The following is an unedited sermon manuscript; for an explanation of my sermon manuscripts, click here.
*Originally preached in April 2022*
Sermon Audio: A Life Well-Lived (Phil 2:19-30)
What did you want to be when you grew up? Our life is so much more than a career, of course, but children often have incredible pictures of their future life. They want to be scientists, astronauts, professional athletes, etc. Life is exciting and they want to do something with it just as exciting. As kids grow up, their perspectives change, but if you speak with any eighteen-year-old, they usually still have a sense that they are going to do something great, something meaningful. For some that means looking forward to starting a family, to others that means starting a career, to others that looks like pursuing education or travel. But I have yet to ever meet a young person who explains, “I want to live a totally meaningless life.” I’ve met young people who I thought was living aimlessly, but they didn’t think that. I just spoke with a family recently who had a young relative who had gotten a full-ride to an exceptional college, but was entirely unmotivated. He barely graduated and now has no intention of pursuing a career. It is incredibly frustrating as a parent to watch a child throw an opportunity like that away. Exasperated parents often plead with their wayward children, “What are you going to do with your life?!” The assumption behind that question is, of course, your life needs to have a point; what’s yours going to be?
But the moody, angsty teenager can always retort: Life isn’t just about making money, Dad! And, as melodramatic and naïve as it may be, they are 100% correct. You can make gobs of money, work in a highly respectable career, create a very comfortable life for your family, and live a totally meaningless life. The actor Jim Carrey has said that he wishes everyone could become rich and famous so they could realize how unsatisfying it is. In fact, accomplishments, wealth, and ease may lull us into thinking that we have created a meaningful life when really we have done nothing of the sort.
Ray Ortlund Sr., writing in 1974, warns us of the all-too-common wasted life of our day, “Your danger and mine is not that we become criminals, but rather that we become respectable, decent, commonplace, mediocre Christians. The twentieth-century temptations that really sap our spiritual power are the television, banana cream pie, the easy chair, and the credit card,” (Lord, Make My Life a Miracle!).
What if Satan’s great scheme, his plan for your life is to give you a comfortable, unsurprising life? To live where you stay within the warm cocoon of your own interests, where the only difference between you and your non-Christian neighbor is a veneer of spirituality? Sure, you may go to church on occasion or don’t let your children watch certain movies or pray before dinner, but the deep architecture of your life, your heart, is basically the same: you work, buy stuff, have fun experiences, sit alone staring at a screen, and then die. That’s what Satan wants for you: a comfortable, respectable, religious copycat of worldliness. A wasted life.
We don’t want that! I’ve never met someone who said: I would love to live a meaningless life centered on things that ultimately don’t matter. So what does an unwasted life look like? Denying yourself to serve others for the cause of Christ. We get two examples here in Philippians:
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Normally, in Paul’s letters he reserves news and updates towards the conclusion of his letters, but here Paul drops a series of updates on Timothy and Epaphroditus right in the middle of the letter. Paul has been building an argument thus far in the letter: we are to live a life “worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27) which means following Paul’s example courageous selflessness (1:12-14), and avoiding selfish ambition (2:1-4). Paul exhorts the Philippians to remember the supreme example of selflessness in the hymn to Christ (2:6-11) before exhorting the Philippians to then workout the implications of the salvation that Christ has earned them (2:12-18). And then, for some reason, Paul gives an update on Timothy and Epaphroditus, before continuing on with his exhortation to the church in chapter three. Why does he do that? If you read the whole letter, this section feels like it is out of place. What is Paul doing?
