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10. Becoming Servants Worthy of Honor

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I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 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. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. 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. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 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. 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. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. (Philippians 2:19-30)

What are characteristics of honorable servants—servants worth honoring and imitating? How do we become servants worth honoring?

In this text, Paul bestows a special honor on two men for their faithful service to God. Paul says this about Timothy and then Epaphroditus:

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:20-12)

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. (Philippians 2:28-29)

Paul said of Timothy that he had no one else like him; everyone else looked out for their own interests. Concerning Epaphroditus, he said that the Philippians should honor men like him because he almost died for the work of Christ. There were many Christians around Paul who professed to follow and serve Christ, but Paul knew that Christians with the makeup of Timothy and Epaphroditus were uncommon. They deserved special honor and so he honors them in this letter to the Philippians. He also implicitly gives them as a model of the mind of Christ and godly servants (cf. Phil 2:5-7).

Up to this point in Philippians, Paul has been challenging the church to be “one in spirit” (2:2), to, in humility, consider others better than themselves (v. 3) and to not only care for their own interests but the interests of others (v. 4). Essentially, Paul was calling this congregation to be servants. This was especially important because of the division in the church, as two women were fighting in Philippians 4:2. In order to flesh out this command to be “one” and to serve one another, Paul calls the church to have the mind of Christ and gives Christ’s incarnation to demonstrate Christ’s mind (v. 6-11). Christ gave up his rights as God to become a man and not just a man but a servant (v. 7). He humbled himself and became obedient even unto death.

He now mentions two other model servants who the Philippians would be very well acquainted with. He mentions Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy’s name meant “honoring God” or “one who brings honor to God.” He was raised in a Christian home. His mother was a Jewish Christian woman; his father was Greek and probably a pagan (cf. Acts 16:1, 2 Tim 1:5). He learned the Scriptures from his mother and grandmother as a child (2 Tim 1:5, 2 Tim 3:14-15). Some believe that Timothy was led to Christ by Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6, 7) since he always calls him “his true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). Whether that happened or not, by Paul’s second missionary journey, Timothy had matured in the faith and was well spoken of by everybody, and therefore, Paul decided to take him as his protégé in the ministry (Acts 16:1-3). Timothy would have been with Paul at the founding of the church in Philippi (cf. Acts 16:12). We also know that Timothy was later sent to Ephesus to care for the church there. It was for this reason that Paul wrote the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy. He struggled with fear, maybe fear of incompetence in the ministry (2 Tim 1:7), and he was prone to sickness (1 Tim 5:23).

We don’t know much about Epaphroditus. His name means “favored by Aphrodite,” who was the Greek goddess of love. His name later came to mean “lovely” or “loving.”1 It seems that this man came from a pagan background and was possibly saved when Paul founded the church in Philippi. He was sent by the Philippian church to care for and minister to Paul’s needs. As a prisoner in Rome, Paul would have needed food, clothing, and medical care since the prison system in Rome didn’t provide those things.2

Therefore, the Philippian church, who was deeply concerned about Paul, needed to enlist a strong man, one who could journey 800 miles to Rome and care for him. This man needed to be brave because if Paul was found guilty of being an enemy of Rome, that would have implicated him and potentially led to his death.

Some may ask the question, “Why does Paul give further examples of the mind of Christ?” (Phil 2:5). The Philippians had already been given Christ as a model and also Paul, as he talked about being poured out as a drink offering (2:17-18). Here in the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus, they could see pictures of ordinary people who served Christ and others as servants. Timothy struggled with fear and anxiety; he was constantly sick. He was not what many would call a “prominent man.” He was a man who spent his life being second—serving Paul. Epaphroditus, from what we can tell, wasn’t a preacher or an apostle. He wasn’t a miracle worker or a great figure, but he was a man willing to take great risks in serving Christ (2:30).

