“A NEW FRIENDSHIP”

PHILIPPIANS 2:19-30

MAY 31, 2009

 

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            Having a five year old grandchild, Trudy and I end up seeing movies we would not necessarily choose to see on our own.  One such movie was Wall-E, a story about a lonely robot who for 700 years has been cleaning up the trash left behind by humans on an abandoned planet.  Wall•E stands for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter–Earth class."   While we are never told so, it is likely that Wall•E is the last operating robot on the planet.

            Wall•E’s “home” consists of an old storage building on the outskirts of the city.  Wall•E uses the space to store the various trinkets and interesting objects he finds while organizing piles of trash all day long.  Once home, Wall•E pops a battered copy of Hello Dolly into an old VCR.  As the movie plays in the background, he begins adding new trinkets to his collection.  They include a shiny hubcap, a Rubik's cube, a Zippo lighter, and a spork.  Wall•E humorously can't decide whether he should place it with his collection of spoons or his collection of forks.

            He begins to start another task, but is suddenly captured by what is occurring in the film.  On the screen, a man and a woman are walking through a park, singing to each other.  If you are married, I’m sure you have done that countless times with your spouse, walking and singing to each other while strolling through a park.  In fact, Trudy and I are planning to do that later this afternoon.  Anyway,  it's a moment filled with romance, and the words of the song resonate deeply with Wall•E.  He presses a button on his chest to record them as they sing, "It only took a moment / To be loved a whole life long."

            As they sing, their voices harmonizing together, the man and the woman also join hands.  When they finish, Wall•E looks at his left "hand," then his right, and slowly brings them together imitating what he has just seen on the screen.

            The message conveyed by the filmmakers is both powerful and biblical: It is not good for anyone to be alone.

            No one could ever accuse the Apostle Paul of being alone.  His life was filled with people, and not just people, close friends.  We meet two of them this morning, one a long-time friend, another a new friend.

            You may have met his long-time friend, Timothy, once or twice before.   Paul and Timothy go way back, to Paul’s second missionary journey.  Timothy came from a mixed marriage, his mother was a Jew and his father was Greek, and Timothy was probably trained and educated in Greek ways more than Jewish ways, given the fact that when Paul met him, Timothy was uncircumcised.  While traveling through Lystra on his second missionary journey, Paul met Timothy, and asked Timothy to join Silas and him for the rest of their missionary tour.  Timothy agreed and over the years Paul and Timothy became very, very close.  Paul saw Timothy as the son he never had, and Timothy was with Paul everywhere he went: Corinth, Thessalonica, Berea, Ephesus, Rome, and here in Philippi.  As we pick up the action this morning, Paul intends to send Timothy to the Philippians since he, Paul, could not go himself.  Paul, however, is waiting for one event to take place before sending Timothy to them.  Look with me at verse 23.

 

            I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

 

            Paul is waiting to see what happens at his appearance before the Roman tribunal.  As soon as the Roman gavel falls in declaration of freedom or death, he will send Timothy.  Of course, if he gains his freedom, he, himself will come with Timothy, or come on the heels of Timothy’s visit.

            The other friend we meet this morning, his relatively new friend Epaphroditus, is probably unfamiliar to us.  Now, take a close look at his name.  His name suggests that his parents had devoted him to the service of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, but somewhere along the way, probably when Paul had come to visit Philippi previously, Epaphroditus turned his back on Aphrodite and embraced Christ.

            Now what brought Ephaprhoditus to Rome, and to Paul specifically, is interesting.  At least, I think it’s interesting.  Timothy and Paul have been traveling companions now for twelve years, but Epaphroditus and Paul have been together for only a few weeks, or possibly a few months.  When the Philippians heard that their good friend Paul was in prison in Rome, their hearts went out to him.  They wanted to help, so they sent Epaphroditus to Paul with a gift of money, a collection they had taken up for him ... maybe out of their “We Care” fund ... to help Paul with his expenses while in prison.  Furthermore, not only did they intend for Epaphroditus to be the bearer of their gift, but they also intended him to stay in Rome to be Paul’s personal servant and attendant. 

            Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became ill while there, and he almost died.  Maybe he got the swine flu on the way to visit Paul, we don’t know the exact nature of his ailment, but more likely he came down with the notorious Roman fever which sometimes swept through the city.  Eventually, however, Epaphroditus recovered and Paul sent him back to Philippi with the letter we are reading this morning.  If Epaphroditus had not made it back safely to Philippi, in all probability we would not be reading this letter today.  Epaphroditus hand carried this document to them.

