Examples of Service (Phil. 2:19-30)

Publié le 9 mai 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Nicolas Maalouf

In the previous passage we saw that what motivates us to obey God is neither a reward nor the fear of punishment. You may remember Samuel’s illustration with a carrot and a stick to make a donkey move. Conversely, we have seen that it is God himself who is the engine of our obedience: « For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. » (Phil.2:13)

We also saw that the joy of obedience was to shine in the world to reflect the character of our loving God and rejoice with other Christians as the Gospel progresses not only in our lives, but also in theirs. And this is exactly the joy that characterizes Paul in his letter, he is joyful not only at the progress of the Gospel in his life and in those of his co-workers, but also in the lives of his brothers and sisters far away, in Philippi.

I will apply the main ideas developed last week to see how this mechanism is embodied in the lives of two disciples: Timothy and Epaphroditus. They are two examples of people who were serving the gospel. We will therefore see why and how these two men can drive us to obey and serve the same Gospel, that is to follow an example greater than theirs or Paul’s: the ultimate example of Jesus Christ, the Lord himself.

I – How is Timothy an example of a servant?

a) Timothy puts Christ’s before his own

The first important point is in the first verse of the passage (v19), Paul says: “If the Lord Jesus is willing…” That means Paul bases his plans on the Lord, in particular the plan to send Timothy to the Philippians. We can rightly think he is praying and trusting the Lord for his project. Paul begins the sentence in this way to also show that his hope is not based on his own interests. He will not force things in this direction even if he thinks he is right. He’s going to let God do his work in Timothy.

Example: You may have already prayed for a situation to unlock, and tried to take action to make things change, and in spite of that, the situation has never unlocked. Conversely, you may have prayed for a complex situation, and not have done anything about it; you might even have put your concern aside for a while, and some time later, when you were no longer thinking about it, you may have heard that the situation had been resolved. You laugh a little bit at the thought, and you are thankful to the Lord for that.

In both cases, you have prayed, but in both cases, it is God who reigns and who acts according to his will, and so you conclude that God’s logic is above yours. You may even conclude like me that it is useful to pray, but that you are not the center of the universe, and that God has his own time, his own will, his own interests, and even a knowledge that I do not have. And all this drives me to trust him even when I don’t understand everything.

Paul’s trust in the Lord is an example that Timothy and Epaphroditus imitated. We usually praise leaders, but Timothy and Epaphroditus are two followers. Yet they are great examples, and we’ll see why.

Like Paul, Timothy does not seek his own interests but those of Jesus Christ.

vv20-21: “I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ.” It must be understood here that Paul is not saying that there is no one apart from him and Timothy concerned about Jesus Christ. In fact, in the first chapter of the letter, Paul clearly mentions that there were other co-worders of the gospel. But here, what the apostle Paul wants to say is that he and Timothy are the only two in Rome to extend their concern and prayers on behalf of the Christians in Philippi. They are united together for the cause of the Gospel, and from this cause they are also united to serve the Christians who are far away in the city of Philippi.

Remember that Timothy had already been to Philippi when he joined Paul on his second missionary trip, which we can read in the book of Acts. Moreover, in Acts 16:1, we know that Timothy had a Jewish background through his mother and a Greek one through his father. That’s why he was not circumcised, but because of the pressure exerted by the Jews and also because he didn’t want to hinder Paul’s evangelistic plan, he had to be circumcised.

b) Timothy is a faithful servant in trials

Have you ever been with a group of people, like your family, convinced that there was something good to do. Deep down you know that something will benefit the whole group. Perhaps, going for a walk after a lengthy family meal when tempers flare. You have this flash of genius to offer a short 15-minute walk around the block. You are convinced that will bring peace to your whole family, so you are expecting to hear a unanimous approval. Yet when you tell those in the group, you get a mixed reaction, nobody really listens to you, everyone keeps talking; and the tension is still there, and no-one is motivated.

It is that kind of feeling Paul had, except that in the letter we are studying, there is no mention of a 15-minute walk that supposedly calms tempers but does not have much impact altogether. What raises concern here is faith that leads to salvation in Jesus Christ. This has a crucial impact because it raises the issue of eternal life and peace with God. Despite the considerable challenge, there are no other ones like Paul and Timothy concerned about the Christians in the city of Philippi.

Timothy has shown his faithfulness on several occasions: first in the city of Philippi in Acts 16, then in the city of Thessaloniki (Acts 17.5), then in the city of Corinth, Acts 18.4-6: “Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike. And after Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul spent all his time preaching the word. He testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.”

Timothy was fully involved in the progress of the gospel, which exposed him to such trials, along with Paul and Silas.

If you serve the Gospel, there is one sad observation you may have already made or that you may have to make: to realize that you are alone, or that there are very few people, concerned with the progress of the Gospel. Yet Paul continues to rejoice, and does not become bitter. The Gospel is his ultimate source of joy and enables him to bounce back from trial to trial without being totally overcome by adversity. And he sees in Timothy someone faithful who has a similar concern for the Philippians. Here is a quick overview showing that Timothy is a faithful servant in the trials of faith, and that he is an example for us today.

c) Timothy is described as a child with his father (v 22)

What are the characteristics of a good relationship between a child and his father? For example:

If the father is exemplary, the child will find it easy to admire what his father does.

If he is a loving father, the child will love his father in return.

If the father is just, the child will feel reassured when his father corrects him.

If the father is filled with grace, the child will find it easy to confide his weaknesses and regret his sins without being afraid of being rejected.

If the father serves a good cause, the child will want to imitate him to serve that good cause.

