A Christian and His Family

19 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)

While the New Year can be a time of change in various ways – I know many of you have made resolutions, things you want to do differently – one thing that is not changing is our love for and commitment to God’s eternal truths found in His Word. Today, I am happy that we will return to Philippians chapter 2 as we continue to see what God has for us in this important book, in what I believe is an important study for us, because we want to know what God is communicating to us through His Word, specifically in this book concerning how we interact with one another. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, how do we respond to one another? How do we communicate with one another? In this last paragraph of Philippians 2 we see that, but we don’t have lists of do’s and don’ts. Instead we have examples, examples of what to do rather than lists. I like that.

We know that much learning comes by example. If you are unsure of that, if you’re parents, just observe your children. If you do, you may start asking yourself, “Where did they learn that?” And then you may think, “I certainly didn’t teach them that! I wouldn’t teach them to act that way, to do that!” And the truth is that maybe we did teach them, right? Not with our words, not with instructions, but perhaps by example, by how we live among them.

Example is a powerful method of teaching, very powerful. At the end of Philippians 2 we sort of catch a glimpse of several parties: Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippian church. We get to peer into their lives and just see them living life, living the lives God gave them, walking through the circumstances they had been placed in. They are walking through life together. We get to see that, how they do that, and even more importantly we get to see some of the motivations, why they do what they do. We get a glimpse into their hearts, not just their actions.

Theirs was not an easy life. Life was not easy for Paul, he was in prison; life was not easy for Timothy, as a minister of the gospel; life was not easy for Epaphroditus, as he dealt with severe illness; life was not easy for the Philippian church, who was seen as the enemy in their own town; life was not easy, it was complicated. Their lives were not without emotion, pain, or difficulty, but it was just life for them. Can’t we relate to that? Our lives are not easy either, are they? If it’s easy today, it may not be tomorrow. Life can be difficult; we live in difficult circumstances. God puts us in places where life can be really hard; that’s where they were, and I know we can all in some measure relate.

We can think about what they were dealing with individually or together and make various judgments about their lives, how much alike their lives are to ours, we can evaluate that and make judgments. But I think what is interesting is that we get a glimpse into their hearts. We get to see how they fought, or what they thought about each other, and their thoughts about God, while simply living life, while in the circumstances that God had ordained.

So how do we live life? What attitudes do we have? How did these people view each other, interact with each other? These are some things I want us to consider this morning. How do we think of one another as we go about living in the circumstances that God has given us?

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. (Philippians 2:25-27)

I want us to pick up on some attitudes found from verses 26 and 27, attitudes that Christians should have toward each other, and toward God. And as we do, think about this: “What are my attitudes toward my Christian brothers and sisters? How am I relating to my brothers and sisters in Christ, even those sitting around me this morning?” I want us to see four things from these verses this morning:

A Christian longs for his family
A Christian desires to give comfort to his family
A Christian desires to receive comfort from his family
A Christian recognizes God’s provision and goodness

1. A Christian longs for his family

 

When I say family I mean Christian family, I mean the spiritual family that we have as a church. I get this from verse 26 where Paul, talking about Epaphroditus, says, “for he has been longing for you all”. The “for you all” would be all who are a part of the church in Philippi. Epaphroditus has been longing for his Christian friends back home. He has been away from them, he has been ministering to Paul, he has been ill, very busy with much going on in his life, and in the middle of all that he has this special affection for his Christian friends. This “longing for” is an expression of deep affection. No matter the cause, which we will get into that, but even aside from the cause, he has great affection for, feelings for, his church friends.

I don’t think we need to read into this that he was just homesick for “normal” again. You may know that feeling, you’ve been away for a while on vacation or during a holiday, and things seem unstructured, and you may just want normal. I feel this way sometimes. I just want my books and my work and my normal chair and bed and home-cooked food. I don’t think that’s what Epaphroditus is talking about here. He longs for “them,” for the people, he wants to be with them. Why? Because they are his spiritual family. They are united in Christ, and there are deep spiritual bonds between them.

