NOTE: I am indebted to Bryan Wilkerson for the inspiration of this morning’s sermon.
There’s a famous speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V. The setting is right before the battle of Agincourt.
Henry is a young king, and he’s preparing to lead the army of England in battle against the vastly superior forces of France. Henry’s warriors are tired. They’re vastly outnumbered and out-armed. The French have thousands of mounted nights. Henry has mostly archers—soldiers proficient with the English Longbow. Plus—the English are disheartened. Half their original force has either died of disease or been killed in battle.
And on top of that they are far from home. Well, the night before the battle, the king wanders through the camp in disguise mingling with his men. As he listens he’s inspired by their courage and moved by their loyalty to king and country, even in the face of death. The next morning, which St. Crispin’s Day, he gathers his men together and rallies them with a speech. In it he quotes these famous lines:
“This day is call’d the feast of Crispin. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is named…”
In the play Henry goes on to remind the men of the greatness of their cause, the honor that will be theirs for having fought in a conflict of such consequence. He also reminds them of the special bond that is and will always be theirs for having braved this important battle together. He tells them that every time St. Crispin’s Day comes around, people will remember the battle of Agincourt. He says:
“And those who fought will show their scars and stand tall, and those who slept safely in their beds will wish they had been there. We few, we happy few, we BAND OF BROTHERS….”
Those words live on, because they speak so eloquently of the bond that is formed between people when they are enlisted together in a common cause. In fact, it was that phrase “band of brothers” that inspired a famous book about World War II and then a mini-series. If you’ve seen the series or read the book, then you know the story follows the soldiers of Easy Company from their jump training in Georgia—to the landing at Normandy to the Battle of Bastogne and then to the defeat of Hitler’s army. Those soldiers invading Europe 500 years after Henry enjoyed the same intensity in their relationships—the same intimacy and a camaraderie that he talked about in his speech.
The fact is, something happens when people serve together. When they struggle side by side, when they make some shared sacrifice in pursuit of some worthy goal, they form a special bond and are shaped forever by that experience. And what’s true of soldiers on the field of battle is true of Christ followers in the service of our King.
Now—if you’re our guest I’ll get you up to speed by saying that we are in the midst of a sermon series dealing with Christian friendships—and so far we’ve followed Ruth and Naomi as they accompanied each other on their journey of faith. We studied the friendship of David and Jonathan, two men who helped each other in their journey to fulfill God’s purposes.
And this morning we’re going to look at a particular kind of spiritual friendship—the friendships formed in ministry—relationships between brothers and sisters in Christ who serve alongside each other.
You see, something special happens when we do that. It’s actually better than serving side by side on a literal battlefield because when Christians serve together—they become friends who stick CLOSER than a band of brothers—or sisters.
And—to better understand this special caliber of LIVING CLOSE—today we’re looking at the Apostle Paul—-and the friendships he enjoyed with two people who were involved in the church in Philippi. Now—the New Testament gives us thirteen letters from the apostle Paul—but of all his letters Philippians is the friendliest. You sense the camaraderie he shared with those believers right from the beginning of his letter. For example, there’s verse 3 where Paul writes, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” Skipping down to verse 7, he writes: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart.…” Verse 8: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
Do those phrases this sound like Paul—the task-driven, Type A, take-the-next-hill missionary guy we’ve always imagined? If I didn’t know any better, I’d say no—because he sounds mushy in this warm and fuzzy letter. And he keeps it up. In 2:12 he writes: “Therefore, my dear friends…” Then down in 4:1: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown…” These are extremely warm and affectionate words.
But it’s not just the WORDS of this letter; it’s the actual FORM of the letter that is friendly. If you remember back in grade school or junior high, we all learned how to write different kinds of letters—personal letters, business letters, and so forth. I remember in typing class having to know the exact form each of those letters had to take. Well, the same thing was true in the ancient world. Of course, they didn’t have typewriters—or laptops. But there were still different types of letters written. Scholars have actually found ancient MANUALS for letter writing in the Greco-Roman world. Archeological finds like this tell us that there were twenty-one different types of letters in the first century. And believe it or not, one of those types of letters was actually called “the friendly letter.” Well, Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a perfect example of that friendly format. The language and style of the letter suggests that Paul had a very close relationship with these believers in Philippi—a closer relationship than he had with other believers in all the places he had been.
