Monday, September 29, 2014
"Two Guys" Sermon: Phillipians 2:19-30
September 28, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Do you have any heroes? Do you have anyone you look up to and try to emulate? Is there anyone you know that you want to become more like?
Paul tells the Philippians that whether he lived or died – in a sense – it was all the same to him – since his goal was to advance the Gospel. So, if his death advanced the Gospel – great, and if his life advanced the Gospel – great.
Paul then turns to plead with the Philippians to become like Christ in His humility – to spend your life pursuing the Will of God the Father at any cost – that God would be glorified and that you would have His joy.
And Paul tells the Philippians that God has given them the faith to receive the salvation that God gives them as a gift to be able to be His people. And God has given all those who believe the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit as a gift, Who helps us to understand and remember and to do all that God has called us to do by the grace that He gives us – especially through the Word read and preached and the Sacraments.
Paul tells them it is work – hard work, laboring before God Who instills us with awe of His Holiness and Majesty – still we know He loves us and has made all these things able for us to do through Him, for His Glory, and for our everlasting joy in Him.
Are we striving after God, reading His Word, working with all that we have to become like Him – into the Image of His Son – as the Holy Spirit works in us to transform us? Are we giving everything we have to God for the advancement of His Gospel in thanks for what He has done to save us – and for all the promises yet to come that He has made to us?
Lest we say, “It’s too hard,” let us remember that God has gifted us with everything we need – including the indwelling of God Himself – to be able to accomplish all God has called us to do – all the works He has set out before each of us that we should do them.
G. K. Chesterton was right when he wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried” (G.K. Chesterton, What's Wrong with the World, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/13211-the-christian-ideal-has-not-been-tried-and-found-wanting).
It’s hard, but it’s not too hard – when we consider the value of the Gospel. When we consider that it was hard for God to become a human being and suffer – even to death on the cross – for the sake of all those who would ever believe in Him. When we consider that God has gifted us and enabled us and indwelt us, so we are now able to refuse temptation and not sin, and to follow after all of God’s commands, and to continue in the transformation into the likeness of Christ that the Holy Spirit is working in us.
It is hard work, but God is working in and through us, that we would become like Jesus – the Incarnate Son of God.
Does it sound odd to your ears to say, “Jesus is my hero – I want to be like Him”? Whether the wording sounds odd to us or not, the truth is – becoming like Jesus is the goal we are called to – we cannot see God – we cannot dwell in the fullness of the Kingdom with God – unless we are like Him. But He has promised to make us like Him until and on that final day when the fullness of the Kingdom is ushered in.
As we work with everything we are – striving – and growing in our ability to be like Christ – by the Power of the Holy Spirit – God has given us men and women who – in ways that they are like Christ – we may look to as persons to imitate.
Paul already told the Philippians about himself and his Christ-like desire to see the Gospel advance above even whether he lived or died. And we have Christ Himself – living on the pages of Scripture for us to imitate. And we have those who are more mature than us in the faith – or more mature in some area of the faith – that we may imitate – as they have imitated Christ.
To that end, Paul presents two guys in this morning’s text – Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul did not write about them and what they were doing at this point in the text, merely to tell the Philippians about them, but to provide them – and us – with examples of two men who exhibited Christ-likeness in ways that we ought to emulate.
First, Paul writes about Timothy – a familiar Scriptural character to us: Timothy had, as a young person, professed faith in the God of the Bible and His salvation. He was one of Paul’s closest companions. He received Paul’s letters to Timothy continued in the Scripture, and he is mentioned throughout Paul’s writings.
Paul tells the Philippians:
“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. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”
Paul tells them that he is going to send Timothy to them soon, if God is willing. Paul wants Timothy to be a help and an encouragement to them and to bring news of them to him sometime in the future when Timothy would journey back to Rome to see Paul again.
And Paul tells them that he doesn’t have anyone like Timothy with him – he is genuinely concerned about their welfare. Timothy cared about these Christians and their struggles and seeing that they get the help that they needed. Timothy loved them like family.
Now, Timothy wasn’t from Philippi. This wasn’t his church – these weren’t his people – his relatives. Why did he care so deeply about them?
