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Philippians 2:19-30: Real-Life Examples of Christ-Like Service Print E-mail
Sunday, 27 July 2008

If you have ever had to prepare a resume, then you know the importance of getting good recommendations.  They are often an important part of job applications.  In adopting Isaiah, Glenna and I had to get people to write letters of recommendation for us to give to our agency.  Those were pretty important letters in the process.  We tried to find people who would obviously say good things about us (hopefully, without lying of course).  One of the ways that the adoption agency judged our character and fitness to parent was by these letters.  Granted, this was not the only way, but it was an important one.  We wanted good recommendation letters from good people.  You have probably wanted the same thing at some point in your life.

So, then, let me ask you this: how would it be to get a recommendation letter from the Apostle Paul?  I will say it this way, if he were available to write one for us we would have surely took him up on it.  At various times in Paul’s letters, he includes sections of ‘recommendation.’  In fact, the whole letter of Philemon could be considered a ‘recommendation letter’ for Onesimus, a former slave who had been converted under Paul’s ministry.  Thus, Paul often includes these sections in his letters to recommend certain people to others.

In our passage this morning, we see Paul recommending two faithful servants of Christ: Timothy and Epaphroditus.  This section is important because it teaches us that Paul was real and the people he ministered to was real and the folks who worked with him were real.  They were real people in real situations following a real Savior.  And setting for us a real example of Christ-like service.  We often look for real-life examples in the wrong places: athletes, actors, wealthy people, etc.  Yet, the Bible provides for us some real-life people, whose faith and service we should emulate.  Thus, I want us to look at these two examples of Christ-like service more closely this morning.  I want to identify four common characteristics from the passage that they share and that we should follow.

Christ-like service seeks the interests of others.

Paul has been talking about the importance of this characteristic since the beginning of chapter 2.  The greatest example is of course Christ coming in the flesh and dying on the cross for our sins, even as we read from the Gospel of John and have been singing about all morning.  Paul urges the Philippians to emulate His example and we see this in Timothy and Epaphroditius.  How do we see this in them?

Timothy will be concerned with the welfare of the Philippians.  Look at verses 19-21.  There is no one else that Paul could send at this point who will serve them and look out for their interests like Timothy.  His concern is genuine and not like those who seek their own interests.  Timothy seeks the interests of Christ, which is the good of others and particularly in this situation, the good of the Philippians.  Paul is confident that when he comes, he will serve them selfishly.  He is an example of one who counts others as more significant than himself and looks to their interests (see 2:3-4).  Such service is indeed Christ-like and worthy of our emulation.

Epaphroditus looked after Paul and was concerned for the Philippians as well.  Look at verses 25-26.  The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul to deliver their gift for him and to look after him.  Thus, Epaphroditus had been looking after Paul apparently while he was in prison.  Not only that, but Paul tells us that he was also concerned about the Philippians because he knew that they would be worried about him since they had gotten news that he was sick.  In other words, Epaphroditus did not want them to worry about him, even though Paul tells us that his sickness had brought him close to death.  Again, he is good example of putting others interests ahead of his own.

Christ-like service gives all for the gospel.

Christ-like service is not just social ministry or meeting people’s physical needs.  This is an important part of Chris-like service and one we should not neglect, but if we fail to keep the gospel our focus then we can never minister to their greatest need.  Paul knew this and was therefore grateful for Timothy’s service with me in the gospel.  Look at verse 22.  Timothy was like a son to Paul in ministry.  Paul trained him and taught him and Timothy learned the ministry well.  He became a faithful minister of the gospel under Paul.  Paul is thankful for such service.

Epaphroditus actually risked his life for the gospel.  Look at verses 29-30.  Paul tells us that Epaphroditus became deathly ill during his service (v. 27).  Yet, apparently that was not enough to stop him.  He had been sent by the Philippians to minister to Paul so that the preaching of the gospel could continue in Rome and he was willing to risk his life to fulfill his mission.  And make no mistake about it, the risk was real.  We are not told of the specifics, but Paul tells us twice that he was close to death in his service (v. 27 and 30).  The Philippians wanted to serve Paul but they could not because they were not in Rome.  So then sent Epaphroditius to complete what was lacking in their service, and he was faithful to that commission, even risking his life to complete it. 

