Teaching series from Philippians

Spiritual Maturity and Modeling

Philippians 2:19-30

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Introduction

Concise summary of setting (MAP).  We come now to a passage that seems to interrupt Paul’s spiritual instruction in order to introduce two men who will visit the Philippians shortly.  But they already know both of these men (as we will soon see), so Paul is not introducing them.  Rather, he is recommending them as models to imitate.  This is a specific example of what he exhorts them to do more generally in 3:17 (read).[1]  These passages imply a relationship between spiritual maturity and modeling.

Imitating competent models is an essential form of learning any complex skill or quality.  When my father was teaching me to drive, he not only verbally instructed me before and while I was driving.  He also made me watch him closely while he drove and tell me what I noticed.  The latter was at least as important as the former.

Of course you can misapply this principle. 

You can select unworthy skills (e.g., how to manipulate).  You can imitate character weaknesses (e.g., parents’ conflict avoidance).  You can imitate strengths that don’t fit who you are (e.g., extroversion for introverts; spiritual gifts).  The Bible urges us to observe and imitate people who are Christ-like (read 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 2:5) – who have godly character. 

You can also practice godliness imitation humanistically – by simply applying your moral will-power.  It is God who transforms our characters through His Spirit (2:13), and our part is primarily to depend on and cooperate with His Spirit’s transforming initiative.  But God provides us with to access human models of godliness, and His Spirit transforms us as we practice Phil. 3:17.

Timothy and Epaphroditus are godly models, whom Paul urges the Philippians (and us) to observe and follow, and to model to others in four specific features of godly character . . .

Timothy

Read 2:19-24.  Timothy was a member of Paul’s church-planting team.  He was from south-central Turkey, and he was with Paul when he first came to Philippi and started this church.  He was much younger than Paul (“like a son serving his father”).  Yet Timothy had become a godly man (“you know his proven worth”) – in part by imitating Paul (2 Tim. 3:10,12a).  Now they can become more godly by imitating Timothy in two ways:

Genuine concern for other Christians’ spiritual welfare (2:20).  He is Paul’s “kindred spirit” in this regard.  When Paul describes this character quality elsewhere, he likens it to the concern good parents have for their own children’s welfare (read 1 Thess. 2:7-12).  Good parents don’t hover over or spoil their children, but they are deeply concerned for their safety and nourishment and character development – and they make sacrifices to provide for these needs.  This is Jesus’ attitude toward all of His children (2:21b), this is the attitude Paul modeled to the Philippians, this is the attitude Timothy has toward them, and this is the attitude he wants all of them to learn from Timothy.

What is implicit Paul makes explicit in 2:21 – many true Christians do not have this attitude.  The rest of the Christians Paul was with were preoccupied with their own interests.  It is not clear who the “all” is – maybe he had already sent the other members of his band elsewhere on other tasks.  If so, it was a big sacrifice for Paul to send Timothy, but he made it because of his own concern for their welfare.  I wonder what “their own interests” were.  Probably interests that were legitimate in themselves (e.g., family; job; recreation, maybe even Bible study!) – but their orientation was self-centered, leaving no room for intentional, consistent and creative other-centered concern (read 2:3,4).

Tragically, much American Christianity actually promotes self-serving spirituality.  By this, I mean a form of spirituality that focuses inordinately on personal well-being but leaves out this kind of other-centered concern.  Paul says that this is the goal of Christian spirituality (read 1 Tim. 1:5).  Years ago, a girl who was raised in this kind of Christianity got involved in our home church.  She seemed perplexed for many months about our church culture.  One day, she remarked to me: “Now I see what you’re trying to do.  You’re trying to teach people to live a lifestyle of love.  I never understood that this was the goal of being a Christian.  I thought it was to have good clean fun, to have good manners, to have a productive career, to have a good family.”  Do you see how subtle this is?  Is your spirituality a means to polite and socially acceptable self-advancement, or is it a supernatural way of life that develops you to be genuinely concerned for one another’s welfare?

By God’s grace, we have scores of “Timothy’s” in our home churches – people who work at full-time jobs, raise families, care for aged parents, etc. – and also genuinely care for the spiritual welfare of the brothers and sisters in their home churches (and beyond).  They are by far our most precious human resource!  Do you know any of these people?  Do you observe them and allow God to motivate you through them (they are much more joyous than people who care mainly about “their own interests”).  Do you ask God to enable you to model this to others – or do you say: “I’m glad you do this for us, but I don’t want to learn to live this way?”

Service in furthering the gospel (2:22).  This means that Timothy not only cares about Christians’ spiritual welfare.  He also cares about non-Christians’ spiritual welfare, and he demonstrates this concern by communicating the “gospel” to them. 

“Gospel” means good news.  It is good news that God loves us and wants to have a love relationship with us.  It is good news that He sent Jesus to pay for the penalty all of our sins that separate us from God.  It is good news that we need only receive Jesus in order to be permanently forgiven and be reconciled to God.  Have you responded to this good news?  No wonder God wants us to further this good news to others!

This is the fourth time Paul has emphasized this priority so far – first by commending them (1:5), then by sharing his example (1:12-18), then by exhorting them (2:14-18), and now by pointing out Timothy’s example.

Which is more important – a few gifted preachers and extroverts who like talking to strangers, or many models who share Christ in their small spheres of influence?

Paul was one of the former, but not Timothy.  He was not an extrovert – he evidently wrestled with fear and timidity (1 Cor. 16:10; 2 Tim. 1:7), like many of us.  Yet he allowed God to work His concern for lost people into his heart, and he shared his faith with people in keeping with his own personality and abilities and opportunities.  He was a model that most of the Philippians could imitate.

By God’s grace, we have scores of these models in our home churches.  Many of you reach out in love to your neighbors and work-associates, pray regularly for open doors, share about Jesus when you get an opportunity, and express your excitement about this to your Christian brothers and sisters (EXAMPLE). 

How do you respond to these models?  Do you try to ice them down because your hearts toward the lost have cooled, and you feel uncomfortable about their zeal?  Or do you observe them closely, and let God motivate you through them, and ask God to enable you to model this to others?

 Epaphroditus

Read 2:25-30.  Epaphroditus was from the church in Philippi.  He was the courier of their money gift to Paul, and he is now the courier of this letter to them.  Paul says we should “hold people like him in high regard” (2:29).  What is it about him that we should imitate?

Serving with other teammates (2:25a – “fellow-worker and fellow-soldier”).  Epaphroditus probably learned this from Paul’s example.  Paul was super-gifted and very tough.  But he always worked with a team.  He would only be left solo as a last resort – if others’ spiritual welfare required it (here sending Timothy; 1 Thess. 3:1).

Teamwork takes a lot of work.  It requires mutual submission, healthy accountability, taking time to build trust and resolve conflict – and lots of ego-subordination.  Maybe that’s why many sincerely committed Christian workers are “Lone Rangers” in conformity to our culture’s radical individualism.  Part of my heart loves this and rationalizes that it is more efficient.  But it has a high price – needless burnout, inferior ministry fruit, and sometimes terrible scandals that disgrace Jesus (EXAMPLES).

One of the great strengths of this church is that (by God’s grace) we have this ethic of team-ministry.  Our elders work as a team.  So do our sphere leaders, and home church leaders, and ministry team leaders.  We value effectiveness over efficiency – and effectiveness comes through teamwork.  Many leaders here could go off on their own, and many of us (including myself) have been sorely tempted to do just this.  But we realize we are far stronger and safer when we work as teammates. 

If you are involved in a home church, you have access to models of this attitude/lifestyle.  Do you value them?  Do you observe them?  Do you ask them why they are committed to this?  Do you ask them for feedback on how you can become a better teammate?

Sacrifice to help other Christian workers and ministries (2:29,30).  Epaphroditus volunteered to take a long and dangerous trip so that Paul could afford rented quarters (house-arrest) and carry on his ministry while he awaited trial (Acts 28:30,31).  Epaphroditus evidently got sick during this trip, and almost died before he recovered.[2]  Paul calls this “the work of Christ,” and he calls Epaphroditus’ willingness to risk his life in this work something they should hold in high regard (and emulate).

Genuine concern for other Christians should extend beyond our immediate circles to sacrificially help other Christians to advance in their ministries – financially supporting them, praying for them, encouraging them, advising them, etc.  In our church, we emphasize this I many ways: prayer concerts to pray for other home churches, ministry teams and mission work, financial support of our missionaries and global partners, serving on short-term mission trips, hosting student Bible studies, etc.  These all involve sacrifice – but Paul says 2 Tim. 2:3 (read).  When English citizens complained about sacrifices during the Nazi blitz, the common response was: “There’s a war on.”  These sacrifices must be made so that other workers get the support they need to carry on.  And it is worth it because the Lord provides for us, and will take us home forever when the war is over, and will more than make up for whatever sacrifices we made in this life!

We have many great models of this way of life.  People who work full-time jobs, raise their families, reach out to their neighbors, serve in their home churches – and make many sacrifices to help other Christian workers and ministries stay in the battle.  How do you respond to them?  Do you observe them and allow God to motivate you – or do you constantly worry about “doing too much” when you are not really tempted to that extreme?  Do you ask God to enable you to model this to others (like your children) – or do urge your children to follow our culture’s model of sacrificing for worldly goals?

Conclusion

SUMMARIZE four attitudes/values.  Remember: This is not the path to misery – this is the path to real joy (2:19,20)!

NEXT WEEK: Phil. 3:1-11 – “Our Identity: Christ-based or Dung-based?”



[1] “Example” is summimetes, from which we get “imitate” – to imitate others.  “Observe” is skopeo, from which we get “scope” – to gaze intently at.)

[2] What does this passage tell us about Paul being able to heal people whenever he wanted to do so?  We cannot be certain, but he seems to imply that he was unable to heal Epaphroditus – at least to do so quickly.  See also Paul’s statement in 2 Tim. 4:20 that he left Trophimus sick in Miletus.