For I Have No One Like Him
Topic: Default Passage: Philippians 2:19–2:30
Good morning! Our practice here at Orlando Grace is to just walk through books of the Bible and this is one of those mornings that I’m glad we do. Our passage this morning, if I’m really honest, is one of those passages most preachers, me included, would be tempted to skip because upon the first reading of it, it just doesn’t seem that important compared to what we have been looking at. We go from some of the most famous and deep passages about Jesus Christ to “I’m sending you Epaphroditus.”
But, we know that all Scripture is God breathed and profitable and this passage is certainly no exception. A bit of background is required though to appreciate what Paul is doing here. The Philippian church is experiencing increased persecution for their faith and there are plenty of signs in this letter that they are even beginning to fragment as a church. They would love to have Paul, who started their church, come back and help them, but he’s in prison in Rome.
So, the Philippian church sends a messenger to Paul named Epaphroditus. And we don’t know this for certain, but lots of scholars agree that the feeling here is that they sent Epaphroditus to care for Paul hoping that would free up Timothy to come and help them. We’ll trade you an Epaphroditus for a Timothy.
And what Paul does in this passage is pretty brilliant. On the surface, he’s saying, “No, Timothy is the best I have and I really need him right now, so you’re getting Epaphroditus back.” But, underneath, Paul is using these two to reinforce everything he’s been writing for two chapters. Paul has been pushing the Philippians toward the unity and joy the gospel offers in an trial and now he’s lifting up these two men and saying, “Here is what this looks like! Here is what it looks like to work out your own salvation. Here are two examples of lives that will reinforce everything I’m saying. Timothy and Epaphroditus model what I want you to understand and embrace more.”
When we named our children, we chose their names because there were certain qualities associated with those names that we wanted them to take on. It doesn’t mean we want our kids to be exactly like their namesake. We want our kids to be who God created them to be. But, there are certain qualities we want them all to embrace.
The same is true in the Christian life. There are certain characteristics that all Christians should aspire to. There are examples we can all look to and learn something and Timothy and Epaphroditus are such two.
In holding out Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippian church, he is giving us all three marks of a joyful, unifying Christian. A joyful, unifying is 1) Sensitive to others 2) serves the interests of Christ and is 3) willing to sacrifice.
- Sensitive to others
In these eleven verses, you can feel that these two men were sensitive souls. Now, I don’t mean sensitive in that they get their feelings hurt easily. I mean they are tenderhearted. They are carrying. They have a level of empathy and can understand how people are feeling. In our modern words, we might say that they have a reasonably high EQ. They know when to listen and when to speak. They know when to push back and when to hug.
They are the kind of people that you can send into a messy relational situation and they are going to have a higher rate of success at finding a resolution. Paul, speaking about Timothy says, For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
I think that’s the key to being sensitive, genuinely caring for the welfare of others. Being able to put your own feelings, desires, jealousies and insecurities aside to do what’s best for others. Or, even better, being able to share the same emotions as others. Feeling what they are feeling. Being the kind of person that people would say, “He gets me.” This, I think, is what is behind verse 22: Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
A son with a father. There is this sweet age when your kids get excited about whatever you’re excited about. You might need to record it for down the road to believe that it was ever true. I remember mowing my lawn in MS while one of my boys, about 5 at the time, took his toy lawn mower and pushed it as long as he possibly could right behind me. It wasn’t easy at all for him, but he just got excited about whatever I did. This is how Paul describes Timothy’s service in the gospel and displays Timothy’s sensitivity.
Epaphroditus shows this same kind of sensitivity. Not only did he long for those in Philippi, he got seriously ill and was concerned that people back home would worry too much because of him. I think, if we are honest, sometimes it's nice to think about someone having concern for us. This is really extreme, but I knew a guy once who faked cancer to create a measure of concern about him. Our natural tendency is going to be to on ourselves and often that will manifest itself in a desire for others to have concern about us. A desire for the spotlight to be on us. Epaphroditus, though, on death’s doorstep, is mainly concerned that his illness might be causing his church back home undue stress.
And it should come as no surprise that these are the kinds of guys Paul wants to send to help churches. Paul says that his anxiety would be lowered knowing this kind of person was in Philippi. Are we that kind of person?
I have a good friend who, when there are problems with missions teams overseas, he was the first person his organization would send because his sensitivity level was so high. He was able to come into very messy situations and because of his high level of sensitivity, could quickly build trust, break down walls and find a path forward.
Now, I won’t deny that this man was born with some interpersonal gifts, but that’s not what made him so good at what he did. I don’t think natural gifting is what Paul is touting here in Timothy and Epaphroditus. I have seen some super socially awkward people who are still tremendously sensitive and able to become effective catalysts for peace. That’s actually the category I have Paul in.
Are we the kind of person that seems to produce strife or reduce strife? The way others would answer that question says something about our level if sensitivity.
We have already seen an example of insensitivity in this letter. Paul talks in the beginning of this letter about those out there preaching the gospel with false motives. They are doing ministry with a mindset primarily for their own welfare. They are primarily conserved about their own interests. And we see that insensitivity can cause a lot of harm and division in the church.