These bonds, family bonds, are talked about and referred to all throughout the New Testament. In the book of 1 Corinthians alone, we find Paul using the word “brother” thirty-nine times. Thirty-nine times Paul uses the word “brother” or “brothers” to describe his fellow Christians, male and female. The idea is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ with one Father, the Lord God Himself. Jesus said in John 17,

22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:22-23)

As you read that you get this picture of an intertwining of lives together. This brotherhood of Christians, of believers, are those who are united together in Christ because of His work. A spiritual family has been formed, a tying together of a people that is not just theoretical or on paper, but should also be from the heart. What Paul is expressing here about Epaphroditus is that he is emotionally, affectionately attached to his Christian brothers and sisters. He longs for them. And even further, the tense of the word “longing” tells us that it has been ongoing and continues. It doesn’t stop, and it doesn’t have to stop because we’ll be together for eternity.

I have heard some of you say, “I can’t wait to get here on Sundays. I get here and it’s like I can take a deep breath, exhale, and think, ‘I made it! I am here with my Christian brothers and sisters, everything is okay.’” Like, “This is where I want to be.” There is a tie. There is a unity, a felt unity among church members. I have heard others say, “You know, honestly, I just don’t really feel connected.” Some would say, “I get this longing that Paul speaks of,” and others would say, “I just don’t get that, I don’t feel that, I’m not there.” You may wonder why, may ask the question, “Why might that be so?”

In this text it is hard to analyze too deeply the “whys” of this felt unity, this longing, and so I don’t want to overly speculate. But I will say this: Epaphroditus must have been a man who was well involved and plugged into the church. He must have been well involved in ministry, a tested man to have been entrusted with this important work of traveling to take care of Paul, a prisoner. He must also have been a man who willingly sacrificed with his time and physical comforts to even go on this trip. He did, after all, travel to a dangerous place to take care of an enemy of Rome, in Rome, and I doubt it included a stay at a luxury hotel. It would not have been a time of ease and comfort for him. He must have been a man of sacrifice. We also know from verse 25, it says, “Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need”. Again, all this showing deep commitment by Epaphroditus to the cause of Christ and Christ’s church, with a servant’s attitude in ministry.

So we have these hints as to possibly why Epaphroditus had this deep longing for, affection for, or tie to the Philippian church. He was a sacrificial servant there, committed, a fellow worker, soldier, a willing messenger and a minister. In other words, he was heavily involved in the lives of people in the church. We will not likely have affection toward those with whom we do not know, who we don’t sacrifice for, or interact with.

So if you are struggling with feelings of being disconnected with Christian brothers and sisters – and by the way I understand that, I go through times like that – and you’re wondering why you don’t have the longing that Epaphroditus had, then I would encourage you to take some pro-active steps, and go to a place perhaps where you have not been in a while regarding significant, sacrificial, servant-like service with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Gain involvement with your church family, and let the Lord Jesus Christ begin to bind your hearts together in love.

Secondly we get a little more insight into this longing:
2. A Christian desires to give comfort to his family. 

for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. (Philippians 2:26)

Epaphroditus, while on his mission to serve Paul in prison, became ill. He became very ill, near death. We don’t have details of this but what we do know is that the family, the church family back in Philippi, knew of this illness. And the news of his illness was troubling to the church. So troubling that Epaphroditus was distressed because they were troubled about his condition. It was like he was sick and they were upset, troubled, and he was distressed because they were upset. The reason given for his longing was his distress over their knowledge of his illness. And now he was apparently okay, and wanted to present himself to them as being okay, “I’m okay now,” so they wouldn’t be troubled. Epaphroditus wanted to comfort his spiritual family. If they were troubled, he was troubled. And he had a way to comfort them by saying, “Look, I’m okay now. I’m okay, so be comforted!”