Paul isn’t making a mistake here. The Philippians were familiar with these two men (cf. 2:22, 25-28). So as he is considering the “mind of Christ” in Phil 2:1-11 and what that looks like played out in God’s people in 2:12-18, immediately Paul thinks of Timothy and Epaphroditus as two living examples of this that the Philippians know. There are a number of key words used in this section that link Timothy and Epaphroditus’s lives back to what Paul has been teaching thus far:
ἡγέομαι in 2:3, 6, and 2:25;
ἀναγκαῖος in 1:24 and 2:25;
δοῦλος in 2:7 and δουλεύω in 2:22
λειτουργία in 2:17 and 2:30 and λειτουργός in 2:25
θάνατος in 2:8 and 2:27, 30
But more importantly the life of Timothy and Epaphroditus model what Paul has been teaching thus far.
Back in 2:3 we were told to do nothing “from selfish ambition” but were told, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” (2:4) which was a sharp contrast from the false preachers in 1:17 who preach “out of selfish ambition, not sincerely.” But Timothy? “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ,” (2:20-21). Timothy is a living-breathing example of what the humility of Christ looks like in contrast with the self-centeredness of the world.
Back in chapter one we heard of Paul’s willingness to risk his own life through his imprisonment in the gospel (1:12-14) and his perspective that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). Of course, Paul learns this from Christ Himself who didn’t merely risk His life, but gave His life by, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (2:8). And what do we read of Epaphroditus? “…he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me,” (2:30). Epaphroditus is an example of selfless sacrifice and Christ-like risk taking.
So, Paul has been calling the Philippians to follow Christ and explains what that looks like abstractly in 2:1-18, but then he thinks, “Oh, you know what, Timothy and Epaphroditus are a great example of this, let me fill you in on them.” Paul’s exhortation at the end of this section for the Philippians to “honor such men” as Timothy and Epaphroditus make it even more explicit: Paul wants the Philippians to view these men as examples, models of the Christian life.
This tells us that we need more than abstractions and mental exercises for us to grow in Christ. We need to see it modeled before us. Paul could have just provided the teaching of Philippians 2:1-18 and then rolled on right by the examples of these men. But he doesn’t, he draws the church’s attention to consider the lives of these men. And if that is true for the Philippians, that is true for us as well. We need living and breathing models of what it actually looks like for us to follow Jesus in our lives.
The Bible is chock-full of clear and accessible teaching, but we were never meant to be left by ourselves to figure out the Christian life. We need to see what it looks like in flesh and blood around us. I can read what Ephesians tells me about loving my wife as Christ loved the church and get an idea of what that means by myself. But I will be far better equipped if I also observe how an older, godlier man interacts with his wife, how he speaks of her, how he treats her.
Friend, do you understand that one of the most basic ways you can disciple others is by simply inviting them into your life to see what following Christ looks like in the day-to-day? In another letter Paul wrote, he tells the Corinthian church, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” (1 Cor 11:1; cf. 1 Cor 4:16). Later in Philippians he will tell them, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us,” (Phil 3:17). Are you eager to grow? Find other people here in this church who are running after Jesus a little bit faster than you are and spend time with them. Invite yourself over for dinner, ask if they need help with projects on the weekend, take them out for coffee and ask them questions.
This is one of the reasons we have elders and deacons in our church. Consider, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith,” (Heb 13:7). A leader in the church is someone that we have all recognized as being someone who still struggles with sin, they are not extraordinary as Christians, but they are exemplary in what is ordinary to the Christian life. If you pattern your life off of theirs, you will likely grow as a Christian.
So what do we learn from the life of Timothy and Epaphroditus? Why are these men lifted up as exemplary models, and what does this then tell us about what kind of lives we should live?
A life of love, a life of self-denial, and a life of courage.
A Life of Love
What sticks out most glaringly in these passages is just how much Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus care for one another and care for the Philippian church. In nearly every verse of this section we get a vivid demonstration of the affection that Christians should have for one another. Look back through verses 19-30 and notice how prevelant it is…
“…so that I too may be cheered by news of you” 2:19
“[Timothy] will be genuinely concerned for your welfare” 2:20
“how as a son with a father [Timothy] has served with me in the gospel” 2:22
“Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” 2:25
“for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” 2:26
“…lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” 2:27
“I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious” 2:28
“honor such men” 2:29
“risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” 2:30
Verses 19-30 are a display of the supernatural love that marks the ordinary life of a Christian. John tells us, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us,” (1 John 4:9-12).
