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Working together on God's Agenda Phil: 2 19-30



Working together on God’s Agenda Phil 2 19-30

 

Three elderly sisters lived together, and each looked out for the other.   One night the eldest who was 96 said, “I’m going upstairs to take a bath.”

            The others nodded and kept on doing their crossword puzzle.  After a little while, they heard their sister call out from the bathroom upstairs: “My foot is in the tub.  But I need help.  I can’t remember if I’m going into or going out from my bath.”

            Sister #2, who was 94, sighed and then said “O.K., O.K., I’m coming.” And she headed for the stairs.  Halfway up the stairs, she stopped and said to sister #3: “Oh dear. I can’t remember if I’m going up or coming down the stairs.”

            The youngest sister finished her crossword line and said, “I’m coming. I’m coming.” As she got to the banister of the stairs, she added “I’m just glad someone around here is still able to take care of you both, knock on wood” (and she knocked on the stairs for good luck.)  Then she called up to her eldest sister.  “I’ll be up to help you in the bath as soon as I answer the knock at the door.” 

 

We do need each other but sometimes others’ help may not reach the standard we all wish for.  There were people like that in Paul’s life but in Philippians 2:19-30 we meet two people whom he prized highly - Timothy and Epaphroditus.  There was one dominant characteristic of these men that caused them to be singled out in Paul’s life and the Philippine church: They were committed to what matters to Jesus Christ.  I want us to consider what that meant in their context and what it could mean in ours. Let us pray.

 

Timothy and Epaphroditus

Timothy was very special to Paul – he was a son in the faith, he served side by side in the work of the gospel.  But more poignantly, Paul said: “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” (v.20-21). That is a great compliment for Timothy and a painful description of other Christians.  The New Living Translation renders v.21 as “all the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ.” Timothy put Christ’s interests above his own interest.  So did Epaphroditus, actually. He was sent by the Philippine church with a love gift for Paul and he went gladly.  When he got to Rome, though, he became very sick. In fact, he almost died for the work of Christ, Paul says, “risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me” (v.30). But Epaphroditus fulfilled a mission he had been sent on – a mission that put the interests of Christ above his own.  

 

So how did they each do that practically? There are two fairly simple clues.

 

First, they both cared about the people in the Philippine church. Timothy was “genuinely concerned for their welfare” v.20. And Epaphroditus, the Philippians’ messenger, was very distressed that they heard he was ill and wanted to assure them he was alright, and that Paul had gratefully received their gift.  We know their genuine care for the church is one priority that matters to Christ.  Jesus said: “By this will all people now you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn.13:35).  That means when one weeps, we should all weep; when one rejoices, we should all rejoice.  When one is struggling, we should all be praying and bearing that struggle.  When there’s conflict, we work it through in gentleness and courage.  We are to have God’s love for one another. Timothy and Epaphroditus both cared for the Philippians.

 

Secondly, Timothy and Epaphroditus each fulfilled the responsibilities they had in the ministry. In putting Christ first, there was no holding back – no problem with being self-absorbed, no living their Christian life on their own terms, within their own comfort zones.  Their obedience to their calling was very costly for them both.  Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey and was with him in Corinth, Macedonia, Ephesus, and Jerusalem. Luke’s accounts of what happened in all those locations describe that cost.  He and Paul wrote the 2nd letter to the Corinthians, the letter to the Philippians, to Philemon and to the Thessalonians. Timothy, as Paul’s associate often carried the evangelistic and pastoral concerns to the churches when Paul was in prison. That’s why Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians. He knew that Timothy would encourage them by his reports about Paul and the cause of Christ in Rome and then when he returned to Rome, Timothy would be able to encourage Paul with reassuring tidings about the Philippians and the progress of the gospel among them.

 

Epaphroditus was also a messenger, though in a more limited sense. He brought the gift from the Philippians to Paul and that gift greatly encouraged the apostle’s heart. Epaphroditus is also given high accolades by Paul as a fellow worker in the cause of the gospel and a fellow solider in the fight against the powers of the Evil One and the enemies of the cross.  Paul said Epaphroditus was to be welcomed back with great joy and honor because he risked his life in the sacred ministry of charity – bringing their gift to meet Paul’s needs.

