Philippians 2:19-30 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 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, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 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. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Good morning. If you have a Bible, let’s open to the book of Philippians. If you don’t have a Bible, we have some on the back shelf.
Compared to the last several weeks, this text looks much different. As you hear this, does it seem out of place? Paul gives some details about a few people and says he’s sending them to Philippi. Nice for them, but what does that possibly have to do with us? Especially after such a rich, well-known passage we looked at over the last three weeks?
Over the last three weeks in Philippians we have been showered with glorious truths about the gospel. It probably feels like we are going too fast and there is just too much to cover and focus on. It’s a large section filled with a lot of theology and several commands.
We can’t miss the gospel of grace that is at every step, but with all of the huge ideas and commands Paul has laid out, it can feel daunting. There is a lot to absorb and try to obey. Maybe it’s not the weekly gut-punch of exposing your sin that Hosea was, but if you’ve been here every week, it might feel like you need to catch your breath. And I think this sermon might serve us in that way today.
With all that Paul has said in the previous chapters, there’s a risk that it sounds abstract or impossible. We have the model of Jesus, but he isn’t physically here to show us humility. Sure, Paul was a real human, but maybe you don’t’ easily relate to an apostle. He was specially chosen by God, he was well-trained and traveled the world planting churches, writing letters. How can we identify with Jesus or Paul?
Another risk is that all of the theology we’ve heard remains in our brains. If this is only an academic or intellectual exercise, we’ve missed it. If it only puffs us up in knowledge, but our lives don’t result in actual change, how will the world see our light? James says ‘be doers of the word and not hearers only’. The gospel has to travel from our heads, to our hearts and to our hands where it comes out in action.
This is where our passage finds us this week. In God’s grace, he gives us tangible examples to follow, both to the Philippians, and also in our current church setting. If the last three weeks have been the theology to believe, this week we will look at two examples of how thinking like Christ works its way out in application.
The main point of the sermon is faith applied in self-denying, life-risking examples.
What I want to do in this sermon is first set the context of what Paul is describing. Why is Paul wanting to send people to the Philippians?
So we’ll answer that question and then look at the ways that Timothy and Epaphroditus are examples of Christ. And I think, and have prayed that Timothy and Epaphroditus would help us appreciate God’s goodness in giving us examples. God gives us tangible examples of his gospel to better understand and appreciate the things unseen.
Would you pray that would be the case? Pray with me that we would see this passage properly and not glorify these men, but give glory to the God who they served and who gives us tangible examples of Grace.
Prayer: Heavenly Father we thank you for gathering us here this morning. We rejoice at the birth of Beckham and thank you for keeping Chloe and the baby safe. Help them recover quickly and help us encourage them in the work of making disciples in their family.
God, thank you for your church. Thank you that the church is your plan to make disciples of all nations. It is gloriously inefficient, and yet in your sovereignty it is exactly as efficient as you intended. Help us to be a church that makes disciples, and sends others out to complete the mission around the world. Help us partner with other churches that value the gospel in Minnesota, in the US and around the world. I ask that even in more practical things like a business meeting we would honor your name today.
Lord, I also thank you for your word. All of it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. Even passages that at first glance seem trivial or lacking deep theological truth. That’s how I entered this week, wrestling to see the glory of this text. Please help us see Jesus in and behind the passage. He is our great shepherd, the perfect suffering servant and the ultimate missionary. We need your Spirit to understand, believe and respond to the gospel. May that happen today. I thank you for this means of grace that we call preaching. Help us to believe that you will speak to us through a broken and sinful man. We pray and ask these things desiring that you would be pleased with our worship and we trust that you will answer our prayers. Amen.
Why is Paul sending friends?
As I mentioned at the start, we are finishing up on a big section that began in verse 27 of chapter 1 through our text. After a long section that instructs us how to live in light of Christ’s humble life and glorious exaltation, Paul returns to his personal update to the Philippians that he began in chapter 1:12-26. There we looked at the ways that the gospel was advancing despite Paul’s chains. While he hoped to see his beloved church soon, he was unable in his current setting where he awaited trial.
