At the age of twenty-one, I left Memphis and moved to the mountains of North Carolina. I spent the next year reading, studying, and praying that my new found faith would grow. Two things occurred to me at that time. First, I did not make a very good “mountain man.” Roughing it, to me, is a Holiday Inn without a pool. Second, I didn’t have many friends. Actually, it became clear that I did not know how to make friends.
Most of the friends I had were from school, church, or some activity I was involved in. But now, in a different culture, in the middle of nowhere, I found it harder to make friends. I spent a lot of time alone and it started to get to me. I decided to learn how to make friends and influence people. So I bought a book.
The book had a simple title, “Friendship.” Each chapter had assignments and I began to “practice” on the people around me. I decided to try “active listening” with my next door neighbor and, by golly, it worked. Then I started trying to think of my next door neighbor’s needs above my own. Their trash got taken out to the curb with mine. This really worked well. I tried to talk about subjects that my neighbor was interested in. Lo and behold, we became very good friends. In fact, we became best friends. Actually, fourteen years later we are still best friends! [Picture of Maxine and I]
Now I’m not saying if you buy a book on friendship you will automatically find your wife. Many of the high school students were looking for pens to write down the name of this magical book. My point this morning is that friendship is important and we could all use some homework assignments to help us grow in this area.
I get by with a little help from my friends
It has been said that an individual is fortunate if they have five good friends in their life time. George Barna, in his book, “What Americans Believe,” wrote, “Americans are among the loneliest people on earth.” Maybe it is because of our fast-paced society or it is due to our rugged American individualism but many of us struggle to find friends. We saw this phenomena clearly in the 1990s when the two most popular television shows were both about groups of friends trying to find their way together – “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” Friendships can be based on a common goal like catching bad guys [Scooby Do and Shaggy], or trying new careers [Paris and Nicole], or trying to win an election [Napoleon Dynamite and Pedro]. A friend can encourage, affirm, and even rebuke. You can trust a friend with your secrets and with your valuables. A person may have many acquaintances and several casual connections, but good friends are hard to find. We were created for community and function more fully when flanked by faithful friends.
No name tags needed
I love that many of the local high school’s jackets come with the student’s names on the back. If I can just ease around enough to see the lettering I am able to address a student I don’t know by name. There were several girls who figured this out and would switch jackets to see if I actually knew their names or if I was faking them out. Thank goodness I finally learned their names!
The Apostle Paul did not need lettering on the back of jackets or name tags. He knew people’s names and people knew him. Paul was a pal to many. In the sixteenth chapter of Romans, he lists thirty-five friends by name. In fact, in many his letters he mentions by name individuals that he has built relationships with through ministry. He highlights two of his friends in the book we have been studying for the past month, Philippians. Please turn with me to Philippians 2:12.
If you read the passage for this week ahead of time, you may have been a little confused. Chapter two begins with the beautiful “Christ Hymn” then moves on to encourage us to “shine like stars.” Paul then starts going into his travel plans. Why would he do that? In chapter one and two of Philippians Paul is making a point. Paul encourages the Christians at the church in Philippi to “…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” (Philippians 1:27) In chapter two, Paul gives four extreme examples of Christian conduct – Jesus Christ (2:5-11), Paul himself (2:17-18), Timothy (2:19-24), and Epaphroditus (2:25-30). His “travel plans” include these two friends. Let’s turn our attention to them this morning.
Timothy – A Short Bio
Would you please stand for the reading of this section of God’s Word:
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. (Phil 2:19-24)
In this passage of Scripture, we are introduced to one of Paul’s best friends, Timothy. Timothy was originally from Lystra in modern-day Turkey. He grew up in a multicultural house with a Greek father and a Jewish-Christian mother and grandmother. His heritage belies some confusion. His name means “one who honors God” but he was not circumcised as was the Jewish custom. This exposure to Greek and Jewish traditions served him well as he helped Paul spread the Gospel to Gentiles.
Paul had led Timothy to the Lord at a young age and Timothy was instrumental in Paul’s ministry very early on. Timothy was with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5), was sent into Macedonia (Acts 19:22), was with Paul on the return trip from Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), and assisted Paul in the writing of Romans (Romans 16:21), 2 Corinthians (2 Cor 1:1), Philippians (Phil 1:1), Colossians (Col 1:1), 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. It has been said that Timothy was Paul’s “sole authorized representative” of the Gospel. For years Paul had relied on Timothy. Paul was under house arrest in Rome and he is not quite ready to send him to Philippi.