All these things are probably part of the relationship between Paul and Timothy, because we know that Paul’s character meets all these criteria. But in verse 22, if Paul uses the analogy of the Father and the child to qualify his relationship with Timothy, it is to outline two essential things:

1. Timothy was tested

2. How? By dedicating himself to serving the Gospel with Paul

I remember when I was 11, and my sister was 9, she found a transparent stone, very pretty. She wondered if it was a diamond and wanted to find out. She might have seen in a movie that genuine diamonds could scratch glass windows to the point of breaking them. So since she was convinced she had a valuable diamond in her hands, she tried to trace a circle on the velux roof window of her bedroom.

My sister was testing the stone to reveal its qualities and its true value. Unfortunately for my parents, in this story the stone was not a diamond, and the roof window was eventually decorated with a nice circular crack.

Coming back to Timothy, testing is a way of revealing one’s qualities in the service for the gospel. Had he not tested him, Paul could not have seen Timothy as a man of faith, able to teach the gospel, as he would later write in his other letters. And without trials, Timothy might not have grown so strong in his trust in God.

We can consider that the trial of faith, even if it is difficult, is good for strengthening our faith. This reminds me of a passage in Deuteronomy 8: 2: “Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.”

This is a passage that has greatly encouraged me to stand firm in faith despite trials. And here we can see that this word is embodied in the trials that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus have experienced.

Timothy is also like a son, because having worked alongside with Paul on various missionary journeys, he was able to learn a lot from him. This week I have read an article from a family of farmers who live in the Gers department. In this article, the father says: “I immediately liked farming and I went for it. Today, I do not regret it. My sons Killian and Mattis fell in love with it too.”

… and further on the son adds:

« Honestly, it’s easy to work with dad: he trusts me and lets me take responsibility, and all decisions are taken on a collegial basis. »

I have nothing to add, this story showcases that the work between a father and his son can be joyful. So just imagine how much meaning and joy a collaborative relationship lived in the interests of Jesus Christ can bring to Paul and Timothy!

To finish with the example of Timothy, we know that he is trustworthy. This idea is supported by the fact that Paul takes him with him on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 16). Later, Paul even wrote two letters to Timothy in which he would not hesitate to encourage him to stand in faith in Christ. This faith that he received and that he could now pass on to others. If Paul were with us this morning, he would not hesitate to recommend that Timothy go and encourage the brothers and sisters in need, across the country or across the world.

II – How Epaphroditus is an example of a servant

a) He was sent to Paul’s service

First, what is known about Epaphroditus is that he was a brother sent by the Philippians to serve Paul in his needs. (v25: “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.”)

He was therefore sensitive and full of compassion for Paul as he obeyed the mission order that the church in Philip gave him.

Reading v30, we even know that Epaphroditus served as a substitute because the Christians in Philippi were far from Paul and could no longer help him as they usually did. That’s why they sent Epaphroditus to Paul.

We must remember that a trip then was much more time and energy consuming than today, it was clearly a sacrifice to embark on such distant trips. The city of Philippi and the city of Rome are located 1300km apart when part of the journey is by sea, or else 1900km apart when the journey is exclusively by land.

In addition, Epaphroditus does not do it for the purpose of tourism, but as a service for his companion held captive in Rome. He also goes there to give news of the church in Philippi.

b) He receives affection from Paul

Another point to underline: the words used by Paul to qualify Epaphroditus, v25: “a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier”. We can fee that there is tender affection between the two men, which also reflects their unity of heart for Jesus. We rarely talk to one another like that today, but we can at least ask the Lord to always fill us with similar tender affection for our brothers and sisters in the faith.

c) Exemplary behavior in the trial of illness

In addition to this it is written that Epaphroditus became ill. We do not have any details, but we do know that he was very ill. It is written that “he almost died”. (v27). What is astonishing and what should encourage us is that despite his condition, his thoughts were still turned towards his brothers and sisters in the faith (v26): “he was very distressed that you heard he was ill.”

I truly admire his behavior. I have health issues myself and when I have bouts of illness when everything seems blurry and oppressing, I rarely manage to worry about others. I tend to only focus on myself.

So I can’t help wonder: Was Epaphroditus a superhuman to have such character? Was he a great disciple as there is no more today?

I do not think so. I just think that Epaphroditus is a good example of someone who puts the interests of others before their own. If Epaphroditus, without being a great disciple, still managed to reflect such character, I also think that he was good example. He was himself inspired by other examples. Paul was an example for Epaphroditus as well as Timothy. Before Paul and Timothy, Jesus behaved in the same way, giving his life for us, dying for the forgiveness of our faults. This is the ultimate example of a suffering servant: he who was righteous died unjustly so that the guilty would be declared righteous before God. Epaphroditus surely had this reassuring thought in mind to endure his sufferings while he continued to encourage Paul and the Philippians.

To conclude and even if we have already seen it, I share with you the text that Paul wrote, and which was like a hymn for Paul and his 2 companions in their fight:

Philippians 2: 4-11: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

I leave you with a more concrete encouragement that comes from today’s text: if you want to stand firm in your faith in Jesus, surround yourself with people who are also models of obedience and of faith in Jesus, having a character that conforms to that of Jesus Christ, looking to the interests of others before their owns. And it also works the other way around: you too can be an encouraging disciple for your community, imitating the attitude of Jesus in your trials, bowing your hearts before him, and casting your eyes on your brothers and sisters around you, and even beyond the borders of France. For example, you can try to learn more about far away missionaries that our church supports, and then begin to pray for them.

And I hope that God always be our source of motivation, and that, like him, we desire the gospel to progress all over the world, because our ultimate example is in Jesus Christ.