In High Definition - Part 2

Philippians 2:19-30

Tom Pennington  •  August 22, 2004
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Well, it's our joy this morning to return to our study of the book of Philippians. I hope this morning to finish chapter 2 which will bring us, Lord willing, next week to that great beginning of chapter 3 and the issues of justification which I have anticipated for a long time as I know many of you have as well. We might be tempted, however, as we look at the last verses of chapter 2 to sort of see them as throwaway verses – a simple recounting by Paul of his travel plans and that of his associates. But in reality, there's much more here as I hope to show you this morning and as I've discovered over the last several weeks.

I had the opportunity this week as I know many of you did to watch the Olympics. I've enjoyed the fruit of all of the years of preparation of these young people as they use the skills and abilities God has given them to excel in their individual sports. And as I watched the Olympics, my mind went back to a famous Olympian, Eric Liddell, made famous in the film that many of you probably saw, "Chariots of Fire". It was in Paris, 1924 in the Olympic Games there that Eric Liddell, convinced that it would be a violation of the Scripture, refused to run in the heats of the one hundred meter which was his element, that was his race. He refused to run in the heats and instead ended up on that Sunday preaching in a Paris church. A few days later, by God's grace, he won the gold medal and set a world record in an event that he wasn't even supposed to run in.

He defended his actions at the Olympics with a verse in 1 Samuel 2:30 I should say, 1 Samuel 2:30, in the Lord's words to Eli. The Lord said to Eli, "Those who honor Me I will honor." You know, that is an amazing concept. Think about it. God says, "I will honor a human being." To be honored by God – what an incredible privilege. The question is, how do you get into that position? How do you become one who is honored by God? Well, in a very real sense, Philippians 2:24 - 30 presents us sort of in high definition a portrait of the kind of man or woman that God will honor.

In verse 24 of chapter 2, Paul sort of gives us the setting for these words. He planned to go to Philippi as soon as he was released from prison. But before he can get there and even before he can send Timothy who he's promised to send (as we saw a couple of weeks ago), he's going to send a man by the name of Epaphroditus. Why? Well, we're, we're given two reasons. One is to deliver this letter to the Philippians. And the second was because he wanted to comfort the Philippians who had heard that one of their own, Epaphroditus, was deathly sick, and they wanted to know that he was okay. Paul wanted to comfort them about this man who was one of their own.

Who was this man? You know, it's interesting. Very few people, in fact I know of no one who's named after Epaphroditus. Who was this man who shows up in the end of Philippians 2 for us to read about today? Well, we know a few things about him. We know he was a Greek. His name is a Greek name and he lived in Philippi in Macedonia which was primarily populated by Greeks. We also know that he was probably raised in a pagan home. His name, Epaphroditus, means "loved of Aphrodite", one of the Greek gods. Eventually, it came to mean simply "beloved" or "lovely". He was probably raised as a pagan in a home where gods like Aphrodite were worshipped, and he only later became a Christian.

The Philippian church had sent Epaphroditus to Rome. There's no indication that he was a pastor, a leader in this church. He was apparently just a committed layperson in the church in Philippi; not a great pastor, not a great teacher, not a great leader – just an ordinary member of the church. But what fascinates me about the Scripture is here is this man whom we know so little about who was just a layperson in the church forever memorialized and honored by Paul and honored by God Himself. Think about it. For two thousand years of church history, every Christian who has ever lived has read about a man named Epaphroditus.

Let's read about this man. You follow along as I read. Philippians 2:24:

… I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be the less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

The theme of these verses is in verse 29, "hold men like him in high regard". The Greek word translated "high regard" means in honor. Consider him valuable, precious, distinguished. Imagine Paul or more importantly the Lord saying about you, "I consider that person worthy of honor. I consider them worthy to be held valuable to the church, valuable to the cause of Christ." That would be an amazing reality, wouldn't it – for the Lord to say, "There's the model. You see that person at Countryside? Follow him. Follow her. Honor people like that."