Is it because Paul cared so much about them? That may have had some influence on him, but there is a greater reason – something we can look at and emulate – something we can look at and understand that he was acting like Jesus acts – he was being like Jesus – which is Who we should be like. He was genuinely concerned about them and desirous to help them, because they were fellow believers – they were brothers and sisters in Christ.
How much does Christ care? He came to earth and lived for us and died for us and rose for us and is coming back for us – do we love our fellow Christians genuinely – do with love our fellow Christians enough to give our lives for them if it was necessary for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do we love and seek the welfare of the people in this church? Do we love and seek the welfare of other Christians? Do we pray for Christians around the world and seek out other ways we might help them in their desire to live like Christ and advance the Gospel to the whole Creation?
It’s hard, isn’t it? We’re busy people. We have our own lives. We have our own interests. It takes time to get to know people – especially if they are at another church or around the world. Who has time for that with so many good things on TV? Going from Rome to Philippi was about 750 miles – as the crow flies – across land and sea.
Are we able to remember times other Christians have reached out to us in genuine concern – caring for us and seeking to meet our needs? Not because we’re so wonderful, but because we are some of those Christ died to save.
Let us make the effort to know each other and other Christians and to genuinely care about them – like Jesus does. Like we ought to – as brothers and sisters and members of our Body – the Church. Let us each do something this week to show we really care about another Christian – and let’s keep being genuinely involved with each other and other Christians.
Paul tells the Philippians that they know Timothy – they know that he is like a son to Paul and worked side-by-side with Paul as co-servants of Jesus Christ – working together to advance the Gospel together. Timothy had proven his worth in his loyalty to Paul as a co-laborer in the advancement of the Gospel, and as someone who sought the interests of Christ above his own.
We need to have the mindset that asks ourselves, “What would Christ have us do – what would best advance the Gospel?” Not, “What would Jesus do?” – we are not Jesus, but what would He have us do. Because He is worthy of all obedience and glory, what ought we do?
Timothy is an example to us of someone who loved his brothers and sisters and sought the interests of Christ above his own. We ought to be people like that – like Jesus – Who loved us so much that He Incarnated, lived, died, and rose to make us right with God, and Who seeks the Will of the Father, first, even though it should mean a most horrific death to the Glory of the Father.
Paul tells the Philippians that he will send Timothy as soon as he finds out what the result of his preaching the Gospel to Caesar is, and he trusts, if it is the Will of God, he will join them soon as well.
The second person Paul raises up is Epaphroditus. We only know what Paul tells us about him in this letter:
“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, 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. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
Epaphroditus was a native Philippian who had been sent to bring the church’s gift to Paul – which we will see more about later in the letter – and to bring greetings to Paul and to see how he is – that Epaphroditus might report back to the church in Philippi.
Paul describes Epaphroditus as a brother – a fellow Christian, a fellow worker – possibly a missionary – probably a pastor, a fellow solider – one who is advancing the Gospel “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12b, ESV), the messenger from the Philippians – the one they had sent to minister to Paul’s needs at this time.
Paul tells them that Epaphroditus was longing for them – which is another indication that he was their pastor. The pastor ought to long for his flock – love his flock – desire to see his flock grow in the Grace and Image of Jesus Christ. A pastor is a shepherd and ought not only to lead his flock in person, but spend time in prayer and preparation, growing, himself, in the likeness of Christ that he might lead his people well. A faithful pastor desires and longs for his people – for their prayers – for their advantage through the Gospel.
Also, a faithful pastor is distressed when his flock is distressed – as was the case with the Philippians about Epaphroditus, because word had gotten back to them that he was ill. And Paul confirms that he was ill – in fact, he almost died of his illness, which was received in his work for the church and Paul and the advancement of the Gospel.
It has been a blessing to me to be cared for by this church – most of you know about my health concerns, my being alone, and my desire to see us all faithfully obey Christ and grow in conformity to His Image. I pray for you and long to see you and see progress and growth in you. And I ask that you pray for me and my ministry and my conformity to the Image of Christ. If you love Jesus, you will love those pastors who are seeking to be faithful to Him, and you will pray for them – please pray for me. Pray that I, too, as well as you, will desire and value obedience to the Will of the Father and the advancement of the Gospel over life itself. Pray I will strive – as I pray you will strive – to be more like Jesus.
