In last week’s sermon we looked at Philippians 2: 19-30, where Paul speaks of plans regarding his colleagues Timothy and Epaphroditus visiting the Philippian church. We said that these two paragraphs, and other similar passages, while not conveying much direct instruction for the church, are a window through which we can observe the culture – mood, assumptions, stories, personalities, temperature, stances – of gospel work. We then can mull over how we measure up or fall short.
I made five observations from this passage: 1) the importance of physical presence; 2) the importance of keeping up with believers; 3) the importance of examples…and the kind of church practices that allows for examples; 4) the depth of engagement.
And then the fifth observation we had time only to state: the observation of the conspicuous presence of Jesus. Here is how I set that up:
Well, all this talk of deliberate interaction, close relationships, taking risks with people – this could all go weird pretty fast. From the outside, looking in, perhaps it already is weird. Truly, this “gospel vibe” could go too far, become something like a cult, where people have to give up any sense of privacy, personal space and property. Our last observation is what keeps things orderly, what makes this Gospel vibe work: Notice the conspicuous presence of Jesus Christ.
Today I’d like to drill down on the vital point that church life, gospel work…Christianity…depends on a growing awareness of the life and presence and will of our Lord. A shocking, dismaying fact is that Christians, followers of Jesus, can go through periods, even extended periods, of not remembering Jesus Christ.
Lucia read the passage this morning: Remember Jesus Christ.
Oh yeah…the Savior of the world!
Here, Paul sets an example by not forgetting Jesus Christ. In these two paragraphs that ostensibly are travel plans, he mentions our Lord Jesus five times. Let’s look at each of those mentions:
v. 19 – I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon. Now Paul, in prison, was writing on either dried animal skins (parchment) or the stem of a plant (papyrus). Materials were costly; writing was laborious. The fewer words, the better. So why not “I hope to send Timothy to you soon”? What difference does it make “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon” ?
Paul is stressing this fact: his consideration of the future, his planning, had this complication: it ran through the Lord Jesus Christ. What he thought about the future was colored strongly by what his understanding about Jesus Christ.
v. 20-21 – I have no one like [Timothy], who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. If you read that carefully and think a little, Paul is equating your welfare with the interests or preoccupation of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has a concern, and that concern has much to do with the welfare of His people.
So, as Paul is writing about Timothy and Epaphroditus’ schedules and plans, something is obvious to Paul. Behind their movements to and from the Philippians is the intention of Jesus Christ to care for His people. To care for their practical needs, for their so-called “spiritual needs,” but also for their mental states, as v 28 makes clear.
Some might just see Timothy and Epaphroditus moving from a to b: Paul sees through them to Jesus.
v. 24 – …I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. Especially in reading Paul’s letters, we need to fight against a half-formed idea: that throughout Paul sprinkled references to Jesus Christ haphazardly. He wrote what he wanted to say and then backfilled with “in Christ,” “in the Lord.”
No, no! Every time he wrote “in Christ” or “in the Lord” it was deliberate. Every time we come upon these phrases we’re supposed to pause and work through them.
Perhaps you’ve been in a city that has installed walkways throughout parks and every two miles or so there is an exercise station of pull-up bars, an elliptical machine, lat pull-downs etc. You’re invited to stop and do some extra exercise. That’s how these “in Christ,” “in the Lord” phrases function. Pause: think through what difference Christ makes.
So, yes: those references to Christ reflected something specific; here, that as he considered whether he would make it back to his brothers and sisters in Philippi, it was from what he knew of the Lord he believed that he would return. That is, his trust that he’d be released from jail and have the wherewithal to travel the many miles to Philippi wasn’t a gut feeling. This wasn’t Paul choosing to be optimistic, just because. Because of something that was true of the Lord, Paul thought it likely he’d be in Philippi shortly. The Lord Jesus shaped Paul’s assumptions and projections about the future.
V. 29 – So receive [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men…. Epaphroditus will soon be showing up to a gathering of the Philippianchurch. As the church imagines that reunion (remember he was a member of that church who had been sent to help Paul), they are to deliberately bring the Lord Jesus Christ into their imagination.
