9 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. 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, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. (Philippians 2:19-30)
We have been talking over the last several weeks about spiritual friendships. In this paragraph from verse 19 through verse 30 we see examples of those who chose to be involved in one another’s lives in significant ways, in beneficial ways. That is what we have seen for the most part from the last few weeks. There is also in this paragraph a mention of those who chose not to involve themselves in each other’s lives for the benefit of their spiritual friends. These are found in verse 21, and are described as those who seek their own interests, not the interests of Jesus Christ. We have great contrast there. We have those who are choosing to be spiritual friends in the lives of one another, and we have those who are choosing not to do that, and who seem unconcerned about the interests of Jesus Christ; both, I believe, from the context of believers.
And so spiritual friends, in short, are those who are actively seeking the interests of Jesus Christ. That is a prerequisite of being a spiritual friend, interested in primarily what He is interested in. That applies to our relationships with one another.
What this means then is, as we approach one another, brothers and sisters in Christ, in every setting – church, social gatherings, counseling, biblical confrontation, serving side by side, classroom settings, at the breakfast table, in meetings, in corporate worship, in every other setting that we find ourselves in with other Christians – we are first of all to think about whom? Jesus Christ. We are to think about Christ as we converse with one another. We are to consider the interests of Jesus Christ in how we choose to relate to one another. What is Jesus Christ interested in regarding how I relate to my neighbor, how I interact with you, or how you interact with me?
Now right off the bat, we have a great challenge with that. You may say, and I may agree with you if you say, “Well for me, I’m mostly just thinking about the topic at hand, whatever’s going on in the moment, or I just say or do whatever comes to mind first, or I’m crafting my response. I’m not really thinking about Christ. I mean, what does He have to do with every conversation, every interaction I have with another person?”
Here is the thing: with our relationships, in our relationships, we are always, no matter what conversation we’re having, we’re always considering someone’s interests. We always are. And God is telling us in His Word that as you are considering someone’s interests, be sure that you are first of all considering the interests of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. And let that then drive and help formulate our every attitude that is behind every word, every action, every interaction with a brother or sister in Christ. In other words, how can we please Christ in every relationship we have with other believers? That’s the goal of life, to glorify God.
This is where Paul is leading us, as he did in Philippians 2:3-4, when he said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
You may say, “That sounds like I am focusing on the other person, how to help the other person, my focus is first of all on the other person.” If your focus is on the other person, and you’re considering his interests ahead of your own, if you’re able to do that at all, if any of us are able to do that, then our focus has first of all been on the Lord Jesus Christ. Otherwise it just doesn’t work.
Our example is Christ Himself and His humility as a servant for us. An example of what sort of opinion we are to have of ourselves, we see in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
If we are to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, maybe we need to do some “emptying.” Emptying of self, leading to a filling up of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives. God calls us away from a self-love and self-focus, and He calls us to love Him, and to love one another. True spiritual friends have an eye on their neighbor, a concern for others, all with and flowing from a love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
This morning we will continue this theme of spiritual friendships by looking at verses 22-24.
22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. (Philippians 2:22-24)
Last week we focused on two aspects of spiritual friendships. The first was the dedication of spiritual friends. We talked about how spiritual friends are to be committed to one another, dedicated to one another. We got that from verse 22, where Paul speaks of Timothy’s proven worth, which was something that happened over time. He showed dedication and commitment to the ministry of the gospel, and to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He was dedicated to them, and proven over time.
The second aspect of spiritual friends that we looked at was that spiritual friends are like family. We are to be a family with one another, that’s how we’re to interact with one another and relate to one another. We got that from what Paul said about Timothy; he talks about Timothy as being like a son to him, and Paul being his father. That’s the kind of bond that develops among spiritual friends.
This week we will focus on four more aspects of spiritual friends:
The servanthood of Christian friends
The shared goal of Christian friends
The sharing one another with Christian friends
The fellowship of Christian friends
This is really exciting stuff, because it is so applicable. These are things we can take today and begin to implement right away in our lives. I am excited for us to learn to be better spiritual friends with one another. Friends that point other friends to Christ, friends that help lead us to become more like Jesus Christ, that is where we are headed.
So, our third aspect of spiritual friendship, picking up from last week, is this truth: spiritual friends are fellow servants, or spiritual friends serve together. In verse 22 we read that Timothy served with Paul in gospel ministry. Serving together helps to bind spiritual friends with one another in Christ. Think of Jesus, who gathered the twelve, taught them, and then what? They went out together serving others in God’s name. They didn’t just sit around and fill their heads with knowledge, talking about what they could do, or what they should do. No, they went out!
7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mark 6:7-13)
I love these pictures of believers going out and serving with each other. You can imagine what this type of service must have been like for their relationships. Christ didn’t give them something easy to do, even. It was a little confrontational. I’m sure they had to deal with some really hard things. Christ sent them out to work together, to serve side-by-side together.
Paul was also a big tent guy when it came to serving together. In 1 Corinthians 12 he talks about this unique body that we’re a part of, and how we all must work together and serve together for the body to function properly.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable (1 Corinthians 12:12-22)
We see from passages like this that we are intertwined in a sense, we are a part of one body, though individual parts. As one body we are to serve, as these parts, side by side. Spiritual friends, the church, should be serving together, side by side.
You may say, “I’m not really doing that.” If so, I would encourage you to grab your neighbor, your spiritual friend, and say, “Hey, let’s serve together in the name of Christ!” You don’t have to wait for anything. You don’t have to wait for a church program, or for a church leader to ask you to do something, just grab your friend and go serve, go do something. Serve a family with Scotty’s Gifts, grab your neighbor and say, “Let’s go help a poor family during Christmas time!” Take a brother and go visit a brother in need, pool your money and give, go on a mission trip together, study God’s Word, pray with one another, grab some gospel tracts and evangelize, organize a cookout for Christian fellowship, babysit with a friend to help a family in need. Are you serving with your fellow Christians? Are you doing that actively? Did you do that this week? Do you have plans to do that in the coming week? Here is a place where we can be creative. There’s not just one way to serve, there are millions of ways to serve, to be involved in people’s lives. Paul and Timothy served together thinking about and focusing on the interests of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing quite like being in the trenches of service with a Christian friend for the sake of Christ! I hope you’re experiencing that on a regular basis. Paul and Timothy became like father and son as they served together, and God grows our friendships through significant Christian service as well.
Secondly, Christian friends have a shared goal: the gospel. Paul and Timothy didn’t just serve together, they shared the same goal in their service. They were heading in the same direction, they had the same purpose, they were focused. They were concerned for the interests of Christ. We read in verse 22, “But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.”
In our service together it can be easy to forget the goal. Paul and Timothy didn’t just hang out together and find things to do together, just for the sake of being together. No, they had a purpose. They shared the same goal, and that was to consider Christ’s interests in gospel ministry. They had a clear goal. This goal took them through many difficulties, through trials together, but it remained the goal. The goal was gospel ministry. Paul had to remind Timothy of the goal, as Christian friends should do often with one another.
Much of the books of 1 and 2 Timothy are about Paul reminding Timothy of the goal. In 1 Timothy 1:3, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” This is just one simple reminder to Timothy: “Remember the goal, the gospel truth, even when that is difficult, and it requires difficult confrontation.” In 1 Timothy 4:6 Paul instructs Timothy on how to instruct others: “If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” The goal is not just knowledge, it is to be a good servant with that knowledge, and training others to do the same. Or some personal reminders for Timothy from Paul: “Timothy, remember why we are here,” Paul says, as I paraphrase that. He says in one instance:
11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-13)
Again, he is reminding Timothy of the goal. “Keep fighting, pursue righteousness and godliness, don’t forget we’re here because of the gospel, we’re here for the gospel of Jesus Christ, fight the good fight of faith, hold on to eternal life, which you have confessed to.” We should serve, but in our service with spiritual friends we must maintain the right goal. Preserving the interests of Christ in gospel ministry.
I think this is a good word for us, especially in our day, because how many churches and para-church organizations do we see that have forgotten the goal? Churches that have become social institutions or just community gatherings, but have forsaken gospel ministry of evangelism, training in righteousness, progressive sanctification, and true spiritual worship. Christian universities that somehow forgot the goal, and began to believe that they are simply about learning. That wasn’t the original goal, it was the gospel! Many have forgotten that, have left that.
As a church we can begin to think things like, “Worship is about good musical performance.” We’re not above that. We can begin to think that, we might some day think that. Or we could think that preaching is about good oratory, or that counseling is about just making people feel good about themselves, or that the building is about outward beauty, we can think that fellowship is simply making new friends, or that Sunday school is about child care. We can do all that we do and lose sight of the reasons why we do it, lose sight of pleasing God and gospel ministry, if we are not diligent to ask “Why?” To ask, “Why are we doing what we’re doing?” To check ourselves here and there, to be sure we are not wasting our efforts simply by pleasing ourselves or finding other goals. We need to remind each other and talk often about things like this and ask, “Why are we doing what we are doing? Why are we here and serving? Is our goal gospel ministry, is that in tact, or have we lost the goal?” Spiritual friends are those who should share the same goal of gospel ministry, in accord with the interests of Jesus Christ.
Next, another aspect of spiritual friendship is that we are willing to share one another with other Christian friends. This is an interesting one. In the text we see Paul, a prisoner, sending Timothy, his beloved friend and confidant in the ministry, sending him away to the church in Philippi. Paul had been comforted by Timothy, regularly encouraged by Timothy. Paul enjoyed Timothy’s presence with him, it was a comfort to a man in prison. Many times it seemed that Timothy was all that Paul had. Timothy and Paul were close, like a father and son. And yet at this time Paul is willingly sending him away to Philippi, to check on them to see how they are doing. Paul could have sent someone who was not such a big part of his own comfort. But at this opportune time Paul was willing to “share” Timothy with the people at Philippi, because he knew the church at Philippi could benefit from his ministry.
This is a reminder to us that none of us have any exclusive rights over another person. There are times when we should be willing to share our Christian friends with others who may benefit from their presence and ministry. Paul didn’t hold Timothy back for his own selfish gain.
I remember one holiday a few years ago now. Tammy had spend days preparing another one of her perfect meals. All of our family had gathered in our home to share a meal together. Everything was just right. We had been anticipating our time together, where all the kids come home and we get to visit with them and enjoy our time in a relaxed way. A lot of time and effort had gone into this time, we had looked forward to it for weeks, a very special time had come. And the phone rings. I get a call from a desperate brother. A man dealing with a significant crisis, a real crisis, a time-sensitive crisis. As I spoke with him I could hear all the family in the other room, enjoying conversation, preparing for a meal together. I thought about how long Tammy had spent preparing for this special occasion, and yet I heard of an immediate need on the other end of the phone line. I hung up the phone and let Tammy know some of what was going on, some of what I had heard, and her immediate reaction was, “You need to go.” I said, “What about the food, the family, our time together?” And she was so insistent, “We will see you later. God has work for you to do right now, this is what God has for us all tonight.”
We need to know as Christian friends that sometimes our friends may have others that they need to serve, and we need to be willing to let them serve when that time comes. We may love them, love being with them, want them around always, but also remember that sometimes their circle of ministry may go beyond us. I think that’s what Paul is doing here with Timothy. He enjoyed Timothy’s presence, he was comforted by him, but for now, Timothy needed to go.
Of course there is balance in this, so we need to be careful. We need to be as balanced as the Bible is balanced in things such as this. Going away to minister, especially from family, can easily turn to neglect, to neglect taking care of God-given responsibilities at home. I’m not talking about shirking God-given responsibilities to take on new ones, not at all. Sometimes I like to read missionary biographies, and some of them drive me crazy, to hear of a father who goes away for several years and leaves his family behind to minister to some group of people. I don’t get that, maybe I need to grow in that area, but it doesn’t seem right to me biblically. Even though they’ve done great things, I know. So I’m not talking about shirking responsibilities to take on new ones. Simply that we need to be careful that we do not hold one another back from significant gospel ministry, simply because of our own selfish, self-centered wants or desires.
Lastly, another aspect of Christian friends is the fellowship we have with one another. Paul says, “and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.” You know, it seems to me that Paul just wanted to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes with a purpose and a goal, but he just enjoyed being with them. There is a fellowship among Christian friends that is unique and important. Paul wanted to be with those he loved.
In Acts, in the early church we find such rich fellowship: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
In 1 John, we read, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)
One aspect of being a spiritual friend is a love for, a desire for, fellowship with one another. Growing up, when I heard the word “fellowship,” I thought of either a big meal at church on a special occasion, or a Sunday night get-together with the youth. Either way there was food involved. Food is a good thing, but Christian fellowship is much more than just food.
Christian fellowship is like what many of us experienced last Friday night at one of our church Christmas parties. By the way, if you haven’t signed up for one of the church Christmas parties, there is still space available for this coming Friday night, you can sign up for one on the website. But last Friday night we had true Christian, spiritual fellowship. It was a rich time of hearing what God has been doing in each other’s lives. It was a time of encouragement, of telling of and hearing of God’s faithfulness throughout the year, of His unending presence, of His love, His kindness, and even of His gracious conviction in our lives.
True fellowship is a time when believers come together and exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, tell of His greatness, and share of our need for Him, our continuous need for Him. That’s true Christian, spiritual fellowship. We need that as believers. Paul longed for that with the churches to whom he ministered. We can long for it too, and enjoy hearing of God’s work in the lives around us, and telling of God’s work in our own lives.
So what are spiritual friends? They are those who:
1. Are dedicated to one another
2. Are like family with one another
3. Serve with one another
4. Share the same gospel goal with one another
5. Willingly share loved ones with one another
6. Enjoy fellowship – simply being with one another, hearing and telling about the glories of God
How are you doing as a spiritual friend? Do these things describe your interaction with one another? That’s what I’ve had to ask myself. Does this sound like how I interact with you all, my spiritual friends? How are we doing as spiritual friends? Maybe a better question might be: how can we do better, with the help and strength of Christ Jesus?
As we live in these ways, as we choose and commit to living like this in this Christian community, we show each other and even those outside the church that we belong to God, and that we are children of God. We put Him on display, not ourselves, but Him, for His glory. We pry our eyes and our thoughts off of ourselves, and embrace the interests of Jesus Christ.
21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. (Philippians 2:21-24)