We’re in Philippians 2.19-30 this morning. Please turn there in your Bibles. While you’re finding your way, let’s quickly review where we are in the letter. We are coming off the heels of a passage that challenged the Philippian church to shine as lights in the midst of a dark world. We saw that this likely was looking back to the exhortation in chapter 1 verse 27 which included living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. This pursuit involved working out their salvation, recognizing that God was active in their spiritual growth. For God is the One who provides the desire and the ability to grow.
Next this involved doing all things without grumbling and questioning. We noted that the world is often characterized by grumbling and questioning and disputing. And we as Christians will stick out as we are recognized by our abstaining from these things and hold fast to the word of life. Paul encourages the readers that he wants to stand before Jesus when he returns and boast in their faith and spiritual growth. And because he understands that his life is all for Christ, he considers it his sacrificial offering. Because it is not in vain, he can rejoice with those who follow Christ with him. READ.
Launching into this section, it seems as though Paul moves clearly to a different thought here. What we will see is Paul recommending visits from two different people. We know that Paul had desired and envisioned that he would once again pay the Philippians a visit. And yet his circumstances prohibited from carrying this out. But he knows that his readers need a visit and encouragement. And Paul needs the encouragement as well. I hope to show you how important these men were to Paul and his ministry. And I hope also that we will be challenged to have these sorts of relationships as well.
The first point is Discipleship for the Gospel. Paul opens the section by indicating that it is his hope to send Timothy to the Philippians in the near future. And Paul includes his purpose for doing so. It seems as though it is for mutual encouragement. I am certain that the Philippians would be encouraged by word from Paul and Timothy. And Paul would be encouraged as well.
Think about what it must be like for Paul. He’s in prison. He’s preached the gospel in Philippi and people are converted to Jesus Christ and begin to meet as Christ’s church. Now he finds himself in a situation that keeps him from them. He wants to know. He needs to know how they are faring in their faith. Paul realizes that his plans and his hope are in his Lord Jesus. And he hopes to send Timothy.
I am beginning to understand more about this Timothy. Timothy is the guy that Paul trusts to send in his place. This is saying a lot! In 1 Corinthians 4:16–17, “16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 17 That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. 1 Thessalonians 3:1–2, “1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith,”
Paul says in verse 20 that he has no one like Timothy. What does he mean by this? Paul describes several ways. First, Paul says that Timothy will have genuine concern for the church at Philippi. Verse 22 indicates that Timothy has proven his worth. Third, he is like a son to Paul. Fourth, he has served alongside Paul in the gospel.
Verse 21 indicates that “they” all seek their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ. Though Paul does not specify who the “they” are, it is possible that it is those who we considered in chapter 1. Do you remember when Paul said that his imprisonment had served to advance the gospel? And then he included that there were some who preached Christ from envy and rivalry. Though he rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed, these were not men that he could count on to consider the welfare of the Philippian church. They were likely fueling their pride and not Jesus Christ. And they would not serve the church well.
God desires that those who minister to the church be those who are ultimately concerned with Jesus Christ. We know and grieve that this is not always the case. Particularly in the West, there is a propensity to building up of the kingdoms of men in the guise of “church.” Though this is troubling, we are reassured that in the end, Jesus will have the last word.
Timothy, however, knew what it meant to be about Jesus Christ. He emulated Paul’s words in verses 3 and 4 when he exhorted his readers in humility to “count others more significant than yourselves and to let each of you not only look to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
And then Paul says that the Philippians know his proven worth. And as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I think that these two thoughts are synonymous. The test of time in ministry with Paul was an indicator of this. Timothy served loyally with Paul in the work of proclaiming the gospel to bring people to faith in Christ and in the work of guiding the church to live out the implications of the gospel in the community of believers.
This was an intentional relationship. In Acts 16 we learn a bit about Timothy. It is noted that Timothy was born to a Jewish mom and a father who was a Greek. It would appear as well that he inherited his biblical teaching from his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois. No mention is made of “dad” in 2 Timothy 1. The conclusion would be that Timothy did not have the spiritual fathering that is intended by God – until Paul entered his life.
Men, I’m not sure if we all understand this or not. But it is our God-given responsibility to instruct our children in the ways of God. We see this from the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 18:19 19 For I have chosen him [Abraham], that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Deuteronomy 6 speaks of teaching God’s word to the children while you sit in the house, when you walk, lie down, and when you rise. And then specifically to the men, Paul says in Ephesians 6, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This is our mandate and our responsibility. How are we doing in this? There is always room for improvement. Believe me. I know.
But I also find encouragement in the life of Timothy. And so should those of you who do not have a godly man in the home. Despite the failings of men, God is still active. And in the case of Timothy, he had him cross paths with Paul. And Paul invested heavily into Timothy. He wasn’t his biological father, but became his spiritual father.
And I think that this provides more application for the men in the church. One of the things I love about the church is that it provides the opportunity for other people to invest in the lives of my own children. The primary responsibility to teach them is mine. But I also cherish the investment that they get from many of you – specifically the men. This is because I want them to emulate biblical manhood. And this happens as you teach and show them what true manhood looks like. There should be great consistency in their models when we all value the truth of God’s Word. This should be clarifying, and not confusing for them.
