The Basics Of CommunityRev. Philip Miller | October 17, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
At the end of Chapter 2 in Philippians, Paul takes the time (12 verses worth) to describe his travel plans along with the travel itineraries of two other individuals: Timothy and Epaphroditus. But why? How are these twelve verses relevant to us?
In this message, Pastor Miller shows us what Paul thinks of Timothy and Epaphroditis and why they are models of Christ-likeness. We, whether knowingly or not, imitate those we are around. So, are you imitating someone who is imitating Christ? Or better yet, are you imitating Christ so that others see Him and not you?
Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” And those of you who have been reading your Bibles for the course of your life will know that while all of Scripture is equally inspired, not all of Scripture appears to be equally inspiring, right? Some passages are difficult. Some sections are slow going. Other sections might feel like they’re so historically entrenched that they are largely insignificant for contemporary life. And so when we come to passages like that, our temptation is to simply skip through it, speed read ahead to get to the good stuff, right?
And today we come to one of those sections in the Bible that we might be tempted to skip over. Here at the end of Philippians, chapter 2, Paul takes twelve verses to describe his travel plans, his intentions to travel and visit the Philippian believers, and he gives the travel itineraries of two individuals who will be coming—Timothy and Epaphroditus. And it would be tempting for us to simply skip through this and go on to the rest of the book, but rather than describe this at great length here, let’s just read it together, and then we’ll talk about it a little more.
Philippians 2:19–30. This is page 981 in the pew Bible here if you’d like to join us there on 981. Philippians 2, beginning reading here in verse 19: “I hope in the Lord Jesus [Christ] to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 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. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
“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, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 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. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.”
Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His word.
So here we have a bunch of historical details, travel arrangements that must have been very helpful to the first century audience, and then they knew these people personally, and then all these details help them sort of orchestrate the details on their calendars, and make preparations for hosting these individuals, right? But there’s nothing much here for you and me, right? We should just skip to chapter 3, right? I think that would be a mistake. There’s more here than actually meets the eye, and what I want to do this morning is I want us dig in and see what’s really here.
Timothy and Epaphroditus are being sent by Paul to Philippi to serve at three different levels. And I want to show them to you this morning. They are Emissaries, they are Encouragers, and they are Exemplaries. They are Emissaries, Encouragers, and Exemplaries. And by the time we are through today I hope and trust you will be glad that we didn’t skip this section and move on.
So let’s open our Bibles. Let’s bow our heads. Let’s pray and ask the Lord to be our teacher this morning.
Father, your Word is life, and every one of the words that are in your Holy Scripture, every jot, every tittle, every piece of this is meant to change our lives, to speak life into our being. Help us see that that’s true today. Help us we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.
So Timothy and Epaphroditus here are sent to Philippi by Paul first as Emissaries. In the first century world news travelled by means of couriers who went from place to place bearing letters in hand. Rome and Philippi were some 800 miles apart. Much of the journey from Rome to Philippi would have taken place on the famous network of Roman roads, in particular the Via Appia in Italy and the Via Egnatia in Macedonia, which were connected across the Adriatic Sea by a shipping lane. All in all, it took about six weeks to complete the journey. And it is in this role as couriers, as emissaries, that Timothy and Epaphroditus are deployed here. They’re serving in this role.
First, Timothy [is mentioned in] Verse 19: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.” So, I’m sending Timothy to you with the purpose that he can bring back news concerning the Philippian believers to Paul, and that he will be cheered in hearing the news about what’s going on back in Philippi.
Skip down to verse 23. He says, “I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”
So, remember Paul’s legal situation in Rome is tenuous. He doesn’t know how long everything is going to take. He doesn’t know if he’s going to be in prison for a long time, if he’s going to be released, or whether he will be executed in the end. And so he figures what he’ll do here is he’ll wait until he has more definitive information about his situation in Rome and then he will send whatever the update is to the Philippian believers so they’ll know what’s going on with him so that then Timothy can return with news about them, so he can be encouraged.
And so with this also Paul closes out by indicating his confidence that the Lord will allow him eventually to be released, and that he will be able to visit in person one day himself.
