" />

Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians (32): He Came Close to Death for the Work of Christ

Series: Fighting for Joy, Growing in Humility, Knowing Christ and the Peace that Passes Understanding: A Study of Philippians

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 16, 2008

Philippians 2:19-30

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles I’d invite you turn with me to Philippians 2:19. As you are turning there, I would remind you as we’ve studied through this great letter of the Apostle Paul, beginning in Philippians 1:12-27, Paul is essentially giving a missionary report. And then he breaks off from that missionary report in v. 27 to begin to exhort us to live the Christian life.

He starts off in Philippians 1:27 by urging us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ: “Live in such a way that your life fits the gospel; so that it’s appropriate to the gospel.” And he continues on that theme, saying, for instance in Philippians 2:5 that “you should have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus.” And then he gives this glorious description of how Jesus in humility served His people; set aside His own interests in self-denial, and in self-giving love humbled himself to obedience, even to the death of the cross, and thus was exalted.

And we’ve spent a lot of time looking at that section of this letter because really Philippians 1:27-2:18 is the center section of this letter where Paul is pressing home two realities at the same time. One is he wants us to grow in grace, to become more mature in Christ, and to be disciples who live with one another, together, collectively, corporately, as a body in humble, self-denying, self-giving, service of one another, and obedience to God. And, on the other hand, he wants us to experience real joy. And for the Apostle Paul those two things go together. Living together in humble self-denying, self-giving, service of one another in obedience to God’s commands, emulating the life of Jesus Christ in His own selfless love is the context in which we experience real joy together in the Christian community.

Paul is concerned about that. We know this because in Philippians 1:21-26, where he talks about the fact that it would be better for him to go and be with Christ, he tells us that the reason that he’s willing to remain on Planet Earth is what? Look at what he says in v.25, the reason he’s willing to not go right now to be with the Lord Jesus Christ is so that he can work for your progress and for your joy. Now, that sums it up doesn’t it? What kind of progress? Your progress in godliness, your growth in grace, your maturing in Jesus Christ, and your becoming more like your Lord and Savior. Sanctification is the code word that we use for that. “So, I’m willing to stay, for your sanctification, for your maturing, for your progress in holiness, and for your joy. And those two things go together.”

Well, in Philippians 2:19-30 the Apostle Paul goes back to his missionary report. He’s back to telling you how things are with him and what’s been going on with him. And, he’s telling about two men that the Philippians had sent to him in his time of imprisonment to help and encourage him. But as he tells the Philippians about these two men, he draws attention to two aspects of their respective character and service that are examples of exactly what he has been exhorting you to do from Philippians 1:27-2:18. So, even when he goes back to the missionary report, he’s putting the spotlight on two men and he’s basically saying, “These men have done and are doing exactly what I’ve been exhorting you to do in Philippians 1:27-2:18.”

So, with that word of introduction, let’s look to God’s word in Philippians 2:19 and before we do let’s ask God’s help and blessing in prayer. Let’s pray.

Father, this is your word, we need it just as much, in fact we need it more, than we need food. But we need your Holy Spirit if we are going to understand it and believe it and live it like you want us to. So, by your Holy Spirit open our eyes to behold wonderful things in your word. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hear the word of the living God beginning in Philippians 2:19:

“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.”

Amen. This ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Paul is resuming his missionary report in this passage. But as he tells the Philippians what has been going on with him – and we know that they’re genuinely concerned about that because they’ve sent people to minister to him and those people have brought with them the message to Paul that the Philippians are concerned about him. They’re a little bit discouraged that their missionary who they are sacrificially supporting is in prison. They’d like their missionary to be free and sharing the gospel hither, thither, and yon and they’re a little bit discouraged about that. And they’re worried about Paul because he is in prison. They are afraid that he may be tried and sentenced and executed. And they’re concerned about his well being and his state of heart. And so they’ve sent people to go and minister to him.

So, the Apostle Paul is, in this letter that he’s going to be sending back to them, telling them how he is in order to encourage them. But in the midst of telling them how he is, what he really does is he takes the spotlight off of him and he points it to these two faithful men that the Philippians have sent to him to minister. He points to Timothy’s selflessness and to Timothy’s focus on serving the interests of Jesus Christ in the church. And he points us to Epaphroditus’s bravery and his willingness to die for the sake of the gospel. He says, “Look, Philippians, these two men, in who they are and what they are doing and have done, embody exactly what I’ve been exhorting you about.”

So, even though he’s giving the Philippians a missionary report he is doing two other things at the same time. On the one hand, he’s letting them know how he is in order to set their hearts at ease. On the other hand, he’s pointing to the character and action of these two men and saying, “by the way, this is exactly what I want you to be doing when I call you to have this mind, this attitude, in you that was also in Christ Jesus. These men show you how you ought to do this in the way that they have related to me and the ministry that they have done for me.” So, the Apostle Paul is actually pointing to them as good examples of precisely the exhortation that he’s been giving from 1:27-2:18.

In the course of this missionary report and in the course of commending these two men to you, I think he also shows us four very important truths about the Christian life. And though there is so much in this passage, I want to focus us on these four things briefly.

Joy Does Not Mean the Absence of Trial

The first thing that I want you to see is this, in v. 20-21, 27, & 28, Paul makes it clear that joy does not mean the absence of trial. He is making it absolutely, crystal clear that the kind of gospel joy that he has, and the kind of gospel joy that he wants the Philippians to have – and, boy, he really does want it because he says, “I’m willing to stay here on Planet Earth rather than going to be with Jesus in glory in order that you might have joy.” He’s dead serious about them having joy. He makes it clear in this passage that the kind of gospel joy that he wants them to have and that he wants us to have in every Bible believing, gospel-preaching, Christ-exalting, local congregation of Christians, he wants there to be gospel joy, but he wants us to understand that that is not going to mean an absence of trial. Even in the church, its not going to mean an absence of trial.

Joy in Sorrow

Look at how he proves this to you. First of all, look at v. 27. He’s telling you how glad he is that God spared Epaphroditus’s life. He said, “If Epaphroditus had died I would have what? Sorrow upon sorrow.” He doesn’t just say that he would have been sorry if Epaphroditus had died, it would have been “sorrow upon sorrow.” “I would have had more sorrow,” Paul is saying. Of course, it would have been sorrowful to lose Epaphroditus, he was ministering to him, but Paul is indicating here that he had other sorrows that they would simply mount upon. Now Paul is a servant of the Lord, serving with gospel joy and yet he characterizes himself as a person that has to cope with sorrow.

Then look at v. 28. There he says, “I’m sending Epaphroditus back to you and one reason I’m doing it is so I will have less anxiety.” Now isn’t that interesting? He doesn’t say, “I’m sending him back so that I won’t have any anxiety at all,” but only, “that I’ll have less.” In other words, he is going to send Epaphroditus back so that Epaphroditus can take them word of the Apostle Paul and so that word can be sent back to the Apostle Paul that the Philippians are doing okay. Because, very frankly, the Apostle Paul is a little worried about the Philippians. He’s a little worried about the petty divisions in the church. He’s a little worried about people in the church that are looking out for number one, instead of being concerned for others in the congregation and seeking the welfare of the whole body. He’s a little worried about them. He is the Apostle. Elsewhere, he says, “the daily burdens of the care of the church weigh upon me.” He’s always thinking about the people of God. And so he says, “I want to send Epaphroditus back so I’ll have less anxiety.” Now, it’s so ironic that Paul would say this because later in this letter what is he going to say to the Philippians? “Do not worry about anything.” And yet, the Apostle Paul here is saying, “You know, I’m a little worried about you Philippians, because I love you, I care about you, and I want you to be well. I want you to be growing in grace, I want you to be secure in Christ, and I want you to know gospel joy. And I’m a little concerned about the congregation.” Here’s Paul wrestling with anxious cares and anxiety for the people of God, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have gospel joy.

Sorrow Not Inconsistent with Gospel Joy

And then, if you look back in vv. 20-21, he talks about Christians who were there with him at the time of his imprisonment other than Timothy and Epaphroditus. And you know what he says about them? He says that he couldn’t send any of them to the Philippians because they wouldn’t look out for the Philippians’ best interest; they would only look out for their own. Ouch! Oh, that would have been discouraging to the Apostle Paul to think, “You know, the only two guys that I can really trust to go back to the Philippians is Timothy and Epaphroditus. The rest of them are immature to the point that they look out for themselves rather than the people of God; rather than for the interest of Christ.” Surely, that must have grieved the Apostle’s heart that he didn’t have more people that could have been trusted to go back on that important ministry and errand to the Philippians.

