13 December 2017

Roots: Following Jesus (Philippians 2:17-30)

In this Olympic year the name of Eric Liddell will resonate with many people. He stirred his generation at the games of 1924 at the Paris Olympics by his refusal to race on Sunday. His ultimate victory was in the 400-yard dash. Exactly one year after winning his Olympic Gold Medal Eric Liddell returned to China as a missionary. While there, he decided to engage in rural evangelism and carried the Gospel to China’s hinterland.

Eric was captured by the Japanese in 1943 and was packed into a crowded room with 1,800 other prisoners. He accepted the challenge of his circumstances and organized athletic meets, taught hymns, and ministered God’s Word. David Mitchell was a young boy with Eric Liddell at that time and spoke of his influence on everyone in the prison; “None of us will ever forget this man who was totally committed to putting God first, a man whose humble life combined muscular Christianity with radiant godliness.” Just months before the prison was liberated Eric Liddell died of a brain tumour. He not only became a national hero but also a hero of the faith. His life was a role model of Christianity and continues to inspire others to follow Christ.

We live in a world of mixed up values. The heroes of our time often are celebrities, actors, actresses, and entertainers. If these are our heroes may God help us. We need heroes who are role models for us to follow and emulate. In Philippians 2, Paul set forth the Lord Jesus as a model of submission as well as the pattern of his own life as an apostle, that of Timothy as a pastor and the example of Epaphroditus, a church member. While Jesus Christ poured Himself out in service to God, these men poured themselves out as servants of God.

1. Paul was a Model of Selfless Sacrifice 2:16, 17

To these Philippians he wrote, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example” (3:17). Next to Jesus Christ, Paul stands out as the greatest example of selflessness. Although he spoke of running, labouring and sacrifice, yet he emphasised his sense of constant ‘rejoicing’. Just as Jesus lived out His life for the joy that was set before Him, so Paul was willing to endure hardship that he might know that same joy.

(a) Paul’s selfless attitude to his work. “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” Paul was likening his life to the Old Testament Drink Offering in which the worshiper brought his animal sacrifice to the altar and offered it unto the Lord. The sacrificed animal represented the worshiper’s total commitment to God. He also made an additional offering known as “a libation” in which he took a cup of wine and poured it on the sacrifice while it was already burning. Because the altar was hot, the libation would go up in vapour and then be gone.

By this illustration Paul was saying, “Although I am in prison and could be executed at any moment, my life is not the most important thing. Your faith is the main offering. My life is just the drink offering that is poured out on top of your sacrifice.” Paul had great joy because he placed others above the value of his own life.

(b) Paul’s selfless affection for the Philippians. Paul saw his Christian friends as worthy of the best. He sent Timothy to them and in his estimation, Timothy had no equal. Paul needed Timothy while he was under house arrest in Rome, yet he gave him up for the good of the Philippian believers. He also gave them Epaphroditus whom he loved and needed. He was even prepared to give his own life on behalf of the Philippians. As Christ had been obedient unto death so Paul was willing to die, if necessary, for the church he loved.

(c) Paul’s selfless allegiance to God’s will. Paul was God’s slave and he functioned as a slave. The possibility of returning to Philippi was by trusting in the Lord (2:19). Paul cared only for the Lord’s will.

Our lives are summed up in Phil. 1:21 “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” or in 2:21 “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.”

2. Timothy was a Model of Steadfast Service 2:19-24

Paul considered Timothy his dearly beloved ‘son in the faith’ (2 Tim 1:2). When Paul was on his second missionary journey, he enlisted Timothy to help him. Timothy is mentioned twenty-four times and is identified by Paul in five of his letters. Paul said that he had no one so ‘likeminded’ – of equal soul, as Timothy. He was distinct from others who put their own interests first.

(a) Timothy’s concern for others. Timothy was one ‘who will sincerely care for your state’ (Phil 2:20). While others were obsessed with their own agenda Timothy was concerned for the welfare of the Philippians. When others would give their time or show compassion to the needy and broken-hearted, Timothy cared for them.

(b) Timothy’s consecration to his Lord. Others put themselves first, but Timothy was set apart from the rest, he put the things of Jesus Christ first (2:21). He was not selfish nor was he in the ministry for what he could get out of it.

(c) Timothy’s commitment to the Gospel. Timothy stood with Paul in the form of a slave. His whole life was given over to the Gospel and lived out in his commitment for others to hear the message. His ultimate goal was Jesus Christ. We seek the glory of Christ by seeking the good of His people and the spread of the Gospel.

3. Epaphroditus was a Model of Silent Suffering 2:25-30

Apart from these few verses Epaphroditus would be an unknown. He was a respected member of the church at Philippi who was sent to Rome with a gift for Paul. He stayed with the apostle as long as possible during Paul’s confinement. It was during this time that he became seriously ill and almost died. Although Epaphroditus was miraculously restored to health the church in Philippi had experienced considerable anxiety on his behalf.

Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi so that they might see that he was in good health. He used the occasion to dispatch this letter to the church, instructing them to welcome Epaphroditus and acknowledge the sacrificial ministry he had extended to Paul.

Epaphroditus held no office that we know of, wrote no books, gave no sermons and led no great enterprises for God. He was a message boy for the Gospel, a servant for his Lord for whom no task seemed too menial to do, no assignment too little for him to accept and no risk was too great for him to undertake for Jesus Christ.

(a) Epaphroditus shared in the fellowship of the Gospel – my brother. When Paul called him a brother he used one of his favourite terms for fellow Christians.

(b) Epaphroditus served in the furtherance of the Gospel – a companion in labour. This is another favourite Pauline term which he used elsewhere to describe his co-workers.

(c) Epaphroditus strove for the faith of the Gospel – a fellow soldier. It is never enough to be just a worker in the ministry. One must also learn to be a warrior. The enemies and foes are multiplied as the ministry increases. Paul was the first to see the open doors’ of opportunity, but he also recognised that ‘there are many adversaries’ (1 Corinthians 16:9).

David Mitchell, the boy who was imprisoned with Eric Liddell, saw the same quality in his hero. He wrote: “What was his (Eric Liddell’s) secret? He unreservedly committed his life to Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord. That friendship meant everything to him. By the flickering light of a peanut-oil lamp, early each morning he and a roommate in the men’s cramped dormitory studied the Bible and talked with God for an hour. As a Christian, Eric Liddell’s desire was to know God more deeply, and as a missionary, to make Him known more fully.”

Eric Liddell was a true Olympian hero then and remains a great Christian example today.

Victor Maxwell