Those of you who are on social media know that often a person will put on their home page a brief description of themselves, often with just a series of words, saying something like, “Christian, mother of 3, blogger”, or “Husband, father of two, director of multi-billion dollar corporation” — or whatever brief description they want to give of themselves with a few words.
We see something similar to that occasionally in scripture, especially in the letters of Paul, where he will refer to a person, and give just a little, 2,3,4 word description of who they are — often from a spiritual perspective. One of my favorite examples of these is here at the end of Philippians 2, where Paul refers to a couple of his ministry partners, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Most of us are familiar with Timothy — but fewer would say they know much about Epaphroditus — but what Paul says about him here is very important, and should cause us to evaluate our own spiritual commitment to the Lord.
First of all, just very quickly, let’s look at what Paul writes about Timothy. Timothy is a living example of the kind of selfless attitude that Paul was writing about earlier in Philippians 2. He says in :19 that he hopes to send Timothy shortly, and then he says in :20 “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare, (:21) for they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.”
What a statement! Remember what he had written in Philippians 2:4; he had said “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” We talked about the importance of being able to lay aside our own self-centeredness and selfishness, if we are going to keep unity and power in the church. Paul said Timothy didn’t just “study that in his Sunday School lesson;” he really lived it out. He really did put other people ahead of himself, and that’s why he could trust him to send him as his representative to the Philippians.
Many of us know something about Timothy through our studies over the years, bur far fewer of us know of the second man Paul refers to here, Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus is one of the great Bible names! You can’t get your graduate degree in New Testament studies unless you can both pronounce AND spell “Epaphroditus”! But in all seriousness, Epaphroditus is one of the best men in the New Testament that most of us probably don’t know anything about! But what Paul tells us about him here challenges us, and causes us to measure of our own spiritual commitment.
Let’s look at the series of words Paul uses to describe Epaphroditus:
The first and most important thing Paul writes about Epaphroditus here is that he is a “brother.” He calls him, “my brother.” Now, he’s NOT saying that Epaphroditus is literally the son of his mother. Rather, he is talking about the spiritual commitment that Epaphroditus has made, that brought him into the family of God, and made him Paul’s “brother in Christ.”
See, God made us all to be part of ONE family, the family of God. Unfortunately, when we chose to sin against God, our sins separated us from Him and from the fellowship He wanted us to experience with our fellow brothers & sisters. See, sin not only separates us from God, but also from all other people. It is sin that causes racial problems. God did not create us to be divided by race; He created us to be brothers & sisters together in ONE family. It is SIN that divides us. If you want to know what is at the heart of the race problem, it is SIN. Our sin separates us from God, and from each other.
We should have been “stuck” that way forever — except that God in His mercy came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross, and paid for our sins, so that we could be reconciled both with God and with each other. Ephesians 2:12-13 says “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” Through the blood of Jesus on the cross, our sins towards God have been paid for — AND we can now have peace with all other people who come to Jesus too. Everyone who repents of their sin and trusts Jesus as their Savior is “adopted back” into the family of God, the Bible says. Romans 8 says when you are saved, God sends the Spirit of Jesus (the Holy Spirit) into your life, and 8:15 says He gives us “a spirit of adoption as sons.” When we get saved, the Bible says, we get “adopted” into the Family of God. God is our “Heavenly Father,” as Jesus taught us, and all of us who are following Jesus are brothers and sisters with each other. So to be a Christian “brother” (or a “sister”) has a very specific meaning: it means that you are a Christian; that Jesus is your Lord & Savior, God is your Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit is in your life.
The big question is: HAS this happened to YOU? Are you a “brother” or “sister” in Christ? There is no more important question in life.
You may say, Well, I am not “officially” a child of God, but I go to church and hang out with the “brothers & sisters” there, so I am basically just like one of them. Listen: the Bible has a lot to say about that. Jesus said in Matthew 13 that the kingdom of God is like the wheat and the tares (the weeds) that were planted together and looked a lot alike — but He said there is coming a day when the wheat will be harvested, but the tares will be burnt up. He was making the point that in the same way, there will be many who “hang out” with His children here on earth, but who have never really repented of their sins; never really asked Jesus to be their Lord & Savior; the Holy Spirit has never come into their life, and they have never really been adopted into the family of God. Jesus said you can “hang out” with the family of God, and not really be a member of the family of God; and it makes a HUGE difference in your destination for eternity: will you be gathered in with the wheat, or burned with the tares?