The truth is there's nothing that Epaphroditus was that you can't become, and you should try. You see, Paul isn't merely communicating his travel plans here. He isn't merely giving us sort of a detail of what Epaphroditus is going to be doing. He intends instead to hold up Epaphroditus as the model that every one of us should follow. Every believer should seek to become a man or a woman whom God honors.

But that raises the question, so what are the qualities that distinguished Epaphroditus? What made him different from all the people around him? What made him worthy of honor and imitation? Well, Paul identifies those qualities for us in this paragraph, the qualities that made him one that we should hold in high regard and that God Himself holds in high regard. Paul identifies several specific qualities that set him apart from those around him.

Let's look at these qualities together, and if you're not there, use them as a target that you should be aiming for. You too can be like Epaphroditus. The first three qualities that Paul gives us are listed in verse 25. Notice he writes, "I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier." Those qualities have reference to Paul's relationship to Epaphroditus. Let's look at each of them individually.

First of all, Epaphroditus was a Christian brother. If you and I want to be honored by God, it starts with this most basic quality and that is we have to be a Christian brother or sister - Epaphrus, or Epaphroditus, my brother. Sadly, the term "brother" has been so badly abused and misused in the church that many of us hate to even use it. But "brother" is Paul's normal way of referring to Christians. He was essentially saying of Epaphroditus, "He's a genuine believer. He's the real thing."

But there's something else behind this expression "my brother". You see, the image that Paul intends to call up in our minds is that we share the same family name, the same father. Usually when we talk about adoption, we talk about the change in our relationship to God. God adopted us. When we became Christians, God adopted us as His children, and that's a wonderful reality. God is now our Father, and we are His sons and daughters. But there was also a change in our relationship with each other. If we all now share the same Father, what does that make us? Brothers and sisters. That's an important image.

You know, we often refer to blood being thicker than water. We're talking about the reality that when it comes to trouble and difficulty and hard times, who is the first to be there? It's family. Family responds to us. And Paul says, "Listen, Epaphroditus is like family to me. He is my brother. We're both adopted by God." Epaphroditus and Paul both understood this. They saw each other as brothers and therefore they were committed to mutually caring for one another. And if you want to be a man or a woman who honors God and whom God honors, then it starts by being a true follower of Jesus Christ and a genuine brother or sister to everyone else whom God has adopted.

You see, attending a church doesn't make you really a part of the church. It's interesting. In 2 Corinthians 11:26, Paul refers to false brothers. What does he mean? He means that there are people who attach themselves to every church who come, they attend, they're there, but they don't really belong to the family. They're masquerading. How can you really know if you're a brother? Well, there are a number of ways that are outlined in the Scripture, but the one that's most appropriate to our discussion this morning is found in 1 John. Turn to 1 John 3:14. The apostle John writes,

[Here's how] we know that we've passed from death unto life. [Here's how we know if we're the real thing, if we're genuine believers] because we love [literally, the brothers] we love the brothers. He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, He laid down [that is, Christ laid down] His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the … [brothers].

Here's how you know if you're really in the family. You feel an attachment so strong to those who are fellow believers, those who have been adopted by God just as you have been that you're willing to lay down your life for them. You say, "Well how do I know that? I mean, that may never happen in my lifetime. I may never be asked to do that." Okay, well let's come to a more practical test.

Notice the next verse, verse 17:

… Whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and in truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our hearts before Him.

You know what? Here's the bottom line. How can you be sure if you're really a true brother and not a false brother? It's as if you, it's if you have a genuine commitment and care for fellow believers as true spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. You have the same Father, belong to the same family, and you respond to care for them. You want to be a person God honors? Then you need to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, and you need to be genuinely committed to all of the others whom God has adopted into His family. Epaphroditus was a Christian brother.

