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(017) Philippians XI: Commendable Friends

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Philippians XI: Commendable Friends

Philippians 2:19-30

January 27, 2008

This week, we are going to finish off chapter 2 of Philippians. It’s impressive that I have managed to drag two chapters out over three months.

·         Just hope I never decide to preach on Romans.

This week’s passage is 2:19-30, page 831 in the pew Bibles.

On Friday, Marilyn saw Sarah, my three year-old, pulling out some Bibles, and saying to Grace, let’s look at these passages.

·         It must be because we play my sermons at night to help the girls fall asleep.

In this passage, Paul talks about his dear friends Timothy and Epaphroditus and their plans to come to Philippi. And we will be asking ourselves what kind of friends we are.

Travel in Antiquities

Before we get to the passage, I want to talk a little bit about travel in the ancient world. This letter had to travel some 800 miles, mostly on foot, to get to the Philippians.

·         That’s basically the distance from here to San Francisco.

It would usually take about two months. But that was a lot better than it had been. It used to be that a journey like that would have been nearly impossible for your average citizen.

In the book of Galatians, Paul said that Christ came into the world in the “fullness of time,” meaning that he came at just the right time.

There was a window of about 200 years, from around 30 BC to around 180 AD when travel and communication were easier than ever had been or would be until the modern era.

First of all, everyone spoke a common language: Greek, much like English today. This made it much easier to spread the Gospel.

Secondly, there was relative peace throughout the known world. This era is called Pax Romana. Rome kept relative peace through force, and had stopped the pirates who had plagued sea travel.

But in 180 AD, the Roman Empire began falling apart, and things actually went backwards.

·         It wasn’t until the modern era that we have again the ease of travel and communication that Paul knew.

But by the time the empire began to collapse, the Gospel had been well established, so Christianity was able to continue spreading, in spite of the worsening travel and communication.

·         Christ was born at just the right timebefore or after and Christianity would have been stuck in Palestine.

Roman roads

One key thing that made travel so much safer and easier was the roads that the Romans had created.

It was easily the most advanced and extensive road system the world had ever known. It stretched the entire length and breadth of the Roman Empire had 53,000 miles of road.

·         By contrast, the US Interstate system only has 47,000 miles.

Prior to this, there was no standard road system, just paths, travel was very slow and dangerous due to bandits.

But now there were roads patrolled by solider. There were rest stops, weight limits, toll booths, and even mile stones telling how far to the next city and how far you were from Rome.

These roads were crucial for allowing the military to move quickly. The Roman roads allowed people to travel further and faster than had been previously imagined.





Via Egnatia

One key route was the Via Egnatia, which connected the east and west coasts of Greece. It was the I-90 of the day, going right through Philippi.

·         Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus all walked on this road. 

Paul used these roads to great advantage in spreading the Gospel. Not only did he travel on them, but he used them to care for his churches via his letters.

There was very little in way of a postal service, so letters were usually hand delivered. In the case of Philippians, it was carried by Epaphroditus.

Epaphroditus was a Philippian who Paul was sending back to Philippi and he wants to make it clear that Epaphroditus had served faithfully.

·         Today’s passage includes a “letter of commendation,” a “honorable discharge.”

In this portion, Paul also writes a “letter of recommendation” about Timothy, who would be sent to Philippi soon. Paul wanted the Philippians to know that Timothy was coming with his blessing and authority.

·         So we have a letter of commendation and a letter of recommendation.

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. Philippians 2:19-30 NIV  

Looking at the larger context, this passage seems a little out of place: Paul is giving a lot of good instructions, then interrupts it to talk about Timothy and Epaphroditus, then he goes on to give more instruction.

It was common in to write something like this, commending the person who carried the letter. But where Paul put was very odd.

As I said in an earlier sermon, in the same ways that we use a certain format when we write a letter, letters of Paul’s day also had a standard format, and this section was put at the end.

·         It’s like putting a “PS” in the middle of the letter.

Why did Paul do this? Some scholars say that Philippians is actually two separate letters melded together.

·         It’s a clever theory, but lacks any sort of proof whatsoever.

In reality, Paul put this here for a specific reason. Today’s passage is the last part of a larger section beginning at 1:27:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27 NIV

The rest of chapters 1 and 2 tell us how to do that, things like: being unified, looking to the interest of others, following Christ’s example of a sacrifice, and not grumbling.

Real-life examples

The reason Paul concludes this section by talking about Timothy and Epaphroditus is that these guys are going to be example of what the Philippians had just read.

·         In other words: Don’t just listen to my words, watch these guys. These are guys who:

1. Lived as worthy of the Gospel of Christ.

2. Looked to the interest of others.

3. Sacrificed for the church.

4. And did this all without grumbling.

Paul is a big believer in living examples. A couple of different times Paul says things like “follow me, as I follow Christ,” or “Imitate me.” Those statements seem boastful on Paul’s part.

·         You can tell someone else “you da man,” but you can’t say “I’m da man.” It doesn’t work that way.

But Paul is pointing out an important principle:

·         We need imperfect, but concrete example of Christian living.

Christ is of course our greatest example of how to live, but let’s face it – he is a tough act to follow.

