Sermon: Timothy & Epaphroditus

Our passage this morning is Philippians 2:19-30. Philippians 2:19-30. If you want to turn there in your Bible with me, I invite you to do so. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. We have been spending this Fall taking a slow walk through this short letter of Paul to the church in Philippi. We have been hearing the notes of joy and humility ringing through its verses. And we have heard the echoing call to live our lives in a way that is fitting of the gospel of Christ. As we reach the halfway point in the letter this morning, Paul promises not just to send the letter, but to send two brothers in Christ to the church. It’s Philippians 2:19-30. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dig out our ears to hear our Word, open our hearts to receive it, and give us feet to walk in it. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God: 

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a 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 trust in the Lord that I will also come soon. 

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus – my brother and coworker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

One of the fun things about this stage in our family is that Elijah and Riah often come home from school or Sunday School with pieces of artwork they made. They put their heart and soul into these drawings – sometimes of our family, or turkey, or a firebreathing dragon – but whatever they draw they put everything into it. So it is such an act of pure love when they make something and decide to give it to me or Olga. They don’t think to hold back their favorite drawings for themselves, but proudly give this drawing they have given their all, they give it to us. It is moving, because their willingness to give it to us shows us their heart. We see someone’s heart by what they are willing to give up for someone else. 

Paul’s Pastoral heart is on full display in our passage this morning. Having heard of the situation in Philippi, Paul decides to send both Timothy and Epaphroditus to the church. This will be a loss for Paul. Both these men worked alongside him for the gospel and were instrumental in supporting Paul during his time in prison. Yet, Paul decides to send them to Philippi. His own needs could be seen to, but his heart was for the church, for the Philippians, so Paul sends these two brothers, the very best he had. 

Though Paul is in prison, though he can only hope and pray to be released and to see them again, Paul does not hold back his best for them. Paul does not keep the best in reserve for himself and send the leftovers off to Philippi. He does not send the ‘B’ Team to the Philippians, but his very best men. We see someone’s heart by what they are willing to give up for someone else. Paul is willing to give up the services of Timothy, who is like a son to him, and Epaphroditus, who has been a minister to his needs. 

These Two brothers are sent to the church in Philippi. They are sent not only to work and serve, but to be living examples of the life and character Paul is praying to see in the church. 

First, Paul decides to send Timothy. Timothy will come as a sort of ambassador for Paul. He will come and share good news and encouragement from Paul to the Philippians, but also will come back bringing (hopefully) good news about the church to Paul. Perhaps the sending of Timothy is a subtle way for Paul to encourage them to get their house in order because he is going to hear about it. But even more so, Timothy was the one closest to Paul’s heart. Paul has no one else like him. Timothy has worked alongside Paul like a son with a father, not only serving him, but serving with him for the work of the gospel. This letter, along with multiple others in the New Testament, came from Paul and Timothy. Two letters in the New Testament are addressed directly to Timothy after Paul had sent him to oversee one of the churches. These two were brothers in ministry. They were incredibly close and when Paul chose to send Timothy, he was sending his heart to that church.

What set Timothy apart, what made him a living example of what Paul is hoping to see in the church, is Timothy’s heart. Timothy has genuine concern for the Philippians. For Timothy, caring for these people was not simply a matter of duty, but of the heart. All leaders in the church are supposed to care for their people, but it is a sweet and beautiful thing when it comes from the heart. Paul does not want to send someone to the church who is only going to go through the motions of caring, but one who is moved to care by love. This is Timothy. Paul says there was no one quite like Timothy in this. He loved this church, just as Paul did. Enough that he would travel from likely Rome all the way to Philippi – a trip of hundreds of miles – to check on, encourage, and minister to the believers there. Paul has been talking to them about loving each other, of being united and humble, and they will get to see that kind of life firsthand when Timothy comes. Paul doesn’t just send the letter, he sends Timothy as a living example of a heart with genuine concern for the people. 

Timothy has a heart for the believers in Philippi, but also a heart for Christ. Verse 21 says, All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Basically, all the other people Paul could send would put themselves first. They might care about Christ and even believe in Christ, but they were ultimately concerned with looking after themselves. Timothy was different. He had genuine concern for the church, and consistently put the cause of Christ ahead of himself. And the church in Philippi knew this. Paul says that Timothy’s worth is known to them. They know his character, the kind of man he is. Paul sends Timothy not just to do a task, but to be a living example of the character of Christ. At the beginning of the chapter, we already heard the call “Let each of you look not to you own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” This is what the Philippians will find in Timothy and would not find in most that Paul could send. 

Paul’s heart for the church, as we have heard throughout this series, is for them to live lives fitting of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with humility, joy, and unselfishness. Paul loves this church so much that he wants them to have not only his letter, but a man who is like a son to him, Timothy, so they can see for themselves just what this looks like. 

But before Paul will send Timothy, he plans to send Epaphroditus. 

Epaphroditus, whose name means ‘charming,’ was originally from Philippi. The church had sent him to Paul with some financial gifts and to help Paul in his work. Epaphroditus worked alongside Paul. Paul calls him, my brother and coworker and fellow soldier. They had grown close and worked together in the trenches of gospel ministry. But in the midst of their work, Epaphroditus had gotten ill. We have no idea just what kind of illness this was. It could have been a nervous disorder or a deep physical illness. Whatever it was, he almost died. News of this got back to Philippi and distressed the congregation. Epaphroditus longed to see them and ensure them he was okay and Paul was glad to send him. Having their brother back among the believers would not only give them joy, but ease Paul’s heart knowing they have a faithful brother watching over them. 