There's a second quality that we're told here in this passage that distinguishes those whom God honors and that is: a fellow worker. You must be a fellow worker for God to honor you. Notice verse 25 again. He calls Epaphroditus my "fellow worker". Now that is Paul's normal expression to refer to those who worked alongside him in ministry. He uses it of some names that are very familiar to all of us. He uses it in the New Testament of Luke. He uses it of Aquila and Priscilla. He uses it of Titus. He uses it of Timothy. All of those are very familiar to us. But he also uses this expression "fellow worker" to refer to some people that we don't know as well: for example, Aristarchus, Urbanus, Justus, and here Epaphroditus.

It's interesting because there were other fellow workers in Philippi, not just Epaphroditus. Turn back to Philippians 4 and notice verse 2: "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche (here are two women in the congregation who were having trouble getting along) to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." You see, to Paul, a fellow worker was anyone who got involved in ministry.

Now if it seems like this is a theme that keeps coming up in my preaching, I want you to know two things.

First of all, I'm not making this up. I'm just trying to deal with the text as I come to it. And so obviously, Paul felt that this issue of working in ministry in the church alongside your brothers and sisters was important.

Secondly, I want you to know that it, it's not some reflection negatively on this church and the involvement of the people in this church. I rejoice that so many of you are involved in ministry. Paul is just reminding us, the Holy Spirit through Paul is reminding us of how important this is to be involved in the life of the church.

Unfortunately, in most churches, the Pareto principle holds true. You remember Pareto, who was the eighteenth century Italian economist who basically, and the colloquial expression of it is: eighty percent of the work is done by (whom?) twenty percent of the people. That is true in most churches. Many just show up week after week, but fail to really get involved.

I played high school football, and I enjoyed it very much. And like a lot of things in my life, I played it fairly aggressively. And I remember one particular game my junior year I played middle linebacker. And I remember one particular game. We were just outgunned and outmanned. I mean, it was a fairly small school, and these guys we were playing had beards, full beards, for ten years. And we were just on defense getting run up and down the field. And, you know, I felt like by the second quarter I had made dozens of tackles, and I was getting pretty tired. And I remember there was an injury timeout. And I'll never forget. The coach called me and the other middle linebacker over, and he said to my friend, he said, "Well, are you enjoying watching the game?" Now as a middle linebacker, that's not something you want to hear from your coach. He went on to say, "You mind giving Pennington a little help here?" And I'm nodding all along as he's talking.

There are always people who want to act like they're in the game, but they're not really in the game. Lots of people love watching other people work. It's sort of the Alabama Department of Transportation approach to work - you know, ten men leaning on shovels watching two actually work. But that wasn't Epaphroditus. He was a fellow worker. And because of that, Paul says that he, and others like him, were to be worthy of honor by all of us and that God Himself honors them.

Let me ask you a question. Can anyone in this church honestly call you a fellow worker in ministry? If not, why not? What's the reason? What's the excuse? Too busy with work? Are you too busy with family and all the requirements of family? Are you too involved in the community and other activities? Do you just want your weekends free where you can have time to kick back a little bit, to relax, to enjoy some sports, take trips? I understand all of those things. Those are all things that we share, normal desires that we share. But how do you think that excuse will sound, whatever it is, when you stand before Christ and He asks why you never bothered to get involved in what He calls His church, His bride, His body? Epaphroditus was a fellow worker.

There's a third quality of those deserving of honor, of high regard, Paul says. Notice again verse 25: Epaphroditus, my "fellow soldier", a fellow soldier. You want to be honored by God? Become a fellow soldier. Paul often refers to the Christian life as warfare. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, he says "the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but mighty through God to the pulling down of fortresses."

And of course in that familiar passage in Ephesians 6 - in fact, let's look at Ephesians 6, just a couple of pages back. Ephesians 6:10:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God….

And he goes on to outline what that armor is. He describes the entire Christian life and experiences as warfare. And Epaphroditus was Paul's fellow soldier.

