28 September 2009

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (2:24-3:1)

As we have been studying these first two chapters, we keep coming back to this theme of putting others first. Paul has painted a picture of Jesus and His perfect submission which led to His perfect exaltation, and the kind of humility that leads to glorification. And in the next chapter Paul shows us how he himself could have boasted about himself because of his Jewish heritage and his near-perfect knowledge of the Scriptures. But sandwiched in between, we have here—from verse 19 through verse 30—we have this passage that we may be tempted to skip over. Because we don’t think there is anything in these verses that have anything to do with us today.

But, lest we forget, who spoke these words to Paul and told him to write them down for us? God did! If God says something, is it important? I'll give you an example. At the end of his letter to Philemon, Paul refers to a man named Demas as his “fellow worker” (Philemon 1:24). Now, a fellow-worker of Paul would never turn away form the faith, would he? Listen to 2nd Timothy 4:9-10, which may very well have been some of the last words Paul wrote, he says, Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world. So, in these last words of Philemon and 2nd Timothy, we have a lesson in enduring to the end. And here, in the last few verses of this chapter, we have an example of soldiering up and being faithful and persevering through the toughest circumstances to encourage fellow believers.

Philippians 2:24-3:1I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly. Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.

Look at how he begins to describe Epaphroditus. Verse 25. He calls him my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier. First he calls him brother. We know that if anyone is in Christ he is a child of God, and if a child of God, then they are truly our brother or sister. Fellow worker. We will see this man mentioned again toward the end of the book, and read about the work that he did on Paul’s behalf. Fellow soldier. Are we in a war? Oh, you better believe it! If you don’t think we are in a war, we need to talk later. But is our enemy somebody we can see? Ephesians 6:12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. In other words, our fight is not against the thief or the murderer or the crack dealer. They are simply slaves of the real enemy, and who is that? And Satan, as we know, is a spiritual being. He was an angel, a very powerful angel. And one who managed to convince 1/3 of the angels in Heaven to make war against God. Now, if he could convince these other angels—who had seen God and knew God—if he could convince them to fight against God, what kinds of things do you think he’s capable of talking us into doing? And since Satan is so intelligent and so powerful, what does that say about our chances of overcoming him using our own wisdom? Slim and none, and slim is waiting at the bus station.

So how do we fight such enemy? With the Word of God and with prayer. THOSE are the weapons of our warfare. 2nd Corinthians 10:3-5For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. And Epaphroditus had obviously been fighting alongside Paul in this struggle against principalities and powers. And one thing we learn about this warfare we are in—we cannot fight this battle on our own. When it comes to fighting Satan, there is no such thing as an “Army of one.” We need to call on someone who is stronger, mightier and smarter than Satan. Hmmm…Who might that be? Psalm 27:1-3YHVH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? YHVH is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident.

And the more people we have around us, who will pray for us and who will teach us, the better. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12Two are better than one…if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up…Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
In this war that we are in, we may be tempted to try and go through it alone. But we just saw we can't fight Satan on our own. So, if that’s the case, then who do you think it is that wants us to try and fight Satan on our own? Satan does! How did he manage to convince Eve to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree? He got her alone, away from Adam. And when are we most tempted to do something we shouldn’t do? When we are either alone, or we are not around other brothers in Christ. We talked about that a couple weeks ago. That when we are around others who are strong in the faith, the less likely we are to do something we shouldn’t.

...Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; He was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death. Now that’s dedication! These people had heard that Epaphroditus was sick, and they were feeling pretty crummy about it. Which made Epaphroditus feel crummy about them feeling crummy about him being sick. And in this little blurb, we do see a glimmer of hope for these Philippian believers. That they had heard he was sick, and they may very well have been praying for him. And I'm kinda speculating here, but I think that the reason Epaphroditus wanted to go there was to expand on that. To say, “Hey, you know you guys are caring so much for my health and because I'm sick? Take that care and direct it towards each other.” And that should be true for all of us.

Now, when it says he was distressed (“full of heaviness” KJV), the Greek word he uses (αδημονων, adēmonwn) is only found two other places in the NT. Both times are talking about Jesus the night before His crucifixion. Mark 14:33 (and Matthew 26:37), And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. And Paul is telling us that Epaphroditus felt the same kind of distress over the Philippians’ reacting to his illness. It’s almost like he had heard how they felt about him, and he wanted them to feel the same way about each other. Thayer says, “This is the strongest of the three Greek words in the NT for depression.” In short, of all the words he could have used to describe his sadness, this was the most emphatic.

Do we always understand some concepts with our minds? Or do we sometimes need to see an example? That’s what Epaphroditus was doing. He knew they needed an example of selfless devotion. He knew that he could be that example. And so he had probably told Paul, “Hey look. I know I'm dying. But I don’t care. Send me there so that I can encourage them.” And by doing so, he encouraged Paul as well. He was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Epaphroditus was another one of Paul’s “sons in the faith.” Like Titus or Timothy. If you are a father, how do you feel when your son is sick? There’s a part of you that would almost rather you be sick than your child. Well, not only was Paul having to deal with the squabbling and bickering in the Philippians church. He was watching this dear “son in the faith” creep closer and closer to death.

But, who has control—ultimate control—over life and death? God, obviously. Will God take measures to make sure His will is carried out? God obviously wanted Epaphroditus to go to Philippi to encourage these people. He also wanted to encourage Paul to go on ministering to the various churches. So He brings this young man back from the point of death to accomplish both of these goals. The whole “two birds with one stone” thing. Therefore, Paul can go on and say what he wrote in verse 28, that he sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. The Philippians rejoice. Paul is less sorrowful. Things could be better, but they're starting to look up.

