We live in a world that is often characterized by selfishness. Because of this it is always refreshing when we encounter a person who is selfless. The person who is considerate, hospitable, and there to recognize and meet the simplest of needs in the moment. The person who has no problem going last, yielding to others, or serving in secret. The person who truly celebrates our successes and helps us move quickly past our failures. The person who is not easily offended and has no need to win the debate. The person who is thoroughly convinced that it is better to give than to receive. The person who listens when we speak and sits with us in the midst of our pain. The person who is familiar with laughter, contentment, sacrifice and grace. These are the people that startle us with their selflessness. In Philippians 2:19-30 Paul recognizes the same.
In these verses Paul, writing from a prison cell in Rome, continues to call those in the church in Philippi to humble themselves as Christ did. In this way they will live in unity and reflect the light of Christ to the dark world around them.
Paul first gave Christ as the ultimate example of humility. Now he continues by giving two other examples. Join me as we read Philippians 2:19-24.
19 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.
Paul starts out stating that his hope is in the Lord Jesus. Paul does not describe Jesus as, the son of a carpenter, or Jesus of Nazareth, or even Jesus the good teacher, but Lord Jesus.
In that day, many, especially in Philippi, were committed to Caesar as Lord, who had ultimate power and who demanded complete allegiance from all who lived in the Roman Empire, but in this phrase Paul is proclaiming that it is Jesus who has his full allegiance. It is Jesus who is Lord over all.
As we look at today´s text Lordship is where we must begin. Can we join with Paul in his belief that Jesus is sovereign Lord over all, and over our lives as well? If Christ is not the Lord of our lives we will always struggle in the Christian life. Every truth in scripture or every call to obedience will be up for debate because we have not yet confirmed Jesus as Lord. The work of the Spirit will be hindered on every front if our allegiance is not yet to Christ. Although increasing Lordship is the path of the Christian life, even in our moments of disobedience may we never forget our place in relation to Lord Jesus. May we bow our hearts in confession and repentance and allow Him to continue to work out His Lordship over our lives.
Lordship is another case of the now and the not yet. As Christians, Christ is positionally the Lord of our lives. We are His. We have been bought with a price. At the same time we struggle allowing Him to be the Lord of our lives in every situation. It is an ongoing process of Christ becoming the functional Lord in more and more areas of our lives.
The sovereign Lordship of Christ is the basis of Paul´s hope. In today´s world we put our hope in many things; money, job, education, ability, experience, government, but we are not ultimately in control of every factor, our best promise can be nothing more than a probability.
We can´t control car accidents, heart attacks, train workers going on strike, an economic crisis, or even the weather. We must realize that the only true hope we have in this world is Lord Jesus.
It is Paul´s hope that, “God willing”, he would be able to send Timothy to visit the church in Philippi soon. Paul had given Jesus as the first example of humility and now he gave two more. Timothy was the first example of humility that Paul presented in these verses.
It is likely that Paul met Timothy on Paul´s first missionary journey when Timothy was in his late teens or early twenties. We know from scripture that Timothy was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother. He had been taught the Jewish scriptures from childhood and this had prepared him to receive the gospel that Paul preached (2 Timothy 3:15). His faith was preceded by the faith of his mother and grandmother. Even at this young age Timothy´s faith had been nurtured, had matured and had been noticed by the elders of the church. Timothy joined Paul on later missionary journeys.
In verse 20 Paul told how there was, “no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for their welfare.” In contrast to others, Timothy´s own interests had been set aside and he now lived for the interests of Christ.
Timothy had matured in his faith from self-centered to Christ-centered. The parallel is drawn with the previous verse. To be genuinely concerned for the welfare of others was seen as an extension of seeking the interests of Christ. That is what we see happening in Timothy´s life. As he nurtured the seed of Christ that lived within him it brought a harvest of love for others around him.
Paul tells how Timothy had proven his worth and like a son with a father had served with Paul in the gospel.
William Barclay, in his commentary on Philippians 2:19-24 gives this precious description of Timothy.
Paul could speak of him as his child in the Lord (1Cor.4:17). He was with Paul in Philippi (Ac.16); he was with him in Thessalonica and Berea (Ac.17:1-14); he was with him in Corinth and in Ephesus (Ac.18:5; Ac.19:21-22); and he was with him in prison in Rome (Col. 1:1; Php. 1:1). He was associated with Paul in the writing of no fewer than five of his letters--1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians and Philippians; and when Paul wrote to Rome Timothy was joined with him in sending greetings (Rom.16:21).