Paul loved Epaphroditus, and told the Philippians that God had mercy on Epaphroditus and him, because God granted him mercy and spared him from death by this illness, and God also spared Paul the great sorrow it would have been to lose his brother.
So, for the good of the church in Philippi – for the good of their hearts – that they should have their pastor back, safe and sound with them, that they might rejoice and give thanks to God for his return and for his restored health – for his ministry to Paul – Paul said he was going to send him back to them now – possibly he even carried the letter to the Philippians back with him to the church.
And Paul gives them instruction – not only how to receive Epaphroditus – but all pastors – all ministers of Word and Sacrament. Paul tells them to receive men who are called to the ministry with joy and with honor.
We ought to receive ministers – pastors – with joy when they bring the Word of God to us. What more joyful thing is there to have the Word of God delivered to us by a messenger that God has chosen for this purpose? God has given us the Holy Spirit to help us understand the Word of God and to live it out in obedience, and He has also given us faithful pastors to help us understand through the reading and preaching of the Word that we would live it out in obedience. We may be joyful in seeing and being with a specific pastor, but the greater joy is hearing him deliver the Word of God to us. Our joy is in hearing from God, and only secondarily from any man.
And we ought to receive faithful pastors with honor. And again, this is due to the fact that God has called them to preach God’s Word to us. The call to the ministry is a strict one – one for which all those who accept the call will receive a greater judgment.
Don’t misunderstand – ministers – pastors – are sinners, just like everyone else, but they have been given a heavier call in the sense that, if they are faithful, they are speaking for God.
Consider, if the President was to write us a letter, and he sent one of his officials to read the letter to us and greet us in his name, we would honor the message-bearer for the message he bears and for the person whom he represents. The messenger would – effectively – be speaking for the President – delivering his message. So, we would honor him as the one who brings the message from the President. We may know nothing more about him – but because he brings us word from the President, he is worthy of honor. The messenger ought to have a real humility about him, since the message is not his, but the President’s – the honor and joy he receives is due to the word he has to bring from the President.
The same is true of pastors – and all the more so, because their message, when faithfully delivered, is from God. And so, they should exhibit a Christ-like humility, knowing that it is not they that cause us to rejoice and honor them, per se, but the Word of God and the God of the Word, Who is behind the faithful pastor.
Paul continues by saying they should especially honor and rejoice in seeing Epaphroditus again because he almost died “complet[ing] what was lacking in [their] service to [Paul].”
Don’t think that Paul is insulting the Philippians! What this phrase means is that Epaphroditus completed the work that the Philippian church had promised Paul on their behalf because it was not feasible that they should all come to Rome to deliver their gift and to tend to his needs.
And so, we have the example of these two guys and how they were striving to live unto Christ-likeness: Timothy, a faithful pastor and comrade of Paul, who was genuinely concerned about his fellow Christians and sought to minister to them for the sake of the Gospel. And Epaphroditus, a faithful pastor, who came from the church in Philippi to minister to Paul and bring him a gift from the church and almost died, yet who thought the advancement of the Gospel worth more than his life, and yearned for the good of his flock.
Let us emulate people like this – seeking the advance of the Gospel as we minister to each other, genuinely caring for each other, working together that the One Salvation of Jesus Christ would be known, and let us advance the Gospel as we show our care for the pastors that God has given us for the sake that they are appointed by God to bring the Word of God to us.
And may we all continue to seek to be like Christ in His humility in all that God has given us to do, but especially in the advance of the Gospel to the whole Creation.
May God give us the grace to grow in these ways.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, it is hard for us to be so humble as to truly consider the needs of the whole Church and all Christians throughout the world. We ask that You would help us to love each other and seek each other’s good – to work together to proclaim Your Gospel. Help us to look out past ourselves at other Christians and truly care. Help us to see You in the lives of these two guys and other Christians that we would be inspired to strive to be more like You. Revive us, O Lord; may we be a joy to You. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.