Thursday, August 25, 2011

Others Before Self (Part 3)

Hey everyone! As you might already know, we’re learning about selflessness through a study of Philippians. So far Paul has given two examples of selflessness for the church at Philippi (and us!) to follow: first, himself, and second, Jesus Christ. That’s not all, though… we’re not even at the halfway point yet! I have quite a bit to cover in this article, so I’m going to go ahead and jump right into the text. Remember to study for yourself too!

Example #3—Timothy (2:19-24)

At this point in the chapter Paul begins to talk about his desire to send Timothy to the Philippian congregation as an aid and as a messenger. We know quite a bit about Timothy from other parts of the New Testament: he was extremely close to Paul (1 Tim. 1:2), he was young (1 Tim. 4:12), and he learned much from his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Here in Philippians, we get special insight into the content of Timothy’s character.

Beginning in verse 20, Paul tells us why he wishes to send Timothy to Philippi: “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” Paul wants to be sure to send somebody who will invest himself selflessly into the work of the church with a full and complete concern. He goes on to say, “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (21). The “they” here is everybody else Paul could have sent, the ones that weren’t his kindred spirits. Paul has confidence that Timothy will put Christ and His will before himself. Sound familiar? No wonder Paul calls him a kindred spirit! The two of them have the same top priorities: the cause of Christ and the furtherance of His church.

Example #4—Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

Paul starts to switch it up here by giving us two (soon to be three) examples in a row. After Timothy, he writes about another friend of his: Epaphroditus. The church at Philippi already knows this man. Paul describes him as “your messenger and minister to my need” (25), and, skipping ahead a little, Paul mentions in 4:18 that he has “received from Epaphroditus what you have sent.” This congregation supported Paul, and it sounds like Epaphroditus was the go-between who delivered supplies and gifts to him.

Paul has already sent Epaphroditus to Philippi as an example and aid. Why? Take a look at verse 26 and part of 27: “Because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick to the point of death.” Did you catch that? Epaphroditus wasn’t distressed because he was deathly ill; he was distressed because the Philippians had heard about it, and he didn’t want them to worry about him! Can you imagine being on your deathbed and having concern only for your loved ones? Talk about selfless. Fortunately, we see in the end of verse 27 that God had mercy on Epaphroditus and spared his life. Paul instructs the church to “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Once again, two priorities: Christ, and his church.

Example #5—Paul, Part 2 (3:1-14)

In 3:1, Paul says, “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Commentaries often offer a lot of speculation as to the meaning of this sentence. Is he referring to another letter? What is this supposed to mean? It becomes really easy to understand when you’ve been paying to the examples the entire time. Down in verse 4, Paul begins referring to himself. Just for good measure, he’s offering himself up again as an example of selflessness. That’s the same thing he’s writing again.

In 4 through 6, Paul lists all the earthly things he could be prideful of during his time as a practicing Jew. However, he clarifies, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Just like when he gave Jesus as an example, we’re seeing here the tie-in between humility and selflessness. All Paul’s earthly triumphs have been totally eclipsed by his love for and subjection to Christ.

Appeal #3 (3:15-21)

“Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (15-16).

Have this attitude? It’s our friend phroneo! In other words, have this attitude I’ve been telling you about this entire letter. In case you weren’t buying that the whole example thing was intentional, take a look at the next verse: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (emp. added).

Good ol’ Paul’s never going to leave us without a why. First, he spotlights the enemies of the cross, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (19). These are the people who put their earthly desires, and therefore themselves, first. However, “our citizenship is in heaven” (20). In being selfless we focus more on Christ than on the things of this world, and this will lead to our ultimate exultation in heaven. That’s why we be selfless.

We’re three quarters of the way through, people! Come back next week to see how Paul wraps up this awesome letter.

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