John, more shockingly, states, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20).
Put a seed in rich soil, water it, give it sunshine, and it inevitably follows that it will grow. Take a sinner, put him in the rich soil of the gospel, water him with the Holy Spirit, and shine on him the love of the Father, and it inevitably follows that he will love his brothers and sisters in Christ. This isn’t a natural, worldly love that is dependent on the shared interests, backgrounds, or even time. Paul had only spent a few days with the Philippians on his first visit, and only a few months on his second, yet the church cares for Paul so deeply that they raise money to give to Paul and Epaphroditus is willing to risk his life to deliver it to him. So deeply connected in our affections for one other we should be, Paul can tell the Corinthians,“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together,” (1 Cor 12:26). The body of Christ is profoundly interconnected.
You want to live a meaningful life worthy of honor? Love the brothers and sisters around here deeply.
A Life of Self-Denial
Paul tells us of Timothy: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ,” (Phil 2:20-21). After verse 20 explained that Timothy was genuinely concerned for the interests of the Philippians, it would have made sense for verse 21 to say, “For they all seek their own interests, not those of others.” But it doesn’t say that, it says, “not those of Jesus Christ.” What are the interests of Jesus Christ? Denying yourself to serve others. And “serve” is the exact right word, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel,” (Phil 2:22).
Why does Timothy standout as so extraordinary to Paul that he wants to send him to the Philippians?
1. He will be genuinely concerned for their welfare. Timothy barely even knows the Philippians yet, but Paul is confident that Timothy will care for them well, not because he knows that he and the Philippians necessarily will have an incredible affinity for one another, but because he knows what kind of person Timothy is. He seeks the interest of Christ.
2. He doesn’t do what everyone else does. He doesn’t seek his own interests. It is normal and natural for us to put ourselves first—to serve when it is convenient, to give when we have extra, to invest time when we have it to spare. You don’t need to be regenerate to have an “appearance of godliness” (2 Tim 3:5). But it is supernatural to say to Jesus, not my priorities, but yours. Following Jesus means that we let Him set the agenda for our life. Our careers, our families, our interests, our personality types—all of it is subordinate to King Jesus.
Here is a little experiment for you: consider how you spent your time this last week. How much of it was spent seeking your own interests, and how much of it was spent denying yourself for the interests of others?
A Life of Courage
Paul tells us that on his journey to aid Paul Epaphroditus became, “ill, near to death” (Phil 2:27). It is not immediately clear that the illness necessarily has anything to do with his journey. Epaphroditus very well may have become deathly ill had he stayed home. But Paul understands that the hardship that Epaphroditus experienced was not incidental, “for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me,” (Phil 2:30). Jason C. Meyer explains, “Suffering that comes on the path of obedience to Christ is suffering for Christ,” (ESVEC, Philippians). As many of you know, there are few things that are more discouraging and disincentivizing to serving others than personal sickness. But, amazingly, even in the midst of his sickness he still chooses to serve Paul and is actually more concerned with the Philippians worrying about him than he is about himself.
As soon as Epaphroditus left Philippi to travel to Rome, he took the path of risk, a path that Paul believes is worthy of commendation, honor, and imitation.
When is the last time you did something risky for Christ?
The example of John Paton to the New Hebrides:
The New Hebrides islands were a chain of about eighty islands in the South Pacific. The indigenous population who lived there were cannibals and in 1839 killed two missionaries and eaten them only minutes after the men had stepped on shore. John Paton, a 33 year old Presbyterian missionary, announced to his church that he intended to go to these same isles. An older man in the church named Mr. Dickson exploded: “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” To which Paton responded:
“Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.”
That’s a model of selfless courage that we need sorely today.