Jesus’ tough assignment – Philippians 2

I am rather famous for my hatred of winter and cold weather. Snow is, to me, something that you really do want to see and experience once in your life, but beyond that, it is just annoying. You can’t play baseball in it or go cycling (at least not very well), so what good is it?  And to be theological about it, let me ask you this: how much snow was in the Garden of Eden before sin came upon the scene?

But having said that, there is something nice about a snow day. You are locked in at home, away from the pressures and responsibilities of a regular day. The house is warm, the fridge is full (because you beat everyone else to Walmart and cleared the shelves), and there is not a lot to do but just enjoy being at home.

BUT …

Then it stops snowing and that time has come to deal with the alleged “beauty” all over the ground, driveway, sidewalks, cars, etc.  And in my case there is about 1,000 feet of beauty between me and the road. Ugh … can’t I just stay inside and let it melt away on its own?

I’ve never been to heaven … no … I won’t be writing a book on it or making a movie about what I saw. I did see someone who saw into heaven!  My godly grandmother at the moment of her death — a lady who was about 90% blind in her latter years — sat up quickly in bed and looking off into the distance said, “It’s so beautiful.”  And then she threw her arms out in front of her and said, “He’s coming for me!”  And with that, she collapsed backward and breathed her last.

Heaven must be awesome!  Even better than a snow day at home. So, if you’re there in heaven, why would you want to leave it and go to earth? That’s not much of a promotion in life circumstances. But that is what Jesus did, as we read in Philippians chapter 2 …

2:1 — Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

By any measure, there has never been a tougher assignment than to be in a perfect condition in heaven, but being sent to earth to be human. That’s bad enough. But to also give yourself to death, and not just any death, but the ultimate execution on the cross … and not for anything you’ve done wrong, but for what everyone else has done wrong!

Tough assignment. But Jesus “humbled himself” and took on the assignment.

And as always when looking at this passage, we recall that the purpose (contextually) of Paul writing this is not first and foremost to teach incarnational theology, as awesome as that is. But rather, this section on Christ’s humiliation is as an illustration #1 of all-time illustrations … to teach the extent of attitude we as God’s people should have toward one another in terms of serving others.

Caring about the interests of others is a tough assignment, but aren’t you glad we have the ultimate example of it in Jesus Christ?

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Epaphroditus: A Charming Fellow Indeed! – Philippians 2:25-30 Epaphroditus: A Charming Fellow Indeed! – Philippians 2:25-30

Why couldn’t I have a name like Epaphroditus? Now that is a cool name! What did I get stuck with? Yes – Randy! What a stupid name! It even sounds wussy. And beyond that, I can’t even use the name in a place like England. If you don’t know why that is, I ain’t telling you in a church blog! But if you do know what it means in British slang, you’ll understand why I was embarrassed to find out (too late) from some (not so helpful or timely) British Christians that perhaps using my middle name “Alan” might be more appropriate … all of this after I went up to some old ladies in London and introduced myself by saying, “Hello, I’m Randy.” To which they replied in full accent, “You don’t say!”

Epaphroditus was a common name in the ancient Greco-Roman world, and its meaning was to be “charming” or “lovely.” And that is what Epaphroditus was for Paul – a great fellow to have around who could be counted upon in any circumstance.

When the Philippians found out that Paul was in prison, they sent this prince charming to carry the funds to help Paul, and then to also stay there and provide personal assistance in this time of need. And now, Paul was sending him back to them in Philippi, and sending with him this letter of thanks, greeting, and exhortation.

So, I’ve already gone Greek on you once today with talking about the meaning of his name, and now I’m going to do it twice more!

While Epaphroditus was with Paul, he became terribly ill – to the point of almost dying. The Philippians had heard about this, and in turn Paul had heard back from them that they were really worried about their emissary. All of this worry really deeply bothered Mr. Charming. Here he was supposed to be the guy taking care of the poor Apostle Paul in prison, and then he gets so sick himself that he almost dies and creates a bigger problem of anxiety for everyone. All of this, it says in verse 26 “distressed” him. This is the same word that is used in the New Testament of the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

So Paul is writing to the Philippians to assure them of the great value he derived from the ministrations of Epaphroditus. It is a sort of reference letter to cover for him and to answer any possible criticisms that their representative had failed in his task. To the contrary – here was a guy who Paul said should be given the highest respect and honor, because he had not only done the job at hand, he had risked his very life in doing so.

Here is the third Greek word for you out of this passage – it is the one that is translated “co-worker” in verse 25. It is the word from which we derive the English word “synergy.” It is a combination of “work” and “together.”  That was the relationship Paul and Epaphroditus had – a synergy in ministry and working together.

