Today we conclude our journey into the book of Philippians. We lay it down on this last weekend of August as we prepare to move on from summer to fall.
This has been quite an interesting study. It is hard to believe that one small letter, turned into a book of the New Testament, could be so filled with instructive and inspiration. But many of us have found that to be the case.
Last week we looked at Paul’s appreciation for the young man Timothy and his unselfish behavior on Paul’s behalf. Today we finish by reading the final verses of Philippians 2. Let us begin with verse 25:
“Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. 26 I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. 27 And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.
28 So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you. 29 Welcome him with Christian love[f] and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. 30 For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.” Philippians 2:25-30 NLT
The Philippian church knew fellowship. They understood it to be far more than an ice cream social or a church bean dinner. They understood and were drawn together because they shared a common cause. They were driven by a spiritual quest that they all believed in.
The Greek word for fellowship occurs six times in this tiny book of the Bible. It is rendered as “partnership” twice, “partakers” once, “participants” once, and “share” twice. Each usage emphasizes a different aspect of the fellowship they had with each other.
Philippians 1:5 “Partnership in the gospel”
Philippians 1:7 “Partakers of grace.”
Philippians 2:1 “Participation in the Spirit”
Philippians 3:10 “Share in Christ’s suffering”
Philippians 4:14-15 “Share my trouble; partnership with me in giving”
The church at Philippi had taken an offering to support Paul and his ministry. They had sent one of their young men on the 800 mile trek to Rome to pay for Paul’s prison expenses and minister to his needs. This was very important because unlike our current prison systems in America, the Roman system did not provide food, clothing or medical care!
His name was Epaphroditus and he was entrusted with a considerable sum of money and sent to Paul in Rome. He would not have been traveling alone because Paul had established a policy found in 2 Corinthians 8:16-22:
“But thank God! He has given Titus the same enthusiasm for you that I have. Titus welcomed our request that he visit you again. In fact, he himself was very eager to go and see you. We are also sending another brother with Titus. All the churches praise him as a preacher of the Good News. He was appointed by the churches to accompany us as we take the offering to Jerusalem -- a service that glorifies the Lord and shows our eagerness to help. We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. We are also sending with them another of our brothers. . .”
Most people believe that when Epaphroditus fell ill that at least one of his traveling companions would have returned home to report the news. This caused Paul to worry about the church and their concern. In a touching moment of compassion for a church 800 miles away and overlooking his own threat of death, Paul send Epaphroditus back home.
From this short look at Epaphroditus and his life there are four Christfollowing characteristics that emerge. That is what we are going to look at today.
Paul described him this way:
He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need.
Outside of the Roman army and a few political organizations the idea of brotherhood was an idea introduced by the message preached by Jesus Christ. He was and is about us being in relationship with God first and then each other. This “fellowship” is supposed to be a deep bond that promotes unity and caring for one another.
For the most part the Roman world was sharply divided between slaves and free men, Greeks and Romans, Jews and Gentiles, and citizens and soldiers.
We must stop and ask ourselves do we practice the idea of truly being brothers and sisters in Christ? This is always an interesting question and sometimes people really struggle with this. Sometimes in a church context or and other organizations for that matter one can get lost in the crowd. It is one of the reasons that we promote and push people to belong to a small group.
Even in a church our size, it is impossible for you or myself even to know everybody and everything about them. I try hard personally to know as many people in the church as I can but it is a never ending effort.
We all long to belong to a family. For some, they may have lots of family members in the area but for others of us we find the relationship of having brothers and sister close within the context of our church. Everyone needs family.
The day before Thanksgiving an elderly man in Phoenix called his son in New York and said to him, "I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; 45 years of misery is enough. We’re sick of each other, and so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her." Frantic, the son called his sister, who exploded on the phone. "Like heck they’re getting divorced," she shouted, "I’ll take care of this." She called Phoenix immediately, and said to her father. "You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?" The man hung up his phone and turned to his wife. "Okay, honey. The kids are coming for Thanksgiving and paying for their flights."
The idea of being brothers and sisters in the Bible is demonstrated throughout the New Testament. No where is the concept that we are all equal in God’s sight demonstrated more than in Ephesians 2:
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. Ephesians 2:11-14 NLT
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. 1 Peter 3:8-9
This will control our tongues and our actions and reactions.
Churches need to have healthy work ethics. There could be a case made that there are many churches that have ceased working. In Revelation 2 God is handing out performance reviews for several churches and He addresses the church at Ephesus this way:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Revelation 2:2-4
There are three ways we should be working together:
The church needs people who will think! The church needs people who will engage the Bible in their daily lives and allow it to logically guide what they do. We need people who will study, teach, and write about what is going on around us from a biblical world view. Much of the nonsense that goes on in churches is largely due to the fact that people fall into ruts of the same behavior and it is easier to keep doing the same things even though they don’t work anymore than use our brains to think and reason a better more effective way to do God’s work.
I pray for God to give people with brains that aren’t afraid to surrender them to God and let Him use them.
We are to be working together socially:
We have historical context for this both in the words of Jesus and in church history. Jesus plainly teaches in the Bible that we are to care for the “least of these.” People who are struggling with the difficulties of life.
If this kind of thing is important to Christ and I think it is, we are living in the right time and the right place.
In the May 2008, Evangelical Manifesto these words are included:
“We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation. We believe it is our calling to be good stewards of all God has entrusted to our care so that it may be passed on to generations yet to be born.”
Those are some well scripted and sculptured words but let me put it in the form of some questions for us to answer today.
• Who among us is going to love those who have given themselves over to addictions of one kind or another and need the light of Jesus Christ shone in their dark world?
• Who among us is going to love those who are struggling against the world of poverty and trying to make it from day to day?