Then he says in Verse 29, Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. I was reading about the apostle John recently. How many times do we forget that the apostles were actual, real people? And there is much written about them and about their lives in the years after the resurrection of Christ. Their lives didn’t stop at the end of John’s gospel. Well, the apostle John became the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Albert Barnes wrote about the last few years of John’s life: "During his latter years he was not able to make a long discourse. He was carried to the assembly, and [would] say nothing but this: ‘Little children, love one another.’ At length his disciples asked him why he always dwelt upon the same thing. He replied, ‘Because it is the Lord's command; and if this be done, it is sufficient.’"

Here was this apostle whom Jesus loved, and all he could do was be carried into church and say, “Little children, love one another.” And now we look at Epaphroditus, who was sick unto death, and Paul says to hold such men in esteem. And well we should. We owe so much to men that we could never thank enough. The reason we can hold a copy of the Bible in English is due, in great part, to men who risked their lives to defy the Roman Catholic Church and translate it into English. I wouldn’t have time, in a month of Sundays, to tell of the men who have died in order to spread the gospel—the true gospel—we could spend nearly all of eternity simply thanking them. Hold such men in esteem. Who risk everything to proclaim the truth.

Then he says something at the end of Verse 30. For the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. It wasn’t that the people didn’t care about Paul or weren’t doing anything to help him. In fact, it was just the opposite. They helped Paul when no one else would or could. And this was also somewhat dangerous because of the Roman government which was in charge of the city, and because Nero, the emperor, was very vehemently opposed to Christians. Another thing to consider, and this about the ways that God works—when the Romans defeated the Greeks at Philippi in 42 BC, the emperor encouraged soldiers and retired military and anybody else who was of any importance to move to Philippi. So, basically, there was a lot of money in this city. One of the first people Paul and Silas met there was Lydia. She sold purple. Big deal, right? Yes it was because back then you didn’t just go into a Caesar-Mart and grab a purple shirt off the rack. The dye was very expensive and you only wore purple if you were wealthy, or you were royalty. Now you see why it was so important that Lydia sold purple, because who could she take the gospel to? Yeah, the rich and powerful.

There were many rich and powerful still living in this city, and in the region of Macedonia. We will see that in Philippians 4:15Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. When he went to Corinth, and needed help, that he was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied (2nd Corinthians 11:9). They had been one of Paul’s biggest sources of help financially, but apparently something was happening and they had to cut back for some reason. Because in Philippians 4:10—Your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. We’ll look more at that when we get to it. But apparently, Epaphroditus had come to Paul to make up for what the Philippians would have normally given him. And this even though Epaphroditus was near the point of death. But God allowed him to live, so that the work of Christ could continue.

So, there is chapter 2. Done. Finished. Promise.

Chapter 3. I love how he starts chapter 3. Philippians 3:1Finally. There’s still two chapters left, but he says, “Finally.” Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. What kinds of earthly things do we enjoy? Are those things going to come to an end one day? Yes. Will God ever come to an end? Is that even a question? So yes, it’s fun to play miniature golf or read or sit on the front porch drinking lemonade. But what are we gonna do when this life ends? We’re either going to have ultimate, everlasting pain and torment. Or we are going to have ultimate, everlasting joy, peace, beauty, etc. Psalm 16:11In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Almost 70 times the Scriptures tell us to rejoice in the Lord. 1st Chronicles 16:10Let the heart of those who seek YHVH be glad. Psalm 2:11—Serve YHVH with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Psalm 32:11Be glad in YHVH and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. 1st Thessalonians 5:16Rejoice always. NINE times he uses the word ‘rejoice’ in Philippians!! EIGHT times in the first three chapters!! How cool is that!!

But check this out: It’s not only that we rejoice in the Lord. Ten times, the Bible says that God rejoices over us. Zephaniah 3:17YHVH your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. And when even one person gets saved—the angels rejoice! Luke 15:10“Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” We’ve got a God we can rejoice over! And not only that, we have a God who rejoices over us!

Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. I'm gonna pick on parents again. Stop me if you’ve said this to one of your kids: “If I've said it once…” How about this: “How many times do I have to tell you…?” You’ve probably never had to say those things, have you? Nah…no, not at all! [/sarcasm] But I'll bet you never get sick of telling them, “I love you.”

That word ‘safe.’ Literally means “certain; sure; without fail; firm; something that can be relied on” (άσφαλής, asphalēs). In fact, we get the English word "asphalt" from that word! We find the same word in Hebrews 6:19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast. The hope is in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a Savior, can Jesus fail? That’s not even a question! What Paul is saying here is that, to write the same things to these people doesn’t get old. He could write the same things over and over again. And it would simply give him another chance to write things that glorify God!

And not only that, it makes these people even more certain of the unending and unfailing grace of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ!! It’s as if he is saying, “I could write these same things a thousand times and it would never get old. Because for you, it gives you even more and more assurance in Christ Jesus our Lord!!” And we’ll close on that note, because the next section—verses 2-6—are a whole lesson unto themselves. So let me wrap up with some verses that show us that unending and unfailing grace of God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. John 10:27-29My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” Nahum 1:7YHVH is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those who take refuge in Him. Romans 8:37-39But in all these things we super-conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. What can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Jesus Christ is Lord.
Amen.

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