Timothy's great use was that, whenever Paul wished for information from some Church or wished to send advice or encouragement or rebuke and could not go himself, it was he whom he sent. So, Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (1Th. 3:6); to Corinth (1Cor.4:17; 1Cor.16:10-11); to Philippi. In the end Timothy, too, was a prisoner for Christ's sake (Heb.13:23).
Timothy's great value was that he was always willing to go anywhere; and in his hands a message was as safe as if Paul had delivered it himself. Others might be consumed with selfish ambition; but Timothy's one desire was to serve Paul and Jesus Christ. He is the patron saint of all those who are quite content with the second place, so long as they can serve.
Paul´s hope was to send Timothy to Philippi soon. Paul also hoped to be able to go to Philippi as well. Paul then turned his attention to Epaphroditus as another example of humility.
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.
We need to remember that the Apostle Paul wrote these words from a prison in Rome.
In that time in history, if you were in a Roman prison, your needs were not met by the prison system. You were dependent on friends or family to meet your most basic needs. Paul was a Roman citizen, so his house arrest was likely better than a dungeon where a slave might have been, but nonetheless he still was dependent on others to meet his daily needs such as food and essential care.
The church in Philippi had heard of Paul’s needs and had responded by gathering their money and sending it to Paul. It was delivered by this man named Epaphroditus. He was from the church in Philippi and he had traveled over 750 miles to bring the financial support for Paul and to update Paul on the condition of the church in Philippi. With the transportation of their day and the terrain that he would have traversed, the trip would have taken over a month.
Paul used several words to describe Epaphroditus; brother, worker, soldier, messenger, and minister to my need. Epaphroditus had come and served Paul, almost to the point of death but God had mercy on him and spared his life. Even now, instead of worrying about himself, Epaphroditus was concerned for those back home who were “worried sick” about him.
This is Paul’s next example of humility. Epaphroditus was the physical expression of the Philippian church’s love and concern for Paul. He, like Timothy, and like Christ, had put the needs of others before his own. He had been willing to serve God, by serving Paul, even to the point of possible death.
It is worth noting that Epaphroditus’ name had a pagan origin. It literally meant “belonging to Aphrodite.” Aphrodite was an ancient Greek godd
ess. Because of his name, it is very likely that Epaphroditus had come from a pagan background and now had been transformed by the gospel. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” That had truly happened in the life of Epaphroditus.
The Philippians would rejoice in seeing that Epaphroditus was well, and Paul was making sure they would be even more joyful once they heard of Epaphroditus’ faithfulness in carrying out his assignment. Epaphroditus had risked his life in delivering the money to Paul and serving Paul in prison.
This phrase “risked his life,” paraboleuesthai, was a gambling term. It communicated risking or betting it all.
In the times of the Early Church there was a group of men and women called the Parabolani. It meant “the Gamblers.” They were Christians who were committed to caring for the sick and burying the dead, especially if the disease or cause of death was contagious.
One example was in Carthage, in A.D. 252. Pontius, the deacon, described the panic that seized the people:
"There broke out a dreadful plague, as the excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in turn among the trembling population. Every day numberless people were suddenly attacked and died in their own homes. Everyone was shuddering, running away, trying to avoid the contagion, even wickedly exposing their own dear ones, as if by pushing out the person who was dying of the plague they could keep death out of the house. No one thought of anything except his own selfish interest. No one helped anyone else the way they would have wanted for themselves. Over the whole city lay not just the bodies of the dead, but the rotting carcasses no one had the courage to take away."
In response to the desperate need “Cyprian, a bishop in Carthage, spoke to “the people assembled together in one place,” urging “the benefits of mercy,” and that “there was nothing wonderful in our cherishing our own people only with the needed attentions of love,… [that the Christian] overcoming evil with good, and showing mercy like the divine mercy, loved even his enemies, [and] would pray for the salvation of those that persecute him, as the Lord admonishes and exhorts.” God sends sunshine and showers not only to His own people, said Cyprian, but to all. Should not the children of the Father do the same? And so they did. It is likely that some of the Christians themselves contracted the plague and died. But the work went on. No one in Carthage had ever seen anything like this outreach of compassion, caring for people who cared nothing for them, and in some cases for their persecutors. Cyprian had transformed the church from a community of the suffering into a band of helpers, a “convoy of hope.” It showed the world what true Christianity is like, and it must have attracted many to the faith as the church grew in the coming years.”
Following the example of Christ, and Paul, Epaphroditus, too, had risked his life and gambled it all, on behalf of others.
In this second chapter of Philippians, we now have seen the humble examples of Christ, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Let´s take a moment to look back through what we have read.
- Do nothing from selfish ambition.
- Count others more significant than yourselves.
- Look out for the interests of others.
- Empty oneself, by taking the form of a servant.