• Who among us is going to care for mothers who are having babies without the benefits of a loving father and a home to raise their children in?
• Who among us will care for those who are sick and need some one to visit them? Or those who are grieving and need someone to care for them as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death?
• Who among us will care for women who are considering ending the life of their unborn child because there are no Christfollowers there to assist them to have the courage and support to bring their children into this world?
• Who among us will see the needs of children in our community and find ways to work with those in education to make up for the inability or unwillingness of parents to help their children learn the basics of reading and the basics of education?
• Who among us will care for the kids in our community who are being abused and neglected?
• Who among us will feel the call to start and lead something that will reach out to the marginalized and maligned in our communities?
We should do these things because Jesus emphasized how important they are and called us to be His body on this earth.
There is yet another way we should be co-workers:
c. Evangelism: Teaching others about Christ
Working with others we can make a difference in these areas. We should never forget that our main goal above everything else is to bring people to faith in Christ.
All of these things we do as a church or as individuals Christfollowers are done with one bottom line goal and that is we do what we do so that others may come to Christ and develop a growing relationship with Him.
We are in some of the most critical days for our church in recent history. I will have more to say about it next weekend but it is time for some people to start stepping up for the right reasons.
You can sit and soak it up every week or you can soak it up and serve it back to others every week. Which one do you think is a more biblical model?
Epaphroditus was labeled by Paul as having two more distinct qualities that I want to draw your attention to today.
3. Fellow Soldier
Shoulder to shoulder fighting is what made the Roman Army such a success. We too are in a battle between good and evil, right and wrong and we also fight against forces that are from another world.
In Ephesians 6 we are encouraged to put on the full armor of God which includes, truth, God’s righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Spirit and the Word. The reason that is given for this descriptive imagery is found in verse 12:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against spirits in heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
We are called to engage in the battle for the lives and souls of those around us who are being influenced by those who dictate to our culture what and who we should be. We can make a difference if we learn to work together and stand together.
We are called to minister. We are called to be the body of Christ on this earth.
There is no way that you can be a Christfollower and not be engaged in ministry for Him and yet all across this Country and probably in other countries as well there are churches filled with a mighty army of humanity that sit but never serve.
Our churches are full of folks who will wave their hands toward heaven in worship but miss the point that we worship Him with our lives and our hands are best engaged in doing something.
Our churches and ministries are struggling because there are so many people unemployed within its walls.
Do you know that just last week there were thirty three preschoolers at Williams street during second service and only one adult and one youth worker?
I am calling you out today in the spirit of everything we have been learning this summer from the words of Paul to the church at Philippi.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. . .
Do you know why Paul included these words about Timothy and Paul in this letter? He was praising their willingness to sacrifice their own interest for the sake of others. Paul practiced this kind of Christfollowing himself. He was deserted by all but these two young men. He was in prison not knowing whether he was going to live or die but not once do you get a whiff of self pity. He is concerned about a church 800 miles away. He is concerned that they are worried about a young man sent on a mission and he sends him back early to relieve their fears and anxieties.
This is the kind of Christian that Paul was and the kind of people we are called to be. I would rather pastor and lead a church of 100 Christfollowers with servant hearts than 10,000 folks who show up and look good on a Sunday morning or a Saturday evening.
Jesus laid aside His glory and became obedient to His own death on the cross. He emptied Himself of everything except the Father’s will.
In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “The cross is laid on every Christian. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death–we give over our lives to death. The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Counterfit bills are never made in odd denominations($3 or $8 or $12) but are meant to imitate the real thing. At first glance they seem real, you may have passed them along without knowing it. But there is always something bogus about them, some blur or omition, something that doesn’t exactly correspond to real money. Phony Christians may fool many people: go right places, hang with right crowds, say the right things(John says they say ’I know Him’) but their experience is that of an unchanged life. Unchanged on the inside(Lack a desire to surrender before the Lord). Paul says, ’they profess to know God but by their deed they deny Him’. SPURGEON: An unchanged life is the sign of an uncleansed heart’.
In the forward of his book, Inside Out, Larry Crabb writes this:
“Modern Christianity, in dramatic reversal of its biblical form, promises to relieve the pain of living in a fallen world. The message, whether it’s from fundamentalists requiring us to live by a favored set of rules or from charismatics urging deeper surrender to the Spirit’s power, is too often the same: The promise of bliss is for NOW! Complete satisfaction can be ours this side of heaven.....
We are told, sometimes explicitly but more often by example, that it’s simply not necessary to feel the impact of family tensions, frightening possibilities, or discouraging news.
[We are told that] life may have its rough spots, but the reality of Christ’s presence and blessing can so thrill our soul that pain is virtually unfelt. It simply isn’t necessary to wrestle with internal struggle and disorder. Just trust, surrender, persevere, obey. “The effect of such teaching,” continues Crabb, “is to blunt the painful reality of what it’s like to live as part of an imperfect, and sometimes evil, community. We learn to pretend that we feel now what we cannot feel until Heaven. But not all of us are good at playing the game. Those whose integrity makes such pretense difficult sometimes worry over their apparent lack of faith. “Why don’t I feel as happy and together as others? Something must be wrong with my spiritual life.” To make matters worse, these people of integrity often appear less mature and their lives less inviting than folks more skilled at denial. And churches tend to reward their members who more convincingly create the illusion of intactness by parading them as examples of what every Christian should be. [But] beneath the surface of everyone’s life, especially the more mature, is an ache that will not go away. It can be ignored, disguised, mislabeled, or submerged by a torrent of activity, but it will not disappear. And for good reason. We were designed to enjoy a better world than this. And until that better world comes along, we will groan for what we do not have. An aching soul is evidence not of neurosis or spiritual immaturity, but of realism.