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Philippians 8

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Philippians 8.

Patterns: The Olympics have come and gone, the finest athletes in the world competing together. Now I have never aspired to be an athlete but there are some that do. They see that one who is the top of their field and seek to emulate him, study video and replays, examining his technique, practising to become like him. It may not be sport; you may want to play the guitar like Jimmy Hendrix or whoever. Whatever the field, we see those who have made it, been successful, and take them as a pattern. Now hero-worship is a bad thing; but the Bible does exhort us to imitate those who are successful in their Christian walk – 8x in fact in the N.T. We are told to imitate God in [Ephesians 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children;] and Paul says: [1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.] So there are those in the faith who are held out as patterns [P] – examples to emulate. I do not advocate emulating sportsmen, musicians etc but, in this letter to the Philippians, Paul holds up several examples. First of all there was the example of Jesus Himself – they were to have the same attitude, the same way of thinking that He did. Jesus: (Phil 2:5-8) [P] He didn’t grasp on to His equality with God, but emptied Himself, humbled Himself, became a man, served as a slave was obedient, as far as dying an accursed death. He is a pattern of meekness, humility, submission and sacrifice. Then in (Phil 2:17-18) there is the pattern of Paul: [P] He is an example of rejoicing in extreme suffering, he was facing possible death. He was a pattern: they were to rejoice and share their joy in exactly the same way he did. And in the passage today we read of two more men who are examples to us; and who Paul commends to the Philippians in the letter he wrote to them. And we need to remember that it is a letter. Paul didn’t write it with the intention of it being a book of the Bible. It is that, it is Divinely inspired and we study it – we analyse it, draw theology from it and lessons for our Christian life – and I hope to do a bit of that today – but first and foremost we must remember that it is a letter [P]. We can get so caught up in our Bible study that we miss the wood for the trees. Look, there were no phones, e-mail, texting, Skype – the way to communicate when you were separated by distance, was by letter. Some of you may be old enough to remember writing them. It used to be something that we did when we were young, on Sunday afternoons: write to the rellies in England. Now Paul is in prison in Rome, he can’t go to his friends in Philippi, but he loved them and kept in touch. There were practical matters to arrange and to inform them of what he intended to do. It is personal! This is not a theological treatise, it is a personal letter, there was stuff to sort out – and Paul’s care and concern come through. Maybe there is a lesson for the likes of me here – the details of what people are doing and are up to flies past me, but have they got their theology straight?! But Christians are known by their love – care and concern and that is shown in practical details of what is going on in people’s lives: Josephine has been in hospital, so someone cooks a casserole for her. [1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.] So let us read this letter, and as we do notice the love and concern that the believers have for each other: [Philippians 2:19-30 But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father. Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.] Although it might seem at this point that we’re reading someone else’s private correspondence, Paul accomplishes much more here than updating the Philippians on his plans. Paul begins by praising Timothy for the qualities that have made him an invaluable member of his team. But more than just giving Timothy a well-deserved pat on the back, Paul accomplishes something in addition: he holds Timothy up as a model for other believers. Some people are lavish in their praise, others are more subdued. Hannah plays in an orchestra and, let’s be frank, it doesn’t always sound that great. But one of the teachers, Gaynor, is always gushy, telling them how well they are doing, how wonderful they all are. Then there is another teacher, Mr Williams – if at the end he says at the end “that wasn’t too bad”, you know that you were really something! I don’t know which Paul was like; but he was pretty hard on John Mark in Acts, when he returned to Jerusalem. His departure was taken by Paul as abandonment, and he was unwilling to take him on another missionary journey. I imagine Paul was a no-nonsense guy; when he gave praise, it really meant something. Think about how significant it would be to hear this kind of affirmation from someone who probably didn’t regularly praise others. But the praise wasn’t only for Timothy’s benefit – look back in (Phil 1:1) you will see that the letter was written from Timothy as well, not to him. When we hear a leader publicly praised, we are challenged to be like them – it raises the bar to a higher standard. From the outset of the book, Paul’s focus has been on the advance of the Gospel. Although his focus has shifted from changing the Philippians’ perspective about his situation to the matter of sending Timothy, there is