In Paul’s absence he did not leave the Philippians on their own. While he did encourage them to obey much more in his absence, he still hoped to check in personally on their progress and joy in the faith. He mentions his desire to see them in chapter one and again here in our text in verse 24.
During Paul’s imprisonment he describes his plan to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to the church. Why is sending them? Paul hopes to receive a report hearing how the Philippians are growing in their faith and standing firm in the gospel. That would encourage both Paul and the church.
A cheerful report
Phil. 2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
In this passage we see two of Paul’s fellow workers who helped the gospel advance. Paul’s ministry involved planting churches throughout Asia and Europe and then move on to new places to preach the gospel. One of the ways he continued the work of discipleship in his existing churches was to send his workers to the various churches. They would often carry letters from Paul, encourage and exhort and also report back to Paul.
Acts 20:4 gives a list of several men who traveled with Paul and are later mentioned in the various churches that Paul and other apostles were connected to. There was a considerable network of partners who helped the apostles: Men like Gaius, Tychicus, Aristarchus, and Timothy. Names like these might seem like footnotes at the end of different letters in the Bible, but they are mentioned because of their work in the gospel. They all likely served to provide reports to Paul or John or other apostles.
In the case of Timothy, Paul mentions him several times in his writings and in two places describes the purpose of getting reports through Timothy. At the Corinthian church, Paul had to address some serious doctrinal and behavioral issues. And he sent Timothy to hear how they were responding to Paul’s teachings.
1Cor. 4:16 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.
We see Timothy serve Paul by checking in at Corinth and then delivering a report back to Paul. Then in First Thessalonians we again see Timothy providing an update for Paul.
1Th. 3:6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us,
And based on Timothy’s update, it was an encouragement to Paul in his current setting.
7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.
This is the kind of update Paul was planning to get if he sent Timothy to Philippi. That it would encourage Paul while in prison. Unlike other churches like Corinth, Paul anticipated that the Philippians would be obeying in his absence. He hoped for a cheerful update. He loved these people. Remember his opening prayer in chapter 1 where he is tripping over himself with thanksgiving and joy at remembering the Philippians. Paul had confidence that if he got an update on the Philippian church, it would be a good report.
Beyond Paul’s own encouragement, he also intended his partners to be an encouragement to the Philippian church.
28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
Paul hopes to encourage the Philippians through his partners, but he also sees benefit for himself. Do you notice the end of verse 28? So that he may be less anxious.
As I said before, It might be tempting to see Paul as an apostle who always has the Sunday school answer ready. He has his head in the clouds and is only saying positive things. There goes Paul, always finding joy under every rock. But this passage reveals a weak, suffering Paul. He is in prison, his future is unknown and out of his control. And here he speaks of being anxious. The thought of Epaphroditus dying would have meant sorrow upon sorrow for Paul. Paul is very human in Philippians. Hopefully it’s easier to relate to Paul and better appreciate what he says in his circumstances.
One other quick note on the background of this passage. Notice that Paul says he hopes to send timothy, but is sending Epaphroditus. As Paul’s close companion, there might have been a greater honor for the Philippians to see Timothy. But because Paul is apparently waiting for his trial, he wants to wait and hopefully both Paul and Timothy can return to Philippi. Which would be even better.
As we turn to look at the two examples we have of applying the gospel, I want to make sure we don’t miss the main point of any passage in scripture. Jesus says in Luke 24 and other places that all of scripture is about him. As we look at ways that God has provided elders, deacons and missionaries, we can’t forget that Jesus is our perfect example of all of these roles. He is our Great Shepherd. He is the ultimate suffering servant. And he is the missionary who crossed the greatest distance to bring the good news to a people who otherwise wouldn’t know.
God has graciously given us examples in scripture and in our churches to follow. They are human just like us. But we get models as tangible expressions of God’s grace. So we don’t celebrate Paul, Timothy or Epaphroditus. We don’t do that, because verse 19-30 are connected to everything else in the book. They are connected to the glorious passage on Christ’s humility in 5-8. They are connected to the call to work out your salvation with fear and trembling in verse 12. And these verses are connected to chapter 1 where Paul calls the Philippians partakers of grace. In light of all of that, and the gospel they reveal, we use the human examples in our text this morning as ways to appreciate the gospel. We don’t follow these men in order to be saved, but to see how someone who is saved lives out their faith.