            There was one major problem, however, with Epaphroditus’ return to Philippi: the problem of a failed mission!  The Philippian church had sent Epaphroditus to stay with Paul, and if Epaphroditus came back home, some might say he was a quitter.  Some in the church might whisper, “I know we should have sent someone else.”  Some would say, “We sent him to help and he became a burden.”  Some might say, “I wonder if he really was sick or just homesick or scared.”   So, Paul includes in this letter a little testimonial to Epaphroditus in order to silence any of Epaphroditus’ possible critics.  Let’s take a closer look at this little testimonial to him.  Verse 25 ...

 

            Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus ...

 

            The Philippians wanted him to stay.  Epaphroditus probably wanted to stay, but Paul decides to send him back.  Why?  Well, reading between the liines, a three reasons come to mind.  First, he was concerned about Epaphroditus state of health.  It would make Paul less anxious if he didn’t have to worry about Epaphroditus suffering a relapse of his illness.  Second, he was concerned about Epaphroditus state of mind.  It would make Paul less anxious if he did not have to concern himself with the Philippians’ concern for Epaphroditus and Epaphroditus concern for the Philippians.   Third, he feared guilt by association.  He feared that the Romans might throw Epaphroditus in prison for associating with him.  So he decides it best to send him home.  Let’s continue on,

 

            Still, I think it necessary to send to you Ephaphroditus, my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister in my need;  for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.  He was indeed so ill that he nearly died.  But God had mercy on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.  I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.  Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the services you could not give me.

 

            OK, let’s take a look at Paul’s little testimonial to Epaphroditus.  He begins by calling him “my brother, and co-worker and fellow soldier.”  One commentator put it this way: Epaphroditus was one with Paul in sympathy, one with him in work, and one with him in danger.  Then he goes on to use two other words for Epaphroditus.  He says that he is my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, and he is “your messenger and minister in my need.”  I want to focus our attention on these last two descriptors ... messenger and minister.  Those two words are filled with meaning.

            The word Paul uses for messenger is actually the word apostolos, the Greek word for apostle.  And true the word apostolos literally means “anyone who is sent out on an errand,” and true our bible translates that word as messenger, but it could have easily have translated the word more literally as “apostle.”  Furthermore, in 64 AD this was a significant word in Christian circles and Christian usage consecrated and enobled the word, so by using it, Paul by implication, ranks Epaphroditus with himself, with the very spiritual elite of the faith.  Paul not only used the word apostolos to describe himself, but he uses it here to describe Epaphroditus.  The implication is clear.  If Paul held Epaphroditus in such high esteem the Philippians should as well.

            The other word Paul uses to describe him is the word “minister.”  I don’t want to get overly technical here, but the word in the Greek is leitourgos.  In secular Greek it was a magnificent word.  In ancient days there were individuals in Greek cities who, because they loved their city so much, out of their own pockets they bankrolled great civic projects.  They bankrolled the costs of an embassy, or the cost of putting on a great drama, or the cost of training athletes who would represent the city in the games, or the cost of outfitting a warship.  Imagine such a person here in Bellevue, volunteering to underwrite the cost of the new Omaha Royals stadium.  That generous person would be known as leitourgos. 

            Paul applies that word to Epaphroditus.  He takes the great Christian word apostolos and the great Greek word leitourgos, and applies them to Epaphroditus.  He says, “Give a man like that a welcome home.”  He says, “Hold such a man in honor, for a man like that hazarded his life for Christ.”

            I want us to note something about the Apostle Paul.  I want us to note one of the reasons Paul had so many friends, and why people like the Philippians loved Paul so very much.  I think of the words of Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People.    He writes ...

 

            You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.[1]

 

            Here’s Paul.  In prison, awaiting possible execution, and who is he concerned about?  He’s concerned about Epaphroditus and how he will be received when he arrives back home.  So he writes to grease the wheels for Epaphroditus’ return.  No wonder the Apostle Paul had so many friends.  The first mark of Christian friendship is a genuine love for other people.  Those who seek friends in order to satisfy a selfish requirement will never keep them.  Friendship comes through a genuine interest in other people.

            A New York telephone company made a detailed study of telephone conversations to find out which word was the most frequently used.  They found it was the personal pronoun “I.”  It was used 3,990 times in five hundred telephone conversations. 

            The Apostle Paul’s favorite word was “you.”  How can I help you?  How are you doing?  No wonder he had so many friends.

           

 

 

 

           

 

           

           

           

 



[1] Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Cedar Press, 1953), p. 73.