A newspaper reporter in San Bernardino, California arranged for a man to lie in the gutter on a busy street. Hundreds of people passed by the man but not one stopped to help him or even show sympathy. Newspapers across the country several years ago told how 38 people watched a man stalk a young lady and finally attack her, and none of the spectators even picked up a phone to call the police.
Even in the apostle Paul’s day, concern for one another was not popular. The Christians in Rome were not very interested in the needs and problems at Philippi. Paul could not find one person among them who was willing to go to Philippi. Times have not changed much, have they?
Paul is still discussing humility and concern for the needs of others. He has given the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has also talked about his own experience and his own concern for others. Now Paul introduces us to two of his helpers in the ministry, Timothy and Epaphroditus, and he does this for a reason. He knows that the people reading his letter would think, “It’s impossible for us to follow examples like Christ and Paul. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, and Paul was an apostle who has had great spiritual experiences”. Therefore Paul introduces them to two ordinary Christians.
I. TIMOTHY (verses 19-24)
The first person Paul talks to the Philippians about is Timothy. Timothy’s name means: “one who fears or honors God”. Paul probably met Timothy when he traveled to Lystra and Derbe on his first missionary journey because, in I Corinthians 4:17, Paul later called Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord”. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father was a Greek. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, we learn that Timothy’s mother and grandmother became Christians before he did. Paul left him there, encouraging him to become a part of the church fellowship in Derbe and Lystra, and it was in that fellowship that Timothy grew spiritually and learned to serve the Lord. When Paul returned to that area a few years later, he was happy to discover that young Timothy was “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium”. We find this information in Acts 16:2. Paul saw in Timothy the qualities needed for missionary work and he asked Timothy to join him. In Philippians 2:22 Paul makes this wonderful statement about Timothy: “you know of his proven worth that he served with me in the furtherance of the Gospel like a child serving his father”. Timothy had the humble heart of a true servant of God.
A popular nightclub singer in Chicago many years ago visited a pastor and announced that he had been saved and wanted to serve the Lord. “What should I do next?”, he asked.
“Well, I’d suggest that you unite with a good church and start growing”, the pastor replied. “Is your wife a Christian?”
“No, she isn’t”, the musician replied. “I hope to win her. But do I have to wait? I mean, I’d like to do something right now.”
“No, you don’t have to wait to witness for the Lord”, explained the pastor. “Get busy in a church, and use your talents for Christ.”
“But you don’t know who I am!”, the man protested. I’m a big performer. I want to start my own organization, make records, and appear before big crowds!”
“If you go too far too fast”, warned the pastor, “you may hurt yourself and your testimony. The place to start winning people is right at home. God will open up places of service for you as He sees you are ready. Meanwhile, study the Bible and give yourself a chance to grow.”
The man did not take the pastor’s advice. Instead he set up a big organization and started off on his own. His “success” lasted less than a year. Not only did he lose his testimony because he was not strong enough to carry the heavy burdens, but his constant travelling destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. He disappeared from public ministry, a broken and bankrupt man.
“His branches went out farther than his roots were deep”, the pastor said. “When that happens, you eventually fall.”
Paul didn’t make that mistake with Timothy. He gave Timothy time to get his spiritual roots down deep, and then asked Timothy to work with him on his missionary journeys. Perhaps the greatest reward God gave to Timothy was to choose him to be Paul’s replacement while Paul was in prison in Rome. What an honor! Timothy became Paul’s substitute!
II. EPAPHRODITUS (verses 25-30)
The other man that the apostle Paul mentions in this passage of Scripture is Epaphroditus. He was a Gentile who had become a Christian, and he was a member of the church at Philippi. Paul couldn’t say enough about this man. In chapter one, Paul calls Epaphroditus “my brother”, “my companion in labor”, and “my fellow-soldier”.
Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian. Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was concerned about both believers and non-believers. Balance is important in the Christian life. Some people emphasize “fellowship” so much that they forget the sharing of the Gospel message with the lost. Others are so involved in defending the Gospel that they neglect building fellowship with other Christians. It takes both to get the Lord’s work accomplished. Dr. H.A. Ironside, the great Bible teacher and preacher, used to tell the story about a group of believers who thought only of “fellowship”. They had little concern for reaching the lost or for defending the faith against its enemies. In front of their meeting place they hung a sign, which said: JESUS ONLY. But the wind blew away some of the letters, and the sign read US ONLY. It was a perfect description of a group of people who were not balanced Christians. Verse 25 tells us that Epaphroditus volunteered to make a dangerous trip to Rome in order to be with Paul and assist him while he was in prison. He also brought along with him a love offering from the church at Philippi. With Nero as emperor, Rome was a very dangerous place for Christians. In verses 26 and 27, Paul says that while Epaphroditus was visiting him, he became very sick and nearly died. Yet his greatest concern was not for himself but for the church in Philippi. He didn’t want them to be distressed about his illness. Epaphroditus knew the meaning of sacrifice and service, and Paul encourages the church at Philippi to honor him.
In Hebrews 11:32-40, God’s Word tells us of many giants of the faith – some named, some anonymous. They are measured by their willingness to serve God and others. Their faithfulness makes them great. God is not looking for bigness or status. His giants are ordinary people who do their best at whatever God calls them to do because they love God.
So, in Philippians 2:19-30, we see in Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, the secret of true contentment – the giving of themselves without feeling sorry for themselves. Do you want to be an encouraging Christian? Remember, the ultimate source of encouragement is not people, but God. Go to Him for fresh encouragement from fellowship with Him in His Word and in prayer; then go out and encourage others. Even if we have nothing else to give, we can always give encouragement. God is looking for ordinary people to do an extraordinary work for Him!