After that great hymn, Paul talked a lot about the work that all believers should do in the Lord and he mentioned two of the workers who had the right attitude about that work: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was like a son to Paul and had the right attitude about God’s work. Epaphroditus was from the Philippian church and put himself in danger to serve Paul on their behalf. If we do it right, there’s no more dangerous job than working for the Lord in His way. Whether it be estrangement from friends and family, dealing with strange illnesses in strange (to us) lands, or facing death or imprisonment in areas where Christians are persecuted, there is no such thing as safe work for the Lord.
- Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
If you know the word “wherefore” then you’ve probably read Shakespeare, or at least heard someone repeat Juliet asking, “wherefore art thou, Romeo?” It surprised me to learn that this word meant “why” and not “where.” The NIV uses the word “therefore” and I think both words, if we were to break them down into simpler English, mean “that’s why.” “That” of course being everything mentioned in the hymn and before about God’s love, Jesus’s humility, sacrifice, and victory over death. “That’s why” the believers in Philippi, his beloved friends, needed to obey God not only when Paul was there, but also when he was absent – especially when he was in prison. It would be easy for the Philippians to get discouraged and give up because Paul was in prison. Paul exhorted them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
I have problems with that phrase, because it implies that our salvation depends on our own actions and we can’t really be sure if we’re in a relationship with God. “We hope God will give us salvation, if we do enough good things.” A.T. Robertson deals with this issue in a great way: “Paul has no sympathy with a cold and dead orthodoxy or formalism that knows nothing of struggle and growth. He exhorts as if he were an Arminian in addressing men. He prays as if he were a Calvinist in addressing God and feels no inconsistency in the two attitudes. Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both.” In truth, as we read verse 13, we realize that Paul still understood that God was in charge.
- For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
If we combine the truth of verse 13 with the concerns of verse 12 we realize that Paul was teaching about the changed lives that come about because of a relationship with God through Jesus. “Work out your salvation…[knowing that] God alone causes you to want and to do what He wants.” God is the energizing force behind our desires to do the right thing. God gives us the energy, the strength to actually do the right thing. As Martin Luther wrote in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress,” “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” We want to do the right thing, because God works in us to will, to want to do the right thing. We’re able to do the right thing because God gives us the strength to do what He desires.
- Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15. That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16. Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
I don’t think Paul was referencing the story in this passage, but I can’t help but wonder if, in the back of his mind, he was thinking about the Hebrew people leaving Egypt and heading to the Promised Land here. If not, they’re a good example of why we should do what God has called us to do without murmuring and without arguing about it. When people grumble and whisper their complaints to their friends; when the audience for those complaints grows and influences more people, dissension becomes the rule of the day. That’s exactly what happened during the exodus. That’s a pretty good description of our world today.
Christians, meanwhile, are called to avoid the attitude that produces murmuring and disputing so that our witness to the world is unblemished. If we want to be honest, we, as Christians, can find a lot to grumble about as the world, our nation, even our own family members drift away from the Lord. After many years of trying the murmuring and complaining side of the solution, and realizing that my complaints didn’t make a difference, I decided that I needed to take a different approach. I need to focus on the love for people that God has. I need to focus on the truth about why Jesus came to die – God’s love for all people, instead of worrying about the truth of why Jesus had to die – to pay the penalty for sin. It may seem like a fine distinction, but it’s an important one. We need to love the people God loved (e.g. John 3:16) the way God loves them. We should be so blameless in this crooked world that the worst thing people could say about us is that we love people too much. In a dark world of sin, we should be the light of God’s love. One way we show that is by telling others about what He did on the cross for them.
The message of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a message of life for our world. It’s light in the midst of darkness. It’s grace and forgiveness in a world that seeks to get even. Paul urged the Philippians to stay true to this message and he made it personal: he could rejoice in their faithfulness at the end of times knowing that all his work hadn’t been in vain. I think that Paul understood the Philippians and that they’d do anything for his approval. (Knowing that “anything” would never include disgracing the name of Christ.) His personal appeal here reminds me of the heart of a teacher who sees their former students succeeding in life. They smile and think, “All that trouble was worth it.” At the same time, hearing about a former student who runs into trouble causes teachers pain. Paul wanted the Philippians to bring him joy by their lives, knowing that the only way they could do that would be if they were faithful in their service to God.
- Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all. 18. For the same cause also do ye joy, and rejoice with me.
When Paul talks about being offered here, he uses the wording of the pouring of the blood of the sacrifice on the altar. In modern terms, we might say, I poured out my heart and my soul into the work for you, just as you did for me. And it was worth it for both of us as we experienced such great joy in working together. Paul’s work was an example to the Philippians, who took up his challenge and followed and obeyed Christ together with him. There’s so much more joy when God’s people work together than when anyone tries to work alone. This probably isn’t Paul’s meaning, but I think we can understand that we, as Christians, are called to live and work in community. When we do, we encourage each other to do far more than we thought we could, and we experience joy in the fellowship we share as we work together.
- But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state.
One of the characteristics of those who follow Christ is that they’re concerned about the welfare of others, especially their brothers and sisters in the Lord. As Paul sat in prison, no one would have blamed him if he had talked about his own problems. Paul never sang the blues, though, and this verse is a great example showing his concern for the Philippian Church. He sent Timothy to encourage and check on them. Paul might have been in prison, but if he got a good report from Timothy, which he expected, it would bring far more comfort than hearing the gossip about the church – even if everything said about it was good. Paul had no worries for his own fate, but he was anxious to hear everything he could about the Philippians.
- For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. 21. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. 22. But ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel.
As we read these verses, it seems like Paul is winding this letter down. If that’s what you think is happening, let me give you a spoiler alert: Chapter 3. Meanwhile, Paul commended Timothy because no one else shared the same thoughts and attitudes about the gospel and the Philippian Church. He knew that Timothy was genuinely concerned about their welfare without ulterior motives. On the other hand, others around Paul seem to have had their own interests at heart. (Think about those preaching the gospel out of bad motives because Paul was in prison.) Timothy was more than a close friend; he was like a son. You will often see that the word “son” is used to describe someone who is so like their father in nature that they are the same as the father. (e.g. Jesus is God the Son.) Paul sent Timothy to the Philippians as an extension of sending himself, and they understood that there was almost no difference.
- Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me. 24. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.
It seems that Paul sent the letter ahead of Timothy, so that the Philippians could understand some of what he was going through and his concern for them, and that Timothy would follow when he got information about the final outcome: release, more imprisonment, or execution. (Of course, it gave them a chance to clean up the house, so to speak, before Timothy got there.) Paul had faith that he would be released from his imprisonment as can be seen when he noted that he expected to be able to show up soon. His faith wasn’t in the Roman system of law, though he knew he was innocent of any crime, his faith was in the Lord and that faith was the center of his life.
- Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. 26. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. 27. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. 29. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: 30. Because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.
In addition to Timothy, Paul was sending Epaphroditus back to the Philippian church. It appears that they had sent him as a messenger from the church who had the job of caring for Paul while he was in prison. Paul praised him as a brother, a fellow worker in the gospel and a soldier in the work. I can’t help but wonder that there were some in Philippi who might have wondered why Paul was sending Epaphroditus back before his work was finished. My understanding, of course, being that he was sent to minister to Paul while he was in prison, and Paul was sending Epaphroditus back before he was released. Paul noted that Epaphroditus was worried because some in the church had heard that he was sick and wanted to reassure them himself that he was ok. Paul noted that he was so sick that he was close to death, but that God had mercy on both of them: Epaphroditus because he recovered, Paul because no sorrow was added to his prison stay.
Paul urged the church to welcome Epaphroditus back with rejoicing as they saw proof that he was well again. For those that might be reticent, perhaps even talking about Epaphroditus failing in his mission, Paul reminded them to receive him with gladness in the Lord, and see him not as “a quitter” but as a servant who risked his life for the Lord. He put himself in harm’s way to represent the church and provide for his needs when they couldn’t. While they all provided financial support of one kind or another, Epaphroditus risked his health and life to be there as their representative.
These will be my daily readings next week: