We’re currently in a series by guest writer Marc Rader, in the book of Philippians. It’s written as a dialogue between Paul and Clement (an imaginary member of the Philippian church.)
As we continue through Paul’s letter of friendship to the Philippians we come across another example of the sort of selfless attitude that Paul is advocating. This time it is the example of Epaphroditus and Timothy; two men well known to the community of believers in Philippi. They both exhibit the sort of attitude Paul desires them to have to each other.
Clement – How we live as followers of Jesus is incredibly important and not just in our community of faith. How we live has implications for the our wider community. In how we hold on to what we have learned we not only defend the gospel but we also hold out the gospel to the world!
It was a sobering thought to think that our behaviour is that important, but not as sobering as what Paul had to say next.
Read Philippians 2:16-18
This was another reminder that we might not see our beloved apostle again, but another reminder to rejoice. To rejoice?! He kept mentioning how joyful he was – in chains, in the face of tricky circumstances, in the face of death, and yet joyful.
If only we could experience some of that joy in the tricky circumstances we face here in Philippi. Things aren’t easy and are getting more difficult. To be reminded of the joy we have in Jesus was another indicator of the sort of perseverance we were to have.
Paul – And speaking of joy, it was necessary to share with them my plans for Timothy and Epaphroditus. And, they were both good examples of the sort of life that I was promoting anyways!
Read Philippians 2:19-24
I am confident that I will be released, though not certain, and plan to send Timothy to let them know as soon as I know.
Clement – Timothy has been in Philippi before – on Paul’s first journey for example, and he has functioned as a messenger on a few occasions too. He is, as Paul says, the real thing. What Paul teaches is exemplified in his own life and in the life of Timothy. He can be a bit timid, but he is faithful.
The thing about Timothy, as Paul put it here, is not his doctrine but his concern for others and for the things of Jesus. He is as much a partner of Paul’s as we are and his willingness to make the dangerous journey to let us know as soon as possible about Paul’s situation is another example of the sort of self-sacrificing lifestyle that Jesus modelled for us and Paul wants us to practice.
Paul – I had also sent Epaphroditus back to his people. I’m sure that reading this part of the letter will be hard for him…
Clement – When Epaphroditus read the next part of the letter we all leaned forward again. He hadn’t said much about his time with Paul or how long he’d be staying this time. When he revealed that he would be staying there was plenty of cheering. We’d sent him in the first place because he was reliable and faithful and the one that we all agreed would represent us to Paul, providing him with what we couldn’t do so far away.
Paul – I know that they had heard about Epaphroditus’ illness, but I don’t think many of them knew just how serious it was or what a miracle it was that he had been spared. It was a mercy to him and to me.
Read Philippians 2:25-30
Clement – Here was another example of a self-sacrificing life! Paul can sometimes be guilty of overkill! We had heard, from a group of believers who had travelled to Rome, that Epaphroditus had been ill but was recovering. We didn’t know how dire it has been! To hear that he had nearly died put things in perspective for us. Epaphroditus has put it all on the line for the gospel and was concerned when he heard that we were concerned. We actually took a moment in our gathering to give thanks to God that he had been spared; for Paul’s sake and for ours!
I must say, Paul’s commendation of Epaphroditus was really well received too. He was one of us and had represented us in a way that was highly commended by Paul! A little pride by association!
To think about
The example of Jesus that Paul reflects on in Philippians 2:5-11 has the “downside” of being the example of Jesus! Too often we think to ourselves, “Sure, but that was Jesus! How are we supposed to put this into practice in our lives?”. Paul’s example of Timothy and Epaphroditus provide us with two simple examples of how a Christ-like attitude gets worked out. Timothy showed genuine concern for another group of believers and Epaphroditus was distressed because his friends were distressed! Such simple selfless acts.
Pray that in some small way you might put the needs of others ahead of yourself today.