Models of Ministry, Part 4
May 10, 2020
Models of Ministry, Part 4 5.11.20
A warm Mother’s Day greeting to all of the mother’s out there. Being a mother is really hard. I know this. I always take Fridays off. On Fridays, Kathryn goes to my office and works her job. When we moved, she was able to keep her job that she had back in Dallas. So on Friday I’m at home with the kids all day. By the time she comes home, I’m usually completely fried. The kids just zap me. I don’t know if I could stay with the kids for more than one day at a time. Kathryn does it every day. I’m very thankful for her as the mother of my children. I’m thankful to my own mother. And I am thankful for all the other mothers who call CBC home. Mothers, you are engaging in a very difficult yet very important task of raising children. To be a godly mother is to fulfill a tremendous task. Keep loving your kids, keep fighting for patience, and keep praying for them. Your efforts matter.
I am sad that we cannot be together. As the e-mail said that I sent out this week, the deacons and elders decided to continue our suspension of church activities. This was a hard decision, but we believe the wisest decision. Continue praying for our wisdom. The deacons and elders greatly look forward to the time we can get back together.
This morning we will be concluding our study of “Models of Ministry.” This is the fourth and final installment of this min-series within the book of Philippians. Let’s go ahead and turn to our passage this morning. The passage is Phil 2:25. We will read through v. v. 30. I covered v. 25 last week. We will cover it again this week but for a different purpose. Paul says this,
I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
We began our discussion of Epaphroditus last week. Last week we explored the titles Paul attribute to Epaphroditus. I mentioned last week that Paul places five different labels on Epaphroditus as he mentions in v. 25. Three of these labels were based upon Epaphroditus’ relationship to Paul: “my brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier.” The other two labels were based upon Epaphroditus’s relationship to the Philippian church: “your messenger and minister to my need.”
Although we are covering a lot of verses this morning, there is a single idea I want to pull out from this passage and discuss with you this week. What we are going to explore this morning is found in v. 30. Look with me there. Paul states,
for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me
Notice what Paul says here: Epaphroditus risked his life to complete his ministry. Taking Epaphroditus example, what we’re going to do this morning is to explore this idea of risk as it relates to ministry. We are going to explore the idea of risk as it relates to ministry. Epaphroditus’ example, his model of ministry in this passage is going to teach us two essential truths about ministry and the notion of risk. Before we start, though, I’d like to define what I mean by risk. This is what I mean:
the possibility that something bad or unpleasant (such as an injury or a loss) will happen
That is what I mean by risk. Risk is the possibility that something bad or unpleasant will happen.
Ministry Involves Risk
As I already alluded to, Epaphroditus risked his life to complete his ministry to Paul on behalf of the Philippians. To review a bit from last week, I argued that Epaphroditus was tasked by the Philippian church to go to Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome, and take to him some message and some financial support. We know that that is the case based upon 2:25 and 4:18. It was a very long journey from Philippi to Rome. A very long. It could have taken Epaphroditus months to get to Rome. When Epaphroditus arrived, he gave Paul the message and the money. I imagine he stayed with Paul some time and helped him in various ways. And then Paul sent Epaphroditus back with the Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Epaphroditus then delivered this letter to the church after a long journey back home. We explored all of that last week.
One issue that we did not explore in depth last week but only briefly touched on was what happened to Epaphroditus while on this journey. Paul states that during Epaphroditus’s mission to Paul, Epaphroditus became ill. Look in v. 27. Paul says,
Indeed he was ill, near to death.
The word for “ill” here is a very general word. Paul does not specify what type of illness Epaphroditus had. We can only speculate. Nonetheless, we know that this was a very serious illness. Paul says that he was so sick that he nearly died. Epaphroditus was very sick.