Now, in the meantime, Epaphroditus is already on his way— basically. Verse 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…” I’m sending you Epaphroditus. He’s your minister. He’s your messenger. He’s your minister to my need.
So apparently Epaphroditus was the messenger, the courier that the Philippians sent to Paul in the first place. They had heard that Paul was in prison, and they dispatched Epaphroditus to come to Paul. And apparently en route, on his way to Rome, he had taken quite ill. But that didn’t deter him from completing the journey. He reached Paul at last, but at great cost to himself, to his health. In verse 27, Paul says, “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.”
Now we have to ask the question, “Why was Epaphroditus so determined to reach Paul?” Well, he was carrying a gift, a financial gift to help Paul in his various expenses that he would have under house arrest in Rome. Paul couldn’t work, of course, and so he needed to rely on the assistance of others. If you go to the end of Philippians (Philippians 4:18), you will see that Paul there says, “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
So, at the very most basic level, Timothy and Epaphroditus are serving here as emissaries, as couriers on the Via Appia and the Via Egnatia. These are reliable and trustworthy men. Paul can count on them to get the job done. And these messages will get through to the intended parties.
One of the things Epaphroditus is doing is he’s actually bringing this letter to the Philippians with him back to Philippi. So they are couriers on the Via Appiaand Via Egnatia.
Now, secondly, Timothy and Epaphroditus are sent to Philippi by Paul as Encouragers, as Encouragers. These are no emotionally detached, uninvolved postmen (Right?) simply ferrying unknown letters from one stranger to another. No, these are brothers in Christ who cared deeply for one another, and for their respective communities. Epaphroditus here was entrusted to bring this gift of love from the Philippian believers to Paul. He’s the bearer of friendship and affection for Paul from the Philippian leaders. You see this. And Timothy likewise, who is the co-author of this letter, who helped plant the church in Philippi, and who will soon go to Philippi, he will go now as an extension of Paul’s love and affection for the Philippian church. These men are sent, not just to carry letters, but to embody the love and affection that binds Paul and the Philippian believers together in Christian friendship.
Remember how Paul began this letter back in chapter 1, verse 7: “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart.” He said in verse 8: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Now look in this passage. Look at all the feeling, the affection, the yearning that is conveyed in this text, in Paul’s description. Verse 19: “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.” He says, “You know, it would really cheer me up. Here I am in chains; everything is going kind of lousy for me. You know what I wish for more than anything? I want to hear how you’re doing. That would make my day.”
Verse 25: “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus… for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.” He says, “This is your brother, Epaphroditus, here. He is longing for you. He wants desperately to be near you, especially because he knows you heard that he was ill, and he wants you to know he’s okay, because you love him, and he loves you.”
Verse 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.” (chuckles) “I want you to rejoice when you see him, and because you love him dearly, I want you to have him back, and then I’ll be less anxious. Why am I carrying this anxiety? I’m anxious for you. I’m anxious for your concern for him. You are anxious about him and he’s anxious for you. And I am anxious for you because he’s anxious, and so I care about this.” Do you see his transparency here? This is weighing on his heart. There’s such warmth, such tenderness, such emotional openness. These are more than letter couriers. These are representatives of spiritual friendship and affection. These are representatives of spiritual friendship and affection.
Friends, there are some things that cannot be conveyed in writing. There is something about being together. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need each other, right? There’s something about being together that matters, and Epaphroditus’s presence in Rome is an embodiment for Paul of the spiritual friendship and affection of the Philippian believers that could be conveyed in no possible way by an insured FedEx package. He had to come in person to embody the love and affection that the Philippian believers had for Paul. It’s the only way it could be conveyed. And Timothy’s incarnate presence in Philippi will give Paul’s spiritual friendship and affection tangible meaning in a way that even an inspired apostolic letter could not.
Isn’t that amazing? We need embodied encouragement, don’t we? We need embodied encouragement. We are gathered together. And friends, this is why we need real community in this family of God. There are some things that God wants to communicate to us that we can’t get in writing. You just can’t get it in writing. Even in inspired apostolic writing there are things that we can only feel and sense and know through the incarnate presence of the body of Christ, making tangible the love and affections of Jesus for one another. We were never meant to go it alone, were we?