Over the years I have enjoyed this relationship particularly with certain people. From this Tri-State community I would especially mention Beth Ostoich – a great co-worker in the gospel, who knew what I was thinking with even just a glance. In New Jersey, I so much enjoyed one particular staff member, who is now a pastor in Colorado. We served together through a very difficult church situation and thereby built a life-long friendship and partnership.

In the local church, we are in a cosmic struggle of kingdoms warring against one another. We are co-combatants and servants together of the King of Kings. Serving others in and through the church is the greatest work we can do. We should all be deeply involved, and in the intensity of it we should be gaining significant relationships with one another. We need you; you need us. Jump in. Be an Epaphroditus.

25 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. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 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. 28 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. 29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him,30 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.

Ain’t Nobody Like This Guy! (Philippians 2:19-24)

Imagine what it must have been like to travel with the Apostle Paul. At first thought, most people would probably think that was pretty exciting—with all the miracles and people coming to know Christ and churches being started. That is true.

But there was another side to being associated with this bold fellow. Everywhere he went he would create a stir and negative reactions. There were riots and beatings, and all sorts of high-pressured life-threatening situations. With Paul, you would be a cultural stranger in most places, identified with a radical message that was offensively odious to your own ethnic roots and politically dissident within the prevailing secular culture.

Being identified with Paul was a dangerous thing. But Timothy and Epaphroditus (tomorrow’s topic) were not afraid of this whatsoever. They were identified with the Apostle not only when he was getting into a conflict, but also when he was in jail. These men came to see him and to tend to his needs. (In 2 Timothy, Paul mentions the name of some people who abandoned him.)

Paul writes in verse 20 today one of the most amazing things he ever says. Speaking of Timothy he states that, “I have no one else like him…”  That is quite a resume enhancement and high-level reference.

We are able to glean from a couple of other New Testament passages that Timothy’s personality was much at the other end of the scale from Paul. Whereas the Apostle was a bold “type A” aggressive fellow, we get a biographical picture of Timothy as a more gentle, timid, and receding personality. Yet he travelled in public circles with the polarizing preacher dude; he showed up daily at the jail to be with Paul.

Why did he push past the gentle soul of his inner self to be this way? Because as Paul says, Timothy had a genuine concern for other people. He was motivated by serving Christ in serving other people. He was by conviction a person who looked away from himself. He was illustrative of what I believe we all should be – “preference deference” people.

A person who defers the fulfillment of their own preferences is a person who understands the reality of a larger and more important picture of God’s work taking place all around them. They want to be a part of what HE is doing, recognizing their personal fulfillment in life will come from that rather than the pursuit of their own preferences.

After 35 years of this pastoring thing and seeing people come and go in churches, I’ve always been most impressed with people who choose to come and stay in a church because they see it as a place they can best serve God and other people with their gifts and skills. And I’ve likewise always been saddened by the people who leave because they continue in a lifelong point-to-point search for the community of faith that best serves their needs and preferences.

Fulfillment and God’s pleasure is to be found in the application of Christlikeness in serving other people. Disappointment and disillusionment will be experienced by folks who seek to find fulfillment in what other sinners do or don’t provide for them.

So why not strive to be a Timothy, and by so doing you will be modeling your life after a person commended in God’s Word for modeling his life after the others-oriented serving pattern of Jesus Christ.

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 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.23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

It’s not that Difficult to be a Shining Star – Philippians 2:12-18

The most physically demanding job I’ve ever done in my life was one that I did for several years while attending Dallas Theological Seminary. I worked for the United Parcel Service (UPS) in their major southwest hub in Dallas.

During the interviewing process for advertized jobs in overnight shifts, a supervisor pulled me aside. He told me that they had a “twilight shift” – generally from around 6:00-10:00 in the evening. They did not advertise this, because everyone would want it rather than doing midnight duty.

But since I was a couple years older than most applicants, along with being a grad school student who did well on some sort of memorization test they gave us, I was offered a job on the Twilight Shift Secondary Sort Aisle. It involved memorizing hundreds of zip codes, quickly picking up packages sliding toward you at breakneck speeds, and just as quickly sorting them onto one of seven different belts and slides carrying packages all over a huge, huge trucking terminal. The boxes next went to another sorter, who made a final decision as to which of three or four trucks they would be loaded into.

This was Dallas – in Texas, where it gets very hot… the place of which General Philip Sheridan said before the Civil War while stationed there with the army, “If I owned both Texas and Hell, I would rent out the former and live in the latter!”

It was a common attitude of workers to be cranky and irritable. The heat was dreadful, as the sort aisle was high up in the terminal near the ceiling. The supervisors were constantly nearby. Every day your speed and accuracy was tested and charted.