And just to reiterate the point again. Epaphroditus’ sickness resulted from his ministry to Paul. Look with me again at 2:30. Paul says,
for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
So many millennials today like to travel the world, seeing new places and learning about cultures. I’m sure millennials are doing that a lot less now because of this virus. Nevertheless, once this goes away they’ll be back at it. These millennials travel for fun, adventure, and excitement. Their purpose is pleasure and fun.
Epaphroditus didn’t travel from Philippi to Rome for fun. There was no “fun” traveling back then. If you wanted to go backpack in the mountains back in the ancient world, you might have had to walk there. Ya, no thanks. Epaphroditus got sick because he loved Christ. He nearly died
“for the work of Christ.” He risked his life “to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” Epaphroditus did this for his passion for the gospel. Nothing else.
Now, dear friend, Epaphroditus’ example highlights an essential aspect of Christianity. What Epaphroditus did was not exceptional. It was exceptional in the sense of the impact it had in the history of Christianity. But it was not exceptional in the sense that Epaphroditus fulfilled some special command by Christ. What Epaphroditus did was that he simply acted like a Christian. The call of Christianity is a call to taking on risk.
I’ve read this passage before, and I’m going to read it again. Listen to what Jesus says. This comes from Matt 16:24,
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Jesus says to take up a cross here. A cross is what Jesus died on. Jesus is commanding you in this passage to take up a weapon of death. That is risk! That’s the riskiest commandment you can give. Jesus is commanding in this passage that all Christians, not just some, not just a few, all Christians to take on risk.
Let me be as bold to say this this morning. You cannot be a Christian without taking on risk. To be a Christian is risky. If you’re looking for a safe, comfortable, risk-free life, don’t be a Christian. If all you want in life is comfort and ease, you need to run as far away from Jesus as you can. To be a Christian is to accept risk. To be a Christian is to take on risk. Radical risk.
Risk in Ministry
As it is with Christianity, so it is with Christian ministry. Christian ministry is risky as is Christianity. Ministry is the result of Christianity. Ministry is risky because Christianity is risky.
There are many risks in ministry. Many. The first and foremost risk is your very own life. Many Christians have died for their service to Christ. Many. Physical persecution is real. In this wonderful country of the United States of America, Christians have been spared from physical persecution. But around the world, many Christians are persecuted for their faith. Brother John Strohman in his missionary journeys to India has recounted that many of the people who he serves with have been persecuted by the local Hindus. You don’t have to go that far to find this type of risk.
Our context is different, however. The risk that we take on in engaging in ministry is probably not going to be the risk of losing our lives. It could be but I doubt it. More likely than not it will be something else. In our context, I think one of the main risks we take in engaging in ministry is the threat of not being liked. We run the risk of not being popular. When we engage in ministry, when we take a stand for the truth, we run the risk of not being liked.
Let me give you an illustration that highlights this point. Let’s say you are at a family gathering. You’re around some of the people who you love most. As you and your family are just relaxing, sitting around and talking, a topic of discussion comes up that dishonors Christ. This topic could concern any number of issues. All of your family members are laughing and having a good time.
Maybe they’re even drinking a little bit. Everyone’s just having a good old time. But they’re defaming Christ. In this moment, you are confronted with risk. The risk is this. If you stand up for your convictions regarding the truth of the gospel, your family might disapprove of you. They might ridicule you. They might even stop talking to you. If you go against the flow, there will be negative consequences for you. You run the risk of suffering some loss—whether its being ostracized, being made fun of, or being humiliated. Whatever.
Ministry is risky. When we engage in ministry, we run the risk of suffering loss—whether its our lives, our social status, our popularity, our finances, whatever. This is the natural outcome of Christianity. Ministry is risky because Christianity is risky. Jesus calls us to lose our lives in order to find them. That’s risky. But, dear friend, this risk is exactly what Christ calls us to take upon ourselves.
Dear friend, are you engaging in this type of risk? Do you pursue risk for the sake of Christ? Are you laying your health, your comfort, your pleasure, your time down for the sake of Jesus Christ? This is what the Lord calls us to do. He calls us to lay it all down for him, to enter into the possibility of loss for his name’s sake.