Are we willing to take such risks for the gospel?  Are we willing to go to the hard neighborhoods?  Are we willing to minister to those with aids or other terrible diseases?  Are we willing to send our children to places that are not open to the gospel?  We must begin by admitting that safety is an allusion, a mirage.  Thus, since we cannot control what tomorrow brings, or who will answer the next door, or where our kids will serve, why not be willing to take radical risks for the gospel when given the opportunity?  Epaphroditus was.  Are you?  Am I?  Before we move on, I should probably note that such radical risk makes our fear of sharing the gospel with our neighbors or co-workers or family seem pretty silly.  God grant us grace and faith to be radical risk takers for the gospel.

Christ-like service is done by those with proven character.

Timothy had proven worth.  Look at verse 22.  The Philippians knew Timothy and they knew that he was a faithful servant of Christ.  He was not some upstart looking for recognition.  He was not a part-time follower of Christ, mostly just following when someone would notice.  No he had proven character.  Does this mean that we cannot serve until we have proven character?  No, it means that we need to take the long view of becoming a Christ-like servant.  We need to repent of doing it half-way, or half-hearted, or half anything.  We need to start right now serving Christ and others with everything that we are.  By God’s grace, we can build proven worth and be Christ-like servants to a needy world.

Epahroditus was Paul’s fellow brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier.  Look at verse 25 again.  Epahroditus came along side of Paul and worked side by side with him.  Apparently, even though he had numerous reasons to give up or want to do something else, he continued in faithful service to Paul and the gospel.  This is how we can develop proven character.  Normally, such character is not built on ease and comfort.  No, it is built in the difficult times of life.  It is built when following Christ is hard and leads to suffering or persecution.  It is built in moments when we have nothing to cling to but Jesus.  I know that it is often hard to see our way ahead in those times.  Yet, I pray that we would have faith to believe that God is building character through our suffering.  And my hope is that such a thought would give us strength to persevere and even rejoice at the privilege of suffering for the gospel and pointing others to Christ our treasure.

Christ-like service receives love from the people of God.

This may not be what you would expect me to say.  Yet, as I was thinking about what Paul is doing here I kept coming back to the fact that he is describing why he loves and can recommend Timothy and Epaphroditus.  He loves these guys and is thankful for their service.  He is writing to the Philippians to let them know that they too should be thankful for their service.  In fact, he says as much in verses 27-29.  Look at those with me.  The reason that Paul saw God’s sparing of Epaphroditus’ life as mercy to him is because he loved him.  Paul confesses that his death would have led him to great sorrow, even sorrow upon sorrow.  Paul loved him and was thankful for his service.  He goes on to say that the Philippians should feel the same way. He tells them that they should receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men.  Paul expects them to love and honor the faithful service of Epaphroditus. 

For the record, Paul is not saying that we should place such men on a pedestal as if they are not sinners like the rest of us.  No, he is saying that their service should be honored.  The people of God should recognize and honor those who serve them well.  We do not always do a very good job at this.  We either honor men for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way or we do not honor them at all.  Rather, may we be able to recognize true Christ-like service and honor such men in a way that gives all glory to Christ.

Thus, Timothy and Epaphroditus are two real-life examples of Christ-like service.  They count others as more significant than themselves.  They give all for the gospel.  They are men of character and men who should be honored in a God exalting way.  They are men whose service we should seek to emulate. 

Of course, we should ask the obvious question at this point, namely why should we follow their example?  Why should we seek to be Christ-like servants?  Because, as Paul has already told us, Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (2:6-8). 

We should serve because He first served us.  We should humble ourselves because He so graciously humbled Himself and died on a cross for our sins.  He is more than worthy of such service and risk and serving.  The love He showed us at the cross demands our all.  As we come to the table this morning, may we remember how Christ served us at Calvary so that by His grace we might leave this place committed to spending our lives out in Christ-like service to others.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 06 August 2008 )

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