still a focus on the Gospel. How? By holding up this man as a role model of godly leadership for others to imitate and aspire to be like. The list of qualities that Paul praises could just as easily have been a job description for the kind of worker Paul wanted. [P] With each characteristic that Paul affirms in Timothy, we are challenged to reconsider how we are doing in that area. Would Paul say the same thing about us? If not, what would it take to be more like Timothy? What was it that he did that made the difference? What would that look like in my ministry setting? So what were the traits for which Paul praises Timothy? The first is introduced as “like-mindedness” with Paul [P], what we might also call being a soul mate. This doesn’t imply that there was never disagreement but more likely that their core values and priorities meshed well together, that they were on the same page when it came to ministry. What is more, he was genuinely concerned for the Philippians’ welfare [P]. This was part of being like-minded – like Paul He was genuinely concerned for the church. Why was this such a big deal to Paul? – Because most people seek their own interests rather than the interests of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that what we see all around us everyone looking out for his own interests? But we are to be different! Timothy was not like all the rest, looking out for himself first. He put Christ’s interests before his own [P]. Remember, this is a pattern for us to emulate. Paul also mentions Timothy’s proven character [P]. This wasn’t just like-mindedness, having the same viewpoint – it was shown in action, he had a proven track record. He had been with Paul throughout his missionary travels. How was his character proven? By his devoted service to Paul that could accurately be likened to a son’s devotion to his father, serving faithfully by his side like a father and son team. Remember, service was one of the attributes in Jesus that we were to emulate. Because he had proved himself, Timothy is Paul’s go-to guy when it comes to sending someone to the Philippians to minister on his behalf because of his was in prison. Timothy could be sent, because it would be just like going yourself. He saw eye to eye with Paul and would do what Paul would do. He’d been with him enough to know what he would do, and would act on his behalf as his servant. It is for these same reasons that Timothy can also he held up as a model leader [P] whom others could appropriately look up to and model themselves after. So what is the pattern that we have in Timothy? [P] Genuine concern for others, selfless faithful service. Paul makes a series of statements in (Phil 2:20-21) beginning with “for”, each of these statements serves to strengthen or flesh out some aspect of what has gone before. In English, we would much more naturally use rhetorical “Why?” questions [P] to let people know that what follows answers the question posed. The therefore in (Phil 2:23) signals the return to the specific idea of sending Timothy. Paul is letting them know that he intends to send Timothy to them soon, then he goes off on a supporting sidebar about why?: Why did he send him? To find out about them, to learn about their condition, he was concerned for them – but why Timothy? Because there is no one like him who is genuinely concerned about their welfare. Why is that? Because everyone else is taken up with their own interests not those of Christ. But Timothy is not like that – his character is proven. So, as Paul was saying, he is going to send Timothy to them – why? Because he loves them, he is concerned about them, and knows that they are concerned about him. He is cut off in prison, rather a discouraging situation; nothing would cheer him up and encourage him as much as finding out how well these brothers that he loves are going on in the LORD. He would hear from Timothy about them and would be encouraged – Timothy was acting on his behalf – he would rather go himself. Sending Timothy is an interim measure, the way he mentions sending Timothy creates anticipation that something more is coming which is probably more important. It doesn’t come out that clearly in translation, but He says: “On one hand I am sending Timothy ....” it makes you wonder what is “on the other hand”. [P] What is the second part of his message? What is this other thing that he is causing his readers to anticipate? Paul’s expectation that Timothy won’t be the only one visiting them soon. Paul also intends to come himself and not just to send Timothy as an emissary – Paul emphasizes his own intention to come, he builds up the anticipation and expectancy. Imagine the thrill at hearing about his intention to visit. The way Paul expresses his intention to come gives us some insight into his relationship with the Philippian believers. He cared enough not just to mention his desire to visit, but to attract extra attention to it. It is a personal letter, and the longing they have for each other, their desire to be together again, comes through. But Timothy is not the only one he is sending. He is writing to let them know that he is also sending Epaphroditus [Philippians 2:25-30 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.] You are at home, having your tea, and the phone rings – you have your mouth full, so someone else answers. What do you do? You try to work out who is on the other end