God is a God of comfort. Did you know that? In Isaiah 40 we read:

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, (Isaiah 40:1-2)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

As God’s instruments in each others’ lives we are to comfort one another in His name. Further in 2 Corinthians 1, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” As God’s people we are to be comfort givers, reflecting God’s character.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

God is gracious to put us in very unique positions, that we may give comfort to the afflicted, to the hurting, the one who is suffering, to the one who is distressed, to the one who is troubled. What unique position has God put you in, that you may give comfort to one in need of comfort, to a spiritual family member in need? Sometimes it may be to say, “I’m okay spiritually, emotionally,” to someone who knows you have been struggling. If somebody knows you’ve been struggling, and you’re getting past that, through that, getting better now, you can be a comfort by letting them know. Maybe someone is genuinely concerned for you because of whatever you have been facing, and you have made progress, and you are in a position to comfort someone who is concerned for you. That’s kind of what was going on with Epaphroditus.

3. A Christian desires to receive comfort from his family

God not only provided a way for Epaphroditus to give comfort to his spiritual family at home, but Paul confesses that God had been merciful to him, to Paul, by healing Epaphroditus, so that he, Paul, could continue to be comforted by Epaphroditus. In other words, Paul desired to be ministered to by Epaphroditus, and God healing Epaphroditus made that possible. So Paul did not have to endure “sorrow upon sorrow,” but was instead able to enjoy the company that his friend provided.

From this I think we can get that as Christians, it should be our desire to be comforted by other Christians. I don’t know about you, but for me when I am troubled, struggling, or down, I need a certain type of person in my life, or I hope for a certain type of person in my life. What kind of person? That person will be a fellow Christian who will help me think right when my thinking is wrong. A person to speak clear truth in my life, to aid me in putting off foolish plans or conclusions, replacing those with wise words from unchanging truth.

Paul had been blessed by the presence of his Christian friend Epaphroditus, and we are blessed by the wise counsel our Christian friends are able to give us. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speak the truth in love.” If we speak the truth in love we are speaking words that are helpful for our brothers. And when our brothers and sisters in Christ speak the truth in love into our troubled lives, we too are helped.

And so for us, for the Christian, it goes both ways: we are to love comforting others and we can also love being comforted by others. We at times need to give comfort, and we often need comfort. And so there is this mutual looking out for one another, being aware of circumstances, being careful to be sensitive and engaged with one another, being Christ in each others’ lives.

I do want to say this: for each of us individually, we need to be careful that we don’t focus on the one side of this equation that says, “I need comfort, and you must comfort me.” It’s easy to get in that mode, especially when we’re having difficulties in life; that can get dangerous really fast if that’s our only focus. “I need comfort, and you had better comfort me now, the way I want to be comforted.” We don’t demand to be comforted by other people, I don’t think we see that in Scripture. Comfort from others will come if God says we need it, He will provide that because He provides all of our needs. Our focus instead can be, when it comes to us, to be thankful when we do receive comfort. Or most often, that we’re thinking of other people, “How can I comfort my brother or sister in Christ?” Rather than, “When is somebody going to ever come and comfort me?” Other-focused, Christ-centered focus on other people.

So it’s a good thing to think about, asking the question: who have you recently comforted in Christ? Who have you, who have I, given comfort to with God’s Word, with God’s truth recently in their affliction or pain?

The final point, in closing, that I’d like to make is this:
4. A Christian recognizes God’s provision and goodness

Paul said, “But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” I love that. Yes, Paul had it hard, but he was not complaining, to the contrary he was praising God and recognizing God’s goodness in this difficult place. He realizes that God extended and poured out His mercy on him through Epaphroditus.

God was committed to not giving Paul more than he could handle in his circumstances, and Paul knew that. Epaphroditus was a picture of God’s mercy in his life. Paul didn’t deserve comfort, he didn’t deserve help, but he got it anyway. Why? Because God is merciful. God reminds Paul of that, and Paul proclaims to us that it is so, that God is merciful!

This goes back to the idea that we don’t have to demand comfort from others, but instead remember that God is a God of mercy. He gives us what we need, when we need it, when it is best for us, so our focus can be, “How can I be a conduit to comfort other people?” He knows our needs, He has that covered, and those needs will be met according to His wisdom. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,” Matthew 6:25. He’s got that taken care of, He is merciful, and He will be merciful.

A Christian longs for his family
A Christian desires to give comfort to his family
A Christian desires to receive comfort from his family
A Christian recognizes God’s provision and goodness

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. (Philippians 2:25-27)