In fact, in modern language you might say that the Philippians were Paul’s “BFFs”—for you guys who don’t keep up with culture that means best friends forever, in “text speak.” Feel free to “LOL” if you want. You could even ROFL (ROLL ON THE FLOOR LAUGHING) or if you’re tired of my puns, SYHARYE (Shake your head and roll your eyes). Hey, I pay attention! I know text stuff! I’ve even been known to use a giph or two!
All kidding aside, what was it about the Philippians that made them so close to Paul’s heart? What happened that drew them together? Well, he gives us a hint in verse 5 when he says: “Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Now that PARTNERSHIP word is an interesting one. In the Greek, the word is koinonia, which some of us are familiar with. It’s almost always translated “fellowship.” It also describes having something in common. But scholars agree that Paul seems to be using that word in a more specialized way, in a stronger way. He uses “koinonia” to suggest not just SHARING something in common but ACTIVE PARTICIPATION in something. In other words, the Philippians didn’t just come to share Paul’s FAITH; they came to share his MISSION—specifically, the GREAT COMMISSION. They weren’t just RECIPIENTS of his ministry. They were PARTICIPANTS in his ministry. And they did that from the first day.
To help see that—let’s review that first day—the early days of this little church. These days when this church was started are recorded for us in Acts 16.
You may remember that Paul had no intention of going to Philippi. He was on his way to Asia, but the Spirit of God intervened, closed all those other doors, and directed him to Philippi.
Well Paul’s usual tactic for starting a church involved finding a synagogue where he would use the prophecies in the Old Testament to show that Jesus was the Messiah—but when he got to Philippi there was no synagogue which means there weren’t many Jews living there because to have a synagogue you had to have at least ten men. Well, Saul knew that any Jews who DID live there would customarily gather near a river for prayer on the Sabbath. So, he went down to the banks of the nearby Gangites river and found several women gathered for this purpose. The women welcomed his preaching and the first person to come to faith in Jesus was a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia. She not only came to faith, she immediately invited Paul and his team to set up shop in her household. Lydia insisted that they make her house a home base for the ministry in Philippi. So interestingly, the church in Philippi didn’t start with a band of brothers but a circle of sisters— which I think is pretty cool. Any women want to “AMEN?”
Well, a couple of days later Paul and his team were ministering throughout Philippi, and they encountered a slave girl who was possessed by a demon. Her owners were using her demonic prophesy for prophet. With God’s help Paul cast the demon out of her.
And, be sure to note a couple things here.
First this girl was not a Christian, and I point that out to remind you that the Bible teaches Christians can NOT be possessed by demons. There are no examples in Scripture of Christians being indwelt by the devil or his minions. There ARE examples of Christians sinning-yielding to the devil’s temptations—but not being possessed, because as Christians, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God Himself—-and as 1st John 4:4b says, “Greater is He Who is in you than he who is in the world.” No demon can abide the omnipotent presence of the Spirit of God. I also want you to note Paul’s METHOD in casting out this demon.
- First, he was not intimidated but in full control. He knew that as a Christian he had nothing to fear.
- Second, He spoke directly to the demon, not the girl.
- Third, he didn’t ask—rather he COMMANDED it to come out of her—and in an instant it did.
No ifs ands or buts about it. He spoke and the demon fled. It didn’t take hours or multiple sessions. There was no real “spiritual warfare” involved. The battle had already been won because it was done in the Lord’s strength and not man’s.
Well, her healing was of course a wonderful thing! Imagine how she felt to be freed from demonic control! But that was just the beginning. This slave girl put her faith in Christ and was welcomed into membership in the new church! However, not everyone was happy about this miracle. Angered by their sudden economic downfall, the slave girl’s greedy masters roused the crowd to riot. The Roman citizens wrongfully accused Paul and Silas of throwing the city into an uproar and in their accusation, they acted as if this was typical behavior for any Jew—a foolish thing to say, since there were hardly any Jews in town! Well, the riot was so bad, the authorities had to come and break it up. They arrested Paul and Silas. They stripped them, beat them, and threw them into jail.
