As most of you know, many years ago I graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Within those hallowed halls I earned a Masters Degree in Divinity. Now, when you finish your seminary studies they give you two things. First of all, as you walk across the stage at your graduation ceremony the president of the seminary shakes your hand and gives you a fancy looking piece of paper, a document that certifies you have actually earned your degree. Mine is nicely matted and says,
The Faculty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the authority vested in it by the Board of Trustees hereby confers upon MARK ADRIAN ADAMS the degree of Master of Divinity in Religious Educationin recognition of the satisfactory completion of the prescribed course of study. In testimony whereof the seal of the Seminary and the signaturesauthorized by the Board of Trustees are hereunto affixed.Given at Louisville, Kentucky on the twenty-first day of May Nineteen hundred and eighty-two.
It is signed by the then chairman of the board of trustees: Wayne Dehoneyand by the then president of the seminary,Roy. L. Honeycutt. All graduates get one of these formal documents and if they are like me, they proudly display it in their offices as evidence of the completion of three years of often very difficult study.
The second thing you receive is a huge sheet of full of rows of individual pictures of your professors and all the people who graduated with you. In the center of my copy of this photo it says,Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – Class of May, 1982.
Now, when I compare these two mementoes from my seminary years, do you know which one brings me the GREATEST joy? Well, it’s not the fancy sheet of paper detailing my degree. No, it’s the other thing-the group of pictures. Over the years I have spent FAR more time looking at it than my degree. I hang it by the door to my office and almost every time I enter or exit I pause to scan the rows and rows of faces…recalling memories of experiences we shared wondering where those people are now-nearly 20 years later. I CHERISH this special collection of photos much more than I do my degree because the friendships I made there were the BEST PART of the whole seminary experience. Those relationships were THEN and STILL ARE more valuable to me than the degree I earned.
And I want you to understand this is not something I say casually. I mean, it isn’t that my seminary studies were so unpleasant that in comparison the friendships I made are better. No…I LOVED my seminary classes. I had brilliant professors. I feel very fortunate to have studied under truly great men of God like Clyde Franciscoand Dale Moodyand Walter Shurden and Finely Edgeand Wayne Oates and Bill Cromer. But, those professors and the things they taught me-as wonderful as they were-are not near as precious to me as are the many friendships I made on that campus. I mean….there are Bill and Donna Ratliff, who first welcomed us to Seminary housing. We have kept close ties all these years…sharing vacations most summers. They now have two adopted children. Donna is a High School Guidance Counselor and Bill pastors a new church start in the Woodstock, Georgia area. And then there are Steve and Charla Baker. You’ve met Steve and should recall that he and Charla served for many years as missionaries in Malawi and Turkey. After 15 years on the mission field Steve had to return to the states due to health problems and he now pastors a church in Texas. There is Pat Lee. Pat and her husband David were fellow students at Southern. They also attended the church where we served in New Albany, Indiana. I believe they are now missionaries to Taiwan. I could go on and on…telling you about the people who are pictured on this sheet of photos because by far the most precious thing I gained in Seminary was not a great education. No it was the friends…the dear friendships I made while I was there.
And this is true because genuine, deep friendships are a precious, wonderfulthing.Perhaps this realization is what inspired the following poem:
Never by the leaves that fallCount your day by golden hours, Don’t remember the clouds at all. Count your nights by stars, not shadows. Count your life with smiles, not tears. And with joy on every birthday, Count your age by friends, not years.__
Loving friendships ARE more valuable than just about anything in life. I think Paul was alluding to this in I Corinthians 13 . Do you remember his words? These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the GREATEST of these is love.You see, you can be successful in everything else in life but if you don’t have love…I mean, if you don’t have people who you love and who love you right back. If you don’t have genuine friends…well life is just not as good as it should be. This is because people need one another. We just can’t function as successfully in life ALONE. We are designed not to be hermits but to enjoy relationships with others. Without the presence of thoughtful people, caring people, to share our moments and days we are lonely.