 

Both Timothy and the Epaphroditus together with Paul were part of the team that helped the early churches to get established.  That’s the kind of partnership in ministry we need as God is trying to establish His work in various places in the world today. Whatever our context, we are to be people who don’t seek our own interest first and serve ourselves, but care for what matters to Jesus Christ. Christ wants the church to love each other. He wants the church to grow and witness and be victorious in our fight against evil.  And this involves the commitment to working together with a single focus and goal.

 

One analogy of that commitment is rock climbing.  When our son Bruce was in college, he went on a outdoor marathon of endurance and team building called High Roads.  A group of 16 collegians and staff went out in the backwoods of northern Wisconsin and survived 3 grueling weeks of backpacking, canoeing, portaging canoes, rock climbing and repelling, building their own shelter and living alone in the wilderness for 3 days, setting up tents in site after site. It was all designed to take each person beyond what they could conceivably accomplish on their own and teach them the necessity of team building. During that time the team had to scale a very high rock face.  The rock that had been chosen, rose straight up (with seemingly no footholds or handholds to use on the way up), and then 1/3rd from the top it jutted out in a big arc.  Team members were all connected by rope to one another and when the scaling started, each had a role to play.  There was a be-layer who was tied to a tree or some heavy immovable object at the top. He sat with the rope wound around that object and then wound around his waist.  Also on the top, not connected to the rope, was another person called an encourager.  The task of that person was to help the one coming up by their comments of support. The rope then hung over the edge and was connected around the waist to the person on the rock face trying to scale the rock. That person was in turn connected to the person waiting on the ground, ready to go next and so forth. 

 

After several teammates had successfully scaled the rock, Bruce started up; each time he slipped, he would be kept from free falling because the rope would pull on the be layer on the top and cinch him a bit tighter in his waist, but Bruce was safe because he was connected. However, 2/3rds of the way, he was exhausted.  He had been having trouble all along finding proper handholds and ledges for his feet and now he faced this huge arc coming out over him.  He asked for time to just stay where he was and rest awhile to regain his strength.  But the encourager and others already at the top cheered him on. There were also others waiting to come, so they told Bruce, “No just keep coming – you can do it!”  Through their encouragement and the safety of the rope around the be layer (despite his groans every time Bruce’s weight would be felt around his waist when Bruce slipped,) Bruce did make it to the top of the rock and collapsed dramatically on the top, seemingly unable to go on. Instead, he was immediately put in the role of the be layer for the next teammate! 

 

A second analogy is how bees work together. One bee always seems ready to feed another. Mutual feeding among bees, who are very social insects, is the order of their existence.  The workers feed the helpless queen who cannot feed herself.  They feed the drones during their period of usefulness in the hive.  Of course they feed the young.  They seem to enjoy the social act.  In addition, Bees also cluster together for warmth in cold weather and fan their wings to cool the hive in hot weather, thus working for one another’s comfort.  If scouts find honey, they come back and execute a dance to tell about the honey so others can go get some too. They work as a unit.

 

Application

Generally, caring first for what’s on God’s heart means seeing others as God sees them and reflecting God’s priorities in our own relationships, our choices, and our prayers. We seek the Lord’s guidance together with others committed to hear from God how we pray, what we do, and how we do it.  We choose to minister as the Body of Christ where we are, with each person on mission together, fulfilling their role to forward God’s kingdom agenda in the world.

 

So, in your context, what do you think matters to Christ most?  How are you working with others to be a lighthouse in your community? That says something about how we witness. Are you and your community known as those who are powerful pray-ers for others? What would happen if you created a brochure that you can hand to your friends and could distribute in the neighborhood that says, “God is at work in our ______________ community of faith through prayer.  We have experienced how God hears and answers prayer and have many stories to share.  How can we pray for you?”  If you make this an intentional part of your outreach and follow up on the stories that will occur in people’s lives, I believe we will see people come to Christ all over the world. 

 

That’s part of concentrating on what matters to Jesus. Timothy and Epaphroditus cared not first for their own interests but for what matters to Christ.  When we do that, we can be history makers just like they were.  God needs us to rise to that level of commitment in these days for Christ’s sake. Amen.        Dr. M.L. Codman-Wilson 3/19/24


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