David Jeremiah - The Joy of Ministry
Everyone in this room is a role model to somebody. I don't care who you are, somebody looks at you and takes their cues about life from the way you live, good, bad, or indifferent. In the book of Philippians in the second chapter, Paul is going to introduce to us three role models. First of all, the Apostle Paul, who will role model for us a life of sacrifice. And then young Timothy, Paul's protégé, who will show us how to live a life of service. And then a man whose name is hard to pronounce, Epaphroditus, who will teach us about suffering. Role models in sacrifice, service, and suffering.
We began with the Apostle Paul because verse 17 begins with him. He says in the 17th verse as he writes to the Philippian believers, "Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me". The words "glad" and "rejoice" are found twice as Paul is talking about sacrifice. How many of you know glad, and rejoice, and sacrifice don't usually fit together in the same sentence? It's almost a disconnect.
I want to take just a moment before I explain to you what this passage means, and relate to you a truth that I think is worthy of us taking a moment to talk about. I don't know what you say when people tell you that they would come to church if there weren't so many hypocrites in the church. When we hear that, here's what we say, and if you shake your head up and down, I'll know you agree with me. We say something like this, "Oh, you shouldn't watch other people, they will disappoint you. Keep your eyes on the Lord and He will never let you down".
Isn't that what we say? And that sounds good and in a way it is true, but it's also flawed. First of all, the only Christ any people ever see is the Christ they see in us, Christ in us "the hope of glory". And secondly, the Apostle Paul in this passage sticks a fork in that whole deal. He tells us that isn't true. You can't get away from godly living by just saying, "Don't watch me, watch Jesus". The Apostle Paul actually said the opposite. He said to his followers, "Watch me".
Now, I know that's a pretty scary thing, we are role models to somebody. Somebody looks to us. Somebody wants to know, what is this Christian thing all about? And they think since we claim to be Christians, they can pick it up from us. Here's what I want you to know about Christianity, it's more caught than it's taught. People catch it more than they hear it and so what we do as role models is really important. So, let's talk about Paul and his selfless role model for us. First of all, he was selfless in the discipline of his own life. Here's a rather convoluted verse that we might not understand unless we dig a little deeper. Verse 17 says, "Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice".
Now, we read that and we think, what in the world does that mean? It's fraught with Old Testament information. It's about a sacrifice in the Old Testament. Here's, here's what it means. Here's what Paul is talking about. In the Old Testament, if you had come to watch this sacrifice, you would have seen the Jewish worshipers come, they would have killed their animal, and they would have put their animal on the altar and sacrificed it to God. But at this point, they would often add something else to their offering. It was called a libation. They would take a cup of wine, and while the altar was white hot for the sacrifice, they would take that cup of wine and pour it on the altar, and in a puff of smoke, it would disappear.
What Paul is saying is this, "I know you are worried about my situation. I am in prison and could be executed at any moment, but my life is not the important thing. It is your faith that really counts. Your faith is the main offering. My life is just the drink offering that's poured on at the end and it's really unimportant".
In an age where everybody is promoting themselves, everybody trying to become somebody that basically they're not, Paul is giving to us this role model. He viewed his death as very unimportant when compared to the spiritual needs of the believers in Philippi. He was filled with joy as he remembered his tireless labor on their behalf. And yes, he was in prison, and yes, he was to be executed, but to Paul, that was just, that was just the drink offering. The real sacrifice was ministry of the church and Philippi to whom he wrote this letter. He was also selfless in his discipling of Timothy. Verse 22 says, "You know Timothy's proven character, that as a son with his father, he served with me in the gospel".
Paul had put his arms around this young man, Timothy, who was learning to be a leader and a teacher of the Word of God who would ultimately become the pastor in Ephesus. And Paul was discipling him, and he considered him like he was his own son. He took Timothy under his arm. We'll learn more about that in a moment. And Timothy was able to catch the gospel from Paul. He watched him, he walked with him, he was in war with him. He saw everything there was about being a true leader and spiritual leader and Timothy became Paul's disciple. Paul was selfless in the discipline of his own life. He was just a drink offering. He was selfless in discipling Timothy. He was also selfless in dealing with the Philippians.
Notice again, verse 17 he said, "I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith. I am glad and rejoice with you all". You see, Paul saw his friends in Philippi as worthy of the very best that he had. Here's something so interesting, Paul, when he wrote this letter, was in prison in Rome, and Timothy had been sent to him by the Philippian church to bring encouragement to him. And while Timothy was there, I'm sure Paul really enjoyed his fellowship, whatever it could have been. But Paul understood that the church in Philippi needed Timothy's leadership so at his own expense, he dispatched Timothy and sent him back. Paul was even willing to give up his life for the Philippians. He was willing to die for them. He wrote to Timothy, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure is at hand".