Like millions of other Americans, our family saw the movie Castawayover the Christmas break and in the film Tom Hanks plays the role of a man stranded on a desert island ALONE. Well, as the days begin to drag by he longs for companionship-so much that he paints a face on a soccer ball and calls it Wilson.He spends four years talking to-relating to-this imaginary spherical friend. He even rips some of the leather and stands it on end to simulate hair. The night before he tries to leave the island on a raft as he lays down to sleep he asks Wilson, Are you nervous? I’m nervous?Then he proceeds to converse with his friend about his fears. I mean think of it. His need for someone with whom to share his anxieties was so great that he sought solace in a soccer ball! This film illustrated the truth that we need other people. About the time we are tempted to think we can handle things all alone…boom! We run into some obstacle and we need assistance. This is what the writer of Ecclesiastes was getting at when he said, Two are better than one…if one falls down his FRIEND can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one-no friend-to help him up.(Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ) Chances are you are where you are today because of the helping influence of certain people. I know I am. In fact I AM WHO I AM because of the friends God has given me over the years.
And, the Apostle Paul was no different than any other human being in this; he needed friends. They were the reason he was able to move through life and do all he did. Being ill on occasion, he needed Dr. Luke. Being limited in strength and unable to handle the rigors of extensive travel alone, he needed Barnabas and Silas. Being restricted in freedom, he needed other hands to carry his letters to their prescribed destinations. And on several occasions he needed someone to actually write out his letters. Paul’s life experience taught him that good friends are TRULY valuable things. In our text this morning he mentions 2 of his close friends and in so doing he highlights some of the characteristics or qualities that made them precious to him. Their names are Timothy and Epaphroditus. Let’s continue our study of Philippians by reading what Paul has to say about them. Take your Bibles and turn to Philippians 2 …and let’s pick up where we left off last week in 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, becauseas 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.
1. And, 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. There’s was apparently much like a father/son relationship. 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 II 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.II 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. For he referred to him in I Corinthians 4:17 asmy beloved and faithful child in the Lord and in I 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 Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea and was with him in prison in Rome as he is writing to the Philippians.
2. But enough about Timothy…what do we know about Epaphroditus, the other friend that Paul mentions here?
Well, unfortunately we don’t know much for the only place in the Bible he 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.
Its 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. 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 man. We also know he must have been a man of great integrity for the church to entrust him with their funds.
Now, In the accounts Paul gives here about these two men I want to point out three principles of friendship that they embodied….in the hopes that it would help us in our relationships with others.
These principles are important for us to learn because the Bible teaches that, as Christians, we are part of a family. In the New Testament Paul alone uses the word brother133 times to describe the relationship between Christians. He knew that, as members of the body of Christ, we are to serve and work together not independently. So, we need to know how to be friends. We need to get relationships right. With that in mind lets see what we can learn from Paul’s discussion here of his two friends. And, the first thing Paul’s experience here shows us is that…
3. …truly CLOSE friends are rare.
And Paul and Timothy were VERY close. In verse 20 Paul refers to Timothy as a kindred spirit. The Greek word here forkindred spirit literally means same souled.We might say Paul and Timothy possessed andequal spirit,or that they were like-minded.Mathematically speaking, their triangles were congruent. Their perspectives were in line with each other. They thought alike. They didn’t have to work hard at the relationship. Things just naturally flowed smoothly between them. From the moment they met, in spite of their age difference, they really hit it off. Over the years, Paul discovered that Timothy would interpret situations much like he would. When Paul sent him on a fact-finding mission, he knew he could rely on the report as being similar to one he himself would have brought back. So, whenever Paul wished for information from some church, or when he wished to send advice or counsel or encouragement or guidance or rebuke, and when he could not go himself it was Timothy whom he sent. This is why Timothy was dispatched to Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi. In the hands of Timothy a message was as safe as if Paul had delivered it himself. It was as if Paul could be two places at once.