What are characteristics of honorable servants? How can we become servants worth honoring as seen in Timothy and Epaphroditus? Here, Paul honors them for their service. As we look at this text, we see characteristics of honorable servants who are worth imitating.

Big Question: What characteristics of honorable servants are seen in the example of Timothy and Epaphroditus?

Honorable Servants Are Willing to Be Discipled

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare… 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. (Philippians 2:19-20, 22)

While Paul was in prison, he became very concerned about the Philippians. We see his concern throughout the letter. Paul mentions how they were suffering for the faith (1:28), how there were false teachers in the church (3:2), and finally how there were two women fighting and causing discord (4:2). Paul was so worried about the Philippians (even though he was the one in prison) that he planned to send Timothy to check on them. He says he hopes “in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy” (2:19), which simply meant that Paul was making plans, but he realized it was ultimately up to God’s will.

He wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians, instead of someone else, because he was “like” the apostle himself. Philippians 2:22 can also be translated, “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare” (NASB). “Kindred spirit” or “like” can be translated “equal-souled” or “one-souled.”3 Timothy had been discipled by Paul for many years and now he was just “like” Paul. Paul said that he had “proved himself” (v. 22). The word “proved” means “proof after testing. Used of a person, it described proven character or tested value.”4 He was like a “son with father” serving in the work of the gospel (v. 22). He had faithfully served Paul and now was just like Paul.

Jesus said, “a student is not above his teacher, but everybody who is fully trained will become just like his teacher “(Luke 6:40). Timothy thought, cared, and had the same training as Paul, and when Timothy was sent to check on this church, it was like sending Paul—they were “one-souled.”

This is one of the things that made Timothy such a special servant—he was willing to be trained. In Acts 16, he left his family, his career aspirations, and everything else to follow and serve Paul. When Paul says, “I hope to send Timothy to you soon,” it demonstrated Timothy’s submission to Paul. He was willing to serve Paul and be second. He was willing to submit to Paul and his leadership, as Paul followed Christ.

This is an all but lost discipline in today’s church. Joshua followed Moses; Elisha followed Elijah. The disciples followed Christ. Mark followed Barnabas and Peter. For each of these people who were willing to be second and to serve, they each were one day fully equipped just as their teacher. Joshua eventually replaced Moses. Elisha was given a double-portion of Elijah’s anointing. The apostles turned the world upside down after Christ’s resurrection. Mark eventually wrote the Gospel of Mark. These people sat under their teachers till one day they became one-souled. They had become just like them.

This is what made Timothy a servant worth honoring and imitating. A lot of zealous disciples want to skip the season of training in order to do great things. However, training is an essential requirement of being used by God. It develops skill and humility in the servant. And it also can lead to an impartation of special gifts. Paul said this about Timothy: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). Timothy received a gift from the laying on of Paul’s hands. Commentators are not sure exactly what this means. At Timothy’s ordination did Paul pray over Timothy and impart a special gifting to him? Or, while Paul was praying, did he simply recognize the gifting on Timothy’s life? It seems that while Timothy followed Paul, there was some type of impartation. Timothy started to develop Paul’s grace in the exposition of the Word of God; he started to develop Paul’s grace in overseeing churches. An impartation through Paul’s relationship with Timothy made him a more effective servant of Christ.

This is the very reason that many Christians are not effective servants. They are not willing to submit themselves to anyone’s authority and discipline. They are not willing to humble themselves to learn from others. They are not willing to follow anyone. They want to keep their independence. Warren Wiersbe shares the story of a young Christian who was not willing to wait and grow under the leadership of another:

A popular local nightclub performer visited a pastor and announced that he had been saved and wanted to serve the Lord. “What should I do next?” he asked.

“Well, I’d suggest you unite with a good church and start growing,” the pastor replied. “Is your wife a Christian?”

“No, she isn’t,” the musician replied. “I hope to win her. But, do I have to wait? I mean, I’d like to do something for God right now.”