I’ll send him…just not yet
Look at verse 19 with me. Notice first that Paul hopes “in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy.” This is not an idle wish but a deep longing of the Apostle’s heart. The word “hope” conveys several ideas. First, it means to “look forward in confidence to what is good and beautiful.” Second, it tells us that Paul’s schedule was controlled by the Lord.
Paul was planning to send Timothy but he recognized that God may have other plans. Notice also the word “soon.” In other words Paul said, “I am, God willing, going to send Timothy to you but just not yet.” Timothy was the perfect person to send to Philippi. He not only knew the culture, the church knew him. And what is Paul expecting to hear? Good news – “that I may be cheered when I receive news about you.” Paul loved the church at Philippi (1:3-4,8, 4:5) and was eager to hear how they were doing.
Paul then describes Timothy in glowing terms:
1. Soul Mates. Paul begins with “I have no one else like him…” This is the same Greek word used back in 2:2. It is actually a combination of two words that mean “equal” and “soul.” Paul is saying that Timothy and he are “soul mates.” The wording is strong. Paul feels like he has “absolutely none like Timothy.” The same concept is used in the Old Testament in describing the relationship between Jonathon and David. (see I Sam 20). It is the picture of two kindred souls doing ministry together. A modern day example would be Billy Graham and George Beverly Shea who for more than 60 years have spread the Gospel all around the world.
2. The Real Deal. Remember, “is it live or is it Memorex?” There was no shadow of doubt with Timothy. Paul says Timothy is the “real deal.” The word “genuinue” means natural or legitimate. Timothy’s interest in the Philippian church’s welfare was a sign of his inner character of compassion. Timothy was a true shepherd. The Greek word “interest” is a strong word that shows Timothy was “concerned to the point of being burdened.” In 2 Corinthians 11:28 we learn that Paul had “true concern for all the churches.” Timothy had the same concern but had a special place in his heart for Philippi. He had seen the church begin and had a vested interested in their welfare.
3. Single-Minded. Paul goes on to say that Timothy cared so deeply that other individual’s concern paled in comparison. Look at verse 21: “For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” His life was Jesus, others, and himself. Remember Paul is giving us examples of how to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel and he makes it clear that one of the marks of a growing Christian is the ability to say “Me-Third.”
4. Fire-Tested. Let’s continue on in verse 22. Paul states that the church at Philippi knows that Timothy has “proved himself.” This term means “proof after testing.” Timothy was a seasoned veteran and had survived and thrived through hardship. He was Paul’s “trouble shooter” in Corinth (I Cor 4:17), Thessalonica (I Thes 3:2), Ephesus (I Tim 1:3-4), and Philippi.
5. Sonny Boy. Paul then likens his relationship with Timothy to that of a son and a father. Listen to what Paul calls him in other letters: “my true child in the faith” (I Timothy 1:2), “my beloved son” (2 Timothy 1:2), and “my beloved faithful child in the Lord” (I Cor 9:17). In that culture, sons learned their trade and their faith from their fathers. Paul cared deeply for Timothy and was his spiritual mentor and father-figure.
6. Servant. Noticed that Paul did not say that Timothy “served me in the work of the Gospel.” Paul inserted a very important word – with. Timothy and Paul were a team of servants. They both had servant’s hearts and they gave themselves away in the caring for the needs of others. Timothy had surrendered his own personal plans to serve with Paul. He was not interested in being a superstar, just a servant. He wanted to be faithful, not famous.
You get Tim, you get me
Let’s look at the last two verses of this section. Paul is confident that he will be released and visit Philippi in person. He needs a little more information about his situation before he parts with Timothy. But, his attitude is “You get Timothy, you get me!” They shared the same passion, the same heart beat for the church at Philippi. Timothy was a great example of having “the same attitude of that of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5) Paul then introduces us to another faithful friend – Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus the Messenger
While Timothy’s name is all over the New Testament, Epaphroditus is mentioned only in Philippians. He was either the pastor or an elder in the church in Philippi. He had been sent to Paul in Rome from Philippi to carry a financial gift and to meet Paul’s daily needs. While Epaphroditis was in Rome he became sick and nearly died. Because of this situation, Paul has decided to send him back to his home church. Paul then tells us about Epaphroditus’ character using five descriptive terms.
1. “My brother” – this literally meant “from the same womb.” In that culture, there was not much “brotherly love” and the church provided a place where people felt connected and encouraged. They both shared the same passion for the Gospel.
2. “Fellow worker” – Paul and Epaphroditus had an effective partnership in ministering to the church of Philippi and beyond.
3. Fellow soldier” – Paul never calls us to a life of ease but to a battlefield. Today is Memorial Day. This is a time when we honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom. If you are a member of the armed services or you are a veteran please stand.
1. “Messenger” – He was designated by the church at Philippi to be their representative to Paul.
2. “Minister” – Epaphroditus’ mission was to carry the financial gift to Paul and then to remain indefinitely to “take care of his needs.” He ministered to and with Paul as he was under house arrest in Rome. By the way, raise your hand if you are a minister. If you are a Christian, God has given you a ministry. Do you know what it is?
From this description, you can see why Epaphroditus was so important to Paul’s ministry. But, because of sickness, Paul thought it was necessary to send him back.
Epaphroditus the Patient
Paul wanted to send him back immediately. Epaphroditus was distressed that the church at Philippi had heard he was ill. Look with me at verses 26-28:
“For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.” (Phil 2:26-29)
Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi to ease their minds and to calm his nerves. Epaphroditus was in “distress,” which is no small thing. The word means “deep anguish, anxiety, or emotional turmoil.” Philippi was eight hundred miles from Rome and at least a three month journey. Somehow the news had gotten back to the home front that Epaphroditus was deathly ill and he was worried that they thought he may have died. In fact, this was nearly the case. They word “ill” means “without strength” and he probably came down with the Roman plague. The term “almost died” literally means “next door.” He was at death’s door. But God had mercy on him and healed him.
Notice that Paul, who had the gift of healing (see Acts 14:9-10; Acts 19:1-2; Acts 20:9-12; Acts 28:8), did not heal him. Also, notice that Paul said he was spared “sorrow upon sorrow.” For those of us that have anxiety from time to time, notice that one of his main goals in sending Epaphroditus back was so that Paul would have “less anxiety.” Paul was not perfect and struggled just as we do. Isn’t that nice to hear?
Epaphroditus the Hero
Paul is very strategic in the closing verses of this section. There were those in Philippi that would have accused Epaphroditus of failing to complete the mission. Paul wanted to leave little room for doubt – Epaphroditus was not a quitter. He commands the church to welcome him with “great joy” and “honor” Epaphroditus. They were to praise him and celebrate the work he accomplished while he was with Paul in Rome. He nearly died risking his life for the sake of the Gospel.
The word for risking means to “hazard, to throw aside one’s life, or to gamble.” In fact, this word became a noun with the formation of a group of Christians in the third century. They called themselves the “parabolani,” the gamblers, after this verse of Scripture and in honor of Epaphroditus. Whenever and wherever a plague hit, these gamblers would rush in to take care of the sick and bury the dead. They were willing to risk their lives to live out the Gospel.
I was talking to a student recently who was with a group involved with street ministry. She told me a story of setting up a tent in a really bad part of town next to a liquor store. There had been a shooting in that very location several days before. They sang and shared the Gospel and provided soup and did so knowing they were at risk. She said that they did it because that’s what Jesus would do.
God calls us to be gamblers and said if you want to “gain your life you must lose it for my sake.” (Matthew 10:39) Jim Elliot, who lost his life as a missionary in Ecuador, wrote this haunting words just before his death, “He is no fool to give up what he can not keep to gain what he can not lose.” Whether it is taking the Gospel to a dangerous place or hugging a little girl with HIV, what good is the Gospel without a few gamblers?
A Friend’s a Friend Forever…
We’ve spent these last few minutes learning about Paul’s friends Timothy and Epaphroditus. Word Net online dictionary defines the word friend “as a person you know well and regard with affection and trust.” It is closely related to the words love and peace. In the Bible it implies a “reciprocal relationship.” Dr. Wilfred Funk has said that the warmest word in the English language is “friendship” while the most bitter is “alone.”
Solomon tells us to be very careful how we pick our friends:
“A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)
Our friends can influence us for good and for bad:
“He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
Paul told the church at Corinth that friends can compliment us or corrupt us:
“Do not be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." (I Cor 15:33)
Let’s see if we can come up with a working definition of the word “friend.”
A friend is faithful. Samuel Coleridge wrote, “Friendship is a sheltering tree.” They are loyal to you and support you through good times and bad. The writer of Proverbs wrote:
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
Timothy had a “genuine interest” in their welfare; a friend is the real deal. You know their heart as well as their head. They are realistic. They know your upside as well as your downside and like you anyway! Erma Bombeck stated, “A friend is someone who thinks you are good egg, even though you are a little cracked.” They desire your best and will work with you to bring that out.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov 27:17)
A friend is invested in your spiritual growth. As the old Michael W. Smith song says, “A Friend’s a friend forever, if the Lord’s the lord of them.” They are willing to say the hard things that will help you on your spiritual journey. They tell you the truth, even if it hurts.
“Better an open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)
A friend is your biggest cheerleader. They praise you and value your victories. They use words to build you up and when they speak you listen.
“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
A friend thinks of your needs as much as she thinks of their own needs. They realize that friendship is a team effort and are willing to walk the road with you through the mountains and valleys of faith. Solomon wrote the words that were on the front of our wedding invitations:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (Eccl 4:9-10)
Walter Winchell said: "A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." A true friend does not bail on you and would never kick you when you are down.
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)
We will come back to this verse in just a minute. But first, I have a few questions.
How about you, Friend?
As you listened to that list of characteristics of a friend, did you feel encouraged or bummed out? Do those words describe you? Are you a good friend? Chuck Swindoll suggests five questions to ask ourselves to see how our friendship factor rates:
1. What are the limits of my friendship? Do I use people or lay down my life for them? How much do I know of sacrificial love?
2. What is my impact on others? Am I a change agent for godliness in my friend’s life? Are they a deeper disciple because of me?
3. Do I take the risk of openness, or is there a carefully constructed wall around my life that no one can penetrate?
4. Am I an initiator of love, or am I waiting for others to earn my approval or to reach out to me?
5. How am I helping my friends realize their potential in any or every area of life? Are they more fruitful because of me?
Let’s end out time today with a call to action.
1. If you want to have friends you must be a friend. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” It is the lesson I learned in the mountains of North Carolina. If I wanted to make friends, I needed to make a few changes in the way I related to people. I needed to listen more than I talk. I needed to talk less about myself. I needed to ask more questions. If you are a little intimidated in starting conversations with people here is a great acrostic that Pastor Dick shared with me: FIRE. Asked about their family, their interests, their relationships, and their experiences. I guarantee you that if you ask a person about these four categories you will get them talking. By the way, Pastor Dick is our new executive pastor and will be in his office in mid-July.
1. Get involved in the women’s or men’s ministry. Women do a great job in building long lasting relationships. My wife has a group of friends that support her, love her, and when she needs it, confront her. Women, if you have wanted to make friends, get involved in the women’s ministry. They have Tuesday morning Bible studies, “Gatherings,” and informal times of relationship building. They also have a program called “Apples of Gold” that pairs younger women up with more mature women for mentoring.
Men, we struggle in this area don’t we? We have been raised in America. We are men! We grunt about sports, the weather, and about the stock market. We have been taught that to make it on our own. Our Rambo complexes hurt our relationship capacity and, as a result, we are lonely. Guys, get involved in the men’s ministry. Come to the men’s breakfast held once a month. Get in a small group or a Bible study with a couple of other guys. Get accountable to another guy. Take a risk and be relational! Join the men’s ministry for a Peoria Chief’s baseball game July 9 or attended Promise Keepers at the end of July.
1. Serve, serve, serve!!! In a recent poll, the Barna group found that friendship was an extremely important factor in church growth and success. One of the findings is fascinating: members with best friends at church are more satisfied with their churches and more engaged in various ministries. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
Some of my best friends are the incredible servants on the student ministry team. We serve together, pray together, and dream together. This summer we are going to be involved in a missions project called “Ten Tons of Love.” Pontiac Bible Church’s goal is to collect 20,000 pounds of Bibles, Christian books, magazines, CDs, tapes, and curriculum and deliver a truck to a ministry in Bulter, IL called “Love Packages.” Go through your basement and bookshelves and clean house. Get involved and serve. Serve somewhere this summer. Join the “Promise Land” team, the multimedia team, the worship team, the greeting team, the decorating team, the landscaping team, or the hostess team. You will be surprised at how quickly you make friends when you faithful serve.
4. Think of others need ahead of your own. I believe this attitude must be an intentional act of the will. You must be actively seeking out needs to meet and looking for opportunities to consider others better than yourself. Remember Paul’s words earlier in chapter two:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:2-4)
I experienced an amazing example of this attitude on Wed morning. I joined Pontiac Christian School’s junior high class for an end-of-the-year kickball game. The seventh graders were down two runs and it was the last inning. The bases were loaded and I stepped to the plate with dreams of grandeur running through my head. The ball was pitched and I kicked what I thought would be a game-winning homerun and felt a “pop” in my leg. I took two steps and collapsed. Jason caught the ball and we lost. What moved me was the students were more concerned for me than for the outcome of the game. The moral of this story? Don’t play kickball when you are almost 37!
1. Find the faithful Friend named Jesus. In one conversation, Jesus changed the rules of the friendship game. Let’s listen in as He talks with His disciples:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:12-15)
No longer disciples, but friends! Jesus proved the depth of His love for them by laying down his life.
Jesus was faithful. He promised he would be with us …”always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus is real. He was a “friend of sinners and tax collectors.” (Matthew 11:19)
Jesus is invested. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Jesus is our encourager. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)
Jesus thought of our needs above His own. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9-10)
Jesus is dependable. Jesus is the friend that “sticks closer than a brother.” (Prov 18:24)
Let’s look at this verse again: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” The term “come to ruin” means to break in pieces by a blow.” Life is going to hit your hard and friends will forsake you. Friends will disappoint you and sometimes leave you out in the cold. But, there’s good news. I love the Geico Insurance commercials. There is one that asks, “Can your glue do this?” and there is a baby grand piano hanging from the ceiling. That is a great picture of the word “sticks.” It means to cleave or adhere to. Jesus will stick with you through thick and thin. He will never bail, bully, or back bite you. You can trust Him and He will never let you down. Jesus Christ is that friend that sticks closer than a brother.
I Knew You’d Come
Since it is Memorial Day, I’d like to end with a story I read about recently. Two friends grew up together in the early part of the twentieth century. When WWI broke out, they enlisted together, trained together, and fought together. They found themselves separated in the heat of a fierce battle. One lay critically wounded in the open battle field, the other huddled in a bunker with his commanding officer. He requested permission to try to reach his injured friend but was denied because it was too dangerous. In fact, the officer said it would be suicidal. When the officer turned his back, the soldier bolted out of the bunker and started running across barbed wire and dodged bullets whizzing all around him. He staggered back into the foxhole with his buddy who was now dead. He had been shot multiple times and lay dying next to his friend. The officer was both angry and deeply moved. “What a waste,” he blurted out. He’s dead and now you are dying. It just wasn’t worth it.” The man replied with his dying breaths, “Oh yes it was, Sarge. When I got to him, the only thing he said was, ‘I knew you’d come, Jim.”
The sweetness of sacrifice permeates true, rich, lasting friendship. Jesus said “greater lover has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12)
The words to an old hymn speak of Jesus’ sacrifice:
“I’ve found a Friend, O such a friend! He bled, He died to save me; And not alone the gift of life, but His own Self He gave me! Naught that I have mine own I call, I’ll hold it for the Giver, My heart, my strength, my life, my all are His, and His forever.” (I’ve Found a Friend, Small)
Do you know Jesus Christ as your friend? Have you placed your full trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? Have you surrendered yourself to Him to be the leader of your life? Remember, the Bible makes it clear that if you are not a Christ-Follower you are not His friend. Jesus said "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” (Luke 11:23) I love the way Eugene Peterson translates this verse: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you are not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you are not helping, you are making things worse.” (Luke 11:23, The Message) And how do we know we are Jesus’ friends? He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:13) Do you have a desire to obey Jesus? Do you want to please Him in all your ways? Or are you indifferent to His instructions?
We are going to end this morning by singing a song called “Once Again.” The bridge will be our prayer this morning –“Thank you for the cross, my Friend.” If Jesus is not your Savior, tell Him you need Him as your best friend.