When I was a youth minister here at RBC, I felt that way about our own Ken Marshall. Ken had served as interim youth minister several times and knew teens. I quickly grew to respect the way he loved our kids and dealt with the inevitable difficulties that come with that job. I learned to trust the way he did youth ministry so when he was around at a lock-in or retreat I felt like I could be in two places at the same time and that is a handy thing when it comes to working with a bunch of active teenagers.
Kindred spirits like this are uncommon. Paul said as much. The NIV translates verse 20 as, I have no one else like him.And Paul felt similarly about Epaphroditus for in verse 25 he referred to him as his brother, his fellow worker, and his fellow soldier.In other words Epaphroditus was ONE with Paul in sympathy, in work, and in danger. By using these word pictures to describe Epaphroditus Paul was saying, Our minds and our hearts are together-in sync. He wants what I want. He believes what I believe. We are united in faith.Now, if you’ve ever had a friend like that then you know how precious…how scarce…they are. Kindred spirits-people who arelike-souled-then, are a special gift from God. It is like being with someone who lives in our head and vice versa. So there is no need for explanations, excuses, or defenses. These precious soul-mates read our motives and understand our needs without either having to be stated.
This week I listened to a sermon delivered by Joni Erickson Tada. You probably remember that she has been a paraplegic since a diving accident in her adolescent years. She shared that…late one night after visiting hours in the rehab-hospital she suddenly became claustrophobic. She felt trapped inside her body that would no longer obey her commands. She had this great immediate need to see her hands…she felt she was about to suffocate. At that moment her best friend, Jackie, popped her head over the side of her bed. She had crawled in to her room, avoiding the guards at the nurses station. Joni said that without a word Jackie sensed her panic and crawled into bed next to her and lifted her hands up so she could see them and sang with her the great hymns of the faith and prayed with her until her panic passed. Kindred spirits are like that and they are few and far between so when you find them thank God for them…cherish them…as Paul did Timothy and Epaphroditus.
4. A second friendship principle that I think Paul teaches us here is that true friends are compassionate…they are moved by the pain of others.
This was apparently not true of the Roman Christians who lived around Paul. They were self-centered, too involved in their own lives and interests to have any genuine concern for the needs of the Paul or the Christians in Philippi. In verse 21 he 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. But fortunately in Timothy and Epaphroditus Paul had two genuine friends who werecompassionate believers. In verse 20 Paul told the Philippians that Timothy was genuinely concernedabout their welfare. In verse 26 He said that Epaphroditus wasdeeply distressedabout the Philippian Christians…not wanting them to worry about his welfare. Unlike their local peers these two maturing disciples WERElooking 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 lose our ability to feel compassion for the difficulties of others. We will become selfishly pre-occupied with our own pleasures…like 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? 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 good friends…the best kind of friends…because their hearts WEREmoved by the needs and concerns of others. 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.
Tony Campolo teaches at Eastern College in Philadelphia and each January he used to take students to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. He took his students here because he wanted them to see what Jesus sees and feel what Jesus feels. He wanted their hearts to be broken by the things that break Jesus’ heart. The college had founded a feeding program at a center in the city of Cape-Haitian. Unfortunately their funds were only sufficient to provide food for 500 children at each meal even though at that time there were tens of thousands in Haiti who were close to death due to starvation…most of them small children. Well, when Campolo would take his college students there do you know what job he made sure each of them had at least once? He didn’t limit them to the task of giving out the food; that would be too easy. No…he gave each of them an opportunity to stand at the entrance to our feeding center and count the first five hundred kids who come in and then stand there for hours and say to the others, Sorry, No more food. You’ll have to, leave.How would you handle that? Could you look a starving Haitian child in the face and say, I’m sorry, but you have to starve because we’ve run out of food?Camplo wisely realized that one of the most important lessons for any disciple to learn is to be able feel the pain of others as if it were their own. This kind of compassion is an essential part of what it means to be a Christlike friend like Timothy and Epaphroditus. And then in this text Paul highlighted ONE OTHER CHARACTERISTIC of true friends.
