Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life ~ #12 “Heart Check: Epaphroditus, A Model of Empathy and Humility” – Philippians 2:25-30

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Heart Check: Epaphroditus, A Model of Humility & Empathy

Philippians 2:25-30

We’re glad you’re here. We know we have a lot of people who are already gone and on vacation, but we’re thrilled you’re here. If you would, please take out your Bibles now and turn in them to the book of Philippians, chapter 2. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you. You could grab that Bible, turn in the back portion to page 155, and you would be at Philippians, chapter 2.

People are the most important commodity in the world today. It is so easy to lose sight of that. You see, things and the stuff of life tend to deflect us away from people. But it’s very important for us to understand that people are the most important commodity in the world today. The reason why it’s so important to remember that is because of this deflection away from people.

That is the reason why in Philippians, chapter 2, Paul says what he says in verses 3 and 4. At the end of verse 3, he says, “Regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Why? People are the most important commodity. The stuff of life tends to deflect us away from people. He says in verse 4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Why? People are the most important commodity in the world today. The stuff of life often will deflect us away from people. People are the most important commodity in the world today.

Now what is really amazing is this: as important a commodity as people are, the amazing plan of God is to use you and me to reach them. With all of our frailties and all of our warts and all of our weaknesses, His plan to reach the most important commodity in the world is you and me. In chapter 2, verse 15, at the very end he says of us that in this generation in which we live, we appear as lights in the world. In other words, God’s plan to reach the most important commodity is us. We are His plan to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. We are His plan to have someone stand up for and to teach the truth of God in our generation. We are His plan to have someone reach this most important commodity to serve and to care for human beings. That is God’s plan despite who we are.

I mean, do you ever wonder looking in the mirror why God would have such a plan? I mean, you realize He could have done things dramatically differently. He could have decided, for example, that He would drop manna from heaven every morning, and inscribed on this manna would be the gospel message of Christ. If people wanted to learn the truth about God, there could be a new chapter every day in the manna. They could just go out and pick it up and read it before they ate it. He could do that if He wanted to, but He chose not to.

God could have done it very differently. God could have chosen to reach the most important commodity in all of the world. He could have chosen to have an angel flying through heaven proclaiming the gospel message and sharing the truth about Jesus Christ. He could have chosen to do it that way. In fact, if you keep your finger here in Philippians 2, I want you to turn to the last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation. I want you to notice in chapter 14 that in the future, that’s exactly what God is going to do. During the final events of the world He is not only going to have a number of believers who are sharing the truth of Jesus Christ with those in the world, but He is actually going to have an angel flying through the heavens.

Look at chapter 14, verse 6. He says, “I saw another angel flying in midheaven…” He is flying through the heaven like a low-flying airplane. This angel has an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people. He is actually going to fly like a low-flying plane, and he is going to be shouting with a loud voice to the people of the earth, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” Then on the tail of that angel is going to be another angel flying along with a message for the people of the world, the most important commodity we have today.

See, God could have done it that way from the very beginning, but the odd thing is He chose you and He chose me to function as lights in the world. So, if that’s our job and we’re to shine in such a way that we can affect this most important commodity, the key question…I’m a practically-minded person…is the how question. How are we supposed to shine as lights in our generation? By the way, if we don’t shine as lights, who is going to do it? This is it. We are God’s plan.

Now back in the book of Philippians, we have been doing a study of the book; I have subtitled Spiritual Essentials for a Joy-Full Life. The question is how many of us want to have a joy-full life? I think all of us would like to have a joy-full life. So the key question again is how do we do that? Well in chapter 2, one of the things he tells us is that there is an essential mindset we are to have if we’re going to experience a joy-full life, and that is this, humility in serving (serving people) is integral to the spiritual life. If you want to have a joy-full life, a key part of that is to serve other people. That’s just the way God designed things.

The theme of chapter 2 we’ve already seen, and that’s in verses 3 and 4. The idea is, we are to regard other people as more important than ourselves, and we are to look out for more than our own interests but also for the interests of others. That’s the theme of the chapter. Then what he does is he gives us on a platter some real-life examples of that. We see the real-life example of the Lord Jesus Himself. We see the example in chapter 2 of Paul. We see the example in chapter 2 of Timothy, which we looked at last week.

