Devotion from Pastor Steve

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

One of the most continually surprising things to me about God is that He really plans to use us, imperfect as we are, as His partners in redeeming the world. You do not have to be perfect to be part of God’s plan. You do have to be courageous and faithful.

In the middle of a beautiful word of theology, Paul shifts to autobiography. Even the scholars admit it is a little unusual to have traveling data in middle of argument, but this word is more than merely informational. Paul is citing persons who were otherwise unknown and unknowable, and who were selfless in their service. Who were they?

Timothy is Paul’s most trusted and most tenured partner in ministry. Acts 16 tells us his backstory. He grew up in Lystra in a family with a Roman, Gentile father and a Christian mother. Paul calls Timothy his son in the ministry, that means Paul led Timothy to faith in Christ. Paul was like a second father to him (sometimes that happens when you have a great father and now have two, or sometimes that happens when your experience of fatherhood needs to be redeemed. We do not know which this is). What we do know is the next best thing to having Paul come was to have Paul send Timothy. They thought the same way and were committed to the same things. Timothy has been called the patron saint for those who are comfortable living in second place. He was content to serve with and under Paul. He did not have to be the chief to understand he had worth and value. There is an incredible contentment that comes from knowing your worth comes from your being rather than your doing. That contentment seemed to be Timothy’s.

Epaphroditus carried the letter from Paul to the Philippians. He was a convert to Christianity who was a member of the congregation in Philippi. The congregation had sent him to care for Paul in his imprisonment, entrusting him also with a financial offering to help pay for the costs of that imprisonment. He undertook the dangerous journey to Rome so he could be the embodiment of the church’s love, care, and provision. If you have ever been in a mess and had a familiar, loving face appear at the door, then you know what Epaphroditus looked like. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus got sick when he got to Paul; the one who would be caregiver, needed caretaking. So, the congregation worried not only about Paul but also about Epaphroditus. Paul assured them that Epaphroditus had indeed been faithful to his task and reinforced the word by sending Timothy with him.

Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Paul were just people--an apostle in jail, a junior minister-in-training, and a good deacon who got sick on a mission trip. Just people. People who were doing their level best to do what God wanted them to do. Their ministries were quiet: helping someone else in need, carrying a word from one place to another, bearing one another’s burdens. As Paul counseled (2:5), these were people who had the mind of Christ. They were the opposite of people who “seek their own things.”
History does not remember “those who seek their own things.” But 2,000 years later we know Timothy and Epaphroditus because their quiet acts of service were woven by God into the Gospel work of redeeming the world. Some people still name their sons Timothy (Epaphroditus has had a long dry spell); one of my sons-in-the-ministry is a Timothy.

All that to say, in these pandemic days when perhaps you have felt overlooked or underused, God has not missed or forgotten each small act of care, each generous act of giving, each gratitude-filled act of caregiving. And God is weaving those acts into the Gospel work of redeeming the world.