You know, there's a great picture in that word "fellow soldier". Before Rome, armies dressed alike, but they really fought individually. But with Rome, they pioneered a different approach to warfare. Roman armies marched abreast behind a solid wall of shields with their spears extended, chanting battle songs. And it was impressive to hear the stomp of the feet in unison, to hear the march of the feet as well as the battle cries as they rang forth from their lips and all of these shields together coming at you with spears extended.

That's why the legions of the Roman army were the terror of the ancient world, this sort of monolithic crowd coming at you. And honestly, all successful armies used that same approach until the time of the American Revolution and the use of the gun which rendered them obsolete. You remember, that's why we defeated the British because they continued using the very approach that the Romans had come up with so many years before.

Paul says that Epaphroditus was a fellow soldier. That's the image. He's marching shoulder to shoulder with him into the battle. But what does it mean to be a fellow soldier in ministry? Well, I think Paul defines that for us in 2 Timothy. Turn there for a moment, 2 Timothy 2. Here he gives several different images of what it's like to be involved in ministry whether as a pastor, an elder, whether as Timothy or whether as a layperson. Here's what ministry looks like. Verse 3,

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.

You know what Paul is saying when he says that Epaphroditus was a fellow soldier? He's saying, Listen. Epaphroditus had a wartime mindset. He understood that he was in a battle, that he was at war. And he didn't act like it was peacetime. He didn't live like it was peacetime.

You know, I'm reminded of the Second World War. Many of you have read about that as I have, and some of you actually went through those difficult times. But in the Second World War, it wasn't like our modern wars where we're the big man on the block, and there's really not a lot of fear that any damage is going to come to us here in our country and that we're going to be defeated. But in World War II, there was a very real risk that Hitler might win and might conquer all of Europe, and who knows how far beyond that. And so everybody, ordinary citizens included, got involved in the war. They developed a wartime mindset. They had to work and save and ration and sacrifice as they never had before. War production plants ran shifts around the clock. Twenty million families grew what were called victory gardens on rooftops and in backyards, producing forty percent of the vegetables for the country during the time of war. Two out of three adults bought war bonds.

You see, everyone knew we were at war, and life had to be different. That's the mindset we're to have when it comes to our Christian life. Do you think like that? Are you willing like a soldier to suffer hardship – that is, to practice disciplined self-denial because you're at war? Are you willing to disentangle yourself from the affairs of everyday life? You know, the sad thing is so many Christians are so entangled with the affairs of everyday life they have forgotten they're in a war at all. If you want to be a man or woman God can honor, then you have got to think like a soldier. Be willing to suffer some hardship. Be willing to practice self-denial. Be willing to put some of the ordinary affairs of life on the back burner.

Don't think for a moment that Epaphroditus didn't have issues that he needed to deal with back in Philippi. Undoubtedly, he had some family. He also had the responsibilities of providing for himself and of life as it goes on, but he set those aside because he was a soldier in the battle and what mattered was that he go to Rome and he help Paul at the request of his church. Remember you're at war. "Epaphroditus," Paul says, "is my fellow soldier. He has the right mindset about life."

There's a fourth quality Paul identifies that marks the man or the woman that God honors: it's a trustworthy steward, a trustworthy steward. Notice verse 25 again. Here Paul reminds us of the relationship that Epaphroditus had to the Philippians. He says: "who is also your messenger and your minister to my need." Basically, Epaphroditus had two very important assignments. One was to deliver their gift to Paul. Notice he says, "your messenger", literally translated "your apostle". He is your specially designated representative to take your financial gift and to bring it to me. Notice Philippians 4:18. Paul makes this clear. He said: "But I have received everything in full and [I] have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God." Epaphroditus was commissioned to bring their gift to Paul.

You see, for two years, Paul had to live in his own rented quarters without the normal means of making an income. Also in the ancient world, prisoners were not taken care of by the state. Friends and family had to provide to make sure that they had adequate clothing and adequate food to eat. And so, their gift was to support Paul and not only Paul, but now Epaphroditus as well, whom they've sent to help Paul for several months undoubtedly and perhaps as much as for an entire year. So they sent this gift to support Paul.

