Honor Such Men
Philippians 2:19-30 – Philippians: Life Together
Third Sunday in Lent – March 4, 2018 (am)
Today we come to a warm, personal text. Paul is talking to this church about two men he wants to send to the Philippians. The circumstances are a bit different in each case, but the Philippians’ encouragement is Paul’s aim in his (sending) of both of them.
Back near the start of our series we referenced the fact that Philippians seems to be written according the pattern of an ancient friendship, or family, letter. One of the elements near the middle of that established structure is a section giving information about the movements of (messengers) between the writer and the recipients (Fee 3). The passage before us today is that portion of this letter. Paul is reporting on an assistant of his that he (hopes) to send to visit them soon. Then he mentions another assistant whom he (needs) to send back to them, like he’s going back home. And both of these men are very dear to Paul and to the Philippians.
But what Paul is doing here seems to be more than just (honoring) the form of a proper letter. And he’s not just transitioning from one section of his letter to the next, though he’s likely doing both of these. Additionally, though, he’s mentioning two men, each of whom illustrates one of the main points he’s making in his letter. Two themes emerge in this central portion of Philippians that were anticipated in the theme verse (1:27-28a). In 2:1-18, Paul is calling this church to stand firm in humble service of one another. Then in 3:1-11 he’s urging them to stand firm in the face of suffering and opposition. Our passage serves as a hinge between these two sections, and it introduces these two men as examples in each of these areas: Timothy, for his humble service of Christ and Paul and the church, and Epaphroditus, for his faithful endurance in suffering.
But Paul is doing even more than this in this warm and personal passage. Not only is he spotlighting these men as examples of what he wants to see develop in the lives of the Philippians, he’s giving them an example of how to follow the only command he issues here: 29 … receive (them) in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men. That’s a surprising charge to give to a community whose calling is to exalt Christ alone (9-11).Let’s consider this text under three headings.
A Striking Portrait of Two Faithful Brothers in Christ
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. Paul wants a more recent update of how the Philippians are doing after receiving his letter. But he could’ve received that update in any number of ways. He’s sending Timothy in particular because he has additional priorities here. For one, (they knew Timothy) (22) and his proven worth to Paul as a spiritual son in the faith and a (partner) with (him) in the gospel. 20 … I have no one like him, Paul wrote, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. Timothy was uniquely enabled by God (cf.21) to accomplish the purpose for which Paul was (sending) him to Philippi. So, Paul was (send-ing) them his best. And he was (sending) him just as soon as he could be spared (23), even though he still had hopes of coming (himself) (24) if the Lord enabled.
As to Epaphroditus, Paul wrote, 26 … he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. And Paul adds: 27 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—being in prison, then having a beloved brother and fellow worker (25) pass away while on a mission of mercy to him (25). 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious—praise God, Epaphroditus and the Philippians have been reunited.
So, these are the facts regarding the (sending) of Timothy and Epaphroditus. But we know more from this passage than just the facts of their (sending). For some reason, Paul felt it necessary to rehearse the quality of their character and service here, even though all of them (knew) both of these men.
Look at what Paul says of Timothy: 20 … I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Among Paul’s fellow servants, Timothy surpasses them all with regard to his heart for the people he’s (serving). And in reality, it begins with his heart for Jesus Christ. He loves the Lord and he loves what the Lord loves. He also loves Paul, and the mission they share together. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, Paul writes, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. Paul is celebrating to the Philippians the work of the gospel in Timothy. And he’s stacking up reasons and causes for that celebration.
Then he does a similar thing with Epaphroditus. 25 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. Five different affirming descriptors Paul gives to describe Epaphroditus, whom the Philippians already know—they sent him to Paul! And in the original, those five descriptors come ahead of the verb, emphasizing their importance: 25And I thought it necessary Epaphroditus —my brother, and fellow-(worker), and fellow-soldier, and your (messenger) and (minister) to my need—to send unto you (YLT).
What is this about? What is Paul doing here? These descriptions turn out to be among the most striking elements of this warm and personal paragraph. I actually think Paul is modeling for the Philippians, and us, what it will look like to heed his charge in v.29.
A Surprising Charge to a Christ-exalting Community
After these affirming descriptions of Timothy and Epaphroditus, and speaking most immediately of the latter, Paul writes: 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, welcome him home, and honor such men—lit., hold such ones in honor (NAGNT), hold (them) in high regard (NAS), as precious, valued, respected, highly esteemed (WSDNT). And Paul is showing them here just how to do that.