There is a pastor named Alistair Begg who pastors a large church and I heard him say once that anytime someone begins to show a lot of initiative in the church, the first thing he has to do is figure out whose welfare they are seeking. Are they someone he needs to give influence to or are they someone they need to lock away for a while until they begin to show genuine concern for others? Are you sensitive? Are you genuinely concerned for the welfare of others?
So, how can we grow in our sensitivity. Remember, I said it’s not simply a gifting issue, it’s a gospel issue. There is this natural process for all Christians. As we understand and believe the gospel more, the level of sensitivity we have toward others increases. The gospel allows us to think about ourselves less and care for others more. Jesus lived a life genuinely concerned more about our welfare than His. He entered into this world sensitive to our needs even when all He received in return was mocking. The more we understand and appreciate Jesus’ sensitivity toward us, the more sensitivity is produced in us toward others. It’s not a gifting issue, it’s a gospel issue.
That is exactly what Paul means when he says to the Ephesians, Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you - Ephesians 4:32 There is a direct connection between the gospel and our sensitivity. The more we receive the sensitivity of Christ, the more we will be sensitive to others.
I saw a really sweet example of sensitivity in this church this week. I was visiting one of the community groups this week and we were talking about how different the church feel recently with a number of new faces in the room. One man was saying that he so looks forward to connecting with old friends each Sunday, but has been pushing himself to be sensitive to the new faces in the building. This is a man who is genuinely concerned for the welfare of others and I think this is exactly the kind of sensitivity Paul is putting on display in the lives of Timothy and Epaphroditus.
A joyful, unifying Christian is growing in sensitivity toward others. Are we? Then, secondly, a joyful, unifying Christian serves the interests of Christ.
- Serves the interests of Christ
You see in verse 21 that Paul has a real problem that is preventing him from sending Timothy back to Philippi. He has no one else like him. We all have quirky friends of whom we might say, “There’s no one like him.” That’s not what Paul is saying here. He’s saying there is literally no one like him. No one with him in Rome who can deal with whatever it is that Timothy is dealing with. Some think Timothy is helping with this situation Paul described in chapter one where people are preaching to increase their influence. Some think the church in Rome needed help that Paul couldn’t give while under house arrest. Who knows, but the quality Timothy has that requires him to stay AND the quality that Epaphroditus has that requires him to return to Philippi is that they serve the interests of Christ.
Verse 21: For they all seek their own interests, not those of Christ. He has so few people who will serve the interests of Christ the way these two do. This is why Paul says of Epaphroditus, So, receive him in the Lord with all joy and honor such men. So, what does this service look like? What makes Timothy and Epaphroditus stand out in their service to Christ?
Three things. First, they were available. It sounds like such a simple thing, but we can say all the right things and even have all the right intentions, but if we are not available, we can’t serve. Timothy and Epaphroditus’ availability was off the charts. Timothy, of course, had committed his whole life to helping Paul. That’s a pretty high level of availability. Epaphroditus, though, although we don’t know nearly as much about him, he seems to be an ordinary church member who made himself available for this long distance journey from Philippi to Rome to ministry to Paul’s needs.
Paul calls Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier. There is this ascending scale of honor that requires an ascending amount of availability. Any believer can be a brother, well, I guess any male believer. But to be a fellow worker, that takes more time. Time to work alongside someone caring for the church and ministering to needs. Fellow soldier, though, takes it to a whole other level. To be a soldier means that Epaphroditus was engaged in times of crisis. And I can tell you that every crisis I have ever been engaged in required a whole lot more time than the normal ways to serve.
So, you get a picture here of two men who are intensely available when needed and that shows they seek the interests of Christ. And I know someone at this point might think, “But Jim, I have all these kids that keeping from being available.” Or “I’m helping with my grandkids.” Or, “I’m a single mom working two jobs.” Does that mean that I’m unavailable to serve Christ? Absolutely not. You are serving Christ by serving your family. Our task is to discern whether the things we make ourselves available to are more in line with the mission of Christ or more in line with our mission to do what we want with our lives.
If we want to serve the interests of Christ, we have to be available. Simply being available though, isn’t enough. We also have to be reliable.
We all know people who are available, but not reliable. I can remember a teacher at Boone High School who asked my class if anyone was available to run something to the office. My hand was the first to go up and the teacher just kept looking...waiting for another hand to go up. “Yeah, is anyone else available?” She knew my core motivation was to simply get out of class, not to help her. I was available, but not reliable.
Paul says, though, that Timothy has proven worth. This is the reason Paul is eager to send Epaphroditus to Philippi. They were both reliable. There are people in the church that take on tasks and you just know it’s going to get done. Then, there are others that you know you are going to have to follow up on to make sure it gets done. You send reliable people. Reliability has a way of showing whose interests we really serve. Are we both available and reliable?
