The student will recall from the previous lesson the concept
of an exemplar. The passage below sets before us three men: Paul, Timothy and
Epaphroditus. It’s easy to say that they are exemplars; but how would you
know? May I suggest that we vary the question: are these men heroes of the
faith? Heroes are none too common in our time; perhaps it would do us well to
know how to identify them.
Philippians 2:19-30 NASB
(19) But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send
Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your
condition. (20) For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be
concerned for your welfare. (21) For they all
seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. (22) But you know of his proven worth, that he
served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (23)
Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; (24)
and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. (25) But I thought it necessary to send to you
Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your
messenger and minister to my need; (26)
because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard
that he was sick. (27) For indeed he was sick
to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also
on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. (28)
Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again
you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about
you. (29) Receive him then in the
Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; (30) because he came close to death for the work of
Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
Characteristics of Heroes
If you follow these lessons with any regularity, you will
know that my daughter is the real writer in the family. She's a professional at
it; she knows how to spin a ripping good yarn. So I asked her: what does it
take to make character into a hero? She gave me four criteria — which might
The hero must be active, not reactive. He's got to be a man of
purpose, a man with a mission in his life. That rules out the hero being an
Everyman. But it is possible for an Everyman to become a hero; sometimes in a
minor way. Let's distinguish between a hero and a star.
The hero must be aligned with what is considered right by the
storyteller. He has to demonstrate that he is on the side of good. That's why
heroes are so rare these days, and protagonists tend to be antiheroes. Being
aligned with the right in our day is considered to be laughable. But for
thousands of years the storytellers have known that the hero must be a man who recognizes
and follows as best he can a righteous path. This does not mean he is perfect;
indeed, a hero is often flawed. But his heart must be in the right place.
Somewhere along the line the hero encounters an event which
changes him. This sounds a little strange at first, but it's the hero's first
introduction to conflict. Conflict is absolutely necessary for a story. What
kinds of things change hero? There are a lot of things. For example, we have
mystic visions, discovery of a secret, personal loss, a time of trial and all
sorts of other things.
If the world changes the hero, it's also true that the hero
changes the world. He may do this by completing his quest, conquering the
villain, or building a bridge. The man of action, however, must be a man of accomplishment.
Paul and Timothy
There are three actors in this passage: Paul, Timothy and
Epaphroditus. We may begin by looking at the qualifications for the title of
hero possessed by Paul and Timothy.
Let's consider Paul first.
Action? You want action? What does the poor man have to do to
convince you? This is a fellow who has been beaten severely several times,
shipwrecked, threatened by bandits, imprisoned and who knows what all else. Why
did this happen to them? Because he is a premier evangelist; he is preaching
the gospel and paying the price. Any one of the things he's gone through and
continue to preach would be quite sufficient for most Christians. It would be
the war story they told her the rest of their lives.
It's clear that Paul is aligned with righteousness. He is so much
aligned, and so intellectually prepared, that righteousness forms a large part
of his writings.
Does something changing along the way? What about that little
incident on the road to Damascus?
Does he change the world? He's one of the apostles and turned the
world upside down for Jesus Christ.
You didn't really need for me to tell you that, did you? You
could check that off one I started talking about a hero, right? Okay, we have
the obvious completed.
The case for Timothy may be a bit more obscure to you. But
if you take your way through the New Testament, particularly in the book of
Acts, you will see that Timothy is a missionary in his own right.
Interestingly, this role seems to be not so much that of a preacher of the
gospel, but of the man who sets things in order after the preacher has left.
It's not a very flamboyant role, but it is an active one. As with Paul, his
righteousness is evident — consider how highly Paul praises him, for example.
Things get sticky when you ask what is Timothy's Damascus
road experience. But I submit there are two possibilities that would qualify:
the first is his conversion. The second is a little more physical and direct;
when Paul took it to Jerusalem, he had him circumcised. That is not an
experience which an adult male will quickly forget; it is also filled with
meaning to someone who was raised in the Jewish faith, as Timothy was. So I
think we can call this the change that makes Timothy into the hero. He goes out
then and participates in the great spread of the gospel, which changes the
The problem with Timothy and Paul being heroes is that most
of us never ever get the chance to do anything similar. God has not called us
to do great things; God has not called us to the mission field. But every once
in a while one of us gets a call to do something specific that's out of the
ordinary. Epaphroditus was such a man; let's please look at his qualifications
for being a hero.
Is this a man who is active rather than reactive? He certainly
is. His task seems to have been to carry what ever blessing the Philippian
church meant for Paul to Rome for Paul's use. Boiling that down, other than the
box of cookies what Epaphroditus had to carry was probably gold and silver. He had
to take it from modern-day Greece to Rome, in a time in which bandits were ever
present on the roadways. It's the kind of mission most of us would be just as
happy to let someone else take. It's not an act of outrageous courage, but of
As for his righteousness, Paul testifies to that. He uses three
- He calls him “my brother.” It is a
sign of the closeness these men have.
- He also calls him “fellow worker.”
The Greek word here is the one we have transliterated as “synergy” (
“syn” = same, “erg” = energy). More literally we might say that the same
energy, or perhaps the same power, drives them both.
- He is also “fellow soldier.” Those
who have been in the military know how close the bond is between soldiers
in the same unit. They also know that such a bond is forged in the fires
You might not have recognized it when you read the passage, but
we also have that experience which changes the man completely listed here. It's
his illness. It's not just a cold; he very nearly died from it. Think of it
this way: if you had a near-death experience, would it change you? Even if you
just simply came close to death, and had the stare in the face for the first
time, it would change you. It certainly changed him.
Of course, the thing that's bothering you about labeling
Epaphroditus a hero is his accomplishment. When you mentioned in the same
breath with Paul, he seems rather trivial. But look again at the criteria for a
hero; there's nothing in there about being grand, magnificent or changing the
world. It's just simply that you change the world in some way. The man did
May I suggest to you a new literary classification? Let's
call him the "ordinary hero." It's the guy who has all the
characteristics of a hero, but none of the publicity. Let's face it: a fair
number of people we call heroes simply happen to have a really good public
relations agent. There's nothing about being a hero which requires you to get
publicity. Some of us might even know a schoolteacher who is really a hero.
The Christian As Hero
If the questions applied to Epaphroditus, then they can
apply to us as well. Look at yourself and ask: am I an ordinary hero?
Are you a person who takes action, are you one who sits around
and waits and reacts to events?
Are you a person for whom righteousness is absolutely necessary,
or are you a get-along, go-along sort of person?
Has there been an event in your life that is just completely
changed you? Opened your eyes, perhaps?
Are you out to change the world, or at least some small portion
of it? Or is everything contentment in your life?
You may think, "I'm no hero." Perhaps you ought to