Today we’re going to come to the fourth example of how we’re to regard others as more important than ourselves and to look out for more than just our own interests, but also for the interests of others in the person of a guy by the name of Epaphroditus. Paul brings him up in verses 25 to 30 of chapter 2. I would like to read those verses and invite you to follow along in your Bible as I read what Paul writes.

He writes, “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore, I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”

Now I’ve entitled the message today Heart Check (we’re doing another little personal heart check): Epaphroditus, A Model of Empathy and Humility. Here is what I want you to do. I want you to actually ask yourself a question today before we look at these verses in more detail. Here is the question I want you to ask…What does God want me to learn today from the example of Epaphroditus? What does God want me to learn today from the example of  Epaphroditus? Then a little follow-up question…Am I open to hear what God might want to say to me from the example of Epaphroditus?

Now before we look at his model of empathy and humility, just a little bit of background reminder. You do remember that Paul is imprisoned in Rome. He is under house arrest. He is chained to Roman guards 24 hours a day. Philippi, a place where he had ministered previously, is some 800 miles away from Rome. That’s four to six weeks of travel to go from Rome to Philippi. Where Epaphroditus comes into all of this is really unpacked a little more for us in chapter 4, verse 18, of Philippians. We learn there as he is talking about how the Philippians was one of the churches that had supplied him with financial support in his ministry. What they had done is they had collected some money. They had decided to send it with Epaphroditus 800 miles…a four- to six-week journey…to Rome to the Apostle Paul.

You’ll notice he talks about that in verse 18. He says, “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent.” This financial gift, which he describes as “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” So Epaphroditus becomes involved with Paul because he was bringing this financial gift these 800 miles. He comes those 800 miles, and then he stays. He doesn’t just turn around and leave. He stays, and he ministers to the apostle Paul for an extended period of time in Rome.

So that’s just a little bit of background so we understand some of what is happening here. But as we look at these verses in Philippians 2, I want to deal with them. Rather than dealing with them chronologically, I want to deal with them thematically. I’m just going to pull these thoughts that are very clearly in these verses out. He is a model we say of number one, empathy. He is also a model of humility (Epaphroditus is), and we want to look at those two things.

First of all, he is a model of empathy. Now remember we are asking what God wants us to learn from him. He is a model of empathy. Epaphroditus had a heart for people and for their needs. As I look at this, I see two ingredients that are blended together that lead to this characteristic of empathy in his life. Those two ingredients are number one, selflessness and number two, willingness. Selflessness and willingness come together in Epaphroditus’ life to display empathy, having a heart for people and their needs. So I’m going to look at those two ingredients.

The first ingredient is the ingredient of selflessness. Now it’s very obvious he had to have that ingredient because he is willing to travel 800 miles. Four to six weeks out of your life given to bring a financial gift to the apostle Paul and to stay there and minister to the apostle Paul. You see, this was a whole lot more than this sense of, “Well, Epaphroditus, would you do this?” “Well, if it’s convenient I’ll do it. But six weeks out of my life just to go somewhere and travel on a rough road and be exposed to the elements and maybe be exposed to dangers on the way, now that’s a whole lot more different than just something that’s convenient.” In fact, it’s the idea of selflessness to the point it could cost you something. We see in verses 25 to 27, it actually costs Epaphroditus something. It says that he became sick. In fact, he was sick to the point of death. But God had mercy on him. Selflessness…a key, key ingredient in empathy.

I’ve heard this story before. Chuck Swindoll relates it. It’s a story of a six-year-old girl who became very deathly ill. She had this disease that was in danger of killing her. She needed a blood transfusion. The problem was she had a very rare blood type, and it was going to take a special person to be able to qualify for her to have this transfusion she needed. One of the things they discovered is that her brother who was nine years old actually qualified to give blood to her for this transfusion. But the family is thinking, You know, I don’t know that we want to ask a nine-year-old boy to do that. We’ll see if we can do something else. But they finally decided there really was no other alternative.