Then, thirdly, Timothy and Epaphroditus show they serve the interests of Christ in their teachability. If there was EVER an example of a teachable person in the Bible, it’s Timothy. Timothy was trained in the Scriptures by his mother and grandmother. He was by Paul’s side for at least 10 years learning from him. We have two whole letters in the Bible that are nothing but Paul teaching Timothy. My goodness, Timothy, who was raised in Greek culture, got circumcised as an adult! If that doesn’t communicate teachability, I don’t know what does!
We can be available and reliable, but so unteachable that we are of no service to Christ. At the core of unteachability is a supreme desire to serve ourselves. A desire to be right more than a desire to be taught. A desire to speak more than a desire to listen.
Now, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t agree with everything I say, you’re not tteachable. It’s fine to disagree, but if you live in a world where everyone around you seems to be wrong and only you are right, there is a strong chance you’re not teachable. When someone offers you a critique, if your first reaction is to be defensive, chances are you’re not teachable. If you like to learn on your own, but you don’t like to be taught by others, chances are you’re not teachable. Proverbs 18:2 says A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
If we are unteachable, we are not humble and we are not serving Christ. But, if you are one of those opere who pursues critique or correction, if you are open to learning from anyone, if you are marked by a humble teachability, then the sky’s the limit to what you could contribute to the Kingdom of God. The main way I try and figure out if someone is teachable or not is simple. Do they ask more questions than give answers.
You can tell if someone has a heart to serve the interests of Christ by their availability, their reliability and their teachability. A joyful, unifying Christian is sensitive to others, serves the interests of Christ and, then, finally, is willing to sacrifice.
III. Willing to sacrifice
Both of these men were willing to sacrifice everything in their service to Christ and this includes their very lives. Going from Philippi to Rome in this day in age was no safe trip even with the Roman Roads and the Pax Romana. Probably, Epaphroditus got sick on this journey and that is what Paul means when he says for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
Now, a lot of people get tripped up on that last part. What was lacking in the Philippians service to Paul? What Paul is saying is something akin to saying, “And if there was ever any question about your faithful service to me, you sure answered it by sending Epaphroditus!”
But to understand what exactly Paul is commending to us here, we need to understand a Christian view of sacrifice. A misunderstanding of what we are doing when we sacrifice or why we sacrifice can turn a fruitful Christian into either a depressed monk or an insufferable martyr. I mean we can either heap all these responsibilities onto our shoulders and either break under the weight of it or puff out our chests so the whole world can see all that we have done. Both would be gross misunderstandings of a Christian view of sacrifice.
If you go way left in your Bible back to the life of Moses and the institution of the Mosaic Law, you will see the language of sacrifice. The people of God would worship by bringing things like a pigeon or a sheep or a bull and offer it as a sacrifice on the altar to God. They knew they had sinned and their sin had to be punished. Now, we know from Hebrews 10 that the Old Testament believers knew the blood of these animals could never take away our sin. So, why did they do it? They did it as worship. These animals represented God’s willingness to accept a substitute for their sin. His willingness to show them grace and maintain a relationship with them.
The Israelites knew these sacrifices were pointing forward to a better one. Paul says these sacrifices were like a shadow. They didn’t’ know what was casting the shadow, but the knew their sacrifices were pointing forward to the substance of the shadow. To Christ, who would be the final perfect sacrifice. The ultimate substitute for all of our sin.
That’s why we don’t have animal sacrifices in our worship. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice. Now, according to Paul, we worship by providing a living sacrifice. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. - Romans 12:1
One of the ways we worship is by sacrificing our rights and our desires and our comfort for the mission. Just like we talked about last week, the Christian life is a lifelong process of dying to yourself and living for Christ. And I love how one preacher said, “You know what the problem with a living sacrifice is? It keeps crawling off the altar.” It’s hard to die to ourselves in hopes of living for Christ, but that is how Christians worship. We worship all week by presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice so that all aspects of our life should proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Jesus gave up all His rights, His desires and His comforts to bring us salvation so why would our call be any different? But here is the difference between Jesus’ sacrifice that we are modeling and the whole rest of the world. We sacrifice out of joy! Our sacrifices, while not intended to be easy, are intended to be motivated by joy. Hebrews 12 says looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2
When the Old Testament believers worshipped through animal sacrifice they were pointing forward to a better sacrifice. When we worship through living sacrifice we are pointing forward to a better life. An eternal life where Jesus’ reign is realized in every corner of the universe.
Here is a test of our willingness to sacrifice. Does it feel like a sacrifice? Do you know the names David Livingston, Hudson Taylor or Samuel Zwemer? Do you know what they have in common? They are some of the most famous and influential missionaries of the modern time. They all made sacrifices that would seem unimaginable to most of us. And each of them said they made no sacrifice. Serving Jesus was such a joy that it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. The more love you have for the person you serve, the less of a sacrifice it feels like. The more love in our heart, the more sacrifice in our worship.
This is what motivated Timothy and Epaphroditus and this is what should motivate us.
Are we unifying, joyful Christians? Do we display the same qualities as Paul is espousing in Timothy and Epaphroditus? Are we sensitive? Are we serving the interests of Christ? Are we willing to sacrifice? I can’t think of a better opportunity to ponder those questions than as we take the Lord’s supper together in just a minute.