“No, you don’t have to wait to witness for the Lord,” explained the pastor. “Get busy in a church, and use your talents for Christ.”

“But you don’t know who I am!” the man protested. “I’m a big performer—everybody knows me. I want to start my own organization, make records, and appear before big crowds!”

“If you go too far too fast,” warned the pastor, “you may hurt yourself and your testimony. And the place to start winning people is right at home. God will open up places of service for you as He sees you are ready. Meanwhile, study the Bible and give yourself a chance to grow.”

The man did not take the pastor’s counsel. Instead, he set up a big organization and started out on his own. His “success” lasted less than a year. Not only did he lose his testimony because he was not strong enough to carry the heavy burdens, but his constant traveling alienated him from his wife and family. He drifted into a “fringe group” and disappeared from public ministry, a broken and bankrupt man.

“His branches went out farther than his roots went deep,” the pastor said. “When that happens, you eventually topple.”5

That is exactly what we do not see in Timothy. He was willing to wait and serve as second until one day he was “one-souled” with Paul. He thought like him, had developed many of the same gifts as him, and now was competent to serve on his own when sent to Philippi. Timothy was willing to be trained and equipped through discipleship in order to more successfully serve God.

It should be added that many honorable servants may never be discipled in the same way as Joshua, Elisha, the apostles, or Timothy. The primary element of discipleship is training. Sometimes God chooses different ways to train and equip his servants. This may happen through many teachers instead of one prominent one. It may happen in part through lots of reading and studying the writings of godly people. Paul discipled many through his writings (cf. 1 and 2 Timothy, Philemon, and Titus). Training may happen formally through Bible school or seminary. It may happen through patiently enduring various trials (James 1:2-4, 2 Cor 1:3-6). Either way, the principle is still the same; honorable servants are willing and humble enough to be discipled and trained.

Application Question: What makes it hard for people to be “second” by coming into a discipleship relationship under someone? Have you ever experienced a relationship like this? In what ways is God calling you to be further trained?

Honorable Servants Are Consumed with the Interests of Christ and Others

I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 2:20-21)

One of things that makes Timothy a servant worth honoring—a servant worth imitating—is his genuine concern for others. He demonstrated the mind of Christ as he put the interest of others before his own (cf. Phil 2:2-5). Paul said, “I have no one else like him who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.” The word “interest” can also be translated “worry” or “anxiety.”6 It’s the same word Paul used in Philippians 4:6 when he said, “Be anxious for nothing.” Christ used it in Matthew 6:25-28 when he said, “Don’t worry about what you will eat, drink or wear?” When spoken about negatively, it refers to somebody’s selfish concerns about themselves and their futures. When spoken of positively as in this context, it refers to somebody’s deep selfless concern about others.

Paul himself shared that one of his greatest trials was his constant “concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). This is what made Paul constantly pray for the churches and write letter after letter to them. This is what made him travel mile upon mile visiting them. Therefore, since Timothy was “one-souled” with Paul, he bore this same pain. In fact, in many of his letters Timothy was with him in the writing of the letters (Phil 1:1, 1 Thess 1:1, 2 Thess 1:1, Philemon 1:1). He carried an anxiety—a deep concern for all the churches.

Timothy’s deep concern for all the churches shined even greater in comparison to the Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Paul said this about them: “Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” We have already seen that many in Rome were preaching the gospel out of selfish ambition and rivalry with Paul (Phil 1:17). Paul now says “everyone looks out for his own interest, not those of Jesus Christ”—he can’t find anyone willing to put the interest of the Philippians, and thus Christ’s, before their own.

This is a sad admission, but the truth is Christians today often are not very different from those in Rome. While professing Christ, most are living for their own desires, goals, and self-advancement. This is very different from Christ’s model which Paul taught only a few verses earlier (Phil 2:5-11). Christ, instead of holding on to his privileges as God, came down and took on not only humanity but the form of a servant—the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor. Instead of seeking his own advancement, he descended in order to serve more people. However, the majority of the church is consumed with their own agenda and therefore has no time to care for the interests of others or Christ.

