Two Christ-like Servants

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Philippians 2:19-30

INTRODUCTION: We come to a very different part of the letter today. Instead of Paul talking about his circumstances in Rome or the Philippians’ circumstances in Philippi, instead we get a bit of a travelogue. Paul is basically discussing his upcoming plans to visit as well as the visits of two of his helpers. After the deep theology and soaring praise of 2:5-11 and the powerful commands of 2:12-18, this part of the letter might seem a little dull, a little ordinary at first glance. But it’s a good reminder that much of life is ordinary, and that we learn some of the greatest lessons from God in the ordinary walk of life. And it is the same with this section of the letter. (Read Philippians 2:19-30 and pray.)

Do you have any role models in your life? Everyone should have role models. We should all have people that we admire, people that we look up to, people who are living the way we would like to live and achieving the goals that we would like to achieve. A good, strong role model can be a very powerful shaping force in our lives.

Our culture throws plenty of role models at us, but unfortunately they are not always the best kind. We live in a celebrity culture where our role models are usually the people who have achieved success in either music, sports or acting. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that many of those who have succeeded in these areas are not good role models in other areas of their lives. And most of us will never be celebrities anyways. We need role models who are a little closer to us, people who are doing a good job of living that we can look at and say, “I can do that.”

Earlier in this letter Paul told us we should have the same attitude as Jesus Christ, and that’s good and that’s important, but some of you may have thought, “The same attitude as Jesus? Really? Jesus is my role model? I mean, yes, he’s a perfect role model, but that’s the problem. He’s perfect! I could never be like Jesus. That’s just too big a stretch for me.”

Well, I agree, that is a pretty big stretch, although God does call us to be like Christ, and he does offer to help us by the Holy Spirit. But here in Philippians Paul presents us with two other role models who are certainly closer to us, two people with all the same weaknesses as us, but two people who were doing an excellent job of following Christ and having the same attitude as Christ. And so today we are going to look at Timothy and Epaphroditus, godly examples of two Christ-like servants who make excellent role models for us today.

I. Timothy – example of an unselfish servant (19-24)

So first up, Timothy. You might recall from 1:1 that this whole letter is addressed to the Philippians from Paul and Timothy together. And here Paul presents Timothy as a role model to follow because Timothy is a great example of an unselfish servant. Timothy has certainly taken Paul’s words to heart about having the same attitude as Christ when it comes to other people. And there are three areas in particular where Paul urges us to follow Timothy’s example. 1) Take a genuine interest in others. 2) Put Christ’s interests first. 3) Prove yourself in your work for Christ.

   A. Take a genuine interest in others (19-20)

So first of all, take a genuine interest in others. Look at verses 19-20: “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 takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” (Philippians 2:19-20)

Once again, Paul presents these role models to us by way of travelogue. He is simply talking about upcoming plans for various visits, and he mentions that he will be sending Timothy to them soon. But even the way Paul presents these plans provides us with valuable lessons. Notice he writes, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon.” (Philippians 1:19) Paul makes his plans in Christ, but he defers all his plans to Christ. The word “hope” is a strong word here, a word of almost certainty, and yet when he says, “I hope in the Lord Jesus,” he really means, “If the Lord wills.” We should make all our plans carefully and prayerfully, and yet at the same time leave the final results up to God.

Why is Paul sending Timothy? Verse 19, he writes: “That I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.” (Philippians 2:19) His purpose is that both sides may be encouraged or cheered. The Philippians will be encouraged when they receive good news about Paul, and Paul will be encouraged when Timothy returns with good news about them.

And why is Paul sending Timothy rather than someone else? Look at verse 20, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20) Paul had a lot of good co-workers, he names a bunch of them in various of his letters, but Timothy was special. That phrase “like him” carries the idea of “like-minded.” Paul had no one else like Timothy who was so like-minded with Paul. Timothy was Paul’s right-hand man. Paul found in Timothy a kindred spirit, someone who shared the same purpose and goals for the gospel. And not only that, but someone who shared the same love for the Philippians.

Paul says, “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” (Philippians 2:20) Timothy wasn’t just serving out of obligation or duty. He wasn’t just checking something off the list or fulfilling a job requirement. Timothy took a genuine interest in the Philippians’ affairs.

The word “take interest” here is the same word used for “worrying” in Philippians 4. There we are told not to worry, but here the word is used in the positive context of caring for or being concerned about others. There is a fine line between worry and concern, and yet we are to walk that line as closely as we can. We are to take a genuine interest in other’s needs without taking all the burden on ourselves. We need to care about other people, but then we need to cast those cares upon the Lord so that we don’t give in to worry or anxiety.

That’s the first area where Paul presents Timothy as a role model. Take a genuine interest in others.

   B. Put Christ’s interests first (21)

Secondly, put Christ’s interests first. Look at verse 21: “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:21) This wasn’t a slam on Paul’s other co-workers. In fact, Paul will have good things to say about Epaphroditus in just a few verses. Paul is making a general observation here about most people. And let’s face it – most people look out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

It is a good thing to take a genuine interest in others and to put others’ interests before your own, but you must still be careful to put Christ’s interests first. Don’t let other people’s needs dictate your life rather than Jesus Christ. We are to serve Christ by serving others, but we are to serve Christ first. And it is when we put Christ’s interests first that we will be free to serve others in a way that will really help them, rather than just catering to their every need.

“Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” What a sad commentary on life. John Calvin observes, “They were so warm in pursuing their own interests that they were cold in the work of the Lord.” One day every knee will bow before Jesus and every tongue confess that he is Lord. But right now everyone is pretty much looking out for themselves. We need to put Christ’s interests first.

   C. Prove yourself in your work for Christ (22-24)

Take a genuine interest in others. Put Christ’s interests first. And then thirdly, prove yourself in your work for Christ. Look at verses 22-24: “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. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Philippians 2:22-24)

Timothy had proved himself in his work for Christ. This speaks of perseverance and consistency. Timothy didn’t just have a few bright moments when he shined as a Christian, but day in and day out, week by week he had proved himself a faithful worker for Christ.

Paul says, “As a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” (There’s a good verse for Father’s Day!) Paul’s words bring to mind the apprenticeships of earlier days, when sons worked alongside of their fathers and learned their trade at their father’s hands. Paul’s words also bring out the closeness of relationship that Paul felt for Timothy. Timothy served with Paul as a son with his father. Paul loved Timothy as a father loves his son.

Notice that Paul does not say “Timothy served me,” but rather “Timothy served with me.” They are partners in the gospel together, and they are both servants of Jesus Christ.

Have you proved yourself in your work for Christ? Are you consistent in your walk with the Lord? Are you regular in church? Can people count on you to do your part in the body of Christ? They could with Timothy. Timothy proved himself. He passed the test. And so Paul felt confident in sending him to the Philippians. As soon as Paul knew what was happening with his own situation, he would send Timothy to the Philippians so that they would know, and he was confident that he himself would come soon.

Notice Paul is full of hope and confidence even though he is in prison. And why is that? It’s because of the Lord. He is “confident in the Lord,” and so he has hope and confidence even in the midst of uncertainty.

Timothy was a special person to Paul. Paul had no one else like him. And so he presented Timothy as a role model to the Philippians and to us. What do we learn from Timothy? Take a genuine interest in others. Put Christ’s interests first. Prove yourself in your work for Christ. Timothy is a great example of an unselfish servant.

II. Epaphroditus – example of a suffering servant (25-30)

Now Paul was going to send Timothy as soon as he knew more about his own situation, but before he sent Timothy he still needed to send this letter to the Philippians. And the person he chose to bring the letter was Epaphroditus, who is our second role model this morning.

Whereas Timothy is a great example of an unselfish servant, Epaphroditus is a great example of a suffering servant. And there are four things we can especially learn from Epaphroditus’ example. 1) Ministry does not exempt you from suffering. 2) Ministry increases your burdens along with your joys. 3) Ministry involves risk. And 4) We should honor those who give their lives in ministry to others.

   A. Ministry does not exempt you from suffering (25-26)

So first of all, ministry does not exempt you from suffering. Look at verses 25-26: “But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.” (Philippians 2:25-26)

The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus “to take care of Paul’s needs.” Paul was a prisoner. And as a prisoner in Rome Paul did not get much help from the system, and so he was dependent on help from others. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus with a generous financial gift for Paul, and then Epaphroditus had stayed on to minister to Paul’s needs directly. But now Paul is going to send Epaphroditus back to them with this letter. Why? Because the Philippians had heard about Epaphroditus’ illness, and Epaphroditus was longing to get back to them.

Now Epaphroditus was a good man. And I want you to see the depth and tenderness of Paul’s heart here as he talks about Epaphroditus. Paul calls him my brother. Paul viewed Timothy as a son, and Epaphroditus as his brother. He calls him my fellow worker and fellow soldier. Epaphroditus was a good man, but that did not exempt him from suffering. Being a soldier implies trials and conflict. It’s possible Epaphroditus might have even shared some prison time with Paul. Epaphroditus also suffered the effects of distance from home. He went on this journey to help Paul, but how he longed for his family and friends back home. And then we learn that he got sick also. And not just a little sick, this was a life-threatening illness, an illness that he never would have got if he had not been out serving the Lord.

People, ministry does not exempt you from suffering. Sometimes we get the idea if I’m serving the Lord, then everything will go right in my life. I won’t have any financial difficulties, I won’t have any illnesses, I won’t experience any personal tragedies in my life. And all I can say is, what fairy tales have you been reading? Because that’s not what God promised, and that is not the experience of those serving Christ in this world. History is full of examples of missionaries who went forth to serve Christ in foreign lands and encountered all sorts of obstacles. They missed their homes, they suffered hardships, they lost their possessions, they got ill, they lost their spouses or children, and all while serving Christ!

Epaphroditus shows us the suffering side of service and ministry. The Christian life is rooted in the cross. We have a large cross out in our courtyard. Why? Because no cross, no Christianity! Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. And Jesus calls us to carry the cross of suffering service as we follow him in this world. The first thing we learn from Epaphroditus is that ministry does not exempt you from suffering.

   B. Ministry increases your burdens along with your joys (27-28)

Secondly, ministry increases your burdens along with your joys.

Now we’re going to look at verses 27-28 in a minute, but first I want you to go back to verse 26: “For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.” (Philippians 2:26) The word Paul uses for “distressed” here is the strongest of the three Greek words in the New Testament for sorrow or distress. The only other place we find it used in the whole New Testament is describing Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. So Epaphroditus was very distressed because of all this.

But what is amazing here is that Epaphroditus was distressed not because he was ill, but because the Philippians had heard that he was ill! Talk about focusing on other people and not on yourself. He was distressed because he knew that the Philippians were distressed. There were no instant communications in those days, no email or instant messages or Caring Bridge sites where you could post an update for family and friends. Suffering is an opportunity to glorify God by trusting him and continuing to put others first. And that’s what Epaphroditus did. He was more burdened for the Philippians who were concerned about his illness than he had been about the illness itself.

You see, ministry increases your burdens along with your joys. Look at verse 27 where Paul writes: “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.” (Philippians 2:27-28) Epaphroditus was ill and almost died, but God had mercy on him. God healed him. This was an illness that would have ended in death if God had not intervened. But God did intervene, and Paul says this was not only mercy on Epaphroditus but mercy on Paul, to spare Paul sorrow upon sorrow. Paul loved Epaphroditus as a brother, and he would have been crushed if his brother had died.

Paul continues in verse 28: “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.” (Philippians 2:27-28) As much as Paul loves Epaphroditus, as much as he needs Epaphroditus, Paul is eager to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians both for Epaphroditus’ sake and for the Philippians’ sake. Paul puts the needs of others first. This will mean more joy for them, but also less anxiety and sorrow for him.

Ministry is full of many amazing joys. And yet there are many burdens that come with ministry also. That is the second thing we learn from Epaphroditus. Ministry increases your burdens along with your joys.

   C. Ministry involves risk (30)

A third thing we learn from Epaphroditus is that ministry involves risk. Skip ahead to verse 30: “… because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” (Philippians 2:30) We don’t know all the circumstances of Epaphroditus’ illness, but we know it was related to his work for the gospel, and he was willing to take the risk for the work of Christ. Paul was in prison and the Philippians could not be there with him. But they could send someone to be with him. So they sent Epaphroditus, and he completed his mission at great risk to himself.

