Summary: God illustrates a life of joyful obedience through Christian heroes.
As a society, our taste in heroes has changed. A few years ago, researchers asked two thousand eighth-graders to name prominent people they admired and wanted to be like. After the results were published, a columnist for the Chicago Daily News, Sidney Harris, lamented the fact that every one of the 30 prominent personalities named was either an entertainer or an athlete. Unlike earlier years, statesmen, authors, painters, musicians, architects, doctors, and other such leaders no longer captured the imagination of young people. Harris concluded: “the heroes and heroines created by our society are people who have made it big, not necessarily people who have done big things.”
This morning God tells us about two heroes worthy of honor and imitation, two men who, liked Jim Elliott, risked what they could not keep, to gain what they could not lose.
[Read Philippians 2.19-30. Pray.]
William Bennett, one time U.S. Education Secretary and author of the best-seller The Book of Virtues, said: “It is particularly important for young people to have heroes. This is a way to teach them by moral example, so that we can point to someone as an ideal.”
Mr. Bennett is surely correct, but I would add that it is important for all of us to have godly heroes. It seems we are already hard-wired to imitate those we look up to. We see this in advertising and endorsements. Some NFL players are required by contract to wear the baseball-style hats when they remove their helmets—because when kids see Peyton Manning in a Colts hat, sales increase dramatically. We will chose heroes; will we choose well?
Donald Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 72: “[Paul] is concerned to establish and reinforce good models. He is not stooping to cheap flattery of his colleagues…. His aim is to provide clear Christian examples that younger and less-experienced Christians ought to emulate. For if they do not have such models, or if they are not encouraged to follow them, they are likely to follow poor or misleading or even dangerous examples.”
The Christians in Philippi care deeply about their own needs; they fear the loss of comfort; they argue and bicker with one other and refuse to follow Jesus into the depths of humility. So their pastor, the Apostle Paul writes this letter (like all Scripture) to teach, correct, reprove, and train in righteousness with clear doctrine showing forth the glories of Christ and the standards of faithful obedience.
Let’s remember what Paul has said so far. He began the letter with a reminder of his love and of his prayers as he exhorts this church to follow Christ. Then he assured the Philippians that he rejoices, even while suffering for the gospel, because his joy flows from following Jesus. In fact, Paul says, suffering for the sake of Christ is a gracious gift of God! That amazing claim ends chapter one.
Of course, suffering does not always mean imprisonment. Humility brings the suffering of crushed pride and death to self, and that provides the transition into chapter two, as the Apostle pleads with these brothers and sisters to adopt a radically other-oriented outlook on life: “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Jesus both models this behavior and reaps the rewards—he suffered the humiliation and misery of the cross, and God exalted him above every name!
Now Jesus’ attitude and actions should change our lives: “Therefore, my beloved… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is working in you. And let these good works be done with a good attitude, without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted culture.”
So Paul has focused on two character traits which need nurturing in this church: 1) humble, other-oriented service and 2) joyful faithfulness in hardship. Then in a moment of inspiration, God reminds Paul that two shining examples stand before him. Timothy, the pastor Paul sent to them, and Epaphroditus, the missionary they sent to Paul. Two living examples of salvation worked out into character and action, two heroes for young Christians to imitate. First, Timothy shows us that…
1. We Should Imitate Other-oriented Heroes (Philippians 2.19-24)
As with everyone in the Bible, Timothy had flaws; he was not the perfect pastor. Yet of all the men that Paul could send to Philippi, Timothy made an ideal choice because he excelled in the very thing they lacked: humble, other-oriented service. This character trait was revealed in three specific ways which make him worthy of emulation.
First, verse 20, Timothy is “genuinely concerned for [the Philippians’] welfare.” That does not mean, of course, that the young pastor always said and did what the Philippians wanted. Like every faithful shepherded, he did what was best for the people. Later Paul will writes two letters to guide Timothy in his pastoral ministry. In those, he will remind this young man to preach the Word, to run the race with perseverance, to suffer for the gospel, and to warn those who are perishing of the need for repentance. In other words, in his personal life, his preaching, and his pastoral ministry, Timothy will not do what his flesh desires, but what the Spirit demands. Why? Because he cares for the Philippians’ well-being, not his own popularity.