Often when a person wants some of our time—to talk to us about his or her problems or seek our advice—we commonly see them as a distraction to our goals and even unnecessary burdens. We find ourselves looking at our watches because our real purpose is not this person’s “concerns” or “interests” but our own. This is something our Lord must deliver us from.

In both Timothy and Epaphroditus, we see people who not only cared about others but also were available to serve them. This is what an honorable servant—a servant worth imitating—looks like. Listen to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps—reading the Bible. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the Cross raised [in] our path to show us that, not our way, but God’s way must be done. It is a strange fact that Christians frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s “Crooked yet straight path.” They do not want a life that is crossed and balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.7

Similarly, Paul said, “Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). What does it mean to fulfill the law of Christ? It simply means when we carry other’s burdens, we are fulfilling our duty as followers of Jesus. We must empty ourselves of selfishness and fill ourselves with the desires of God and the interests of others. Paul said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). Honorable servants are consumed with the interests of Christ and others.

Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to carry the burden of others? Why is this often so difficult for us to do?

Honorable Servants Are Balanced

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. (Philippians 2:25)

Next, Paul begins to heap praise on Epaphroditus who is being sent back to the Philippian church. The reason Paul spends so much time praising Epaphroditus’ ministry is probably because some at Philippi might have questioned why he returned. Did he fail at caring for Paul? Was he afraid of the potential persecution that might accompany serving Paul? Therefore, Paul assures the congregation of how faithful Epaphroditus was and calls for them to honor him for his great work.

In Philippians 2:25 Paul gives Epaphroditus five different titles to demonstrate his faithfulness. Three of these titles focus on his relationship to Paul and the next two focus on his relationship with the Philippians. He calls him his brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier, their messenger, and the one they sent to take care of his needs. The ESV actually translates the latter as “minister” and Young’s Literal Translation as “servant.” The Philippians sent Epaphroditus as a minister to serve Paul’s needs.

What can we learn from the five different titles that Paul gives Epaphroditus? Warren Wiersbe notes in his commentary that Epaphroditus was a balanced Christian.8 We see this in each of his titles.

Interpretation Question: What do the five titles that Paul gave Epaphroditus demonstrate about him, and how do they represent being a balanced Christian?

1. The title “brother” demonstrates his intimacy with Paul. Epaphroditus loved Paul and served him as if he were his own natural brother. It also represented Epaphroditus’ and Paul’s relationship to God. Jesus said, “Who is my brother, and mother? My brother, sister and mother are those who obey the will of God” (Mk 3:34-35). Paul and Epaphroditus were brothers in their obedience and submission to God. This gave them a tremendous intimacy because they both lived to please and serve the Lord.

2. The title “fellow worker” demonstrates how they partnered in spreading the gospel and helped people come to know Christ. Paul also called himself a “co-worker” with God in 1 Corinthians 3:9. They both were serving together while building God’s church.

3. The title “fellow soldier” demonstrates how they faithfully defended the gospel together, and it also represents their sufferings for Christ (cf. Phil 1:27). Paul said to Timothy, “Be willing to endure suffering like a good soldier of Christ” (2 Tim 2:3). Every good soldier is willing to suffer and even die for his cause. Epaphroditus traveled 800 miles to care for Paul and almost died in the process. Paul eventually did die in his service for Christ (cf. 2 Tim 4:6-7). They were fellow soldiers.

4. The title “messenger” demonstrates how he faithfully carried the message of the Philippian church to Paul. The word can also be translated “apostle” which means “sent one.” He was not an apostle in the same way Paul was. An apostle had seen the resurrected Christ and worked miracles in order to persuade people to follow Christ. Though not an apostle like Paul, he faithfully represented the church at Philippi by caring for Paul’s needs. He was their messenger.