So they decided the doctor would come to the nine-year-old and talk to the boy. So he did. He said, “Son, I want to know. Would you be brave and be willing to donate blood for your sister?” He thought about it momentarily, and he said, “Sure. I’ll give blood for my sister.” So, they arranged a room. She was lying down, and then he laid down right next to her and looked over at his younger sister and smiled at her as they pricked his arm with a needle. Then he closed his eyes, and he just lay there silently while the transaction was happening.

After awhile, the physician comes back in, and he notices there are tears running down the cheeks of this nine-year-old brother. He basically says, “What’s going on?” The little boy looked at him, and he said, “Doctor, when do I die?” Suddenly the physician realized, Wait a minute! This little boy thought because he was giving blood to his sister it was going to cost him his life. After he assured him that wouldn’t happen, he did ask the boy this: “Why were you willing to risk your life for her?” He answered, “Because she is my sister, and I love her.” That’s selflessness, men and women.

We see that same kind of a spirit in the person of Epaphroditus. In fact, we see it in relationship to this sickness he has. I want you to notice what it says in verse 26. It says, “He was longing for you all, and he was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.” That word distressed is a very strong word. It only occurs three times in the New Testament. Two of those times are parallel passages in the Gospels…Matthew and Mark…describing the distress Jesus had in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the only other time that word has occurred. This is not distressed with a little d. This is distressed with a capital D. Epaphroditus was distressed…deeply distressed!

But there is a twist in the story there in verse 26. I don’t know if you noticed it when we read through it. It’s not what you would expect. He was distressed because “you had heard that he was sick.” He wasn’t distressed over his own illness; he was distressed because he knew the Philippians had gotten word that he was seriously ill. I mean, remember there is no email; there are no cell phones. It’s multiple weeks away for news to travel. Somehow the word had gone from Rome back to Philippi that Epaphroditus was ill. He is distressed because he knows that they know that he is sick. He was a heart guy. He is in anguish over their anguish about his illness. That’s selflessness, men and women. Think about that. He is deeply distressed because he is concerned that they’re so concerned about his situation. In fact, in verse 27, Paul says, “Indeed he was sick to the point of death.”

I heard a joke one time about what went on in a prayer meeting where a guy came up, and he said this. He said, “My wife’s mother is at death’s door. Will you please pray God would pull her through?” You know? “Wait a minute now! Maybe I ought to re-word that slightly.” But he was indeed sick to the point of death. The NIV says, “He almost died.”

Now as this whole idea of sickness comes up here in Philippians, chapter 2, it’s important we just do a little pause for a moment because we have to talk about a theological issue that relates to sickness that goes on in the Christian culture today. See, there are a lot of people running around out there in the Christian world. They would say things like this, “All sickness is of the devil. All for a believer in Jesus Christ,” they would say, “good health is a spiritual birthright. It is your right to be healthy. If you have enough faith, ” they might say, “you are guaranteed you will be healed from your sickness.”

We have people running around saying those things. Part of the problem is they forgot to tell Paul about this significant problem because if all sickness was of the devil and if good health is our spiritual birthright and if you can just have enough faith, you’re guaranteed that you ought to be healed, what was Paul’s problem? I mean, keep your finger here and look at Galatians, chapter 4, verse 14.

We learn from Galatians 4:14 that Paul himself was sick. He says to the believers in Galatia in verse 14, “And that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe.” Whatever he had was sort of something that would turn people off. It was a little repulsive. But he says, “You received me as an angel (a messenger) of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.” He said, “I was sick.” Well if it was all guaranteed…if it’s your birthright…if you just have enough faith…surely Paul would have enough faith to be healed.

We also know from 1 Timothy, chapter 5, verse 23 that Timothy was sick. One of these close companions of Paul. He doesn’t say to Timothy, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! All sickness is of the devil; good health is your spiritual birthright, Timothy. If you just had enough faith you would…” He doesn’t say that to him. He says, “What I want you to do is take a little wine for those stomach ailments you have.” Then another passage you can jot down…2 Timothy 4:20. Because another one of the compatriots of Paul, Trophimus, Paul says, “I had to leave him sick at Miletus. I had to leave him sick there.”