Now the Philippians had given to Paul's ministry from the very start just after he visited there. You learn that in chapter 4. We will when we get there and look at in detail. They had been faithful in supporting Paul in his missionary outreach. But they weren't a wealthy church. In fact, you remember in 2 Corinthians 8, it says that the Macedonians gave out of (what?) their poverty. The Philippians were not a wealthy church, but they had sacrificed, and they had worked hard to make extra funds to be able to have this gift to send with Epaphroditus to send to Paul. So, delivering such a large financial gift was an important assignment to the church, and so, they needed to choose a man they could trust.

But Epaphroditus had a second duty, not only delivering the gift, but notice verse 25 again, as "your minister to my need". The word "minister" is used in the Septuagint of the work of the priests. It's like this. It's as if the Philippians are priests making a sacrifice to God and the sacrifice that they're offering to God is the sacrifice of their financial gift to Paul and of Epaphroditus sent to serve Paul. The Philippians apparently intended that Epaphroditus would stay indefinitely as Paul's companion. That's why Paul's having to explain why Epaphroditus is coming home. They didn't expect him anytime soon. They had sent him to stay, to be there with Paul to help in Rome.

When you look at these two responsibilities, delivering their large financial gift and serving the apostle Paul, those were huge responsibilities. So when it came to deciding who to send, it was a crucial decision for this little church. It had to be someone who was dependable, someone who was a trustworthy steward. Apparently, the choice was an obvious one. It had to be Epaphroditus.

You know, it is remarkable to me how important this issue of trustworthiness and dependability is to the apostle Paul. We just saw it a couple of weeks ago when he described Timothy. He said, "Timothy has a proven record (verse 22), he has proven character. He can be counted on." But Paul often echoes that same point. You remember in 2 Corinthians, or excuse me, 1 Corinthians 4:2, 1 Corinthians 4:2, he says this: "it is required of stewards that (what?) one be found trustworthy." Now there are a lot of things you could say about someone serving in ministry, but Paul says, "Here's the really important thing – that they be trustworthy."

It's also crucial to the Lord. There's a remarkable statement back in Numbers 12, and I won't have you turn there. But in Numbers 12, you remember the story? Miriam and Aaron (Moses' sister and brother) are a bit envious of the responsibilities that Moses has, and they decide to take it upon themselves to sort of call him into question. They questioned his marriage. That was probably just a sort of surface reason. The real issue was the envy they felt. Who does Moses think he is? I mean, after all, we deserve some responsibility here too. Well, in response to that, God calls the three of them over. You know, like you as parents do: "Come over here." And He calls the three of them over, and He begins to talk to Miriam and Aaron. And He says this to them and it's very interesting. In verse 7 of Numbers 12, He says: "Here's what I value about Moses. It's that he is a faithful servant in all My house. I can trust him." The writer of Hebrews picks up on that same theme. He's trustworthy. He's dependable.

Our Lord, during His earthly life, highlighted that. You remember in Matthew 25, the parable of the talents, the different men that were given sums of money that they were supposed to care, care for and to see multiply? What did the Lord say to them when, the master of the house say to them when he returned and those who had taken that money and been dependable with, been trustworthy, invested it and seen a return come on the money? You remember what he said? "Well done, good and faithful [trustworthy, dependable] servants." It's interesting that that's supposed to be a picture of (in a sense) our judgment before the Lord as believers. What matters to Him is, have you been faithful, have you been dependable, have you been trustworthy with the stewardship that He's given to you?

In Luke 16, the Lord tells another parable, the parable of the dishonest manager. And there He says, "You know what? If you are faithful in the little things, then you will be entrusted with much more." This is a huge issue to the Lord.