Sometimes we need to see people around us struggling as we struggle. It gives us hope for ourselves, and also gives us very specific examples in problems we are dealing with.

When you were in school and you didn’t understand the teacher, how often did you ask another student? It wasn’t that the student knew the material better, but because they are struggling with it also.

·         Timothy and Epaphroditus were to serve as examples of godly living.

Young Timothy

First there was Timothy. Timothy was a young man, Paul’s protégé, which is why Paul calls him his son. It was to Timothy that Paul had said “Let no man look down on your youth.” 

We know from the rest of Paul’s letters that he was a man of great wisdom and integrity, but that is not what Paul points out. He says:

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:20-21 NIV 

Q   Why didn’t Paul say, “Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of others”?

Paul is saying that Timothy cares so much about them that he is more interested in their deepest needs, the things of Christ, than what they might think they need. Timothy is interested in their spiritual welfare more than their comfort.

·         He may not tell you what you want to hear, but he’ll tell you what you need to hear.

As you may know on our church’s blog, I asked for an example of a friend this. You can read all of them at Here is Micah’s nominee was from “Good Will Hunting”:

Chuckie is Will’s best friend. Will has one of the highest IQ’s in the world, but he tells Chuckie that he’s looking forward to working construction for the rest of his life and watching the Patriot’s games at Chuckie's house. Chuckie responds

"Look, you're my best friend, so don't take this the wrong way. In twenty years, if you're still livin' here, comin' over to my house to watch the Patriots games, still workin' construction, I'll [blanking] kill you. That's not a threat. Now, that's a fact. I'll [blanking] kill you."

Looking out for the interests of Christ in each other is not always fun. It sometimes means saying things they don’t want to hear. It means not being the good ol’ buddy as much as a the guy who will slap them upside the head.

·         Sometime we hold back the truth not for their sake but ours.

True friends

Q   Do you have friends like Timothy in your life?

Q   Are you a Timothy to your friends?

Q   Do you take a genuine interest in the welfare of others even at your own expense?

Being the type of friend that Paul would commend means going beyond hanging out to helping out, helping each other grow. Here are two practical don’ts and one do to help us be Timothy’s:

1. Don’t justify ungodly words or actions.

A truly supportive friend will gently challenge and hold accountable rather than excuse.

2. Don’t numb pain that needs attention.

In movies you frequently have a buddy who helps his friend drunk when he gets dumped or fired. A good friend helps us face pain and work though it, grow from it.

3. Do push each other to grow.

Friendship is a great thing, we share our joys, sorrows, and every day events. But Christian friendship goes a step further:

·         Christian friends should have the mutual goal of growing in Christ.

When I meet with my friends for our “small group,” we pretty much have only two rules:

1. What’s said at the table stays at the table.

2. We are here to grow.

This commitment to growth is what takes having beer with the guys and turns it into one of the most impacting things I have ever known.

Friendships like this are not easily come by. They require trust, it requires time, and being open and vulnerable.

·         But more than anything, it requires knowing that these guys are looking out for me. They have my best interests in mind.

We all need relationship like this, where we can be like Timothy to each other. I hope to see TG create more opportunities to build these sorts of friendships. I know the ladies’ events are a great start. 

Ole’ Pappy

Now let’s look at Epaphroditus.

But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.  Philippians 2:25 NIV  

Whereas Paul called Timothy his son, he calls Epaphroditus brother, which lead us to believe that he was older than Timothy. Perhaps we can call him “Pappy.”

Paul calls him a fellow worker and soldier, which points to him being the Samwise of the group (to keep with my nepotism): dependable, faithful, and willing to risk his life for others.

·         Or, according to Cecil, the Han Solo.

·         I would way rather be Han Solo than Samwise.

Reading between the lines, we gather that Epaphroditus was sent out by the Philippians to carry a gift to Paul and to help him however he could.

At some point, he got very sick and almost died. Paul is now sending him back to Philippi, letter in hand, and he wants the Philippians to know that Epaphroditus had served well.

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. Philippians 2:29-30 NIV  

When Paul says that he “risked his life” it could be translated “gambled his life.”

Epaphroditus is an example of someone who served sacrificially, risking it all. He was following Jesus example, and now he is held up as an example that all Christians should follow.

Interestingly, in the early church, those who cared for the sick were called “The Gamblers,” from this Greek word, because they would risk their lives and they saw Epaphroditus as their model.

·         They cared for the sick that everyone else abandoned, out of fear catching the disease, and many of them died.

In America today, we really don’t have to gamble that much. There is no persecution, no martyrdom. We don’t gamble our lives, but we can gamble our time, our heart, and our energy by reaching out others.

·         There are no promises that our efforts will be successful, but we called to reach out and serve like Christ.


We are called to be Timothy’s and Epaphroditus’:

·         Helping our friends grow, pushing them to be what God has called them to be.

·         Sacrificing and gambling ourselves for others and Christ.

But in Timothy and Epaphroditus, we have examples not just of how to live, but how to be examples. We are always being watched, by our children, by friends, family, and co-workers.

·         It is my hope that they see something in us that they want to imitate.



Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.






The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“Dear Philippians VIII: The Secret to Enjoying Life,” a sermon preached by Bruce Wersen of His Place Community Church ( on 3/23/03.

The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

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