As each one considers how warmly he or she will welcome Epaphroditus – will it be a muted response, a professional greeting – the Lord is to be considered. It’s not spelled out exactly what that means: a) Receive Epaphroditus with the same enthusiasm with which you would receive the Lord; b) Receive Epaphroditus recalling his labor to the Lord; c) Receive Epaphroditus remembering what the Lord Jesus has done for him, including recovered his health; d) Receive Epaphroditus in the same way the Lord has received and welcomed you…
Which one? Perhaps all. But what can’t happen is that Epaphroditus shows up, he’s greeted, there’s an official welcome back, perhaps there’s a cake or a whole meal…yet in all the hubbub no one ever remembers the connection to Jesus Christ. In transitions, in passages, in new situations, in introductions, in re-introductions, remember Jesus Christ.
V. 30 – …for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. This is the fifth time Paul mentions the Lord Jesus Christ in these 14 lines (in my copy of the Scriptures). He refers to Epaphroditus’ work as the work of Christ.
What does he mean: Is this work in behalf of Christ? Or work that Christ is doing through Epaphroditus?
Or – and this is where I would land – it’s a general phrase to describe both aspects. Work in behalf of Christ is also always work that Christ is doing. Isn’t that what Paul has just intimated a few lines up in Philippians 2:13? The work that we do for God is sourced in God’s work in us. We’re never the originator of anything good. Every good gift comes down from God…including the good gift of working in the mission of Christ.
What kind of work was Epaphroditus doing as he did the work of Christ? From v. 25 we see that he was [the Philippian church’s] messenger [to Paul] and he ministered to [Paul’s] need. Let’s look down in the letter to 4:14-18:
4 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
So, in behalf of the Philippian congregation, Epaphroditus traveled to Paul laden with supplies for Paul in prison: underwear, socks, other clothes, books, writing materials, money to buy food. Depending on whether Paul wrote from prison in Rome or Ephesus, Epaphroditus traveled either approx. 850 miles (across the Adriatic) or approx. 420 miles. Because of robbers and unreliable transportation, travelling those days was always a little dicey. Once arriving to the city of Paul’s imprisonment, there’s the ordeal – probably a humiliating ordeal – of securing visitation rights. Then, once the money runs out, does Epaphroditus take up temporary work to support himself and Paul while in prison? I would think.
How did this ministry to Paul interrupt Epaphroditus’ career, his life? How much span of his life was cut off after becoming dangerously ill? What was the emotional toll? No wonder that Epaphroditus’ service to Paul is called a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
But what we’re focusing on is that this support work Paul calls the work of Christ. It’d be easy in planning routes, purchasing boarding passes, working out logistics for hauling supplies, securing a short-term living arrangement, finding temporary work, fighting off sickness, worrying about whether you’d make it back – it’d be easy in all this to lose track of Jesus Christ.
It’s great to have some friends from CO visiting us this morning. First off: can we welcome them in the Lord – seeing them as brothers and sisters, as fellow servants of the Lord, fellow pilgrims on our way to seeing the Lord, possessors of the same Spirit? What I’m saying is: Don’t look at or welcome them as merely in Adam – what are their personalities, what’s cool/what’s annoying, what are their jobs, etc – but as in Christ.
But that’s not my main point: Steve and Lynne have been attending a church for almost twenty years that has been meeting in a school gym. How many times they’ve had to set up chairs and then tear them down! I hope that throughout the years, the congregation has worked things out in their mind so that they keep seeing Christ in all that practical, indeed burdensome work.
Christ has ordered this. Christ is caring for our welfare through this. Christ has made us a kingdom of priests who offer up our sacrifice to God through this. Christ has a future for us that won’t include chairs. Butts on these chairs mean Christ is being heard. I join the company of those who have done menial labor in the service of Christ’s gospel. Christ is King, worthy of my life being laid down in chair work. As I arrange for my 4th grade little brother in Christ a place to sit I’m offering Christ rest and comfort.
When Christ is perceived, laborious and repetitious and dangerous work done for His sake is meaningful; there’s encouragement, renewal. You can keep going. On the other hand, “how tedious and tasteful the hours, when Jesus no longer I see. Sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers have lost all their sweetness to me.”
That’s pretty much it: It’s important that we recall what we’re talking about: that church life, gospel work…Christianity…depends – utterly depends – on a growing awareness of the life and presence and will of our Lord. Important addendum: this would be a growing awareness of something that is true, yet invisible.