Ministry involves risk. There is personal risk as you step out in faith and share the gospel with others. There is financial risk as you step out in faith in your giving of resources to the work of Christ. Sometimes there is family risk as you step out in faith trusting that God will take care of your family needs. And although you are completely in God’s hands and so all this risk is from a human standpoint, it is real risk nonetheless. Bad things do happen. People get hurt. Families take a beating. Ministry does not exempt you from suffering.

So why do we do it? Because it is worth it! When you are willing to suffer for Jesus and the gospel, you demonstrate to the world that there is no greater purpose, there is no greater cause, there is no greater work than obeying God by serving Christ and others through the gospel.

Jesus was obedient to death. Epaphroditus was obedient to the very point of death. He risked his life for the gospel. Ministry involves risk.

   D. Honor those who give their lives in ministry to others (29)

Ministry does not exempt you from suffering. Ministry increases your burdens along with your joys. Ministry involves risk. And then the final thing we learn from Epaphroditus is this: we should honor those who give their lives in ministry to others. Look back at verse 29: “Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, 30 because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.” (Philippians 2:29-30)

Paul tells the Philippians, “When Epaphroditus gets there, first of all welcome him in the Lord. Receive him gladly. Let your hearts be full of joy. Make it a time for great celebration. And then honor him. Throw him a party. Hold a banquet. Give him a standing ovation. Lift him up before the whole congregation. Why? Because he gave himself in ministry to others for the work of Christ. And we should honor people like that.”

CONCLUSION: Timothy and Epaphroditus are two godly examples of Christ-like servants who make excellent role models for us today. Timothy is a great example of an unselfish servant. Epaphroditus is a great example of a suffering servant. And as we close this morning I would like to apply this message by bringing to your attention a number of faithful servants from our own midst who are also examples and role models for us to follow.

I would commend to you first of all our missionaries. Like Timothy our missionaries take a genuine interest in others, they put Christ’s interests first, and they have proven themselves in their work for Christ. And like Epaphroditus they have learned that ministry does not exempt you from suffering, that ministry increases your burdens along with your joys, and that ministry often involves risk. We honor them today. We honor people like Stella Bosworth who is recovering from hip surgery and longing to return to South Africa. We honor people like Susanne Price who maintains her faith in Christ while honestly sharing with us her fight against cancer. We honor Walter and Diane Kennedy who have served the Lord faithfully in Indonesia for so many years and have served so faithfully here with us this year. We honor our missionaries. They are our heroes, and they are true role models for all of us to follow.

And then I would also commend to you a man we all dearly love and who has given of himself so selflessly to this congregation for the past twenty-three years. I commend to you Pastor Chip Plank. I thought a lot about Pastor Chip this week while preparing this message. Like Timothy and Paul, I had the great privilege of serving with Pastor Chip as a son serves with his father during my early years here at PCC. Like Timothy Pastor Chip has always put the need of others before himself. And like Epaphroditus he has been a powerful testimony to Christ during this time of illness.

I also know that like Epaphroditus he longs to be with you again. He loves this church, and there is no place he would rather be. The first year with a new pastor is a time of transition, and a retiring pastor will usually take some time away from the congregation during this time.

Now Pastor Chip would be the first to tell you, he doesn’t really agree with that, he would rather be here with you all, but I can tell you this. When Pastor Chip returns with Barbara, we are going to welcome him in the Lord with great joy. And we are going to honor him. It’s interesting, that word “honor” in Philippians 2:29 carries the idea of “continuing to honor,” not just honoring him when he returns, but giving him a permanent place of honor within the church. And so it would be my desire that when Pastor Chip returns, this church votes to honor him as pastor emeritus in recognition of his many years of faithful service to this church. That is definitely something we will be talking about in the fall.

Our passage this morning gives us two great role models to follow. Timothy who lived for Christ and served others before self. And Epaphroditus who was willing to suffer in order to do the work of Christ. Let us follow their examples today.

© Ray Fowler

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