Now this passage, along with the reference in Philippians 2, are the places in the Bible where you see this idea of a drink offering being used to describe death, that's not in the Bible anyplace else except the two references and it's really an interesting expression, isn't it? We often think of our death as way, way more vital than that. Paul said, "No, no, in light of the gospel, in light of the sacrifice, in light of the church, in light of the importance of everything else, my death is incidental". What a man he was. And then he was selfless in determining God's will. Let me touch on this just briefly in verse 23 and 24, Paul's describing his desire to go and visit with the Philippians.
Now remember, he's in jail, he doesn't know if he's ever going to get out, but he wants them to know that he wants to come and see them. But he mentions that he's gonna send them Timothy, and he mentions it in such an interesting way. Verses 23 and 24 he says, "I hope to send Timothy at once and I trust in the Lord that I myself shall come shortly". It's interesting because that's not the way we talk. "You want me to come? I'll be there shortly. You need Timothy? You got it".
Paul measured everything in his life against the will of God. I know from looking back over my shoulders, I would have done a lot better if I had done that all the time. You know, if you're a leader, especially if you have a little type A in you, you have a tendency to think that making a bad decision is better than not making any decision at all. Have you ever heard that? Well, that's not true. Making a bad decision can get you in a lot of trouble. And if you're a Christian, you need to take a cue from Paul.
Listen to what he said, "I hope in the Lord, I trust in the Lord, the Lord and I are together in these decisions and you need to know that". For him, everything was about Christ, everything was about the gospel, and he was very forgetful about himself. May his tribe increase. Let's take a look at Timothy, the model of service. We read about him beginning at verse 19. Paul writes, "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state".
Now, watch here's what he says about Timothy. This sounds like something on the back cover of a book. "For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know Timothy's proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall come shortly".
Paul was responsible for Timothy becoming a follower of Christ. And when Paul was on his second missionary journey, he came to Timothy and enlisted him to join him as his helper. He said, "There's no one like-minded as Timothy is". And the word he uses is a word which means equal soul. We would say today, "Timothy's my soulmate. Timothy is who I am in a different body. He represents my values. He represents my core. I'm sending you Timothy because I couldn't come myself, but I'm sending you the best thing I can, not being able to come myself". And he said, there's nobody like him, no one like him. And Timothy was naturally concerned for these people. It says in verse 20 that Timothy would sincerely care for your state, he will care for you.
How did Paul know that? He knew that because he knew Timothy and he knew Timothy had his heart. Oh, what a joy it is when you get somebody to work with you who knows your heart, who represents your heart, who when put in the crunch where people are asking or criticizing you, can speak for you and you know that they will speak honestly, and fairly, and you are safe in their hands. Timothy was the guy that Paul had like that. He was a good man, and he was one of Paul's disciples. One last person before we're done and that's Epaphroditus. He's the model of suffering and he teaches us one basic lesson, that life and ministry is not easy, it never has been, and it never will be.
Here's what Paul wrote about him beginning in verse 25. Paul said, "I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me".
Now, in all of this thing that's going on between Paul, and Timothy, and Epaphroditus, Paul's in prison and the Philippians are in Philippi, and they sent Timothy and then he comes back. And then this letter that we know as the book of Philippians, was delivered to the Philippians by Epaphroditus. Paul sent Epaphroditus back, and he carried this letter back with him. And the Bible says that when Epaphroditus came to be with Paul, while he was there, he got really sick. In fact, the Scripture describes it as "nigh unto death". He almost died.
All right, that's going on in Rome where Paul is, and the word has gotten back now to Philippi, and the Philippians are all full of anxiety, because their brother, Epaphroditus, is over in Rome, and it looks like he's not gonna make it and they're worried. And then Epaphroditus hears about it, and he's worried that they're worried. So, Paul says, "I'm gonna send it back to you so you can check him out and see that he's okay". When Paul spoke of Epaphroditus, he used some words to describe him in the text.
Let me point them out to you. First of all, he called him a brother. That's one of Paul's favorite names for Christians, brother. How many of you know that if you're a member of the body of Christ, you're a brother? If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, all the other people who are in the family, brothers and sisters, they belong to you and you belong to them. In this room today, we have a whole group of brothers and sisters, isn't that something? And the Bible says that Paul spoke of Epaphroditus as his brother. In fact, he used the word nine times in the book of Philippians, and then he calls him something else. He calls him a fellow worker. This is another phrase that Paul likes, he uses that several times. Paul says, "Epaphroditus is my brother, and he's my fellow worker". And then he says something even more important, he says, "He's a fellow soldier".