It makes all the difference whether you have “officially” been adopted into the family of God, or not. Suppose there were two young boys, and one of the two was adopted by a rich family. But the two boys grew up living right next to each other, always playing at the rich family’s house together, always going places together. They acted like brothers, and even looked alike, so over the years, most people thought they WERE brothers. But one day, the wealthy parents of the adopted boy died. Who would get the inheritance? Not the boy who just “hung out” with the family; but only the one who was officially adopted into that family would get the inheritance.
We need to realize that it is the same with the Kingdom of God. It matters greatly whether you just “come to church” and “hang out” with all the brothers and sisters there — or whether you have personally become a “brother” or a “sister” and been adopted into the family of God through repenting of your sin and trusting Jesus as your own Lord & Savior. Only those who who have “officially” been adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ will receive the “inheritance” of the Kingdom of God!
Has this happened to you? Can you truly say, “I am a brother or sister in Christ, and I truly am a member of the family of God? There is no more important question than that. Can you say that like Epaphroditus, you are a “brother”?
II. “Fellow Worker”
According to Paul, Epaphroditus was more than “just” a brother; he WAS that, but he was also something more. He was also what Paul called a “fellow worker.” “Sun-ergon” here literally means “together with, working.” It means one who is working together with others — working together with your other brothers and sisters in the church, for the Kingdom of God.
We see something in this text about how Epaphroditus was a “fellow worker.” At the end of :25, after calling him a “brother” and “fellow worker” and “fellow soldier,” Paul says he “is also your messenger and minister to my need.” So Epaphroditus evidently took a message, and a gift, from the church at Philippi to Paul while he was in prison. Traveling in the ancient world was much more difficult that it is today; it was hard work. And not only that, he had to go to prison to see Paul and to take him that support, so it was not a pleasant duty. But Epaphroditus didn’t shrink back from it. His church needed someone to take that gift to Paul, and Epaphroditus DID it. He was a true “fellow worker” for his church and the ministry of the Kingdom of God.
That should be true for each of us as Christians. We should all be “fellow workers.” The Bible says when we are “adopted” into the family of God and the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, He brings us a “spiritual gift” with which we are to serve God’s church. I Corinthians 12:7 says “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” To whom does it say a “manifestation” or gift of the Spirit given? “EACH ONE”! That means that God has given every Christian some gift or ability with which they are to serve His church and advance His Kingdom in the world. It should be said of every one of us that we too are a “fellow worker.”
One of the things I enjoy on vacations is going on our old warships: I’ve been to both the battleship Texas not far from here, and the aircraft carrier Lexington at Corpus Christi. One of the things you can envision when you are on those ships, is that when “battle stations” sounds, every sailor goes to his assigned place — and everyone HAS an assigned place: some scan the radar; some man the antiaircraft guns; some monitor the engine; some stand by with fire extinguishers and emergency equipment. Everyone has a place. Nobody is standing around doing nothing. Everyone has a job on that warship.
And that is how it should be in the church, too. Everyone should have a place of service in the church: some may have a place in the choir; some have a place in the band; some have a place in the tech booth; some have a place in the nursery; some have a place teaching a class: children, youth, or adults; some have a place in our mens and ladies ministries or helping or going on missions; or by mowing the grass and keeping up the building and grounds. Some have a place by giving or praying in especially significant ways. Just like in a battle ship, there are all kinds of places to serve, but the point is, for everything to work well in the church, everyone needs to be serving somewhere. When “battle stations” is sounded, everyone has a place.
Let me ask you this: when “battle stations” is sounded in our church, where do YOU go? What is YOUR place of service? Many of you can answer right off; you know just what your place of service is. Others of you are new, and maybe you are still looking for a place of service. But be sure that you ARE looking; if you don’t have a place yet, make it one of your top prayer requests: “God show me where You want ME to work in Your church.” Maybe you need to see Tina and add your name to the nursery list. Maybe you need to see Susan or Pam about special needs ministry/perhaps starting a class for children with special needs. Maybe it’s something else. But God has a place for all of us to serve in His church.
Someone should be able to look at YOU, and say, like Paul did of Epaphroditus, that you are not only a “brother” (or “sister”) but also a fellow “worker” in the church.
III. “Fellow Soldier”
But I think it’s important for us to see that Paul didn’t just stop there. He went on and called Epaphoditus one more thing: a “fellow soldier.” Now, some might say, “fellow worker,” “fellow soldier,” isn’t that just the same thing? But I don’t think so. I believe there is a marked difference in commitment level between a “worker” and a “soldier.”