5. The title “minister” demonstrates how he faithfully served Paul and put his needs before his own. He left his family, career, and church to serve Paul. He was a faithful servant of Christ.

William Barclay points out that this word would have great meaning to the Greek minds of the Philippian church. The word was used only of great men. The title was bestowed only upon great benefactors, men who loved their city, culture, arts, or sports so much that they gave huge sums of money to support these functions. The person was looked upon as a great servant or minister given over to his cause. Paul is here bestowing the great title of minister upon Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus was an extraordinary minister of God who ministered to Paul's needs.9

By using this term Paul was setting Epaphroditus apart as a great man in the kingdom of God. Though he may not have been a pastor, a preacher, or an evangelist, he was a tremendous benefactor for the kingdom. His ministry was great, and he was to be honored for it.

How do we apply this to our lives? Most Christians are not balanced in the practice of their faith. Some Christians spend all their time fellowshipping and hanging out with brothers and sisters in Christ, but they spend no time working to build God’s kingdom and serve others. They are not willing to exert any holy sweat—any holy effort. Their work for the kingdom of God is coming to church on Sunday. As long as they have done that, they feel no responsibility to evangelize, serve, or even pray.

Some work but won’t defend. They won’t defend the gospel or seek to protect the church from wrong teachings. They see no point in it. They are too worried about offending someone. They often think doctrine doesn’t really matter as long as one loves. However, the truth is that doctrine affects how we live. When we have lost doctrine, we have lost everything.

Many are not willing to be “apostolos”—messengers—that leave their comfort to serve and minister to others. They don’t support the work of foreign missions and aren’t willing to be part of it. This is true for the majority of the church in one way or another. However, we should seek to be balanced because Scripture calls us to do all of these ministries.

One of the things that made Epaphroditus a servant worthy of honor and worth imitating was his balance. He was a loving brother, a fellow worker, a fellow soldier, a messenger, and a minister—a man of great dignity for the kingdom of God. Are you a balanced Christian?

Application Question: Would you consider yourself a balanced Christian? What area that Paul mentions do you feel a need to grow in most?

Honorable Servants Are Sympathetic

For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. (Philippians 4:26)

Another characteristic of Epaphroditus is that he was sympathetic—he felt the pain of others. Look again at what Paul says: “For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill” (Philippians 4:26). The word “distressed” is used of Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, “‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch’” (Mark 14:34). Christ was in anguish over going to the cross, bearing the sins of the world, and being separated from God. Some versions say he was “weary unto death.” This is the same way Epaphroditus felt while in Rome. However, what’s strange is that he did not feel that way over his own predicament—the sickness that almost killed him—but over the pain of others. Either while making his 800 mile trek to Rome he got sick or soon after. Paul describes his healing as the mercy of God (v. 27). Again, Epaphroditus was not weary or distressed because of his own problem but because the people at Philippi heard about his sickness and were worried (v. 26).

Now, for us in the 21st century, we may not fully comprehend the scenario with Epaphroditus and the church in Philippi. Today we can simply write an email, send a message on Facebook, pick up the phone, or get on Skype to communicate with someone thousands of miles away. However, in those days it would take weeks, if not months, to send a message to somebody. Somehow the Philippians heard about his situation and were worried. They might have questioned their original decision to send Epaphroditus alone for such a long trip. They were anxious and maybe felt guilty.

Epaphroditus was sympathetic, and his sympathy led to compassion. He was concerned about Paul, and so he trekked 800 miles to serve him. He was concerned about the Philippians and now he was about to trek back to encourage them. He was a sympathetic person. In fact, so was Paul. Paul said, “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” (Philippians 2:28). Why was Paul anxious? He was anxious because he also was worried about the hearts of the Philippians. They both loved this congregation dearly and therefore were sympathetic to their condition. This made them both effective servants—servants worthy of honor.