How many of you know it's not just enough to be a worker in the field, you need to be a warrior too and especially today? If you get into the ministry today, don't think it's a walk in the park. In fact, if you're thinking about becoming a minister, or you're thinking about being in the ministry, make sure you know for sure that's what God wants you to do 'cause if you don't know that for sure, you will not stay. I'm not here to complain. I love everything I do. I wouldn't want to do anything else in my life, but I'm also here to tell you it's not an easy task. And every year with the dissipation of Bible knowledge and comfort with the faith, a pastor in an evangelical church is more at risk than he's ever been.
Paul championed Epaphroditus because he was not only his brother, he was also his fellow worker, but he was a fellow soldier. He soldiered on in the faith and stand against the strategies of the devil. These three descriptions of Epaphroditus point to a man who you can understand was really important to Paul. In his service to Paul, Epaphroditus suffered. The Bible tells us that he was sick almost to death. The phrase, "not regarding his own life," that's at the end of the verse, comes from the Greek word paraboleumai. It's the only time it is used in the New Testament, "Not regarding his own life".
In other words, Epaphroditus bet on his own life. He gambled his own life to fulfill the work that God had called him to do. The early Christians called those who risk their lives for Christ parabolani and the word is interesting because the word actually means gambler, or risker. Aquila and Priscilla would have been members of this group. Paul wrote about them in Romans 16. He said, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life". I've not been asked to do that, that I'm aware of, but I do feel knowing what's going on in the world today, I'm closer to being asked to do that than I've ever been.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the culture in which you and I live, it's getting less and less comfortable to be a Christian, less and less acceptable to be a follower of Christ. Let's not speak of it out loud too much according to the culture, you will not be accepted. And where at one time it was a mark of a good person that they went to church and that they knew God, now it's become almost like the first critical thing people say. Sometime along the way, God will ask you to gamble in the right way on who you are and who Christ is. That's what Epaphroditus did. He put his life on the line. He didn't know if he was going to get better or not. He knew that what God had called him to do, he needed to do it, so he did it. Let his life be the afterthought. But this man Epaphroditus also had great sympathy for the Philippians. It says in verse 26, "He was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick".
So, here are these three examples, Paul, who shows us how to live selflessly. He's the drink offering on the sacrifice. And here's Timothy, who served Paul, and it was his brother and soulmate, and no one was like Timothy. And he left Paul in Rome and went to minister to the Philippians and serve them. And here's Epaphroditus, the gambler who risked his neck for the gospel. And these three men are men we can look to and say, "I can learn from these guys. I can learn how to become more like Christ by watching these guys".
Now, I mentioned at the beginning something that's kind of convicting if you want to know the truth, we are all role models. We must ask God to help us understand that that is true. Someone is watching us, someone's trying to observe us and see how we do. I never felt that more than when I went through cancer. For years, I had told people Jesus Christ was sufficient and God was enough, and then my life was almost taken from me. And I stood in this pulpit every week, and I couldn't help but feel your piercing eyes looking at me, seeing if I was really gonna still say the same things after I was touched by all that. We're all being watched.
You see, what we do matters, how we live counts. We may not like to accept that responsibility, but I've told you before that God has called me to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and I'm trying to do that this morning. We need to get to the place where we understand that we have a decisive role in the lives of people who are around us, our families, our neighbors, the people we work with. We are Jesus Christ to them. The only Christ they will ever see is the Christ they see in us. We may not like that. We may feel that's not fair. We might try to wiggle out from under that. I'm just telling you, it's true. It's true for me, it's true for you.
And so, I pray this week, "God, I want to be a better role model for my family, for my children, for my grandchildren, for the people I lead in this church". I want you to ask that prayer yourself, "Lord God, help me to be the person you want me to be so that when others see me, they will be drawn to you". That's what our goal should be, that we draw people to Christ as we live his life wherever we go.
Is it a tall order? No, it's not a tall order. Is it impossible? Yes, it's impossible, but that's why you have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's been given to you and to me to help us do the impossible. We can't do it in our own strength, but the Spirit of God who lives within us, and if we give our lives to him and we say to him in the morning, "Holy Spirit, control my life today, show me to do the things that I don't normally do. Lord, get me outside of myself". The Spirit of God will do that. He will do it. I know he will do it. He's done it for me. I'm no special person, he'll do it for you and he will help you to be the person Christ wants you to be so that when people see you, they will see him. That's what happened with Paul, that's what happened with Timothy, and that's what happened with Epaphroditus, role models for Christ.