— a worker who had to sleep in a tent in the freezing rain might complain about his work environment. But a soldier who sleeps in a tent in the freezing rain knows that’s just part of what he signed up to do!
— a worker in a town where people are shooting each other and has bombs going off is going to be getting out of there ASAP! That’s unsafe! But a solider expects to be in a town where they are shooting and there are bombs going off. That’s what they DO.
— a worker will walk away from a job, and say, this is unsafe. This is not worth risking my life for — and rightly so! But a soldier, by definition, is one who is says, “I am willing, if need be, to lay down my life to protect and to serve my country.”
There is a big difference between a “worker” and a “soldier,” isn’t there?
I think it’s kind of summed up in that commercial you may have seen, where there is some kind of catastrophe going on in a city, and everyone is running away from it — but while everyone else is running away from that catastrophe, the U.S. soldiers are running TOWARDS it. To me, THAT right there, in a very simple picture, is the difference between a “worker” and a “soldier”:
— A worker runs away from trouble. A soldier runs TO it!
— A worker does a job; a solider fights a battle.
— A worker has limits beyond which he will not go; a soldier is willing to put his whole life on the line.
So Paul said of Epaphroditus that he was not only a “worker,” but he was also a “soldier.” And we see later on in this text, something of what Paul meant when he said that Epaphroditus was a soldier.
Look in :26 where Paul said that Epaphroditus “was distressed because you had heard he was sick.” Isn’t that an amazing thing? Epaphroditus was not distressed because HE was sick; (and Paul said he was sick “to the point of death”!) But no, Epaphroditus wasn’t distressed because HE was sick to the point of death; he was distressed because he knew the Philippians had HEARD he was sick to the point of death, and he didn’t want THEM to worry about it! This was truly a man was sold out the cause. He was not focused on himself, but on others. This was a “soldier”!
And then in :30 Paul says we should hold men like him in high regard, “For he came close to death for the work of Christ.” That’s the commitment of a soldier, isn’t it? To be willing to lay down your life for the cause. THAT IS TOTAL COMMITMENT. That is what being a “soldier” is all about.
And what the church of Jesus Christ needs today is not just more “workers” — although we DO need more workers — but we also need God’s people to step up and say, “I am going to be more than just a ‘worker;’ I am going to be a soldier.” I am going to be totally committed. I am going to go above & beyond; I will be willing to lay down my life, if need be, for the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
What does it MEAN to be a “soldier” in the church, and not just a worker?
— For one, to be a soldier means we take our orders from our Commander and we do what He tells us to do. No questioning; no second-guessing; no procrastinating; no “I’d rather do this instead …”. No, for a soldier, it’s “Yes Sir!” Soldiers obey. To be a soldier for the Lord means to obey Him; like Mary told the servants in John 2, “whatever He says to you, do it”!
— And soldiers sacrifice, without complaint. God’s soldiers in His church make sacrifices for God and for others in the church, without complaining about it.
— Soldiers go the extra mile; after hours; after duty; they do whatever needs to be done, to accomplish the goal. I just read where George Washington’s men marched with rags tied around their feet, in freezing snow, all through the middle of the night, to surprise the Hessian troops at Trenton, and won a battle that turned around the War for Independence. Those men didn’t say, “It’s too cold,” or “Well, it’s after 5:30,” or “I need the right shoes …”. They went, because they were soldiers.
We need to have that same attitude as God’s people today. We need to be willing to work after hours; to go the extra mile; to press on when we’re tired, to truly make sacrifices for GOD’s work in the church, like those soldiers did for our Independence.
Now someone may say, “Yeah, Bro. Shawn, but those men were at WAR!” See, this is just the thing. This is where so many Christians today are missing it; they don’t realize that WE ARE AT WAR!
— We are at war against the world
— We are at war against the flesh
— We are at war against the devil.
We are not just a part of some “religious club” here at church, WE ARE AT WAR for the souls of men and for the glory of God.
— we are at war for the souls of children who are growing up without being taught that Jesus loves them.
— we are at war for souls of young people who are being taught to just live for pleasure because there is no God.
— we are at war for the souls of adults in our country who are being brainwashed into thinking that if they’ll just buy what that commercial is selling they’ll finally find happiness.
— we are at war with forces in our world who teach that the Bible is not relevant, that we can make our own truth, that we can do whatever we “feel,” and you can just make your own way to God, whoever you think He is.