This is a surprising charge for us to hear, because in some ways it just doesn’t seem right. After all, it’s not Timothy and Epaphroditus themselves who’ve accomplished all that Paul is praising here. It’s so clearly God (working) in (them) (13). So, why is a Paul heaping on that praise? Why is he charging the Philippians to do the same? Shouldn’t he just be calling them to praise Christ all the more—whenever they see something in a brother or sister that is so clearly enabled of the Lord, so clearly the fruit of the work of Christ in their lives, reconciling them to God and giving them the Spirit? And yet, this is how it works in the body of Christ. This is not the only place where we’re called to honor one another in Scripture. Let’s consider how this is supposed to work.
Reflections on Life Together in a Healthy Local Church
Paul gives similar, or complementary, instruction in a number of places, giving us the impression that local churches are supposed to embody a culture of honor. This is part of our uniqueness in this world, part of what sets us apart from this crooked and twisted generation (15), part of what distinguishes us a (citizens) of another world (3:20). And we’re told to do it in a number of different ways. In the closing chapter of 1Co., Paul mentions several that have visited him from there, then says: they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people (1Co.16:18). Honor them. Rom.12 magnifies this charge: Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom.12:10), Paul writes there. Ray Ortlund commented on this passage saying: Here is a competition in which everyone wins, here is where we can fight for first place in line: in honoring one another. Not just accepting one another, not just forgiving one another, not just tolerating one another, but honoring one another. Every church can be a culture of honor (Ortlund). That’s what our life together should look like, feel like. We honor one another for Christ’s sake, celebrating His work in one another.
In another place Ortlund wrote: We who are destined for glory are now commanded by God to create alternative cultures of honor, called churches, where people are lifted up, their accomplishments celebrated, their strengths admired, their weaknesses forgiven (Ortlund).
Jesus Himself raises our awareness of this as He tells us what the truly converted will hear when they’re welcomed into heaven: Well done, good and faithful servant (Mat.25:21).
So, God Himself praises what He enables in us, and here we’re called to do the very same with one another. In the flow of this passage, we’re called to observe in one another what is developing as each of us seeks to work out (our) own salvation with fear and trembling (12). We’re called to notice and affirm what we see God (working) in each of (us) both to will and to work for his good pleasure (13). This is part and parcel of the miracle of the local church, of life together within the body of Christ. It doesn’t divert attention away from the exaltation of Christ, it celebrates the impact of His work in the lives of us fallen sinners to bring about words and actions and attitudes that are worthy of honor! And it’s not just men, but women, and children as well—all who have been changed by the amazing grace of God to manifest that mind… which is ours in Christ Jesus (5), that manner of life (which is) worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27).
This passage of Scripture was preached by Drew Hunter at our Men’s Retreat last fall. He talked about this form of affirmation as being like oxygen in relationships. Drew gets together annually with a group of men who hike and camp, often in the high altitudes of the CO Rockies. And rigorous activity in such places, like hiking and climbing, can cause your lungs to ache for oxygen. One of the guys brought along a can of Boost, compressed oxygen that sprays in your mouth and can ease the undesirable symptoms of oxygen-deprivation in a matter of minutes.
Affirmation, showing honor, expressing our appreciation for one another in response to the work of God in our lives, is oxygen to our life together. We were made for it—made to need it, to desire it, to offer it, and encourage it in one another. And as we press on to do it well—to create a culture of honor, of Christ-exalting affirmation in our local church, here at GCD—every part of our life together will be enhanced. It’ll grow and develop. It’ll begin to reverberate with the harmonies of heaven. And it’ll increasingly be scented with the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (2Co.2:14).
Ortlund wrote: Every church can be a culture of honor. Why? Because of the doctrine of glorification. It’s the punch-line of the gospel: “Them he glorified” (Rom.8:30). Every Christian you know will be forever glorious inside and out with the glory of the risen Jesus: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2Th.2:14). Let’s see one another not as we are but as we will be. That gospel-perception makes Rom.12:10 an obvious thing to do. Rom.12:10—and we could add Phi.2:29—might be the most disobeyed Scripture in our churches today, but it really is the wardrobe into Narnia (Ortlund). It’s an unexpected passageway into the beauty of the glorious, coming Kingdom, into the now expressions of the not yet!
Honor what you see in your brothers and sisters, old and young—whatever Christlike characteristics resonate with the qualities Paul praised in these two men. Honor such (people) not just with your words, but with your attitudes and actions. Affirm them, but also (imitate) them (3:17). Honor them like children are called to honor (their) father and mother (Eph.6:2)—by carrying on the legacy of their spiritual life, (imitating them) as (they imitate) Christ (cf. 1Co.11:1). So, to the praise of God’s glorious grace poured out upon us, and in response to His great love…, to the exaltation of His Son Whose sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead has saved us from our sins and given us a certain future hope…, in cooperation with the Spirit of God Who enables and guides our obedience until we are finally, safely Home, honor (one another)!