I want to be in one of St. Paul’s churches! I want to be in a church where joy in Christ is found. I want to be in a church where members consider themselves ministers of the mysteries of God and who boldly assert that, “For me to live is Christ!” I want to be in a church where members lay down their lives for the good of others and make the choice to sacrifice their own good for the good of their brothers and sisters. I want to be in a church where members sincerely care for the state of each member and who minister to each other’s needs on a daily basis.
But to be in such a church, I have to be such a member of the local church where God is calling me. I cannot hope to be part of such a church if I myself am not such a member. And so I want all of these things for myself: joy in Christ, a serious sense of my high calling in Christ, bowels of compassion, a life of sacrifice, a love that spontaneously and zealously seeks out the good of others, and an intimate sense of Jesus Christ dwelling in me as I see Him working in His body.
Since it is no longer possible to be a part of St. Paul’s church, I want to press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ at Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church in Tyler, Texas. As much as is possible within me, I want to labor diligently to pastor a church that lives the way that St. Paul and his churches seemed to live. I want to be able to say at Good Shepherd that this is a church that lives for Jesus Christ and works out its salvation together with fear and trembling so that even the angels are instructed.
On the one hand, I don’t want any of you to be discouraged and think only of how great the pastors and the Christians were back in St. Paul’s day compared to our own. Whenever you feel the temptation to think that you are more unworthy and unprofitable as a servant than any Christian of the first century, go back and read I Corinthians and see the sins in the church that Paul had to deal with.
On the other hand, I do want all of you to be encouraged by the godly examples of Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. The same Jesus Christ who lived in them, and for whom they lived, is the one who lives in you. The same Holy Spirit that inspired them to love one another with the love of Christ and to sacrifice their lives for Christ is at work in each of you. The difference, therefore, may be not so much in the degree of God’s grace that we receive but in how we have received it.
If I had to summarize the secret of God’s blessings on Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians as contained in this passage, I would say that it was this: that these godly examples sought not their own things but the things of Jesus Christ (verse 21.) In fact, verse 21 is a good reminder of how imperfect some Christians were in Paul’s day, that “golden age” of Christianity that every one is looking for. What Paul says is not that he is surrounded with Timothys and Epaphrodituses (or is the plural “Epaphroditi”?), but that, “all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.”
But I want to be in a church, I want to help create a church, where the members seek not their own things but the things of Christ Jesus and do this by seeking the things of the people Jesus Christ has given them. I want to create such a church by first being such a person. I want to follow St. Timothy in his ministry.
Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians. But he didn’t want to send him because he was such a great preacher, because he was such an outgoing and charismatic personality, or because he was a capable administrator and had experience in running a large church. Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians because he will sincerely care for the state of the Philippians (verse 20.) Paul eagerly desired to know the state, the spiritual condition (by which I mean all of life), of the Philippians. And so he wanted to send Timothy who would not only report back to Paul but would care for the state of the Philippians.
Timothy is one who Paul could trust to not seek his own things but the things of Christ by seeking the good of the Philippians. As Paul wanted to remain on the earth because it was needful for the good of the Philippians, so Timothy sought the things of Christ by seeking the good of the Philippians.
If you want to seek the things of Christ, then seek to serve Him in the people He has put in your life – especially those in your local church.
I want to be in a church with St. Epaphroditus as well. It’s easy to neglect Epaphroditus when Paul and Timothy are around, but here is an “ordinary” Christian who Paul found to be extraordinary. Epaphroditus is another example of the love and zealous longing for one another that I hope is at Good Shepherd and which I am often privileged to see there. Epaphroditus longed to see the Philippians (26), just as Paul did in chapter 1, verse 8. Epaphroditus loved them so much that even though he was the one who was sick, he was distressed because the Philippians had heard he was sick, and he didn’t want to be a burden to them!
Epaphroditus is another saint who did not seek his own things but the things of Christ by seeking the good of others. For the work of Christ, he “came close to death, not regarding his life” (30.)
Hmmmm. Didn’t I just hear somewhere something like, “This is love: to lay down your life for another”? This is exactly what Epaphroditus did for the sake of Jesus Christ, by serving the saints. And it is exactly what God is calling you to do this morning.
It would be easy to read what Paul says and what I have just written, to finish the dregs of your morning coffee and get on with the rest of the day and immediately forget what Jesus Christ has just called you to do. But He is calling you, at the very moment of your reading this, to lay down your life for Him as He laid it down for you. He is calling you to sincerely care for the state of the brothers and sisters in Christ that He Himself has given to you. He is calling you to not regard your own life too highly, so that you may minister to Him by ministering to His Church.
But don’t think of this life of love and service as one of drudgery and the extinction of joy. Who was more joyful than Jesus, Paul, and Epaphroditus, the very people who gave up their lives for others?
What joy Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians must have had whenever they got together! I want to be at their reunions and celebrate with them (I guess I’ll get that chance in heaven!) I want to be in a church where the people continue daily with one accord in the temple and break bread from house to house, eating their food with gladness and simplicity of heart (Acts 2:46.) (For those of you who are St. Chrys, you’ll know how richly God has blessed us to the degree that we do this every week in our agape feasts!)
Don’t look to the 1st century church or some other age as the golden age of Christianity which is lost and shall never be found again. We are in the golden age of Christianity because Jesus Christ is with us, if we are with Him. And Jesus Christ has offered to us all of His things which He offered to Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the Philippians: joy in Christ, a serious sense of the high calling in Christ, bowels of compassion, a life of sacrifice, a love that spontaneously and zealously seeks out the good of others, and an intimate sense of Jesus Christ dwelling in us as we see Him working in His body.
Guess what? I’m in Paul’s church, after all, because I’m in the Church of Jesus Christ, his Lord and mine. And so are you.
Prayer: Father, thank You for giving to Your Church many faithful sons and daughters to follow the godly examples of Sts. Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus. Make me such a saint by giving to me the mind which was in Your Son and the Spirit of humility and love. Increase my joy as I learn to serve You more perfectly by serving those You have given to me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- If your local church were filled with members like you, what kind of church would it be?
- What is the one thing that you know God is asking you to do to more faithfully serve Him by caring about someone around you?
- Meditate on one godly example of a saint you know who has sincerely cared for the state of others. Hold this person in esteem. How can you labor to follow his or her godly example?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today to sincerely care for the state of a brother or sister in Christ by giving up myself for his or her good.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day