That night there was an earthquake, and the doors of the cells blew open, and Paul and Silas could easily have just walked to freedom, but they stayed. This was so surprising to the jailer that he became open to their sharing the gospel. He listened—and this grizzled, hardened jailer not only became a Christian—he took Paul and Silas home with him, bathed and bandaged their wounds—and then as Paul shared the gospel with them—the jailer’s whole family put their faith in Jesus and were baptized. The next morning the authorities realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that they had jailed him unjustly. So they told him he could go free. But Paul said,: “Not so fast. There’s been a miscarriage of justice here. I want you guys to come down here and personally escort me out of prison.” And they did. But before Paul and Silas left town they went back to Lydia’s house one more time and visit with the believers there. And I have to believe that the members of this brand-new church laughed out loud at the thought of those magistrates sheepishly escorting Paul and Silas from prison. I bet they enjoyed a great time of worship as they reflected on all that God had done in those early days. And then as Paul and Silas left I’m sure they shed some tears, wondering if they would ever see each other again.
Those were the first days of the church of Philippi. No wonder Paul had these people in his heart after all they’d been through together. Lydia, the slave girl, the jailer and his family, these people’s lives had been changed for eternity. But Paul’s life had been changed too. They had made a mark on him, and he writes about it in this letter. He infers that they were bound together by the fact that God had done something great in and through them. I mean, they not only planted the church in Philippi, they established a beachhead for the gospel on the continent of Europe. Their church start would lead to the starting of churches in Thessalonica and Corinth.
It all sprang from there. Paul and the Philippians weren’t just friends; they were partners. They were co-laborers in ministry and they never forgot each other. Do you see what I’m saying? Something happens when believers serve together, when they struggle together side by side. When they make shared sacrifice in the service of the King, they form a special bond and they are forever shaped by the experience. I’m sure Margaret Peters could share some amazing stories of the days Redland was started. If you’ve been part of a capital campaign like building the ROC—or the Connector Building—then you know could share some too. There is a special excitement that is formed when we sacrifice together to further the Kingdom of God—and that experience unites us in an amazing way.
In our text this morning Paul mentions two Christians who have been like a band of brothers to him—and in so doing he highlights some of the characteristics or qualities that made them so precious. Their names are Timothy and Epaphroditus. Take your Bibles and turn to Philippians 2. We’ll begin with verse 19. We’ll read through verse 30.
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 takes a genuine interest in your welfare.
21 – For everyone looks out for his 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.
25 – But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow 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 – Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him,
30 – because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.
Now, to aid us in our study let’s pause at this point to absorb a little biographical information about these two dear friends of the Apostle Paul.
A. Let’s begin with Timothy.
He was perhaps Paul’s CLOSEST friend for he is mentioned more than any other individual in Paul’s writings. Timothy’s name appears in the opening salutation of six of Paul’s epistles and two others are addressed directly to him. Timothy was a native of either Lystra or Derbe, which were cities in southern Asia Minor—what we now call Turkey. He was the child of a mixed marriage: Jewish mother (Eunice) and a Greek father who is never named. Scripture tells us that Timothy remained uncircumcised until he was a young adult which shows his father’s influence in his upbringing. However, Scripture also records that his mother and grandmother taught him the Jewish Scriptures when he was still a small child. We learn this from two comments Paul made later in life in his second letter to his young friend. In 2nd Timothy 1:5 he says,
“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.”
And 2nd Timothy 3:14-15 says, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them—and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings…which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
So, we see a sort of tug-of-war that must have gone on in that home between father and mother.
Most people believe that Paul led Timothy into a personal relationship with Jesus perhaps while on his first missionary journey. Paul apparently filled this essential part of the “fatherly void” that Timothy needed for in 1st Corinthians 4:17 Paul refers to him as “my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” —and in 1st Timothy 1:2 as, “my true child in the faith.” Timothy joined Paul as a traveling companion on his second missionary journey, and after that the two remained close for the rest of Paul’s life. Timothy was with Paul in Thessalonica, and Berea and was with him in prison in Rome as he is writing this letter to the Philippians.
