LEARNING TO SERVE
12 MAY 2020
"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me." -Phil 2:15-30
I remember my dad trying to teach me how to play badminton growing up. In badminton, one of the fundamental aspects of the sport is the serve. He was trying to teach me how to execute the perfect serve. I remember asking him why is the serve so important? He said it's important to serve well so that it’s easy for your opponent to return it back to you. Of course he was trying to trick me there because we all know that the person serving holds the advantage in winning that. But nonetheless, that phrase has stuck with me through until today; Learning to serve well so that others may benefit.
Observing that the verses before, Paul was explaining some of his deepest and richest teachings about the Gospel and Jesus Christ. But now he begins to share a travelogue of these two people the Philippians knew – Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul usually included a section like this in his letters, but it was usually included at the end in his usual style of exhortation before he ends his letters.
Why did Paul include this section on the travel plans of Timothy and Epaphroditus? Why put it here, side-by-side with some of the deepest teaching of the Bible? I believe because Paul is trying to show them and us that these are two of his finest examples of ordinary people who were living out what Paul had just taught. For those who believed that Paul’s teaching was impossible to live out in real life, Paul provides two examples of people who lived out what he was talking about when it comes to serving God and serving others.
Serving Others Authentically
The first example that we can learn from that Paul sets before us is that of Timothy. Paul draws attention to his spiritual son Timothy who is so like-minded as Paul himself. Just as Timothy imitates Paul and Paul imitates Christ, the virtues that Timothy is indirectly imitating is of Christ Himself. The reason Paul wanted to send Timothy to Philippi is because Timothy had a caring heart, as Paul wrote in verses 20-21, “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.” Timothy really cared about the welfare of God’s people.
It is interesting to note that others that Paul knew were concerned about their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Those who serve others have a genuine care and love for others. A person that is genuine is not half hearted. A person that is genuine goes the extra mile. A person that is genuine sees and puts your best interest ahead of their own. A genuine person gives to others especially when no one is looking. A genuine person does not boast to others when he does a good deed.
Genuinity and authenticity is what is lacking in our generation today. We would rather fake it to make it because we don’t want others to look down on us. We hide behind the camera with filters and stickers on Instagram so as to not expose our real stuff. “What if they really find out who I really am?” “What if they don’t like the real me?”
Far too often I find myself seeking my own interests rather than those of Jesus Christ and the people of God. But Timothy lived sacrificially. “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Timothy wasn’t self-absorbed. He didn’t live for his own comfort and good. He lived sacrificially, to follow Jesus, even when it cost something. But Jesus did, and if I am to follow Christ, and I need to have a caring heart for others too.
Serving Others Extraordinary
Paul then goes on to encourage Epaphroditus. Now, we know very little about Epaphroditus. However, we do know that Epaphroditus was in fact a member of the Philippian church. He was not a pastor or an elder or a deacon. He is not the person that is often on stage preaching or leading worship. In fact, he was quite the opposite. He was always the man behind the scenes. You don’t see much of Epaphroditus, but you know he’s around when the chairs are stacked, when the stage is clean or when the church service is in order.
Paul wrote to the Philippians in 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.” Epaphroditus served Paul in several different ways. Epaphroditus was a hard worker. He had traveled over 700 miles to be with Paul, to bring a monetary gift and to help Paul out. Think about that. 700 miles is a long way to travel today, by car; imagine back then. He traveled all that way to represent the Philippian church and too help Paul in prison.
He was willing to be sent anywhere and sacrifice anything for the sake of the Gospel. God is always looking for people who would serve Him with their whole heart. I can imagine that it could not be easy for Epaphroditus to leave the comforts of home and journey to Rome, but he had done it. Now, it also would be difficult for him to leave Paul and return home, but he was willing to go where the Lord wanted him. But he did it anyway. He went the extra mile to serve others because of the will of God.
It is always easy to say yes to serving God when things are easy. It is often easier to give to God in our tithes and offering when we have much. But are we still able and willing to give just as much to God when we don’t have much? To be extraordinary is to be over and above what is ordinary. God is looking for people that would serve him just like everybody else. God is looking for people that would stand out for Him.
Serving Others Willingly
We serve God by serving others. The service is rendered unto God, but it is through the people we offer our sacrifices to. Every servant of Jesus Christ does what he does, whether giving or helping or speaking, as an offering to the Lord Jesus. A servant’s heart is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ and His work. Both Timothy and Epaphroditus had served with Paul for almost ten years. Ten years! That’s the duration of our entire childhood or teenage years. If you’ve ever worked side-by-side with someone through highs and lows, walked through difficulty after difficulty, then you know that’s impressive. Timothy had proved himself, as Paul says. He had a good track record over an extended period of time.
There also seems to have been the potential for some misunderstanding when Epaphroditus showed up with this letter. The Philippians were expecting Timothy, but they weren’t expecting Epaphroditus. They were expecting Batman, but somehow Robin got into the team as well. They may have regretted sending him, especially considering that Epaphroditus was ill and his sickness caused him to be a stress to Paul as much as a help. But Paul made it clear that the Philippians were to welcome him back warmly, because he had served Christ well, and had represented them with excellence. Epaphroditus even in his illness displayed a willingness to serve and advance the gospel. There was little to no excuse for these two servants of God when it comes to serving the purposes of God.
There’s always an excuse if we’re looking for one. I’ve made so many excuses in my life. There’s always a reason not to give more, there’s always a reason not to serve more, or there’s always a reason not to love more. Even when we are certain God has called us to something, we will stall because an excuse is always near. And, most excuses seem reasonable at first glance. Common sense even. Think about the excuses Moses made for following God. I have to be honest – when I hear them, they make sense to me. I mean, if you’re not a good communicator – why send you as the chief spokesman for God?
The reality is following a God-inspired, God-sized dream, always requires stepping into the unknown and always demands we overcome our excuses. Don’t talk yourself out of what God is trying to lead you into. Are you talking yourself out of what God is trying to lead you into? What excuses have we been giving ourselves when it comes to serving God? Have we been giving excuses when it comes to committing to God more?
Just Ordinary People
So there we have it. Two very average people but with a big heart for God and His people. They were just ordinary people but with an extraordinary God that made all the difference. In fact, Paul listed 26 people by name in Romans 16 – people who surrounded him in Rome, and who helped him. Yet out of these people, at least 26 of them, only two came through like Timothy and Epaphroditus. They all loved God; they all loved Paul. Yet only two came through. Paul says, “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Maybe their schedules got in the way. They may have been too busy. Maybe they had other concerns. Perhaps they were too ambitious. Perhaps, they were more interested in their own affairs than in what matters to Jesus Christ.
The thing that set Timothy and Epaphroditus apart was not their ability, their charm, their knowledge, or even their talents. It was their heart that was willing to serve. It was their willingness to do the will of God and advance the Gospel through whatever means they have and could.
What is stopping you from being authentic with one another?
Are you able to go above and beyond to express the love of God?
Are you willing to serve God at where you are at today?
Don’t talk yourself out of what God is trying to lead you into.