The reason sympathy is so important is because if you never feel the pain of somebody else or feel the burden of some great problem, you will never be motivated to be part of the solution. This is the problem with many in the church. We feel nobody’s pain and consequently feel nobody’s joy. We only feel our own pain and joy. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matt 5:4). It can be translated, “Happy are the mourners.” Happy are the ones who bear the pain of others. Happy are those who mourn over the effects of sin on others and on our world. These are the ones who are blessed by God.

Scripture commands us to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom 12:15). We must develop the ability to be sympathetic. Those with sympathy are the only effective ministers—ministers worthy of honor. They really care and are willing to meet the needs of others.

Solomon said this: “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning but the heart of fools in the house of pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 7:4).  What does this mean? It means that the wise are willing to sympathize with and to feel the pain of the sick, discouraged, and hurting. They find great value in this and therefore run to meet the needs of those hurting. However, the fool only cares about his pleasure. He lives his life primarily for his own ease and happiness. But, that is not how Epaphroditus lived. He hurt with others and rejoiced with others. His heart was in the house of mourning—he was willing to bear the pain of others in order to minister to them.

Application Question: How can one grow in sympathy for others?

I have often thought about the story of the first resurrection in Scripture in 1 Kings 17. Elijah lays his body over a dead boy three times and prays for God to heal him (v. 21-22). Why did he lay his warm body over the cold, dead body of the boy three times? I believe he was seeking to empathize with him. He was seeking to feel his pain in order to more effectively and fervently pray for him. Is that not one of the reasons that Christ became a man? He became a man so he could understand our pain and empathize with us so he could more effectively pray for us as our High Priest. Hebrews 4:15-16 says,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

This is exactly what many of us need to do in order to grow in sympathy. We need to be like Epaphroditus. We need to visit the person in jail and the person on his death bed. We need to touch the leper and allow his pain to change us and make us more sympathetic. Servants worth honoring are sympathetic. As they feel the pain of others, it moves them to action as displayed in the example of Epaphroditus.

Application Question: How would you rank your ability to sympathize with others from 1-10? Share a time where you were moved by the pain of another to get involved and serve.

Honorable Servants Are Willing to Take Risks for Christ

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. (Philippians 2:29-30)

Another characteristic of servants worthy of honor is that they are willing to take risks. The word “risking” that Paul used here was actually used of somebody who gambled.10 They were voluntarily willing to risk their own welfare and be exposed to danger. This was true of Epaphroditus. He left his career, home, family, and church in order to serve Paul. He was willing to take a great risk.

Don’t we see this characteristic in many men and women God used greatly? Abraham left his home and family to go to a land that he had never been to in order to follow God. Because of this risk—this gamble—God made his descendants into a great nation and brought the messiah through him. Moses also left the wealth of being a prince in Egypt to suffer shame with the people of God (Heb 11:24-26). Therefore, God exalted him and made him the leader of Israel and a type of Christ (cf. Deut 18:15). Ruth was a pagan Moabite widow who followed her mother in-law Naomi to the land of Israel so she could beg for food. She was willing to be poor because she realized that in suffering with Naomi she was following the true God. This risk not only eventually led to all her needs being met, but it also brought God’s blessing, as she was placed in the lineage of Christ. In addition, all the apostles gambled in following Christ. They gave up career and family to follow the messiah. Those whom God honors are willing to take risks for Christ.

Jesus said this: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Christ essentially said everybody who bets on me will receive a hundred times as much and inherit eternal life.

This is what made Epaphroditus so special. Like Abraham, Moses, Ruth, and the apostles, he was willing to risk it all in following God. Similarly, Paul said this:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)

Paul counted everything a loss to gain Christ. He said it was a worthy gamble. Moreover, this characteristic is especially important for servants. To serve others and build the kingdom of God, one may have to leave career, home, and family. It may even cost a person his life. All the disciples, save one, lost their lives in following Christ. Many missionaries have lost their lives, contracted dangerous diseases, and suffered other pains in serving Christ and others. Paul says these are the type of people that should be honored. These are the type of people to imitate. We can be sure as Paul honors them in this letter, God was ultimately honoring them as the Author of Scripture (cf. 2 Tim 3:16). And therefore, they will be honored throughout eternity.