5. He said they should be self-less…even sacrificial…in the way they relate to others.
You know, 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 for as Jesus said in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this, than one lay down his life for his friend.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 and then spent time sharing his faith with others or defending his faith. 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, parabolaniwhich is translated riskingand 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.
In the early church there were societies of men and women who used this Greek word and referred to themselves as the parabolani that is theriskersorgamblers.They got this nickname because they ministered to the sick and imprisoned, and they saw to it that, if at all possible, martyrs and sometimes even enemies would receive an honorable burial. In the city of Carthage during the great plague of A.D. 252, Cyprian, the bishop, showed this kind of selfless courage. In sacrificial faithfulness to his flock, and love even for his enemies, he took upon himself the care of the sick, and asked his congregation to nurse them and bury the dead. Their behavior was in stark contrast with the practice of the non-Christians of the city who avoided the sick and threw the corpses out of the plague-stricken city and were ran away in terror!
You know a special joy binds two friends who are not reluctant to risk danger on each other’s behalf. If a true friend finds you’re in need, he or she will find a way to help. A friend will never ask,How great is the risk? but rather,When do you need me? Not even the threat of death holds back a truly Christlike friend. This reminds me of the six-year-old girl who became deathly ill with a dread disease. To survive, she needed a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the same illness. The situation was complicated by her rare blood type. Her nine-year-old brother qualified on both counts and could be a donor, but everyone was hesitant to ask him since he was just a child. Finally they agreed to have the DOCTOR pose the question. The attending physician tactfully asked the boy if he was willing to be brave and donate blood for his sister. Though he didn’t understand much about such things, the boy agreed without hesitation: Sure, I’ll give my blood for my sister.He lay down beside his sister and smiled at her as they pricked his arm with the needle. Then he closed his eyes and lay silently on the bed as the pint of blood was taken. Soon thereafter the physician came in to thank the little fellow. The boy, with quivering lips and tears running down his cheeks asked,Doctor, when do I die? At that moment the doctor realized that the naive little boy thought that by giving his blood, he was giving up his life. Quickly he reassured the lad that he was not going to die, but amazed at his courage, the doctor asked,Why were you willing to risk your life for her? Because she is my sister…and I love her. Was the boys’ simple but significant reply.
So it was between Epaphroditus, Timothy and Paul and so it is to this day. Danger and risk don’t threaten true friendships; they strengthen them. Such friends are modern-day members ofthe Parabolani for they love their friends to the uttermost no matter what the risk.
You know, sometimes this RISK involves telling a friend something that will hurt them, pointing out their sinful behavior, admonishing them in love, even at the risk of the friendship. This is hard for us to swallow but Proverbs 27:6 says, wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.Friends tell each other the truth — even when the truth hurts — because they know that the truth is always best and they want only God’s best for their companions.
In John 15:15 Jesus said that He claimed us as His friends and that is wonderful because, as anyone who knows Him would tell you, He is the greatest friend anyone can have. He meets and exceeds all the friendship principles Paul mentions in this text. He is your true KINDRED SPIRIT. He knows everything about you from the molecular level on out. As Psalm 139 says, He is familiar with all our ways.He knows our thoughts and intentions. Literally NO ONE understands you like Jesus does. He also cares about the tough times and heartaches that you go through in this life. He is moved by the things that move you. He weeps when you suffer pain and rejoices when you rejoice. But most importantly He was your friend even when your best interests cost Him a painful death. As Isaiah 53 says,He poured out His life unto death…for He bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors.If you have never responded to His offer of friendship then I encourage you to do so. I promise it will change your life to have a Friend like Him. Others of you today who know Jesus as Friend may hear Him telling you truth you need to hear. Perhaps He is leading you to go to make things right with someone whom you have not been being friendly to.
Maybe Jesus is guiding you to go to a Timothy or Epaphroditus in your life someone who’s sacrificial friendship has helped you…and thank them for all they have meant to you. Perhaps God is inviting you to join this church family to make new friends as you serve Him alongside us. Whatever decision you have to make we encourage you do so publically now as we stand and sing by walking an aisle and talking with myself or Steve.