Ministry is Worth the Risk
Now we come to the question of is it worth it. Is the risk that is inherent in ministry worth it? Is ministry worth it? I obviously have a stake in this question. I wouldn’t be up here if I didn’t have a strong conviction regarding this question. The answer is an astounding yes. Ministry is absolutely worth the risk. This is my second point. Write: “Ministry is worth the risk.” The first point was “Ministry involves risk.” And the second point is “Ministry is worth the risk.”
There are tremendous benefits to engaging in ministry. And these benefits outweigh the risks. There are risks, yes. But the blessings, the advantages of ministry far outweigh the risks. What we gain in ministry far surpasses what we might lose.
Blessings from God
Paul specifies two blessings that Epaphroditus received from the risk he took in ministering to Paul. Two blessings. The first is blessing from God. Look with me at v. 27. Paul writes,
Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
As we touched on above in our first point, Epaphroditus became ill during his mission to Paul. Very ill. He almost died. But look what Paul says happened to Epaphroditus. God intervened in a tremendous way.
We once again need to understand this in light of a first-century context. When we get ill, we tend to not see it as life threatening. One reason why is because we have antibiotics. Antibiotics have revolutionized medicine. With antibiotics we are able to easily treat ill people with a simple pill. In Paul’s day, they didn’t have antibiotics. They didn’t have modern medicine. We are
extremely blessed to live in the age of modern medicine. What used to kill people, we can easily treat will a pill. In the ancient world, if you got seriously sick, there was a high likelihood that you would die. Few people survived a near-death experience with a serious illness.
Epaphroditus did, though. And Paul attributes his survival to the mercy of God. Paul says,
But God had mercy on him
Paul attributes Epaphroditus recovery from this life-threatening illness in light of an intervention from God. We don’t know if Epaphroditus was miraculously healed or naturally healed. It doesn’t matter. What we do know is that Epaphroditus recovery was due to the “mercy of God.”
Epaphroditus risked his life to fulfill the calling God had placed on his life. Epaphroditus then became sick. God responded by blessing Epaphroditus with renewed health. God saved Epaphroditus from death. Epaphroditus took the risk and trusted in God, and God was faithful to protect Epaphroditus.
What this highlights about ministry is when you choose to be faithful, when you choose to engage in ministry, when you chose to be faithful to follow the Lord in spreading the gospel, God will be faithful to you. God will bless you. God will sustain you and use you. Just as God did with Epaphroditus, so also God will do with you. For those who choose to embrace the risk of ministry, who pursue the risk that is inherit within ministry, God will bless you. God will see to it that your efforts, your striving, your work for him are not in vain. Wow! That’s a promise you can bank your life on. Any effort for God in this world, any risk you take for the Lord and for his glory, the Lord will establish you and bless you in. Epaphroditus’ example shows us that.
Now this doesn’t mean that God will necessarily heal you. So let’s say you take on some risk for the Lord and you end up dying. That happens, dear friend. God’s faithfulness to Epaphroditus probably will look different than his faithfulness to you. Let me say that again: God’s faithfulness to Epaphroditus probably will look different than his faithfulness to you. God is always faithful, but his faithfulness is expressed differently.
Further, if you take unwise risk (which many Christians do), that does not mean that God will protect you from all of the negative consequences of that decision. So, let’s say you choose to marry a non-Christian. You take on the risk that your children could be raised by a non-Christian. That is a big risk. And that is an unwise risk. If you take that on, it doesn’t mean that God will protect you from negative consequences. God’s faithfulness is only guaranteed when we take upon wise and biblical risk. If we veer from wise risk, God’s blessings do not necessarily follow. So we have to be careful in assessing risk.
Commendation from Man
Not only will we receive blessings from God, we will also receive commendation from man. Ministry is worth the risk because of the commendation from other people that we receive.