and what they are talking about. Understanding the situation with Epaphroditus is like listening to half of a phone conversation in that we only know the details that Paul has included in the letter – we have to fill in the other side of the conversation ourselves. Apparently the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to minister to Paul in prison on behalf of their church, most likely with a gift of some kind. Somewhere along the way, Epaphroditus got sick enough that he nearly died. Word spread pretty slowly in those days, determined largely by being able to send word via someone else from one place to another. Apparently the illness lasted long enough for them to not only hear he was sick, but also for word to come back that they were concerned for him and his mission. Paul unpacks things a little differently than what we’re used to in English. He starts at the conclusion and works back to the beginning using a series of for statements [P] – just like we had in (Phil 2:19-24) – remember, in English we would express it with “why?”. Each statement strengthens some aspect of what came before, advancing the main idea. Paul said it was necessary to send Epaphroditus back to them – why? Because he was longing for them and was distressed. Why? Because he found out that they heard that he was sick and were worried about him. Was this serious? Too right, he almost died! But God was merciful and spared him and Paul too, who was really concerned about him. So Paul gets back to the fact that he was sending him back, and was keen to do so. Why? So that they would rejoice and Paul could relax, not be so concerned. Therefore they should welcome him back, and respect him for what he’d done. All of this information explains the circumstances behind Epaphroditus’ premature return home. More importantly, these supporting statements direct the Philippians in how they ought to process the situation and how to receive him back. Had Epaphroditus failed in the mission they had sent him on? Could something more have been done? Was it worth sending him in the first place? Who knows what kinds of thoughts were floating around in his home church? Paul’s strategy is to demonstrate how one thing has lead to the next, affirming that Epaphroditus has by no means failed, nor is Paul rejecting him. His return is as much for Paul’s sake as that of the Philippians’, and they should hold him and others like him in high regard. Why is Paul going to such lengths to explain all this? Epaphroditus getting sick and being sent home was a lot bigger deal than you might think, as we will see. But note that Paul doesn’t just announce that Epaphroditus is being sent home, but that it is necessary for him to go. This isn’t because of Epaphroditus’ sickness, but because of the distress his sickness is causing. The Philippians had heard he was sick—really sick, he almost died! Paul orders it this way so that we know that Epaphroditus is not being sent back because of his sickness or seemingly failed mission. He’s being sent back to alleviate the concern of the Philippian congregation. Epaphroditus being welcomed back into the Philippian church is a relief for him and Paul. The last part of (Phil 2:27) makes it sound as though Paul didn’t want the liability of having him potentially die on his watch. All of this builds toward the situation that Epaphroditus could have faced when returning home. It raises the question of how the Philippians should receive him. According to the values of the day, Epaphroditus could have been viewed as a failure. Shame and honour played a huge role in Greek and Roman society. Epaphroditus was specifically sent to Paul to minister to him. This would have resulted in both Epaphroditus and the Philippians receiving honour from Paul. However, things did not go as planned. Rather than Epaphroditus serving Paul, one of the people there with him ended up having to serve Epaphroditus, caring for him until he got better. Instead of being a blessing from the Philippians, Epaphroditus was a burden for Paul and the others to carry. Even though the sickness may have been beyond his control, it would nonetheless have resulted in bringing dishonour to both Epaphroditus and the sending church. Imagine how they and Epaphroditus would have felt. Here they were doing something good, something special; it was practical love, and it had turned sour. Had they done the wrong thing? Paul had to handle the situation carefully and diplomatically. Epaphroditus needed to return for both his and the Philippians sake. But in sending it could seem like Paul was rejecting their generosity and kindness. It can be one of the most hurtful things to reject a gift given in love, to treat it as something worthless, to return it – it implies that you didn’t value it or appreciate it or those who gave it. He could bring them shame by making their gift seem worthless, a failure. Shame and honour are funny things; they’re in the eye of the beholder. Paul could have shamed the Philippians and Epaphroditus, but instead he demonstrates God’s grace in action. He could have complained about the imposition Epaphroditus’ sickness caused, but he doesn’t. Honour is a commodity to be given or withheld. Those in highly respected positions have the opportunity to heavily influence the outcome in such situations, just like Paul did with Epaphroditus. Paul chose to put a positive spin on things: instead of an imposition—he held Epaphroditus up as a blessing instead of a burden—Paul allowed both Epaphroditus and the Philippians to save face. Paul removes whatever shame may have been felt and strengthens relationships in doing so. Let’s take a look at how Paul’s language bears out this idea of shame and honour being at stake. Twice in (Phil 2:25) [P] Paul refers to him as a fellow – fellow worker and fellow soldier. Why? Paul is highly respected, his opinion valued; so he is in a position to lift someone up or push them down. Picture someone you really look up to telling a group of people about the difference you have made in their life. Talk about a boost—not only for your own view of yourself, but for others’ view of you as well! Paul does better than this, referring to Epaphroditus as though he were an equal. Just imagine what that would have been like! Characterizing Epaphroditus in this way would have significantly reshaped the Philippians’ view of him if there was any doubt, but Paul goes on. He also tells them how they should view Epaphroditus and his mission. Like the applauding of Timothy in (Phil 2:19-22), the discussion of Epaphroditus’ ministry holds him up as a model Christian worker. He is an example of sacrificial service – he poured himself out in his service to Paul, even unto death, in complete disregard of his own welfare, he risked his life! He represented the Philippian church, serving on behalf of the whole fellowship. He was there in person, while they were not, he was providing the service of the whole church, for those who were absent. He made up for their deficiency – and it nearly cost him his life! So Paul honoured him and held him up as a pattern for the others. Imagine how you would feel if someone like Paul praised you like this. While it might be humbling, it would also provide incentive to “keep up the good work.” And for those around you, it would highlight key qualities to which to aspire. In the case of Epaphroditus, Paul’s affirmation considers him from two different perspectives: that of Paul and that of the Philippians [P]. To Paul, Epaphroditus was a fellow worker - he was there doing the same work as Paul, working alongside him; a fellow soldier, fighting alongside him in the same spiritual battle; and brother - there as a coequal, in close realtionship. He was no failure because of his sickness. Epaphroditus was a minister to Paul’s needs, not a burden—a messenger, not a mess. Instead of needing to skulk away in shame, he is to be highly honoured by them. Epaphroditus’ career in ministry could quite easily have ended as a result of these events – instead of going back in shame, he goes back in honour. Instead of the Philippians feeling that their gift of Epaphroditus to serve Paul was rejected, he was returning as one greatly appreciated. But this incident provides a beautiful insight into the love that was in the early Christian church: [P] 1/ the Philippians were concerned for Paul in prison so they sent Epaphroditus (Phil 1:25) [P]. 2/ Epaphroditus was concerned for Paul, spent himself in service, even risking his life (Phil 2:30) [P]. 3/ The Philippians heard that Epaphroditus was sick so, they were concerned for him, they were distressed about his condition (Phil 2:26) [P]. 4/ Epaphroditus was concerned that the Philippians were worried about him (Phil 2:26) [P]. 5/ Paul was concerned for Epaphroditus because the state of his health – it was causing him sorrow (Phil 2:27) [P]. 6/ Paul was concerned about the Philippians being worried about Epaphroditus (Phil 2:28) [P]. Everyone was concerned for everyone else. Isn’t that the way it should be?! So we have a letter, details of personal arrangements of people long dead – the events and arrangements written about are long over. But is there relevance? In them we have examples, patterns of Christian service: [P] There is: Jesus [P] – He is a pattern of meekness, humility, submission and sacrifice. Then there is Paul [P] – he is an example for us to follow of rejoicing when suffering, when things aren’t going well. Timothy [P] – he is a pattern of genuine concern for others, selfless faithful service. And Epaphroditus [P] – he is a pattern of sacrificial service, pouring yourself out for others to the disregard of your own welfare. They are each and every one a model of SERVICE! How rare! Everyone today wants to be top dog, advance, be the boss. They are proposing restructuring at work, for the umpteenth time! More layers of management get put in, more people supervise and less left doing the actual work. I see it in the teaching at Hannah’s school, I see it in the newly qualified staff that start at work. The attitude is ambition, be top, have people under you. But this is not the way we are to follow; there is a different pattern: [Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ] The pouring out of our life for others – how rare that is today! And there is yet another pattern seen in all involved in this situation seen in this letter – the genuine love and concern for each other [P]. Is that not the hallmark of a follower of Jesus? [John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, (there is the pattern to follow) that you also love one another. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”] How about this as a motto for our fellowship: “serve one another in love!”?

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