Grandpa Joe loved puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles, 3-d block puzzles, wire puzzles, and just about anything else you can think of. One of the things he brought back from his time in Germany during WWII was a figure puzzle. Essentially, figure puzzles are clay or wooden tiles of different geometric shapes that can be assembled to form larger shapes. With it came a little book, not of answers – that cost extra, but of shape puzzles. The challenge is to assemble each shape without any leftovers tiles. In a way, Paul is now taking all the pieces of the last several lessons on unity and humility to show us two examples of what those look like when all the pieces are in place.
Welcome to the sixth installment of Walking Through Philippians. Over the past few lessons, Paul has been encouraging the Jesus followers at Philippi to grow in unity and humility. In today’s section it seems that Paul is shifting gears to something different, but what he is really doing is providing his readers two real life examples that they can relate to.
Paul writes about Timothy, “If the Lord Jesus is willing, I hope to send Timothy to you soon for a visit. Then he can cheer me up by telling me how you are getting along. I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself. Like a son with his father, he has served with me in preaching the Good News. I hope to send him to you just as soon as I find out what is going to happen to me here. And I have confidence from the Lord that I myself will come to see you soon. (Philippians 2:19-24, NLT) Timothy is a picture of unity, of working together with one mind. Paul’s plan is to send Timothy to Philippi to look in on them and see how they are doing. It may seem that Paul is a bit gruff with his statements of “I have no one else like Timothy” and “all others care only for themselves.” There were other men that Paul trusted, Luke and Aristarchus come to mind, but they may not have been available to make the trip to Philippi. As to the others that only seemed to care about themselves, Paul mentioned them earlier when he rejoiced that Christ was being preached even if their attitudes were off. That’s the surface stuff. But I think that Paul is bringing up Timothy as an example of unity. Timothy and Paul have the same mind, share the same goals, and are moving in the same direction. This also gives us another clue on how to grow unity.
You see, Paul and Timothy grew together over many hours, days, weeks, months, and even years. They spent a huge amount of time together. Unity requires time, mutual respect, and a large dose of honesty. There are some folks we only see on a Sunday morning and maybe only share a handful of words. Tough soil for unity to grow in. Now, before we put all the burden on the Pastor to grow and maintain unity we need to remember that they only have 24 hours in a day and they have to sleep sometime. It would be impossible for them to grow that kind of deep relationship with every single person under their care. Enter small group ministry. As the Pastor works to grow unity with small group leaders, the small groups grow unity among themselves. That’s better soil to grow in. But of course, it means time. Not only time to meet once a week, but also to care for each other as life happens. Just something for you to consider.
In the next few verses Paul updates the followers at Philippi on Epaphroditus. Epap, as we’re going to call him, carried letters and coin to Paul from Philippi. The distance he traveled was over 815 miles one way, no small journey on foot. Paul writes, Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier. And he was your messenger to help me in my need. I am sending him because he has been longing to see you, and he was very distressed that you heard he was ill. And he certainly was ill; in fact, he almost died. But God had mercy on him—and also on me, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. So I am all the more anxious to send him back to you, for I know you will be glad to see him, and then I will not be so worried about you. Welcome him in the Lord’s love and with great joy, and give him the honor that people like him deserve. For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.” (Philippians 2:19–30, NLT) Whether on the journey or after he had arrived in Rome, Epap got deathly sick but recovered. Paul’s plan may have been to send Epap back to Philippi with Timothy, probably carrying the very letter we are now reading. Paul encourages the folks at Philippi to welcome Epap with love, joy, and honor.
Paul is also offering Epaphroditus as an example. Epap didn’t have a preaching ministry that we know of. Basically, Epap was a truck driver. He served the kingdom by delivering the messages and coin safely to Paul. That’s it. Epap served. But consider this. It may have taken Epap close to 40 days to make the journey one-way. So he invested at least 80 days away from his home, business, and family in order to serve, and that’s not counting the number of days he expected to remain in Rome. It cost Epap something to serve. He was a living, breathing example of Christ’s servanthood. Paul goes on to say that the Philippians should welcome him with love, joy, and honor. Bringing this home a bit. Remember to say thank you to those that serve, especially those that do so behind the scenes. Consider writing a thank you note to the cleaning folks, or the prep folks, or that person stuck in the sound booth, or any of the others that serve in some way. Too often they become fixtures to us instead of people that have chosen to give for the sake of Christ.
Timothy and Epaphroditus, two men serving in the way they were shaped and equipped by God. Excellent examples of unity and service for us to consider. Think about all of the pieces that went into their shape. Consider how each had a unique combination of the fruit of the Spirit and other giftings to fulfill what God had given them to do. Each man exhibited something Paul was emphasizing to his readers. Even today we would all do well to imitate the unity shown in Timothy and the humble service seen in Epaphroditus no matter how our shape differs from either of them.
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