And yet, the Apostle Paul says these things and they are not inconsistent with his experience of gospel joy. Boy, that is important for us to understand. Your experience of gospel of joy does not mean that you enter in this life into a blissful estate in which there is uninterrupted harmony, peace, and utter equilibrium of everything in life. It doesn’t mean there aren’t hard things, disappointments, trials, sorrows, anxieties, and cares. It’s so important for us to understand. There will be a day when there will be no sorrows or cares, no more disappointments, but that’s after Jesus comes.

Paul, in this passage though, is exhorting us to experience a gospel joy now, in the congregation, even though there are still trials and disappointments and sorrows and anxieties. And that’s very important for us, because we will disappoint one another, we’ll let one another down in fellowship, we’ll be disappointed by the lack of maturity in some, we’ll feel the sting of betrayal by others, we’ll be sorrowful at certain events that happen in the family of the people of God, and yet that is not an impediment to gospel joy. It can still be experienced in the body, even in the midst of trials. Because the kind of gospel joy that Paul is talking about does not mean the absence of trial. That is a huge message to learn in the Christian life. I think a lot of Christians are looking for a time in this life when the battle will be over. The battle will never be over until Jesus calls you home or He comes, whichever comes first.

Paul’s so realistic about this isn’t he? Isn’t it refreshing to have Paul utterly realistic about life in a fallen world? He wants you to experience gospel joy, but he knows that troubles are not going away in this world, not even in the church.

The Christian Life is a Life of Companionship

Second, and you really learn this from the whole chapter, but especially from the way that Paul describes the ministry of Timothy and Epaphroditus to him, here is the lesson that he teaches: the Christian life is a life of companionship. The Christian life was meant for company, God did not intend us to go through the Christian life alone. God intended us to need, to depend upon one another and to minister to one another as we walk through this world on the way to the New Heavens and the New Earth.

The Christian life is a life of companionship. How do you see this here? Well, here is the Apostle Paul, who met Jesus face to face on the road to Damascus. To whom Jesus personally talked, who was vested with all of the authority of Jesus so that he could raise people from the dead, so that he could heal people, so that he could prophesy by the Holy Spirit, and so that he could speak in tongues and interpret and give words of knowledge. This Apostle had all of the powers of Jesus Christ vested in him by the Lord Jesus and had been taken up into the third heavens and been shown things which are not allowed for a man to tell. And yet, here he is describing to the Philippians what? How he needed Timothy and Epaphroditus. Is that huge?  If Paul needed Timothy and Epaphroditus to minister to him, how much more do we need one another to minister to one another and to be ministered to by one another? Even the Apostle Paul needed godly Christian friends and their help and their support.

Nourished by the Character of Fellow-Christians

Notice how you can tell how he has nourished in his spirit by their Christian character when he starts describing Timothy as being selfless and only interested in the things which pertain to Jesus Christ. And when he describes Epaphroditus as one who was ready to risk his life for the gospel, you can almost see the life flowing back into Paul’s weary spirit in prison. As he just thinks about the character and the deeds of these men he says to the Philippians in essence, “I needed those men. I needed their ministry. I couldn’t have made it without their ministry.” And so, he is saying to them, “Brothers and Sisters, you need one another just like I needed them.”

Do you realize how important that is for this congregation? I think that a good proportion of our congregation would say that they have experienced in the life of this church family real Christian friendship and companionship. They would say that there are a group of people that really know them and love them and care about them and encourage them in numerous ways and are there with them in times of need. I’ve had that testimony from so many of you. But, I know that there are also others that are part of this fellowship who sometimes feel lonely and alone. And who feel as if they still stand in need of Christian friends who will genuinely love them and care about them and be concerned for them and come alongside of them and support them.

My friend, it should be your absolute intention, as a member of this congregation who once upon a time who raised your hand and said, “I will support the work and worship of this church to the best of my ability.” Do you know what one of the most important works of this church is? It is you being Jesus’ family to one another. And it should be your intention that there should not be one member of this church who can say, “You know, I feel lonely and alone and unsupported as I attempt to walk the walk of faith with Jesus Christ in this sin-filled world.” It should be the testimony of every member of this congregation that we are all investing in at least a few other members so that we are all ministered to and we are all ministering, every single one of us. It’s not about just being a taker, every one of us must be a giver, but every one of us needs a few people to give to us in the congregation. That’s how God built us to be. That’s what Paul is talking about here.