See, it’s not all sickness is of the devil, and good health is a spiritual birthright…if you just have enough faith, it’s guaranteed healing. No, Paul didn’t experience that. It’s not that Paul could heal whomever he wanted. Always healing in the Bible is subject to the will of God. It’s just important to realize that. But Epaphroditus, if he could have just healed him, he would have. But Epaphroditus was sick even to the point of death.

Notice again verse 27 back in Philippians 2. “For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” As the New Living Translation says, “…so that I would not have such unbearable sorrow.” You know, Paul was already under the pressure of being chained to Roman guards and not able to share the message of Christ and to go out and minister to people. He said, “It would have just been almost unbearable to have Epaphroditus die.”

I don’t know about you, but I just appreciate the transparency of Paul here. I appreciate his openness because, you see, life gets hard. Even spiritual leaders can experience deep concerns. So sometime when you’re going through situations and you have deep concerns and you’re concerned about the weight of some things you have to bear, don’t believe the message in your ear that you’re just being unspiritual because you have some things you have to bear and you have deep concerns because even Paul struggled with some of those things. He said, “God was merciful not only to Epaphroditus but also to me.”

When you look at Epaphroditus, I see selflessness there. I mean, can you imagine if you were Epaphroditus and you did this good deed of traveling your 800 miles to bring this financial gift, and then you’re staying there and you’re ministering to the apostle Paul, and you get sick? Seriously sick! I know what I can tend to be like when I’m sick. You know, it would be really easy to just wax on [go on]. “Oh, how tough this is for me as Epaphroditus. I am so sick! This is so bad! It’s so sad; it’s so terrible! Let me tell you just how sick I am. Let me tell you a little bit more about how sick I am. Let me tell you about how difficult this is that I’m this sick.”

He could have done that. I can see Epaphroditus wallowing in some self-pity. “Hey, wait a minute now! I traveled 800 miles four to six weeks over here to Rome, and I got seriously sick. We sent word back to Philippi, and I’m noticing nobody is coming over here to calm my spirit. Nobody from Philippi cares enough to show up to be able to pray for me or do anything for me. I mean, why do you not travel to check on me? I left there to represent you.” You see, he could have easily done that, but you don’t see that. You don’t see that at all. We’re to not only look out for our own interests but also for the interests of others. Epaphroditus is so concerned about the Philippians and their concern for him.

So we have this empathy modeled for us in Epaphroditus. One of the ingredients that formulated that empathy is selflessness. But there is another one I want you to see. That is willingness. This is a key ingredient in empathy…a willingness to take risks in serving others. Notice verse 30. Paul says, “…he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Now if you read the New American Standard, you might think that sounds like a little bit of a slam [put down] Paul gives to the Philippians, but not really. The idea, I think, is very clearly communicated in the New Living Translation when it says, “He did what you couldn’t do because you were far away.” But there was a willingness to take risks in serving others in Epaphroditus’ life.

Verse 30 says, “He was risking his life.” Very interesting verb here. It is a verb that means to gamble, to risk, to expose yourself to danger. That’s part of what was happening in that day when you made that long trip. They even stayed in an environment where there were legal questions and what might happen to Paul? Would Paul be executed? What would that mean for the people hanging around him? He was risking his life. If you put notes in your Bible here, this is the opposite. The opposite is playing it safe. Really what Paul was saying is, “He is not a play-it-safe guy. He is someone who gambles, who risks, and who will expose himself to danger.”

The commentators…many of them…J.B. Lightfoot, William Hendriksen…point out that in the early Church, among men and women, there was a group of people who came together called the parabolani. If I was just going to translate that word, it would be the word riskers. It actually comes from this verb right here in verse 30 about risking his life. The parabolani, a group of men and women who got together in the early Church years and called themselves the riskers. The riskers would often nurse sick people.

