This sermon is number 15 in a series of 24
Philippians - Part 15
"Paul's Christ-Like Friends"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now do turn with me to Philippians chapter 2, and let me say that it would be great if some of you took notes these Lord's Day mornings - now I know it's not possible for everybody to do that, I know it's hard to take your eyes off me at times! But it would be great, because I know that I can't contain everything that I tell you, and I've been studying it all week, and I don't expect you to be able to contain it either. It would be good for you to take certain things down, and maybe go home and meditate upon them, or even get the tape to borrow afterwards and look over these messages again, because there is so much important truth that we can very easily miss.
What I want to bring to you this morning is 'Paul's Christ-like Friends'. This chapter is tremendous to us, because at times we really get taken away by the condescension of our Lord, and the great Christological aspect of how the Lord Jesus came from heaven and left His glory aside, and came to this earth in the form of a servant, and took upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh. But we often miss how Paul applied this great truth, and he's done it so far for us and he's doing it again by giving us two examples of two of his friends who he considers as Christ-like. I want you to just look at verses 18 and 19: "For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me. But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state". Then verse 25: "Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants".
It was John Dunne (sp?), the poet, that said: 'No man is an island', and even Paul the apostle himself, we might see him as a very independent character within the New Testament, he was not so independent that he didn't need or cherish very close friends. As you casually read through specifically Paul's epistles you find figures in it like Priscilla and Aquila, Silas and Barnabas, Tychicus and Trophimus, Onesiphorus and Epaphroditus, Timothy, Titus, Luke, and we could even say Mark, who stand out as familiar friends of the great apostle. They weren't just acquaintances or fellow workers with him, but he often describes them in very intimate and affectionate terms. The glimpses we often get of them show us that personally to Paul they were invaluable, and they were of great value to his ministry in the Gospel and his missionary journeys.
But what I want you to see specifically this morning is that where we find these two people mentioned, Timothy and Epaphroditus, it's in this passage that has been describing the condescension and humility of the Lord Jesus Christ that ought to be found within His followers. Verse 5: 'Let this mind', or this attitude, or this disposition, 'be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus'. What Paul is doing for us is, he's saying: 'This attitude, this disposition of humility and Christlikeness, can be seen and personified in my two friends Timothy and Epaphroditus. They are ordinary believers like you in Philippi, they're just ordinary 5'8" people; like James said, like Elijah who was a man of like passions as we are; they are not some sub-human, super-spiritual creations of God - half-angel, half-man - but they're ordinary men like you. They actually personify and encapsulate everything that I've been trying to teach you concerning the humility of the Lord Jesus that ought to be in you as believers'. I think that's tremendous, isn't it?
As Thomas Brooks, the 17th-century puritan, said: 'Example is the most powerful rhetoric'. It would be alright if Paul stopped at verse 16 or so, and talked about these lights that we ought to be in humanity lighting a dark world, talking about how the Lord Jesus Christ came from glory, left so much aside in His humility, and commanded us to be humble, but he gave us no examples that really appeal to us. But example is the most powerful rhetoric in the sense that Paul doesn't just stop at this teaching, but he gives examples of people who are just like us, who are able to live this kind of life. I think perhaps the single most important aspect of Christian leadership is to have a godly life for others to emulate. It's alright being able to stand up and pontificate and preach if there's not a godly life - and I believe that that's where power is lacking often in many ministries, and sadly I have to look introspectively at myself and conclude the same.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon heard George Mueller preaching on one occasion, and he said that he had never heard a more simple message than that which George Mueller preached. He said it could be delivered to the boys and girls as a children's lesson, there was nothing profound or extraordinary in it except for one thing: George Mueller was in it - his life was the backdrop to his message. People knew that what he said was true because they could see it in his own life being personified and lived, and the weight of what he said was the fact that what he said was backed up by the life that he lived.
