Summary: Jesus Christ deserves to be your Number One.
Paul, you will remember, writes these words from a Roman jail. And he is not there for committing a crime; he is there for his commitment to Christ. But, even though he is in Rome, he is concerned about his friends in Philippi, some eight hundred miles away. They are concerned about him, too. In fact, they sent Epaphroditus to Rome to look after Paul. But at some point after Epaphroditus arrived, he got sick, really sick. And Paul – still in jail – wants to be sure Epaphroditus home, and he is going to send Timothy with him. Timothy will be able to care for Epaphroditus on the trip, and he will be able to carry this letter with him. Then, when he comes back, he can bring Paul news about how things are in Philippi.
In our passage today, we see how Paul commends these two men. We’re told about Timothy that there is “no one like him” (v. 20), and, with regard to Epaphroditus, we’re told to “honor such people,” because, of course, Epaphroditus and others like him have done honorable things. So, what do we do with all this high praise for these two men? Here’s what we could do. We could set these two men up as good examples. In fact, that’s what they are. We could do worse than emulate their qualities. We could do the same thing with other people we meet in the pages of the Bible. Who wouldn’t want to have the courage of David when he was facing Goliath? Why wouldn’t we “dare to be a Daniel” when we find ourselves in the fiery furnace for our faith?
Timothy and Epaphroditus may not be as well known to us – especially Epaphroditus – but here were two men who put the welfare of others before their own, and they were willing to bear hardship for the sake of the gospel. Epaphroditus, in fact, “came close to death for the work of Christ” (v. 30). I can’t see any reason why we would not want to be like him – or Timothy either, for that matter. But just to say, “Here’s a good example; follow it,” isn’t the gospel. If it’s good examples we’re looking for, why limit our search to the Bible? There are lots of people – people of character – from whom we could learn a thing or two. Why not surface a few heroes from the pages of history – people like George Washington, say, or Rosa Parks – and present them for consideration?
But the Bible’s primary aim is not to give us good examples to follow. It’s not to show us Timothy or Epaphroditus and tell us to be more like them, and neither would that be the aim of these two men. They wouldn’t want that. They would want us to see what the Bible wants us to see. They would want us to see Jesus. That’s the point of this passage here in Philippians – as it is of the whole Bible. Although Paul talks here a great deal about Timothy and Epaphroditus, he wants most of all to show us Jesus.
So, where do we see Jesus in this passage? His name is mentioned, of course, in a few verses, but the point seems to be more what Timothy and Epaphroditus did for Jesus than what Jesus did for them. And other than that, we don’t see Jesus’ name. God is mentioned once, and there are a couple of references to “the Lord.” But the truth is: we don’t have much to work with if we want to see Jesus in this text.
But what if we approached it from another angle? What if we looked for the evidence of Jesus’ work in the hearts of these two men, Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is definitely something distinctive about them, something that sets them apart from others. Epaphroditus was willing to be sent from Philippi to Rome to look after Paul’s needs, and even the fact that he got sick as a result – deathly ill, we should say – that didn’t alter his sweet spirit or make him regret that he had put himself at such risk.
And when it comes to Timothy, we are told that, while so many others “were seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ,” Timothy was just the opposite. He was “genuinely concerned” about the welfare of the body of Christ, which, of course, is Christ’s church.
So, what distinguishes these two men from others? Everybody looks out for Number One. Everybody, including them, but here’s the thing. Their Number One was Jesus. They were living life cross-grain. They preferred Jesus Christ to themselves, and, therefore, they put the well-being of the church – the people of Jesus Christ – above their own.