Background on Timothy
Phil. 2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
Timothy was one of Paul’s most trusted partners in his ministry. He is listed as the coauthor of Philippians, as well as several of Paul’s other letters. Acts 16 describes some of Timothy’s background. He was raised by his grandmother and mother who were of Jewish background. They believed in the gospel and taught Timothy about the faith. In addition, Acts says that his father was gentile. Similar to Paul, Timothy’s background provided insight into both the Jewish and Gentile worlds which was an advantage as he traveled with Paul. Met Paul in Lystra and joined him on his travels. Almost immediately Timothy was thrown into the deep end of the pool with Paul. He saw Paul and Silas arrested at Philippi. He saw Paul face opposition to the gospel. He saw riots as a result of Paul’s preaching. He witnessed Paul’s sufferings and ministry to the churches. He also witnessed conversions and the power of the gospel to dramatically change people. Out of these experiences and his own faith in the gospel, he became a valuable partner in ministry to Paul and the early church.
He was a worker for Paul who would travel to the various churches, encourage the saints and then report back to Paul. He traveled to Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus and others. Later he was sent to the church of Ephesus to care for the people there as an elder. He applied the gospel by shepherding the flock at Ephesus just as Paul had instructed him.
One of the ways that Timothy applied the gospel is in verses 20 and 21: he was genuinely interested in other’s wellbeing.
20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Does the language in these verse sound familiar? It is an echo of verses 3 and 4.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
It’s the same thing Paul commands the church to do in light of the gospel and now we see Timothy as the example of this attitude. Timothy looked after the interests of others. Which Paul equates to seeking the interests of Christ.
Paul had experienced this firsthand from Timothy. Timothy was one of the partners who ministered to Paul while in prison. Being in chains would be extremely difficult, but having a close friend remain with you had to be incredibly comforting to Paul.
One of the applications that Timothy provides is a model for church leadership, especially elders. Philippians 1:1 shows us that the letter was addressed to the church, including the overseers. Overseers is another word the Bible uses for elders. Paul emphasizes how Timothy’s desire to seek the interest of others is fundamental to the work of the elder.
Elders are called to seek the interests of others by shepherding the flock without compulsion. I can speak for Kyle, Dave and Matt, that it is a joy to shepherd you all. We work to know, lead, feed, and protect you all, because we are interested in your progress and joy in the faith. We desire to see the fruit that Paul prayed for in chapter 1.
At a personal level, what are the ways we can genuinely seek the interests of others? There are lots of ways, but how about literally caring for others as a response to what Christ has done for us?
Husbands, wives, future husbands and future wives, can you picture your spouse unable to do anything? What would that cost you personally to care for him or her? Your hobbies or interests-even godly interests, would be curbed.
Maybe for some of you it’s not your spouse you’ll have to care for by seeking their interests, but a disabled child. Or an aging parent. Know that when you care for someone in this way, it will reduce the time to spend on your own interests. Much of your time and priorities will be dictated to you. And yet it will display the gospel to the world around you. And when you seek the interests of Christ, God sees it.
Another way that Timothy is an example of the gospel is in his worthy character.
22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
Timothy’s character has been proved worthy during his travels with Paul. As we saw earlier, he was in the trench with Paul. The Philippian church knew timothy and had seen his godly track record. Notice also how Paul considers him as a son in their ministry. It was a close relationship where Paul trained Timothy and they served together.
Eventually timothy will become an elder at the church in Ephesus with the challenge of cleaning up the church and protecting from false teachings. His proven character was vital for that setting. Living lives worthy of the gospel means having our hearts and hands match our minds. We live in a way that shows we believe the gospel. As elders we are called to model this godly character for the church.
The dominant theme in the qualifications for elder are based on their character. Elders must be able to teach, and protect church doctrine, but the bulk of the qualifications in the Bible center around character. If you lack worthy character, you can not effectively teach or care for others.
Beyond elders, the call to worthy character must show up in all of our lives. What a contradiction it would be to celebrate the theological truths we’ve heard over the last three weeks and then blow up at one of your kids during the week. Or grumble at work. Or to leave the Bible on your shelf instead of holding fast to it. If our lives don’t match what we profess, it will give a confusing message to the outside world.