Some might say reading this passage: 'Well, it's alright talking about the humility of the Lord Jesus Christ, or even the apostle Paul; but the Lord Jesus was sinless, wasn't He? I'm not sinless. The apostle Paul was chosen of God, one of the twelve, he was the apostle to the Gentiles, he was a very special man given unique powers at times - but I'm not like Paul, I'm not an apostle, I haven't been given the abilities that Paul has been given'. Friends, Paul gives two examples of ordinary men who are able to live this life of humility. Guy King, the commentator, said: 'They're a couple of fine specimens for us'. So I want us to look at them, these men who are Christ's-ones - not only by name, but by nature. The label they wore corresponds to the substance that was found in the bottle - they are the real thing, through and through.
Now the reason we know this is because Paul cites three things that show their deep humility and sacrificial life for Christ. Here they are: one, they were ready to go anywhere. Both Timothy and Epaphroditus were ready to go anywhere. Two: they were ready to help anyone; and three: they were ready to sacrifice anything. Now put yourself in the position for just a moment this morning, imagine if God planned to send you to some dark pagan corner of the globe, to some unreached tribe and people who'd never heard the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, but He was sending you to be a light in their pagan darkness and heathenism - would you go? Imagine if God called you to Siberia, not to the Caribbean, but to Siberia? Or if God called you, better, to Iraq - would you go? Well, God was calling these men, and they went. Like Henry Martyn, on the eve of his departure for the dark mission field, they said: 'I go to burn out for God, I am prepared to go anywhere, I'm ready to help anyone, and I'm prepared to sacrifice anything'. I wonder would we be prepared to do that if it was God's will for us? Any time, anywhere, anything for God.
Now if you go right throughout the whole of the Old and New Testament, you will find that those three rich characteristics are found in all of God's greatest servants. Remember when God came to Moses, and said: 'Moses, Moses', from that burning bush - and of course Moses went through a lot of argumentation and excuse-making with God, but at the end of it all the word of God declares: 'And Moses went' - Moses went! Where did he go? Moses went back to Egypt, the place that he had come from 40 years previously, in fact the place that he had ran from for his life - but he was prepared to go anywhere at any time for God, no matter what it cost. As we read of Elijah, it says of him: 'And Elijah went', where does it say Elijah went? He went to cruel Ahab to meet him, the King of Israel, who had been seeking out Elijah because his preaching was getting on his nerves, and it was causing problems among the court and the nation - yet when God told Elijah to go to the tyrant that was seeking his blood, Elijah went!
Go into the New Testament, we read: 'And Ananias went', where did Ananias go? Paul had been converted on the road to Damascus, Acts chapter 9, he goes into a little home - he's blinded because of the light he saw, and he's praying. Ananias is given a direction, a revelation from God to go and to heal Paul the apostle and give him his sight back. And Ananias begins to argue with God, it's as if he's saying - if I could paraphrase it, maybe I'm stepping over the line here, but this is the way I feel he's saying it: 'Lord, do You not know who this man is? He's been persecuting the church. If I go to Paul, it's like putting my head in the mouth of the lion'. But after all his disputing and argument with God, it says: 'And Ananias went'.
Some of you will be familiar with the writings of F. B. Meyer, well F. B. Meyer preached right into his eighties. When he was at the age of 82 he said in one of his sermons: 'I have only one ambition, to be God's errand-boy'. One ambition, to be God's errand-boy - to go anywhere at any time with any cost! Do you remember when Gabriel came to Zacharias in the Nativity story in Luke chapter 1 verse 19, what he said of himself? He was sent from God: 'I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent...' - and that is the Master's plan and purpose not only for angels, but that was His plan and project for His disciples. In Mark 3:14 it says: 'And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them to preach the Gospel'. The angels are at the disposal of the Lord, the disciples were meant to be at disposal of Jesus Christ, and the question we are asking ourselves today as we look at the life of Timothy and Epaphroditus: are we at God's disposal to go anywhere at any time, and to sacrifice anything and to help anyone?
