Text: Phil.2 :19-30
Planning in an Uncertain World
We are living through strange times. Our government is trying desperately hard to work out what is best for the country and that affects us as one set of restrictions follows hard on the heels of another. This can lead us to feeling somewhat bemused if not anxious about what the future might hold in store for us. In such circumstances we may wonder what is the point of trying to plan anything as we look ahead.
Well, in our text this morning we find the apostle Paul in a situation that was every bit as uncertain as ours is. Paul didn’t know what the future held for him. You’ll remember that he was in prison and the outcome of his case had not yet been decided. He might be released but then again it was a real possibility that he might receive the death penalty. While Paul personally thought he was going to be set free he couldn’t be sure of it so what could he do?
The answer is he could busy himself making a series of contingency plans. And that is precisely what we find him doing. Indecision was not an option for a man like Paul. He made plans and the plans he made took into account the variables of his situation.
Let’s look briefly together at the factors that characterised Paul’s planning. The attitude which he demonstrated will prove to be a good one for us to adopt too.
The first thing for us to take note of is that Paul made his plans against the backdrop of God’s sovereignty – and we must do so as well. Paul wasn’t able to determine what was going to happen in the future and neither can we – only God can do that – but this certainly didn’t stop Paul from making plans, he just submitted them all to the gracious loving hands of his Heavenly Father and his Lord, Jesus Christ.
Now many people never do this. Many act as though they are masters of their own destiny as they leave God totally out of the picture. James countered that sort of behaviour when he wrote:
Jas.4:15 “Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
And Paul’s behaviour was very much in line with that called for by James as we see in:
v.19 “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.”
v.24 “and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.”
Paul also interpreted the fact of Epaphroditus’ recovery from severe illness to be an act of God’s mercy not merely of mercy expressed towards Epaphroditus himself but also to him, Paul.
The uncertainty then of Paul’s situation did not stop him from making his plans and neither should we give way to thoughts that our own lives have somehow been put on hold. As Paul planned so we should also continue to make our plans for the future while at the same time acknowledging with a faith declaration that “our times are in his hands” (Ps.31:15).
What Paul Planned
The plans that Paul made involved himself and two other men. These others, Timothy and Epaphroditus, were like him in that they were all making good efforts at working out their salvation with fear and trembling. A little later we will look in some more detail at the pen portraits that the apostle drew of these men and then, along with Paul’s own example, we’ll be able to build a picture of what a good Christian life looks like. When we compare our lives with theirs we may well discover areas in which we need to make progress.
But first we’ll investigate what Paul’s plans actually were.
1. Paul wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians.
As we read the whole letter we realise that while it is addressed to a real congregation of the Lord’s people and one which had an excellent relationship with the apostle, it was nevertheless a church that had its own problems and issues and they needed help in dealing with them.
So Paul wanted to send Timothy because he knew that Timothy, his trusted lieutenant, would be well-suited to the task after all he was genuinely concerned for the Philippians’ welfare.
Not only did Paul want to send Timothy to help the Philippians but he also wanted to hear how they were getting on and he fully expected Timothy to be able to return to him with news that would cheer his own heart.
2. But Paul couldn’t send Timothy immediately because other needs were more pressing and so Paul’s plans took these into account.
With the outcome of his imprisonment still in doubt Paul needed Timothy’s help and support with him for the moment. And we can readily understand why. If the outcome meant the death of the apostle then Timothy’s presence as the spiritual son of his father would prove to be essential. Indeed sometime later this would prove to be the case when Paul nearing the end of his life wrote to Timothy urging him with these words:
2Tim.4:9 “Do your best to come to me soon.”
So Paul’s plans for the future did include sending Timothy to Philippi but not just yet!
3. At this point Paul adds that his plans include himself making another trip to Philippi but again for the moment the circumstances render that impossible.
4. Yet Paul does has current plans for helping the church in Philippi and these plans centre on the sending of Epaphroditus to them. Paul was careful to explain the benefits he foresaw in such a plan:
a) This should encourage the Philippians
b) This would comfort Epaphroditus’ distress
c) This would relieve Paul’s anxieties
Do you see how Paul explains at least some of the reasoning that lay behind the plans he was drawing up? How important good communication can be to avoid possible misunderstandings and misconceptions that otherwise might develop and have a negative impact upon the life of the church in Philippi and their relationship with the apostle! And Paul’s planning was far more than mere wishful thinking, it included some more guidance for the Philippians to follow as Paul’s plans unfolded which we will see as we move on to look at the men Paul wanted to commend to the congregation at Philippi.
When you read through what Paul had to say about Timothy you’re left with the portrait of a man you’d probably like to know for yourself. But perhaps it might be better to ask “Would you like to be this sort of person that Timothy was yourself.
The first reference we find to this young man in the NT sets the tone for what follows:
Acts 16:2 “He was well spoken of by the brothers”
Paul quickly invited him to accompany him his missionary journey which was to see the gospel spread into Europe. There was quite a little team of Christians ministering together – Paul was the leader but there was also Silas and Luke in addition to Timothy. It was later on that trip that the church in Philippi was founded. While Paul and Silas were arrested there and badly treated neither Luke nor Timothy suffered in this and remained at large though we don’t know how they escaped imprisonment. Seeing others suffering for their faith did not deter Timothy who continued to be a faithful servant. Every reference in the NT to Timothy is a positive one.
· This is how Paul viewed Timothy :
o He was someone Paul could trust. Paul knew he could rely upon Timothy to bring news back from Philippi when Paul eventually was free to send him there. Timothy would be a worthy emissary of the apostle.
o He was unique in being so genuinely interested in the Philippians’ welfare. Paul recognised that Timothy put the interests of others ahead of his own in a way that no-one else did. In Paul’s estimation Timothy had got his priorities right:
vv.20-21 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”
In fact he exemplified the kind of attitude and behaviour that Paul had been recommending to the Philippians earlier in this same chapter:
cf. 2:3-4 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
o He was a man of “proven worth” – I’ve already said that elsewhere in the NT Timothy is positively spoken of and to Paul he was:
- a beloved, faithful and true child in the faith
- a fellow worker, God’s co-worker
- a son working with him for the gospel.
How the church needs men and women like this! Do you any people who you might wish to describe in this way?
Do you think others who know you would describe you in such glowing terms?
Will you pray for the Lord to make gifts of such people to his church today? Will you seek, in the power of God’s grace, to so work out your own salvation that you might become more and more this type of person?
I wonder if the Philippians were a little bit disappointed to read that Paul didn’t plan to send Timothy to them at that particular moment in time? You could well understand them if they did because they already knew Timothy, they knew that everything Paul said about him was true.
If the Philippians were a tad disappointed to hear that Timothy wasn’t coming immediately their disappointment was soon to be mitigated by the news that Paul was planning someone else and this person was another man of exceptional quality: Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus was well-known already to the Philippian church because he was one of them. They had actually sent him as their representative to Paul in order to minister to the apostle’s needs.
Given the fact that the Philippians already knew who Epaphroditus was we might wonder why it was that Paul took the time to explain the worth and value of this man. Surely it wasn’t necessary to commend such a well-known person to them and surely they didn’t need to be encouraged to welcome him warmly!
Well there are at least a couple of possible reasons why Paul might have felt it important to write a glowing report about Epaphroditus whom he was glad to openly recognise as:
o a Brother
o a Fellow worker
o a Fellow soldier
o a Messenger and a Minister
1. Maybe on a simple level the Philippians had been looking forward to receiving a visit from Timothy; after all he was, it seems, Paul’s closest companion. And now the replacement visitor is only going to be Epaphroditus! And they knew Epaphroditus so well – or, at least, they thought they did.
It is often the case that, as the “prophet has no honour” in his hometown neither is the local boy likely to be welcomed with such enthusiasm as a more famous visitor.
And so Paul tells the Philippians just how highly he rates and values the man he is sending to them. They mustn’t see him as a stop-gap measure, an also ran, this man Epaphroditus had real qualities, real spiritual qualities, that the Philippians might not fully appreciate yet. So Paul described him in the warmest possible way before going on to explain some of his reasoning for sending Epaphroditus to them.
2. A second possible reason why Paul takes such care to commend Epaphroditus and to underscore the value of what he had done as the church’s envoy in ministering to Paul’s needs is that he didn’t want this man’s return home to be seen as the return of a man who had failed in his ministry, the return of a man who couldn’t bear the burden of the work, a man who couldn’t last the pace.
This can still be a real problem even today. Amongst missionaries there is even a term to describe it – it is the problem of the first term casualties. When someone returns quickly (or at least more quickly than expected) from a missionary task it is easy for those at home who don’t know the full story to regard such a one as something of a failure. Now sometimes they are right. The new missionary’s early return home may be due to personal failure but it is rarely as simple or straightforward as that. Perhaps the sending church had failed in their assessment of the candidate and should never have sent him in the first place; perhaps there are genuine reasons outside of the missionary’s control that are responsible for the return home; perhaps the Lord has another purpose altogether about which nothing is known.
In case some in the church in Philippi might jump to hasty and ill-informed judgments about Epaphroditus and his abilities Paul wanted to make it very clear that Epaphroditus’ return should not be seen as that of the first term casualty. He had carried out the task that had been given him and he had done so well and in the face of great personal risk and danger.
In fact Epaphroditus had been something of a risk taker for in order to complete his mission he had had to:
- Undertake extensive travel – and travel then was not as easy as it is today
- Experience serious, life threatening sickness – in a pre-NHS setting
- Feel deeply for others – when he couldn’t just pick up a phone or organise a zoom meeting in order to both receive and pass on news.
Paul knew that this was a man who was capable of feeling things deeply and what Paul knew about Epaphroditus impressed him. Just listen to the language Paul used to describe him in:
Phil.2:26 “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.”
If you’re tempted to think that there is nothing that is very special here let me tell you that this description echoes the description of another man. That other description is found in Mark’s Gospel where the action takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane. The other man is Jesus:
Mk.14:33 “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”
No one should undervalue such a man as Epaphroditus. He certainly wasn’t a failure but rather a hero of the faith. He probably wouldn’t have said that about himself. Genuine followers of Christ don’t tend to do that sort of thing. They are only conscious of being, at best, unworthy servants. And Epaphroditus probably blushed when this portion of the letter that he carried back to the church in Philippi was read out. But such men who work out their own salvation relying upon God’s powerful working in their lives should be honoured for their faithfulness to Christ. And that explains why Paul writes so warmly about this man.
Let us make sure that we are ready and willing to recognise the worth and value of others.
Let us be slow to jump to conclusions when we’re not in possession of the all the facts.
Let us seek to become the kind of disciple that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus had themselves become.
And may our individual lives and our congregational life bring honour to our Saviour and Lord.