Let’s look at the second example of the gospel applied.
Background on Epaphroditus
Phil. 2:25 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,
We don’t know as much about Epaphroditus as we do about Timothy. But what Paul describes of him in this section is revealing. The only other mention of him in the Bible is in chapter 4 of Philippians.
Philippians 4:18 I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
What is apparent is that Epaphroditus had brought a monetary gift from the Philippians to Paul. This is what Paul means when he says in verse 30 that he completed what was lacking. It is also most likely that he was the one to deliver this letter back to the church.
Paul gives Epaphroditus several titles and they all point to something in his character that made him such a valuable gospel partner. The first three titles work together to describe not only their common faith, as brothers, but their common goal as partners in the gospel. And further, Epaphroditus was viewed like a soldier. Someone willing to risk his life for the sake of the cause.
Ephaphroditus was also the messenger for the Philippians. He was the one who represented the church by delivering this gift to Paul. And now he will turn around and bring Paul’s letter back to the Philippian church.
The last title is minister to my needs. Epaphroditus came, but then remained with Paul in order to care for Paul, along with Timothy. We can clearly see the godly character of Epaphroditus that is wrapped up in these titles, but there is something even bigger that we see in Epaphroditus. He risked his life for the gospel.
27 Indeed he was ill, near to death.
30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Here we see the similarity with Jesus’ own life and example. He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:8
Risk means “to expose oneself willingly to a danger”.
There are lots of ways to live a risky life. You could have a dangerous hobby like motorcycling or basejumping. Riding a bull is pretty risky. You could do risky things like shoot off fireworks in your garage, but that would just be boneheaded. Of course the reason for living dangerously matters. Epaphroditus and other messengers like him willingly put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of Christ. There were opponents of Paul who had followed him from town to town trying to arrest or even kill Paul. It would have to be dangerous to be a worker related to Paul. But Epaphroditus was willing to enter into dangerous territory to ensure that Paul would receive the gift of support. Even if he died, he was willingly to risk it, because it was important that this job was completed.
How about going somewhere like the Himalayas? it is dangerous no matter the reason. To take a dangerous hike for no other reason than pleasure or personal accomplishment is risky, but lacks an ultimate purpose. Contrast that with a family of missionaries who takes that same dangerous hike in order to reach unreached tribes with the gospel is doubly risky. It’s just as treacherous of a hike, but they will also face hostility from these tribes. But people who understand the gospel and know what Christ has done on their behalf, will respond by applying the gospel in their lives.
1 John 3:16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
The timing of us being in this passage sets up so well with our Panama trip. I’m not clever enough to have planned this out ahead of time. Look at the parallels to what we have just looked at in this passage:
We have our long-term partners in the gospel, the Pineault family. They have seen the gospel as glorious and worth risking their lives for Christ so that others would hear and believe. They are missionaries like Paul working hard to bring the gospel to people who have not heard it.
Next week 12 people from Grace will head down to Panama to support the Pineaults. they will bring supplies, money, and the ability to help with whatever the family needs. Here we have our examples like Timothy and Epaphroditus.
And we as a church play the role of the Philippian church. We have the chance to give generously to support our team, and also the construction of the casitas. We have the chance to pray daily for our team and the work they will do. We are, in fact, partners in the gospel. We can’t all go, but we do all have a way to apply to glorious news about Christ to complete the mission.
If you are here today and don’t believe in the gospel, this probably makes no sense to you. Why would I give up something that brings me comfort or satisfaction, like my own life, for the sake of something else? What incentive do I have to give money to people halfway around the world? Why would I want to entrust my life to other people for them to tell me what to do?
It’s because you do not yet have the mind of Jesus. Sin has blinded you to desire the things of God. We are all born blind in sin. And we nearly died. We deserve death, but God had mercy on us.
In God’s goodness, he sent his only son to seek not his own interests but the interests of others. He sought the glory of his Father, he sought the salvation of his people. And he became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. And now he sits in glory next to the Father. And for all who believe will receive the blessings of eternal life: forgiveness of sins, fellowship with Christ, and experiencing glorious community with the other saints.