Well Paul, of course, is an example in himself - in verses 17 and 18 he says: 'Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you'. Another translation puts it like this: 'I have been offered as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith'. It was as if Paul had poured out his life upon the Philippians as a libation, a sacrificial costly offering. He was willing to be a constant sacrifice to God for the cause and aims of Christ. Do you know what that's telling us right away? It's telling us that sacrifice and not self-indulgence is the basis for all achievement. You can go to secular companies and businesses today and you'll find on some of their desks and on their walls as mottos: 'No gain without pain'; yet for some reason when we move from the secular into the spiritual realm we think that everything comes to us by grace, therefore - wrong conclusion - we don't need to do anything, endure anything, or experience pain to achieve anything! What a fatal mistake that is, because this is especially true in the spiritual realm: that sacrifice, not self-indulgence, but sacrifice is the basis of all achievement. I'm not talking about things that happen accidentally in your life, when something overtakes you that you've had no control over, and you think: 'Well, I did that, and I endured and experienced that for Christ' - this is not what Paul is talking about. He says: 'I have poured', he is active, he is voluntary in it, 'I have decided, and with my volition I have poured out my life as a choice and as a purpose upon you'.
I think this is often where we fall. This is not something accidental, but this is a choice that we make in the decisions of our life. I wonder who of us, given the choice, would choose to suffer; would choose ill-health over good health; would choose pain over peace; would choose legitimate anxiety over tranquillity - well, this was the experience of Paul, and we see it in 1 Corinthians 9 where he says: 'I buffet my body and bring it into subjection'. He chose through his disciplines, through his habits and everyday purposes, to pour out his life for God and for Christ. Now what's interesting in verses 3 and 4, if we think of what we have been learning in recent weeks, is that Paul is actively doing what he has told the Philippians to do when he compliments Timothy and Epaphroditus. Verse 3: 'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves'. This is what he's doing with Timothy and Epaphroditus, he's talking about them, he's setting them up as an example not himself. 'Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others' - and he's now talking about what they did, what they achieved.
Let's look at these two characters for a moment: Timothy - I've called Timothy the sincere and selfless helper. If you're familiar with the New Testament you know that Timothy was a very close friend of the apostle Paul, in fact Paul says that it was akin to the relationship between a father and a son. In fact he greeted him on many occasions: 'To Timothy, my true son in the faith'. You see Timothy was converted through the apostle Paul, and not long after his conversion he became a companion with Paul on his missionary journeys and his personal helper. Paul would know Timothy's help right to the very end, therefore Paul could say: 'I have no man likeminded who will naturally care for your state'. Timothy, you see, was a man who was ready to go anywhere, to help anyone, and sacrifice anything to obey the word of God.
There's two things I want you to note from this passage about Timothy: one, he was a helper. I don't know whether you've experienced this, but it's not easy to take second place. Spurgeon said: 'It takes more grace than I can tell to play the second fiddle well'. It is true, and I think it takes as much grace if not more to be a helper than to be a leader. We would consider also that some people help other people for what they can get out of it, that's often the motivation - and they're only helping in a lower esteemed job or occupation because they're looking to greater things, they're wanting to climb the ladder and to aspire to a higher position. But it's an entirely different thing to take second place, and to devote your life as a servant to another man's aspirations, another man's goals and plans and purposes, and resign and refute any of your own.
Of course this goes totally against the grain to everything that we are taught in our society today and even in schools. 'Look after number one, aspire for the best for ourselves' - in fact the philosophy of the age is no different to what it was in Paul's age, where he said: 'All seek their own'. Timothy is different: 'He didn't look after just number one, but he poured his life out also like an offering; and he was ready to go anywhere when I commanded him according to the word of God, to help anyone, and to sacrifice anything - and I know this because he did it for me, and he didn't do it to aspire for a position or to get something out of it, he just did it for God!'. That's tremendous, isn't it? When we consider the Sermon on the Mount that we looked at in great depth not so long ago, the hypocrites that are found in the Pharisees were hypocrites because they did what they did - praying, fasting, giving alms, and so on - to be seen of men, to get the praise of men. You see, you can even do good things with the motivation to be seen of men - but the Lord Jesus said that that is not the spirit of the New Testament, but rather the Lord said in Matthew 25: 'He that is greatest among you is the one who serves'. That is the spirit of the New Testament. Timothy was the epitome of that spirit: he was a helper to Paul, not for what he could get out of Paul, not for the status that he could get by associating with Paul, but just for help's sake, for love's sake, for Christ's sake he did it.