So, Timothy and Epaphroditus are being sent by Paul to Philippi, first as Emissaries, second now as Encouragers, and then thirdly as Exemplaries. Look with me here at Paul’s description of Timothy. Verse 20: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.”
In the Greek this phrase is literally, “I have no one equal in soul.” No one equal in soul. “There is no one,” Paul says, “whose soul is more perfectly knit together with mine than Timothy. He’s likeminded. Our hearts beat as one. We are equal in soul.”
Now, if you were reading this in the Greek you might pick up on the echoes here in this phrase of some previous statements in chapter 1:27, and chapter 2, verse 2. You’ll recall in chapter 1, verse 27, Paul said, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that… (He gives a list, but one of the things is…) I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” This phrase, “one mind, striving side by side” is parallel to the statement here, “one soul.” No one equal in “one soul” with me. You have to see it in the Greek. The words are very similar. The imagery is brothers standing side by side in battle who can trust each other at any point until the very end, equal in soul, one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.
Chapter 2, verse 2 has a similar idea when Paul gives the exhortation to the Philippian believers, and he says, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love (Here’s the phrase), being in full accord and of one mind.” Full accord. This is the same imagery of one soul, standing side-by-side in the battle, having each other’s backs, in full accord, united in soul. So he’s saying, “Look, I’m sending Timothy to you because I have nobody equal in soul like him. I can’t come to you myself, but Timothy’s coming will be almost as good in every way because his soul is knit together. He’s my brother. He’s the one who has my back in the battles.” “He’s equal in soul,” he says, “because he is genuinely concerned for your welfare.”
Again, a parallel echo here of chapter 2, verse 3, where Paul commends the Philippians: “In humility I want you to count others more significant than yourselves,” which is conceptually parallel to Timothy who has genuine concern for the welfare of others. And then he says (verse 21), “For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Does that seem familiar to you, that language? Chapter 2, verse 4, “Let each of you look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.”
Verse 22, he says, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” Again then these descriptions are not haphazard, friends. He says, “You’ve seen his proven worth.” Remember Paul’s prayer from chapter 1, verses 9 to 11? “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may be approving what is excellent.” Same phrase! “You might approve what is excellent.” Timothy’s proven worth – parallel concepts. “And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” He says, “I prayed that you’d be able to approve what is excellent so that you would be pure and blameless and righteous in Christ, and now I want you to look at Timothy. His worth has been proven, and he will come and help you on your way to becoming like Christ.” He says, “He served with me as a son with a father. He’s my apprentice in ministry. He’s my equal in soul. He’s my son in the Gospel.”
Do you see what he’s doing here? Do you see what’s happening? Paul has been praying for the Philippians, that they would be formed into the image of Christ. Yes? He has charged them to live in oneness and selflessness, looking out for the interests of others. Yes? He has called them to imitate Christ, to pattern their lives after the example of Christ, who in humble service and others’ first sacrificial love laid down his life for others. Yes?
And now he sends Timothy, who is the embodiment of Christian Christ-like love and others-centered humility. Do you see what’s happening here? Timothy is a living, breathing embodied example of what Christlikeness really is.
This is why there are so many verbal parallels and echoes in the text here. Timothy is embodying what Paul is exhorting. Timothy is embodying what Paul is exhorting. And this is not just true of Timothy. Paul wants them to emulate Timothy, but not only that. He wants them to emulate Epaphroditus. Look at verse 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.” This phrase again–fellow soldier! What does that sound like? Brothers standing side by side with their backs against each other, right? Contending!
It’s what he said in verse 27, “Striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.” So not only does Timothy stand in the battle with Paul (one soul, fighting the battle, having each other’s back), Epaphroditus jumps into that battle as well. He stands by Paul. He says, “I thought it necessary to send him to you,” verse 26, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.”
He’s been longing for you all. What does that sound like? Again, remember chapter 1, verse 8: “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul yearns for them with the affection of Christ. Epaphroditus is longing for them with the affection of Christ as well and he is distressed because he knows how anxious they must be for his sake. He is looking out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Chapter 2, verse 29 here: “So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” He says, “Receive him with joy. Honor men like him for he nearly died for the work of Christ. He risked his life in service to me.” Do you see the themes of the book coming together?
Chapter 1, verse 29 and 30: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer his sake.” You are called to suffer for Christ’s sake, and Epaphroditus has suffered much for the sake of the Gospel, yes?
Chapter 2:17: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” Paul says, “Look, my life is like a sacrificial offering before the Lord. Even if I am dying here for the sake of the Gospel, if my trial doesn’t go well and they execute me, I will be poured out like a sacrificial offering. I will be obedient to the point of death, even this death in Rome.”
Chapter 2, verses 5 to 8: “Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (held on to), but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
He says, “Honor such men. Just as Christ was honored by the Father because He, in sacrificial self-giving and service and love, laid down everything for others, I want you to honor Epaphroditus, because he risked his life in service of Christ and of me.”
Don’t you see Epaphroditus is a living, breathing embodied example of what Christlikeness really looks like? He’s embodying what Paul is exhorting. So they’re not just couriers on the Appian and Egnatian Way. They’re not just representatives of spiritual friendship and affection that are binding these people together. They are models of Christlikeness, worthy of imitation. They are models of Christlikeness that are worthy of imitation.
Friends, we are called to be imitators of Christ, yes? We are called to be holy as He is holy. We are called to be increasingly conformed to the image of Christ, but sometimes that vision seems so lofty, doesn’t it? So out there, so intangible, which is why God sends us people, people like Timothy and Epaphroditus and Paul who will show us in real life and real time what real Christlikeness looks like because we learn by imitation, don’t we? We learn by patterning ourselves after others. This is why Paul writes in chapter 3, verse 17 of Philippians, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
“Imitate me. Keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us, in me.” Paul says, “Look at this pattern, my life, Timothy’s life, Epaphroditus’s life. Look at those who are godly and mature. I want you to pattern your life after us. I want you to model our lifestyle. I want you to imitate our example. I want you to follow us as we follow Christ.”
I don’t know about you but I never quite realized how pervasive this language of imitation is in the Bible. Just a handful of examples:
- 1 Corinthians 11:1 (again Paul): “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
- Ephesians 5:1–2: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
- Hebrews 13:7–8: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Imitation, following, patterning. Paul even uses this language with Timothy, doesn’t he? Like a father with his son, like a son with his father he says. “Like a son with his father, this is how Timothy has been with me in ministry.” How do sons learn? Imitation – Like father, like son.
My own father was here just a couple weeks ago to pray over me at the installation, which was a very moving moment for me. And so many of you came up to me in the subsequent weeks and said things like, “I can see where you get it. I see so much of you in your father, and your father in you, the way you talk, the way you stand, the way you interact, your personality, mannerisms. So much that’s strikingly similar.” Now, how did that happen? How did that happen? I’ve never once consciously thought, “I’m going to go mimic what my dad’s doing. I’m going to copy his voice. I’m going to try, you know, mimic his cadence, his posture, his mannerisms,” and yet the similarities are obvious.
Like father, like son. And brain scientists tell us exactly why this happens. We have these things called mirror neurons, mirror neurons. (Like mirror, like a reflection.) That our brains subconsciously are always patterning after people around us, especially those that we admire. We are imitating. It’s how we learn. Right? Every training program is the same. I do, you watch. Now you and I watch. Right? We pattern. We imitate. Apprentices become like their masters. Pupils become like their teachers. Protégés become like their mentors. Children become like their parents. Companies become like their founders. Congregations become like their pastors, and nations become like their leaders.
The person you will become is directly linked with the heroes you admire and the friendships you cultivate. The person you will become is directly linked with the heroes you admire and the friendships you cultivate. That’s why we tell our kids, “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future,” because association (who you’re with), leads to admiration (who you adore), leads to imitation, leads to habituation, which becomes formation.
Association to admiration to imitation to habituation to formation. In other words, we become what we behold. We become what we behold.