We are at war. And we need to be “soldiers” and act like we are at war; we need to act like what we are doing in the church is serious business:
— we need to prepare for our lessons like someone in your class’s soul is on the line — because it may be!
— we need to show up when we sign up because there is no business on this earth more important than the business we’re doing for the Kingdom of God
— we need to make sacrifices because we realize how important this work is.
— we need to put the work of the church first and not last in our priorities, because the work of God’s kingdom is the only thing that will last in this life.
— we need to go on mission trips without asking “is it safe?” because people are dying and going to hell if they don’t hear the gospel.
We need to be soldiers; we need to act like this is worth investing our life in; that it is worth sacrificing for; it is worth living for; it is worth dying for. It is worth being a soldier for. It may not be what we “feel” like doing, but strap on our helmets and go do it, because we’re “soldiers” for the Kingdom of God.
I’ve shared before about Meggie Hixson, the young lady who was a student in our church in Louisiana, who became a doctor and went overseas to Tanzania with our International Mission Board (in fact, she went to Kigoma, where Ralph & Waldene Shuman served for a time). Meggie has been home this year, finishing her seminary degree, and getting ready to go back to Africa. Just this week she posted a picture on Facebook of her suitcase, packed for Tanzania, with this message:
“Well, here we go again…packing up the suitcases with the dog looking on forlornly (she hates suitcases as she knows it means someone is leaving). Am I ready to get back to Kigoma? Yes. But it’s different this time.
The first time, I was so excited and starry eyed. I knew it would be challenging but never dreamed just how much. My time in Tanzania ended up being some of the toughest years I’ve ever walked through. Now, while I still am looking forward to going, I feel a bit more like a soldier, who has seen some tough battles, preparing for the next fight. I know it won’t be easy, and I have so much more to learn. I know there will be joys and victories along with pain, failures, and struggles along the way. But this time, I feel more prepared after glimpsing the depth of God’s goodness and faithfulness that I never would have seen had my first term been easy. And for that, I can rejoice and trust in the One leading me each step of the way. And I am looking forward to seeing His glory in both the darkest and sunniest days. Because He is good. (Meggie Hixson FB 7/06/21)
It was so striking to me, while studying this passage this week, to see Meggie write those words: “I feel a bit more like a soldier …preparing for the next fight.” That’s what God’s telling us here. He’s calling us to be more than just “workers,” but to be soldiers, who don’t just do what is “easy,” but who “strap on their helmets” and do the hard things that need to be done for the Kingdom of God.
And I’ll tell you: we’ve GOT some “soldiers” here at First Baptist Angleton. I’ve said before, we’ve got folks that I would to go to the ends of the earth with; I’ve said, we’ve got people that I want on my side in battle. We’ve got some soldiers here. We just need MORE of ‘em! God’s calling some of us today to take the next step up, and become a “solider” for His Kingdom.
This has been an exciting year for the First Baptist Church of Angleton: we’ve moved into a new building; we’ve had scores of visiting families; we’ve seen several overflow crowds in this room already; we’ve had a lot of people join our church; we’ve had several multiple baptism services already. God is working here. God is blessing. We need to appreciate what is happening, and thank God for it.
But someone might ask: What does the future hold for the First Baptist Church of Angleton? I don’t know what the future holds for this church, but I believe I can say this: that what the future holds for this church will depend on how many of us sitting in the chairs in this room, act like our seat is on a cruise ship, and how many of us act like our seat is on a battleship. The future of our church will depend on how many of us will be committed to not only be “brothers,” not only to be “workers,” but how many of us will be “soldiers” for the Kingdom of God.
What about you? Are you a “brother”? Are you a “worker”? Are you a “soldier”?
The invitation today is simple: evaluate your life by what Paul wrote about Epaphroditus. Where are you, spiritually?
— are you a “brother”? Have you ever really, “officially” committed your life to Jesus as your Lord & Savior — and have you demonstrated it by being baptized?
— are you a “worker”? Is the church to you a place to just “come and sit,” or do you have a place of service in the church? Are you a “worker”? Where’s your “battle station”? Do you need to talk to Kyle, or Scott, or Tina, or Susan or Pam, about a place of service? If you don’t have a place of service, and don’t know what it should be, you need to make it your fervent prayer to find it.
— are you a “soldier”? Are you willing to suffer for the good of others, and for the Kingdom of God? Are you willing to go “above & beyond”? Are you willing to do the “hard” things that no one else will do? Will you be willing to even risk your life to bring the gospel to others?