Equally important for the men in the church is the investment into the lives of the children who don’t have the spiritual fathering that others do. I’ve seen many of you already doing this. And I hope that you will be intentional and active to search out those who don’t have the benefit of a believing father.
There is no lack of opportunity to serve in these areas. Sometimes I think that we minimize our ministry to children. I know, we have several classes for children. But these are not just programs to keep them busy while we are about doing other things. We should also find ways to minister to them apart from the Sunday morning hour – getting together during the week, taking kids for a hike or a ball game, whatever.
Paul’s relationship to Timothy also translates into adult life in the church. I believe that this relationship serves as a primary model for what we should be about as the church. Jesus’ command to his followers before he left them was to make disciples of the nations. This is the universal mandate for us.
“Discipleship” involves several things according to the text in Matthew 28. To “make disciples” is to imply evangelism. You cannot be a disciple of Jesus until you know who he is and how to become “his.” So the first step is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Secondly, Jesus says to baptize in the name of the trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit. Also, Jesus says that we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded – namely in his Scriptures.
So what does this have to do with Paul and Timothy you may ask? This is precisely what Paul did – with his words and his actions. He discipled Timothy. He was a spiritual father to him. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:10–11 “10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.”
Notice that Paul taught (followed my teaching) and showed Timothy how to obey all that Jesus had commanded (followed my conduct, aim in life, my faith, patience, love, steadfastness). Would it have been as effective if Paul put Timothy in a classroom and gave him the assignments in God’s Word and then set him out by himself to figure out how to live it out? No. Likely he spent hours upon hours with him. Timothy served alongside Paul and watched him live out what he was taught. And then there came a day when Timothy began doing the same things that he was taught to do.
And this is the cycle within the church. Church life is not about consumerism where we come on Sunday mornings for our goods and leave. It is about our active participation in the lives of one another. Sundays serve as a launch point, for sure. We take our experience from here and we process it with each other. We hash it out in our Growth Groups and pray for one another. We spend time throughout the week so that we can demonstrate what a biblical marriage and biblical family life look like. We encourage one another in the workplace – demonstrating what it means to be faithful with the gospel and living lives of holiness. We help others share their faith.
One thing that somebody told me years ago has stuck with me. “Everyone should have a Paul and a Timothy in their lives.” Wherever we are on our Christian walk, we should be actively involved with someone who is more spiritually mature than ourselves – somebody to help us with doctrine, somebody who will show us what living out that doctrine looks like. And we learn and grow in our faith. But with our growth comes a responsibility on our part. Because if we are actively growing, we are certain that there is somebody else that can learn from us – somebody that is a newer believer than we are. And so what we do is we take what we have learned from our Paul and we become a Paul to a Timothy.
There is no inactivity within Christianity. We learn and we teach. To learn without teaching is bad stewardship of that which God has given you. And this translates as disobedience because you are not making disciples. To teach without learning is only sharing opinions. I don’t know if this is foreign to you or not. Christianity is not a consumer pursuit. If you are a Christian, you have responsibilities.
I’ve alluded to this before, Christianity is a community project. We all have something to contribute. We’ve all been given gifts by the Spirit to be used for the sake of his body, the church. And if we don’t use them, the body suffers. We are all responsible for the spiritual health of Squamish Baptist Church. So, if we are negligent to study God’s Word and pray, one becomes more of a liability than an asset. This is because the one who is not active in their faith often detracts from the mission of the church.
Let me now state this positively. Can you imagine (let me see the clouds above your heads for a moment)… Can you imagine what our church would look like if those who are seasoned Christians actively pursued those who are newer believers and began to invest in their lives – teaching and modeling biblical living? And they in turn did the same? I remember a couple years back listening to a young man at a men’s retreat. He shared testimony of a time when he was a teenager, he became convinced that he needed a mentor. So he went out and got one. Doesn’t that bring a tear to your eye?
I understand that within any given church, there are a number of unbelievers. But our increased activity in the lives of others will bear that out and will present greater opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is the direction we have taken as a church. We’ve freed up the weekly calendar so that we can begin relationships and strengthen relationships for Christ. We want to activate the church to do the work of ministry. Even now, there are people who have committed to get together weekly with one or two others and open God’s Word together and to share life together – teach and model, teach and model. I want to challenge all of you. If you don’t have a Paul or a Timothy go get one. If you need to know what this looks like, ask me or any of the elders. The guys I meet with, we go over the Swordsmanship, memorize the Fighter Verse and the study questions for the week ahead. And we try to hold one another accountable in our family responsibilities.
A. W. Pink writes this, “In referring to Timothy as being “like minded” with himself, Paul gives us an insight into his ability. Not only was Timothy his “own son in the faith” but he speaks of him “as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the Gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Young believers generally become like those with whom they associate most intimately. Blessed is it when we see them growing up to follow the example of godly leaders—“imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:6). How solemnly important it is, then, that the leaders should live so that the younger Christians may not be made to stumble.”