Because Epaphroditus took on the risk of ministry, because Epaphroditus risked his life for the sake of the gospel, Epaphroditus received a great reputation from Paul and the Philippians. Look with me at this passage of how Epaphroditus is spoken of. Starting in v. 25. Epaphroditus is described as
my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need
We explored these titles last week. Epaphroditus was of tremendous usefulness to Paul. And Paul thought very highly of Epaphroditus.
Look at v. 27. Paul says this,
Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
Paul loved Epaphroditus. He loved him for what he did for him. Epaphroditus risked his life to help Paul. Paul loved him for this. And had Epaphroditus died Paul would have had “sorrow upon sorrow.” Notice Paul’s emphasis upon the sorrow he would have had if Epaphroditus would have died. It’s not just “sorrow”; it’s sorrow upon sorrow. Tremendous sorrow. Epaphroditus would have been greatly missed. When some people die, they are neither missed, nor forgiven. In fact, when some people die, people rejoice. Epaphrpoditus was not like this. He was treasured, loved, and appreciated. Had he died, Paul would have been crushed.
Look in v. 28 through the beginning of v. 29.
I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. So receive him in the Lord with all joy
This verse touches upon Epaphroditus’ usefulness again. Epaphroditus is extremely useful to Paul and to the Philippian church. Paul wants Epaphroditus to receive a “hero’s welcome” from the Philippians. He wants the Philippians to receive him with joy.
Now look with me again at the end of v. 29.
and honor such men.
The word here for men is a general word for “men.” Paul wants the Philippian church to honor all men and women who model Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus has become in the Philippian church a model of excellence. Paul wants the Philippians to create a culture in which they model Epaphroditus and those people who are like him. Epaphroditus becomes the model Christians for the Philippian church.
In order to apply this to you, I need to explain the Bible’s approach to receiving praise from people. As you know the Bible says that we should not seek the praise of man. The clearest passage regarding this point is Prov 29:25. It reads,
The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
As this passage says, the fear of man will lead you down the wrong paths in life. If all you care about is what other people think about you, that is a sin. You need to not think and feel that way.
However, the Bible also says this. This passage also comes from Proverbs. It’s Prov 22:1.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
As this passage states, a good name, a good reputation is very valuable. It is very important in life to not be known by other people as a crook, a cheat, and a no-good. You should greatly desire to have a good reputation.
Now how do we put these two ideas together. They way we do so is this: They way we attain a good name is not by seeking the praise of man. If you seek the praise of man, if you just want to be liked, you will not have a good reputation. People will see you as a coward, a liar, and a fraud. However, if you seek God’s approval, people will praise you. If you seek God’s approval, people will praise you. Because people are made in the image of God, they recognize someone who has godly character, even if they themselves are not godly. If you live a life for the glory of God, people will praise you. You don’t live a godly life so that people praise you. You live a godly life for God. But a consequence of that is that you will be praised by other people. You will have a good name in this world. And that good name is a blessing. You should want a good name in this world. And the way you pursue that good name is by pursing God.
Bringing this to Epaphroditus, Epaphroditus did not seek the praise of man. Rather, he sought the glory of God. To do this, to seek the glory of God, he laid his life on the life for the gospel. He risked his life for the gospel. Paul saw this. Paul saw the sacrifice that Epaphroditus underwent to have the gospel go forth. And Paul praised him for it.
And now applying this to you. When you die, dear friend, what will people say of you? How will you be remembered? This reputation matters. Remember what Proverbs said: “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” How will you be remembered?
If you want to live a life that matters, if you want to die with a great name, a great reputation, you gotta be like Epaphroditus. You gotta lay it all on the line. You have to pursue ministry. You have to get out of your comfort zone, you have to repent of the desire for pleasure and ease, and you have to laid hold the risk that ministry brings. If you do, dear friend, you will die with a great reputation. And, as the Proverbs say, a reputation that is worth more than great riches. Come and die for Christ.