There was one young fellow who worked there, being a student at a relatively unknown and small Christian college. He knew the Lord and loved God with all his heart. This guy was never a bad attitude. He often literally sang worship songs the whole time he was loading a truck. He was the first person to help out anyone else when things backed up. He never complained about anything.

One night toward the end of the shift, I was sent to help him finish a truck loading, and I used the opportunity to commend him for his constantly cheerful attitude. He told me that he did in fact not really like the job, but he was determined that he would do all he could to work hard and serve others like he was serving God in the flesh. He was a shining star for Christ in a place that was rather dark.

Bosses and managers don’t like grumblers or complainers … neither does a coach, nor does a parent. And you can add God to that list also!

As the Apostle Paul addressed the Philippians about some of the attitudinal situations that were creating strife in the church in that city, he tells them to be serious about the execution of their faith and to do things without grumbling and arguing. Doing this would make them a “star” – for they would stand out like a bright dot of light in the dark night sky.

The natural proclivity for mankind is to be self focused and to easily be personally annoyed – expressing that with complaints and wrangling with others. To be different from that tendency would cause them to particularly shine in an exemplary way, being also in accord with God’s Word. And that is a timeless truth that extends to our day.

As you read the passage, recall that Paul is writing this letter to them while he was a prisoner. He could not be with them, and he appeals to them from his precarious position. Paul was uncertain if he would be released; and though he had an underlying tone of optimism, it was not certain. So we see him thinking even in terms of his legacy with them – hoping his efforts were indeed fruitful among these Philippians. He desired to be pleased that they were obedient and moving forward in their faith.

Grumbling, arguing, and otherwise participating in discord in the church family is really such a waste of time and energy. There is so much work to be done. And we all need to check ourselves regularly in this regard, to be sure we are not losing focus on what is most important. But we can be pleased also in the knowledge that it is God who works in us as we yield to him – not only to fulfill his purposes for us, but to also build in us an increasing desire to do so.shining-stars

So, go be a “shining star.” It is actually not that difficult.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

The Way to the Top is through the Bottom (Philippians 2:1-11)

During the time I was involved in the political process for a few years, I never talked about it publically at church. I even did a sermon during that time on the topic of the place of a Christian in civil government and politics, and I was really proud of making it through that message without ever uttering the words “Democrat” or “Republican.”

Through a variety of circumstances and open doors that I believe to this day God shoved me through, I was for a time the chairman of the local Republican Party. Though it was an elected position, the events putting me into that role were much more within the category “it found me; I didn’t find it!”

There were aspects of it I really liked, such as strategizing, vision casting, and working with some local people of high character, yet I found many other elements of it to be rather odious. Higher levels of Party participation introduced me to some extraordinarily fine and genuine people, but also some of the most troubled individuals I’ve ever encountered. Those who were running for positions of authority and leadership within the Party were too often overly-engaged in the process of continual self promotion rather than given to the hard work of advancing actual principles and values in practical ways. The process of promotion (for the purpose of gaining position) became the end of the game, rather than actually winning the game in the public arena of ideas and leadership.

But that is the way of the people of this world – to seek to achieve rank and place. Jesus told his disciples to not be like this. When the disciples were jockeying for position on the right and left hand of the Lord, it says in Mark 10 that Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And so when Paul wrote today’s passage to the Philippians, he was on the very solid ground of not only remembering the words of Christ to be the most lowly servant, but to also point to the work of Christ in doing just that – submitting to the ignominy of the cross.

Verses 6-11 are among the most famous of theological teachings in the New Testament. They teach clearly that Jesus was 100% God, that he voluntarily submitted himself to the humiliation of leaving the glories of heaven to become fully man (though without sin or loss of divine substance), and that he willingly submitted himself to the worst death imaginable for the sins of everyone else.

6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,     being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

But what is often forgotten is that these verses were not written primarily to teach Christology (the doctrine of Christ), but to give an illustration of the primary point Paul was discussing – that of having an attitude of humility in service to other people in the family of faith. Paul led into this theological section (that may have been an early hymn) by saying …

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

So this sets up a very expansive degree to which we should be willing to go to give up our own self-serving proclivities in order to serve other people. And why should we not be willing to do so in light of all that we mutually possess?  That is how our chapter today began – by rehearsing the unity we have with one another in Christ, the treasure of the indwelling Spirit, and hearts governed by the tenderness and compassion we have first received …

2:1  Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Valuing others above self – the most difficult task to do, yet the most rewarding task when done. If the people of a church would ever do this, there would be no squabbling or bickering … no pushing and shoving and debating about what personal taste or opinion on any subject should prevail. There would only be Christ-like service.

Let’s just do it!