We should note that Paul clearly did not hold the view that a good Christian will never be ill, or that illness or health problems were a result of a lack of faith. There is no hint here that Paul assumes that because he is an apostle, he could use his authority to heal Epaphroditus. There is no promise here that God will give health, wealth, and long life to those who are faithful or who have enough faith to pray that way. In fact, quite the opposite. Though God blesses us with the life we have, Paul praises Epaphroditus for his willingness to suffer and risk his life for the work of Christ. 

Epaphroditus’ illness does not become an opportunity for confusion or doubt, but for praise and courage. We don’t know much about the illness, anything about the inner thoughts of Epaphroditus about it, or what kind of struggles or prayers were offered. What we do know is how Paul saw the whole ordeal. And these words are not just the words of Paul long ago, but the very words of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit. As he commands the church to receive Epaphroditus back, he says, Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me. Epaphroditus is to be honored for his zeal and courage. Like a gambler placing a bet, Epaphroditus went all in on Jesus Christ, bet everything on serving Jesus Christ. This is to be honored. 

Epaphroditus shares with Timothy a life spent serving Christ, working alongside Paul and a love for the believers in Philippi. But what sets Epaphroditus apart, making him a living example to the Philippians, is how he patiently endured trials, giving his all for Jesus. He is to be honored, not for success, not for being upwardly mobile, not for gaining public recognition, but because he humbled himself to serve, even coming close to death. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Though God had mercy on Epaphroditus and Paul so that he did not die, Epaphroditus showed that Christ-like character in being willing to humble himself even to the point of death.

In sending these two men to the church, we see Paul’s heart for them. He sends his best, holding nothing back. And he sends two men that will serve as living examples of the kind of character that Paul is praying to see in the church. Timothy looks not to his own interests, but to the interests of others, and Christ’s above all. What good it will do that church to have Timothy serving among them. Epaphroditus humbled himself and came close to death for the service of Christ. What good it will do the church to hear his story and see his example of zeal and patient endurance. Paul sends them to church out of love for those believers. 

We see someone’s heart by what they are willing to give up for someone else. In the sending of Timothy and Epaphroditus, we see not only Paul’s heart for the church, but God’s heart for it as well. 

We see God’s heart most clearly in that he sends his best for us, coming himself in the person of the Son, come in the flesh, to live and die and rise again for our salvation. As John puts it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.” When it comes to the heart of God, we see it most clearly in Jesus Christ, given for us so that we might have eternal life with Him. This is the gospel Paul has been preaching, the gospel that saves sinners and brings unshakeable hope. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ and have everlasting life. It the gospel of the gift of Jesus, Jesus crucified and raised for our salvation. God’s best given for us. 

However,God’s desire is also for the church to live in light of Jesus. The Lord gives us the immense gift of his word, but he also sends people to us, people who will, through their life, show us what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. Just like Paul sent Timothy and Epaphroditus, when God desires us to grow in our discipleship to Jesus, he often sends people who will live out that discipleship before us so we can know better what it looks like to follow Jesus. 

Peter was a married, middle aged man with two daughters just a couple years younger than me. He was a sharp guy, working in product logistics, which I never quite understood what that meant. But one thing I did understand was that he opened his house every Tuesday night to the boys in the youth group. We would come and talk about life and faith for about an hour, then play Halo until our moms told us to come home. After most of the other boys would leave, I would stay, asking questions and wrestling with faith. I cannot remember what exactly we talked about or the specific answer he gave, but I was deeply shaped by those times. Peter showed me what it looked like to follow Jesus, not just by his gentle words, but by how he opened his home, how he gave me his time, and his patience with me. Even when they eventually told me I needed to leave because it was time for them to go to bed, I learned what it look like to love by listening well to someone else. 

God’s desire is for the church to live in light of Jesus. God gives us his infallible word, but he also sends people into our lives to show us what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus. 

William and I did not agree on many things. Occasionally, our theological differences came up in a meeting and we would disagree, we feel comfortable speaking our mind, and doing so firmly. He and I still believe the other is wrong on key issues. However, William always managed to be firm in his convictions without being hard or harsh. The longer we worked together, the more meetings we attended, I began to think that God sent him into my life to teach me just this lesson. My time with William never wavered my convictions, but it taught me how to speak well and, perhaps, persuasively with those who I disagree with and continue to be in relationship with. It was not a lesson I anticipated learning from him. Yet, I can share my convictions with more strength and grace for having him in my life. 

Like Timothy and Epaphroditus, God often sends people in our lives as living examples of what it means to follow Jesus. Peter and William are just two of the many, many God has sent into my life and continues to send into my life. 

As we close, I want to invite you to do one thing and pray about another. First, who has God sent into your life? Whether it is looking back at the past or thinking about right now, who are those people God has sent into your life to be living examples of what it means to follow Jesus? What are they modeling for you? I’ve shared a bit of mine, but think about that for yourself and then I invite you to, if you can, thank that person for what God has done through them in your life. Pick up the phone, send a card, tell them in person. Thank that person for what God has done in your life through them and then take time to thank God for sending them. 

Lastly, I want to invite you to pray for something. Into whose life is God sending you? What are you called to model for them? At times, we may be the Philippians, those who are receiving those sent by God and needing to sit at their feet to learn more about what it means to live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ. At other times, we might be Timothy and Epaphroditus, those sent into the lives of others to live for Christ in a way that others are drawn closer to him. Into whose life is God sending you? What are you called to model for them? I invite you to pray over these questions and then ask the Lord to give you the wisdom and strength to live for him. 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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