You say, “Well, okay. People do that today.” Well, listen…I’m telling you something. In those days, nursing someone who was sick was much more of a risk. Didn’t have all the medicines. Didn’t have all of the medical technology. Didn’t have antibiotics. So when you’re nursing the sick, you are taking a risk. Hendriksen says this about the parabolani. He says, “They ministered to the sick and to the imprisoned. They also saw to it that if someone was martyred…or even sometimes when their enemies would die…they would make sure (the riskers) they got an honorable burial.”

In the city of Carthage during the great pestilence of A.D. 252, a tremendous plague happened. Cyprian, who was the church bishop, showed remarkable courage in actually having great fidelity to his flock and even love for his enemies because he took upon himself the burden of wanting to care for the sick. He basically encouraged and exhorted his congregation to nurse the sick and then when they died, to bury the dead.

Now you have to understand that was an incredible contrast with the practice of most heathen people in that era who when they would have a corpse die, they would just quickly throw them outside of the walls of the city just into piles. Then they would often just run away in terror for fear of what might happen to them because they had touched a dead body. See, the idea is the riskers came along and said, “You know what? We’re going to tend to the sick. Even when people die, we’re going to give them a decent burial.”

Now if we could just be transparent for a moment, alright? Let’s be a hundred percent honest. For many of us when it comes to serving and ministering to other people, we want to play it safe. “Oh yeah. I’ll serve someone else as long as it’s not going to be too risky, you see, for me. Yeah, I might serve someone else as long as it doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable. I’ll serve someone else as long as it’s convenient. If it’s not convenient, well I don’t really think I have the time.” If we’re going to be transparent, we must admit that many of us play it safe. As I was studying this passage, I asked myself this question…Did Jesus play it safe? “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

I’ve shared some of this information before, but a number of months ago, we had someone who came to visit Wildwood who had committed a significant crime. As I interacted with him, I really sensed there was indeed deep repentance on his part and a desire to want to honor God despite the crime that had been committed. One of the things he said to me is, “I love coming to this church, but I want you to know something. If I come here, it might cost you something. If the word gets out in this community that I am here at Wildwood, well that’s a pretty big risk because you’re liable to catch a whole lot of flak [criticism] for that. So, I want you to really think twice about whether or not I ought to be coming here.”

You know, it would have been easy for me to say to him, “Be warm; be filled. Brother, let me pray that God leads you to a church family. Let me pray for you right now. ‘God, lead him somewhere…'” You know? I could have easily done that. Serving and ministering to him was going to mean some risk. It could affect our reputation in the community. But you know what? With the risk comes opportunity.

He is now serving in the Jess Dunn Correctional Facility with a group of other people who find themselves in that facility. You want to know something, folks? You want to talk about the forgotten people of society? It’s the people who are in a place like that. You know what they say? “We don’t know if anybody even cares about us at all.” You know, we put them in a building somewhere with all this security, and we just forget about them.

His presence there has led to a series of correspondence we have done and led to us getting Bible teaching materials into the correctional facility, led to us getting study Bibles for a number of the prisoners there. It’s going to turn out that more is going to come out of that in all likelihood. We’re now talking a little bit about (as a staff) doing some chapel services for them there. Now I want you to know something. It’s a long drive to Jess Dunn. If we do that, it’s not because it’s convenient, you know. “Let’s just take a little ten-minute drive over here and we’ll do…” No, it’s going to take some commitment.

Let me ask you this question. Just think about recently in your life…what needs have crossed your path? You know, what needs has God brought across your path? Do you have a willingness to take risks when it comes to ministering to some of the people God brings across your path?

I was talking to Luke Brown [a Wildwood member] at the baptism last week. He was just sharing with me. He is involved with our special needs ministry, the LifeShade Ministry here at Wildwood. He just said, “You know what? When I was first thinking about getting involved with special needs people, I was just so unsure. I was scared a little bit because I had never really related to special needs people.” There was a risk involved in him stepping out. But you know now that he has done that, he said, “It’s so encouraging to see how God can use me to encourage them.” Do you have a willingness to take risks to minister to other people?

He is a model of empathy (Epaphroditus), and you have that ingredient of selflessness and that ingredient of willingness to take risks in serving other people. But there is a second good characteristic he is a model for, for us, and that is he is a model of humility. He is a model of humility. Notice in verse 25 he describes Epaphroditus at the end there as “your messenger and minister to my need.” He was the messenger from Philippi to bring this financial gift over. You might be thinking, Well hey! That’s a privileged position. They collected this huge amount of money, and you get to take a huge amount of money all the way to the apostle Paul in Rome and present this huge amount of money. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be that messenger? Like that was some big glorious task.

I want to remind you that the church at Philippi was a very impoverished church. You can just look at the passage in 2 Corinthians 8:2 and 3 where it talks about the churches of Macedonia there, and that’s part of what the church of Philippi was involved with…that era and that area. It says Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8, “They gave out of their deep poverty.” Not just poverty but deep poverty. They had very little. He says, “They even gave beyond their ability.” It was amazing what they gave considering their deep poverty. So I want you to see when Epaphroditus brought this financial gift, it wasn’t some huge amount of money. Probably really wasn’t that much amount wise there. But what an incredible thing they were doing!

So, you know, you have Epaphroditus who wasn’t just thinking, I can’t wait till I show up with this amount of money for Paul. He is going to be so impressed. He was carrying a relatively small amount of funds as a messenger of the church. “He is your messenger, and he is a minister to my need.” Paul says, “He just helps meet the needs I have.”

When you look at Epaphroditus, you see someone who is a servant who has a humble outlook. You can study him. You’ll find Epaphroditus was never a lead shepherd. Epaphroditus was never a pioneer evangelist. Epaphroditus was never a public leader. He was a supportive guy. He is a guy who worked behind the scenes, if you would. He was one of those un-sung [unrecognized] heroes who is just wanting to serve other people.

But part of the problem in the Church is we just look at the people who are up front. We look at people like Greg Hill who leads worship. We look at people like Bruce Hess. We look at people like Mark Robinson [a Wildwood Pastor] or some of the other people. They’re the ones everyone says, “Well that’s what the church is all about. That’s what serving is all about.” We forget. No! The supportive, behind-the-scenes ministry is so vitally critical. The unseen heroes who are serving other people.

Keep your finger here. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians, chapter 12. I just want to look at a few verses here because in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul emphasizes everything has an important role in the body of Christ. He uses the analogy of the human body, but he is really picturing the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. In verse 14 he says, “There is in the body not one member, but many.” He says, “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.” Verse 17, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”

He says, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. …many members (verse 20), but one body.” Then notice verse 21. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you;’ or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” Key verse…verse 22…”On the contrary,” he says, “it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” The NIV says, “Those parts that seem weaker are indispensable.”

Men and women, it’s important to understand the supportive roles of ministry…behind-the-scenes roles…are very indispensable. I’m here to tell you that if we did not have people on the soundboard back there watching all those electronic elements, I couldn’t do what I do. The worship team really could not lead us in worship. We have people who serve behind the scenes in a lot of different ways. We have people who greet people when they come here. Do you know the studies show that most people formulate an opinion of a place within 30 seconds after having been there? Those people who greet people are vitally critical in that supportive role.

You might look at them and go, Well, they’re nothing. It’s the guy who is… Oh wait a minute now! Before they even get to hear anything, I have to say, they’re already formulating an opinion. Then you could add in all of our Sunday school teachers, all of our nursery workers and everything. Those supportive, behind-the-scene roles, those unsung heroes…very, very important role they play.

In fact, so much so as we see this humble serving Epaphroditus does that back in Philippians, chapter 2, I want you to notice what Paul says in verse 29. He says, “Receive Epaphroditus in the Lord with all joy.” Then he says this: “…and hold men like him in high regard.” By the way, he is not just talking about men here. In the original, it says literally this: “Hold such ones as Epaphroditus in high regard.” The NIV says, “Honor people like him.” “Behind the scenes, supportive ministry…honor people like that,” he says.

In fact, that’s exactly what Paul does practically back in verse 25. He is talking about Epaphroditus, and he calls him “my brother.” “Sure he is in a supportive role behind the scenes, but he is my brother. He is my spiritual brother. He is my fellow worker. What he does is a worthy work. He is my fellow soldier,” he says. Paul is basically saying, “We are spiritual warriors together.” Most people know who Paul is; very few people really knew who Epaphroditus was because he was functioning behind the scenes. But he says, “We’re spiritual warriors together. We’re shoulder-to-shoulder in this spiritual combat the ministry is all about.”