B. But enough about Timothy—what do we know about Epaphroditus, the other BFF that Paul mentions here?
Well, unfortunately we don’t know much. In fact, the only place in the Bible Epaphroditus is mentioned is here in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. His NAME is a pagan name and means, “devoted to Aphrodite.” Aphrodite, or Venus as the Romans called her, was the goddess of love and beauty. It’s likely that Epaphroditus’ parents were devotees of Aphrodite, and when their little son was born they named him for their pagan goddess. But something happened to Epaphroditus along the way. Somewhere—probably in the church in Philippi—Epaphroditus heard the Gospel and responded and became a Christian. He joined the church and over the years he grew spiritually to the point that his fellow church members sent him to Rome with two important tasks or missions. First of all, he was to bring a monetary gift gathered by the church to help provide for Paul’s expenses in prison.
You see, in the Roman prison system—just as it is in the DR and other third world countries, the prison did not provide food and clothing for its inmates. It was up to the prisoner’s family and friends. That’s why Epaphroditus was bringing the money.
And then secondly, he was to stay and minister to Paul as a personal servant and attendant. From the way Paul compliments him, Epaphroditus was apparently very good at this. He was an enormous encouragement.
Now, understand it was an 800 mile journey from Philippi to Rome, which meant six weeks of travel over rough terrain. But Epaphroditus agreed to make this dangerous journey. So, we know he was a brave individual—a selfless person. We also know he must have been a man of great integrity for the church to entrust him with what had to be a vast amount of cash.
Now, In the accounts Paul gives here about these two men I want to point out two principles of friendship that they embodied—two qualities or characteristics that are found in Christian “BFFs.”’
(1) First, there is a deep COMPASSION.
Now—remember, Paul was writing this letter from a prison cell in Rome. There were Christians there, but they were not what we would call “BFFs” because they were NOT compassionate. No—they were self-centered, too involved in their own lives and interests to have any genuine concern for the needs of the Paul. In Philippians 2:21 Paul said that each of these local believers, “looked out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Mutual concern was apparently not a virtue for the Christians in Rome.
I mean, it would be a lot easier—and cheaper for that local church to provide for Paul’s needs.
But no—it took a church 800 miles away to do that. And these two believers Timothy and Epaphroditus, were perfect examples of this kind of compassion. In verse 20 Paul told the Philippians that Timothy was genuinely concerned not just for HIS welfare but for that of his fellow BFFs back in his home church. In verse 26 He said that Epaphroditus was deeply distressed about the Philippian Christians—not wanting them to worry about his welfare. Unlike their local peers these two maturing disciples WERE looking out for the interests of Jesus Christ.
They were emulating their Savior by compassionately feeling the pain and concern of others.
You know—if we are not careful our hectic lifestyles will make us like the members of that church in Rome. We’ll lose our ability to feel compassion for the difficulties of not only our little band of brothers and sisters here at Redland—but the concerns of all others. We will become selfishly pre-occupied with our own pleasures—like the story about the two children who were fighting over a tricycle. Finally, one of them said to the other, If one of us would get off this tricycle, I’d have a lot more fun. Think about it. How long has it been since you were emotionally moved by the concern and anxiety that another individual was experiencing?
How long has it been since you cried over someone else’s problems?
Once, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, preached a message after which hundreds responded to the gospel. When the service was over, an assistant found him in tears and asked, “Why are you crying? Think of all the ones who came to Christ!” Booth said, “I was just thinking of all the hundreds who did NOT come.” Epaphroditus and Timothy WERE BFF’s because they embraced this Christlike quality—they were compassionate. We all need friendships of this caliber—especially when we hurt—the kind of companions the writer of Proverbs was referring to when he said, “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17 ) It is important for us to be moved by the pain of others—for this is the way Jesus responds to the hurts of the world. We must allow Him to possess us so that our hearts will be broken by the things that break His heart. As you know the motto we quote when we talk about the ROC is “Giving people what they WANT (Rec time with families) so we can give them what they need—JESUS.”