Let me just ask you personally. Do the people who know you, do the people in this church think of you as dependable and trustworthy? And not just in the church, what about in your family? Does your family think of you as trustworthy and dependable? Do the people at work think of you as trustworthy, dependable, faithful? This is what matters to God.

Let me just ask you. Would you be chosen for the responsibility that Epaphroditus was chosen for? Do you have that kind of reputation? If not, that should be the target. And how do you develop a reputation for being dependable and trustworthy? Just like Christ said in Luke 16, you start by being dependable and trustworthy in (what?) the little things. Whatever your role is, whatever your assignment is now, be trustworthy and dependable in that and you know what happens? A trustworthy man, who can find? And so what happens is when you prove yourself trustworthy in the little things you have, you begin to enjoy more and more opportunity and responsibility. Epaphroditus was a trustworthy steward.

The fifth quality Paul identifies is in verses 26 – 28 it's: a loving friend, a loving friend. Notice verse 26:

because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.

Epaphroditus longed to see his brothers and sisters in the church in Philippi. Why? Cause he was homesick? No, the next phrase explains it. Notice verse 26: "he was distressed because you had heard that he was sick". That word "distressed" is used only two other times in the New Testament, and both times it's used to refer to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His crucifixion. You remember when Christ says, "I am so grieved, I am so distressed that My soul is at the point of death"? That's the picture behind this word. Epaphroditus was absolutely torn up. Why was he distressed? Here's what I want you to see. It wasn't because he was sick even to the point of dying. It was because he knew that they had heard he was sick and he was concerned about them.

We understand this on a personal level, don't we? I mean, the worst time is from the time you get the call about the accident until you get to the hospital because you know something has happened but you don't know how bad it is, you don't know the outcome of it. Well that, Epaphroditus understood that. He knew they had heard that he was sick, but they hadn't heard: 'Has he survived? Is he permanently disabled because of this illness? What's going on with Epaphroditus?' And because he knew that, he was distressed.

And the news they had gotten was true. Verse 27, he was sick. The question is, with what? Well, we don't know the answer to that. We only know three things about Epaphroditus' sickness. One, he got it somehow related to his mission to Rome. It wasn't something he was born with. It wasn't something he got back in Philippi. It related to, notice verse 30, "the work of Christ". Somehow it had to do with his mission to Rome.

Secondly, we know that his sickness was for a long time because it took six weeks in the ancient world to travel from Philippi to Rome. Word somehow got back to Philippi that he was sick and then word got back from Philippi to Rome that they had heard. And so that's about a three month period. So perhaps for three months, he was very, very sick.

And that's the third thing we know about Epaphroditus' sickness and that was that he should have died from it. Whatever it was, it should have been terminal. But God had mercy on Epaphroditus. That's an interesting expression, isn't it? God had mercy on Epaphroditus and on Paul. Otherwise, notice what Paul says in verse 27: Epaphroditus' death would have been another wave of sorrow falling upon the current wave of sorrow that he was feeling because of his imprisonment.

You know, I love this glimpse of Paul and his humanness. Paul wasn't falsely pious. He understood theology. He knew that God was in control. He knew that God intended all of this for good in all of their lives and yet, he says if Epaphroditus had died, it would have been almost more than I could have taken. And God had mercy on me because of that.

Verse 28, Paul says because of all the circumstances I've just explained, I'm eager to send Epaphroditus back to you in Philippi so that you can rejoice when you see him and you see he's okay and, verse 28, the end of the verse, so that I can stop worrying about your worrying about Epaphroditus.

Here's the bottom line of these three verses. Epaphroditus was more concerned about them than he was of the fact that he almost died. You know, I make a lot of hospital visits as a pastor. It's one of the parts of my ministry I enjoy very much. But there are times when the person that I'm there to see is more concerned about me or someone else who's sick than they are about their own sickness, their own surgery, whatever it is. I'm there to encourage them, and they end up encouraging me because of their concern about others. That shows a selfless, loving heart for others. And that was Epaphroditus.