Guy King in his commentary tells of a story where a man called Sir Bartel Freery (sp?) returned from India. When he returned a train was sent to the village station to bring him to his home, and when the footman wanted to know who this Sir Bartel Freery was - he was new to the job - he asked his mother, 'How will I recognise your son?'. His old mother said: 'Look out for somebody helping someone else'. Sure enough, the footman, when the train arrived from London, the footman observed a gentleman assisting an old lady to the platform, and then jumping in and out of the carriage to fetch her luggage. Going straight up to the man, the footman said: 'Mr Freery?'. He said: 'Yes'. Isn't that a lovely reputation to have? Look out for someone who's helping somebody else - you see, that's what Timothy did, because that's the spirit of the New Testament, in fact that's the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you remember when He was on the cross dying for your sins and mine, that those who mocked Him and blasphemed Him came by Him and said: 'He saved others' - what a reputation! But they went further: 'He saved others, Himself He cannot save' - but they got the emphasis wrong: 'He saved others, Himself He would not save'!
Timothy was a helper, but look secondly: Timothy was unselfish as a helper. Verse 21 says: 'For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's'. Even back then in Paul's day the ministry was used to further selfish ends. The sincere shepherd that we find in the word of God is the one who works for the flock because he loves the flock, and he desires the good of the flock. We see in Timothy something like this, it was more than simply loyalty to the apostle Paul through a human friendship, it was more than loyalty and esteem for a political or religious leader, it wasn't even just zeal for a cause, but it was love for the souls whom he was working among. Paul said: 'He takes a genuine interest', verse 20, 'in your welfare, he naturally cares for your state'. He's not shoving it on, it's a fruit of the Spirit to love and to care for other people.
You see, what Paul is saying here is that Timothy is an unselfish servant because the spirit of Christ is in him. What you see here in Timothy is the heart of the Master in His own minister. He is pitying the flock, he sympathises with the flock, he enters into their very needs and conditions that they're going through because he's caring for them as Christ would care for them. A true servant of Christ is one who helps and helps unselfishly. Turn with me quickly to 2 Corinthians chapter 12, this can be seen in the apostle Paul, verse 14: 'Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not your's but you', now that's not so good a translation in a sense. What it really says is this: 'What I want is not your possessions, but you. I'm not coming to be a sponge and to drain the people of God', as so many servants of God seem to want to do even in this day as they did in Paul's day, 'I'm coming not to get possessions from you, but I'm coming because I want you, I love you'. That is the mark of a true helper, a true shepherd, and the opposite of that is what the Lord Jesus called a 'hireling', a man who's only filling the position of a shepherd to get out of that what he can - a wage.
So we see in Timothy that, while others in Paul's day were serving their own interests - their ease, their comfort, they were trying to establish a reputation as a preacher or some kind of Pastor - Timothy was concerned with the things of Jesus Christ. Some scholars, I'm not to sure about how ill Timothy was, but some scholars believe that he was delicately made up - he was of a weak constitution. I think some make him a bit weaker than he really was, but nevertheless whatever his handicaps were he was the most dependable man that the apostle Paul could have! Now I'll tell you, I wouldn't like to have been keeping up with the apostle Paul! But Timothy, with whatever his ailments were and problems, he was dependable. Really what I'm asking ourselves and myself this morning is this: how many things do we give up for the Lord Jesus Christ? Do we give up any of our comforts for Christ? Do we ever run to defend our own reputation? Do we ever look after our own interests? As a result we lose the larger things of Jesus Christ, and we start seeking our own things rather than His things.