Putting that another way, in all this discussion about remembering Jesus Christ, we’re not constructing a happy thought and overlaying it over reality. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He is before all things and all things consist in Him. The Father, in fact did put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.
So, for instance, when we display some optimism in both our plans and our expectations about the future, we do so not because we choose to be happy. We are optimistic because we remember Jesus Christ. We remember that God has made promises to the world, including a lot of promises about redemption and renewal, and Jesus Christ and His gospel is God’s path forward into that good future. Jesus is God’s resounding, re-affirming “Yes” to all the promises He has made.
Because the ultimate future that runs through Jesus Christ is a new heavens and new earth where God dwells with His people, we should expect that in the Lord Jesus also much of the shorter range and immediate future should be gift and happiness. Let me say that shorter: because of Jesus Christ the Church has come to expect a lot of good in the short term, medium term, and long term. In the big picture and the small picture. WE HOPE IN JESUS CHRIST.
Jesus has risen from the dead. The new creation inhabited by a new humanity has sprung. The Son of God is the Lord over all this realm. He wills to share this rule with his brothers and sisters and would prepare them for this. This is reality. The hard stuff that hits us, that bruises and reshapes us: Jesus Christ is here, looking after his brothers’ and sisters’ welfare, preparing them for what’s next. Again, we’re not pretending: Christ has risen from the dead. WE INTERPRET OUR CIRCUMSTANCES IN JESUS CHRIST. WE TRUST GOD IN JESUS CHRIST.
Brothers and sisters, how vital it is for the culture of the Church that we remember Christ: that we make plans before Him; that we interpret our happenings in light of His care for His church; that the Lord Jesus shape our assumptions and projections about the future; that we welcome one another in His light; that we do the work…all the work…in the sight of Christ.
Because…this is the main way to describe our new situation: we are in Christ. John Murray: Union with Christ is really the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. Paul’s preferred way of talking about people like us is not “the saved” or “the baptized” or “saints” or “Christian,” but – as he does in some form 216 times – IN CHRIST JESUS.
Christ our life. When the doorbell rings we remember Christ. When we sit down to eat we remember Christ. When our heart palpitates we interpret that situation in Christ. When we think about the future we perceive the world being conformed to Christ.
In the Lord Jesus Christ.
Not the word, “Christ.” But the man, Jesus Christ. Christ the crucified. Christ who sat down at the well, being wearied. Christ who walked over the water. Christ who scooped up the little child. Christ who crossly said, ‘how long do I have to put up with you?’ The Christ who gave us His Spirit. Christ who is in heaven, who has a resting heart rate. Christ who cannot die, even should He want to. Christ who gleefully casts his arms over the church and says: behold the children whom God has given to me. Christ whom John leaned against. Christ who said, “Martha…Martha.” Christ the One whose hair is white, whose feet are like burning bronze, whose eyes a flame of fire.
We’re in Him. Connected like branches in a vine. The Church joined to Him like a bride to Bridegroom. All of us in Christ are bound to each other: not just in fact but in purpose: being fitted together like stones in a building so that God comes to dwell among us. Jesus Christ is the Man, the eternal God, who makes sense of our religion.
So it’s a strange exhortation: Remember him. Strange but necessary. That’s 75% of a Church’s mission: don’t forget Jesus Christ. Don’t go through periods of apathy toward him, don’t neglect to stir up your mind to believe him. Don’t get yourself into habits by which recalling him is especially hard.
I’ll conclude with one tip and trick: Get used to, become practiced at looking not at what is visible, but what is invisible. Just one example: Hamas raids Israel. The region is upset; indeed, the world is one edge. College students, BLM are supporting Palestine. Ben Shapiro and conservatives are for Israel. What do you think?
And I’m saying – look at what is invisible. Remember Jesus Christ in this. Do the hard work of placing every aspect of this in the light of Jesus Christ. Obviously you’ll need to understand Jesus Christ from this, and you’ll come to know him from the Spirit’s presentation of him in Scripture.
But don’t fall into the chatter. Get off the beaten path – not to be a contrarian, not to be edgy…but because you’re always looking at the invisible reality. That is, you’ve become practiced at the art of looking at everything: world events, encounters with people, problems, educational goals, career matters…everything…IN JESUS CHRIST.
Church, believe in Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.