The Apostle Paul needed Timothy and Epaphroditus, how much more do you and I need one another? Will you make that commitment today? Friends in Christ, will you start asking the question, as you look around the congregation, “Who needs my ministry? Who needs to be befriended and helped and supported by me?” Don’t wait for the Pastors to do that. Hold us accountable, we should be doing that, we ought to be examples of that, hold us accountable. Don’t wait for the Elders to do it, they should be doing that, hold them accountable, but don’t expect them to do your job for you. Don’t just expect the Deacons to do it, they’re going to be doing it, they’re going to be involved in the lives of the people of God in the church, they’re supposed to be examples, but don’t expect them to do your job. If you are a member of this church that is your job. And, oh my, there are 3,100+ of us and only 100+ officers. It is going to take all of us, together, to do this. And in the middle of this missionary report Paul reminds us that the Christian life is a life of companionship.

Christians Always Seek First the Interests of Christ

Third, Paul makes it clear in this passage that Christians always seek first the interests of Christ. And he does it in the negative. In vv.20-21, you’ll see this. He’s describing Timothy as a man who does what? “He is a man that I can trust to be concerned for the well being of the church.” But then, sadly, the Apostle Paul will comment, “There’s nobody else around here, other than Timothy and Epaphroditus, that is going to be more concerned for the interests of Christ than he is for his own interests.” And in doing that, Paul is, in the negative, commending for you this truth: that Christians always seek first the interests of Christ.

He’s made this point in Philippians 2 about Jesus, that Jesus did what? He did not seek his own interests, but he set aside his prerogatives, so that he could seek your interests. Now, he draws your attention to Timothy, who alone among the circle of disciples was with Paul in his imprisonment, who alone of whom it can be said, “he did not seek his own interests, but he sought the interests of Christ.” In other words, he says, “Timothy is thinking like this: ‘what’s going to be for the best well being of Paul and what’s going to be for the best well being of the church? That must come first.’”

Do you think that way about the church? Can you think of a decision that you have made in a time when you thought, “You know, this would be good for me personally, but I’m not sure it would be good for the church as a whole, therefore, I’m not going to do it. I’m going to do what’s best for the church.” Can you think of a time where you ever changed your mind about anything? It might be as simple as whether you are going to go to a ballgame or a play or on a vacation during some important time in the life of the church and you decide, “You know, it’s more important for me to be there at the church than it is to enjoy myself doing whatever else it is that I’m getting ready to do.” Have you ever thought that way? Paul is commending Timothy to you as a person who did think that way. He thought not just, “Would this be good for me?” But, he thought, “Is this going to be for the best interests of the church?” Paul is commending that to us in the Christian life.

Christians Are Ready to Die for the Work of Christ

Fourth and finally, in v.30, he tells us that Christians are ready to die for the work of Christ. It is the elders’ and my job, not only to equip you to live the Christian life, but to prepare you to die. If we only equip you to live the Christian life and not to face death, we have not fulfilled our obligation. Because, barring the return of Christ, there is one thing that everybody in this room has in common: we are all going to die. And if we do not prepare you to die, we haven’t done our job because every person has a dying day and dying well is as important as living well.

Well, the Apostle Paul in this passage commends Epaphroditus, who was ill and nevertheless risked his life for Paul’s sake and the sake of the Philippian church, because he thought that his life was of less value than the work of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s saying, “I give you a man who is ready to die. Because he understood that when you seek first the kingdom of God, then He will add all other things to you.”

Are you ready to die? Are you ready to die in the work of Christ? That is what the Apostle Paul is holding before the Philippians and before you and me as an example of being like Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ was not only ready to die for us, he did die for us.

It may be sending your children or your grandchildren to the mission field, to a Muslim country where they will die for Christ. Or it may be a willingness yourself to put your life in harm’s way for the sake of the gospel. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Christians are ready to die in the work of Jesus Christ. They are his words to us, even in the missionary report, four great truths about the Christian life.

Let’s pray together.

Heavenly Father, we ask that you would bring home the word of God to our hearts in Jesus’ name, Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.