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Philippians 2011


Philippians  2: 19-30

Lesson audio

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 surprise you:

·         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 world.


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 quiet courage.

·         As for his righteousness, Paul testifies to that. He uses three words:

  • 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 of sacrifice.

·         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 that.

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 be.

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