Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Philippians 2:19-30 'Together for the Gospel' : A Sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral at Summer Praise on 31st July 2005

Have you ever thought about models? I’m not talking so much about model cars or trains, nor even fashion models, but about models – those who are an example to us? I’m always intrigued by accents, and how we pick them up. I remember the first time I went to BB Camp, my tent commander came from Castledawson, and I had listened to him so much over that week, that I ended up talking with a Castledawson accent. I had been influenced and changed to a certain extent, by the model that had been around me. I was moulded by the experience. That’s probably also the case with me spending almost three years in West Tyrone. Certainly, some of the people from Youth Fellowship find my new hybrid accent hilarious or just not understandable! Again, having listened to those around me, I have picked up certain words or phrases, and have been changed by that experience.

I think it is true of most of us that we are changed and altered, even very subtly by the company we keep, and by the examples we have in front of us. Which is why, when you’re growing up, your choice of friends can be so important.

It is also true of the apprentice schemes for learning a trade. You learn as much, if not more, by working alongside someone who knows what they’re doing, and so you become skilled in that trade, and can then pass that knowledge on to others.

This past two weeks, we have been looking at the example of Jesus, who was fully obedient, and humble, and at how we should therefore shine like stars in the universe, by following His example. Paul now writes of two of these ‘stars’, who the Philippians should seek to copy, and use as an example.

Timothy was one of Paul’s apprentices in the gospel work. We sometimes think that Paul travelled alone on his missionary journeys, and that it was all Paul, but this is not the case. Paul always had a number of people with him, for mutual support and encouragement, as well to share in the gospel work. And Timothy was one of these.

He was a messenger of Paul, who brought news of Paul out to various churches, and then brought news from those churches back again. He had been an apprentice, as Paul says ‘as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel’. In those days, sons normally ended up doing the same job as their sons, and so learnt their trade by watching and working alongside their father. Thus it was, that Timothy, like the apprentice, had worked along with Paul, and had learnt the trade for him.

But one thing set Timothy apart from the rest of those around Paul at the time. ‘I have no one else, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

Timothy’s concern was for the interests of Jesus Christ. And what are these interests? Well, that His church is expanded, that its members are growing, that the people of God are fed and encouraged. This was in following the example of Jesus, who shunned self-interest by giving himself up to death for others.

Don Carson says that we should seek to emulate those who are interested in the well-being of others, not their own. ‘Be on the alert for Christians who really do exemplify this basic Christian attitude, this habit of helpfulness. They are the kind who cheerfully pick up after other people. They are not offended if no-one else asks after them; they are too busy asking after others. They are the kind who are constantly seeking to do good spiritually, to do good materially, to do good emotionally. They are committed to the well-being of others. Watch them. Watch how they act, how they talk, how they react. Talk with them; learn their heartbeat. Imitate them. Emulate those who are interested in the well-being of others.’

Paul also encourages us to emulate, to imitate, and to honour those who put their lives on the line for the gospel. Such a man was Epaphroditus. He had brought money from the Philippians to Paul, and this epistle was, to some extent, a thank you letter for it. Epaphroditus had stayed with Paul for a time, being of service to him, and working in the gospel ministry with him, and while there had become ill.

Yet, God had mercy on him, and also on Paul, to save him from death, yet Epaphroditus was distressed because he knew the Philippians were distressed about him! So, to bring about joy, and less anxiety all around, Paul was sending him back to Philippi, along with this letter.

But the instructions were clear: ‘Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ’. And we too should also seek to honour those who lay their lives on the line for the gospel, both in home service, but also across the world on the mission field.

So if we are seeking to grow in our faith – what models do we set before us? Are we being encouraged to grow in our faith by those around us? Are we learning by watching their example, and growing ourselves? Are we also encouraging others in the faith, by exemplifying these qualities?

Let’s learn from Timothy, and seek to put the concerns of others ahead of our own, by putting the interests of Jesus Christ first of all. There’s the old saying that the way to Joy is by having our priorities right:

Yourself – JOY.

And let’s learn from Epaphroditus, by putting our lives on the line for the sake of the gospel, and by taking care of the needs of those around us. And let’s honour those who put their lives on the line, by supporting those in the mission field, both through our prayers, and also by our resources.

1 comment :

  1. Good sermon, made me realise I haven't had a model in my life for the last 4 years. Think I need 2 find 1