You know, this kind of love for others is at the core of what it means to be a Christian. Paul is using Epaphroditus to put the truth he had just taught earlier in this chapter into high definition. Look back in 2:3.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; don't merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Paul says, You want to see what that looks like in real life? Here's what it looks like in real life. You're lying in the hospital dying, and you're still more concerned about others than you are yourself. You're still worried about others worrying about you more than you're worried about the illness you have or your eventual death. That's what it looks like in high definition, in real life, to be a loving friend.

Is that how you live? If not, it should be the target. Because only then, only when you learn and I learn to forget ourselves and focus on others, to become a loving friend who cares more about what happens in other people's lives than we do about what happens in our own, that's when we will become the kind of man or woman that God will honor.

The final quality Paul identifies is found in verses 29 and 30: a courageous Christian, a courageous Christian.

Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

Now Paul isn't saying that we should only honor those who come close to death for Christ. The focus is on the, the end of verse 30: "risking his life to complete the service that you yourselves could not give me because you're so far away." That phrase "risking his life" is an interesting Greek word. It's the only time in the New Testament it's used, and it literally means to gamble. It was used in that context in the ancient world. He gambled with his life for the work of Christ.

How could he do that? What was he exposing himself to? Well, remember, he was exposing himself to real danger just by traveling to Rome, leaving his hometown and traveling. In the ancient world, that was a dangerous enterprise; take weeks and be fraught with all kinds of potential danger. But more than that, he was going to Rome to be the personal assistant of the apostle Paul - a man imprisoned by the Romans, his case soon to be heard by the emperor who might end up being executed as an enemy of the state. And you're attaching yourself to him as his personal assistant? He risked his life. He gambled his life for the cause of Christ.

You know, when you think about risk, it's amazing how many frivolous risks people take. You know, I grew up watching Evel Knievel try to jump however many cars or buses or the Grand Canyon or whatever it was in his latest scheme. And I remember thinking at the time - you know, I watched, I enjoyed turning on the television and watching him do this, but I remember thinking, "Now there's a man with half a brain" because normal people don't do this. Normal people don't expose their life and limb to risk just to say they did it. You know, you watch occasionally those people go over Niagara Falls in their little inventions just to be able to say they did it; or those who climb Mount Everest to say they got to the top.

You know, but we don't take those kind of risks, and we ordinarily shake our heads at those kinds of risks, but you know what? As ordinary people, you and I take risks every day. I mean, eating lunch at the Peking Moon down the street is a risk. Getting into your car is a risk. Flying in an airplane is a risk. Yesterday, I was reading a little bit of Newsweek, and I came across an article in the latest edition of Newsweek that said that there is now an inherent risk, you're exposing yourself to danger, just by taking a simple walk through the woods because a small tick the size of the head of a pin might bite you. and if that tick bites you, you'll have Lyme disease. But you know what? You can even stay at home under the covers and expose yourself to risk because there may very well be a genetic time bomb ticking in your chest that will one day explode in danger.

Life is filled with danger. And we learn to deal with those dangers. And we learn to keep functioning in the world even with those dangers. But sadly, when it comes to the service of Christ, we often let our fear of danger keep us from serving Him. Sometimes in simple ways. We won't speak up for Christ around our friends, afraid that we'll run the risk of being thought a nut or being ostracized. We fail to speak up against dishonesty in the workplace because we're afraid of losing our job. Some Christians won't go on a mission trip because they're afraid of bad water or of conditions somewhat less than the Hyatt. Epaphroditus knew by going to Rome that he was risking his life. And he willingly, voluntarily put his own life in harm's way to complete his church's ministry to the apostle Paul. And he saw it as not working for Paul, but according to verse 30, as working for Christ.