Timothy, the sincere selfless helper. Let's look quickly at Epaphroditus, I've called him the sacrificial friend. The story of Epaphroditus is unique. He was probably a church leader in Philippi, and the church sent him to Rome to minister to Paul in prison. When Epaphroditus heard of the awful sufferings of the apostle Paul he made more strenuous exertions to find him and to minister to his needs. Some would say he went too far, and through violent over exertion he became dangerously ill. He was so unselfish, Paul tells us here in this passage, that he took special pains to conceal his sickness from his friends in Philippi lest they should become anxious about him as well as worrying about the apostle Paul in prison. When he found out that they had found out about his illness, verse 26 says he became distressed. Yet we read that God miraculously and graciously healed him and restored him to health and strength, and spared the grief, the pain to pain, the sorrow to sorrow that the apostle would have felt at the death of this servant of his.
Now, what can we learn from Epaphroditus? Three things: he served - like Timothy, verse 25: 'Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered', served, 'my wants'. Now I'm sure that this man, probably an elder within the church at Philippi, was undoubtedly able to preach, to teach, to do great things - but he was prepared to take a gift to Paul, to minister to his bodily needs, and to take the epistle to the Philippians back to the church. He was prepared, it was not below him to meet someone's physical needs. The question that comes to us from that is: are we ministering to Christ's suffering ones? In the words of the Lord: are we seeking out the poor, His sick, His prisoners, ministering to them, giving them a cup of water and therefore doing it unto Him? Here is Epaphroditus, and that's what he did.
Secondly I want you to see that he sacrificed. Paul says he risked his life: he toiled, he troubled until he exhausted himself to such an extent that he became seriously ill. He went beyond his physical strength. Perhaps as he was lingering in the barracks on the cold damp floor he got some kind of disease - but verse 30 says that, no matter what it was, that he almost died. He came nigh unto death. It also says he was willing, 'not regarding his life', he was willing to risk his life! The Greek term there that is used for 'risked' could be translated 'gamble' - you could translate that statement: 'He gambled with his life to go and help the apostle Paul'. The word for 'gamble, risk', was a game that they used to play in Greece, it was called 'throwing the stake' - it was a bit like some of you men when you were a wee boy, you used to put your hand on the desk in school and get a penknife and drop it from a height...maybe you didn't do that...maybe it's something psychological there about me...but you used to drop this penknife down - a bit like Russian Roulette if you like. They played it with stakes, wooden stakes - and Paul's using this word, that this is what Epaphroditus did with his life. 'He loved me so much, he loved Christ so much, that he was willing to go anywhere, to help anyone, and to pay any cost!' - even if it meant his life.
His only desire was that those in Philippi would not know how ill he was, isn't that tremendous? The selflessness! What Paul is saying here is an echo of the Lord Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount: to be seen of men in service is wrong, but to be seen of men in suffering is wrong as well! You say, 'Well, I can't help it if I've a broken leg' - that's not what I'm talking about. But in the way that you maybe pray to be praised of men, you ought not to suffer to be pitied of men, that's what he's saying. For if you do that - seek pity or praise - Jesus says you have your reward, but if you do it unto Him and you forget it as soon as you do it, Jesus says your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you openly.
Who are the ones Jesus says will sit at the right hand of the King when He comes in glory of His Father? What does Matthew 25 say? Those who fed the hungry, those who clothed the naked, those who visited those in prison - not those who prided themselves in service, but those who had forgotten that! How do I know it's those who had forgotten it? Because in verse 37 of Matthew 25 these people are astounded at what the Lord says: 'When I was in prison you came to me, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was hungry you fed me' - and they retort: 'When were you naked, when were you hungry, when were you in prison' - they had forgotten it! They didn't do it for the praise of men, but they did it unto Him. They are being rewarded on that day when He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsel of the hearts, and then shall every man have praise of God.