So two quick takeaways: First, who am I imitating? Who am I imitating? Not who do I wish I was imitating, but who am I really imitating? Who am I looking to? Who are my heroes? Who has captured my attention and my imagination? Who do I admire?
See, friends, in a million subtle and subconscious ways we are being formed, whether we realize it or not. We are being formed by TikTok influencers (some of us). We’re being formed by Hollywood elites. We are being formed by social media feeds and algorithms. We are being formed by our cable news consumption. We are being formed by marketing. We are being formed by our business heroes. We are being formed by our politically elected officials. And whether we like it or not, we are imitating somebody. Who is it? Do you know?
Are you imitating someone who is imitating Christ, or are you imitating someone who is imitating who knows what? Under their influence am I becoming more loving, more joyful, more patient, more kind, more good, more faithful, more gentle, more self-controlled? Or am I becoming more self-focused, more fearful, more anxious, more impatient, more irritable, more desperate, more cynical, more angry, more impulsive?
Friends, it really is that simple. In our pursuit of Christ, when we see ourselves and we say, “Well, here’s an area where I’m deficient; I’m not walking in the fruit of the Spirit.” Let’s say, just you know, because I don’t struggle with this one… (chuckles) Let’s say it’s patience. I find myself being impatient. This is really a thing.
So, I’m not very patient. Okay, okay. So here’s the goal then. I go find the person who is most patient in my circle of acquaintances, and I go hang out with them, and I try what they’re like, and I do what they do, and I practice what they portray. I watch them. I admire them. I imitate them. That’s how we grow, because the person we are becoming is directly linked to the heroes we admire and the friendships we cultivate.
That’s the first question. Who am I imitating? The second question: Who is imitating me? Who is imitating me? And the reality is it’s quite a few people, isn’t it? We don’t stop to think about it, but it’s quite a sobering thought to think of all the people we interact with that are mimicking. They are mimicking and imitating and habiting themselves off of the patterns of behavior that we are living out. You know, and we think we are being humble when we say, “Don’t follow me. Follow Christ.” You know, “Don’t look at me. Look at Christ.”
Perhaps it is not humility that causes us to say that, but the fact that we do not have lives that are worthy of imitation. You know, we say it all the time, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Friends, that is so short of the vision of Christ for your life! He wants to make you like Himself in glory and splendor! The children of God are to share in the character and likeness of their Father! Like father, like son! Like father, like daughter! God’s intention for you is to embody for others exactly what it is that Christ is like, that you would be a living, breathing example of what Christ-likeness really is, so that others might imitate our faith. This is why we have small groups. This is why we have Sunday communities. We can’t make this happen but we can get people together so that we start to see and behold the goodness of Christ in one another, so that we might imitate Christ in each other. That’s why we want every single one of you to belong here at Moody Church because God has beautiful, transforming, glorious dreams for your life. It’s going to happen together because the person you are becoming is directly linked to the heroes you admire, and the friendships you cultivate. The person I am becoming is directly linked to the heroes I admire and the friendships I cultivate.
So what is it for you? What would it mean to take action in becoming the person God is calling you to be in Christ, by the power of His Spirit? What would it look like to choose some intentional friends and heroes for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of Christ?
Would you pray with me?
Father, we want to be like Christ. So often we reduce this vision that you have for us to just praying a prayer and walking an aisle and getting right with you through Christ so we can go to heaven and be with you one day. But then the rest of our lives is kind of up to us, doing our thing, sort of hoping accidentally we might become full of the Spirit and His fruit in our lives. But what if it takes some intention? What if it takes patterning? What if it takes purposeful friendships and association? What if it’s like everything else in life? You don’t learn anything except by association and imitation, so that we become formed. That’s why we go to school. That’s why we have mentorships and leadership development, and go to conferences and read books. What if this character formation is the same kind of thing, only easier because of the Holy Spirit?
Father, would you forgive us for being lazy, for being haphazard, for drifting through life? Would you teach us what it means to run hard after you, to recognize that holiness will not come by accident, that Christlikeness will take some effort, and by your grace and through faith in Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, this too can happen in our lives?
Father, we are yours. We give you ourselves. We hold nothing back. Change us, we pray, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.