And so Paul had a Timothy. And Timothy was a faithful and proven partner for the gospel. This was extremely important for him because others had failed him. You may recall what had happened to Paul later in ministry. To Timothy, he wrote 2 Timothy 4:9–11 9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
Likely, this is the Timothy that the Philippians knew about. They knew Timothy’s proven worth to Paul and for the gospel. But Paul was waiting until he knew how his circumstances would play out. You can understand that, right? Paul is in prison. He was likely quite lonely and needing encouragement. He may have been a bit reluctant to send Timothy… yet…
And then there is Epaphroditus. Our second point is Characteristics of Ministry. I want to highlight just a couple of things from this section – verses 25-30. Until Paul could send Timothy, he thought it necessary to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi. There are a number of uncertainties in the details of the circumstances here. I will try to briefly summarize what is a possible scenario.
We know that Epaphroditus had been sent from the church to minister to Paul. In Philippians 4.18, Paul indicates that he has been well supplied “having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent…” And also in verse 30 of our text, he suggests that Epaphroditus was able to complete what was lacking in your service to me. Because it was impossible for the entire church to come to Paul and visit him in prison, Epaphroditus was sent as a servant to represent the church and meet Paul’s needs.
I believe that it was along the way that Epaphroditus became ill. Paul indicates that it was pretty severe. In verse 30, Paul says that he nearly died for the work of Christ. So I think that it is possible that Epaphroditus’ continuing to Paul while falling ill along the way that constitutes this. And yet he stayed the course and arrived to Paul’s imprisonment. One commentator puts it like this: “Epaphroditus did not make his own safety and security his number one priority; he courageously risked everything, including his own life, to fulfill the mission given to him. He put himself in harm’s way and exposed himself to great dangers to accomplish his work. His example stands as a constant challenge to all followers of Christ who seek personal security above personal sacrifice in the service of Christ.”
As a result, Epaphroditus is weakened and separated from his church family. He has completed his mission and longing to return. And I think Paul elaborates on all of this because he intends to send Timothy soon and doesn’t want the Philippians to think that Epaphroditus comes in his place. Admittedly, there is some speculation in this latter idea.
An interesting observation here is Paul’s sorrow for Epaphroditus. It provides an interesting tension. To this point, Paul has been making the case that whether he lives or dies, to die is gain. And now he indicates that he would be extremely sorrowful if God had taken the life of Epaphroditus. Perhaps this serves us practically. The truth that death ushers us into the presence of God does not eliminate human emotion and sorrow. In this case, it would have been better for Epaphroditus because of his being united with his Savior. But it would have been loss for Paul. Many of us can attest to this. In one sense, we rejoice that loved ones have preceded us to heaven. But we also identify with the sorrow of their absence from us. And so, Paul can give God the glory for his mercy in preserving Epaphroditus and also sparing Paul an increased sorrow while he remains in prison.
As Paul records all that has happened to Epaphroditus, can you imagine the intensified welcome he would receive upon his return to Philippi? He was faithful to his mission, sacrificed himself immensely, healed by God and returned to fellowship.
In addition to his illness and recovery, I want us to zero in on these identifications in verse 25. Paul rattles off these descriptions of Epaphroditus that I find quite meaningful. First, Paul considers him his brother in the Lord. This is foundational for all the rest. Because if Epaphroditus was not a believer in Jesus Christ, all that he had done would not have been for the glory of God.
Next, Paul refers to Epaphroditus as a fellow worker and fellow soldier. These are interesting descriptions indeed. Both of these words in the Greek are compound words. So, these Greek words have a preposition attached to the front. The greek preposition is translated “together with.” The first word here is one of my all time favorite words – “fellow worker” or “coworker.” Paul uses this word when he speaks of being a coworker with peers in ministry and also to be a coworker of God in 1 Corinthians 3.9. Paul considers Epaphroditus to be his coworker for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He also considers him a fellow soldier. Again this is an appropriate concept for the Christian – namely in his day. We have just seen in Philippians 1:29 “29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” So there is this clear association of a spiritual and physical battle for the sake of Jesus.
As we noted, Epaphroditus was sent as a messenger and minister to the needs of Paul. Epaphroditus was not a prominent prophet, evangelist, Bible teacher or preacher. He was an average servant. And yet look at the way that Paul draws attention to his service. Because God gifts people, all service is for the glory of God. It doesn’t matter if you are the pastor and preacher, janitor, kitchen help, grounds crew or what, all are recognized by God for his glory. In this sense we are all equal. We have been gifted differently. But all these gifts have been given to us so that we cannot claim any of the credit.
So let me encourage you in this. Do not find any task menial in this church body. It does not ultimately matter if you find yourself behind the pulpit or scrubbing toilets if all is done for the glory of God. My challenge would that you would be about whatever God has gifted you for. Do not think that your contribution is insignificant. We have all been uniquely gifted so that we would contribute them.
Primarily, it is my hope that we would all be active in making disciples. This is universal and necessary for the church. Do not sit on the sidelines. But let’s be co-workers and co-soldiers for our Master and Commander. Let’s pray.