I want to ask you, if you serve behind the scenes in some ministry, if you serve in a supporting role, do you feel that way? Do you feel like you’re a spiritual warrior? That you are shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the rest of us in the spiritual combat we’re undergoing? Well, that’s reality. That’s true. You are! Just because it seems a little less important doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely necessary, you see. Who does God say we are to honor here? We’re to honor those who have the characteristic of empathy, selflessness, and a willingness to take risks. We’re to honor those who have humility, who are serving in supportive, behind-the-scenes roles.

You know, it’s just amazing what Paul does here. Think about this guy. He is tied to these Roman soldiers. He has tremendous needs. He has a lot of frustration. What does he do? He thinks about others as being more important than himself. So he takes Timothy, such a key player in his own personal life, and he sends Timothy to Philippi. Why? Because he was more concerned about their needs than he was his own. Then you have Epaphroditus who was serving Paul personally, and what does he do? He sends Epaphroditus back to Philippi considering their needs as more important than his own. He wanted the Philippians’ needs to be met, so he said, “Even though I could use Timothy and Epaphroditus here, I’m sending them back to you.” These are concrete examples, men and women, of having the same attitude Jesus Christ had, that it is a privilege to serve other people.

Now, having looked at these verses, I want to talk about some life response we could have coming out of this message. I want to share with you three thoughts I have, so you might want to jot these down. Three thoughts…

1. Are you a risk taker, or do you just play it safe? Are you a risk taker, or do you just play it safe? I would say it’s worthy of taking a little look at Jesus. You’ll notice that when He served, it cost Him something. Are you a risk taker, or do you just play it safe?

Second thought I have is this…

2. Don’t let fear hold you back. Don’t let fear hold you back. This is part of what I experienced. I don’t know if all of you experience this, but sometimes I just feel like I am assaulted by needs. There are needs, needs, needs everywhere. Sometimes there are needs that go on right inside of the church or there are other needs going on around the country, and I just get assaulted by needs. Sometimes what happens to us when we’re assaulted by needs is we end up being paralyzed, and we do nothing. We’re intimidated, and we’re overwhelmed by all of the needs. We say, “I can’t meet all those needs.” You know what? That’s true. But we can meet some of them.

So don’t let fear hold you back. Sometimes it’s a fear of risk because it’s unknown what might happen. I remember when we first went to Latvia in 1990. There was a fear of even physical harm, what might happen to us when we went. But oh, did God send us on a journey that led to great opportunity for ministry! It may cost you something, but don’t let fear hold you back.

Then the third thought I have is this…

3. Honor someone behind the scenes. Honor someone. Paul says, “Hold those kind of people up in high regard.” Honor someone behind the scenes. That might mean you just send a note to somebody who you know is ministering behind the scenes in a supportive role. Maybe you send them an email. Maybe you take them out for a meal. Maybe you have them over to your home for a meal, and you just say, “I just want to thank you for the ministry you do.” Or maybe you even get them a small gift of thanks. Oh, to be people who are more concerned about others than we are about ourselves and looking out not only for our own interests but also for the interests of others just like Jesus, just like Paul, just like Timothy, and just like Epaphroditus.

Let’s pray together. Father, we thank You again for this living Book we have, the Bible. How real it is! Sometimes it makes my skin tingle it’s just so alive. Father, we thank You that You have called us to have an impact on the most important commodity in all of the world and that is people. May we be like Jesus and Paul and Timothy and Epaphroditus. May we be men and women who really consider others as more important than ourselves. What would this world look like if we were that way consistently? It’s awesome to even think about.

We pray that no matter what happens and how we work this out in our lives, we want Jesus Christ to be honored. We want Him to be lifted up. We want Him to be the One who gets the glory and the honor because it’s really all about Him. Thank You for the opportunity we have to honor Him. We thank You in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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