term (like Timothy) or long-term (like Epaphroditus). Let’s be clear, it is costly. Just because you’re not going doesn’t mean you don’t feel it. Some of you will have been here when HTG or St Joseph’s Benwell were planted, and it will have been costly saying goodbye to friends. But, what a great joy! That there are now three churches in the area, serving different communities, reaching more people with the good news of Jesus!
We must continue to be willing to take gospel risks, to bear the cost of sending people onto others for the sake of making the good news of Jesus known – both locally and around the world. In a sense, that’s what happens every year here at JPC as students who’ve been here for 3, 4, or even 5 years are sent on to new places, having grown in faith. It’s costly, because you’re dearly loved members of the church. But it’s also exciting because as you go you have new opportunities to share your faith and to encourage other believers wherever the Lord takes you in the months and years ahead. Even if you’re just heading back home for the summer, there are exciting opportunities to share the gospel with friends and family members, or to encourage young believers on summer camps. And it’s our privilege to send you with our love and our prayers to shine for Jesus there!