In the early church, there were men and women who played off of this word that's translated who "risked his life". They played off of that Greek word, and they called themselves the "parabalani" literally means the risk-takers or the gamblers. They're the ones who volunteered to minister to those who were dying, who were sick and dying of terrible contagious diseases. They're the ones who volunteered to go to the prisons which were a lot less well managed in those days than today and to serve and help the prisoners. They're the ones who stepped forward to ask for the body of martyrs to make sure they received proper burial - the "parabalani".

One interesting illustration of that is in 252 A.D., there was a terrible plague that swept the North African city of Carthage. It was much like the plague, the bubonic plague that would later, a thousand years later, decimate Europe. And as that plague swept across Carthage, there was utter terror. The pagan citizens of Carthage were so afraid of contagion that they refused to touch those who were infected to help them. And they refused even to bury the dead bodies. But the Christian community there led by the bishop of Carthage whose name was Cyprian took it upon themselves to risk their lives to minister to others for the sake of Christ. They cared for the sick and the dying. They buried the bodies of those who died by the thousands. And the power of that silent testimony was never forgotten by any of those in Carthage who witnessed it.

Listen, God honors those who totally, without regard for their own welfare, risk their lives for the cause of Jesus Christ. You and I may never be called upon to risk our lives like Epaphroditus did or like Paul did, but we can make those small risks. We can take those small risks of the ones I was mentioning earlier. We can speak up. We can do things that might expose us to the smallest bit of danger for the sake of Christ and that honors God.

How should you respond to this passage? Three ways, let me give them to you briefly. I've tried to apply it as we've gone along, but let me just give you the big picture. How do you respond to this lesson of Epaphroditus?

Number one: think about people like this. Think about them. Hold them up before you as it were. Put their picture on your mirror. Think about them. Paul says "hold men like this in high regard". Really consider others who've lived this kind of life. Read them in the Scripture. Read Christian biography about those who have risked their lives for the cause of Christ like Epaphroditus did. Think about people like this.

Number two: esteem people like this, esteem people like this. Honor them. Verse 29: "hold men like him in high regard (in honor)". Let me ask you a question. Who's your hero? Who is your hero? Is it a famous athlete? Is it a successful businessman? Is it a famous actor or actress? Paul says, "When you as a Christian see someone, a layperson, in your church who is a Christian brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, a trustworthy steward, a loving friend, a courageous Christian, hold that person as valuable and worthy of honor. Make him or her your hero."

And thirdly: imitate people like this, imitate people like this. Notice chapter 3:17. Paul says: "Brethren, join in following my example (but not just my example), observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." Imitate people like Epaphroditus, even people in this church who reflect these qualities. Imitate their faith.

Listen. Always remember the power of influence. Every person under the sound of my voice this morning has someone watching you. Even you young people, those younger than you see you as a pattern that they ought to follow. Everyone is influencing others either for good or for bad. Paul says follow the example of Epaphroditus. Become a man or a woman that God honors, and then you too can become the model to follow.

Epaphroditus wasn't famous. He wasn't a pastor. He wasn't a great teacher. He wasn't a great leader. He was a layperson who decided that serving Christ was more important than anything else in life. And he became a man that is forever memorialized by God and the apostle Paul on the pages of the New Testament. You and I may never make the pages, will never make the pages of the New Testament, but that doesn't mean there won't come a time when God will honor our behavior like this.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for the example of Epaphroditus. Lord, thank You that You have, by the power of Your Spirit, the inspiration of Your Spirit, recorded him as such a wonderful portrait of a life lived for others. Lord, help us to live that way, help us to be a church characterized by the qualities that distinguished Epaphroditus.

And Lord, I pray for the person here this morning who hasn't even the first quality, and that is they're not a Christian brother or a Christian sister. They're false brethren. They attach themselves to the church, but they aren't really a part of the family. Lord, I pray this morning You would open their eyes, remove the blinders, help them to see their sinfulness and to cry out to You for Your mercy and Your grace and for Your forgiveness and believe in Christ as Lord and Savior.

It's in His name we pray. Amen.