What a picture! I wish I had more time to show you this man Timothy, the sincere selfless helper; and Epaphroditus, the sacrificial friend who served, sacrificed, and was silent and self-forgetful in his service and in his suffering. We have to round it up, but what we're saying is this: these are the finest qualities of Christian character. You see, you could be a good Christian, you could even be a righteous man or woman, and not have these. It's the difference between a piece of coal and a diamond, it's the difference between a daisy and a beautiful rose - and spiritually it's the difference between the soul saved as one escaping through the flames, and the glorified saint sweeping through the gates with an abundant inheritance - as Peter says - into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
You see, Paul is saying that all of us have been given opportunities by God every day of our lives of winning these victories, of gaining these great rewards, and he's saying don't miss the opportunity in the choices you make: choose to suffer for Christ, choose to suffer to go anywhere, choose to suffer to help others no matter what the cost may be! He's telling us to face every situation with the prize, the goal in mind, forging our future crowns out of our fiery trials; turning opposition, temptation and suffering into growth in grace for our Lord Jesus.
Let me say to you in the closing moments that recently I've been reading through the biography of Hudson Taylor, that great missionary to China who sacrificed so much to take the Gospel to those who were dying in paganism. I read in that biography that he had two objectives in his preparation for the mission field - now this is before he went to China. Those two objectives were: one, learning to endure hardships; two, living cheaply. So, as a student, he decided to sleep on the floor, not to sleep on a mattress but to sleep on the floor without a mattress to get him used to such conditions that he would have to face on the mission field. For breakfast he ate brown biscuits and herring which was cheaper than butter. He found a little marketplace where he could buy cheese at 4 to 6 pence per pound, and he thought it tested better than some of that for 8 pence per pound. He pickled a penny red cabbage with three half-pence worth of vinegar, and he made a large jarful to live on. He said: 'Living cheaply, but imaginatively, is what has meant that I can give away 60% of my earnings to God. And I have discovered that the more I give, the happier I become'. He recorded in his journals 'unspeakable joy all the day long and every day was my happy experience. God, even my God, was a living, bright reality and all I had to do was joyful service'. But he still felt he needed to flex his muscles for more spiritual strength - I'm skipping a lot of time here, but when he eventually got to China do you know where he lived? He lived in one room above an incense shop that was entered to by a ladder through an open hole in the wall. Dr D. Laporte (sp?), a Christian doctor who practised amongst the community where Taylor worked, recalled meeting Hudson Taylor, and said this - and this has gripped my heart, listen: 'I have seen him come home at the close of the day foot-sore and weary, his face covered with blisters from the heat of the sun. He would throw himself down to rest in a state of exhaustion, and then he would get up again in a few hours to face the toil and hardship of another day. It was clear to me that he enjoyed the highest respect from the Chinese, and was doing a great deal of good among them. His influence was like that of a fragrant flower spreading the sweetness of true Christianity all about him'. Why? Because example is more powerful than rhetoric! Could there be any better motto for the Christian soldier and follower of Jesus Christ than these three words? Anywhere, anyone, anything!
Let us pray: Father, we thank You for the wonderful example of our Lord Jesus and how He stooped from the glory that we cannot conceive of in our minds in heaven, and He came to this earth to be the servant of men and of God. Our Father, we thank Thee that we also have these examples of men who are of like passions as we are, who followed that way of humility and sacrifice and service - but Lord, I know that I'm not giving enough, and Lord we all must be able to say that we could give more, we could do more, we could go farther to others and help them, pay more of a price. Lord, we pray that we will make that evaluation now rather than in eternity, when because we have followed a path of save-yourself Christianity we'll say on that day: 'When by His grace I shall look on His face, I wish I'd given Him more'. Help us, Lord, to give more for the One who gave all. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifteenth tape in his Philippians series, titled "Paul's Christ-Like Friends" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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