Application Question: In what ways has God called you to risk something for his name? Do you ever struggle with fear or apprehension about taking risks as you follow God?

Honorable Servants Will Be Rewarded

Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me. (Philippians 2:29-30)

As mentioned previously, honored servants will ultimately be rewarded. In what ways do we see these servants honored?

Observation Question: In what ways will honorable servants be rewarded as we can discern from Philippians 2:19-30 and how does this apply to our lives?

1. Honorable servants will be given greater opportunities to serve.

Timothy who had faithfully served Paul for years was being given the opportunity to serve in a greater capacity. Timothy was being sent to Philippi to fulfill what Paul could not since he was in prison. He had been faithful and God was honoring him with more. When we are faithful with little, God makes us faithful over much (cf. Mk 4:24-25, Matt 25:21). He gives us more opportunities to serve.

2. Honorable servants will be honored by men.

Paul tells the Philippians to welcome Epaphroditus (2:29). The word “welcome” refers to a favorable and glad acceptance.11 The Philippians were to honor and welcome him for his faithful service to Paul. On this earth, many times we will be thanked and honored by those we served. Galatians 6:6 says, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” We should generously bless those who teach us. Many times as we serve others, we will be honored. However, it should be noted that this is not always true. For example, the very ones Paul served in Corinth became angry at him and attacked his apostleship. Second Corinthians is primarily a defense of his apostleship.

However, even though we will not always be honored on earth by those we serve, it will ultimately happen in heaven. It seems that in heaven we will have a greater clarity to evaluate those who have served us on earth. Look at what Christ taught as a motivation for generous giving to the kingdom of God in Luke 16:9: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” In heaven those who have given generously to build the kingdom will be welcomed by those who were blessed and saved by their ministry—they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Those who are faithful servants will at times be honored by those they serve on this earth and ultimately by them in heaven.

3. Honorable servants will be honored by God.

We should notice that Paul commands the Philippians to welcome him “in the Lord” (2:29). What does he mean by “in the Lord”? This means the Philippians were to honor Epaphroditus in the same way God would. This implies that God will ultimately honor faithful servants in his coming kingdom. Jesus said this in Matthew 25:21: “Well done thou good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!” One day God will not only heap praise on his servants but also rewards for their faithful service. This will include opportunities for greater service in the kingdom, riches in heaven, and crowns that represent their faithfulness and rulership in the coming kingdom (1 Cor 4:5, Matt 25:51, Matt 6:19, 1 Cor 3:12-14, Rev 4:10). 

Honorable servants will be rewarded. They will be rewarded with further opportunities to serve. They will be honored by the people they have served if not here on earth, then in heaven. Their ultimate reward will come from God, as he praises them and lavishes rewards on them for their faithful service.

Application Question: Does reward for faithful service motivate you to be a more faithful servant? Why or why not?

Conclusion

What are characteristics of honorable servants—servants worth imitating? How can we become servants worth being honored and imitated (cf. 1 Cor 11:1)?

  1. Honorable Servants Are Willing to Be Discipled
  2. Honorable Servants Are Consumed with the Interests of Christ and Others
  3. Honorable Servants Are Sympathetic
  4. Honorable Servants Are Willing to Take Risks for Christ
  5. Honorable Servants Will Be Rewarded

1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 202). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 113). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 197). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 198). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 81–82). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

6 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 108). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

7 Hughes, R. K. (2007). Philippians: the fellowship of the gospel (p. 109). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

8 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 82). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

9 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Philippians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible.

10 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 207). Chicago: Moody Press.

11 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (p. 206). Chicago: Moody Press.

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