Well people in our world also WANT friends. They LONG for a BFF who will express compassion. Remember—we have an inborn need for friends—for people to simply talk to. This week I read about Liz Berry and Bill Wetzel—residents of New York City. For a long time now they have been going out in the streets, seven days a week, 12 or 13 hours a day, in any kind of weather, with a handmade sign that says, “Talk to me.” Nearly every person who approaches them asks the same question in one form or another. “Are you taking money? Are you with some organization? Are you doing this for TV or something?” But Bill and Liz are just two people who decided that it might be nice if strangers would just interact a little more. As Bill said, “We just put up this sign and anything people want to talk about, we’ll go with it.” The sign works. People talk to them. A police officer talked to them about the girl he was dating for six weeks who just got engaged to another guy. A woman who just quit the AmeriCorps program hours before because it seemed too dangerous, and they wouldn’t even give her a phone. There was a guy in Harlem who fixed up two of the patients in the optometrist’s office where he works. A woman who was mad at the teacher who hit her son in school. A well-dressed man who explained the intricacies of estate tax assessment. And another guy who just got laid off. At the end of one day, another man talked to them for three hours. Three hours—mostly about a girlfriend that he lost who he can’t get over, but also about the war and the time, years ago, that he tried to kill himself. By the time their conversation came to an end, it was 1:00 in the morning and he offered Liz and Bill $100, which they turned down.
Are you that kind of friend—that kind of person? Are you COMPASSIONATE?
Here’s a second quality of a BFF.
We see this in the Philippians—first in the way they each sacrificed to send the money Paul needed. And we see it lived out in his BFFs Timothy and Epaphroditus as well. First, it was compassionate for them to even associate with Paul. You see, in those days when people visited prisoners who were held captive under Roman authority, they were often prejudged as criminal types as well. Therefore, friends like Timothy and Epaphroditus who came to stay with Paul exposed themselves to danger just by being near someone like him who faced trial on capital charges—-and therefore was considered dangerous. But you see, friends who genuinely love don’t shy away from this kind of dangerous sacrifice. This is the kind of friend Jesus was describing in John 15:13 when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, than one lay down his life for his friend.”
By the way, Epaphroditus very nearly did exactly that in coming to Rome, for when he arrived, he picked up some kind of sickness. We don’t know what it was any more than we know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. We can only speculate. Maybe it was the notorious Roman fever which sometimes swept the city like an epidemic. Perhaps it was something Epaphroditus picked up because of his diligence in serving Paul. I mean, he could have stayed up day and night taking care of Paul. Then, finally, in pure exhaustion, with his resistance down, he became ill. But whatever the sickness was, it was serious. In verse 30 Paul said “…he was sick, to the point of death…that he almost died for the work of Christ, RISKING his life.” The key word here is the Greek word, “parabolani” which is translated “risking” and it is a word that means to lay your life on the line—to stick your neck out—to tread where other fear to tread—to be willing to sacrifice. It literally meant to gamble with one’s life. And that is exactly what Epaphroditus—and Timothy—did.
I’m reminded of the collision of the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Fitzgerald and that container ship 56 miles off the coast of Japan back in June. One of the seven sailors who died aboard the USS Fitzgerald was a true friend because he saved more than a dozen of his fellow shipmates before he ultimately lost his own life. When the Fitzgerald collided with the merchant ship, 37-year-old Fire Controlman 1st Class—a Christian named Gary Leo Rehm Jr., leapt into action. The Fitzgerald was struck below the waterline, and Rehm Jr.’s family was told by the Navy that he went under and saved some of his crewmates, possibly even 20 of them. A close friend said, “[The heroic rescue] was Gary to a T. He never thought about himself.” Rehm’s uncle said, “He called [the sailors on the ship] his kids. He said, ‘If my kids die, I’m going to die. He was always ready to help anybody who needed it. He was just that kind of guy.’”
How are you doing when it comes to being a BFF? Are you compassionate? Are you sacrificial? For us to do a good job of living close—we all need to be that way. And—if you have a BFF like Timothy and Epaphroditus—THANK THEM for they tend to be rare in this fallen world. Paul said as much. Paul said this about Timothy, “I have no one else like him.” And he felt similarly about Epaphroditus for in verse 25 he referred to him as “his brother, his fellow worker, and his fellow soldier.”
LET US PRAY