- Humble oneself by becoming obedient.
- Genuinely be concerned for the welfare of others.
- Seek the interests of Christ.
- Be willing to sacrifice and risk for the good of others.
Over and again we see this idea of serving the needs of others. But how can we break away from the selfishness that seeks to lord over our lives?
We first must understand the truth. As Christians, selfishness is no longer necessary. In the beginning mankind and God were bound together. Adam and Eve had needs but they walked closely with God, and in Him all their needs were met. It was perfect.
In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned against God, that relationship was broken. Sin now separated mankind from God. God was now out of reach and mankind was now forced to meet their own needs. Mankind had gone from a life of abundance to now a life of scarcity. They had gone from a life of holiness to now a life of sinfulness.
Those are the two powers that bind one to selfishness. The desperation to meet one´s own needs, and an inner fallen nature that enslaves one to sin. But in Christ, both of those have been broken.
All who have turned from their sin and believed in Jesus Christ have been reconciled to God. . . the One who meets our needs. It´s like the street child who is finally adopted and never again will go hungry. It´s the lamb who got lost and is finally found by the Good Shepherd. With him the lamb will be able to lie down in the green pastures, be led beside the still waters, and will restore his soul. He will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. His rod and his staff will comfort him. The safety of the lamb is found in the restored relationship and nearness to the Shepherd. The desperation, the life of scarcity, is finished.
There is no longer a need to hoard, compete, impress, misrepresent, lie, gossip, cheat, covet, or bear false witness. Our needs have been met in Christ. He is our Provider, our Defender, our Stronghold, our Savior. He is our Advocate, our Bridegroom, our Deliverer, our Great High Priest, our Hope. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel, God with us, who will never leave us or forsake us.
We now live a life of abundance where Philippians 4:19 is our confidence, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
As our needs are met in Christ Jesus we no longer have to scavenge to survive. Others are no longer the enemy. Our needs are now met in Christ so we can genuinely care about the welfare of others.
In addition to this, our sinful heart has been made new. Christ now lives in us. As we draw near to Him and experience the extravagance of His love, the natural result will be to share His love with others. That is a spiritual fact. The fuller we are of Christ the more it will overflow to others. As we abide in Him, our lives will bear much fruit (John 15:5).
At times it is difficult to break free from selfishness even though it is no longer necessary. It has become a habit, a way of life. We have become slaves to our selfishness, or have we?
It is like the circus who receives a new baby elephant. They drive a six-foot-long, iron bar, deep into the ground. They connect a metal chain to it and fasten it to the leg of the baby elephant. The baby elephant then spends several days pulling on that metal chain to get free, but it never works. It is a hopeless situation. Now fast-forward ten years. The elephant is now enormous but still connected to a bar and a chain. He no longer pulls to gain his freedom. Based on his experience as a baby elephant he believes that freedom is impossible. Because of this he no longer pulls on the bar and the chain which he could easily escape from.
Selfishness is like that as well. We have grown so used to serving our own interests first that we think there is no other way. If we don’t look out for “number one” who will? But in Christ our needs are met, so we now are free to look out for the interests of others.
Some will ask, “so we care for others and don’t care for ourselves”? That is a good question. One good way of thinking about it is like the oxygen mask on an airplane. On an airplane the instructions will be given to, in case of emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your children. At first that sounds selfish, but when you think about it, it makes sense. If the parent does not first take care of themselves they will be of no help to anyone else and they and the children will perish. But if they take a moment to care for themselves then they will be prepared to live selflessly for the sake of their children.
In this we find balance. As Christians, whose hope is in Jesus, we must abide in Him, walk in obedience, live in a healthy and responsible manner, but as we do then we are ready and able to focus on the needs of others.
Our needs are now met in Christ and we have been freed from our nature of sin and selfishness. As we hold on to Him we can risk reaching out to help others.
This is not a call for blind benevolence, or letting others take advantage of us. It is a call for service and sacrifice that comes out of a heart that is continually being filled by the love of God. It is a risk that can be taken because God is our safety net and our firm foundation. God calls us to empty ourselves as He takes full responsibility for keeping us full of what we need most.
People are difficult. Love them anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Being honest and real will make you vulnerable. Be honest and real anyway.
You worked hard to earn the money that you have. Give some away anyway.
If you help someone others may demand the same. Help anyway.
People may hurt you. Invest in them anyway.
When you are cursed . . . Bless anyway.
Some people may want to be your enemy. Love them anyway.
You may be afraid of what you coworker may think. Share Christ’s love with them anyway.
The situation may seem hopeless. Pray anyway.
When you are persecuted . . . Stand firm anyway.
When you want to take the credit . . . Give God the glory anyway.